Last Saturday my daughter Catherine graduated from high school (the appropriately named St. Catherine’s school for girls here in Richmond, where instead of the traditional cap and gown graduates wear full-length white dresses and carry bouquets of daisies). We teased her about being the first in the family, and in some ways it’s true. I went to college after my junior year in high school; my wife Christy finished high school a year early; my daughter Ellie finished a semester early. None of us completed our senior year or went to the senior prom. Catherine did. So, when Ellie went to pick up a cake for dinner on the night of Catherine’s graduation she asked the baker to write on the cake, “Congratulations, Catherine: First in the Family!”
All the celebration of the day brought to mind a quiet, family celebration when Catherine turned 13. We called it her “coming-of-age” ceremony. I’d like to publish part of it here in tribute to that thirteen-year-old who has become such a beautiful eighteen-year-old, and the first in our family to finish high school.
I love you, Catherine.
A Litany for Catherine’s Coming-of-Age
December 18, 2003
Jim: Catherine, today you are a teenager.
No longer a child, not yet a woman, you have entered that unique, in-between, stage in which you will some days want to climb up in your mother’s lap and have a good cry and other days want to go to Kenya, zip around in a Land Rover, and shoot pictures of stampeding elephants. That steady tug-of-war between childhood and adulthood is necessary: it makes you strong, and someday it will make you strong enough to leave the home of your childhood and start a home of your own.
But not yet.
Now is the time to explore your new freedoms and wrestle with your new responsibilities. It will be good work, but it will be hard work. As your family we commit ourselves to loving you and supporting you in this challenging time of transition.
Ellie: Catherine, I will do my best to be a good big sister to you, teaching you what I have learned along the road you are getting ready to travel. Your experience will not be exactly the same as my experience, but if I can help to smooth out some of the rough spots, know that I will.
Jim: Catherine, as your father I will feel the pain as I watch you grow up and away from your childhood. I will miss the little girl you were. But I will also rejoice in your new accomplishments, and your new maturity. I will tell my friends proudly, and with some amazement, that I am the father of not one but two teenaged daughters.
Christy: Catherine, the heart of your mother aches with the loss of her little girl—the one whose wispy blonde hair and bib overalls were so cute. Sometimes I hardly recognize the tall, beautiful woman you are becoming. But even as I lose that baby girl I look forward to sharing womanly secrets with you and someday being a best friend to you as my mother is to me.
Catherine: I accept the gifts of your love and support. I will cherish them now and depend on them in the years ahead.
Jim: Catherine, in the Jewish tradition, when a girl reaches adolescence she becomes responsible for her own soul. As a baptized believer you have already accepted that responsibility: you have made Jesus your Lord and pledged to follow him in faithful discipleship. But as you turn thirteen the responsibility for your life of faith, for your moral choices, will be yours more than ever before. I pledge to let go the reigns of my own responsibility for your “religion” more and more and to let you explore the boundaries of your faith with joyful abandon. I also charge you to take full responsibility for your spiritual life: whether you continue to live as a committed follower of Jesus Christ will be up to you now, and not your mother or me.
Catherine: I accept responsibility for my soul with fear and trembling. I accept responsibility for my soul with joy and gratitude.
Jim: Then let us celebrate Catherine’s coming-of-age, and let us seal this moment with a solemn, apple juice toast:
Ellie: (raising her glass): To Catherine, may you enter this exhilarating, exasperating “in-between time” with courage and with grace.
Christy (raising her glass): To Catherine, may you become to me not only a dear daughter, but also a loving sister, and a laughing friend.
Jim (raising his glass): To Catherine, may you continue to make me proud by the way you travel the road between childhood and adulthood.
Catherine (raising her glass): And to all of you, for all you have been, and all you will be, to me.
Clink! Clink! Clink! Clink!