It’s the day before your graduation and, with convocation this afternoon, I’m already at risk for getting a little verklempt. So I’m going to try to keep this light.
The conversation we had the other afternoon when I was, actually, verklempt-in-action was one of the most healing conversations I think we’ve ever had–or at least ever had in the past 3.5 years. The half of me that wants to explore the gooey personally significant parts of that talk and publicly bash romantic idealism is (thankfully) heeding the hush of however you characterize the other half of me.
So here’s something that I thought was funny from the conversation instead.
We were talking about the armchair philosophizing that was the hallmark of our teenage exchanges–both in letters and in conversation at that time. You said something that indicated a pretty opposite perspective from mine, though I don’t remember the topic.
And I said, “When did it happen that we started to think about things so differently? I feel like we used to understand the world in the same way. But now we have such different approaches to things.”
You said (and maybe this is a paraphrase): “I don’t know. I never understood what the hell you were saying back then half the time anyway.”
Me: What? You’re kidding me, dude. I thought I was the one who never understood you. [by which I probably meant your theological introspection]
You: What? No. I didn’t know what was going on.
Before we talked that afternoon, I’d been reading some old letters between us circa age 20. They were folded into a journal I kept at the time. On the pages of the journal where the letter was tucked, I was trying to decipher something you’d said the night before and wrote:
I feel so sophomoric* as he tells me his latest philosophy and I just attempt to absorb. But sometimes I think he’s just taking a lot of words to explain the things I’ve toyed with from a different perspective. Still he seems to go deeper and I wonder why I’m not there, too.
[* self-evident shout out to my word of the day calendar. See also attempted use of "polemic."]
#2. BAH hahahah… Oh. My. That Stephen and his “depth.”
But: Perfect. Because that means that we’ve had these pretty disparate approaches to life all along. It’s just that we used to speak in so many unacknowledged obscurities, that we didn’t know it!
Like your rule-following and directness of approach and entrepreneurialism vs. my compliant-defiance and indirectness and navel-gazing–these are not differences that have developed as we’ve “grown up” or “grown apart” (both of which would be questionable propositions, anyway). Retrospectively, the differences were just overshadowed by our mutual interest in the friendship/relationship.
And sociologically perfect: the emergent character of the friendship seemed like your character and seemed like mine. But it was the character of the thing not the people in the thing. (how about that one? Did that one make sense?)
Isn’t it funny–bananas–that we spent so much time in the land of “misunderstanding as status quo” but didn’t know it? Or was I the only one in the dark?
To quote the dean of social work during convocation, “As you know, people can be a pain–particularly when they’re not like us.” Particularly when they’re not and you think they are.
From one pain to another, cheers.
Epilogue: Selected Observations and Events from Your Convocation
I join your family in the eighth row from the front as the School of Social Work (SSW) faculty take their seats on the stage. Your mom and I debate the pros and cons of a 9pm dinner reservation in light of Olive-as-a-thing. The robed MSW and BSW students start to populate the middle rows that have been reserved for them/you and someone plays an organ.
Olive takes stock of your SSW peers. “There’s definitely more girls.”
Your mom calls the restaurant during the processional. (Why do our moms take and make phone calls in the middle of these kinds of things?)
Dean Garland delivers the welcome address with due recognition of the length of “the journey” and all the people who’ve supported the graduates through it. Then, a testament to the rigor of the program, she rattles off the program’s rankings and quickly adds, “–but we don’t care.”
Our young rebel is amused and leans over to my ear to parrot, “We don’t care.” whisper-giggle, whisper-giggle. It’s a bit like when she stumbled into my room a couple nights ago, afraid from the thunderstorm. I was watching the Louis CK bit about men being the most dangerous thing to women– “A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane and ill-advised. How do women still go out with guy when you’re consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men. We’re the number one threat. Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of mayhem and injury. We’re the worst thing that ever happens to them…If you’re a guy, try to imagine you could only date a half-bear, half lion.”
“Lion-Bear.” whisper-giggle, whisper-giggle.
The dean goes on. Unsurprisingly, I am moved by the synchronicity of the biblical story and character she’s chosen to highlight in her remarks: Stephen. She goes on, at length, about Stephen–the first martyr. Stephen, whose face is like an angel. Stephen, who paid attention to the children.
“If you want to see God, put the powerless at the center. The children,” says the dean. A baby cries in the back of the auditorium on cue (seriously). Stephen.
Olive leans over again. “I love daddy.”
Some of this awe is seeping into her, too, I think. “We’re very proud of him, aren’t we?”
Scrunchyface. “Did you brush your teeth today?” Perhaps, not.
“Oh. I just ate gouda before I left my office. Sorry.” I return my attention to Dean Garland. Just as she is saying something about how the job of the social worker is to confront the status quo, your sister and Olive call my name and I anticipate another mark of synchronicity or significance w/r/t this letter, which I’d already titled “Misunderstanding as Status Quo.” Instead they point to your dad–head resting on the palm of his hand, asleep. Whisper-giggle Whisper-giggle
Soon enough the graduates are being summoned to the stage. Alphabetically, the BSW’s and then MSW’s walk across to pose next to a faculty member while a brief personal statement is read and significant others clap and take pictures. When it’s the turn of the one student in the program who’s blind, she and her dog take the stage. The latter, who is referenced in the personal statement, receives the loudest applause and cheers of affirmation of any of the 95 graduates. Woof.
After the ceremony, your family and I crowd into the foyer with the other spectators for the reception. Your dad redeems his role by summoning the family through use of the patented Boyes whistle. Just as it called you back to the house from the corners of the neighborhood in childhood, it catches your ears over the din. We circle up.
“Yours was the best personal statement,” your dad says when we are all gathered together near the cookies. He is right.
Afterward, we go out to dinner. “So you see the resemblance I’ve been talking about, then,” I say to friend-family-member Ryn who joins us. We look from one corner of the table to the next like a couple of spectators at a tennis match. When you’re tired, you both raise your eyebrows while you stare off.
His eyes are just a paler shade of blue.