Spring is a time of rebirth, new growth, and graduations. Last week, my family traveled to California and celebrated my oldest son’s graduation from the University of California, Berkeley Law School. This marks another significant event in an odyssey we have all traveled since December of 2002, when he broke his neck in a vehicle accident.
That mishap is best described as a wrong place at the wrong time kind of thing. In 2007, in a two-part article that appeared in New West Magazine, I summarized our family’s experience with paralysis up to and including the receipt of his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Oregon. Now, another phase in his recovery has begun.
Commencement occurred at the Greek Theatre on the UC campus. The ceremony included formal speeches and the presentation of awards. Also, in keeping with the Berkeley experience, there were protests about the BP oil spill and John Yoo, a UC professor who wrote the torture memo during the Bush administration. Such demonstrations add to, rather than detract from, the school’s convocations.
My son’s life is sometimes hard, yet he goes forward. He still has a few credits to clean up in the fall. After that comes the Bar Exam. This summer, he will intern with the regional office of the EPA in San Francisco.
His achievements stand alone on their merits. He was accepted to his school of choice, he found a way to pay for it, and he survived the daunting first year. We are proud of his resilience in dealing with the unpredictable turn of events in his life. We don’t, however, usually do the inspiration thing. That word is abused to such an extent with the disabled it no longer has meaning.
I returned home, glowing from the experience in California. My son may be the graduate but it is I who learns. During our absence, my garden flourished, though, perhaps exploded is the more apt word. Wildflowers inserted themselves along the perimeter of my perennial beds. I even found volunteer sprouts growing from a crack on my deck’s railing.
At this time of year, in the garden, it is all I can do to stay ahead of the point where order tips into chaos. That same uneasy feeling of teetering on the edge lasted several years after my son got hurt. My experience with cancer seems comfortable by comparison. It’s easier to worry about oneself than someone else, especially a spouse or child.
Nonetheless, clichés do dog those of us with cancer. In the eyes of some, we are short timers; others praise us as courageous or inspirational. But cancer and spring teach us not to wait. Life is about going forward regardless of interruptions to our orderly expectations. It is as elemental as that little sprig of grass on my porch surviving on a speck of dust and sunshine. Simple persistence is the only inspiration any of us needs. In truth, we are all short timers.
Granted, living with cancer is tough stuff. Moreover, experiencing the worst often brings out our best. Day to day, year to year, my son reminds me of that. Yet, praise has nothing to do with his survival instincts or those of that opportunistic plant. Both would starve if they had to rely on kudos for sustenance.
When my son rolled across the stage of the Greek Theatre, the graduate directly in front of him stopped. She sat down on the concrete and unfurled a banner condemning the high cost of public education.
The procession halted while the school’s Dean resolved the situation. My son waited patiently, at center-stage, to proceed. The crowd chanted his name a few times and he basked in the moment’s attention. Finally, he continued forward and accepted his diploma. Then, he moved off stage to what will be the next chapter in his life.