He was in grey and white, I was in red and gold. He was on the stage, I was sitting in the audience. He was calm but predictably tinged with goofiness while I was upright in my seat and crumbling inside.
A small part of me anticipated that the day might be hard. The rest of me worried mostly about what he would wear and what I would wear and how he, his dad and I could look fabulous together on this day of celebration. And while we did look fabulous, and while it was a day of celebration, I felt pieces of me falling and cracking against each other as I watched this big, beautiful child of mine cross the stage and receive a graduation certificate from his teacher.
It is such a terribly tired cliché, but I could swear just yesterday he was in kindergarten. He made his mark there the first day by tackling his best friend, a tiny little girl who was used to his antics. His teacher, however, did not know their connection and swooped in to correct this behaviour, which promptly sent my goofy son into tears of shame and remorse.
I thought of the teacher at the ceremony, and I thought of the little girl. The teacher still teaches at the school and we greet each other with smiles and inquiries after each other's well being. The little girl, on the other hand, was not there. She died of cancer nearly three years ago.
I couldn't stop thinking about her through the rest of the ceremony: Wondering what she would have looked like as she stretched and grew into adolescent beauty along with the others girls graduating that day; wondering which award she would have received, not whether she would have received one; wondering, as I have wondered ever since it happened, why in God's name she had to die.
There was a celebration of food and dance for the students in the gym after the party. When I got ready to leave school with my other kids, I went into the gym trying as inconspicuously as I could to check on my son. When I arrived I found most of the graduates sitting in groups looking at their phones, while out on the dance floor were several girls and just two boys. One of them was my son, hands raised above his head, body jumping and leaping in time to the music blaring from the gym's speakers. It wasn't until he left the floor to try and get others to dance that I was able to ask him if he wanted to leave. He didn't. He stayed and danced until the end.
There is such joy, tinged with such sweet, barely bearable pain in watching your children grow up. Having had four, I've almost always enjoyed the consolation of having one, two, or three more kids yet to reach the same milestone as the one reaching it now. It helps a little. My daughter has two more years until she begins kindergarten, while my third son finishes kindergarten today. Knowing the milestones will be repeated steadies the joy and lightens the pain.
This third son keeps asking if they're going to have a graduation for him and the rest of his kindergarten class. Preschool set him up for pomp and circumstance with every year's end, so I always disappoint him when I answer "no." But, I always add, "One day you'll get a big graduation like your brother is getting now."
If the present is any indicator, that day will come before I am ready. Other milestones will be achieved, increasing in familiarity and intensifying in rapidity. This thing called time, to use another cliché, does pass in the blink of an eye. This life we are so privileged to live moves too quickly to catch or clutch as it passes by.
Thank God it is a beautiful life. Thank God we have it, for as long or as little as that may be.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May God strengthen us for this season,
However sweet or sorrowful it may be;
That our eyes may see and know what is good,
And our hearts be consoled through what aches and breaks them.