I paused before I walked into the gymnasium. The sun had flipped its switch on today, and the warm May afternoon had put a spring in my step. The bouquet of flowers I held inhaled the sunshine. I did, too.
My eyes adjusted to the dim as I stepped inside. I kept my gaze on my dad’s dark blue Ford hat bobbing above me, then looked down at my little brother Ryan next to me. They were my anchors. I didn’t want to get swept into the tidal wave of people.
At 10-years-old, I had never been to a college before, let alone a commencement. Today, Saginaw Valley State University was a sight to see. Like the sun outside, the volume inside was turned up and on. The hallways were a hive as people buzzed with excitement.
Everything was big here. Big and red.
The ceilings. The stage. The curtains. The carnations. This university took their colors seriously, and the alternating splashes of red and white felt positively peppermint. My mom’s cap and gown were black, though. Shiny. Special.
While raising two kids, working full-time and helping guide the construction on our new home, my mom earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing. My dad, my brother and I would watch her graduate with honors today.
That is, if we could find a seat.
Our trio walked into the barrel of the tidal wave. People crashed around me on all sides. They held flowers and cameras and camcorders. They shouted “Over here!” and “Karen, look!” and “Where’s the bathroom?”
Lines of empty seats filled the floor for the hundreds of graduates that would soon enter the arena. Rows and rows of people’s people wrapped above and around the seats like the edges of a seashell.
“Where do we go?” I asked my dad. I adjusted the flowers in my arms, the cellophane wrapper rubbing against me. The petals’ scent filled my nostrils.
“Stay close,” Dad said, his eyes scanning the bleachers. “We need to find a seat here real quick.” He started walking toward a set of stairs. I followed his black Nikes.
Ryan and I followed behind him like ducklings. We weren’t late, but we weren’t exactly early. I hadn’t seen my mom yet. She arrived ahead of us to meet with classmates and get instructions for the ceremony.
I felt unsettled without my mom by our sides. Like a table missing a leg, or a clock missing its face, we technically worked, but everything felt off.
We looked up and down the rows of bleachers. Faces stared back at us, all someones to somebodies but simply strangers to me.
Dad craned his neck, his eyes climbing higher and higher, searching for empty seats.
“Ah, there, come on you guys,” he said as he took a step on the metal stair in front of us. My brother and I followed suit, my eyes glued to my Keds as we stepped up, up and away from the floor. Finally, Dad stopped in front of a small section of seats tucked in the farthest right corner of the highest row. The nosebleeds.
We squeezed our way next to others stacked like sardines. I felt like I could touch the ceiling.
Soon after we sat down, the commencement began. After welcomes and pleasantries, a formal man in a formal robe with a formal voice started calling names in a microphone. It all felt exciting until it wasn’t.
In the beginning, everyone clapped. The earliest graduates received the loudest of applauses, everyone drunk on pomp and circumstance. I joined in at first, my fingers red and itchy from the friction as I applauded Linda Keuvac and Karen Osworth and Brian Epstein and whoever, whoever, whoever. Finally, I gave up, too.
By the time it got to my mom’s row, people’s passion for applause had depleted. But it didn’t matter when the man with his formal voice finally said the name. The name we were here to hear. JEANNE. MARIE. HENRY.
On cue, my dad, my brother and I stood up and clapped as hard as we could clap. I realized how quiet we sounded. How easily the noise faded from our seats into the open air. I thought, “There’s no way she can hear us. There’s no way she can see us.”
But maybe that wasn’t the point.
“Why don’t people clap for Mom?” I asked Dad after we watched my mom get her diploma and walk off stage.
“Because they don’t know her,” he answered.
While my mom was just another name to everyone else in that room, she was the entire reason we were there. In the sea of people, we made small waves for the one who mattered most to us. And an ocean isn’t an ocean without waves.
Mom shed salty tears when we reunited outside on SVSU’s lawn after the ceremony was over. We gave her hugs and flowers. We showed her that she has people that are proud of her.
We are blessed when we have people that make waves for us.
They are our home team.
When something happens—good, bad, something, anything—they’re the first faces that flash across our minds. They’re the ones we want to tell, want to text, want to call… because it just feels better, or funnier, or easier, or more real when they know, and it doesn’t quite count until they know. Because they get it. They get you.
Our home team looks for our names in the dance recital program, the school play, the concert line-up. They pick us up at the airport.
They hug us at the finish line. They carry the couch, the boxes, the table, the chairs, into the new house. They’re the hands that light our birthday candles.
The number we call when we need to vent, or worry out loud, or cry, or laugh.
They’re our people. Again and again and again. Not just on Valentine’s Day, or on a birthday, or graduation. They’re there for the court dates and chemo treatments. The job losses and the game wins. The wedding reception and the funeral showing.
They don’t just know us. They understand us.
They aren’t just here for us. They show up for us.
They answer the call. They read the text. They walk through the door.
