“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”Gilda Radner

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ring Day

Tonight I was invited to my niece Olivia's high school ring ceremony. It was emotional for more than one reason. She attends my alma mater, an empowering all-girls school in the heart of South Buffalo, so I revisited the hallways and lockers and faces of my former teachers. I was excited to be asked to go. I don't know if "Ring Day" is a thing for other high schools, but it is at mine, and my godchild wanted me to be there. I wasn't about to miss it. As I dressed to go, selecting tasteful clothes that say, "I'm the fun aunt but I know how to be classy, too," (that's a tough combo), my sister texted me. "Are you wearing your ring?"

I glanced down at my right hand. It is not a lovely hand. I am in my late thirties and I'm a mom and I don't do manicures because they are ruined within sixty minutes of spending however much money they cost these days. But on my right hand there rests a ring always, and it isn't my school ring. Today of all days, I felt torn about making a switch.

Still, if ever there's an occasion to break out the high school ring (the one my sister wears daily, as do many other fellow "Mercy girls," as we call ourselves), it's the night you're attending the actual ceremony. In a frenzy, I began tearing through the half dozen jewelry boxes I've acquired through the years: those made for me by my sons with cardboard and tissue paper, the one I received as a gift in high school, my grandmother's, and a few other random containers that I've picked up along the way. I dug and dug. We moved recently, so it made sense that the ring might not be in an obvious place. In my search I found my mood ring from junior high, my first pierced earrings, a tape measure, every toothbrush I've ever received from the dentist, and thirteen dollars. But I did not find my Mercy ring.

As I sat, disgruntled, through the ceremony, I was bothered further by the fact that many girls in attendance were bequeathed rings from moms and relatives. I think my sister will be buried wearing her ring, so that was a no-go for my niece, but why did I not give my godchild, my baby girl, my ring? Blessed with boys, I will never see my child in my high school (unless he's on a date or very, very misbehaved). And there is no one else who should have it but Olivia. I sometimes think she reminds me so much of me, maybe she should have been mine. My sister is a wonderful mother and my best friend, but I do secretly plan ways of kidnapping her firstborn child. At any rate, I have no one to give my ring to, and I don't wear it myself. As I've mentioned, that finger is taken.

The evening continued. It's astonishing to see that Mercy girls are Mercy girls no matter the decade or year. The ones who look effortlessly beautiful, the ones who are self-conscious but hold their shoulders back and their chins up...and why do they all try not to smile as they process in? As each one received her ring, she took her seat and held up her right hand, turning it this way and that, to see her new ring shine. It really is special to be a Mercy girl. Even the girls you don't talk to much or would never hang out with share a deep bond with you. You wear the skirt. You wear the ring. You are given, almost as a gift, the ability to hold your head up wherever you walk, by the teachers and the walls of that school. You are taught that as a female, you can still be strong. In fact, you are strong because you are a female. You have sisters who will stand beside you. Friends who will last a lifetime. Teachers who will know your face twenty years later and remember your dreams of becoming a writer.

When they sang our school song, fondly known as "The Suscipe," I sang along. I don't think I was supposed to and my sister was a little embarrassed. I didn't belt it out or anything, but my heart felt so at home. My eyes teared up as I imagined glancing over and making knowing eye contact with Kelly or Alice or Carolyn, bumping shoulders during Mass or exploding weird sneezes that gave us all the giggles, assemblies when one girl scandalously wore nude panty hose (an inexplicable but carved-in-stone fashion DON'T among our kind). All those memories from one song that at the time seemed like not such a big deal. But I guess it was, because I sat in the chapel with tears in my eyes.

And then I looked down at my right hand. What a strange day. My own Ring Day had been November 9. I still remember. Why did they move it to February? February 2. An odd coincidence. It wasn't easy finding a babysitter and making arrangements to get there, but as I said before, I wouldn't miss it for the world. 

The older I am, the less I believe in coincidences. I sat in the chapel as "The Suscipe" ended and I looked down at Grandma's wedding ring on my right hand. I can't not wear it. It keeps her with me. And it's funny, but she never missed any of my big events, either. If I asked her to come, she'd say, "Oh, Lovey. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Thank you, Grandma, for teaching me how to love, and how to be there for the people who love me. As I said a year ago, you are not forgotten. Maybe not finding my school ring tonight was not a disaster or a coincidence at all.

P.S.- Grandma? You'd have loved "The Suscipe."


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