April 1 , 2018 /

LIFE IS FRAGILE, UNPREDICTABLE

About six years ago I wrote the following article based on a letter to a friend of mine who was about to give a commencement speech.  For those us who have done that on more than a few occasions, we know that it’s hard to come up with something that’s worth listening to at a graduation when the focus should be on the graduates, not some speaker, some sage on the stage.  So, I usually talked to them about what I gleaned from working with them in one way or another and if not them directly, kids just like them in other parts of the country.  I won’t bore you with that here except to say that they seemed to listen politely with more than feigned interest. A good story or two helped.   Imagine the Commencement ceremonies at Parkland coming up soon!

Joe Nathan writes a regular column in a Minnesota newspaper and I respond from time to time.  I’ve known Joe now for almost 26 years.  He started the first charter school in the United States in Minnesota in 1992 and is now the Director of the Center for School Change at Macalaster College.  He and I are often on the same wavelength and here’s a recent exchange with part of Joe’s column to begin.
” Somewhere between Marina Keegan, friends and Bret Stephens, there’s something worth saying to graduates.  While I’m not yet sure what I’ll tell the Higher Ground Academy graduates and their families this weekend, here’s what I’m thinking.  Part of this is influenced by Marina Keegan.  Last month this 22-year- old graduated from Yale.  A fine writer, campus activist, and person in love, she already had a great job lined up at the New Yorker magazine.

In a recent column for the Yale News, she wrote, “I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness…But let us get one thing straight: the best years of our lives are not behind us….We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re 22 years old. We have so much time.”

She concluded, “We’re in this together, 2012. Let’s make something happen to this world.”

Keegan was right about a lot.  But she did not have “so much time.”  Five days after graduating, she died in a car crash.   She was wearing a seat belt.

As I read her words, I wept.  I cried for her, her family, and for the good that she probably would have done.  Perhaps in death, she will help others.  She wrote a final essay that appeared in the Yale Daily News  Her final essay here: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2012/05/27/keegan-the-opposite-of-loneliness/

Here is what I said to Joe.  Good thoughts, all, and I share your grief at losing someone like Marina Keegan and so many others who, it would seem to us and our limited judgment, leave us prematurely before they were able to share more of who they were.  That’s why I don’t hold out much for “the best is yet to come” and I’ll tell you why.  All that we know that we have for sure is this moment, perhaps today and even the rest of today can be uncertain, for life is fragile, unpredictable and can be extinguished in a heartbeat, so to speak.  However, we don’t live on the edge of that.  We live with hope.

I interviewed hundreds of high school students across the country and most of them were living for tomorrow, or the future, and getting ready for what is next.  As I pursued those conversations, it seemed that so much of what they were thinking about and doing was future-oriented whether going to college, getting a job, starting a family, buying a house, making money, retiring early, etc, pursuing the American Dream.  When I said to them that it seemed to me they were going to spend most of their life getting ready to die they looked and sounded shocked.  Well, I said, it seems to me like you’re always getting ready for whatever is next.

I asked how about living fully in the present?  Give all that you can today, this week, this month, this year, to this work that you’re doing now and live much more in the here and now, how about that?  Hmmm, new concept to many!  We all know kids like Marina – talented, gifted and who leave their mark in one way or another.  Think about those kids whose lives were snuffed out by a bullet.  It is a tragedy we have visited much too often in these past six years, and before that too.

What I want to say is that we are grateful to them, to their families and to their teachers for what they have contributed, for however long they were with us.  And we are grateful for these kids who have survived and who are dedicating themselves to positive change, to making our world safer, healthier and a more peaceful place to live and love.  Thank you from all of us

Onward….
Gary

Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for this. I remember and then forget and then remember that this is all we have for sure – now. Years ago I coached a man who was early in his career and he had young children. He loved his family and wanted to give them a great life. He told me that he was prepared to work hard and knew that he wouldn’t have much time with his family now but when they’re older, he could breathe and he’d have time with them then. And miss their childhood? Miss his wife? Why trade later for now?

    Alli

    1. You’re most welcome. Work often seems to take time away from what we value more than work and whether that’s just a reality or there are options that might create more time for priorities, I’m not sure, nor do I presume to have easy answers. What I do know is that while we cannot be certain about the future, it’s good to have plans, just in case, and plans for next week, next month, next year keep us moving forward. I’ve already gone beyond what I might have expected so every day is a gift and as I say often, it’s waiting to be received, unwrapped, embraced and celebrated. We all have the same amount of time each day to do as we choose and having so many interesting and desirable choices is a real luxury. Enormously grateful.

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