From a skyward Seattle hotel room, I watch strangers walk the streets below. The gray and drizzly afternoon is filled with people on the way home from work, looking neither left nor right, not knowing who they walk amongst, stepping unconsciously from one block to the next.
They don’t know she is about to hear her name called, shake a hand and receive her college diploma. Having lost count of coffee-shop laptop days, craigslist mini-fridges, professors admired and roommate changes, we all fly in to celebrate an adult, born through mystery and grown in beauty.
And they just keep on walking by, cell phone in hand, work day frustrations lingering on their faces.
They don’t know that I just watched her from sun-baked bleachers in California, bumping around a beach ball with other high school graduates down on the field. Finding her smile amidst the crowd, snapping memories with a giant sunflower in hand and friends on each side. Yearbooks and grades and babysitting and youth group camps behind: anticipating her college years with only the slightest inkling of what they might be.
And the faces march on in the early June rain, numb to the significance. Waiting at a crosswalk for the light to turn, to step off the curb, for life to start; barely awake to the prominence of the day.
They don’t see her nervous face, dressing up for the most frugal of 8th grade graduations — folded chairs in the Junior High courtyard, exclusively theirs while the 7th graders peer out the windows of classroom cages. Sweaty kids and would-be jocks, huddled girls with shoulders hunched and arms folded, wishing their parents would put away cameras and get back home already, where parents belong.
Down on the sidewalk now, walking through puddles. I walk amongst them as sidewalk trees find their strength: spring’s fragile buds replaced by broad green hands, sinews threaded deep into their branches, imparting the confidence of summer coming into its own.
They don’t remember her elementary school years, celebrated in an afternoon ceremony to the sounds of overly empowering R. Kelly songs (“I believe I can fly”) through a sound system on par with a station-wagon stereo. Sensing freedom under an archway of balloons — the only expense not spared — and volunteered cookies, the cafeteria was filled with 6th graders so tall they couldn’t possibly get bigger. Amidst hand-cut, drooping flowers she thanked teachers, generously endeared to her earnestness and big ideas.
Blinking the rain away, wiping the glasses to see anything, I’m closer to them now. Catching up and tapping their shoulder, walking nearly astride, trying to catch their attention.
They didn’t leave work early for her pre-school graduation, tiny hands holding big ideas, leading us back into the classroom to see her watercolor paintings and construction paper art. They weren’t positive about the potential of this one, the one who would go on to get a Bachelor of Arts in Art. The one who thrived under constraints that — unlike abundance — forced creativity.
The one who thrived under constraints that — unlike abundance — forced creativity.
The passing faces don’t pause to take it in, but I’m now in lock step with them. Their eyes seem to look up, catching her approach. They’ve been walking the sidewalk so long, without pausing, without stopping to commemorate the blocks behind.
Then finally appearing, through the medicated Seattle weather that flattens everything to drizzly blah, here she comes now: sunlight in her face, feeling it all, living the highs and lows of a Michigan meteorologist. A transformed woman growing deeper into the best parts of her soil.
We must change — that C.S. Lewis quote burned into my brain from her college orientation four years earlier: “You cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
“You cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
They didn’t know. They didn’t know, but they walked on anyway: taking one step and then the next.
And now here we are, at this corner together. They see me and my face is theirs. They awaken and take it in. They become me as I leave them behind.
She’s arrived. We’ve arrived.
And we’re still holding hands after all that would separate us.
Tiny hands holding big ideas.
Holding hands so we could, in time, open them up, and let them go.
Originally published at weekendswell.com on June 13, 2018.