When the boxer of life hits us with a left jab to the right cheek—and it will because it’s a brawler like that—it’s easy to drown in the disappointment. A situation can sink us in an ocean of sadness…or frustration…or anger…or confusion.
So we call. We vent. Our people help us through it because they aren’t going to let us sink. While situations can be an anchor that keeps us stuck, our people are the lighthouses guiding us home.
Home isn’t home without a team to share in it all. And maybe that’s the whole point. Not to stare at the scoreboard, but to look around at the ones who are who wearing the same jersey.
Situations are hard. But people are tough. And thank God for our people.
Hands are meant to be held.
Phones are meant to ring.
Oceans are meant to have waves.
Life is meant to be shared.
It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and Daisy is mad at me.
She’s on a mission to make her disappointment known. It’s in every sigh that falls with a hefty clank of her exhale.
Every tinny whine in her throat.
The side eye stare.
The paws crossed with contempt.
The lifeless tail that refuses to thump-thump-thump with joy.
It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and my chocolate lab is mad at me…because I have the actual nerve to leave the house without her.
It’s my fault, really. I made her this way.
One of my priorities as a new puppy parent was to make sure she liked riding in the car. I’m often on the go. My dad planned to have Daisy as a sidekick for his pheasant hunting excursions in Iowa or North Dakota. It was crucial that my dog did not have a problem riding in a vehicle.
I prepped Daisy from day 1. I’d never leave the house without looking to her first.
“Daisy,” I’d start, my voice solemn and serious, “do you want to go for a RIDE?!” My tone would rise with enthusiasm.
She'd stare at me, her puppy belly folded underneath her like a chubby accordion.
“A RIDE!” I’d repeat. “Let’s go for a RIDE!” I wanted her to associate the word with fun and excitement and positivity. Then we'd go in the car and I'd take her somewhere she liked: A park. A trail. A pond.
And, well…it worked.
It didn’t take long for her to wiggle and wag her way out the door when I'd ask about a ride. She hopped with fervor into the backseat. As I drove, her tongue lolled out of her mouth as the wind blew her ears back while she faced the world wide-eyed out the window. She learned to love parking lot cart chasers and stop light lane neighbors and free “puppachinos” from Starbucks.
Now I don’t even have to say “ride.” Daisy searches for the signs.
When I go to my closet to change clothes or find earrings or switch socks, Daisy lingers near the doorway. Because Mom is probably getting ready to go for a ride.
If I say, “Daisy…?” she tilts her head and perks her ears. Because Mom is probably asking me if I’d like to go for a ride.
If I put on a coat, grab my purse, put on a pair of shoes, walk toward the door, or--
better yet— all of the above, Daisy is all,“I better get my feet tippy-tapping because we are going for a ride.”
When I go somewhere, I usually take Daisy with me. She’s my favorite co-pilot.
But not today. Today, I am heading up north on a road trip with one of my best friends. And Daisy is staying home…for now.
I stand near the front door and look toward the living room. I zip up my coat, and I see my sad, angry chocolate lab. She’s lying on the carpet like a puddle of passive aggression. Her brown eyes bore into mine as she watches me put on one boot, then another.
I can’t help but smirk.
Daisy is all side eyes and stares and sulk. She’s disappointed. She’s heartbroken. She feels stuck and trapped in the same room with the same view with no end in sight. She’s alone. She’s confused.
She doesn’t understand. All she knows is she’s missing out on the best thing she could have done today.
But little does she know, something better is coming along.
Her absolute favorite person in the whole world—my dad—is coming to get her in one hour. He’s going to take her to her favorite place—my parents’ house: a wooded wonderland where she can romp and play and chase squirrels and run free—and have a heck of a lot more fun than a quick jaunt in the back of my car.
With me, she would have gone on a ride.
With him, she’s going to go on an adventure.
All she has to do is wait one hour.
So I smirk. Because I realize: I’ve been Daisy. You’ve been Daisy. We’ve all been Daisy.
We don’t understand why.
Why did we lose this?
Why are we stuck here?
Why aren’t we getting new results? A different diagnosis?
Why can’t I go?
Why can’t they stay?
Why isn’t this changing?
We feel like we lost the best thing. House. Job. Person. Situation.
But the thing is: we only know what we know right now.
We don’t know what’s around the corner.
We don’t know what’s behind the door.
We don’t know what’s an hour away.
All we can do is wait. And waiting seems like the hardest thing in the world.
In the waiting, the questions come. The doubts. The uncertainty in the why and how. The certainty that nothing beats what it was we just lost. Or what we haven’t gained.
Like Daisy, we sit in the quiet. Stare at the walls. Feel the feelings. Sigh the sighs.
But then—then!— the door will open.
Something different—something new, something that was always meant for you but it was waiting until this moment, right here, right now—will greet you with open arms.
And maybe your feet will tippy-tap, too.
(Note: When I read this out loud to myself after writing it, Daisy heard me say the word “ride.” So guess what we had to go do?)