One of my girls was having a hard time with the reality that her massage school experience was over. She wrapped me and her classmates up in her long arms and held on. We stretched it out as long as we could. We posed for their class photo. We waited while they brought down their small children and tried to get them to smile. We walked around the auditorium and met their families.
But it's over. It ended. I couldn't be happier.
The two classes that graduated last Saturday were both small. They lost a high percentage of their classmates as the program went on, and were left with a couple of tight-knit groups. The girls were special to me, because I saw them almost drown, and they pulled themselves back up again. They fought hard for this day, the end of it. The actual ceremony seemed woefully short, unworthy of the depth of feeling in that room. This is why we lingered at the end. Just one more hug. Just one more photograph.
When I arrived at the graduation, I saw one of the girls walking in. She looked lovely and proud, leading in her family with her head held like a queen. I tapped her on the shoulder to say hello, and she wrapped her arms around me, holding on like I was, indeed, the life preserver she had been looking for. We stood there for a long time, taking comfort and joy in each other. Saying goodbye to the intensity of school, and hello to our new relationship. The way she held on to me -- it was like I was her mother and she was the child reluctant to go into a new place where she didn't know anyone. I was shocked and touched by the intensity of it. I knew we had a kind of bond, but I had no idea. "It's all you," I told her. "You did this."
In the end, though, after the photos and the hugs and the frantic goodbyes, they stood together, my girls, a tight circle facing inward, celebrating what they had done. This is right, I thought. This is how it should be. I quietly left the auditorium, looking forward to the next time I could talk to --not my girls -- my colleagues.