Day 160: your first suit

9 Jun

Do you remember your first business suit?

After being in the presence of college students on the verge of graduation yesterday, I have been reflecting on that big step in life.  And it brought back the memory of my first, real, big-girl business suit.

Today, my closet is filled with black suits, the chosen color, a uniform really, of the corporate set. But my first suit, it was blue.

It was baby blue and I bought it against sage advice to go with a red one.
Red was the color of power, of strength, of leaders.

But I found something else.  In a dressing room at a Kansas City department store I fell in love with a hue of baby blue, it matched my eyes, it made me feel strong, it was all in preparation for my much anticipated Truman Scholar Finalist interview.

The suit was fabulous.
My interview was not.

On that very first night in a California hotel room, at the Truman Scholar welcome reception, I answered the very first question from the very first person I met wrong

I was in the middle of all the other swarming Truman Scholar finalists, all of us dressed up like sophisticated women and men, with heels and ties, all well manicured and tucked-in in order to turn-out and perform.

He was one of the judges and had read my application.
He knew I had recently wrapped up my battle with cancer.

It was like he spotted me from across the room and honed in on me with laser focus.

He was prepared. 
I was not.

When he approached me we chatted away like any normal college student does with an adult twice her age, twice her intelligence.  I bubbled with sporadic teenage energy.  He cocked his head to the side and wrinkled his brow a lot.

His burning question, the one that sent him on a mission to seek me out over the little wrapped pastries and passed hor d’oeuvres?

What was the one book that most influenced you during your struggle with cancer?

What an easy question!
Instinctively, I knew the answer.

I had been carrying around a copy of “The Precious Present” since I was first diagnosed with cancer.  The book became my manifesto, my mantra, my manual for surviving the darkest days of my late teenage years, the endless IVs, early morning radiation treatments, nausea, weight loss, you name it.

It became my trusty little handbook for dealing with both the loss of my hair and the loss of my immortality.

As I continued to explain, or rather, bubble over with enthusiasm for “The Precious Present” my new friend started to look a little lost, a little blank in the face.

He seemed disappointed. 
Actually he seemed annoyed.

His response to me before moving on to the next student was:
“I thought you would have said the Bible.”

I was left in silence standing in the heels that matched my baby blue suit wondering how I could have messed that question up.  I told the truth.  How could that be wrong?

It was a bad start to a bad weekend.  The next day I performed so well I was awarded a free trip to Disneyland and that’s it.  No scholarship.  It felt like failure with fanfare as I rode through It’s A Small World to celebrate my inadequacy.

For months after that failed experience, I beat myself up for not answering the questions right.  Why didn’t I say the Bible?  Why didn’t I buy a red suit?  What was I thinking?

Now, looking back, I know I wasn’t thinking.  I was somewhere between living and feeling, moving and navigating at my own pace through my own head and heart.

As I think of my new friends who are graduating this weekend, there is one thing I want them to know:  I really like that girl, the one in the baby blue suit, the one who answers with her head but leads with her heart.

And, I think I will take her with me the next time I go shopping.
In 2012.

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