Naming the good

After speaking with a group of incoming college freshmen a few months ago, I went through a car-wash  Sometimes I’ll do that when I need to think – it’s almost a ceremony to unscrew the antenna, place it in the passenger seat and pull forward while the world blurs under the water.

I thought about the platitudes I offer every student group I speak with – how I tell them about ownership and compassion on themselves and taking risks and looking for the “next hardest” thing.

And I thought about how sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be speaking to these students because I’ve yet to get all of this right – which I normally share from the stage. There are a few tricks you use when you talk to a group and that’s one of them – you make the audience believe you’re with them, that you don’t know anything and you’re together in the suffering of unknowing and lack of answers.

But I really mean it.

After I spoke, students approached me, skeptical of my admission of unknowing: “Pfff – you say you don’t know what’s going on, that you don’t have the answers – but you’ve obviously figured something out. You’re further down the road than I am.”

Maybe the only thing I’ve figured out is: Whatever answer you come up with for the next step down the road is the right one. Because it has to be.

When I finished talking with campers, I noticed the two head counselors were choking back tears because camp was over and they were soon to graduate. We took a picture together and as we split apart, I kept my hands on their shoulders and looked at each of them for a moment – barely a whole lifetime spanned between the three of us. I don’t know much more than they do, but being able to tell them, “This is it. This is what it’s all about,” as their eyes polished with tears, meant something.

Maybe as we get older, the only thing we gain is a greater sense of when things are good. The funny thing is – it seems like the older we get, more and more of life falls into the good category. By the time you’re eighty years old, your perception of the world is whitewashed completely with good.

When we’re growing and changing we don’t always see the good because it hurts. Sometimes it takes someone else to name it – to call the good out of the ether and let everyone know that there really is a song they’ve been dancing to. There really is this thing that’s drawing us together.

And that thing – it’s not belief and it’s not unbelief – it just is. It’s living, it’s breathing and it’s the search for the answers. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, no formula – it’s a knowing. Like rain is a knowing.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says it this way:

…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again…

from: Letter Four

Letters to a Young Poet

In high school, I acted in every play they produced. My dream role since I was in seventh grade was Snoopy in You’re a good Man Charlie Brown and I convinced the director to do that show my senior year. The musical closes with a song called “Happiness” where the kids get together and, despite their timeless differences, Charlie, Schroeder, Lucy, Sally,  Linus and Pig Pen talk about their individual feelings of joy and how they are really all the same.

I think there’s this rooted need to feel like we belong – to know we have the safety to think and dream and risk and fail and hurt and suffer and succeed and question.

We’re not as different as we think – no matter how old we are.

Happiness, the lyrics of the song say – “is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.”

When I told those two students that, this is what it’s all about, what I meant was thatall of it is what it’s all about. And I think we’re a part of it again and again when we call it out – when we name it.