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Graduating seniors: Get over it

| Friday, April 20, 2018

To my graduating sisters and brothers who will forever share reunion weekends with me and other alumni from class years ending in either eight or three, beware that life is littered with disappointing disruptions. More often than you may expect, you will need to get over it — “it” being a variety of life lessons like losing a love interest, burying a beloved family member or suffering a personal setback. Failure, trauma and disappointment are antediluvian evils that surely will come your way, but more certainly will construct your personal character.

In her April 12 Observer Viewpoint column, “Finding ‘the opposite of loneliness,’” Maeve Filbin identifies the cherished intangible aspects of the college community lifestyle that seniors will soon forever leave behind. Beyond the ivy-covered walls of our insulated Catholic Disneyland campus lays the real world, bursting with a multitude of opportunities but booby trapped by hard luck and unfair treatment. Each of us who enters adulthood must endure adversity at every turn. Cleverly sidestepping landmines is a skill set not easily learned by the less tenacious.

While commencement addresses routinely offer sage advice on maximizing your potential and forecasting your utopian destiny, seldom do speakers suggest ways to maneuver soul-searching interior pitfalls. All of us who have ventured from the college cocoon into the work arena hope that you graduating seniors who follow us will brighten up a room every time you walk into one. But face it; some days are so rainy that you cannot be an umbrella for the world. Rather, what you must reinvent each day is a persona strong enough to survive internal trauma and fatigue.

Somewhere within your being you must create an airtight box — for most of us a miniature-sized box will do — where you can place the horrors inflicted upon you, and where your personal hurt cannot escape to harm you or anyone else. Unfortunately, you will not be immune from someday incarcerating your innocence or burying part of yourself in that box. Everyone, from war veterans to crime victims to heartbroken lovers to average lifestyle neighbors, faces some type of gnawing grief that deserves to be locked in that box.

For me — an animal advocate, a Humane Society contributor and an owner of three dogs who I am committed to for a lifetime — I broadsided and killed a deer on an interstate highway. For weeks, my slow-motion flashbacks replayed. Again and again the animal stood frozen in the highway looking me squarely in the eyes, then bounced off my hood, attempted to stand but immediately collapsed onto the road shoulder. Those haunting images caused my leg to uncontrollably shake when I passed the accident’s location on the highway. It took a sustained and concerted struggle for me to finally lock that angst away.

I reasoned that if my father, a World War II army sergeant, could suppress more horrors than I will ever know, I could will away my nightmares. If he could put war to rest, surely I could easily master visions of hitting a mere deer on the highway. Yet once I established my inner box, it would repeatedly serve me to help forget other memories like watching a poisoned half-paralyzed squirrel fiercely claw with only his front legs up a tree to return to his nest. Each spring, my box captures images of newly hatched baby birds sprawled on the patio after falling out of their nests, anguishing a slow death. My inner box seals away the visions of how I handled disposing some of those still alive birds so as not to let them further suffer.

For you graduating seniors, my gruesome animal encounters may be meager comparative reminders that others throughout the world — perhaps you specifically — suffer more intensely. Everyone struggles to recover from random events large or small. Some react differently to the same circumstance. For example, if you have never been in love, supposedly you have never had your heart broken. Yet someone not yet in love may struggle with severe depression from a broken lonely heart. Ironically, life never promises to be fair at any turn, so we all must learn to somehow, through some means, get over it.

Graduating seniors, not only must you get over it, but also you must get on with it. Your adventure will surely at times be wondrous while onerous. Mohandas Gandhi wrote that happiness through the tendencies of the outer world are found inside us. His entire penned thought was paraphrased into, “You must be the change you wish to see.”

That is a universal goal every graduate should eye when entering a new stage of life. You have the power to brighten each room upon your every entrance. You have the ability to be the sunshine in everyone’s life. Heed the wisdom of baseball pitching great Satchel Paige who remarked, “Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”

Graduating seniors, in five years at the 2023 reunion weekend, I look forward to personally sitting in the beer tent with you. I hope to hear about your internal peace and bask in your illuminating sunshine while we both get on with it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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