As I wrapped a present for our youngest niece who is graduating from college next week, I thought about my own college graduation 45 years ago. Is that really possible? I remember being on campus and seeing all those "old" people return for Homecoming or reunions or the annual Christmas Festival and feeling a bit smug in my youth. Now I am one of those old people, and I am no longer smug.
I was one of the lucky ones in 1970. I had a job before my diploma was in my hands, a teaching contract for a brand new junior high school in Rochester, MN, and I was more than eager to begin that challenge. I felt ready to begin the next stage in my life.
On my way to the registrar's office to pick up my diploma after the ceremony, I passed the man who is now my husband. We had dated in college off and on, but mostly off, as we always say when someone asks us about how we met. We had not dated senior year, but we were friends with no hard feelings about our stalled relationship. As we passed each other, I waved and said, "Have a nice life." And that was that. Little did I know that in the summer of 1971 we would get married, but that is another story. A good story.
What I didn't know on graduation day --and how can anyone know--was all the detours I would take, all the scenic overlooks that would grab my attention, all the joys and sorrows, the changes, even the dead ends. Two children now with wonderful spouses, two grandchildren, several moves and homes, a circle of friends, changes in career, loss of my mother and a few friends. Opportunities taken and opportunities missed.
I thought I knew on graduation day whom I was, and, of course, what I have learned over the years was that I only knew a version of myself. Those years between 1970 and today allowed me to form, re-form, modify and clarify that knowledge of myself. I accepted new roles and added layers to myself over the years--not always true ones. I sometimes allowed myself to be what others wanted me to be, but sometimes the expectations of others helped me know more about whom I really am and not just whom I thought I wanted to be.
I continue to learn, but now the search is not so much about my persona in the world, but, instead, is much more about discovering the person I was created to be and how to live my essence. A spiritual search for sure.
And the time to conduct this search is certainly shorter than it once was.
As we age many of us struggle, especially when faced with serious physical challenges, to be whom we are, but what does that really mean? How do we define whom we are? What is it that makes me, me and you, you? When do you feel most like the person you were created to be? Are you still that person when stripped of certain roles in your life or physical or mental abilities?
I have no concrete answers, but I know that intentionally including spiritual practices into my life and attempting to live in the present moment enhances my awareness of this person I call "me." I know that thinking about what gives my life meaning and what my purpose is now, even though what I may DO in the world may feel diminished, helps me dig down to my essence. I know that for me paying attention to how God is moving in my life helps me stay in touch with my ongoing evolution into myself.
I rejoice for all those who are graduating. I thank God for their talents and abilities, their desires and hopes and dreams. May all be well for them, especially our dear niece. But I urge them to look kindly on all of us who graduated so long ago, for we still have our hopes and dreams, too, and we still have gifts to share, and we are still becoming whom we were created to be.
How are you evolving? What do you know now about yourself that you didn't know when you last wore a cap and gown? I would love to know.