Saturday, May 30, 2015

That title caught your eye, didn't it?

I can't help it.  This is what happens to you when you've been watching Harry Potter movies for basically the last full day.  Thanks, ABC Family.  But there's also actually a method to that madness, so... just bear with me.  We'll get to it, promise.

For now, I'll just say hello!  It's been a while since I've last posted.  Thirteen whole days, if you want to get specific about it.  And something kind of big and important-ish happened during that amount of time...

I graduated from college!!!  YAY!!!  I now have (or soon will have, more accurately, since USD hasn't mailed them out yet) a bachelor's degree in English, which is wonderfully exciting.  It was lovely to have the entire family celebrating with me last weekend (and not just because we went to dinner at Morton's Steakhouse on Saturday night... though that was sublime ;) ).  This accomplishment has been a long time coming, and it's so surreal to think I'm done with school now until I decide to get a master's degree!

Our commencement speaker for the College of Arts and Sciences, Fr. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries and author of Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion (a phenomenal book), encouraged us frequently in his talk not to think of USD as the place we came to, but rather, as the place we were going from.  I appreciated this distinction, as well as the choice of the word "going" instead of "leaving."  Going implies purpose; it suggests that we have somewhere else we need to get to.  If you just leave, you might remove yourself from the immediate situation, but wander around aimlessly.  Or maybe you know where it is you're going next, but you end up there mechanically, automatically, without even thinking about it.  That's leaving, and it's focused more on what remains behind in someone's wake than on what lies ahead.  And maybe it also has the slightest aftertaste of escape or passivity.

Going, on the other hand, is a mission.  It's active.  It's a choice.  And it's focused on the future.  The mission that Fr. Boyle charged us with last Sunday is that of going forth to stand with the poor and the outcasts, those who are marginalized members of society for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.  To be in solidarity with them.  Our mission is simply to love, and it is the most worthwhile mission I can possibly think of to dedicate myself to for the rest of my life.

But there is also the issue of making a living for ourselves, now that we're grown and have those magical pieces of paper called degrees.  It's also part of our calling as humans to make life easier for other humans in whatever our profession turns out to be.  And this, I think -- getting a job, I mean -- is a particular way of loving, because it involves giving some of our gifts and talents to others.  And though Fr. Boyle didn't delve into this as much in his talk, I know that USD has prepared me to go boldly into the world, with all of the skills and tools I need to succeed in my future.

It's common for college graduates to say something like this: "I feel like I'm in the middle of the ocean now, and not sure where to go.  There are infinite possibilities on every side of me; how do I know where to go?  How can I be sure I won't be paralyzed here for so long that I'll drown?"  I've definitely been guilty of this mindset from time to time myself.

But we're forgetting something so important when we get lost in this train of thought:

We already know how to swim.

My fellow Class of 2015 graduates and I wrote thesis papers and spent years taking massive tests that required a certain kind of mental aerobics.  We began as timid freshmen who wove our way through awkward orientation weekend events and developed lifelong friendships with people who began as strangers to us.  We've learned how to live independently and to take care of ourselves.  We're doing just fine, and we already have the foundation we need to continue.  We've taken the swimming lessons.  All we need to do now is pick a direction -- any direction! -- and swim until we reach the shore.  We can do it.

So here's where the Harry Potter reference comes back in, since you've been waiting so patiently for it and all.

You know at the end of the third movie, Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry is convinced that his dad is the one who will step out of the shadows and cast the Patronus so the Dementors will vanish, and, you know, not suck out his or Sirius' souls?  And you know how he and Hermione are waiting, and Hermione is saying, "Your dad's not coming"?  And Harry is like, "No, he's definitely coming, just wait for it"?  And then Harry suddenly realizes it was he, Harry, all along, who conjured the Patronus?  So he leaps out of the trees all dramatically and shouts with totally unnecessary intensity, "EXPECTO (noticeable pause) PATRONUUUUUM"?  And then this luminous, heavenly white sphere bursts from the tip of his wand and chases the Dementors away, while some would-be operatic "aaaaaahs" fill the background while Harry just continues to breathe really heavily?

Yeah.  Obviously this scene should resonate with college graduates for a few reasons, the first being that now we can't count on our parents for absolutely everything anymore.  We can still depend on them for lots of things, but there are going to start being more and more of those times when we can't just wait for the adult to come save us anymore.  We will have to step in and be the adults ourselves, and conjure those Patronuses with all of Harry's fervor.  Yes.  We will.  And when we do so, we will face our own Dementor-ish fears that haunt our young adult lives, and blast them out of the way with our own beautiful white lights.

But I like this scene more for what follows immediately after.  When Harry and Hermione are flying Buckbeak to the tower where Sirius is imprisoned, Harry says, "I knew I could do it (conjure the Patronus) then because, well, I'd already done it!"

That is the mindset I'm carrying with me into the future.  I may not have paid taxes before, or had a full-time job, or moved to a new city on my own to make friends and a life for myself.  Those things are my grown-up Dementors, my worries and fears.  But I am confident that everything I have done up to this point has prepared me for each of those things.  And I am confident that all of the times I succeeded in the face of prior challenges are proof that I can and will do it all again, many times over.  I know I can do it now because, well, I've already done it.  :)

I encourage you to remember all of the things you might have thought were impossible at some point in your life, and to recall how you surmounted them.  And now, think about all of the things you might be worried about overcoming now, and just know that you can do those things, too.  Because you've already done so much.  You are awesome!  :)

Here's to you.  Here's to us.  Expecto Patronum!  :)


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