|Image from Keystrokes & Kaleidoscopes|
My head turned, as if drawn by the energy from him, toward my mom sitting at the table behind me. Her eyes were watery, and her head was down, using the plate in front of her as an excuse to not make eye contact. Her face was in stark contrast to the sparkling eyes, smiles, hugs, and laughter going on around us.
We were there in the garage (the traditional place of gathering and celebration of graduations in Minnesota) celebrating Josh, her grandson, and his moving on from high school. We were celebrating his future and hope and accomplishment and triumph and persistence and life.
The word graduation itself is more than a celebration of an accomplishment, an end to a story. It means moving from one level to another. Gradually moving to the next gradation, or level, in a series. It is a celebration of continuation, of the end of one chapter that excitedly sets the stage with eager anticipation for the beginning of the next chapter.
We often refer to a graduation ceremony as commencement, which literally means a beginning. Josh was at the precipice of a new adventure and we were all there, trying to find some way to encourage him to embrace the strength, joy, endurance, and wisdom that he had gained through the trials of his most recent sojourn. Trying to express our hope for him to take what he had learned into the future and not let the tribulations of the past be for naught.
I asked myself, knowing full well the answer, why this particular graduation seemed to be so much happier than that of the preceding thirteen nieces and nephews. The answer is in the idea that colors pop out when set against their opposites. Yellow may feel soft, warm, and relaxing when sitting among orange and spring greens. But it becomes alive, vibrant, even jumps at you, when set atop plum purple. A moment in time can feel bigger, more alive, more present, depending on the canvas it is painted on. The paradox was that our happiness had been painted on a canvas of pain, which made it burst into our hearts unlike any other.
My mom had just seen the photos, at the guest sign-in and gift drop-off table. Photos of Josh with his dad, her son. One snapshot was a preschool Josh sleeping droopy mouthed on his dad’s chest. Another was his Dad holding him up on his first “dirt-squirt” motocross bike, grinning wider than his helmet. Several other photos panned across his life with Dad before high school.
The first week of high school, four years ago, Josh had missed. His dad had been suddenly taken from him, from us, from the world, that weekend and there were the associated activities and grieving that kept him from attending school.
The pride in all that Josh had accomplished through these past four years was about more than him being a great kid. It was about persistence in overcoming adversity. It was about holding onto a dream, albeit broken, to drag it into reality. It was about a young man finding himself through losing his father.
A friend challenged me to write about a joyous event or time in my life. Something not related to work, just for fun. Taking her challenge – assignment actually, I tried to think of something that qualified. Indeed I came up with many happy times, but none seemed to resonate real heart felt joy as much as the times that were coupled with an underlying sense of the tragic. Perhaps, instead of wishing for life to be easier, I will attempt to embrace the spirit of overcoming in myself, and acknowledge that the joy that is born through adversity is so much sweeter than a simple complacent smile.