The Best New Thing
Spring erupts. Everywhere I turn, fallow winter beds are crowded colonies of tulips, unfurling hostas, and peonies.
Spring doesn’t equivocate. It confronts our self-protective stance that life, if it ever changes for the better, will do so imperceptibly – and probably not in our lifetime.
For young adults, spring brings sweeping life change. In two weeks, another class of students will graduate, this year my son among them. In my life as a college professor, I have long grown used to the tremor that stalks the classroom and passes through every senior I know this time of year. It is a blend of anxiety and incredulity, that the world they have constructed for the past four years – the first world they have built on their own outside the protective shelter of home — is about to vanish into thin air. It will not return in their lifetimes. It will soon no longer be a place they can come home to, or visit, or drive by.
The experience of college is a passage through time with a particular community of friends, activities, struggles overcome, insights gained. What for four years of slow and incremental growth has become theirs, the air they breathe, the sounds they hear, the voices they’ve come to know and love – increasingly solid, secure and reliable, must now transform itself into something far less concrete and stable. It must become one of the inner rooms of their hearts.
There is nothing incremental about watching a world vanish. It is a time of nakedness and loss, whether they are stepping into jobs or graduate school, into the next steps of self-definition.
Spring erupts, and along with the flowers come rainy days. With a deserved sense of accomplishment and very real autonomy and strength, the transition of graduation can leave the young bereft, as if someone had come along in the night and leveled every green thing to the ground.
Professors and parents can only hope that the new room in their heart is one that they can visit often and with gladness. We pray that the doorway between college and their new worlds will remain open and alive with the comings and goings of friends who follow out into the world, bonds that deepen and grow with the years. The dorm and fraternity rooms, the teachers, coaches and administrators, soon to be left to the underclassmen who follow, are at their best foundations of support and strength to build on, not leave behind, in the next steps into independence.
Come graduation day, we will cheer them on by making much noise and popping many corks as we watch them take their first steps into a world at once exciting and daunting. We can see much more clearly what they may or may not be able to, at least for a time: they are the season’s bright, erupting blooms. They are the stamina and intelligence and skill that the earth needs. They are the best new thing.