- At the Desert Retreat House -
It’s “Graduation Season” in America as students across the country assemble on football fields and civic centers, don their caps and gowns and prepare to move on to the next phase of their lives.
I just finished reading a newspaper article that featured excerpts from various commencement addresses given by several prominent speakers over the past few weeks. Interestingly enough, for the most part, most of the speeches all contained the same basic message. The eager audience of college grads were told that now it was their turn to go out and “make a big difference” in a world that was waiting for them.
It strikes me that this may not be very helpful thing to say, in fact, this may even be some dangerous advice to give to the Class of 2017.
While in school, many people have grandiose visions about what they might do after they graduate - perhaps they will find a cure for cancer or land the CEO job in the big corporation? But, of course, for the most part this isn’t what happens. Regardless of how much education someone has, for most of us life is fairly mundane and ordinary.
Unfortunately because we dream about making that “big difference” in the world, the ordinariness of the everyday routine is often quite disappointing and “boredom” can quickly take over; yet, it is precisely in the living of our ordinary, everyday lives that each and every one of us can indeed make a big difference in the world.
I am reminded of a New York Times Op-ed piece written by the columnist, David Brooks, who reported on a recent survey in which people were asked to describe how they found meaning and purpose in their lives. Many said that after they finished school and went about the everyday business of routine living, they discovered that it was the “small stuff” in life that really made the big difference. Many said that they they ultimately found meaning and purpose in life by pursuing “a small, happy life.”
In his column, Mr. Brooks observed:
there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances
that, if explored, provide meaning in life –
everyday chances to be generous and kind.
Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.
The big decisions we make
turn out to have much less impact on life as a whole
than the myriad of small, seemingly insignificant ones.
My guess is that many of the graduating students in the Class of 2017 may think that their lives will not matter all that much unless they can find their way to the top of the ladder of success, perform open-heart surgery, sit in the corner executive office or preside from the bench of the court. But as I see it, a mom who packs her child’s lunch and sends him off with a smile or an employee who offers an encouraging word to a fellow worker may be making a very big difference in a world that is often loveless and unkind.
When we give up our need to be perfect and to be better than others, when we surrender our need for greater power and more control, when we let go of our grandiose ideas about what we will accomplish in the world and simply make ourselves available to the experiences of life in service to one another, we are then ready for tranquility to seep into our souls and here we find that peace that surpasses all understanding.