Yesterday was a really bittersweet day for me. It was my daughter’s last day of kindergarten. I didn’t think it would hit me quite this hard, but it really got me right in the throat to watch all the little munchkins skip up to the teacher with their little cardboard caps to pick up their kindergarten diplomas.
The teacher took them down to the field for a few minutes to run some energy off before the afternoon graduation party, and while they were doing that I joined a couple of the parents who arrived to set up. One of the mothers had a child in junior high, and she was telling me about how devastated she was to hear that a classmate of her daughter had taken his life over the weekend.
As I put two and two together, I started to cry. I had already known about this tragedy, from the dear friend who was this boy’s cousin. He was a sweet and much loved boy who had the unfortunate experience of being bullied, and he just couldn’t bear to fight through one more day.
I remember junior high as though it were yesterday. It was terrible. I spent many mornings physically nauseated wondering what the day would bring, what scathing insults would be hurled like sticky tar to leave indelible scars on my brain, which adult would shrug and pass on by in the hallway as kids were being kids. If it wasn’t physical, it wasn’t assault.
I don’t know exactly what changed for me, other than age and perspective that was a long time coming, but I do remember being in a dark place, despairing, without knowing how to get out. I am glad I did. Life is amazing.
I think it is a fair observation to make that those who gravitate towards careers in the animal fields tend to be more on the quiet and introspective side to begin with, and maybe we share in those painful childhood memories a bit more than the general population. I don’t know why that is, but it is a recurring theme. Regardless, once we make it out of the stormy waters of adolescence and find that the world does love and value us in all our quiet shy glory, we realize that life is, indeed, beautiful, as are we.
I watched the children as they filed back in from the playground. You can see their future roles hover over them like an aura, waiting to envelop them: captain of the football team, the cheerleader, the editor of the paper, the drama geek. They sit knee to knee and talk, unselfconsciously, smiling and holding hands. It will not always be like this.
Of course, me being me I’m sitting in the corner watching all this in silence while the PTA moms chat and compare shoes. Some things never change. I am OK with that. We come out on the other end much as we went in, not caring about our differences and happy to share our brownies.
The teacher tells the kids how well they have done over the last year, how much they have learned and how proud she is of all of them, and they beam. I say a silent prayer that they will remember, more than their letters and their math tables, how to be kind. How to accept. How to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
Perhaps my career choice makes total sense after all.