The fellow in the hot tub with me today observed that there was a tune he simply could not get out of his head; it was replaying over and over and over: "Pomp and Circumstance." It has become as de rigueur for graduations as Wagner's "Bridal Chorus" for weddings. I am bracing myself for my immersion in Elgar when the twins get their diplomas on June 17th. But the family festivities have already begun.
Beginning with prize night. Sitting in the auditorium with hundreds of others, some of whom were, like us, grandparents, the thought came to me, as it hadn't previously (at least, not with any impact), that the ritual being repeated on stage celebrated the flow of life. I select that word "flow" deliberately. It was West Hartford Hall High School's awards night. Each of the seventy students sitting in front of us on the stage was a winner. Including our grandson. He received a scholarship honoring the memory of a physician who recently died an untimely death from a cerebral aneurism. Just years earlier the doctor had been a trumpeter in the school's jazz band. Said grandson, a trumpeter in this year's jazz band, announced recently that he would be taking a pre-med route to his baccalaureate at the University of Connecticut. Coincidence or match-making, we aren't sure; but the doctor's family is pleased, almost as much as we are.
Henry Decker Carnes IV is sixty years younger than I am, just as I was thirty years younger than my dad. It makes it easier to remember ages, up and down. Sitting there in the darkened assembly hall, a nostalgic lump in my throat, I sensed, if not for the first time, then for the surest time, what Disney's Lion King names the "circle of life." Arrayed before us were the next generation's novelists, scientists, actors, musicians, artists, lawyers, teachers and doctors, if not NFL superstars. Maybe a plumber and carpenter too: two days earlier our seventy year old plumber, lying beneath our kitchen sink, reported that he was a college graduate, just like our plumber in Valley Stream. Sometimes the white collar has to switch to a blue one to make a living. Besides, plumbers know more than most of us about the flow of life. (Gasp!)
My working days are done. I am now on the leading edge of the flow toward eternity. No tears and no nostalgia go with that observation. Just the fact, that graduations make very clear, that this life we are making together needs a continuous supply of new talent, people to pick up where we are leaving off. At fifty I might have viewed the up-and-coming as a threat to my place in the scheme of things; at seventy-eight, however, I salute the new arrivals with relief... and, with the evidence they are that the world will hold together, maybe even stagger to a better place beyond what we have bequeathed them.
Somewhere in my hearing, probably a talking-heads TV program, a thinker, but not a theologian, voiced an explanation for death that not only makes sense but wraps it up in a gracious consideration. That, in the providence of God, we move on from this life in order to make room for others; that it is part of the Almighty's design from the very beginning to enable as many people as possible to enjoy the love and joy (and the struggle and sorrow... which are not counter to the other two, but complimentary) of this mortal life. God's plan: the more, the merrier.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whom I have often quoted, the German theologian hanged for his participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler, just days before the end of World War II, wrote in his Letters and Papers from Prison that the sure sign of the Christian is his genuine concern for the next generation, those on the high school stage on awards night no less than those in his own house every night. Loving our neighbors as ourselves includes the neighbors who have yet to graduate... or be born. I felt that, wished that, prayed that in the auditorium. For a moment at least I walked in Galilean footsteps.
Similar thoughts surged through my brain this past weekend (June 5-6). We found ourselves where we have been four times previously. Our oldest grandchild, Jessica Lauren Mahoney, graduated Sunday morning, in the Williams College hockey rink. A heavy downpour before, during, and after the ceremony required a change in venue from the scheduled science quad lawn. Shoes and robes and mortarboards were waterlogged in transit through the monsoon to the reception a quarter of a mile away; but the deluge did not dampen the spirits, both kinds. Jessica majored in Chinese and Political Science, wrote a thesis, was awarded Cum Laude, and won a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in Taiwan next year. She flies off to that island on August 1st, equipped for a career in foreign service, a route in this life much needed, but one which certainly never entered the thoughts of a certain graduate in June of 1953, for himself or his grandchild.
Present for the graduation ceremonies, and roundly bored by them, was Jessica's brother, Benjamin Howard Mahoney, who graduated from St. Paul's Middle School a couple of days earlier. Absent, however, were Jess's brothers Craig and Jack. Craig Thomas Mahoney, a junior at Connecticut College in New London CT, had to be available for his summer job. Jack Robert Mahoney remained at home for the festivities in the aftermath of his graduation from St. Paul's Upper School. Jack enters the freshman class at the University of Richmond this August.
Meanwhile back in West Hartford two young men in our house are gearing up for their graduation from Hall High School and matriculation this summer at college. Here is a photo of Robert Davis Carnes on the evening of the Senior Prom. Robert will be entering Williams College in Williamstown MA on September 1st. Henry Decker Carnes IV, cited above, you already know about. Here he is again in his tux portrait.
The beat goes on. Thank God for supplying recruits for the march of time.