“All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.”
Nana is moving.
With her, all my childhood memories, my wants, and my dreams move too. A few weeks ago (now those few weeks seem like years), I was sitting in the midst of old birthday cards, forgotten postcard messages and preserved photographs depicting smooth and easy smiles.
There I was, sorting through twenty-three years of importance, finding petrified pinecones from forgotten mountain drives and pictures of long ago crushes. We keep these sort of things to remember times of joy, pain, truth, and betrayal. Old gifts from past loves are found again, and still cherished; handwritten letters from deceased family members that bring tearful smiles.
To chose the special objects that would gain the honor of residing in dusty boxes in a soon to be mildew infested basement, I created a simple rubric. If the object made me smile, it was kept. Everything else went.
There is a picture of me from my first day of Kindergarten. I was a newly minted five-year-old, with missing teeth and a legging/dress polka dot combo that I now wish came in a twenty-three year old size. My hair was blond, cut into a very five-year-old bob and I was clutching a notebook and pen like my very life depended on it. I suppose it did.
I am soon leaving behind a daily routine that fit into easily segmented yearly calendars. For eighteen years I have been classified as a student for census’, occupation questions, welfare programs, and incomes taxes.
I have been a part of a special and elite group of learners, and have thoroughly enjoyed the benefits that accompany this label. Discounts, tax breaks, and the ever indulgence of new people who have yet to hear me expound on the passion I have for my field of study.
Education was my way into a world I wanted so desperately to be a part of. A world where the answers were always available, and everyone was respected and listened too. A world where I could read as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. A world in which intellect was valuable. A world where everyone was equal.
Five-year-olds have an uncanny sense of inequality, a naïve and inclusive worldview that has yet to be spoilt by jaded bias and jealousy. As a five year old, I poignantly understood inequality, as I’m sure many children do.
Education is meant to be an equalizer, where every person is given the same chance, the same opportunity. I know this to be untrue now. I understand that education is as unequal as job opportunities and economic advantage.
That doesn’t mean I have stopped believing it is possible. That five-year-old has fought hard in these eighteen years to remain present in all her hopeful and ideal glory. I have never stopped questioning, although I learned to keep from doing it out loud so often.
I will soon walk across a wooden stage with thousands of other persons who likely had similar dreams to my five-year-old self. Maybe they also carry those dreams with them.
While I sat in the midst of trinkets, captured moments, faded poetry, and remnants of a long passed childhood, I feel a sense of pride. Pride in myself for never giving up, pride that I believed in something bigger than my own surroundings and that I still do.
As I packed my last vestiges of an earlier person, I left behind my negative experiences. I pushed aside the reminders of failed relationships, failed chances, and incoherent mementos. These things were mere reminders of a person I no longer was, and were only kept to remind me to never turn back.
The strength to stand tall was not discovered overnight, it was won piece by piece through love given and returned, by continually standing back up after being pushed down, by the stumbles and the leaps. It was in part given to me by the women in my family through shared experiences and handed down lessons.
Walking across a stage, accepting a piece of parchment, and shaking a hand will take moments. It is the eighteen years of belief, doubt, confusion, frustration, and pride leading up to those moments that are worth keeping reminders of.