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Saturday, September 24, 2011

dear grads,

Back in June, I found this quote by playwright Tony Kushner in The Christian Science Monitor, a portion of his message to the Muhlenberg College graduating class of 2011.  I thought it was really great...

"Everywhere, the world is in need of repair.  Fix it.  Solve these things.  You need only the tools that you have learned here, even if you didn't pay as much attention as you should, even if you're a mess and broke and facing a future of economic terror.  Who isn't?  Who doesn't?

Help.  Help.  Help.  The world is calling.  Heal the world, and in the process, heal yourself.  Find the human in yourself by finding the citizen, the activist, the hero.  Down with the brutal-minded misadventurers.  Go after them.  You know where they are...

Duty calls.  The world calls.  Get active.  No summer vacation, no rest for you.  We have been waiting too long for you.  We need your contribution too desperately, and if they tell you your contribution is meaningless, if they tell you the fix is in and there's no contribution to be made, if they tell you to contribute by shopping your credit card into exhaustion, if they tell you to surrender to the brilliant, dazzling confusion your education should have engendered in you, exchange that quick-silver prolificity for dull monotone certainty, productive only of aggression born of boredom and violence, born of fear, born of stupidity, they're lying.  Don't trust them; get rid of them.  You know how they are.  Shout down the devil."

In the same collection of commencement speeches, Elie Wiesel said this to the kids at Washington University in Saint Louis:

"My commandment is, 'Thou shalt not stand idly by."  Which means when you witness an injustice, don't stand idly by...  when you enter this world and you say the world is not good today, good!  Correct it!"


Over the summer, I had several random conversations with various fresh-out-of-school-20-somethings.  While speaking with them, I was transported to the days, the months, the years of excitement, hilarity, wonder, confusion and depression following my own college graduation.

15 years ago, I had this glamorous image of what life would be like as a young, independent adult.  I pictured myself sort of like Rachael on Friends, surrounded by attractive buddies, working as a fashion-y something-or-other with bouncy hair, laughing and dating my way to 30.  But that's not what happened.  Like, really, um, not at all, you know?     

I spent most of that decade in a fog of high expectations and draining disappointments.  That degree I worked so hard to earn completed my resume but it didn't provide me with much needed direction.  So I floated aimlessly for a long time...  and I cried a lot.  I kept thinking, I'll be happy when I find a job.  I'll be happy when I make lots of money.  Then I'd find a job and feel happy for a little while, then I'd realize that the job didn't appease my confused mind after all.  So I'd search for another opportunity.  Another happy place.  And in the meantime, I'd cry some more.

I thought that money and employment would give me an identity, give me status, give me self value.  I'd be able to buy a new wardrobe filled with expensive brand names, lease a car with a sunroof and leather seats, rent a sweet apartment on Beacon Hill, dine regularly at hot restaurants and run with a fun party crowd.  I thought I needed to HAVE in order to BE.  Be we don't HAVE happy; we ARE happy.  We can't pick up the latest "Happiness" at Saks or sell vintage "Joy" on Ebay.  It cannot be bought or stolen or borrowed.  It's something that we just have to figure out how to BE while society is screaming for us to just HAVE.

What's so great about "having" when half the world is suffering?

I wonder if we, as a human race, would find REAL JOY if we embarked on our 20's with a different goal.  With a goal to use our education to BE happy and SPREAD happy instead of to BUY happy.  It'd be an enormous shift.  I mean, if you could die happy or die rich, which would you pick?  (No, they are not mutually exclusive and, yes, I know that our nation is built upon capitalism, but let's just pick one for the sake of seeing which of the two holds more clout...)

You picked happiness, right?  I knew you would!  :-)  There's a reason The Dalai Lama is so confident when he states that the purpose of living is to be happy.  When we open up our interpersonal conversations to bigger ideas and talk about shifting away from status quo, real change becomes possible.  We can awaken to what is really important, understanding that there is a big world out there full of people who need help finding their own happy places.  I'm not talking about dropping our lives and moving to Africa to build schools (though that would be amazing).  There is joy and healing to be administered in our own communities, be it environmental, spiritual or otherwise, which may not cost a dime to do.  And that is, like, totally, like, inspiring.  Seriously.

If I could zap a message into my own 20-something brain, it'd be, "Stop focusing on the money, the status, the stuff.  Ironically, it matters very little.  This is a confusing time.  So just survive for a little while.  Stop thinking and take time to listen.  Understand the bigger picture.  Acknowledge the goddess that lives within, a goddess of pure love.  If you let it, in time that love will bring joy to the world and value to your life.  And in the meantime, find happiness in this very moment.  Right now.  And now....  oh, and this is a joyful one...  and this one, too..."

Peace, love, gratitude...  and, like, happiness, you know?

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