Last night I had the honor of attending my niece's high school graduation. This meant driving an hour south in the early afternoon, waiting for hours in a hot college gym, and then driving an hour north late that night. But it was worth it.
My mom and younger sister came over from Maui for the event with my nephew, and my brother-in-law's parents made the trip from NY. M is the first grandchild on either side to graduate, but it was more than that. This was a very special moment for all of us.
M has been a wonder from the beginning.
She was born 3 months early, so early that it was touch-and-go for some time. So early that my sister didn't even get to hold her for weeks. So early that she would have fit into my open hand, if I'd been allowed to pick her up, if I'd had the courage to pick up someone that tiny, that delicate, that vulnerable. It was a beginning no one would have chosen.
And M now is a vibrant young woman, healthy and active, with a horse she rides and a group of equally energetic friends. She's also one of the sweetest young women I've met. So easy to love.
It seemed like every one of the speakers last night focused on the ability we all have to make a difference by making small efforts. To paraphrase, not everyone can make a big difference, but everyone can make a difference by making small efforts. This was the theme of the evening, or so it seemed to me as I sat crushed in a gymnasium with hundreds of other family members (not all mine!).
That strikes me as a good theme for M too. She's not flashy, not out leading the charge. But she has an impact by caring about those around her.
I managed not to get too choked up during the ceremony, but I was reminded of a time a couple of years ago when I did get choked up watching M. This was at the County Fair and she was there with her riding team. Part of the responsibility was to be present at the stables on the fair grounds and answer questions when curious people came by.
While she was talking to us, a small girl (8yo?) came by. M turned to her and said hello and the girl asked her something. I don't remember what the question was... something a small horse-struck girl would ask an older girl who is lucky enough to have a horse. M gave that little girl her full attention and shared her love for riding by taking her seriously, answering questions as graciously as anyone I've ever seen. I was struck by the thought that somehow she'd grown into an amazing young woman while I was busy with my own life, and it made me teary to see how far she's come, how sweet and generous a person she is. It wasn't that long ago that she was three and kicking the car seat, cranky and unmanageable during a long drive to the coast. How did this happen, and how did she become this wonderful woman?
It's a reflection on my sister and her husband, on the job they've done with M and her brother, but mostly it's a reflection of M herself, and it makes me a proud uncle to stand nearby as she starts to unbend her wings and look out on the rest of her life. I can only hope my two girls grow into people like her.