Fourteen years ago this year I graduated from high school.
My graduating class was tight-knit and very small (70 girls) and most of them had been going to school together for seven years, if not longer. I had only been there for two years, but it's tough not to make important connections in such an insular, intense environment (and at that age).
The teacher who ran the yearbook was also one of our English lit teachers. She was also a lesbian, and during a time when the gay/straight alliance was just starting to take off, she was an important ally to many of us. I guess we just all got to know each other, in the days before cell phones and Facebook and everything else, more than teachers and students normally would.
Anyway. When yearbooks were handed out at the end of the year, this teacher would write a little note to each of the members of the senior class. It would be a two-word phrase for each girl that she felt described each one of us, individually, and could inspire us going forward. Mine was Steel Magnolia.
(I really, really hate that movie. No, really - I hate it).
I know that's not what she meant, though -- about the movie. I instantly, even at the age of just-turning-eighteen, knew exactly what she meant. Even though I'm a girl, and I'm tiny, and I'm sensitive and emotional and all the things you might think about me upon first meeting me ... I'm also tough. I'm no delicate flower. And I have the ability to look with myself and use that steel, whenever I need it.
I can't say how huge of an impact those two little words have had on my adult life. But it's been huge. Enormous. I have thought of it so many times and remembered my own strength. During times when I feel weak, or out of control, I return to this and remind myself that nothing can ever take that from me.
During the massive magnolia bloom (the first flowers of spring) in the bay area, which occurs in December or January, I think about it even more than usual. And I study the magnolia tree -- so beautiful, so delicate-looking, yet so strong, so hearty to bloom in what should be the middle of winter.
There have been so many magnolias blooming in Berkeley this week.