Have you heard my favorite story that came from the Seattle Special Olympics? Well, for the 100-yard dash there were nine contestants, all of them so-called physically or mentally disabled. All nine of them assembled at the starting line and at the sound of the gun, they took off. But not long afterward one little boy stumbled and fell and hurt his knee and began to cry. The other eight children heard him crying; they slowed down, turned around and ran back to him. Every one of them ran back to him. One little girl with Down Syndrome bent down and kissed the boy and said, "This'll make it better." And the little boy got up and he the rest of the runners linked their arms together and joyfully walked to the finish line. They all finished the race at the same time. And when they did, everyone in that stadium stood up and clapped and whistled and cheered for a long, long, time. People who were there are still telling the story with great delight. And you know why. Because deep down, we know that what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius -- what a name! -- was the last of the great Roman philosophers and the first of the scholastics of the Middle Ages. Fifteen hundred years ago, Boethius wrote this sentence, "O happy race of mortals, if your hearts are ruled as is the universe by love." I was once invited to sit in on a master class of six young cellists from the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony. The master teacher was Yo-Yo Ma. Now, Yo-Yo is the most other-oriented genius I've ever known. His music comes from a very deep place within his being. And during that master class, Yo-Yo gently led those young cellists into understandings about their instruments, their music, and their selves, which some of them told me later, they'd carry with them forever.
I can still see the face of one young man who had just finished playing a movement of Brahms' cello sonata, when Yo-Yo said, "Nobody else can make the sound you make." Of course, he meant that as a compliment to the young man. Nevertheless, he meant that also for everyone in the class. Nobody else can make the sound you make. Nobody else can choose to make that particular sound in that particular way.
I'm very much interested in choices and what it is and who it is that enable us human beings to make the choices we make all through our lives. What choices lead to ethnic cleansing? What choices lead to healing? What choices lead to the destruction of the environment? The erosion of the Sabbath? Suicide bombings or teenagers shooting teachers? What choices encourage heroism in the midst of chaos?
I have a lot of framed things in my office which people have given to me through the years and on my walls are Greek, and Hebrew, and Russian, and Chinese, and beside my chair is a French sentence from Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. It reads, "L'essential … l'invisibles pour les yeux." What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Well, what is essential about you? And who are those who have helped you become the person that you are? Anyone who has ever graduated from a college, anyone who has ever been able to sustain a good work, has had at least one person and often many who have believed in him or her. We just don't get to be competent human beings without a lot of different investments from others.
I'd like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think
about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be
here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor [George
Dimitrov, who taught at Dartmouth], may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they've loved you and encouraged
you and wanted what was best in life for you, they're right inside yourself. And
I feel that you deserve quiet time on this special occasion to devote some
thought to them. So let's just take a minute in honor of those who have cared
about us all along the way. One silent minute.
Whomever you've been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be that during your silent times you remember how important they are to you. It's not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It's the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our lives from which we make our choices is very good stuff.
There's a neighborhood song that is meant for the child in each of us and I'd like to give you the words of that song right now.
It's you I like.
It's not the things you wear.
It's not the way you do your hair
But it's you I like.
The way you are right now
The way down deep inside you.
Not the things that hide you.
Not your caps and gowns,
They're just beside you.
But it's you I like.
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you remember
Even when you're feeling blue.
That it's you I like,
It's you, yourself
It's you I like.
And what that ultimately means, of course, is that you don't ever have to do
anything sensational for people to love you. When I say it's you I like, I'm
talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything
you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to
stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that
conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves
more powerful than greed.
So in all that you do, in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are.
Congratulations to you all!
If you're interested in "things mysterious," you may be interested in these other Mysterious Ways pages:
A Direct Experience with Universal Love
Two Tales of the Night Sky
Michael, Wonderful and Glorious
The Poisonous Tomato
Of Mother Teresa, Angels and the Poorest of the Poor
Thy Will Be Done (Iron Lung)
Did Jesus Walk on the Water?
Mysterious Ways Index