Jameel McMillan and his family drove to Roanoke over the holidays to visit his family. I first met him when he just a curious cute teen, starting high school at PHHS, a classmate of my son, over a decade ago. He went on to be my son’s first college roommate, and we’ve all stayed lightly in touch. A bright engineer, he now works for the US Navy and though not 28, already has spent time across the world to work on ships in Japan. So it was a surprise and honor to get a message from him, asking if he might arrange for his family (and his sister) to come see my art exhibit. Even more so when I learned he specifically wanted to do so because his stepdaughter had a strong interest in art —he felt it might be helpful for her to meet an artist and see work in a different context. Naturally I was delighted to do so.
Jameel and Emily have only been together a few years, married even less, so they all have had to make a lot of adjustments as they created their “new” family. As he shared, he happily went in with eyes open, but basically has been on a steep learning curve going from being a single bachelor to parent of a precocious young girl in a very short time. Essentially, in my view, in a time when some like to emphasize the opposite among young people, he’s a stalwart example of someone who has courageously “stepped up” and graciously taken on big responsibilities. Beyond caring and kind, he’s self aware and so sensitive to his role (and incurred boundaries) in relation to his stepdaughter’s father. It warms my heart to verify that the smart and fun-loving young teen I once knew is now clearly an outstanding young man and father.
Having been a parent with shared custody, I can relate to the many delicacies, nuances, and challenges of caring for a sensitive and aware child sharing two sets of parents. They may understandably become withdrawn or cautious, especially around people they do not know. I’ve taught young people just a bit too, so I was considering this as I waited in the gallery for their arrival. As I waved them in from the sidewalk, prepared in my mind to find ways to ease the nervousness of us all— a young girl and her mother were meeting someone they literally had never met—Leyna raced in first (without nudging) and all but leapt into my arms with a big hug! She exuded such confidence, trust, and joy that she instantly erased any concerns! We carried on famously for another hour. It was obvious that Emily and Jameel (and her father) are doing very many things right in building a solid foundation upon which Leyna will blossom. To me they’re shining examples of their own generation nurturing the next as well.
Yesterday I was graced by a visit from my friends Christine Lockerby and Miguel Carter-Fisher. You can sense by their glance at each other their sincere love. Again, I could write several paragraphs about what I admire in each of them. I met Miguel when he was a toddler, the son of a graduate school classmate, and then we had no contact whatsoever for thirty years. In one of those incredible unexpected gifts life offers us, I reconnected with him when I learned that his father, my friend, had died over two years ago. From the moment I met he and Christine, I was taken by their thoughtfulness, sensitivity, compassion, and insight into every topic we discussed. Their respect and love for each other glowed then, and I am so very happy to have attended their wedding last fall. They’ve already experienced so many challenges and weathered several storms, and through grit and reflection and integrity, gotten stronger and wiser and, most uniquely, more expansive and loving.
I love engaging in conversations with people younger than me that push me to keep up with their deep thoughts! And they both do so in humble and gentle, honest, yet non-defensive, non-arrogant ways. They are realists; concerned about issues in our world, and striving to best apply their many talents because they earnestly want to help create a better world. Yet they also recognize the importance of self-care and balance. They don’t always agree, yet understand fully how to share their views in respectful ways that clearly reveal their admiration and respect (and deep love) for each other. They can sharply analyze several art forms (film, paintings, literature, music) dive into philosophical realms, and yet retain a self aware earthiness, even playfulness, that is refreshing and so often lacking in folks so brilliant. It was such a treat and great gift to spend several hours with them, and even more so share in a visit to the home of one of my mentors.
I highlighted these two couples but could list several other young friends, (from physical therapists to baristas to yoga instructors to hair stylists to engineers to produce stockers to writers to software designers—I hope you all know who you are!) each of whom is impressive in their unique talents and integrity and outstanding character and desire to serve others and improve the larger world. To read the fearful media headlines one may get the notion the future looks bleak. I find that to engage with and listen to and consider the future through these young folks, found everywhere, it looks and feels bright indeed.