At my son Sammy’s commencement ceremony, alumnus Craig Thompson spoke to the graduating class. In his address, he told a story of being on a plane and getting to know the people on either side of him, all three pleasantly lubricated by an in-flight drink or two. One was multilingual and the other two were asking questions about his background, and his other seatmate asked, “What language do you think in?” Craig then asked the graduates to consider, “what language do you think in?”
That question struck me so powerfully I hardly heard the rest of his speech, as the metaphor for him went into a whole different direction than for me. What language do I think in? What language does each of my friends think in? My colleagues, my boss, my neighbors? What language do you think in?
I am in love with language, and studied intensively a foreign language that was extremely hard to learn. (One of my classmates once cracked wisely that Chinese was like a suitor who sometimes you loved and sometimes you hated.) So thinking of a body of language as a metaphor for how we look at the world appeals to me.
The language I think in depends on the biochemistry of my brain on a given day, on external circumstances and, on the best days, less those things than how strongly I am able to live my beliefs. My belief in compassion and love. My belief that things happen for a reason, even if we don’t know what that is. My belief that I am the only one who can make me happy is me. My belief that the only way to be content is to practice acceptance. (Oh boy is that one taking a lot of practice.) My belief that the only way to get love is to give love. My belief that the only way to survive—all of it, all of life’s messiness, fear and loss—is to have faith.
I’d like to teach my son, the new graduate, that he needs to think in this language, this language of our best selves, this language of hope. And yes, I can share these tenets. But like all of life’s really important lessons, he’ll have to learn them on his own. He’ll have to experience life’s highs and lows, joys and pains, for himself. Like his mother, he will sometimes take two steps forward and one step back. He will do things that are self-destructive, and he will hurt another, even if not deliberately. He will make others proud and be proud of himself on his good days, and feel he is floundering, or that he is not good enough, on others.
And all a proud, loving mother can hope is that gradually he will have his own hard-won wisdom. And that he will find contentment, and happiness.
I love you, son. On your good and bad days, and on mine, too. Welcome to adulthood.