That’s It?

Dear Will:

A little over a week ago my firstborn, Luke, graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in Communications (Mass Communications, to be precise, with a specialization in Computing and a minor in Human Complex Systems—whatever that is). He had originally planned to go to law school after graduating, but in December it occurred to him that he was much more interested in studying law than in practicing it. So in January he began to look for his first real job.

So far, he has had a few nibbles but no job offers. Because he is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate (and highly motivated), I’m confident that he will find work in due course. But now that he has moved back home, he and I are both feeling anxious for him to find work, settle into a place of his own, and get on with life.

When I picked him up from Westwood last week, he told me that he was feeling more than a bit disappointed with the experience of graduating from college—like the whole thing was a bit anti-climactic. “I’ve been pointing to this moment my entire life,” he told me. “Before UCLA, it was all about taking the right classes and getting the grades necessary to get into a good school so that I could get a degree from a respected university. Now that that has happened, I find myself thinking: ‘That’s it? I went through all of that trouble just so that I could move back home and be unemployed?’”

In his current state of mind, Luke is having trouble seeing the bigger picture. He can’t see far enough down the road to appreciate what he has learned or what he has become as a consequence of his 16 years of education. He is not yet old enough or wise enough to recognize his good fortune or his exceptional preparation, to see how the last four years have helped position him to become a meaningful contributor to society. Having traveled that road before him, and knowing as I do many who have been neither so fortunate nor so bright, I know much better than he could that the road ahead for him will be brightly lit and lined with promising opportunities. Luke is disappointed primarily because he still has no real sense of what happens next.

Do you ever wonder if, when you reach the end of your life on earth, you’ll find yourself thinking: “That’s it?” Do you imagine that all of the hard work and trial you may pass through between birth and death will prove to be little more than that—a long slog culminating in a huge disappointment? Do you wonder if the difficulties of mortality will prove to be worth it?

It’s easy to get so caught up in what makes life hard that we don’t fully appreciate the ways in which our mortal existence prepares us for something much greater. Like Luke, we have trouble seeing far enough down the road that we can put this life into its proper eternal perspective. But as Thoreau said: “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a Morningstar.” It was Isaiah who first penned these words made more familiar by the apostle Paul: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The trick, of course, is to move forward with faith, knowing that God’s promises are always—always—sure.

In the short term, my task is to keep Luke believing in the near future, to help him believe in himself and in his preparation sufficiently to convince an employer to believe in him as well. In a few short months, I’m sure his outlook will be brighter. But until then, he still needs a job. Which reminds me: You don’t happen to know anyone who would like to hire a recent college grad who is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate, do you?


So Run

Dear Will:

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting very little done these days because of the Olympics.  My big window of opportunity to get in some extra credit productivity is after the kids go to bed (8:30 or 9:00), but these days I use up that time watching slaloms and salchows.  I am enjoying it thoroughly, but it will be nice when it’s all over and I can start checking items off of my to-do list again.

For my money the most exciting event is the short-track speedskating.  I don’t know if you’ve seen this event, but it combines tactical nuance with speed and agility.  It’s very gripping.  The single event that I enjoyed the most, however, was the men’s cross-country skiing relay (I’m sure it has some official name, but I don’t remember it).  In case you missed it, apparently Norway and Italy finished inches apart in each of the last two Olympics, so this year was the big grudge match.  Sure enough, as they came into the final leg of the relay, Italy and Norway were in a virtual tie for first.  Kilometer after kilometer the two racers remained that way, playing a sort of cat-and-mouse game.  In the end it came down to a frantic, exhausting sprint for the finish, with the Norwegian pulling away ever so slightly in the final 100 feet.  It was great drama, amazing athleticism, natural suspense.  I loved it.

I almost felt my own muscles tightening as I saw those two skiers strain toward the finish line.  I had trouble remaining in my seat.  I imagined the powerful emotions each athlete felt as he gave all he had to win out.   Failure was clearly not an option; both for country and for self, victory was a necessity, and each Olympian seemed bent on achieving that end no matter the cost.  For me, it was an inspiring moment.

There is, of course, a universal language in sport, especially when it involves the simple premise of trying to win a race.  Even non-athletes understand the notion that victory over formidable foes can only be had through dedication, sacrifice, and complete commitment to achieve.  Those who try any less cannot expect to wear the victor’s crown.

It was with that understanding in mind that the apostle Paul penned these inspiring lines to the Corinthians some 2000 years ago: Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?  So run, that ye many obtain.   (1 Corinthians 9:24)

In these few words, Paul is reminding each of us that we should live our lives in such a way that we may obtain the ultimate prize: eternal life.  He makes it clear that in striving for eternal goals, we cannot afford to be casual and merely hope for the best, but rather we should “run” as if to win.

May we each take personal inspiration from these fine athletes as we ponder the things that matter most.