On the way to graduation Sunday, I listened to a reading of Kristin
Kimball’s “The Dirty Life.” I had an eye on the road, and half an ear
cocked towards the speaker. When I heard the phrase “He shunned the
word should,” I perked right up.
The word “should” had no business being where I was headed. I was
driving to the land of Want and Wish, I was going to visit friends who
had worked hard and finally achieved a goal. In a place where
alternative education is valued and long-distance learning the norm,
there is no room for thoughts of “should.” There were however,
tear-filled speeches, memories shared, foot-stomping tunes and hugs. A
friend recited a poem she had written and I cracked open, feeling a
powerful connection to those words. My trips back to school are often
like this– brief but piercing.
When my friend A first approached the podium and started thanking
people in her life, she ended by saying that she wanted to thank
everybody. That if you had ever waved to her, raised an eyebrow or
locked eyes with her, there was a connection there that she cherished.
She knew that all of these glances and intentions had helped her to be
I began to think about the ways in which we connect with each other.
The smiles, the waves, the winks, the glances. Each is like a hand
extended, often pulling us up out of the dark, dank recesses that we
don’t even know we’re swimming in.
There is a story I am often reminded of from when I was in high school.
Scene: the school hallways
JA: “Hey, did you see that? She smiled at me.”
JB: “Yeah, she does that to everybody.”
In the interest of full disclosure I will say that I ended up dating
both of these guys. JB was the first guy I dated and then sometime
later JA became my high school boyfriend and we were couple for
several years. They were not friends exactly, but happened to be
walking to class together. I’m not sure which one told me the story or
when. All I know is that it has become part of my history. Ironically
they were the only two boys I dated in high school, and I still think
of them fondly. Now when I am walking along a sidewalk in town, I
often try to bravely conjure up my high school self and give a little
smile or say “Good morning” to a stranger. In today’s world it’s
becoming an anomaly. But that’s okay, I like being a bit different.
And you ever know who you might touch. Words save lives, I trust in
It’s been two years since I’ve graduated after going back to school,
and I often catch myself thinking how things haven’t changed. I still
have the same job, same house and in some ways the same life as
before. But when I make these trips back for graduation I come face to
face with students who are still wishing, hoping and ready to put in
the hard work. I see my friend D who’s got one more semester and I
remember how it was he who helped find my first camera and spark that
photography fire within me. I hug him with gratitude and yet I know
he’s not aware of this importance in my life. I think about the other
me: the one who didn’t go to school, the one who doesn’t have a
camera, the one who possibly spends her days like a cockroach or crab
scuttling from one dark place to the next, not sure if she wants to
see the sun.
But that’s not the real me.
Several years ago I made a choice. I studied, sacrificed, wrote,
researched, had exciting ideas, met new people, found new interests
and let a transformation take place.
I think about Forster’s words, “Only connect.” A simple sentence, two
little words. A hand extending. And when you put yourself out there,
you never know who might grab on and hold tight.