“Oh, The Places You Will Go!” – To The Class of 2016

Cap Toss

You arrived eighteen years ago on a cool April breeze. You were late, as usual. The doctor swore that the ultrasound picture showed you with the umbilical cord connected into your ears.  It was only when he screamed, “bus, bus!”, that you decided to grace us with your presence.

Some of you were our first kids, while others merely slipped into a birth order and immediately began throwing elbows – fighting for food, attention and a sense of identity.  We often watched you when you slept to make sure you were still breathing.  It sounds creepy but that’s what you do when you get handed a complex piece of machinery with no instruction manual.

As infants, you won us over instantly with your first drunken sailor steps, gassy smiles, funny laugh, relentless requests for Goodnight Moon and your ability to look us right in the eye and disobey.  For a brief time we were the center of your universe but somewhere along the way, we were relegated to the status of a distant planet.

In time, we annoyed you.  We hovered – a relentless helicopter thump of windy opinions, emphatic ideas, dogmatic directions, do’s, don’ts – forever laying out an endless highway of guardrails.  You constantly probed the invisible fence line of our values probing for gaps and weak linkages – all the while  hoping for that one weekend when we parents would be dumb enough to go away and leave you at home swearing on a stack of Bibles that you were not going to have a party.  Speaking of parties, we never understood how your generation could be so environmentally correct as to pack up all your beer cans in a hefty bag only to throw them by the side of some random road.  Yes, we bugged you. We were always running out ahead of you trying to remove obstacles or prevent you from making the same mistakes that we made in another time when society seemed more tolerant of the self inflicted wounds of youth.

Our job has always been to love you until you learn to love yourself.  If you don’t believe us, it’s in our job descriptions which are filed down at City Hall.

You grew up during a time of silver technology bubbles, crimson red real estate busts, and a great purple dinosaur named Barney.  We taught you tolerance and tried to explain terrorism.  Life swirled around you at fiber optic speed and as the language of society changed, you adapted faster than we did.  You became our bridge to a new millennium – fluent in a new castrated language called texting. You shared that The Shins were not just bones in our leg. You gave us endless, magical hours by your bedside reading of Muggles, Wizards and Deatheaters.  You were our eyes and ears helping us understand that we were literally the last family in Connecticut that did not possess an iPod, iPhone, iMac or iPad.  Come to think of it, there seems to be a lot of  “I’s” in that list of essentials.  No wonder the Wii did not get much traction.

We never shared that we have worried for years that you were schizophrenic as you often revealed multiple personalities in the course of a five minute dinner conversation.  You multi-tasked like an Isaac Assimov science fiction robot,  studying, watching Hulu Plus, listening to iTunes, texting and looking at yourself in the mirror – – while still seeming in touch with reality.  Most people of our generation are precribed heavy doses of lithium to prevent this kind of manic behavior and claim to receive their instructions from an alien space craft hovering just over the tree line.

As your parents, we celebrated every one of your prosaic little accomplishments – I mean every one.  We attended more recitals, art shows, scrimmages, games, and microscopic milestones – not wanting to miss or regret a moment of your lives.  We were and are your biggest fans.  You taught us that material satisfaction has a brief shelf life while true joy that arises out of seeing someone you love get what they need, endures.

You are our chance to do things better – to be kinder, more resolute, less selfish and more open and understanding of a hot crowded world.  Speaking of  “hot”, we are so much cooler than you think but we are not allowed to tell you these stories as it violates the terms of our parole.

We live in a time of viral information.   Some of you learned the hard way that a reputation is easier to lose in a small town than your favorite hoody.  But don’t worry. One of the advantages of growing up in a small town is there are fewer witnesses. You may feel that you have not accomplished much but you are already ahead of 90% of the world just because you showed up. “And oh, the places you will go!”

To obtain your degree in Life, you are going to have to attend some night classes in the School of Hard Knocks. Bonehead 101 will teach you that your own best thinking can get you in trouble. Advanced Diversity prepares you for the fact that not everyone shares your values, politics or your belief that “The Hangover” was the greatest film of your generation. Tolerance 201 reveals that some may dislike you the moment they meet you because of what you represent or because you forgot to shower that morning.  Don’t sweat it.  There are 6B people in the world – most of whom do not bathe and who want the same things that you want – happiness, security and 24/7 access to a secure wireless router.

You will need to learn delayed gratification.  Whether you like it or not, everything gets a little harder from here and you will wait longer for things that you would like to have right away.  There’s more competition for everything – education, jobs, and natural resources – – many of the things that you always assumed would be there when you wanted them.

You will have to author your own definition of success so society does not typecast you into a role that leaves you unfulfilled. Your goal is to discover your passion – this is your “avocation”. Your mission is to find a way of getting paid for performing the aforementioned avocation so that we do not have to keep slipping you $20. This “mission” will be hereafter known in paragraph 3, subsection 4 of our social contract as your “vocation”.  The ability to combine one’s avocation and vocation is the holy grail of life. Otherwise, you end up in the insurance industry.  In parental vernacular, we refer to any form of compensation you receive from a third party for services rendered as “getting off the payroll.” That should be our mutual goal.

