I have been called many things over the years. Some I considered a compliment, others were not-so-flattering, but one that has cut both ways is being labeled an optimist.
Some find it refreshing to engage with someone who tends to see the glass as half-full and believes things will turn out all right. Others equate optimism and enthusiasm with naivete. Either way, I guess it’s just the way I’m wired. I never expect perfection and always try to make the best of things.
All the losses this Spring – I Ball, concerts, Herndon, Ring Dance, Commissioning Week, Graduation – certainly tested the limits of even the most ardent optimist. But an optimist I am, so we stuck a flag in the sand and announced our own Commissioning Week substitute – a long weekend where we would open a rented house to all who could celebrate the Class of 2020.
Because I’m an optimist, I was sure this whole COVID thing would be, if not subdued, at least in remission. As the date neared, it was obvious my optimism was misplaced. The number of cases kept mounting and the restrictions continued.
I should note here that my wife and I are, while in many ways alike, often times yin and yang. The morning ritual evolved into variations of this conversation over coffee:
Her: “I just checked, they reported [insert number here] new cases yesterday.”
Me: “Uh huh.”
Her: “There are still travel restrictions all over the place. Will we even be able to go to Maryland?”
Me (adjusting my optimist hat): “No doubt about it. Things will subside by then.”
Her (pointing to a map on her Chromebook): “But all these states are red. Will anyone even be able to join us? It seems kind of silly to rent a house down there just for us to sit around.”
Me: “Things will clear up and I’m sure we’ll have a great celebration.”
And so on.
By the time it came to pack up everything, things hadn’t improved to the level I had envisioned, but south to Annapolis we went.
We set up shop Thursday evening, including Mid Gram and Mid Dog, and the weather was just what I would expect in the mid-Atlantic at the cusp of July and August – hot, sticky, and a threat of thunderstorms.. We slept in Friday morning, enjoyed a casual breakfast, and I began preparing food.
And then it happened.
Newly minted ensigns and second lieutenants (and spouses and friends) made their way to the house and we took their drink orders as they filled their plates. I juggled bartending duties (lots of mojitos meant lots of mint) with my phone, communicating with folks looking for our address or letting me know they were thinking of coming or trying to make it or working on plans or sending their regrets. (side note: I took pictures of the new officers, but thought posting them might prompt discussions about who is wearing a mask and who is properly distancing but trust me, they were smiling).
Those who aren’t optimists might have frowned and asked why there weren’t hundreds of people. This optimist saw what he had hoped to see – classmates sharing laughs and stories, parents meeting each other for the first time and strengthening the invisible bond that connects us all. The air was filled with stories and laughter and conversations about the future.
Here’s a pro tip – when you have a chance to talk to a recent graduate, be sure to ask them about the craziest or funniest thing that happened to them at the Academy. It will still be fresh in their minds and they may be actually looking for a chance to tell the story. We may or may not have been regaled with a tale about a game of Capture The Flag that involved a certain Midshipman picking a lock that allowed he and his partner to get to the roof of a certain building on The Yard which provided them a distinct advantage in not being found.
By the time Sunday evening came, we found our way to DTA and dined al fresco on West Street, which was closed off to traffic. The “adults” were at one table (me, Mid Mom, Mid Gram, our Mid’s sponsor, and his girlfriend … oh, and Falcon, the Mid Dog) while five recent graduates sat at the next table. We enjoyed a great meal and warm conversation under a clear sky.
I found myself looking over at the other table. I thought about our first real visit to DTA – for I Day, and how our lives changed forever. I thought about how relieved we were to be there for Plebe Parents Weekend and the long-awaited Herndon Climb and his first summer block at home and helping him get ready for four-weeks in Alaska as a part of NOLS and 2C Parents Weekend and him making the sprint football team and attending four Army-Navy games and him coming home for his grandfather’s funeral and seeing him on the field as part of a championship football team and signing his 2 for 7s and getting subs as his service selection and a virtual graduation and commissioning.
As we left DTA and walked over the bridge toward the house, I felt like I was leaving DTA, I mean really leaving DTA. I’m sure we’ll be back any number of times, but the weekend did something that the well-executed virtual commissioning ceremony couldn’t do for me. It brought this chapter to a close.
Monday morning came, of course, and we packed up the car for the trip home. I crossed the Bay Bridge as I have numerous times over the past four years and the car was quiet, each of us lost in our own thoughts. A chapter had closed, I thought, but the story isn’t over. Not by a long shot. This was merely a transition.
What’s next? I’m not sure, but it’s going to be great. What can I say? I’m an optimist.
Here’s a conversation I had with my son just after his Plebe year. Not surprisingly, I have listened to it several times over the past few months. Class of 2024 parents might find it helpful, too.