Friday, June 8, 2012

My Graduation Speech

What I would tell the graduates this year: Fellow mortals and sensitive bipeds out there, grappling with the pains of existence and the current lousy job market, I come with more words of advice for you which may at first glance seem overly sober and gloomy... please don't blame me, though, I'm just the messenger here. This isn't much - I know - but it's all I have on the spur of the moment (I'm not getting paid for this) and besides, it's a topic that I predict you'll keep coming back to in the days ahead: Whatever else you take away from this special moment, please remember as you go forth, today, mindful of various blessings and advantages you have received along the way,  and looking to the future with starry-eyed hopes, that attached to every one of us is some unwanted and unasked-for circumstance, some dreaded fateful condition, an obstacle, a hindrance, an albatross, a curse, a blight, a wretched hassle, a wound, a hurt - something that we're stuck with for the long haul, something that gets in our way, makes us upset, keeps us vulnerable, adds to our insecurity, gives us reason to feel cheated, to feel handicapped, goes against our most cherished agendas of survival, success and prosperity in life. It might just be an obvious physical blemish, a mental quirk, a flaw in temperament, a cognitive deficit in some obscure area,  a personality glitch (shyness, anyone?), a traumatic memory, a shift in fortune, a bad year, a lost decade, a troubled sibling or problematic parent, an extended dysfunctional family or inauspicious cultural climate (feeling like we were born in the wrong decade or century). We carry IT around with us and IT marks us for life; IT grates upon our nerves because IT's like some alien presence, an unexpected guest, an unwanted care-package, this random prosthetic to our otherwise normal physique, this fly in our daily soup that continuously spoils the feast - bringing us back to the lingering question of how things might have been - if only we had not been strapped with ITAnd the problem in a nutshell is very simple - what to do about "the gift that we didn't ask for" - to view the pink elephant in the room as some weird, unexpected blessing-in-disguise from the great beyond or to use it as our ongoing Exhibit A of "more sinned against than sinning." How many of us carry around this familiar rock, for years and years, never knowing quite what to do with it, where to put it, how to hide it, what to make of it, until IT drags us down several notches from where we expected to be; or else we run from it, pursuing alternative paths down which such afflictions cannot follow us, generating as we go oodles of new commotion and chaos around ourselves designed to overshadow the problem, to deny that it's really there. So much of life is taken up with responding (somewhat negatively, I must add) to the dark cloud in the sky,  rebelling against what we didn't #$@%#^ choose and never in a million years would have requested voluntarily. But there you have it. Even at this very late date in human history, when it seems that we (modern liberated types) should have finally gotten every last one of our wishes met, given how the weight of nature, tradition and large institutions has been lifted from our backs somewhat, even now in the year 2012, how absurdly difficult it remains to do away with these sources of discontent, troubles that we can't walk away from and which have the effect of forcing us to stop, to pause, to question, turning inward upon ourselves, inquiring as to what kind of creatures we really are (aside from all the hype and self-promotion), what strange entities capable of intense frustration, regret and self-conscious misery. And so graduates, I end my little jeremiad by telling you in advance that, although there is no solution to this awful package, and that even pharmaceuticals, sensuality and rock-and-roll can't reverse the trend, nevertheless, the good news is, if there is any, that what seems like the biggest downer - the source of isolation, frustration, alienation, angst, sadness, resignation, despair and whatever else we go to the doctor to complain about, is for some lucky mortals out there, also a source of the most sublime healing power. Who knows how and who knows why, but  there are actually some people out there who know how to transform their hurt to advantage, their weakness to strength, their pain to motivation; these are the cherished few among us who keep us afloat during tough times,  keep us inspired by their example - not  from ease but from hardship. How strange it is, how paradoxical to consider that we admire most those whose lives we ourselves would never wish for. Pleasure seekers come and go; life on Easy Street gets old. But people with soul, with gravitas, endure forever.  So when you bump into one of these enlightened ones during your journey, be sure to ask them what their secret is - how they turned lead into gold - knowing that they share the same wounds as you - different in form and content surely - but the similar as to genus - that of the unasked-for gift.

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