After turning off a local Facebook thread with a shout one more time over the current leadership’s insistence that places like the pool, museum and library need to make money and pay for their own way, and almost tossing the iPad out the door into the rain, there was a rainbow . A big one. This is not a metaphor. It really happened, and I don’t think it was an accident. Just like how after the year of Covid school we are mostly all vaxxed and healthy and celebrated with a sunny graduation parade for twenty Glacier Bear seniors. (My grandchildren wore masks inside school all year in the same way they wore mittens and hats sledding.)
The commencement itself was in person but not a community affair, as only invited family and close friends attended, and everyone spread out on the bleachers rather than wedge in shoulder to shoulder. It may have looked different but you and I didn’t have to be there to know that the feeling was the same, the heat (it’s always hot at graduation), the emotion, pride, the tears in the eyes over time passing and endings and beginnings, and while of course the empahisis was on commencing on with life, even if every parent in the room tried not to think about the quiet on school days after their senior leaves home.
But this year there was another kind of feeling in Haines, not so much Covid related, and for us worse, as we lost the kindergarten teacher who was just 23 and a recent Haines High graduate, and a hometown sunshine girl when she died in the December rainstorm-caused landslide. Missing Jenae (and also David, who died in the same disaster and was such a shining star) was all mixed up with the celebration. These students, and teachers and parents and all of us learned in our very bones that nothing is for sure, so the tempation to hold tight and not let go of these kids, or this happy moment in time, is huge.
And yet– we bravely sent them off and wished them well, with so much love, joy and hope– and I would add courage– it takes courage to leave the house, the school, the town for college, work or adventures. Maybe that’s why the parade in the sun, with all kinds of cars and trucks and families, grandparents in the back of some, little sisters and brothers in others– the terrific sort of rag tag marching band made of musicians of all ages who practiced and practiced just because a proper celebration needs pomp and circumstance, trumpets and a big bass drum. I cannot explain it exactly, but the parade made me happier than the rainbow even. Happier than I’d been in a long time. It was one of those scenes that I’ll hold in my heart like a tender little seedling in a paper cup. The kind kindergarteners bring home on Mother’s Day.
And I want to tell you this too– because it’s related, in a cause and effect way. When we built the new library these seniors were at lap-sit story times. At the time, a group of library supporters, as passionate as the marching band, decided we would raise the money and build it, in spite of opposition from many of the same naysayers who now have the ear of the Borough Assembly. Who argue against funding organizations and institutions that don’t make money as not being essential to our health and well-being. The ones that make me want to chuck the iPad over my shoulder. I was at the door at the library’s grand opening when the little children came in for the first time, and maybe even some were in this graduating class, and one child said, “Am I still in Haines? It’s so beautiful.” and another little boy from a rough neighborhood, with a not so great homelife, asked me who owned this place, and I said, ” You do.” I brought him in and sat him in one of the nice chairs crafted by a local furniture maker, and handed him a new picture book, and I told him this is all his, and mine and ours and aren’t we lucky to live in this town that loves its children so much?
The summer reading program kicked off at the library the day after school was out, and Jenae’s mother helped pay for the party.