I know I said I was taking a break but this story was too good not to share.
May is a time of graduations and new beginnings for a lot of people. Receiving a high school or college diploma is a milestone that is supposed to open doors to the future, and a lot of people think it is a necessity. But what if getting that piece of paper isn’t a beginning – at least not in the traditional sense of the word. What if it is the icing instead of the cake?
The Universe brings stories into your life when you need them most and for me, facing an uncertain future and working through the hardest separations I’ve ever had to endure, this was that story.
I first met Fran nearly 36 years ago. She was in her late 20s working in a convenience store. I didn’t know a lot back then, being a teenager myself, so I never gave much thought to the circumstances that brought Fran to where she was in life or what her hopes, dreams, and aspirations were.
Fran married into my family soon after we met and it was not an easy transition for anyone. My mother hated her. My father, her husband, obviously adored her. My sister and I were forced to choose sides, so we were never allowed to even like her. And so life went. For more than 30 years.
In that time, Fran and my dad raised a wonderful son, my brother. They helped guide three strong, independent grandchildren to adulthood, and are now doing the same with a new generation of three great-grandchildren. They built a home. They built a life. And they shared it with so many people.
As my dad said, “We’ve grown a lot over the years.”
Fran is now in her 60s. She retired a few years ago from a 30-year career in healthcare. For fun and a little spending money, she dabbles in the gig economy. She also cuts hair in her garage, mostly just for family now, but once as a paid stylist for some big names in country music. She’s a go-getter, full of life and energy.
In May, Fran completed her GED.
I want that to sink in for a moment. Several years into retirement, with obviously no need to use these credentials for anything, she got her high school diploma.
Now I want this to sink in too.
It took her 17 tries to get it.
You can only take the test 3 times per year.
Her achievement is the culmination of nearly a decade of effort.
Why, when most people would have given up, did she keep going? Because she believed she could do it.
The kind of determination it takes to keep going time after time, failure after failure. The kind of faith it takes to believe yourself capable when you continually come up short. The kind of courage it takes to walk into the same classroom 17 different times, knowing few, if any, of the people there with you would do the same.
The photo that Fran showed me of her graduation is one of her joyfully leaping into the air, her cap tossed high above her head, a smile the size of life itself spread across her face. The sheer emotion captured in that one photo leaves no doubt that the effort was worth it.
Brene Brown defines vulnerability as being willing to take a risk without knowing the outcome. There is no courage without vulnerability. There is no joy without vulnerability. If this story is not the definition of vulnerability and the rewards of embracing joy whole-heartedly, I don’t know what is.
Fran and my dad have been wonderful to me over the past week, taking care of me, and being good listeners. They have given me much encouragement and support, much of which has been in ways they probably don’t even know about. This story was shared with me in a general conversation. It wasn’t used as a parallel or meant to inspire me. It was almost an aside, only brought up when we were looking at photos and my dad casually said, “oh, did you tell her you graduated?”
But this story is an inspiration to me. It gives me hope. When you have a dream that means something to you, and maybe even only to you, don’t give up, no matter how long it takes to achieve. And when you do finally get there, lean into the joy. You deserve it.