I like the feeling of folding a paper precisely in half and then half again. It’s a signal to my system that somewhere in life there are exact marking points. 4 corners come together and, Viola! My message is tucked neatly away to be unfolded in the hands of a dear friend. Graduation rituals are similar. We’ve chosen a particular day in May to put on a robe, toss a cap into the air and, viola! A new era of life begins. Precision.
Except that it doesn’t feel so precise.
Not inside my mommy heart. And not for my children. My son is watching the housing website to see where he will live next year. My daughter is getting stranded on the side of the road as her truck chugs and doesn’t make it up the hill to the fix-it-up-chappie. Adult worries in the night are beginning to awaken them. Where will I live? How will I pay the bills?
Graduation season comes with 80 thousand deadlines. Big decisions like declare where you are going to college and little things like ordering your cap and gown. But because there are so many decisions crowded into the U-haul trailer we’ve reserved to move my daughter to Montana, and my son to his new dorm, we are tightly packed.
Do you know that the origin of the word deadline came from a prison camp in the Civil War? A line was painted just beyond the stockade and, if prisoners were found outside of that line, they were shot. Dead. Words have power. No wonder deadlines strike terror even as they motivate us to get tasks completed.
So we are doing what any normal family would. We are ignoring the fear by playing with paper.
We are sending out announcements and cards. As far as I’m concerned good paper cures any ill.
My son shoots a bow. He competed nationally and placed 5th, helping his Colorado team to earn a 2nd place medal. I have been singing this Sweet Honey in the Rock song to him all his life, “Your children are not your children, they are the sons and the daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but they are not from you and though they are with they belong not to you.” It is part of a Kahlil Gibran poem with the line, “You are the bows, from which your children, as living arrows, are sent.” I didn’t know, when I began singing it to my son, that he would become an archer.
As I designed his graduation announcement everything came together. My son loves the outdoors, hunting, and shooting his bow, and we have had many talks about how his time in the woods has fed our family, not just with protein, but with sunshine, and the love of someone who cared about how an animal died and came to our table. I’ve captured the history and influence of this song that I hummed to him when he fit between my wrist and elbow, and allowed it to fit on the 4 corners of the page, neatly folded. I get to gather all kinds of photos from his childhood and send them to the people who have been the enormous tribe that helped to launch him into the world.
I visited my daughter’s beautiful campus in Portland, Oregon just a month before her graduation when she was presenting her honors thesis. We collected flowers and tossed them in a blender to make paper. This is a celebration of the potpourri she’s experienced on this campus and the seedlings that will continue to show up, as blossoms, for the rest of her life.
She wrote notes on these hand made cards for the professors who sat on her thesis advising committee and for other prominent mentors that carried her as she got her education. I begged her to tell me everything her professors said when she sat in the debriefing meeting and handed out bags of tea she had blended herself.
Why does paper, blended or folded, help to still the storm of overwhelm? What rituals help you when you are facing a big life transition? What graduations are you experiencing this year? (hint: as well as launching my children, my husband and I are both turning 50…any milestones at your house?)
If you would like to see the text I included inside my graduation invitation because you are playing with paper, send me an email: rbcamullen @ gmail.com and write, “graduation text” in the subject line.