This was in the Before, as I call it now, when we thought nothing of hugging, handshaking, bumping and all the rest. I was part of PLU's Visiting Writers Series and gave a day-long series of lectures, talks and class visits last Spring. It was magical, particularly in hindsight: a crowded, joyous public event involved infinities and excitements about the future which would very soon cease to exist as such. Wendy Call, the professor who facilitated the event, would later tell me it felt like that last significant memory at the University before the world shut down. On February 27, 2020, the bubble hadn't popped yet, and everything was still real in the ways we were taught to expect.
But let's keep in mind– we thought the world had gone crazy even then. People always have, and we will continue to do so. Who looks best, in the hindsight of history's long gaze? What ages most creditably? Not despair, since things look better when you have some perspective; not cynicism, for that requires pretending you know everything, and pretense always ages poorly; not pessimism that masquerades as realism; not capitulating to the mores of the times when your heart knows better; and– interestingly– not even believing things have gotten worse, because the long view reveals there's always been suffering, often of greater magnitude. No, none of these.
What ages best is tolerance. Acceptance. Of the people around you, of the hard yet easy freedom that is being kind, of the passion in goodness and helping others. That will always read well. For some of us that means fighting the good fight. For others it means having a twinkle in your eye that lets those around you know they're loved. I don't see a value difference between these ends of the spectrum. You have been wronged, yes. You have things you're bitter about. But you still give out joy? Bring light, and share it around as best you can? Think about the person next to you? That will age well, I promise you.
We used to live in between history. Now we live in it. Our actions count doubly these days, even the indifferent everyday nothings which shape the character of our souls. Especially those. I don't remember the names of the students pictured above, or much of what we talked about, but I remember very distinctly their kindness. The feel of sharing their space; their generosity in coming to my event, staying after to talk, in together building joy and belief. The small moments matter.
The story of how I came to be the last Visiting Writer person at PLU before the whole thing collapsed is itself a small avalanche of such small moments. I detail that story here.
Click here for a nice chunky interview with yours truly, covering some of the above and a lot more, as conducted by the student editors of Saxifrage, PLU's literary journal.
Above photo by Wendy Call.