Pomp and Circumstance, the traditional graduation processional, echoed outside my door a few days ago. A local high school presides over the entire block across the street, so I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was hearing their rehearsal for this year’s big day
But graduation already? Didn’t we just celebrate Christmas?
This whole sense of time moving faster as we get older carries a good sized chunk of truth. I’m celebrating my fiftieth birthday this year and it was an equally surprising event the day that the first piece of literature arrived in my mail box from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). How did they find me so fast? Turning fifty isn’t particularly traumatic to me and, in fact, it feels quite nice to consider how many years I have managed to enjoy so far, but it seems a more private matter, an important piece of my journey that I want to preserve and shape for myself with no interference from outside sources. Perhaps the good folks at AARP were simply not aware of my wishes, and if they were, I am sure they would have held back a little until I was ready to receive their grand offers of value-priced health insurance, travel discounts and spa treatments that will keep me looking younger than they already know I am.
So here I am, reflecting back on some remembered high points: my high school, college and seminary graduations, first meetings with friends who are still a part of my life ten, twenty and thirty years later, great loves gained and lost. Quite frankly, though, I don’t remember many of the details of any of these moments that have impacted my life in profound ways. I do have a few cherished stories, but even those don’t make up the bulk of what has transpired to be a rich and happily-lived life. What I do know is that appreciating how my education, relationships and accomplishments inform my life now matters more to me and keeps me stepping in rhythm with God on what I believe to be spiritual journey.
Biblical references to life and cultural graduations and transitions are abundant. The Israelites headed out for the Promised Land and kept on going. Moses snagged the Ten Commandments, led his people out of Egypt and they still kept going. Forty years in the wilderness, learning what it meant to live as God’s people outside the framework of slavery was a daunting task, but they did it. The New Testament continues the saga of God’s people facing issues of relational quality, how to balance faith with government rules and regulations and translating what is into what can be according to their understanding of Jesus’ definition of the Kingdom of Heaven. And they, just as we, encountered life issues that are as beautiful and ordinary as God’s grace woven among us. People kept being born and dying, marrying and giving in marriage, working and paying taxes. Daily life may look different than ours in its details, but the basic human quotient remains the same today as it did then.
A simple thread of human understanding of how life works at its best binds us to our spiritual ancestors as surely as our hearts and souls remember all the gifts they have given us in how they lived their lives with faith and hope. The decisions to move forward always expand our lives, but the ones that shrink us into less than we are are the ones that look to the past as a safe place to escape the living that is left to do and enjoy. Remembering all the places from which we have grown is quite wonderful, but expecting to be preserved in history before our time on earth is completed only serves to assure that we will not be remembered at all, but left for dead long before our time.
These life transitions serve a solid purpose for our souls and our hearts, teaching us to pay attention, live with intentionality in our moments, so as these moments stretch into seasons and years we are able to recognize the miraculous intent of God With Us over the course of our lives.
T.S. Eliot once wrote that, “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.” I take great pleasure in these words, approaching the second half of my life with hope, joy and peace in the journey. I feel a new sense of graduation, a step into a whole new adventure filled with possibilities and wonder. Starting out in one’s twenties holds a certain level of panic that I don’t often feel anymore. I have frequently said that forgiveness and forbearance are the great gifts of middle age: some days you give and some days you get. But I also believe that a confident soul is a treasure worth celebrating, along with taking nothing fro granted.