I believe in the potential of each moment, and that each child is somehow like a moment in his or her infinite capacity to become. I believe that moments are like atoms, pregnant with energy, radiating promise. We all know how to split these atoms, but we forget as we age and shutter ourselves within ourselves. Then, in a flash, our kids remind us.
I’m like most parents. I’ve thought of my daughter as something of my own, something yet unformed, needful of my shaping. On her own, she’s all promise and potency, but lacking fire and steel. Whether doing her chores, boxing out for a rebound, or coping with the ugliness of her parents’ divorce, she’s inclined to quit. Her litany of self-excuse for all has been “it’s hard.”
Recently, it got a lot harder. She got pregnant and left our upmarket home in America’s most affluent community. “Why can’t you just let me go,” she said. Why not, indeed? “You can learn what hard really is,” I thought.
So she moved in with her boyfriend’s family. Not in a trailer, but not far off. She had a baby boy and got real familiar with the brute bureaucracy that serves low-income, unwed Moms in America.
Then she did some other things. She found a job. Took an apartment. Supported her baby. She earned her high school degree, on time and with honors, and got herself into a good college.
Last month was the baccalaureate ceremony for her graduating class, held in a big church with every seat filled and people standing. In the audience were hundreds of well-heeled citizens, along with all her classmates, an accomplished bunch among whom she’d found few friends.
When her time came to speak, she stood up in front of them all, plainly dressed, without makeup, her hair self-arranged (these being luxuries she can no longer afford). And she made the bravest speech about single-motherhood, commitment and the meaning of family.
She could barely get it out. Three times she faltered. It would have been easy to quit. Everyone would have understood. But somehow she steadied. Though it surely was hard, in a way unknown and unknowable to me, she reached within herself, found everything she needed, and split the atom. She thanked many, blessed her classmates for never having made her feel ashamed, and filled the room with her spirit.
When she finished, they stood as one, cheering, clapping, weeping. Her fellows and their families. Minutes before, self-satisfied and superior, now shaken from their drowse, shutters removed, witness to a moment of becoming, forgetful no more.
In a few weeks, my daughter will move away to start college. She’ll live there, alone with her baby, on a street nearby where my father was born. And it will be hard.
But she’ll be just fine. So, I guess, will I.
And the moments will flow by, bearing us both along, each one supercharged and alive with possibilities.
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