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Badges of honor

Published: Friday, May 16, 2014 1:05 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 10:00 a.m. CDT

Every year, the newspaper publishes its annual section featuring high school graduates. I find myself studying the faces of these young men and women. I can’t help but think of all the hopes and dreams each one of those photographs holds.

And so it was one day this week as I was getting ready for work, when those youthful faces returned to my mind. Standing before the mirror, I couldn’t help but examine my own not-so-youthful face; an image of my own senior photo returning.

The differences?

Then: A young girl with smooth, peaches and cream skin; eyes that were bright that could envision hopes and dreams; healthy and shiny hair that held traces of a summer sun; a smile — genuine and unrehearsed; an 18-year-old young lady who had the world by the tail.

Now: Wrinkles; well-defined crow’s feet which I prefer to call laugh lines; a few furrows on my forehead; eyes that look tired; hair that has that summer sun applied; a smile — still genuine but seen a lot less frequently ... Other things that looked back at me: Expressions that are often worried, concerned, stressed. And the scar — that ugly scar on my neck that cancer put there — the scar that ultimately saved my life.

More than 30 years separate those two images, and for a moment, I was taken back by the changes. For a moment, my heart hurt, ached for what was and the precious dreams that were never realized. The memories almost overtook me.

But wait a minute ... I can do one of two things: Begin that exhausting journey down Memory Lane ... or I can decide to remain in the present and take a good hard look at the reflection before me. I decide on the latter, and this is who I see ...

OK, there are some wrinkles. Yes, I’ve thought about a little nip and tuck, but I’ve earned every one of those wrinkles. Besides, they match the crow’s feet very well — whether they came from squinting in the sun, frowning at this computer screen, or laughing in the literal face of it all. The furrows on my forehead? They live there in the disbelief that created them. My eyes look tired because, quite frankly, they are. And the hair? Well, let’s just say the days of having the sun bleach out my hair while tanning my skin are long gone. My sun-streaked hair now lives in a bottle at the salon with Ms. Clare.

And then there are the expressions that live in the mirror-reflected image. Of course I’m worried, stressed out, concerned. I’m an adult now, and those seem to be the prerequisites. And then there’s the scar; the scar that made me grow up really quickly. The scar that made everything else pale in comparison. The scar I see that still can bring tears to my eyes — not because of the actual scar but because of what it represents.

You know, my friends, there are days when I would give about anything to return to those senior picture days — a place in time when the worries and woes of the world were few.

But on the other hand, I study my image in the mirror today, and while I can see about a bazillion things I’d like to improve, I’m fairly content to wear those wrinkles, those crow’s feet, those furrows ... even that dreadful yet beloved scar. You see, I’ve earned them all. They are my badges of honor.

Life has a way of changing us, both inside and out. While the image that stares back at me doesn’t hold the youthful qualities of yesteryear, I believe what lives inside is far more appealing than what I had to offer 30-some years ago.

May today’s graduates relish each moment, embrace each day. And as they look toward the future, may they realize that what lives inside them is really all that counts. The wrinkles, the furrows, even the scars are just the evidence of a life well-lived.

And my words to this year’s Class of 2014: May you wear your badges of honor proudly.

Tonica News Editor Terri Simon can be reached at tsimon@tonicanews.com.

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