“I hold the bandages and ointments ready.” —Alan Paton
Even though Paton’s words were written for his son’s confirmation at age 13, the imagery is of a young child taking a first step. The parent, steadying the child, lets go to see what happens: a sit, a fall or a step. What an inflection point in the child’s personal history to take that first step and hear the applause and see the glee on the parent’s face, sensing that a whole new world is opening.
Alan Paton loved his two sons, Jonathan and David, but he became known worldwide for loving South Africa’s children. An educator, Paton studied penal systems in the United States, Canada and Europe. In 1935, he became head of Diepkloof, a reformatory for young native African delinquents that, during the next 13 years, Paton made into the model penal system in South Africa. He wrote “Cry, the Beloved Country” in 1948 to protest the structures of that society responsible for systemic racism. The book sold 15 million copies. He motivated many in his country and around the world to work at dismantling apartheid.
The beginning words of Paton’s “Meditation for a Young Boy Confirmed” are a strong statement about parents’ lifelong need to relinquish control gradually, beginning with the child’s first step. “Go forward eager and reverent child, / see here I begin to take my hands away from you.”
The middle part of the meditation expresses the anguish inherent in letting go. “Life sees you coming, / she sees you come with assurance towards her, / She lies in wait for you, / she cannot but hurt you.”
Paton concludes with the good-enough parent’s sincere, unconditional blessing of the child: “Go forward, go forward, I hold the bandages and ointments ready.”