At the conclusion of the awards ceremony for the senior class, I congratulated the father of the young man named scholar-athlete for his son's successful high school career both on the field and in the classroom
"Thank you, but we still have to get through Beach Week," he said.
Only the parent of another high school senior would understand that he was not making a joke or deflecting a compliment. Like a tiny electric shock, understanding passed between us. Understanding and trepidation.
Less than 48 hours later, that boy's parents and I were working the concession stand at a high school lacrosse tournament when we learned the goalie for one of the participating teams had been killed the night before in an auto accident.
We were grim and silent at the news.
Death had passed by our doors, but it had not left empty-handed.
Teenagers die in auto accidents all year round, but it seems so many of them die in the spring.
And when they die as seniors in high school, it is particularly cruel because it is at that moment that their young lives stretch before them like a great, untrammeled meadow.
It is for that reason that the parents of seniors appear to be always holding their breath.
That father was right. The activities of senior year are to be got through, because each one -- prom, graduation night, Beach Week, graduation parties, senior summer -- holds out the possibility of disaster.
This is a morbid way to approach this season of celebration, I know. But parents of adolescents fear the arbitrary nature of death, especially death by car, perhaps more than any other group.
And the parents of seniors especially fear it because we know how close we are to having gotten our children safely through the most dangerous spring of their lives. We feel as if we are holding onto a one-point lead with two minutes to play.
We may have begun high school with lofty goals for these children, but by senior year we have but one: that they be safe in bed each night. Perhaps we started out wanting a scholarship to Harvard, but by senior year we will settle for still alive.
"Please, God," is our common prayer, "I can handle anything he throws at me. Just don't make me bury him."
It is unimaginably cruel that the parents of that lacrosse goalie at first disbelieved the police officers' grim report because they were certain their son was upstairs in his bed, asleep early in preparation for the next day's lacrosse game.
Apparently the boy left the house undetected, and lightning struck his family with the cruel randomness understood best by the parents of other teenagers. We know that, as our children wrestle free of our protective grip and drive away in cars, we can no longer guarantee their safety, if we ever could.
So, this graduation season, approach the parents of seniors with a new understanding of our hesitant smiles.
It is a happy time, to be sure, but the race is not yet won, and we know it.