Friday, December 25, 2015

My Last Lecture

The last day of my class was December 15th; already 10 days past.

My days are far emptier now that the semester has ended, emptier than they had been before teaching, which I had not known was a possibility. This is not negative, quite the contrary. I had not known that I could, or would, care about these students so much. I have taught in the past back in California, but did not experience any level of connectivity with my students--most likely due to my lack of personal engagement. However, here, in Idaho, in the course of three months, I made 50 friends, all of whom I devoted space in my brain, and metaphorically my heart. I have come to know about their personal lives: their wants, joys, sorrows, family lives, accomplishments and failures, and the minutia of their daily college living.

I loved every minute of it.

Even when I found myself angry at their disruptions, or disappointed in their lack of engagement, I loved them (such is the life of a teacher).

Now, they are gone. Home for the holidays, off track or just for the weeks until next semester. Planning their lives and being young and still trying to decide who they are going to be, still believing that there is an answer to that question and college can help them find it somehow.

But they are gone, and I am empty. Because I lost 50 friends.

Anyway, that's not the point here. For the last day of class, I wrote a "Last Lecture" kind of piece of advice for them all. Because college ruins truth; it distorts reality of what life outside of college is really like. And more importantly, college neglects the true purposes of life, and why we're really here on this earth.

The following is what I wrote, and then read, to both of my classes the last day of class. I hope it helped them:


We spend so much time learning; education it seems is the only way to success. Without some sort of schooling, without that semi-fancy piece of paper stamped with some signatures that, in the end, have no meaning; without that statement of our reality being ratified by some bureaucratic institution founded for the sole purpose of perpetuating its own existence; without that approval of the social construct intensifying the impossibility to succeed unless adhering to an established hierarchy of insatiable wants leading to enslavement; without all that, we appear as nothing. Or we are told we are nothing. We constantly define who we are by our education, by our knowledge acquisition, by our accomplishments, by how we can better demonstrate our superiority to others. And yet, that education has been reduced to memorizing factoids and scouring the internet for meaning; a place where no meaning can be found. We have been manipulated into carbon jeopardy contestants, filled with useless information that will not improve the people of this world.

But, we do not have to be those people. We can be better. We are better—if we desire to live as such.

That change begins with knowing yourself. That mortal self. The only you that can be known in this sphere of existence. Too often we avoid the introspective topic of “me”; perhaps for fear of what might be seen, or fear of what is lacking, or fear of what cannot be understood. So we fill the void of our unknown with Instragam and Twitter and Reddit and Facebook and Snapchat. Or movies and TV and Netflix and Hulu and Youtube and Spotify. We distract ourselves from ourselves so we don’t have to be uncomfortable with what truly is, and so we become empty. Hollow husks that become the chaff to fuel the raging inferno of our time.

But, we do not have to be those people.

Spend time investigating you. Who are you, truly? Not just one son or daughter of God among the infinite creations, but you as the individual intelligence and body, you the soul. What do you want? Where do you want to be? What kind of person do you want others to see? Why do you like the foods you eat? Or the music you listen to? Or the movies you watch? What about your friends, what attracts you to them? What about your dislikes? Test your beliefs. Question your desires and passions and knowledge and experience. Question you to find where you genuinely stand—do not fear what you might see. Fear the not knowing. Fear that void of noise and flashing lights.

Once you are on the path to knowing yourself, be passionate. In everything you do. No matter what you pursue, do it with all your heart. There is nothing worse in this world than half-assing your life. God has given you talents that make you unique. It is your job to explore those talents, to invest your whole soul in developing and mastering those gifts. We have such a short time here on Earth, which leaves no time for fence-sitting, flip-fopping, second-guessing, idly waiting, and thumb twiddling. Be who you are, and be that person with all your bones and muscles and skin—every fiber that weaves your soul.

Be curious about the world, in all its aspects. There is more beauty here than we can imagine. Dance around a bonfire in the woods under the full moon, stay up all night until morning to watch the sun rise over the ocean horizon, drive across the country because you can and there is so much to see and learn and do out there in the wide open air, build a house with your own hands to feel the sweat and dirt and struggle of being to know you are alive, make movies and tell stories and enjoy other humans until your stomach hurts from laughing, kiss with more passion than Shakespeare could ever hope to write about, sit in silence on the porch sipping hot chocolate as the sun sets and listen to the wild night-creatures wake from their day rest, get lost in a city just to see what’s there. Whatever you do, do it fully. And if you fail, fantastic. The greatest discoveries and inventions only came after immense failures. The greatest stories capture our ineptitudes, piled high, until finally something clicks. And maybe, just maybe, at some point you’ll succeed, and that will be fantastic. And you can tell the world that you stumbled and bruised your elbows and scrapped your shins and cut your head open and got eight staples to keep your brain from spilling out because it was so excited to feel.

At times no one will care about what you care about, because people will always be people, and for the most part, people suck. But our goal is to suck less, to be awesome. To live and inspire and be and experience. To learn and grow. To know. To be more than flesh and bones, more than computers cataloguing all the physical experiences our bodies are capable.

Sometimes you’ll screw up, and all will seem lost. Fret not thy misconduct. Press forward. Experience more. Grow. Become. Let your passions guide you through the valleys of sorrow, let those who see you in the darkness pull you out.

Be passionate with people. Give your mind, body, and heart to those around you. Hold nothing back. Empty your skeletons from your closets, “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” Keep that space open for visitors. Share yourself. Give your passions a family. Give yourself to everyone. Allow yourself to love.

Because nothing else in this life matters if you don’t give love. Love is a gift. You do not love someone, it is not verb. You do not force love upon another. Love is a noun. You can only give Love to others. And just as it is given, you must accept it when it is offered.

But it’s not so easy to give Love. It’s complicated. It’s heavy. It’s delicate. It involves a perfect mastery of an endless subject by imperfect beings. In order to give love, we must first and foremost love ourselves. If you look in the mirror and see a face you don’t love, you will be incapable of loving other faces.

You are not perfect. Not remotely. Neither am I. None of us are, nor can we be until after our death. What we have here and now is all that we’ve got. And we need to make the best of it. So what if your face isn’t symmetrical, or your hair is thin, or you have that weird thing on the side of your neck that no one really knows what it is but your older sibling thinks it’s your vestigial twin; so what if you're too short, or too tall, or too thin, or too thick; or maybe you’ve made poor choices in the past, or no choices at all, or you let others choose for you. It doesn’t matter. You must love yourself, because you are deserving of love. Because you exist. Regardless of how little or how much you think you suck, you deserve love.

Give that love as hard has you can. Love harder than how badly you want finals to end, or Star Wars: The Force Awakens to come out, or to get that sweet sweet teaching job in Connecticut, or to eat real food for a change at home with your parents because you’re in college and don’t have your monetary priorities straight, or to find that special someone that you want to love more than anything that has ever been in your life.

Not everyone will accept your love. And it will hurt. And that’s okay. Because people are people, and they will suck from time to time. So will you. But we all deserve to look in the mirror and say: “Hey, you suck sometimes, but damn it if I don’t love you.”

Because we are all mirrors. In John Green’s novel Paper Towns, the narrator tells us: “Humans lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel.” We are all mirrors. Except we reflect what mirrors cannot. Through us, others can know themselves, and we in turn can know ourselves. That is love. That is the reason for all this. That is the reason we came to this Earth, it’s the reason we struggle through each day, it’s the reason we get educations and jobs and spouses and kids and families. It is to give love. To give meaning. To give.