The day we dropped Emma off for her freshman year at Rhodes College was a not a day orchestrated for reflection. There was a fast-paced schedule to keep. When Emma was settled, I began to see the signs. They came like gifts and tonics. The head of food service saw me standing in the dining room. She greeted me warmly with a hug and a promise of good care. The next sign came when I stopped at Fresh Market to get Emma a plant for her dorm room. I spent too much time driving around, trying to find a nursery that was out of business. I was inching close to being late for her convocation ceremony, the last time we would all be together until Thanksgiving. Standing outside Fresh Market, I considered how much time I had to obsess over plant selection. I gave myself three minutes. By the time I got to checkout, I was calculating drive-time nervously. The young man at checkout charged me for the pot, not the plant inside. I was torn between time and truth. I went to the dark side and headed to my car. Half way, I stopped with a strong feeling that my transgression might ruin everything—a very bad sign.
Thoughts about being late would have to wait because I needed to go back in and pay for the plant. Then the best sign of all was revealed in the form of a woman at checkout who took the time to get to know me a little. She asked about the plant, who it was for, and commented on the pot’s design. Then she handed me the plant, looked at me with the kindest eyes and said, “Rhodes is a really good school. Don’t worry about your girl. We all look out for each other here.” Emma was in a real community, on campus and beyond. She will be OK. We’re all going to be alright.