Friday, May 23, 2008

Outside Looking In

Green Cat's Eye--"Fallen On Deaf Ears" (mp3)

I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
Running, leaping,
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!“

--Stephen Crane

Or did he?

Something funny happened on the way to graduation. I got the time wrong.

After the initial surprise, then embarassment, then panic, then temptation to just leave, I went to get my gown on, encountered another guy who got the time wrong, and we took the back way upstairs and stood behind the crowd to watch our students graduate in front of our colleagues while we lingered in the distance.

Except for one former student who gave us an evil glare, the people around us didn't know who we were or where we were supposed to be. And so we became part of the clapping, cheering, wandering-to-and-from-the-bathroom, distracted masses that make up a graduation audience. In the stands in front of us there were juice boxes, snacks, programs either dropped to the floor or being used as fans. In front of us, people formed groups of family and friends, and they only came alive for the 15 seconds when their graduate's name was announced, when he crossed the stage to get a diploma and a handshake, and when he walked back to his seat. And then they returned to whatever they had been doing--texting, fiddling with cameras, or, in the case of the young woman below us, just plain moaning.

The enlightenment for me, though, was not about the crowd. My binoculars, so to speak, were zoomed in on my fellow faculty, on the events up on stage, on the mass movements of students and faculty. I have such a mentality of not wanting to get in trouble, not wanting to be embarrassed publicly, that I spent several moments focused on where I should be sitting. Was there an empty seat there? should I have walked in late? did the headmaster or upper school head up on stage notice that I wasn't there?

But then my perspective shifted. It no longer mattered where I supposed to be and what would happen because I wasn't. Instead, I had more of a Dickens' Christmas Carol moment, where I got to see what life would be like if I wasn't there, but without all of the negative flow charting. I'll admit I like to think that I am part of some grand endeavor that is making a difference somehow. In cynical terms, I'm a necessary cog; in idealistic terms, someone who tries to make that endeavor better. Anytime I start pondering my work role, though, Willy Loman starts talking in my head, and this time he's saying, "I'm vital in New England." Those of us watching the play know that he isn't. It's self-delusion, and tragic at that. I don't have to deal with that yet. I'm not worn out. But as more and more I start to see myself moving away from my endeavor, there is a kind of release in watching the whole grand machine churn on with me nothing but an observer. So the funny thing that happened at graduation was that maybe I graduated from thinking that I had to matter so much. Maybe it's time to stop investing and to start withdrawing some funds.

After the ceremony had ended, my fellow miscreant and I joined the seniors. We were the first to congratulate them. They seemed surpised that we were there already. That lasted for about one minute and then the overflow crowd descended and we were back in the flow. I did get some teasing from friends at a dinner later that night, but that was the only recognition of my absence.

Now that it's days later, my perspective has been somewhat confirmed in an additional odd way: no one has commented on my not being with the faculty at graduation--not the people I started with 25 years ago and always sit with, not any of the other administration, not even the busybodies of the faculty.

Maybe, when you are on the outside looking in, the view, though at first isolating, reminds you of your freedom.

Green Cat's Eye is not really a band; it's a couple of students who composed a song about society for the final project in my class. But the song seemed appropriate to this post in any number of ways. And, they're talented students.

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