“Life scars us. It is inevitable. We learn to live with those scars, or they kill us long before we actually die. Small scars, large, scars as long and deep as the ocean—they define us; they become a part of our life map.”—Jonathan Carroll
“Why do people love us? We are always trying to figure that out, but only by using our own point of view. That way is so limited. Sometimes they love us for things we don’t even know about ourselves. For example they love our hands. My *hands*? Why would anyone love my hands? But they do and they’ve got their reasons why. You must accept that and realize the person they know and love is different from the one you know.”—Jonathan Carroll / THE GHOST IN LOVE
“She sat in the water with her back to him. After a while she turned and asked over her shoulder if he would like her to sing. She had a beautiful voice and chose a quiet song in her haunting native language. While she sang he closed his eyes and thought, “This is it. Nothing could be better than this.””—Jonathan Carroll
“The other day my seven year old son and I were contentedly chewing pieces of bubblegum. Without thinking, I blew a big bubble. He looked at me as if I’d pulled a rabbit out of my hat and asked how I’d done that.
“Simple— flatten the gum against the top of your mouth like this.” Being a schoolteacher, I cleverly demonstrated how to flatten your gum and he got that far. But then the trouble began. “Now, stick your tongue halfway through the flat piece like this…” His face tightened in confusion— How do you stick your tongue *halfway* through a piece of mushy bubblegum? It got worse, and by the time I’d explained the whole bubble blowing procedure, he was dead bored. He got up, shrugged, and went off to watch cartoons. Now if you think I’m a loser, the next time you’re chewing bubblegum try explaining to the seven year old nearby how to blow a bubble without confusing or boring them. It’s not easy, and yet another proof that language is *always* a very fragile thing that is at best difficult to handle when you’re trying to use it carefully and correctly.
A few hours later while thinking about that, I stopped and grew worried. I had to give this commencement speech, and I wanted to talk about what the word ‘graduation’ means. But how was I going to achieve that if I couldn’t even explain entertainingly how to blow a bubble?
We all know it is easy to stand up at a commencement and say just about anything because everybody’s so happy or shocked to be graduating, or indifferent to the speaker that it doesn’t matter much what is said, so long as you receive your diploma. But as a result of that, most commencement speakers I’ve heard said bo-ring and ponderous things like ‘As you go forward into your future…’ or ‘Today is one of the great days of your life…’ As if you didn’t know that already. Probably more hot air has been spent on commencement speeches than is over the city of Miami Beach today.
So my job is to say a few semi-original things about what graduation means, even though it’s difficult for me to explain how to blow a bubble to a seven year old. Not an enviable position to be in. Already I’ve talked a while and not once gone into the graduation thing. If I was the writer Gertrude Stein I might be able to get out of the whole thing by saying enigmatically a graduate is a graduate is a graduate, and then walk off the stage. But we all know that won’t do. So I went to some notebooks I keep and looked for help on this from writers a lot better than me. I found two things that I think are not only profoundly true, but wonderfully applicable here.
The first comes from a great Japanese Zen Buddhist master centuries ago. A young student came to him and said he wanted to be a Zen master too. How should he go about it? The teacher smiled and said “I could answer that question, but I won’t try because you wouldn’t understand the answer. Now listen: Imagine that I am holding a pot of tea and you are thirsty. You want me to give you tea. I can pour it but you’ll have to produce the cup. I can’t pour the tea on your hands or you’ll get burned: If I pour it on the floor, I shall spoil the floor mats. You have to have a cup. That cup you will form in yourself by the training you will receive here.”
Now if this school has done good things for you, then you have already found the cup you need to hold whatever tea we had to give. Whether that tea was the poetry of Shakespeare or the weight of an atom, many of you are sitting out there with a filled teacup. Those of you who aren’t, hopefully when you go on to whatever other teachers you’ll have in life, like those at a university or a job, you’ll find it there. Some of you aren’t even aware that it is there, but that is because the cup is inside you and not held in your hands.
The second comes from the German poet Rilke who once had a correspondence with a young man who wanted to understand some of the great life dilemmas that were confusing him. To this young man Rilke wrote,” Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for answers, which could not be given to you now because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living: train yourself for that. But whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don’t hate anything.”
Great advice, but I think the majority of you are already thinking in that direction now that you’ve reached the end of this school’s road. Live the questions, find yourself the right cup for your tea, but maybe most importantly of all, remember the words of that great blond American philosopher, Marilyn Monroe: “I am not interested in money. I just want to be wonderful.”
That’s your last assignment, class— go out and be wonderful.”—Jonathan Carroll
“When you’re in bed with someone, you’re seeing them as they really are. No masks or camouflage to hide behind because they’re at their most naked and vulnerable. It’s like seeing someone’s face when they first wake up in the morning. *That* face is who they really are”—Jonathan Carroll