Live So the World Cries and You Rejoice

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.
Live your life so that when you die, the world weeps and you rejoice.”
Cherokee Saying

 

In June 2009, I commented that it had been fifty years since I graduated from Miami University (in Oxford, Ohio). A friend asked me, “Are you going to go back for your reunion?” I told him, “No. I don’t think I can swing it.” He thought for a moment, then he said, “Well, if you did go back, and someone asked, are there any nuggets you’d pass on to the grads? Then he added, “Hard to believe it’s been fifty years. It’s so different now. I wonder if what we have learned would mean much to today’s grads?”

I also wondered, and thus I hesitated to pass along any so-called ‘life’s lessons.’ My concern was that unasked advice might land on the young as ‘preaching,’ perhaps abuse. Yet with the passing of another year, and my grandson’s June graduation from high school, I decided I would share with him my ideas on a quality ‘human journey.’ I did so, fully aware that he must make his own choices, as do we all. My offering…

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You now move into your adult years. As you do, I am offering you a few ‘Old Guy observations.’ These may seem a bit old-fashioned, especially in our fast-paced/high-tech world. Do with them what you wish. I will start with…..

  • First, my congratulations! You worked hard and earned your diploma. So celebrate! You have completed an important step on your journey, with new adventures lying ahead.

  • And Second, always remember that the strong trees are anchored by deep roots. You are now a ‘strong tree.’ So be clear about those who contributed to what you have achieved: your parents, teachers, coaches, counselors, and friends at church, to name but a few. They set high standards, demanded commitment, offered help, and urged you to become more than you thought you could be. Take time to name them, find them and thank them.

As you enter college, uncertainty accompanies your future, as it has so often in years past. Yet you must not permit today’s headlines to dampen the ‘fire in your belly;’ rather, move forward believing that today’s problems will shrink, and you will slay your dragons and craft your life. And as you do so, accept that timing and luck play no favorites. We all contest the game with the hand we are dealt, which means you must prepare for opportunity even as you navigate the occasional potholes, all without benefit of previous experience. That will be no easy task, but have faith – you will manage it, as did your predecessors.

You will also build muscle required for the years ahead. These are your ‘butterfly days’ – much as an infant butterfly beats fragile wings to push through its cocoon wall to freedom, and in so doing develops the strength to fly, you too must ‘beat your wings’ to build the strength you will need as you learn ‘fly.’ Yet even as the classroom equips you with knowledge important to success, unfinished business remains. Academics and work experience are important building blocks, but they are not sufficient for a life of meaning. For that, you must be relentless in defining, then living, with uncompromised character.

You have made a good start on meeting this challenge. As you continue down that that road, I remind you of the statue of King David, sculpted by Michelangelo and unveiled in 1504. When asked how he had created a perfect likeness of David from a block of marble, Michelangelo answered, “I chipped away the pieces of stone which were not David.” So ask of yourself, “What must I chip away which is not a part of who I want to be?” I suggest three ills to consider:

  • Lose the excuses and justifications. These are ‘tricks’ we invent to explain away our unfulfilled commitments. Be smart: do not bite off more than you can chew; however, once you accept a task, ‘own’ it and completed it as agreed. And when you stumble, as we all do, step up, own your failure, and put it right. Such decisions shape both character and reputation.

  • Next, neither dwell upon yesterday, or expect that tomorrow will solve your problems. Yesterday is history, its value measured by how we apply what we have learned. And hoping that tomorrow will somehow ‘fix things’ is not a useful strategy. To accomplish anything of value, focus on today. Take action today. Remember the lessons learned, think ahead, but live in the present.

  • And finally, give up your need to be right. Whether driven by a desire for status, control or self-esteem, the urge to be right exacts far too high a price: it curbs creativity, skewers relationships and erodes respect. To fit kindly into a team-oriented future, tame the need to be right.

