It’s that time of year. The blue and white Mylar balloons are bumping around the ceilings of dollar stores everywhere and Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go! is featured prominently in the book section of the local Wegmans, right alongside cards with the little flap in which to slip the cash.
Graduation. Commencement. Lift-off. Call it what you will, but it’s a season for new beginnings and boundless optimism. Admittedly, I’m closer to the whole circus than others because I’m a high school teacher, but I was also myself, not too terribly long ago, a grad. And this whole season has got me thinking a lot about that version of myself. The one who doffed the mortar board and dreamed the big dreams. The world-changing ones.
A month or so ago I got a call from a current student at my old college. There were the obligatory phone-a-thon questions, but since she was an English major like I was, she also added an extra one: “I just thought I’d see – what are you up to these days, since you graduated?”
I paused, thought hard, and tried to summon forth some epic tale about my globe-trotting escapades of the past decade. Had I given blood in a third world orphanage? Been to Machu Piccchu? What about all those journal articles or poems I’d publish? The book deal I’d land? That was the plan when I graduated.
Truth be told, there’s none of that. Sure, if you Google hard enough, you’ll find my book and music criticism scattered across the web, along with profiles I wrote a few years back as a journalist.
But in the way of changin’ the world – which is what 21-year old me was dead set on the moment I walked out of commencement – if I’m honest, it doesn’t feel like I’ve done a dang-blasted thing.
My life has been decidedly, well, ordinary.
No changin’ the world. No history making.
And yet, I’m not done yet.
Steve Martin – he of stand-up, sketch comedy, The Jerk, the banjo, etcetera, etcetera – just released an album of bluegrass tunes with Edie Brickell. I read one review of it where they reviewer called it the best thing Martin’s ever done.
In his entire career.
That blew my mind. Martin’s nearly 70 years old. He’s hosted the Oscars, written plays, been in a scene with Kermit the Frog (okay, maybe that’s just impressive to me), and this? This album is his magnum opus? At 70?
There’s a certain line of thinking in this now-driven culture that if it hasn’t happened already, or won’t happen shortly, it won’t happen at all. But Martin confounds that.
I once wrote a profile on a potter whose work was being featured in a local gallery. She was in her mid-50’s, and hadn’t picked up pottery until after her kids left for college.I remember thinking then, Fitzgerald was wrong. No-second-act be damned.
And yet, I’m not done yet. That’s not to say I’m not working on things. But it allows for a deep sigh and a leg-stretch on the route to wherever I’m going.
Another and yet (perhaps the more important one):
And yet, “changin’ the world” is overrated.
That’s not a statement from an underachiever. It’s that changin’ the world looks different at 33 than it did at 21. Back then, I thought if it wasn’t going to feature in a magazine or be sold for profit, it wasn’t much use.
Silly kid. What did he know?
My world is smaller than I thought it would be in those starry-eyed days. It involves bedtime stories, Sunday school classes, mowed lawns, grocery lists, and decidedly un-sexy and innumerable revisions to a novel that’s still not done.
But somewhere along the line, I realized it’s not about saving THE world. It’s about saving A world. The world I’m in today. The one I’ll be in tomorrow. The one where my kids fish, my small group wrestles with trusting a God we’ve never seen, and my neighbor needs a hand with a project out back. Those are the worlds I’m changin’.
I didn’t tell the earnest voice on the other end of the phone that. I don’t know how she would have taken it.
Besides, it’s best she figure it out on her own.
There’s time for that.