Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Transitions and A Book Review: "Home Safe", and the 2004 Metro Swat Team in France

More of the graduation of my youngest one. . . St. Olaf has this really sweet, sentimental ceremony, as part of their graduation events that they began 3 years ago. They "transfer" the light from a class 50 years ago to the current graduates; this year it was the class of 1960 passing on the light to the class of 2010.

The ceremony began at 9pm in the chapel:

Actually, it really began hours before, with the seniors strolling through the campus, searching out their own personalized lantern with their name on it. After the ceremony in the chapel, the students headed out to their lantern on the campus, to light the lantern. Dianna, of course, did not find her lantern in advance, so finding it in the dark was momentous:

She was pretty blissed out when she found it and there's something about young ones, and Bill, and flames, that are a near magical combination:

Now a segue of sorts. I'm reading a book, "Home Safe," by Elizabeth Berg, and I admit that when I began it, I had mixed feelings about it. I thought it was insipid, and lame; a free book through Barnes and Noble on my ereader that made me want to skim it (and I did, initially.)

But then it got better. I'm still not quite finished with it, and I'm struck by the relationship between the mother and daughter. Helen, the main character, is a writer whose husband dies abruptly. Helen is a somewhat clingy woman who turns to her only child, a daughter, Tess, to fill the void created by her husband's death; Tess will have none of this.

As the novel goes on, there's real growth in the main character, as she examines her relationships and thinks through more of what her needs are relative to others, and how to meet her own needs. At one point, she's teaches a writing class to a small, odd collection of characters. I love this part of the book! The writing "samples" presented by each of the students are like a little collection of "people-paintings!"

One of the assignments she gives the students is to write about a loss that had a surprising outcome. As I read this, I thought about a "loss," I experienced in life when Doug and I took a trip to France, along with Dianna and Brian, to meet our oldest, Scott. We were in Paris, using the Metro, and struggling with the language barrier and culture shock. Trying to be more efficient, I told my family to throw away their metro tickets once we used them so we wouldn't keep mixing up the used tickets with the good ones.

Bad move.

A metro swat team swooped down on us and demanded our tickets. Only Dianna had listened to me, which meant that only Dianna and I were in Violation of the Metro Law and couldn't produce our ticket stubs. We were fined big bucks, (and they were more than willing to use our U.S. credit cards.) But as Doug and I reached for our wallet, we "discovered" that our wallet was stolen. We told Dianna and Brian to head back to the hotel, and we'd go to the previous stop to search for the missing wallet. Doug and I were in a panic, and I distinctly registered the look of alarm on Brian and Dianna's faces.

Except the wallet wasn't missing. In the chaos of our "arrest", I'd somehow dropped Doug's wallet into my purse and it wasn't "lost" at all.

That's not the "loss" I'm talking about. I'm talking about the alarm on Brian and Dianna's faces. They told me that they were not worried about finding their way back to the hotel; they were worried about their parents, (their incompetent, discombobulated, probably dementia-ridden, parents) who might now get lost in the subway system of Paris and never, ever, find their way back home. The look of alarm was a look of concern and protectiveness; they did not think we could handle what we were about to do.

Let me state here straight out that Doug and I are not losers. We are not incompetent, and as far as I know, are not showing signs of dementia. We're just typical middle-aged folk who get rattled occasionally and don't have the laser-sharp short-term memory and multi-tasking ability of the typical 20 year old.

And that was the marking of a "loss," of a passing of a light from one generation to another; they thoroughly believed they might have to retrieve us from our foibles and protect us, somehow, from ourselves. Not true, at that moment, but someday, too soon, that moment may come.

There's something about the college graduation of your youngest that is a marking of a passage, completely different from the graduation of the oldest. It's a bittersweet thing, not all bad, not all good. Life goes on.


Maria said...

Oh, Angela! I'm so laughing with you! First, if there was a perfect someone to be about when Dianna lit her lantern, it would have had to be Bill. Good ol' Uncle Bill and his uncanny ability with gadgets, widgets, and whatzits. His enthusiasm is so pure and child-like!

Second, at one point after the graduation I became separated from Lee, Robert and Barb, and Robert told me what he was thinking: "Oh, no! It's happening again!" - an allusion to Barb getting separated from us in Rome.

We had a good laugh about it, but I guess in a small corner of my mind I was also thinking that some day I might really be giving my family something to worry over. Nothing makes you think about aging like watching our children reach another milestone. I felt a twinge of what you are describing when David graduated high school. I imagine the feeling will be much more intense when he finishes college.

Byron once wrote: "All tragedies are ended by a death, all comedies are ended by a marriage . . . " Well, in time all good comedies also end in death. C'est la vie! But how much do we laugh until the curtain closes? That's what will define the play.

Yolanda said...

What a great ceremony! Congratulations Dianna!

Jeanne said...

What a wonderful tradition and it sounds like the perfect person was there to help Dianna commemorate it.

I'm nowhere near the milestone you ladies have reached, but have felt a teensy bit of what you felt the first time I watched my girls do a performance for their school. Tugged at my heart big time.

Time rushes on, we fumble as best we can and hopefully get to laugh a lot and love a lot along the way. You've raised adorable children into extremely capable wonderful adults, keeping your humor intact. THAT is an awesome achievement and one to be very proud of!

Barb said...

Life does go on and from my experiences life gets better and better.

shirley said...

Congrats to Dianna, and to you and Doug for her accomplishment.

Interesting how our children grow up and there's that loss of dependence upon the parents. You've obviously instilled a great sense of compassion and caring in your children.

Bobbi said...

I love the way you write about your persnal life Angela. That story about your "loss" was amazing and beautiful. Thank you for sharing the words.