The Night Shift

            I used to take the 2:00 a.m. feedings a long time ago. I thought of it as my Night Shift. My wife, Leslie and I had a deal when our sons were babies. I went to bed early while she put either Sam or Miles to bed. Early in morning around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m., when the boys cried to be fed, I got up while Leslie slept. Then she would let me get some extra rest in the morning by handling breakfast duties.

            I started drinking coffee when Sam was born. I made it through five years of college, three years of seminary and ten years of pastoral ministry without caffeine. Those way-early mornings made a coffee addict out of me. Still, I didn’t much mind those night shifts. The world was dark and quiet. The boys had their bottles and quickly fell back to sleep. I often found myself praying.

            A week ago, I dropped off my oldest son, Sam at Trinity College in Hartford. My wife, my Dad and I got his stuff into his dorm room. Leslie helped him get unpacked while my Dad sat in the courtyard talking to pretty co-eds. We said good-bye to him in the afternoon.

            How did you feel? I’ve been asked that question a lot. I can’t say that I felt sad and I didn’t weep, though there is no shame if I did. I’m excited for Sam because I think college will be a good season for him. I’m delighted that he is a student at Trinity College.

            Yet I must admit that I thought about him a lot over the next couple of days. I was hoping that he was meeting people and making friends. I especially hoped that he wasn’t overwhelmed by loneliness.

            On Sunday, Frank Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote an op-ed piece entitled, “The Real Campus Scourge”. What is it? It is the experience of being all alone. Bruni wrote, “In a sea of people, they find themselves adrift. The technology that keeps them connected to parents and high school friends only reminds them of their physical separation from just about everyone they know best. That estrangement can be a gateway to binge drinking and other self-destructive behavior. And it’s as likely to derail their ambitions as almost anything else.

Brett Epstein felt it. ‘I spent my first night in the dorm and it hit me like a pile of bricks: It’s just me here,’ Epstein, a 21-year-old senior at the College of Charleston, told me about his start there three years ago. ‘I was completely freaked out.’”

            I’m thankful to report that Sam is off to a great start at Trinity. He has made some friends. He checked out and didn’t care for a frat party. He will be a part of the crew team.

            Frank Bruni ended his column on the loneliness so many students find at college with a suggestion that we talk with our children or grandchildren about this common experience. “We also need to tell them that what’s often behind all that drinking and eating isn’t celebration but sadness, which is normal, survivable and shared by many of the people around them . . .”

            I hold my sons differently now than I did during my years on the Night Shift. In daily prayer, I hold them. Through a text message here or a phone call there, I hold them. My sons are also held with great attention and care by their church family. You hold them too. You do so by joining me in prayer; through sending care packages regularly and by fussing over them (including all of our young people and not just my boys).

             The Night Shift never seems to end.