Which brings me to ten serious commitments which I believe will lend support to a ‘best version of you:’

  • First, I believe we do our best by being ourselves. If we try to fool others, in time both our ‘cover story’ and our credibility will implode. So be authentic. You come into this life with useful tools. Apply them and play to your strengths. It is upon your strengths that you will build success.

  • Second, I believe that the answers will find us if we are willing to be patient and ‘be in the moment.’ Allow yourself to be quiet, curious and aware. You know what you know; however, what you do not know may decide the outcome. So be calm. Welcome the new and the unknown. ‘Ancora Imparo’ – be about learning, always and forever.

  • Third, I believe in doing the right thing, and doing it for the right reasons. You have lived long enough to know what is right and what is not right. Peter Marshall says, “We know perfectly well what we ought to do, but there are times we just don’t want to do it.” Which means: if it doesn’t feel right, do not do it. If you focus on doing the right thing, the hard choices become clear.

  • Fourth, I believe in living life with purpose and passion. Joe E. Lewis said, “You only live once, but if you work it right, once is enough.” Life is not a rehearsal. ‘Working life right’ happens when you are clear about what captivates you, summons your enthusiasm and calls you to commit fully. Find your passion, and live it fully.

  • Fifth, I believe in doing our best and being the best we can be. We can do no more than our very best. However, no one has the right to accept a task and then give it less than their best effort. If you cannot commit fully, decline the task; however, once you accept an assignment, treat it as a sacred trust. Because others are riding on your promise.

  • Sixth, I believe in the power of the human will. You will be deceived, knocked down, stricken and see your best efforts fall short. You will exhaust intellect, talent and strength, and fear you cannot go on. Choose to put such disappointments behind you, and resolve that you will not quit. Hall of Fame Coach Vince Lombardi said, “The difference between success and failure is not lack of strength, or lack of knowledge, but a lack of will.” So never give up.

  • Seventh, I believe in being caring and kind. These are genuine ‘gifts of the heart.’ Offer them freely to all in your life, without exception or expectation of payback. Compassion lifts those you touch, it raises you more than those to whom you extend it, and it returns to you many-fold.

  • Eighth, I believe in the power of forgiveness. Forgiving is choosing ‘grace’ over retaliation. I cannot improve upon what Nelson Mandela said about the possibilities created when you forgive another: “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. Which is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

  • Ninth, I believe in the power of love. Remembering his father, Robert Kennedy said: “Real love is something unselfish. It involves sacrifice and giving.” Mother Theresa urged us to “…love without getting tired” She said, “If we love until it hurts, there will be no more hurt, only more love.” So be unselfish and giving. Determine to love without getting tired.

  • Tenth and finally, I believe in believing – in oneself, in others, and in a wisdom and power beyond human limits. I do so for good reason: life places hard choices and difficult obstacles across our path. We are equipped to handle both; however, we are at our best when we true our course and anchor our decisions on standards which have stood the test of time.

Five decades ago, roasting under cap-and-gown under a searing Ohio sun, my only goal was surviving that endless ceremony. The half-century lying ahead never crossed my mind. Now, suddenly it seems, it has become my last fifty years, a ‘blur’ with big questions in its wake: “Where did the years go? Were they all they could have been? And the biggest question: “Would I sign up to do it all again?’

Expect that you too will burn through your next fifty years, and very quickly. So seize each day – ‘carpe diem!’ Be yourself. Do the right thing. Always give back more than you get. Never quit. Be kind, be caring, and be about love. And spend some of your curiosity in that special place which songwriter Mark Knopfler describes as “…the edge of the night, where a light still gleams, beyond your wildest dreams.”

My young friend, having lived 70-plus years, I can answer my biggest question: “Yes! I would sign up to live it all again.” So I will wish you what I had the good fortune to enjoy: a following wind, a noble run, and years lived well. I pray that far down the road, when your time here is finished and a grateful world weeps at its loss, you will rejoice without reservation, at peace with the days you were granted and the value you added.

 

Lawrence M. Cassidy

June 18, 2009

Edited October 2010

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