I’m thinking about storytelling. I was in Boston for the weekend at my daughter’s graduation from college. Not only am I someone who’s in the business of stories, but I can’t help but see the stories in the raw material walking and breathing around me. So besides the story of my own daughter’s graduation, for me the weekend was a series of vignettes coming together and fading away.
We heard the Korean student who delivered the student speech at commencement tell a story of resilience and perseverance, taking 7 years to finish his undergraduate degree, with stops and starts in the army, and as a journalist reporting on North Korean atrocities. So inspiring! Hosts of families beaming with pride or stressing about getting into the stadium for graduation; the grandmothers and grandfathers; the single moms and single dads; siblings who looked like they wanted to be elsewhere or looked to their graduating brother with envy or looked up to their graduating sister; a family with a dog in a carrier; the students who lined up for a picture standing on the seal of the university, which you’re not supposed to stand on until you graduate; the sorority girls doing that sorority pose, in their caps and gowns; the multitudes! Sheesh, if I could only capture it a fraction as well as Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass!
And my daughter. What can a parent say to their child at the culmination of their education? Besides the pride I felt at her achievement, besides the happiness of sharing this special time, besides the feeling of accomplishment I personally felt, knowing my husband and I have done a good job raising her, I felt at a loss for the right words to speak. What “wisdom” do I want to impart? I realized that what I want to tell my child is the same thing I delivered a keynote on a few years back at NOH-SCBWI and that I’ve touched upon intermittently here on the blog, as advice to writers.It’s this:
We are the authors of our own lives. We write the narrative. Things will happen in our lives that are out of our control. What we do with those things, how we contextualize them, speak about them, internalize them, are in our control. And we each get to decide about so many other things, that are in our control. We get to decide when we’re going to do something brave or risky or outside the box. We get to decide when to do things considered totally “normal.” There are so many things that are in our control! Life may be long or short. We never really know how much time we’re going to have on this earth. I firmly believe in following one’s dreams. I’m not saying be reckless or dumb about it, but I am saying not to settle for anything less than a glorious life. Writers, are you listening? This message is for you, too!
And to the little girl who I watched the VHS tape of The Blustery Day with too many times to count, to whom I read the poems in When we Are Six and When We Were Very Young before bed, who painted “Think, Think, Think” and a picture of Pooh flying to his future on the string of a balloon on the mortar board of her graduation cap, I also have these words for you, just as Christopher Robin spoke them to his friend Pooh:
“You’re braver than you believe,
and stronger than you seem,
and smarter than you think.”