My daughter graduated from college today. She now is a proud alumna of The University of Texas at Austin, like her mother, father, and brother before her. She also joins an exclusive club of around 7000 UT graduates with nursing degrees providing patient care in every state of the Union and 24 foreign countries (I only looked like I was sleeping during the commencement address).
I was neither more nor less proud of her today than I always am; that cup has been runneth-ing over since I first met her more than 23 years ago. She looks a little different now (usually not red-faced and screaming these days), but she still owns my heart in a way that only a daughter can. She’s jaw-droppingly beautiful, just like her mother, and full of fire, just like her mother. She’s like me in some ways, too, but I’ll leave it to others (such as…oh, her mother) to identify how.
I’d love to tell you all about her, but that would embarrass the snot out of her, and although I’ve often done that over the last 2 decades, it has never been on purpose. So instead, on a completely unrelated subject, and leaving the topic of my smart, strong, capable, astonishing daughter behind, let me tell you a story…
A long time ago, when we all lived in the forest and no one lived anywhere else, a beautiful baby girl was born to a king and his queen. The royal couple already had a fine strong son to carry on the family legacy, and were overjoyed at the news of the impending arrival of the little girl. They had been promised nine month’s warning, plenty of time to prepare for her arrival, and indeed, almost exactly nine months after the king returned from Squadron Officer Schoo…ahhh, from Junior King’s Leadership Academy, they were blessed with their beloved daughter.
The king loved his queen, so rather than striding the parapets and looking kingly as he preferred to do, he was present when their daughter arrived. He remembered being a little fluttery and uncertain when his son arrived (which he attributed to seeing his queen in distress and not knowing who to put to the sword to stop it), but the king, now being older and slightly less callow and ignorant of the ways of the world, was sure he would be ok this time.
The king was fine, partially because he was a better king by this time, but mostly because the little princess (whom we shall call Sister Bear for reasons lost in antiquity) arrived like a cork out of a champagne bottle, leaving no time for kingly angst.
The blond-haired king and his blond-haired queen gazed lovingly into each others’ eyes, ignoring the teethmarks and blood on the back of the king’s hand as was the tradition, and then looked down at Sister Bear and her shockingly full head of thick black hair. The king glanced back at his queen with raised eyebrows; the queen smiled sweetly, gave a small shrug, and looked back down at Sis, who had begun to scream.
She screamed long and loud; her black hair fell out and was replaced with beautiful, downy locks the color of cornsilk. Still she screamed; in the carriage, in her cradle, in every room of the castle. She only stopped screaming when she was nestled securely in the queen’s arms; there, she replaced her screaming with a contented smacking sound she never made while sitting in the king’s lap.
Sister Bear screamed continuously for only a short time (no more than 4 or 5 years), but she became very good at it. As she grew older, however, she began to ask questions of the king and queen during occasional periods of silence, and loved to play the “what if” game.
“Mommy, ummm, what if I poured paint on the floor and rolled in it, and then I put the dog in the paint and used him to paint dirty words on the front door of the castle? What would happen then?”
“Yes, Sister Bear, I’d still love you.”
“Daddy, what would happen if I went to the very tippy top of the tallest castle in your kingdom and jumped off? What would you do?”
“Well, I’d catch you, of course, and I’d give you a big kiss. And I’d still love you.”
Sis continued to explore her world and ask questions, and one day she saw a group of older princesses from another kingdom kicking their legs and spinning in circles gracefully. They wore beautiful costumes, and moved to beautiful music. She asked the king and queen, “What are they doing?”
“They’re dancing, Sis,” they said.
“I want to do that, and I will,” said the young princess.
From that day, she danced everywhere. She danced alone, she danced with the king when he came home from his many wars and campaigns (“Dance with me, Daddy – play the cat song and dance with me”), and she danced with other princesses on a big stage before adoring audiences who cheered and clapped. She loved the stage, but she loved the dance even more.
Princess Sister Bear danced and practiced, and she became very, very good. The king and queen worried, though, knowing how hard the life of a dancer would be, even one as beautiful and talented as Sis.
The king often said, “She needs to have a back-up plan; what if something bad happens? I would never go into battle without a backup plan.” But the king, who was calm and quiet in public most of the time, also couldn’t keep his eyes from leaking when he watched his daughter dance. He blamed allergies, but he knew the truth – he was witnessing talent gifted by God.
After years of uncertainty, the queen finally saw. “Sis has a gift, and she loves to dance. We are king and queen, but how can we stand in her way? We must have faith that there is an order and a purpose, and all will be well.” The king, struck (as he often was) by her wisdom, relented.
As sometimes happens in these stories, things did not turn out as expected for the princess. She danced with artistry, grace, and emotion, but her body could not bear the stress and began to break down. All dancers dance in pain, but shredded ligaments and disintegrating bones not only cause agonizing pain, but can fail like a rotten wooden bridge under the stress, even for a beautiful and talented princess. Even with the best sorcerers and alchemists in the kingdom fighting to cure her pain, it only grew worse. Finally, as she was about to leave for a faraway kingdom and a life filled with dance, Sister Bear had to admit it was not to be.
The princess was devastated, and briefly lost her way.
“I’m a dancer who can’t dance; I have nothing now,” she wept. “Who am I?”
The princess wandered in the wilderness for a time, listening to many voices and asking questions as she had always done. Some of the answers she found were unhelpful, but Truth spoke to her also.
Truth said, “Who are you? You are a fighter and a worker; your hours of practice taught you that. You appreciate and value beauty; your love of the art of dance taught you that. You know that from some suffering comes strength and power; your pain taught you that. And you know now that you can overcome adversity and disappointment, and see beyond your own needs. Who are you? You are MINE, and I made you for something even greater than Art; I made you to ease suffering and serve those who need you. Go find your purpose.”
And so she did.