My Own Eyes
I’ve been surrounded, this past week, by the energy, excitement and anxiety that inevitably accompany the start of a new school year. It’s probably not surprising, then, that when I decided to post a throwback Thursday photo on my Facebook page, I gravitated towards school pictures, ultimately choosing my first one ever from Kindergarten.
White cotton blouse buttoned right up to the neck under a navy blue 100 percent wool uniform jumper. Wispy hair, slightly uneven bangs. Looking straight at the camera with chin held high and eyes so very bright. Everything was possible in the eyes of that smiling little girl. Everything and anywhere.
I didn’t think much of it when I posted the picture –– it was just a fun and timely #TBT –– but when I was on my way to work the following morning, I found myself pondering questions I can honestly say I’d never consciously considered before. And the more I pondered, the more important the questions became. Until, strangely, I could almost physically feel their weight.
What would the five-year-old girl in that picture think of the woman she had become 50 years later, I wondered. Would she admire her, look up to her, be proud of her? Would she consider her a role model? Would she be happy to be her? To live the life she had carved out? To watch her at work, at home, with family, friends, colleagues, strangers? Or would she be saddened, disappointed? Would her chin drop, her eyes sadden, and her smile fade?
As I sat at a traffic light, right hand covered in a black leather driving glove that rested on the steering wheel of my Land Rover, I felt the intense power of my younger self’s perspective…
She’d definitely approve of the Land Rover, I thought, because she loved her father so much and he loved his Land Rovers. And the leather gloves, because her stylish mother had long since taught her that a pair of quality leather gloves added exactly the right level of flair to almost any outfit.
I can remember that little girl so well. She loved school. She loved the rows of desks and the chalkboard. She loved the textbooks and exercise books, the pencils and pens, the rulers and erasers. She loved making notes and studying them. She loved math problems. She loved numbers and words.
There was much that terrified her –– doctors, dentists and hospitals, thunder and lightning, dogs and the radio reports that the world would end on a particular date and time –– and she had terrible nightmares about ghosts, aliens, witches, and pillars in the sky. She had night pains in her knees and sore throats. She had also already learned that some people are cruel, and seem to gain great joy by stealing other people’s happiness or hurting them. But she was absolutely certain and safe in her father’s and mother’s love. And she had yet to have even the slightest real glimpse of what it would be like to lose either of them.
She didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up, but she knew she wanted to be something. And she wanted to be good… not cruel or mean like the person who gave her a small glass of water that turned out to be vinegar.
I’ve written before of my deeply-rooted motivation to live my life so that my father would be proud to call me daughter –– that is one of the ways I try to honour him. And my husband reminds me almost everyday that I so often see myself through my mother’s eyes, and strive to be the daughter she would want me to be.
But that #TBT post… that little girl… made me realize something that had never before consciously occurred to me. Looking at that photo, I realized for the first time that despite the heartache I know she will feel, the physical pain she will suffer, the losses she will endure, the cruelties she will experience and witness… more than anything I want her to experience and appreciate all the successes and joys before her… I want her to feel loves so intense they will stream down her cheeks as she walks up a long church aisle towards Peter and holds Kenneth in her arms and says goodbye to her treasured father, her role-model mother, and precious Atlas… I want her to laugh, and sing, and dance, and do things she never thought she could ever do, like learn to hit a golf ball and climb to the top of the Earth’s mantle.
And most of all, I want her to know she can depend on me to be the person she would want me to be… to be proud of the person she has become and the life she has built.
Peter has always told me that you can’t do for others unless you first do for yourself. I’ve always thought I understood that, but I didn’t really. Not until now. Not until I looked back into my own eyes.
To the bright-eyed school photo of a little girl named Jackey Barron.