Such a strange day indeed. Peter hugged me so hard I thought I might break in two, but he was laughing as he hugged me and it was such a heartfelt, surprised laugh, like he hadn’t realized how much he meant to me or how much I would miss him. But he’s one of my best friends, regardless of whether he’s also my professor. Not my professor now, anyway. Just friend, and always mentor. Stacy and Erika were crying. I was crying too, a little bit, but it was strange to see them cry and want to comfort them even though the tears were happy as well as sad. Tiny family, we’ll see each other soon. We’re close, despite mountains and islands and all the things that might try to separate us. I always thought I had a small family, smaller now without my dad, but today I realized how wrong I was. I have a huge family. It’s a mish-mash, bits of other families stolen for mine like outer electrons, but it’s my family and it’s perfect. Karla and Caroline hugged and hugged me, and in their hugs were sixteen years of all girl camping trips and late nights spent laughing over kitchen tables and cheap white wine. Karisa hugged me, and in her embrace was the first day of eighth grade, and us both new and so nervous to find a kindred soul in a crowd of strangers. And Ed hugged me. Ed came, sat alone in an auditorium of families for three hours just so he could watch his best friend’s daughter walk across the stage. Just so that the piece of himself that my father left with him would also be there, and I did see that piece, I saw it in Ed’s eyes and his sweet, sad smile, and the weariness that must come from outliving a man in whom you saw so much of yourself. Ed came, and in his hug I felt my father, felt every father, and could not express my love or gratitude. I have a tiny family. I have a mother and a sister, an uncle who will always be part of our core no matter where he lives, and now a brother-in-law (just brother, just brother). But like an atom, that’s just one shell. Go outward, and suddenly there are other family members revolving around our little nucleus. There are old friends, friends from ballet and photography class who journeyed far to share this joyous day; there are professors who have given me the kind word or harder shove to push me back on track; there are adopted parents of friends and significant others who have no duty to me, but are here because they are moved by love. And there are soul mates. There are the friends who cried with me at midnight and laughed with me at two AM. The friends who suffered with me, celebrated with me, opened up to me and loved me unconditionally when I opened up to them. I feel like I am in free fall, moving fast from the world I knew and into one I cannot predict, cannot control, but far below there is a safety net. When I need it, it will cushion my fall. When I need them, my strange family will catch me. Right now my mind is muddled and I know I’m not making sense, not saying what I want to say or need to say, but somehow I’m not too worried. I know I won’t forget today. I know I don’t need to copy down every emotion into words (impossible, anyway), because I will always feel this awe. This love. This acceptance and want and protection. Today hurts without my father here to crush me in his adoring embrace, but I have hugged so many of my beloveds in my arms today that it almost (but never quite) makes up for his absence. He would be so proud of the family I have forged. I am so proud of the family I have forged.