Mari Katherine Raftopoulos: Opportunities to create |

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos: Opportunities to create

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos

Mari Katherine Raftopoulos

This is the first fall since I was 5 that I haven't had a first day of school.

Now, as a recent college graduate, the first of September will mark the first day of the real world.

And this first day of reality gives me feelings like the first day of school used to. Something about the crisp fall air, the Friday night lights that illuminate the entire town, and the first day of school make me giddy.

So giddy, that it keeps me up at night and while I may not be returning to school this week, my brother is.

I woke up early yesterday to see him off on his first day of his senior year of high school. He was calm and collected. To him, it was just another day, but to me, it was another first that we would have to get through.

With a five-subject notebook in one hand and a couple of plain Bic pens in the other, he walked out the door to continue his education right where he left off.

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Once you get through the firsts, the seconds and thirds without a loved one, it becomes easier. This will be the first fall without our mother, and as our wardrobes host warmer attire, our lawn accompanies piles of brightly covered leaves, and we crowd our calendars with football games and team dinners, our busy lives still feel lonely.

The bleachers feel awkward without her stadium seats on them, the school seems quiet without her constant calls and reminders and the grocery store seems a little bare without her laughter echoing throughout the aisles.

In contrast to my brothers, to me, the first day of school was one of the most important days of the year. Getting ready for school was always a huge ordeal for me, down to the very socks that I would put on my feet.

I was so particular about my wardrobe that I would sit for hours in order to align the seam of my socks with the edge of my toes. Sometimes this habit would take me 30 minutes as I would rip off my little white socks and try again if they weren't perfect.

My parents would sip their coffee and chuckle at this strange hint of perfectionism. I stopped wearing socks for a while, after I had to go to the principal's office for being late to school because of them.

This is just one example of how I wanted everything to go perfect on my first day of school.

The night before, I would arrange all of my belongings on my desk, including my chosen outfit for the morning. My number two pencils were neatly tucked in the wire spirals of my notebooks, and my class schedule was written and color-coded in the front of my planner.

Yet with everything together, something always went wrong.

Similar to life — just when you think all is in a row, it's inevitable that an unexpected event will throw you off track.

On the first day of my senior year of college, under a title reading "my last first day of school," I wrote a quote from an unknown author in my leather-bound journal.

I repeated the quote today as I wrapped a picture of my family in a newspaper clipping and wedged it in an antique trunk between my college diploma and a colander.

"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."

The trunk carries a part of myself that I have created.

It is my baggage that I carry everywhere with me. And, in the moments when I feel off track and search through the clutter of life's tragedies, realities and mishaps to find myself, it takes sifting through my baggage to realize that there is nothing to find only millions of treasures to create.

The first day of school, the first day of fall and the first move. All of these are opportunities to create.

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