In this graduation season, we share some wise and hopeful words from the late Lisa-Marie Calderone-Stewart, in I Wasn’t Dead When I Wrote This: Advice Given in the Nick of Time:
If you still think everything seems hopeless, I invite you to do a simple exercise.
On one side of a piece of paper, try listing all the problematic issues you can think of—things like hunger and poverty and sickness and homelessness and bullying and illiteracy and abandoned pets and rape and gang violence and war.
On the other side of the paper, try listing all the agencies and organizations that are already working on these issues. Things like soup kitchens and food pantries and homeless shelters, and shelters for battered women and their children, and hotlines and research foundations for every disease you can think of, and the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders. The list of agencies and organizations ends up being longer than the list of issues.
Why would I ask you to do such a thing?
Because people of integrity are people of service and justice. It’s one thing to say you care about people; it’s another thing to show it. There are countless opportunities.
You don’t have to save the world. You only have to find one area in which you can serve.
Once you start serving, you will learn more about that issue. Then it will become part of you; you will start thinking about it—thinking about how you can contribute, thinking about your own skills and talents. You’ll make a plan, and you’ll follow through and see if it works. If it works, you’ll do more of it, and you’ll do it better, and you’ll get some of your friends to join you. If not, you’ll find ways to fix what doesn’t work. And you will still get some of your friends to join you. And you’ll make new friends who are already involved in the same justice work. And together, you’ll support one another as all of you learn more, and you’ll reflect more and plan more and serve more. Before you know it, you’ll be a leader.
Service . . . learning . . . reflection . . . leadership . . . support . . .
Can you tell this writer was a swimming coach?
The way we hesitate at the water’s edge before taking the plunge is similar to the way we hesitate before getting truly involved with life. Sometimes we feel as if there is some deadly cancer force out there, and it will drag us down and defeat us, so why bother even trying?
The simplest reason is merely this: We are human beings. We have a responsibility to participate.
If there is anything we will regret at the end of our lives, it will be the times we could have done something but instead chose to do nothing.
Initial hesitation is good. It means you are taking your role seriously. You know it’s not a picnic out there. But there comes a time to throw your towel aside and face the water. Even though you know it’s not going to be pleasant, at least not at first, it’s something you are being called to do. It will shock your system, but the time for standing at the water’s edge is over.
You need to plunge in.
You need the waves to knock you silly. You need to kick, kick, kick—and keep breathing—and stretch, stretch, stretch until you start to connect with the world in a meaningful way. That’s how you find out what you’re really made of. You might surprise yourself.
What advice do you have for graduates?