Sandy Sasso: You are not what you do

(Indianapolis Star, June 3, 2013)

June is a month of graduations and weddings and the third most popular month to have a baby.   Social scientists call such times of transition ‘liminal moments”.  You are poised somewhere between what you have always known and the still unknown place to which you are going.  The place in between is filled with uncertainty and anticipation.  As I retire at the end of this month and envision a new chapter in my life, I have been thinking about what these changes mean and what they teach us.

For years you are a student and your main responsibility is to go to class, read and study. Then you take off your graduation robe and you enter the job market and assume a new role and obligation in society.   For all your life, you have been single; your primary responsibility is to yourself, your family and friends.  Then you link your life to another, and you become part of a couple, responsible to one another in deeply intimate ways. Life changes once again when you embrace a new life and become parents, with worries and joys you could never have imagined.  When you retire, you leave much of what has defined you and begin to wonder whether who you are is only what you do.

I want to suggest to all of you in the process of making a transition that what you have done up until now is not all that you are or are meant to be.  You are more than your grades, your looks, your status or your job: you are a person with moral character, dreams and hopes.

Robert Frost taught, “The afternoon knows what the morning never expected.”  For all of you making transitions, here is what the afternoon knows.

When you hit a wall, seek the help of others and make a door.  You will be amazed at what you will find on the other side.  Do yourself a favor and exit the superhighways now and again; travel the side roads, wander the unmarked paths to get where you want to go.

It is easy to become complacent, get used to routine, to say, “I’ve been there, seen that, done that.”  Don’t allow days to pass without noticing them. Be amazed; be surprised by something.

Learn to listen more, not just so you are prepared to counter the other’s argument, but to be open to change.  Let new information and ideas cause you to rethink your position.  Don’t be so entrenched that no one can move you.

Life can make you feel cheated or feel blessed.  Find 100 reasons each day to be grateful.  It may be a friend, a piece of music, spring blossoms or a good book.  Then you won’t feel cheated, you will feel blessed.

You can spend most of your life figuring out how to accumulate more and more things – money, power, fame.  Selfishness will get you more stuff, but generosity will get you more joy.

You can exclude, criticize and blame others for all that is wrong; or you can accept responsibility for making things right.

You can be afraid of making a mistake, of not being accepted, of being laughed at, or you can have courage and forgive yourself for your mistakes (we all make them) and move forward.

In many ways we are all in transition, including our city, state and nation.  Maya Angelou’s poem at President Clinton’s inauguration, On the Pulse of Morning, spoke of the hope that each new hour holds, of new chances and new beginnings.  She ended her poem: With hope – Good morning.  A good morning, if we heed what the afternoon knows.