The next generation comes surely on,
Their nonchalance baffles my intelligence.
Life is stranger than any of us expected,
There is a somber, imponderable fate.
Enigma rules, and the heart has no certainty.
We’ve come to the end of another graduation season. Colleges refer to graduation as “commencement,” perhaps as a way to stress the sunny beginning that awaits the graduates as they step (finally) into adulthood. By any name, however, a graduation feels more like an end than a beginning. When the ceremony is over, it is time to get in the car and drive away. In that moment, everything about life as a student may seem trivial in the extreme. A simple illustration makes the point:
Student question: How can I get all this reading done by tomorrow?
Newly minted adult question: What do I do with myself for the next 60 years?
It’s no wonder the young almost always face the future with nonchalance. The chief alternatives—arrogance, despair, and whatever combination of these is currently in vogue—don’t get much traction in the world of adults. New grads are not slow in figuring this out.
Even so, there is no way to understand or even to anticipate the strangeness of life. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people.
We keep looking for unifying patterns, keep believing we’ve found unifying patterns. But so often the patterns vanish like movement you think you have seen in the corner of your eye.
In No Exit, Sartre has a character say that Hell is other people. But Heaven is also other people. It’s a good thing to keep in mind when enigma rules and the heart has no certainty.