Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Graduation Speeches

I always enjoy the snippets of graduation speeches that we get to watch this time of year on national and local news programs. I like to hear what the speakers say to the graduates, what advice they give. I enjoy them now even though I realize that after more than twenty-five years since I graduated from college and even more years since high school graduation, I have no recollection of any of the speeches or bits of wisdom I received when I received a diploma. For the life of me, I don’t even know who the speakers were. But this spring as I reach the milestone of turning fifty, I have a clearer idea of what I wish I had been told as I was setting out to begin my life as a young adult. I wish I had been told that life rarely works out like I expect it and that it’s okay to make plans but I should be prepared to let them go and make new ones. Someone should have told me to lighten up and not take things so seriously. At the age of eighteen or even twenty-two I really didn’t have to figure out what I intended to do with the rest of my life since now I know that idea has gone through many revisions. It would have been nice to know I could relax and enjoy my youth a little more than I did. I wish I would have been counseled to find out what makes me happy and not rely solely upon others to bring me joy. I wish I would have been told to let myself be surprised and delighted by the world. I think I knew this at an early age, but it would have been nice to be reminded to tell the people I love that I love them since no one ever really knows when a last time for that is happening. It would have made things a lot easier if I had learned early in my friendships and marriage that it is better to be in right relationship than it is to be right. And finally, I wish I had known how important it is to be kind because I have certainly come to understand that above all things, kindness does matter. I write all these words of wisdom now thinking that if I had heard them in graduation speeches I might have been more attentive to the important things of life in the last thirty years and saved myself a lot of grief. But I know better. Most of the significant lessons in life don’t come from a speech on graduation day. The most important lessons of life are those we learn by living, by trying and failing and trying again, by listening to our hearts, and by figuring things out for ourselves. Speeches are inspirational, even educational, but the truth is, only when we live life do we really ever learn the lessons.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Life as a Do-Over

Every year around this time I enjoy watching one of my favorite movies. Ground Hog Day came out in 1993 and it stars Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. In the film, Bill Murray plays an egocentric TV weatherman from Pittsburgh, Phil Conners, who is assigned, as he has been in years past, to cover the annual Ground Hog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He hates the yearly assignment of reporting on the village ground hog and whether or not the animal sees its shadow and all he wants is to complete the assignment and return home. Once there, the story taped and completed, an unexpected snow storm descends on the area and he finds himself stuck in this small town. Even worse is the fact that he keeps waking up and repeating the same despised day over and over again. Conner wastes the repeat day with numerous acts of selfishness, outrageous adventures, and even several suicide attempts until he finally begins to use the twenty-four hours as an opportunity to examine his life.
It’s kind of like having a “do-over” day. When I was a kid, that’s what we called taking another time at bat, getting an extra kick in kick ball, and having a second swing at the golf tee, a do-over. I have often wished for such an opportunity after an argument with a friend or a failed attempt in the pulpit, uninspired leadership at a committee meeting or a loss of encouraging words while sitting next to a patient in a hospital bed. There have been times when I have made such a mess of things in relationships or in ministry that I wished I could just have the chance to try again, wipe the slate clean and start over. And yet, when I watch this movie I have to wonder if I would be like the character Murray plays and just keep making the same mistake again and again.

I heard once that we repeat our life lessons until we finally learn them. The people with whom we interact, our teachers of the lessons, and the circumstances may change but if we’re paying attention, it’s actually the same situation replaying over and over, allowing us the opportunity finally to get it right, that life is itself, a do-over.

By the end of the movie Bill Murray’s character finally gets it. He re-examines his values and his life, making the decision to do things differently. After living his do-over day in complete hedonism and selfishness, it’s as if he finally wakes up, enlightened to the life he really wants and committed to engage in the day set before him. And of course, in the realm of movie magic, when that finally happens, the egocentric weatherman doesn’t have to repeat Ground Hog Day ever again. I keep hoping the same thing for myself when I get a do-over. And just like Phil Conners, I hope that maybe this time I’ll get it right.