Friday, June 6, 2014

The important things

      I imagine that most readers of this newsletter have seen, at one time or another, the quotation (attributed to Anthony d'Angelo):  "The most important things in life aren't things."  And, I would imagine that, deep-down, we may all believe it.  Of course we live in a culture that preaches exactly the opposite.  Whether it's some product that will smooth our skin or change our hair color to the next generation of smart-gadget to this year's run-way fashion out of Italy to that one component that will make your bicycle 5 grams lighter, we are led to believe that our lives will be infinitely better if we shell out our hard-earned dollars to acquire something.
      Maybe it's not just some physical "object".  Perhaps we pursue a cushier, or more prestigious, job, or a position on a particular committee or board, or even another academic degree/honor.  Something "out there" either pushes, or draws, us to acquire, gain, or claim it.  It turns into another line our resumes, some thing about which to crow.
      I do not mean to suggest that there is anything inherently wrong with any of these things (although I may have some questions about hair-color preparations, since the little I have left wouldn't really benefit from the expenditure).  The problems arise when the pursuit of these externalities overtakes, or overwhelms, us to the exclusion of just about anything else.  The classic observation in this regard is that nobody says, on their deathbed, "I wish I could have had more time for work", implying, of course, that "work" was not as important as many other things they could have pursued.
      Commencement season, to me, brings these considerations to the fore.  A new diploma is something to hang on the wall (I have enough of those, to be sure!).  What that diploma might mean is a cool new job!  Cool new job might mean better living quarters, more reliable automobile, better meals, a more attractive trophy spouse.  In other words, things begetting things begetting things.  And the beat goes on.
       It was surprising to me, then, to learn that a commencement address last year at Syracuse University went viral on the internet.  George Saunders, a creative writing professor at Syracuse, charged the graduates of 2013 to seek a simple goal:  To try to be kinder.  He spoke about all of the things he had done, and that he had regretted.  His biggest regrets were 
not failures of achievement or failures of acquisition, but failures of kindness.  Clearly his advice hit a nerve, as his speech was tweeted all around the world and it has become the basis for his latest book:  Congratulations, by the way:  Some Thoughts on Kindness (2014).
       For most of us, at the end of an academic year, there is some time to back down, to "vacate", to recoup, recuperate, re-create, before starting up again.  Might we revisit what are the important things in our lives and reconsider how to spend our time with them.  Maybe everything will change!

Chaplain Gary

Note:  Image/quote is from Story People.

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