We had commencement at the college in Mays Landing today. It was a perfect day; the kind of day in May that is cool and when everything is in bloom (the graduates; the trees) and when one wants never to be indoors again; like, all the buildings could just be torn down and that would be ok; and we could all start again, in a world without indoor spaces.
I have been thinking of this: of starting again.
All the graduates line up in their blue gowns with their caps and tassles, and I go into that Whitmanian trance, thinking, “I was where you all are now, more than a decade ago now it was. I, too, wore that same blue gown and went out into the world like you now will.” I had no expectations then. I was trying to think: what did I expect? I expected nothing, like the Danish, who are so happy because they have such realistic expectations for life, and are thus rarely disappointed. I have become more American since then, I fear; thus, unhappier and more restless.
We sat, beneath the trees. I watched Kathy Graber, our visiting professor, assume the dais with the other distinguished guests. She was not asked to speak today. I desperately wanted her to say something to us; no, just to me (but also: say nothing, the better; sometimes I just get so tired of so many words spoken, you know, Kathy?). I sat next to Bob H––, an adjunct professor of history, who had been my GT teacher in middle school. I thought of middle school: of that pudgy little ball of flesh and thick glasses who was molded into this man now; proud to be shaped by experience, still.
When the names began to be read, I turned inward, like a glass reflecting the sun and the words, kindling the gem-like flame. I remember hearing the J‘s announced and, when I shook myself from my thoughts, we were on the S‘s. I slipped away, into a sort of analepsis state, falling backwards through a decade. Then, prolepsis set in: imagining something new for us; for all of us.
For some of the students, I know, it will be like being pushed from the nest, this; some will return, their wings too fragile to fly off. Others have been chomping at the bit. Still more go up to receive their diplomas without much thought: just the next/another stage. Sometimes I think about the students who took their final exam for one of my classes, left, and I never see them again; sort of so, so that was that-style an exit. Still, I think about them, and wonder if they ever do the same. (I want to believe that our connections to other people are more than just random assignments; that they have meaning. That is what scared me most about Buddhism when I was 19/20: that I might have to eventually renounce individual connections in order to be Connected; why I told Bob I do not prefer to teach online anymore, even though it’s inexorable.)
I went to Starbucks after, but there was an accident on the Black Horse Pike. But I was in no hurry; was even a bit happy to be delayed. One guy, standing beside his mangled car (no one appeared seriously injured) was wearing a ratty tank and baggy camo cargo shorts. I wondered, Would he have worn that had he known he was going to be standing in the middle of the roadway being gawked at by rubberneckers? But how does one plan for such things; how should we know?
I sat at Starbucks and thought of nothing but how good the coffee tasted; each sip, so warm, like a salve. I do not care about living longer, only better, which is the more difficult, of course. I have always thought that I just want––for me and for my students and friends, for us all to be compassionate intellects: just want for that to be enough for us somehow.