It’s just a piece of paper. I can tell myself that. It’s a larger piece of thicker paper. With a beautiful green and gold, embossed seal. The colors of my alma mater. It may even say the school’s motto – Lux et Lex. Not sure, because I haven’t really looked at it in years. Not even at a glance, much less closely.
I can’t look at it. It’s in a stack. And I don’t dare move any of them, for fear I’d have to look at all of them.
It’s a nice piece of paper in a large and beautiful, dark, brown frame. It was an expensive one at that. Not the frame, the diploma in it.
They all sit in my office space. Stacked atop my file cabinet that holds a few neatly placed personal files. The furniture and frames are all from the days of old.
There’s the normal-sized college diploma. That’s nice too, but it’s the other one. The oversized law school diploma. Matted and framed. Larger than life in my mind.
And the long, vertically-framed The Order of Barristers certificate. The one award that I really coveted in law school, even though I was on the highly coveted Law Review Board of Editors. I wanted an achievement that documented my oral advocacy. That nod seemed to cement the end of my dream even more than the piece of paper that said, “I did it.” I did law school.
Every office I held as Jackie M. Stebbins, Attorney at Law, also held all those beautiful, brown frames, with the tiny shards of black sprinkled throughout the four sides. Those diplomas had to be on the wall to show the clients that I indeed knew what I was talking about. As if a piece of paper on the wall can convey that to people in their emotionally charged days.
The diplomas now sit in an office. A confused office at that. It harbors all the memories of the woman who used to practice at that desk; store important, client files in the cabinet; peruse law books from the shelf. It looks the same, sort of. But the feeling cannot be replicated.
I don’t know what they mean anymore. Just as people around me don’t always know what I mean. Are you a lawyer. No. Yes. Was. Still am. It’s confusing. Please just read my book and give me grace. And please don’t assume that because I don’t ride the bike anymore, I don’t still know how. Like I didn’t ride so hard, and so far, in such a short amount of time. I just don’t anymore. Can’t anymore. Why isn’t that acceptable?
Does that framed diploma on the wall say has been or will always be?
If they’re not hung above the big desk, what does that mean? Does it mean they’re better suited to exist in a stack? Should they be dismantled? Documents placed in a box and frames sold? Does putting them up remind me of a purpose that once was, but is a purpose no longer fulfilled? Does hanging them up tell me I earned every ounce of that expensive, embossed cardstock with the calligraphy writing? Does leaving them in the corner tell me what I already know?
I called and asked my dear cousin, landlord, and friend, Alison, “Is it OK if I finally hang a few things on the wall? Just two pieces of art for now.” She happily replied, “Of course, Jackie. You’re finally feeling at home. You’ll figure out what to do with your diplomas in time.”
As I got off the phone, I went back to writing in my journal. And whether by subconscious or faux pas, I jotted, “Maybe I’ll find a place for them. I’m just not sure where I belong.”
I looked. Smiled. Crossed out that one word and wrote over it. “I’m just not sure where they belong.”
Keep pondering, friends. Some of the simplest questions in life don’t have easy answers.
And just keep swimming.
“I ain’t trading my youth for no suit and jacket I ain’t giving my freedom for your money and status So don’t say I’m getting older ‘Cause I’ll say it when I do
“‘Cause everybody I know, everybody I know Is growing old, is growing old too quickly And I don’t wanna go No, how am I supposed to slow it down So I can figure out who I am?” Suit and Jacket by Judah & The Lion