Last week my baby graduated from elementary school. Emma, the youngest of my three girls will now head to high school in September. In the days leading up to graduation day she would tentatively ask me if I would cry during the ceremony. As anyone who knows me would attest, these type of things get the waterworks going. What is it with weddings, funerals and graduations that get one so emotional?
Anyways, I responded that I didn't know whether I would cry, or not. She would have to wait and see what would happen. The twinkle in her eyes, of course, gave away what she believed would be true. Of course Mom will cry!
When graduation day arrived, we were up early for what would be a busy day. The graduation ceremony was in the morning, and lasted almost two hours. They were led in by a bagpiper, and we listened to speeches from the principle of the high school, the winners of the speakers' contest, and a very a propos speech by a student who just finished her first year of high school. Worldly advice from all. It was a beautiful ceremony, and the students were beaming with pride, and a little fearful anticipation of a chapter that has just closed in their life, and a new one to begin.
About to embrace their teen years, they are headed to the big school with all the giants. How will they be able to get their books out of their locker (or even remember their combination, for that matter), and get to class before the late bell rings? Will the older students pick on them, or worse, laugh or make fun of them? Where will they eat their lunch, and will anyone want to sit with them? All huge fears in the eyes of innocent children, about to have their first dose of grown up reality.
Fear, as the old adage goes, is in the eye of the beholder. Nothing can be more true. In my old life, before breast cancer, I would fear much more than I do now. One of my fears, oddly enough, was of getting cancer. I lost my grandmother when I was 13 years old. She had bone cancer, and was very sick for a long time. For four years it was a reality of my life, as my mother was her primary caregiver. To say the least, it's an age where you are quite impressionable, and my memories from that time remain crystal clear to this day.
Looking back at this old life of mine, I realize how many of these fears, both big and small, were unfounded. But life as it is now, is seen through a cancer survivor's lens. Although I will be first to admit that there is the odd time when I have to stare fear in the eye, and fight to back it down, I fear much less today. Cancer has taught me a few things, and I don't scare easy.
So although Emma will grace the halls of the big high school in the fall, she too, will have the choice to either be fearful and apprehensive in anticipation of what she thinks will happen, or look those scary thoughts in the eye, and change her reality. High school will be a great experience. She will have the opportunity, not only to learn and grow, but can get involved in a wide range of extracurricular activities; from sports to helping groups such as VOBOC (a non profit organization that supports young cancer patients). She can walk down those halls with confidence and a big smile on her face. She can decide that she will like all her teachers, and will make many new friends. She can decide that she will be happy! And guess what?! It will be true!
And this is what we should always do in the face of fear. Hubert H. Humphrey once said, and this would have been a great quote to bring into the operating room with me when I had my double mastectomy, "Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts -- it's what you do with what you have left."
As for Emma's graduation; the dance in the evening was perfect! The gym was beautifully decorated and the graduation committee should be recognized for making those memories so special. The parents got to come back for the last hour of the dance. It was clear they were all having such a good time. Their teachers put together a slide show filled with photos taken throughout the year, and there was a last dance with the graduates. As I stood on the dance floor with Emma, my arms tightly wrapped around her, I was so thankful. Yes! I'm alive, and here for the special time in my daughter's life. And as I made the silent promise that I would be there for many more, the tears ran down my cheeks.
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