As I watch my Facebook feed fill with pictures of my friends’ kids, almost grown up in their caps and gowns preparing for high school or college graduation, I am always taken back to those times in my life. There you are, right on the cusp of the beginnings of your life, or what you think your life will be.
This year was different for me, because while hearkening back to those times, I am also finding myself in this frustrating point of life where I just get angry because life seems so unfair. It is unfair to watch good people suffer with disease or horrible pain or loss—sometimes one after the other, while truly awful people, people I know to be manipulative and malicious, just skate through life, seemingly without a care. It’s not like I just learned this, there have been instances my whole life. But lately, so many people I know and care about are struggling, and I want to make sense of it all.
The thing is I can’t. You can’t. We just can’t. It is life. Life is fragile, hard, and yes also beautiful and precious, but the truth is, it isn’t always fair. It won’t ever be.
I have written a time or two before about commencement speeches that have touched me or meant something to me. A few years ago, I wrote a poem that makes me believe I was having similar feelings when I wrote then, also.
Today I decided to write my own commencement speech, even though I have not currently received an invitation from a university to give one, and I doubt any are forthcoming. It’s the best way I knew to combine my own nostalgia for this time, along with the wisdom I hope I am gaining with another year behind me.
So here it is, Entitled:
Be Ready as Best you Can
Life is not fair.
I don’t say this to discourage you. I say this to you as a challenge for this next stage of your life, as you sit in these seats in caps and gowns, excited about the next chapter.
Be excited. Do whatever it is that calls to you in the small hours of your life, in between the things you think you have to do. Make the thing that calls to you the “have to” of your life. If you don’t, you will always wonder, you will always wish, and when you find yourself older and wiser, you will know it is what you should have done. Many years ago. The good news? It’s never too late. But don’t wait.
Because, I will say it again, life is not fair. None of us is guaranteed another day, another hour. Whether you are religious or not, whether you fear death or not, whatever you believe, all of us are on borrowed time.
As I stand before you, I am farther along this path of life than you. Your path may be remarkably different than mine. You might get lucky. Everything might go just as you planned. But then again, it might not. Be ready for this, as best you can. Know that you might not get your dream job, but the one you get may be where you were destined to be. You might not get married as soon as you would like, but you may find that the wait was worth it after all. These sad, perplexing moments will be the threads of your life that weave together a pattern you couldn’t have foreseen. And at some point, you will be grateful for that. You will surprise yourself and be grateful that it wasn’t all so easy.
Know this: absolutely no one I know-- friend, acquaintance, co-worker, or family member has ever said to me: things in my life went just as I planned. Anyone that does say that is probably not being honest with you or themselves. Everything will not go as you plan.
Be ready as best you can.
Let yourself mourn the losses of your life however you need to. It will make the victories that much sweeter.
Know that life and people will break your heart more than once in your lifetime. In fact, many times. Each time, you will feel that you can’t survive the pain. But you will. It will change you a little each time and teach you things you wish you didn’t have to learn in such a painful way. You won’t be able to see things clearly until much later when you look back and know that coming out on the other side of heartbreak made you stronger.
Take every chance you can. Don’t hold back. Because what will holding back get you? There won’t be photographs of you holding back, or friends sitting together laughing, remembering when you held back. There will be memories and mementos and stories handed down of all the chances you did take, the things you tried that scared you, that excited you, that made a dream come true, that ultimately will make you who you are.
There will be an a-ha moment when you finally become who you were meant to be. I can promise you, it is not right now. You may be far away from that moment, or you may be closer than some, but you will know it when it happens. When you have hurt enough, laughed enough, cried enough, experienced enough, and learned enough, you will have a moment where you sigh, take a deep breath, and know that this is it. Who you were meant to be. It won’t be an ending, it will be a beginning. You will relax a little more, quit trying so hard, and appreciate things more. It will hit you how precious it all is, and how hard you fought to get where you are, wherever that may be.
Be ready as best you can.
Everything is harder than it looks. Work, marriage, parenthood, and balancing more than one of these things at any stage in life- it’s all so much harder than you can imagine right now. But, it’s been said before, the best things in life are hard. And these things, the paycheck, the spouse, the children, they will also make up the most amazing, fulfilling, life-affirming moments. These moments will be more beautiful than you can imagine-- they will take your breath away.
I know now more than ever, that life is not fair. I watch friends struggle with disease, threatening to rob them from their young children, and I can’t make sense of anything. Years ago, I watched my best friend suffer as her three year old was diagnosed with leukemia. You cannot find any kind of fairness standing in a pediatric cancer ward. All you know is life is fragile, precious, and at times, so unfair. My friend’s son is healthy today. He is whole and healed. These moments will happen too—when you weep through laughter over amazing things, miracles, it seems. Hold onto those moments. They are rare, few, and far between.
So tonight, when you watch the last of the day fade away- your graduation day- take this with you: life is not fair. So, there’s absolutely no reason that you shouldn’t do everything you want, be everything you want to be. You have no excuses. If life were fair, it would all be spelled out for you, which steps to take, what not to do. If life were fair, you would know all the hours and days you have left, and there would be plenty, so why rush—why take a chance? If life were fair, it would be easy, lovely, and effortless.
But it’s not, thank goodness. It’s an unpredictable roller coaster ride, and you can’t ever see what’s coming next. You have no warnings, no guarantees, no map to follow from one stage to the next. Open your eyes, hold on, and be ready for all the surprises, catastrophes, and overflowing happiness. It’s all coming.
It will be wonderful, sad, and achingly beautiful.
Be ready as best you can.