Sunday, May 22, 2011

graduation day

The house is full of flowers -- gifts from those who wished to congratulate my daughter on her college graduation. Flowers here, flowers there ... bouquets in the midst of the dusty mayhem created by the upgrade work in the kitchen. Will the house ever be neat and clean again? I may doubt it, but the flowers make the mess a little less oppressive.

It was a long and pleasant and tiring day, yesterday. I felt a bit sorry for the men and women who took to the podium to encourage and congratulate the graduates in an enormous gymnasium. The speakers were cut off from originality. They droned out platitudes because there was no other recourse. At my age, I couldn't help remembering Shakespeare after a while: "Brevity is the soul of wit." Or, journalistically, "Stand up. Speak up. And shut up." I wasn't cranky about it, though I did feel that if I sat on that chair much longer, there would be hemorrhoids growing on any incipient hemorrhoids. It was a pleasant enough ritual and if you can sit through a Zen retreat, you can probably manage any ritual. My daughter was, in one sense, stepping into a new phase of life and I was happy for her, but the fine print of all ritual is the same ... it goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on ... and just about the time you think you might be able to come up for air, it goes on some more.

In that gigantic room full of ritual, I did have two nice experiences. One came in the form of a toddler standing in his mothers lap one row ahead of me. The boy was staring at me. He kept staring at me. His mother held him upright and he stared over her shoulder. At me. Usually kids stare a little and then change their point of interest. Not this guy. He stared at me, so I stared back. His expression didn't change. I tried a couple of smiles, but he wasn't playing that game, so I stopped. We just stared at each other. There was something quite pleasant and relaxing about it. Just seeing each other. Or just seeing.

And then, when I stepped outside for some air and then sat on a bench, a former probate court judge sat on the bench next to me. He had had ten kids, eight of them still living, so he pretty much went to a graduation every year. It was just a slice of conversation we had in the midst of the ritual at hand, but it always pleases me to hear people's stories, however truncated. Everyone's got some story to tell, and assuming they just tell it, I love hearing them. Ten kids ... holy mackerel! Eight living ... so there was sorrow with the joy.

After the graduation, there was a good dinner with our family and the family of Olivia's boyfriend, Rich. I passed my beer to my sons so they could have some too. The restaurant provided a deck of Trivia cards, so everyone took turns guessing the answers as we waited for our food. What a smart move on the part of the restaurant. And the food was pretty good too. There was plenty of socializing and laughter and, then, towards the end, I realized I hadn't had my afternoon nap ... came home and collapsed pleasantly into bed. Olivia had graduated. Rich had graduated. All the parents and kith and kin had graduated. Graduated to what? Well, telling that tale would require me to go on and on and on and on and on and on .....

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