The name of this speech is Be Wonderful, and I hope that by the end of it you understand why. I’ll be the first to admit, I hate speeches that try to light a fire under your ass and cause you to go out and make some drastic change in your life. So I can assure you, that’s not what this is meant to be. This was simply a thought that came to me on the day I specified to myself that I would work on this speech. Nothing more, nothing less.
When I sat down to write this speech, I was stricken with the horrifying image of a blinking black cursor on a blank white page: every writer’s recurring, waking nightmare. I had nothing. For once in my life, I had nothing to say.
What else can you say to a room full of hopeful, eager, about-to-be graduates, their friends and family, and many well-read and extremely literate English professors? What hasn’t been said before? I could not think of anything during those first ten minutes of watching the steady, accountable blink-blink-blink of the cursor.
So, I took my dogs on a walk to clear my mind and breathe fresh air. Gather information, if you will. The following speech was the result of this attempt at clarity. It’s called: Be Wonderful.
I took my two dogs for a walk the other day. And for those of you that don’t know, I have two pugs. One is male; one is female. One is old; one is young. One is fawn; and one is black. A true yin and yang.
Now, my dogs, along with me, recently moved into a new apartment complex. And for dogs, unlike humans, a move such as this means many new things to encounter: new sights, new smells, new sounds, new dogs to bark at, new trees and bushes to pee on, and so on and so forth.
Needless to say, a walk in a new direction is like coming upon the New World for them. And I would say that they both enjoy it equally. But it just so happens that on this particular walk, the three of us came upon an obstacle: it was a pile of rocks hidden under grass along the slope of a grassy hill. And this is where I noticed that my two dogs really are opposites. The older, wiser, more experienced pug stopped and sized up the obstacle, while the younger, more vivacious pug trekked right along at normal speed, slaloming through and climbing over each grassy rock like it was nothing.
Now, as any other dog walker of two or more knows, there always ends up being a time during the walk where one finds oneself stuck in between opposite-pulling leashes, caught in the middle like a puppet on two strings, which are both being pulled by an insidious child, probably laughing and licking his lollipop-induced, sticky lips.
The moment came when I had to make a decision. It was either slow down the young one or coax the old one forward. I chose the latter, and with much caution, he proceeded to follow the young one, who was assaulting the ground with her nose, trying to take in every smell possible as we walked along, darting from side to side and always pulling, always anxious for more.
I found, in that moment, a hint of truth.
It seems that with age, comes caution, and with youth, comes wonder. When we are young, we are all alike; we are all like my young pug: taking on new things, as they come hurtling at us through our senses, with an audacious spirit of wonder. We attack each new sight or smell in full force, trying to comprehend it, but always failing, and so always finding ourselves with eyes wide and mouth agape. We have not yet learned that the fire is extremely hot and can burn us, causing pain, but instead we eagerly and intently watch the oranges and yellows and reds dance before us, swaying with every twist and turn of the wind.
And then the world turns, and keeps turning, and our minds and souls and hearts get used to certain things: the grass being green and eventually turning brown and dying in winter; the hawk hovering over the trees in search of food, eventually disappearing and then reappearing several minutes later; the cars charging forward in an endless race of being there: all commonplace, understandable, daily happenings.
And we all, sadly, lose our sense of wonder, until those brief moments of awakening, when we see this random, beautiful existence for what it really is: a miracle, a divine spark in endless nothingness; we call it life, but it’s actually an absolutely breathtaking experience, the whole time.
So you may now understand what I’m getting at. All of us, here and ready for the next step of life. Moving on and hopefully forward. Getting older, more experienced, more worn down with each movement of the earth, though maybe we’ll find that we don’t feel that way for many years, too many to worry about now. But the fact is, it’ll happen unless we’re taken early.
And we’re all here, awaiting the piece of paper that says: “You’re now useful,” and we’re still worried about all the uncertain things of the future and what will happen next: in twenty minutes, twenty days, twenty years.
But I implore you, all of you, to not end up like those that think of only the future until they realize they have none left, then only think of the past and regret. One of the saddest things I can think of is seeing an old man on his deathbed, not ready to die because there’s still so much he’s missed out on and has regretted doing or not doing. If there’s one thing I hope for all of you it’s this: that you do not end up like that man, but when it’s your time and the end is near, I hope that you’re ready.
And you’ll be ready because you fully understand the beauty of this place we call “Earth” and how it’s been a completely awesome experience the whole time, even in the times of sadness and pain that you’ve lived through, because aren’t those the precursors for an awakening like none other? When you realize the fragility and mortality of your own self, aren’t you then more apt to see the magnificence of the daylight moon or the hawk in search of food?
Don’t forget to see the green grass and the blooming flowers as what they are: a miracle. Don’t forget to notice the trees as you barrel down I-40 or I-24 on your way to your new job downtown, in the big office building, where you can tell everyone you work, and they can think: “You made it.”
Don’t forget to notice the trillions of miracles lying on the side of the road, maybe on a hill, with rocks hidden underneath, with thousands of compounding, smelly particles that just might cause a chorus to rise in your nostrils, if only you took time to smell.
And maybe when you come home and find that your wife or husband has had a bad day and accosts you for it, don’t shrivel up your soul and strike back with the power of your own bad day, but notice the waves in her hair or the freckles on his face and think: “This is the most beautiful person in the world,” and smile and laugh and forgive and do all the things that wonderful people do.
Now, I don’t mean wonderful in the sense that everyone uses it. I mean like the other way it can be interpreted: “to be full of wonder.” Wonder like a child or a young pug has. With eyes wide and mouth agape as you watch the DMV clerk tell you it’s going to be a couple hours, but you don’t notice what she says, but maybe that her mouth moves as sounds come out of it, and her eyes somehow reflect her tone. And maybe you won’t say anything back because you realize you’re a witness to this awesome, breathtaking miracle we call life at every single moment.
So you, sitting there, anxious and awaiting that piece of paper, I implore you: be wonderful. Be full of wonder. All the time.