What Have You Forgotten? (plus, me in a cap and gown)

articles Oct 23, 2022

She could not make sense of the things that were meant for her,
but she was drawn to it all.
And when she was alone, she felt like the moon: terrified of the sky,
but completely in love with the way it held the stars.

R.M. Drake


What I remember most from high school is this:

1) feeling completely out of place in every way possible
2) feeling like everything was a big effing deal
3) desperately wanting to get out of there

I don’t remember being particularly focused on or thoughtful about anything.

As I recall, I showed up, did the work I had to do, and was smart enough not to get caught when I was breaking the rules. Mostly I just thought it was all a giant waste of my time.

Imagine my surprise when a few months ago, while visiting family in Western New York, I pulled out a box of childhood belongings from a closet at my mother’s house and found a stack of loose leaf notebook paper, held together with a rusty paperclip, containing these words:

“The state of happiness that we choose to live will affect every aspect of our lives. Our level of success in the world as working adults will be affected. But more important are the personal relationships which we will have the opportunity to take part in throughout our lives. If we become aware of what we want our of life, those personal relationships will prosper.”

My 17 year old self had written this and read it to a crowd of parents and teachers at my high school graduation on June 22, 1996.

I can only imagine what that particular audience must have been thinking as this tiny little teenager lectured them on the meaning of life. Oy. No wonder I felt out of place. And I was just getting started:

“Only when we are aware of our thoughts, ambitions, and desires can we live full lives. It is impossible for an unhappy person to live a meaningful life; one in which they have an impact on the world and the people around them.”

As I read this sentence, it occurred to me:

The lesson I’ve been learning over and over for the last 20 years is actually something I’ve always known — and in fact stood on a stage speaking to an audience about when I was 17 years old.

Well, shit.

No wonder all the teachings of all my favorite speakers and authors resonate so heavily with me. They’re all reflecting my own words back to me.

All along they’ve been nudging me, not to learn, but to remember.

I believe that most of what we’re learning as adults is actually us remembering what we’ve always known. Not the tactical stuff. That will always be changing and evolving. There will always be more things to learn.

I’m talking about the important stuff – the life lessons, what we value, how we want to live.

That’s all stuff we’re born with. Then we get distracted.

We learn how to be in society. How to make other people happy. How to fit in. How to follow the rules. And in the process we forget who we are.

I wonder, if you take a look at the things you’re drawn to now — the books, the teachers, the activities, the work, the relationships — how much of that resonates with who you’ve always been?

What are you being called to remember?

I’ll leave you with my 17 year old self’s words of wisdom:

“There is one thing that I wish for all of you, my friends, to have throughout your lives. It is something that we all deserve and are capable of achieving. My hope is that as you progress through your lives you will take the opportunity to look inside yourselves, at who you are and what you wish to be. It is my desire that you will be able to look at your lives and realize that you are happy.”  

And this:

“Sources of amusement are readily found in a technologically advanced society such as ours. However, amusement must not be confused with happiness. What we must look at is whether or not we are truly happy when such forms of amusement are absent.”

It was 1996, yo. We didn’t have cell phones yet. Google wasn’t even a zygote. What would my 17 year old self think of the online world we live in now?


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