A Place in the World

There are certain sounds you don’t want to hear from the next room. This was several of them.


I came into Missy’s bedroom on a sprint. Had she fallen over? Had the shelf in her closet collapsed? Was Big Blake  knocking over furniture in his never-ending canine quest for unauthorized food?

No, no, and no.

Missy greeted me with a grin – and a position that was a lot closer to eye level than usual. Our 4’11” wonder had hoisted herself on top of her dresser, positioned perfectly to look out the back window and listen to her stereo simultaneously.

Well, almost perfectly. Three or four large stacks of CDs littered the floor below, the victims of Missy’s sudden elevation. Noisy, messy, but no lasting damage.

She’d made a place for herself.

In retrospect, she couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time.

After all, we’re about to hit G-Day. Graduation. The time of flowing gowns and funny-looking hats, of big crowds and endless speeches, of “Pomp and Circumstance” played on an endless loop until it’s echoing in your brain at 3 in the morning.

So, basically, a royal wedding with Dr. Seuss references.

This is when everyone finally learns the full name of their classmates. (“Your middle name is Elmer?”) It’s when the latest improvements in air-horn technology are trumpeted to the world, followed by massive investment in the hearing-aid industry.

And most of all, it’s when everyone in the world feels entitled to give advice. In the speeches. At the parties. During the good-byes. Tucked away in the corner of Hallmark Graduation Card No. 38. After all, we’ve all been there, right? Who should know better?

Graduates, be warned – you can’t stop this. It’s well-intentioned, for the most part. They want to help. So smile. Say thank you.

And then be prepared to have to figure it all out yourself anyway.

There’s a saying in military history that generals are always ready to fight the previous war. World War I taught the world that technology favored the defense – until World War II taught that fixed defenses were useless in the face of a fast-moving mechanized army. That doctrine in turn ran into the guerilla warfare of the ‘60s, where the battlefield could be anywhere. Generation to generation, change to change.

Similarly, every adult has learned the lessons of the world they found. But the world has a nasty habit of changing.

When I graduated, the World Wide Web was just starting to wake up. Columbine was still a state flower instead of a shorthand for violence. Newspapers were still a viable – if not wealth-generating – career move. Many of today’s issues and controversies, even when they were present, were still away from the spotlight and center-stage attention unless you were personally involved. And in a world without 24-hour connectivity, it was easy – maybe sometimes too easy? – to not be involved.

My world then isn’t your world now. And your world is just as transient.

So what do we learn? What stays?

To listen. To love. To try to understand. To meet each other in compassion. To stand where we must and heal where we can. To be aware that we can be wrong, that we don’t have all the answers, that we can and must learn from each other.

These are the things that stay.

Maybe, instead of the endless Elgar, graduation music should have a chorus of “Teach Your Children Well.” The words gently remind each generation that they’ll never fully understand the other – all they can do is reach out as best they can, share their dreams, feel their pain, “and know they love you.”

From that, everyone makes their own place. It may be noisy. It may be messy. But it also helps you see what you need to see.

And if the damage is no worse than 57 spilled CDs, you’ve done pretty well.