Benjamin Button: [Voice over; letter to his daughter] For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
Dear Graduating Class of 2009,
Had a college or high school, shucks even an elementary school, invited me to give their commencement speech, I would have gladly accepted. I'd of put on a tie even. But no one asked. Therefore, I'm writing you a letter which you will probably never see. However, there is a sliver of a chance you might for I now have 14 followers, that's two more than Jesus had, and sometimes followers can spread the word. Sometimes.
Here is my advice, boiled down to three little words, as you step across your particular threshold: Choose your life.
There will be days when life will choose for you. You will wake up feeling weak and the doctor will whisper cancer. You'll get a phone call that Mama died. Your company will downsize leaving no room for you. The note on the kitchen table will read I've fallen out of love with you - goodbye. There will be days like that; such is the way of this life on this planet.
But there will be other days, maybe just as many if not more, when life will say Choose. The reins will slack enough so that you can choose the next direction or the next word or the next bite. Each and every day we make decisions either for or against the precious life we've been given. Phrases like well, whatever or I really don't care are not acceptable; they are the words of a coward. There are plenty of cowards who are alive, but it's only the brave who are living.
Yes, there are consequences to every choice, but I'm afraid we sometimes focus so much on what the consequences might be that we strip away the absolute rush in the veins that comes from being able to make the choice. It's like missing the questions for the answers and questions, at least in this life, are why we keep getting up in the morning. The questions always come first; they are the dew on the morning.
You need to know, if you don't already, that people will try and make your choices for you. Sometimes, oftentimes, these are the people closest to you. As you choose your life, be firm but not mean. It takes a while to learn how to do that, maybe a long, long time, but it's worth figuring out how to do. If you hurt some people, often those closest to you, as you learn this, then you can choose to say I'm sorry or not. The choice is yours. But as for the meanness, remember this: There's no excuse for being an asshole. I thought about saying that differently, but I chose to say it in a way you'd remember it. And hopefully you will.
So there you have it: Choose your life. Congratulations on getting to this point. Whether by hook or by crook, you've made it this far. Where and how you go from here is not entirely up to you, but you get to have a say in it. You really do. I hope you make the best of it.
I've come across several folks this week citing a NY Times blogpost titled "God Talk." The post is Stanley Fish's review of Terry Eagleton's book Reason, Faith, and Revolution. I might read the book, might not, it's hard to tell. But I did read the review, three times. Eagleton and Fish are howling against "school-yard atheists" like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, folks who believe that religion has nothing to offer us. When I checked the post again there were over 700 comments; that's about 695 more than I ever get.
I'm sure that if I were asked to debate Hitchens and/or Dawkins around their idea of an "outmoded, left-over medieval superstition", a.k.a. God, they could in no time flat reduce me to a pool of water, kinda like when that mean old magician locks the greenhouse door and Frosty the Snowman melts. Trust me, I'm not a debater; it would not be pretty.
But it did get to me thinking about reason, faith, and revolution...and atheism and Frosty. I realize the fact that I'm about to talk about God and Frosty in the same breath would cause Hitchens and/or Dawkins to guffaw on the floor in glee. That's fine by me. A hearty guffaw indicates you're in the backyard of Grace whether you believe or not.
It seems to me that somewhere along the way we tossed that old silk hat we'd trusted in for so long. Why and when? God only knows. Based on everything we could see or measure via telescopes and microscopes, religion no longer offered, as Hitchens has said, "an explanation of anything important." Eagleton counters: "But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place." Mercy, there's a clear case of two wrongs making a wronger.
Anyway, that old silk hat was found wanting, good for nothing. And so the revolution was afoot. We moved on further east of Eden in search of a reasonable faith, certain there's an app for that.
But every once in a while, on the outskirts of town, we're certain we hear the sound of children laughing and playing, running and having some fun, saying catch us if you can. And the piper leading the bunch is wearing that old silk hat. Are these literal children? Sure, some days; of such is the Kingdom. Other days, the children are a little older, such as those jolly, happy Amish souls with corncob pipes extending something called forgiveness to the family of the man who stole their children. My, my...there must have been some magic in that old silk hat that day...
Eagleton and Fish concede that "there are no guarantees...a transfigured future will ever be born." As I said, I'm not a debater. But I am a storyteller. And so, Mr. Hitchens and/or Dawkins, you too Mr. Eagleton; pull up a chair, Fish. There's an old, old story, a fairy tale some say, that speaks of a particular day when a transfigured future was born. It was a boy, God with meat. Sure, I know that sounds like something only a child could believe. The story says it'll be that way. The boy grew and could run and play just the same as you and me. His outmoded, inefficient ways of love and compassion got him into trouble. A mean old magician asked us to choose a god and we pointed to the traitor of progress. We sent the man-God packing with a broomstick across his shoulders. There was a traffic cop, of sorts, who did pause a moment and say "truly...truly." And the boy born God melted away. The story goes that the little ones saw him again. He had to hurry on his way, but he waved goodbye, saying "don't you cry, I'll be back again someday...I'm leaving that old silk hat...follow it."
And so the old silk hat thumpety thump thumps as presidents pass 100 days and atheists become rock stars and British critics and NY Times columnists grow angry...yet some of us good for nothings keep following that hat...