After the promenade and the accolades, after the scholarships and diplomas, after the summer of hot fun and hard work, and the semesters of study that lead to a college degree and first jobs and independent living and grownup friends and a life beyond the North Shore and a career and great loves and family and all the parts of life that come after graduation from high school … what remains to mark our childrens’ lives? Or our own?
In the end, after all of this pomp and circumstance, all this effort and sweat to get to these big moments in life, what comes next?
Finally, are we each just a name in a stone? I don’t think so.
Yes, I have a place to go — a headstone at the top of the rambling cemetery steps — to run my fingertips around the straight lines and deep curves of Jessie’s name carved in granite. In it are etched the minimal facts of her life.
Yet that’s not where I carry my youngest daughter.
And as Sarah graduates and moves on to the next adventures in her life, I might rub my thumb over the pink silk ribbon of her ballet slippers, but I don’t think that single soft strand contains her whole life . She’s adding more threads to her tale, even as I pause and think of her.
It’s easy to think that tangible artifacts — photos, medals, jewelry — contain us.
Yet we might worry that we are each, in the end, more ephemeral. Merely a collection of fleeting sensory messages. Imperfect memories impressed into other people’s minds. A flood of feelings invoked when someone who loves and knows us smells the first curl of roasted, just-brewed coffee or the strawberry tang of a certain shampoo. An off-key voice singing You Are My Sunshine cheerfully in audio files. A blurry face and hand in a bright-striped jersey waving from the far side of the green soccer field, caught in a loop beyond time, in video clips. Handwritten notes, or child’s sketches. A series of framed certificates on the wall or shoes empty, worn at toe and heel, on the floor in the closet.
Don’t you believe we are so much more? We are each the energy moving from the moment of birth to the last breath, and beyond.
Yet while we might know the beginning date for this human life, we cannot know its end date. It might be years from now. Or merely hours. And so, we are the accumulation of moments – common and exceptional – that comprise whatever time we’re given.
What story will your biography tell? It’s a weekend to think about what we have already done, and all the possibilities that unfold before us … and the gift of today itself.
As part of this posting, I’m borrowing from reflections first written in May 2010 (dok.com). Now that graduation is upon us, “ …We fill our names in the blanks, brush off our resumes, polish up our personal stories and professional accomplishments, and reflect on our lives.”
“… there is so much more to every person’s story. We find different ways to make a difference, whether it’s simply showing up and doing a good job, offering a smile with an extended hand, or volunteering to help in some way. Not everything can be narrated by a GPA, an academic degree, a sales record, a certification, a resume, an audition, an essay or an application. Paper doesn’t ever tell the whole story. Not even a great multi-media campaign can tell it all.”
“… We are each so much more than a name on a stone or the answers filling in the blanks on a piece of paper. We each take up time and space. We touch many other lives. We are bound by knots and webs into a connection of lives and community, into a spectrum of time. And even when we pass beyond mortal senses, we continue to change the world. “
“… Our lives are more than a footprint on the beach or a signature on a page or a name on a certificate or a shadow in the late morning or ashes on the wind or dates on a stone. More. Our biographies aren’t static. We change…all the time.”
Today is its own gift, and one part of our tales. Sunday, during high school commencement, will be a highlight for many of us. And a difficult day for others.
Then will come the next day, and the day after, and the one after that … and though they may not seem as climactic as graduation … each day, each moment is worthy of energy, focus and attention. Each day is a gift … each is part of our biographies.
We’re not so much a summary of the big moments, as a combined total of all the small ones that brought us to wherever we are, right now. And where we find ourselves every day that follows.