One last hug and kiss, before Payton, our 16 year-old, walks towards the security line at LAX.
On this chilly (by L.A. standards) December morning, he’s embarking on a unique trip as a member of the first U-19 (Under 19 years old) Israeli Lacrosse Team.
The team will play against Poland and Slovakia in a European lacrosse tournament in Warsaw.
In addition to playing the sport he loves on international fields, the detailed itinerary includes:
- A tour of the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, where under Nazi occupation Jews were forced to live behind walls before being sent to death camps,
- Treblinka Extermination Camp and Museum.
- Teaching Polish Jewish youth and Israeli youth how to play lacrosse.
- Visits to the Dead Sea, Western Wall in Jerusalem, and Yad Veshem, Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
As a member of the team, Payton is also required to check an extra bag filled with used equipment he’s collected for the kids he’ll work with.
I’m alone with my thoughts. The crowds of holiday travelers who inch in lines, rush with rolling suitcases, push strollers, and poke index fingers around self-check kiosk screens are nothing more than a backdrop.
In my brain, it’s 2005. Payton is a shrimp of an eight year old. He’s learning to play lacrosse with the Newport Beach Surf Dawgs, a budding lacrosse youth program.
Lacrosse is still in its infancy in Orange County. People often ask what the stick is for that Payton is holding. We try to explain the sport, but little do we know that stick is actually a key that will unlock a treasure trove of experiences, life lessons, friendships, and wisdom over the next eight years.
I begin a mental list of the coaches to whom we are thankful: G.W. Mix, Gary Evans, Seth Mahler, Brian Dunn, Matt Goto, Tom Demaio, Glen Miles. Each one has challenged Payton to be a better player and more importantly, a better person. Each one has sought opportunities for our son beyond the field.
The head coach Payton is about to meet will be no exception. Noah Miller is an Israeli National team player. Miller, who holds Masters in Conflict Studies and is currently a Doctoral candidate, has moved to Israel and is using the game of lacrosse as a vehicle to facilitate community development and peace building.
Working closely with and coaching the Jewish, Ethiopian, and Arab children of Israel, Noah brings these different ethnic groups together; creating shared experiences and building relationships. Noah has quickly transformed the lacrosse stick into a symbol of friendship, peace, and goodwill.
I walk through the sliding glass door of the United terminal and onto the sidewalk. I go to text my husband who is driving in circles.
My reverie stops – this is where the scratched record indicates an abrupt end to whatever soundtrack has been playing in my mind.
I realize I’m holding Payton’s winter coat.
The vision of him shivering on the streets of Warsaw with a predicted low of 27 degrees now dominates my grey matter.
The TSA agent must be trained to know the difference between a real worried mother and a Taliban Jihadist pretending to be a worried mother because when I get to her post and hold the coat up trying to explain, she lets me through without a ticket or ID. I run and spot Payton in line and hand him his coat.
One more hug and “I love you,” and off he goes.
To be continued.