tonight I had the privilege of hearing my favorite english professor, dr. miller, give his “last lecture” to the students of MC. the idea is for the professor to give the students a speech as if this were to be his last. dr. Miller’s was quite provoking.
he opened the night by painting a vivid picture for his audience of a night in england: he was sitting by a lake, watching the wind brush against the water sending waves rolling over the lake. the sun was setting in the horizon. the colors changing every few minutes. black birds circled the sky. the scene was beautiful. he wanted to capture the moment with his camera but he knew a picture would never be able to express this beauty. why? because what made the scene beautiful was the fact that it was constantly changing.
“life at its core is flux and change,” said dr. miller. “no matter how structured I am, life is going to slip through my hands. but that’s what makes it beautiful.”
change beautiful? this is a foreign concept to the girl who spends many a day worrying about all the change that is about to take place in her life. how can my world being rocked and shaken till everything is completely unstable be beautiful? how can goodbyes and separation from loved ones, the chaos of deciding on a major and changing classes, and getting shots, and signing a million papers be beautiful?
dr. miller quoted a japanese haiku poet, “every time we say goodbye our eyelids open.” wow. every time we say goodbye, whether it’s temporary or death or breakup or divorce or life time separation, everytime we say goodbye, we see a little bit more in life. we become wiser. we come to understand what we didn’t before. we learn.
dr. miller left us with “5 pieces or fragments” that he has learned about life:
1. “to love well what we must leave ere long.” that is from shakespeare’s sonnet 73. can we try to love each other in a way that embraces change? is this loving well? the lover in the sonnet responds to being well loved with deeper emotion.
2. faith is the scene hoped for, not the unseen. this is from hebrews 11, the “hall of faith.” these men and women were heroes of the faith because they never got it. they never fully knew what was coming next. some never saw the promise fulfilled in their life time. but they believed anyway. lean forward to what may come next, to the unknown. faith can be flexible and change too.
3. humor helps! how will we receive the next moment? like a tragedy? or can we laugh at it? dr. miller recalled a time he was sitting with his mother who had alzheimers. he had spent the day discussing the family with her, catching her up on how everyone was doing. they came to a point where silence filled the space between them. Then his mother turned to dr. miller and asked, “now son, do you have any siblings?” at that moment, dr. miller could have broken down sobbing at the loss of his mother’s memory. but instead, he decided to approach the matter with humor. he replied, “no ma’am. none that amounted to anything.” they say laughter is medicine. mark twain said if you learn to laugh at yourself you’ll never be short of material. “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” said dr. miller, quoting steel magnolia.
4.”call me ishmael.” in moby dick, to stay alive in the ocean, ishmael grabs hold of the floating empty coffin queequeg had handmade. on the sides of it were island inscriptions and a language that did not make sense to Ishmael. however, this unknown object saves his life. embrace the unknown. hold onto what does not make sense. trust that what we do not always understand can still hold us up in the midst of chaos.
5. ” time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea.” the line is from dylan thomas’ “fern hill,” a twenteth century british poem about childhood. listen to the music. music itself is all about change. all about the next note. the tension. the crescendo. the resolution. what happens after the silence…. then the next song. robert frost says that nothing gold can stay. listen to the flow of the music called life.
as he neared the end of his lecture, dr. miller returned to the scene on the lakeside. the sun is still setting, the birds still sweep the clouds. the waves brush the landscape. and instead of running inside to grab his camera, he stays and watches. he enjoys the change. and then when it gets too dark to see, he gets up and goes in for dinner.
that is life. watch it change around you. listen to the music. learn from the goodbyes. laugh even amidst the tears. and when its too dark to see, go inside for dinner.