I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a
disadvantage talking to you today. I'm a novelist. My work is human nature.
Real life is all I know. Don't ever confuse the two, your life and your work.
The second is only part of the first.
Don't ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year:
"If you win the rat race, you're still a rat." Or what John Lennon
wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota:
"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans."
There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree;
there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a
living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of
your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or
your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your mind,
but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.
People don't talk about the soul very much anymore. It's so much easier to
write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a
winter night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely, or
when you've gotten back the test results and they're not so good.
Here is my resume:
* I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my
profession stand in the way of being a good parent.
* I no longer consider myself the center of the universe.
* I show up.
* I listen.
* I try to laugh.
* I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me.
Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I
would be a cardboard cutout. But I call them on the phone, and I meet them
for lunch. I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things
were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is
all you are.
So here's what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life. A real life, not
a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house.
Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze
over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red tailed hawk
circles over the water or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she
tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.
Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love
you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Pick up the phone.
Send an e-mail. Write a letter.
Get a life in which you are generous. And realize that life is the best
thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply
about its goodness that you want to spread it around.
All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing
well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our
hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of our kids' eyes,
the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again.
It is so easy to exist instead of to live.
I learned to live many years ago. Something really, really bad happened to
me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers,
it would never have been changed at all.
And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of
all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it
is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get.
I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back
because I believed in it completely and utterly.
And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned.
By telling them this: Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on
a baby's ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face.
Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because
if you do you will live it with joy and passion as it ought to be lived.
Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a real life, a
full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a life of love and
laughs and a connection to other human beings.
Just keep your eyes and ears, and heart, open. The classroom is
everywhere. The exam comes at the very end.