We are proud of you. We have a lot of faith in you.  You are smarter, more informed, more talented and more resourceful than many who have preceded you. You figured out how to avoid doing all your chores and still get an allowance.  You see the world – not in shades of black and white but as a broad palette of colors and possibilities.  As your revered principal has always told you, every door is open to you from this point.  It’s only through making wrong choices that you choose to close an open door.

We will miss seeing you at Zumbachs and Tony’s Deli. If you want to come back and visit, that would be nice.  We will be hanging out down by the Mobil station.  It is the greatest time of your lives – a convergence of youth, strength, possibility, lack of inhibition and personal freedom.

And “oh, the places you will go!”

Mikey’s Song

imagesLet children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.  John Muir

It was a gorgeous Indian summer day when I heard the news that Mikey Czech had passed away.  It was the kind of day Mikey Czech would have loved – warm, breezy and perfect for New England Patriots football. Mikey was 11 years old and had been battling a brain tumor for months with extraordinary courage and resolve.  Over the course of the spring and summer of 2008, Mikey had become his generation’s Johnny Gunther Jr. demonstrating with every step, breath, treatment, and remarkable milestone, that the size of one’s body has no relation to the size of one’s heart.

I was 14 years old when I read the book, Death Be Not Proud, by John Gunther Sr, who chronicled the battles of his son Johnny Gunther Jr., as he valiantly fought a brain tumor.  The memory of this best selling novel written in 1949 remains with me to this day and changed my perspective on how each of us can achieve meaning in our fragile lives.  Not unlike John Gunther Sr, Mikey’s dad Steve Czech chose to chronicle his son’s battle via emails to family and friends giving and drawing strength from the community and the humanity that seemed to arise out of every “How’s Mikey” moment.

I followed young Master Czech’s story with keen interest and smiled as Mikey became a beloved accidental celebrity. A broad audience of concerned friends, family and acquaintances regularly gathered inspiration from his progress following treatments and were amazed at the extent of outreach, well wishes, support and prayers that he received from the farthest reaches of the world, from celebrities, athletes and dignitaries. Mikey became a surrogate son to many of us who followed his brave journey. At 11 years old, he was near the age of my own boys and it was only by one degree of separation that I realized it could be me sitting in a pediatric chemotherapy wing waiting for my child.

I watched Mikey fight hard.  He downplayed with his parents and sister Sydney the disabling effects of his chemotherapy and radiation.  He insisted on walking the several blocks to and from the hospital where he was receiving his treatments.  He dreamed of getting back to play baseball and football with his friends.  He threw out the first pitch, kicking off the 2008 New Canaan Baseball season, returning to play and graft back easily on to the huge oak of friends that shaded him and gave him strength.  I was so pleased to see kids in the community aware and rallying unconditionally in their support for Mikey –writing letters, sending cards, creating a massive banner and wearing Stay Strong wrist bands.

Throughout this long journey across a pitched black ocean, the Czech’s family ship kept taking on new crew, people wanting to lend a hand, offer a hug or just take a turn on the helm to let the family grab some shut-eye.  Mikey became every man’s child which is what every church, synagogue, temple or mosque strives to inculcate into its congregations – – that every child is our child, that no man is an island and that we are given the capacity and emotional bandwidth at our creation to care for everyone.

For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave, 
The black minute’s at end, 
And the elements’ rage, the friend-voices that rave, 
Shall dwindle, shall blend, 
Shall change, shall become first a peace out of pain, 
Then a light, then thy breast, 
O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again, 
And with God be the rest. 

Robert Browning

Mikey’s passing is devastating – – for his family, his friends and his community.  As a father of three children, neighbor and fellow member of the Czech’s community, I find myself unable to even comprehend the magnitude of the family’s loss.  I arise each day, first and foremost, a father who adores, loves, shapes and mends his children.  I have come to believe the true definition of joy is watching someone you love obtain happiness and that despair is the inability to trade places with that person you love to ameliorate their pain. It’s times like these that we look to Heaven for answers and we ask questions  – lot’s of questions.  Most often, we simply ask why?  However, if Mikey were here, I am certain he would be pleased that he brought people together and he would want us to celebrate his life.  He would probably explain that he has just run ahead of us into that deep mysterious wood around the trail’s curve.  He’s checking it out and he’s laughing as he shouts back, “ it’s beautiful.  I’ll just wait for you guys to catch up.  Bring your baseball glove!”

Mikey’s Song

You’re just a bit ahead of me

Exploring all there is to see

I can’t be sad to see you run

It’s who you are.  You are my son

 

It’s better when you’re by my sleeve

But I accept that you must leave

I’m supposed to take the lead

To clothe, to love, to teach, to feed

 

But you so full of life and spirit

You love the trail and never fear it

You made me more a man each day

Watching the way you lived and played

 

But now I’m in a shadowed place

I’ve lost my way, can’t see your face

The fear sets in, this path is wrong

And then I hear your happy song

 

It’s rushes waving in a breeze

The way the snow rests soft on trees

A single star aloft in space

The wind’s caress across my face

 

Our hands can’t touch but you are there

I feel your breath and smell your hair

Your song tells me you’ll be all right

Until the day we reunite

Mikey’s Song, M. Turpin