Friday, June 13, 2008
GraduationI needed to buy some graduation cards the other day so I walked up to Vroman's at lunchtime. I stood by the rack in the stationary section and was surprised to find myself start to well up. Wow, what a basket case I am, I thought. I'm crying just at the thought of two people moving forward in their lives. And I knew I was hitting up against something kind of big.
We cry at ceremonies. What is that about? Why do we cry at weddings? It's not really the cynical "hope over experience" factor, I don't think. Because otherwise, why would we cry at graduations? It's not like they are consciously entering into a situation that very often goes badly... the graduates have worked, accomplished, are looking forward to a bright future, and are moving on.
Why does this affect us so?
I think it's because one of those nexus points of life that force us to confront beginnings and endings. We all know that things have a beginning, middle and end. At ceremonial moments such as a graduation, we are conscious that we are poised right at the juncture of an ending and a beginning. It's sad to see the past, filled with events and memories, neatly compartmentalized and slipped into a drawer. And, at the same time, it's joyful to see the future entice us with its unseen vistas. A graduation is that moment between archiving and opening.
At my son's sixth grade graduation yesterday, I realized another thing as well. Culturally, at least for those of us not attached to a single religious tradition, we are lacking in coming-of-age milestones. Not being Jewish, my family doesn't have bar or bat mitzvahs to work towards, accomplish and grow from. We say a girl becomes a woman when she gets her first period. We say a boy becomes a man when he loses his virginity. These seem, at this point in the 21st century, to be woefully primitive and unconscious events to hang such an important transition upon.
There are few lines of public demarcation in our current culture. And I've always felt that our noisy, inchoate, frenzied society reflects this lack. We have men who grow physically but never emotionally. We have women who are never easy with their womanhood, preferring to either stay little girls or move immediately to crone-dom. Everything between childhood and old age is frequently a blurry mess of uncertain expectations and obligations.
Yesterday, my son and his classmates stood up and gave their graduation speeches. Some kids performed a song or a dance. It was a ceremony they always knew they would be participating in. My son had been dreading it for years. And they all prepared, they all practiced, and they all presented themselves with staggering maturity, articulation and poise. We were watching young people grow up before our eyes. We were witness to their movement away from childhood. It was conscious, it was heartfelt, and it was profound. Not a dry eye in the house.
We are always moving from endings to beginnings and back again. I think that any time we can stop those moments and make a ceremony of them, especially in the company of other people, they are made that much more conscious and potent. Rather than being trapped in a flow of constant risings and subsidings, it's so very moving to stop the waves, just for a moment, and give the whole painful wonderful process a moment of respect and acknowledgment.
To the sixth grade class of 2008... congratulations. We are privileged to be witness to the amazing young men and women you are and the incredible people you will become.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 7:46 AM 0 comments