Faith in the Future on Graduation Day

It is the day that every parent longs for. It is the day that every parent dreads. It is our children’s high school graduation day. It is coming soon, and I am imagining it. I know that I am going to sit in the stands watching all those shining graduates, with the schmaltzy stains of Sunrise, Sunset, playing plaintively in my head.

“Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don’t remember growing older, When did they?”

As I sit and sniffle, I will mostly wonder how I ever made it to age 48 without ever developing sufficient planning skills to remember to bring Kleenex to emotional events. Then, worse, with Sunrise, Sunset still playing in the background of my mind, the flashbacks will begin.

“When did she get to be a beauty? When did he get to be so tall? Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?”

(I will wonder when my imagination degenerated into nothing more than a sleek contemporary hollywood production, replete with a soundtrack and flashbacks.)

Anyway, as I sit in the stands, watching my daughter graduate, I imagine that I will remember her eyes on the day she was born. She had old eyes that looked intently and directly at me. I will remember her eyes at eight months, focusing hungrily on her older brother. I could see her think. “If Josh can walk, so can I.” I will remember my husband and I sitting on the floor in the living room, with about five feet between us, throwing our daughter back and forth between us, to teach her to walk, just like her brother. As she couldn’t stand upright, we would prop her up, and give her a small push. With her body pitched just slightly forward, she would move her legs furiously enough to keep her from pitching head forward onto her floor, until she reached the outstretched arms of the second parent. Then, we would turn her around and do it all over again, just to see that mixture of excitement and exultation on her face, as she made it from arm to arm, all the long way across the living room. (“Yes, I can do it too!”)

Achievements come so quickly to children. Looking back, their lives seem like one of those time-motion plant films that we used to watch in biology class. Within five minutes, you watch the creatures emerge, sit up, crawl, walk, talk, potty-train, get their license, graduate, and drive away into the sunset.

“Sunrise, Sunset, Swiftly fly the years.”

As I sit there watching the graduates, I will remember how I craved each small advance, and wished my own life away in the process. I will remember thinking….if they were only out of diapers… if I could only let them out in the backyard by themselves…if only they could dress themselves…if only I could leave them without a babysitter… if only I didn’t have to drive them every place they went… if only, I could sit down without two children fighting over a place on my lap…if only…

These days I sit in church, and watch the mothers with their babies, and toddlers. I remember how it felt to walk around with a child permanently attached to my hip, and to sleep with my forehead pressed against theirs. I envy those mothers. For a short time. I envy them until the child that I am watching suddenly makes a mad dash out of the pew and to the front of the church. It is her moment, she has an audience, and she uses the opportunity to execute a somewhat imperfect somersault. Then she triumphantly waves her legs and reveals somewhat tattered underwear, to a suddenly attentive and appreciate congregation, while the mother tries to pretend that she is invisible as she slinks up the aisle to retrieve the now-content toddler. Then I remember why I wanted so badly for them to grow up.

As I write this, I have not yet attended my daughter’s graduation. I am just imagining how I will feel. I am really just sitting around playing Sunrise, Sunset over and over again on my stereo to set up the appropriate atmosphere for the article. My own unexpected Kleenex moment really occurred at a recent theater banquet. I was sitting next to another 40ish mother, and we were watching our daughters. She complained that they were all holding their stomachs in, even the ones, like my daughter, who did not have any stomach that needed holding in. We sat though endless awards, and then the music began, and the night belonged to the kids. Some of them began to swing dance. The boys lifted the girls over their heads, twirling them back to the floor, in perfect sync with the music. They were breathtakingly beautiful and very, very physical. We sat there, wistfully wishing that we were still light enough to be lifted and thinking that we would actually settle for just having husbands with backs and knees that were still intact enough for them to take us out on the dance floor. And I suddenly wondered what my own mother, who so loved to dance while she was still alive, looked like, and thought about, when she was 18. I wondered if she was once as beautiful and physical as my own daughter.

And, as the strains of Sunrise, Sunset played again in my head, (“One season following another, laden with happiness and tears..”) I groped for my husband’s handkerchief.

I envy the young. I wish I was still strong, and slender, and that all my life still lay before me, a sea of endless possibility, and opportunity.

Or maybe I just think I envy the young.

I have this recurring dream. In it, I am perhaps 18, or 22. I am just out of school, and my life stretches out before me, still a blank page with endless possibilities. In my dream I don’t yet have a job, I don’t yet have a relationship, and I don’t know what I want from life, or how my life will turn out. In this dream I am afraid. I am afraid that I will never find a job, and never find a mate, and that I will wind up lonely and unhappy. In my dream I face endless empty space, not endless opportunities.

When I wake, I don’t immediately remember who I am. I look around, and gradually realize that I am not 18. I am 48. The man I love is sleeping beside me. I have three children, a house, a job, and a life. I am intensely grateful and relieved, and I press up tightly against my husband’s back for reassurance that I am here, and not still stuck in that oddly disturbing dream.

I don’t know how my daughter feels right now. She has a habit of sharing her joys and concealing her fears. (I don’t know where she gets that from.) I do know that at the end of the summer she will drive off, into the sunset, and onto college. She will be six and a half hours away. I am sure that her eyes will still fix hungrily on her next achievement, just as they did as she first learned to walk. But this time, we will not be sitting on the living room floor, less than five feet away, waiting with outstretched arms to catch her if she falls.

I do know that there is only one thing that will help me cope with this. It is faith. As I grow older, I realize that faith it is not something that I will need someday in the future. It is a tool that I need today to get me though until tomorrow. I need to have faith that there is purpose, and beauty in life, and that things will work out in the end. I need to have faith that if my husband and I are not physically around to pick up my daughter if she falls, either someone else will be, or she will fall, roll, and get right back up again with that look of excitement and exultation still intact in her eyes.

And I need to have faith that this graduation day, I will remember to bring along handkerchiefs.

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