We practiced her speech together late on the eve of her graduation.
She and another girl had auditioned for the privilege to address their fellow classmates and they had come out on top. A few years earlier my brother had addressed his peers alongside this girl's brother, a winning combination regardless of the year.
I learned in public speaking years ago the secret to confidence behind the microphone: imagine your audience in their underwear. We opted to practice in ours, her in a t-shirt and skivvies, me in my robe. In front of our camera-wielding mother. We live life on the edge, yes we do!
While she committed repeated lines to memory, I gave voice to her partner's lines. Adding in my aged to perfection perspective one analogy at a time. When they spoke of second semesters, I could only think and speak in terms of trimesters. Iambic pentameter became amniotic fluid because I felt those graduates needed to know what the real world held in store for them. We laughed until we were silent, gasping for breath, me with nostrils flaring all the while.
This was my little girl, all grown up, half of those years being spent on the other side of the international border that separated us. She was born during my one year of homeschool, I was the one who held her while my mom got stuff done, I was the one who sang to her invented lullabies in the parking lot of a White Castle run. When financial hardship forced my mother back into the workplace, I walked her to and from school every day, pretending to be her hairdresser on mornings we woke early enough. From the earliest days, we were closer than sisters, we were bosom buddies, connected at the hip and the heart.
When she spoke on Sunday morning in front of a full congregation, I teared as I listened to her give testimony of how God had provided her full tuition and room and board at a private university. She had been willing to lay aside her plans for His providential direction and He hadn't disappointed. That afternoon and evening our house overflowed with her closest friends from every generation. Old and frail ladies that simply adored her, sometimes for the time she spent planting flowers for them, sometimes for nothing more than the smile and genuine love she sent their way every Sunday morning. There were little kids, forcing their parents into attendance so they could again look up to behold their hero and a role model everyone could agree on. Late into the night there were her classmates, kids of every color and culture, background and future, everyone warmed by her hospitality and friendship. I sat among them, pretending to be just like them, understanding clearly the respect they all had for her.
My little girl has become a woman. I can't put my finger on the precise moment she changed in my eyes, the exact gaze which found me looking up to her, for reasons besides her height. But change she did, from a little naive baby-girl to a woman with the audacity to believe she can make a positive impact on her world.
And believe I do too that my sister and best friend will not only impact but change the world, one smile, one impassioned speech at a time.