Tuesday, May 30, 2017

25 Years Ago Part 1: Life Moves Fast

During the build-up to delivering my address to the Odem High School class of 2017, a friend asked whether or not I had a copy of my valedictory address from 1992.  She thought it would be cool if I incorporated some of that speech into my address.  It was a very cool idea, but the speech had already been written, and I didn't have the time to dig through my belongings to find the one I delivered 25 years ago.

Well, when I got back home, I dug through my memory box and found that speech.  I found it rather funny that I began with a quote from Ferris Bueller's day off.  "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."  I wonder how many of the graduates I addressed would even know who Ferris Bueller is?  And would they even believe the pace that life begins to take?

Because, does it ever move fast.  When I first realized that it was exactly 25 years ago that I had crossed in front of Owl Stadium receiving my diploma, I felt...old.  Where had the time gone?  I seriously believe that our brains fill up with information and memories, so it seems like time evaporates.  J.K. Rowling was onto something when she invented that whole Pensieve thing--a bowl that holds memories.  And the memories that my class has experienced are many.  We are the generation that bridged the gap between written technology to computers.  We participated in the arrival of video games, and most gaming started in arcades.  Then we had Atari, Texas Instruments, and the Commodore 64.  We didn't have all the activities that are around today--all the stuff to keep you entertained and occupied.  There were no year-round sports.  Little League was only at the end of the school year and the start of summer.  We wore blue jeans with our game jerseys--at least in the "minor" leagues.  Some of us only had five or six channels on our televisions--and two of those were in Spanish.  We saw the arrival of cable television before it exploded into the hundreds of channels we have now.  We watched with fascination as the Space Shuttle was developed, and we sat in front of the television to watch it launch.  We lived with pay phones and home phones that were connected to the wall.  Now, most of us have devices that have more computing power than all the computers used to put a man on the moon--put together.  Many of us today are in a constant state of motion taking our children to sporting events, extra-curricular activities, camps, and other such events.  And we feel short of time.  It's as if we have taken Tim McGraw's song "Live Like You were Dying" to heart.  Gotta cram it all in before we kick the bucket.

But in trying to cram it all in, are we missing something?  Are we cramming so much in that we are forgetting to think, reflect, and obtain one of the most valuable things available to us: wisdom?

During the summers of my adolescent years, I had the opportunity to work on my grandparent's farm. I spent many an hour walking through grain and cotton fields: chopping weeds, pulling out Johnson grass, and getting rid of sunflowers.  I had no cell phone.  Neither did I have a Walk-man.  For the younger folks out there, that was the way we had portable tunes.  There was only the sun, the sky, and the wind blowing through the crops.  There was nothing to do but walk, think, and use my imagination.  And oftentimes, I would think through things that I had read in the newspapers; heard on the news; or learned in the classroom or church.  Maybe I was missing certain things in life, but the things I hadn't missed, I was able to internalize and think about deeply.  

And I have come to see that it is thinking deeply about the experiences of life--as well as engaging others who have also thought deeply--that brings about wisdom.  There were times in my early years when I perhaps thought less of my Grandfather (on my dad's side) because his formal education ended in the eighth grade.  But I was arrogant in my thoughts.

As I learned more about my grandfather, I learned about his wisdom.  He had little to do when farming his crops except think, and he thought a lot.  He thought about how to make things that would make his job easier.  He and a fellow farmer constructed a butane burner that would burn the weeds from the middle of the rows of cotton without harming the cotton.  I found out that he was a few days late in obtaining a patent on another piece of equipment.  He thought about the events of the world and saw things that I couldn't possibly see.  He thought about God and had insights that put to shame many of the theologians that I studied under.  

I believe he gained these insights because he didn't function at 100 mph.  I believe he gained these insights because he was unplugged.  I believe that he gained these insights because he refused to move as fast as life but decided to intentionally slow down.  My dad followed in his dad's footsteps even though my dad wasn't a farmer but was an educator.  Dad gardened and spent hours with a hoe in his hand--with no radio or sound other than the wind blowing through the crops.  Dad oftentimes raked me over the coals when it came to asking questions--hitting me from angles that I had never considered.  He found those angles because he thought deeply.  There was nothing superficial there.  There was wisdom.

Life moves pretty fast--even faster now than when Ferris Bueller spoke those words.  And perhaps what is desperately needed even more now than then, are people who are willing to unplug from that speed and think--deeply.  It's not enough, in my opinion, to simply know what is going on or what has gone on, but to understand the implication of those things, their consequences, and the lessons they teach.  That is where wisdom comes from--from intentionally slowing down in a fast paced world.

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