Sunday, May 06, 2012

On The Importance Of Introductory And Parting Thoughts...

Yesterday, my friend Patti Digh returned to her alma mater on the 30th anniversary of her graduation to deliver the commencement address.

She was honored, as you can imagine anyone would be, to be invited to impart one of the last lessons the graduates would learn.

Reading her address yesterday reminded me that I had no recollection of who spoke at my college graduation. A visit to my university's web site this morning to ascertain that information made me laugh: There was no one listed for the year I graduated. Maybe I had no recollection because no one spoke. But if someone did, they were entirely forgettable, as evidenced by the fact that I have forgotten them entirely. I can only surmise that nothing profound was said that day. Nothing that felt profound to me, anyway.

And so as I read my way through Patti's address last night, I was very mindful of the good fortune of yesterday's Guilford graduates. What if someone like Patti had spoken at my graduation? Would I have been mature enough that day to truly absorb the importance of what I was hearing? I'd like to think so. But then again, I was only 21, and for as much as I thought I knew that day, I know now that I knew next to nothing.

You should absolutely take the time to read her remarks in their entirety, but allow me to comment on a couple of moments that struck a chord:

The verbs we live – that is, the actions we take – create the landscape of our lives. The verbs we live, the actions we take, the story we frame over those actions – all those things together create the structure of our land – those valleys and mountains of our atlas of experience. And like any hike up any mountain or through any landscape, the process is messy while you’re in it, and there is just no way you can see a clear path, not until you’re finished. So it is okay to be lost. That is what I’m telling you. It’s okay to be lost and not know – because that’s what learning is, that’s what life is.

Truly, these words would have altered the course of my life. I've no doubt.

It's okay to be lost and not know – because that's what learning is ... .

It's okay to be lost and not know.

I have spent all of my adult life in search of that knowing. I am just now, in the past year or two, figuring it out. As much as I can figure out any of it. A good number of my days, from that day 'til this, have been spent wondering what was wrong with me, watching nearly everyone I knew and know go about their lives with what appeared to be a sense of assuredness and wondering why it eluded me.

Patti is one of the people in my life who models for me that there is another way to live beyond what is "expected" of us. In some ways, her life is "typical" – she is married, she has kids – but in many ways, her life is remarkable to me.

And I wonder if she knows that that is how she is perceived. (I know that I am not alone in my appreciation of her.) And I wonder if she sees her own life as we perceive it to be.

I expect not, not entirely, because I don't know if anyone is capable of feeling inside what is witnessed from outside, but on the other hand, I hope so, too. Because that would be a good feeling to feel.

And so, I hope that everybody reads her words, be they college grads just starting out or those much further down their paths, because I can't imagine that any of us couldn't use a little reassurance.

Another passage that truly struck me was this:

Don’t feel panicked if you don’t know what that dream is yet. It is like those old roadside signs that used to spell out an advertisement one sign at a time as you went down the highway. While you’re navigating the landscape, the atlas of your life, the signs will come to you one by one. The way they connect isn’t known until you get to the last sign. The map is only complete when you stand at the final page of the atlas.

I have spent an absurd amount of time trying to chart a course that, turns out, has always been unknowable to me. Because it is unknowable to us all.

Which is as it should be, unsettling as that may sometimes seem.

But as E.L. Doctorow once said: "Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your friend's wonderful words. I was brought to tears more than once. It was truly a memorable and beautiful address!

4:51 PM  

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