Onward & Upward

Driving to the Denver Coliseum last week, on a Friday mid-afternoon, I found myself nervous, giddy, proud, and ecstatic all at once. Grandma, smiling with a dark red lipstick, was in the passenger seat as the soft sound of Google Maps ensured that I took the fastest route. We parked close to the old beige-colored building and were able to find the rest of my family waiting inside.

We – all of us – had gathered to witness something miraculously momentous.

My brother was graduating college. Lance – he did it!

The anticipation was palpable as the ceremony begun and the commencement speakers shared their keen words of wisdom. I was particularly inspired after hearing from Metro State’s current President, Janine Davidson, who formerly served as an undersecretary for the U.S. Navy, among other high-level leadership positions in the Pentagon (um, so cool). She acknowledged that for many students, the path to success is not linear – it’s bumpy and windy, and often, ends up in places that we couldn’t necessarily expect. She shared that the youngest graduate from the December 2017 class was in their twenties – the oldest, in their seventies. She noted that over 300 graduates were the first in their families to secure a degree. From anecdote, to fact, to story, she exemplified why graduations are important at all – and I couldn’t help but glance at Lance ever so often, remembering all that he has been through to get here.

Simultaneously, I sat next to (and at times, held) Kysyn and AnaLynah, my nephew and niece, encouraging them to cheer loudly when they heard their dad’s name. Eventually, he stood, and meandered toward stage in a slow-moving line.

Lance Taylor Newell.  

We cheered and clapped and smiled. Yes! It was happening.

You see, the path for my brother was not and has not been easy. He has had to overcome challenges that I could not dream of facing. And yet, he has survived.

I don’t say that lightly either; many times, especially while I was living abroad, I wondered if I would see him again. I feared that we would lose touch. That maybe, things would never get better. In my heart, I knew how badly he wanted a solid, strong future. But, ultimately, he was going to have to fight for it. He did – and he won.

As I heard my brother’s name called for completion of his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, I tried to freeze and capture the moment as best as I could. I looked around at our family, I gazed at him, and I held closely to my feelings of joy. I did not soon want to forget the rawness of miraculous joy. There really is no feeling like it.

A couple days later, at his graduation party, my mom and step-dad showed a slide show with pictures from many points in his life. From his teen years, from his time in sports, and even his earliest pictures, at just over 3 lbs, when he was still in the hospital. It was those pictures that made me weep; I have known Lance my entire life and for the duration of his life, he has been fighting. He has been brave. He has been resilient. He is not perfect – nor am I – but he’s done something that I hope he is proud of.

My biggest hope for him is that his story becomes one that he not only shares – but one that he can look back on and be proud of.

More people need to know that surviving (and thriving) is an option. More people need to know that overcoming addiction is possible. More people need to know that addressing mental illness is critical and necessary and NOT a weakness. And, more people need to know that it has been done.

My other biggest hope is that Lance can know deeply, and fully, how valued (and loved) he is. Though a diploma is a testament to one kind of success – it can never give a person the full value that they deserve.

Lance – wholly and completely himself – is worth gold. I have never been prouder and I simply cannot wait to see what is next on the horizon.

Sibling relationships are special – after all, at least for Lance and me, it’s the only kind of relationship where we’ve have shared so much of life at similar ages and at similar times. I used to say that Lance was my best friend. Though adult life has taken us to different places for different reasons, I still believe he is.

He knows me. He is my best friend.

And, he’s a newly graduated young man with so much ahead of him.

Onward and upward.

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