My 3 sections of seniors in 2010-2011 made up a part of my 36th graduating class, and for that reason, and because I knew my
time with them would be my last time with any seniors, and because many were such gracious human beings, they created a space in my heart that endures. My
thoughts turn to them now as they prepare to leave for school. I have some final words of advice for them.
Courage is the enduring and indispensable virtue. It is neither masculine nor feminine. It is not inborn but learned. It requires a steady control of fear, not its elimination. It can be cultivated, step by shaky step. It can arise when called upon as if a genie had answered your wish. In a week or so, you will need to summon your courage to walk out into all
those strangers. Most of them will feel as uncertain and ill at ease as you. Therefore, why not be the one to strike up a conversation, to raise your hand in class, to step up to help someone, to offer an idea, a hand, a smile, a protective gesture, a compassionate ear.
Courage will smooth over the rough patches; within its character lies resilience. If you are rejected or hurt or ignored or disrespected, take a deep breath and step into the fray. Do not hide. Don’t you dare hide. Get up. Stand up straight. Raise your eyes to look at the eyes of others. Walk back into the world.
Yes, Yes, Yes, Oh, Yes….Uh Oh.
Inside of you is a machine that is now preparing to say YES to almost any offering: “Yes, I’d love some of ….that.” or “Yes, I’ll go there at 3:00 A.M.” or “Yes, I’ll go out with him. Who cares that he looks like a piece of steak in flip-flops and just called all girls bitches.” or “Yes, I’ll go out with her. Who cares that she has crazy eyes and just guzzled three malt liquors in a row.”
Be aware of your YES machine. It is not a finely calibrated instrument. It is composed of equal parts rebellion, freedom, spite, overconfidence, foolishness and genuine curiosity. An electric happiness can be found in doses of carefully measured danger. You will want to step outside of what seems to you to be your constricted, stifling former life. Snippets of
these clichés will occur to you quite often: Why not?…You only live once…What can go wrong?…He/she looks ok; I can trust him/her…Sheeet, I can handle myself.
You will do things that are so appallingly stupid that only later, away from your pin-head friends who did them with you, will it begin to dawn upon you how the situation could have blown you to kingdom come.
A case in point: In the early 1970’s NYC was coming apart, crime was rampant; thugs on street-corners openly eyed passers-by for the easy ones. Enter innocent gomers. Some friends and I traveled uptown. Somewhere around 2 or 3 in the morning. Through the Bronx. By subway. Not in … a proper state of mind to be alert and protective. At one point I was entertaining a thin dude in a knee length leather coat; he wore a funny hat with a feather growing a foot out of its side. He had four or five women with him. I kid you not. He thought I was hilarious. I thought I was hilarious. I vaguely remember my friends, not moving, watching all this. I could not understand why they did not find me hilarious. We made it home
unscathed. Call that idiots’ grace, but you cannot rely upon it.*
When you want to let go of your other life, the sane one, the responsible one, please have back-up ready to pull you out of the fire and brimstone that may rain down. Serious business. Someone of impeccable character has to remain fully committed to your safety and to your friends’ safety. Sometimes that will have to be you.
Love, Oh Beautiful Love, Oh Glorious Day, I’m In Love. No One Else Has Ever Felt What I Feel Now.
I hope it happens to you just like this, but I would bet a stack of $100 bills that it won’t.
Love in moving, symbolic images: One time you will stumble and fall and break a bone, and another time you will fly higher and higher, the light will flood every part of you … until
you cannot breathe and your fall to earth will be worse, and then another time you will walk slowly up a slight incline with a cane until your strength and patience exhausts itself and you have to collapse upon a bench. I went through similar scenarios; these shorthand descriptions give a hint of their endings: Wendy the Witch; Juanita, oh Juanita, please don’t leave; Nicole, what big nails you have; Suzanne — oh no, oh yes, oh no, oh go; Anita, you did what — oh my God, you didn’t!, and others that produced equal bouts of humiliating, hammer-blows-on-my-head kind of pain.**
Most of you will have to go through those scenarios just so you can recognize the real deal when it arrives. Find good ways to survive the pain (see: courage matters) and you
have a good chance to meet the men and women who will be those imperfect grace notes that will complete your life.
Whatever you do, do not abase yourself to another just to hang on to him or her. You cannot will another to love you. Only a dark ending is waiting for that relationship. Do not be cruel. Do not lie. Be faithful. Be strong. Keep your dignity.
You Are Not The Center Of The Bloody Universe So Shut Up And Listen, But You Are Bright, Smart Men and Women So Say Something.
You have to find your way through this maze. You will have to refine your judgment bit by bit as to when to speak and when to listen. My rule of thumb has been that interesting people can teach me something. Therefore, what can I do to get them to talk? However, you have to know what you think and thus what you can teach another. The only way to find that out is
to open your mouth and speak.
Learn Something From Someone Who Is Not A Professor.
Be open to learning skills that will not be available in classrooms – how to frame a wall, calm a fierce dog, ice-skate, climb a rockface, repair a toilet, shoot and clean a rifle. Everything you learn brings all varieties of life into your hungry sight. It is all gravy.
Walk In Fields and Woods, Along Rivers, Through Marshes, And Up And Down Mountains.
Please do not lose your experience of the open sky, of stars and birds, of the wind against your face or of storms and heavy rain and dark woods and a beach emptied of everything except a cold, January light. The natural world can sustain our hearts when every other force for our happiness seems extinct. Make it a point to go out into all kinds of weather every day.
Besides my loves and losses, no experience has more deeply shaped my life. We are limited creatures. Reading extends our senses. It multiplies our experiences. It creates a perpetual motion machine, the only one possible — read and you will grow in wonder; read and your curiosities will be satisfied even as they increase in number.
Do Not Despair
As long as you are alive and have your sense, you can recover
from setbacks – loneliness, rejection, failure, loss. You have in your
possession now, arguably, biology’s greatest gift to us, your youth. When the
bad times come, keep fighting. Do not whine. Begin again.
Vaya con Dios.
*Stories I never told you #1.
**Stories I never told you #2.