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RITE/RITUAL

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

Begin, commence, start, initiate, inaugurate, usher in, mean to take the first step in a course, process, or operation.  [Begin, start, and commence are often interchangeable.]

https://apps.npr.org/commencement/   The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever.  “Looking for some new words of wisdom?  Check out our hand-picked selection of commencement addresses, going back to 1774.  Search over 350 speeches by name, school, date, or theme.”

Commencement”: Often referred to as “Graduation,” the Commencement ceremony is just that, a ceremony.  It is an end-of-spring semester celebration for students projected to successfully complete all their graduation requirements by the end of that Spring or Summer semester.  Confirmation of degree completion does not take place until official grades are posted.  “Graduation”: The term in which one has officially and successfully completed all of graduation requirements

I never gave a commencement address.  The closest I came took place in 1982.  The high school principal called me to help with graduation.  “Of course I will!”  I was a senior teacher.  I thought, This is finally it! My Big Show!  I’ve been waiting since 1955!

The only address I gave to the Class of 1982 was my shout at the top of my voice during that commencement rehearsal.  “SENIORS!  QUIET DOWN!!”  (I may have said, shouted, screamed, bellowed out–as I tried to maintain order as they practiced for the upcoming ceremony.)

If I recall, the guest speaker was a newspaper columnist-humorist.  I couldn’t humor those seniors as he did.  But I did have a speech ready for them, parts from a favorite essay I had (still have) from then-Chicago Tribune writer Bob Greene.  He had written a piece–“1964” –for Esquire, highlighting his work on keeping a journal for one year, capturing those memories of the times to look back upon (which he wrote he still did from time to time).  It was about his 17th year, 1964, recorded in one journal.

I wish I had written that.  I wish I had written those words, so that I could give the class a commencement speech: “Don’t Forget What We Did Here for You!  Write It Down!” (Is anybody out there even listening to me?)  But, to paraphrase Thoreau, writing About is not what interests us at the time; it’s the Experiencing that’s important.  (Bob Greene wrote in 1987 Be Good to Your School.  I wish I had written that, too.)

I participated in my first graduation in 1955 in Chicago, from 8th grade.  Then off to high school (graduation), college (graduation), master’s (graduation), and all those other ceremonies I attended robed in regalia while a teacher in an audience or on a stage–or during those seven years as a school administrator, dressed in “civvies,” patrolling halls and parking lots, or getting after noisy guests or silly graduates, or even fixing stage lights or curtains, or…or…providing water for the honored guest speaker.  Even locking up the gymnasium doors Post Commencement.

Nonetheless, I was never a commencement speaker.  I never gave that address:

De Paul University Colors [not me pictured] White: Liberal Arts

“Madame President, Members of the Board of Trustees, Distinguished Guests, Honorees, and Faculty; Parents, Friends, and Relatives.  And Graduates of the Class of 20__.  I thank you for asking me to come before you today, on this auspicious occasion….  WOW!  Look at all this color and flowers and the proud people in the audience.”

No, I never spoke for the graduates of West Point, the US Military Academy.

WEST POINT GRADUATION [without tassels]

I really wanted to tell them about the graduate who asked me, “Now what?”  And I would tell them What.  About luck, good fortune, life not being fair.  (They knew that already.)  “Reminder: Hard Work Pays Off!”  Maybe.  I would not be cynical.  I would be uplifting, edifying, funny, pleasant, grandfather-ly.  The wise old…what do I know about…anything?  Watch for it.  Here it comes: “Graduates.  Be flexible.  Be ready.  Be like the Coast Guard: Semper Paratus: ‘Always Ready, Always Prepared.’”  For?  The low ball, high pitch, fast ball, Hail-Mary Pass, missed putt, end run, unexpected, from out of nowhere.

Graduations, commencement times, are sad-happy times for me.  Since that 1955 time, as participant and observer, I’ve marched to “Pomp and Circumstance” (still brings chills, Mr. Elgar–and memoriesofatime).  I’ve listened to beautiful Palestrina choral pieces.  I’ve listened to names being called (in the thousands, I’m sure), speeches given (both enlightening and terribly boring), recognitions being awarded (I cannot recall ever being specialed-out for anything); trophies, certificates, diplomas, pins, books,  medals, and money-scholarships being handed out.

But after all is done, and rooms and halls are emptied, the work begins: the graduates must “commence” their lives now that a tassel has been moved.  Some will fail; we all have failures.  Great success will come to a few, as it should.  “That’s the way it is!” I would have told them.

And so , I may have never given a commencement address, may never have had to worry about preparing a speech, or needing a glass of water, or may never have had my tassel swing in front of my eyes–back and forth, back and forth–as I spoke.  (How annoying!)

Yet, overall, I’ve had my share of positions before the public, before audiences, and have even given a church sermon!  Yet there lingers within me a tiny bit of “missing-ness”: Never having been able to say, “And so, Graduates, in conclusion, therefore, good luck to you all!  Now go and commence!”

UNION HALL LA TROBE UNIVERSITY [before commencement exercises]

© James F. O’Neil 2019

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“We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded [completed] with a sleep.”  –Shakespeare.  The Tempest 4.1.156-58

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”  –E. A. Poe

“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream . . . life is but a dream.”  –Children’s rhyme

“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”  –C. G. Jung

[Music: The Everly Brothers, 1958] :  “Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream … Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream … Whenever I want you, all I have to do is / Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream … Anytime night or day / Only trouble is, gee whiz / I’m dreamin’ my life away … Drea-ea-ea-ea-eam, dream, dream, dream…”

“A dream is a personal experience of that deep dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society’s dream.  The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth.”  –Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth.

[Music: Man of La Mancha, November 1965] :  “The Impossible Dream” : “To dream the impossible dream / … To bear with unbearable sorrow / … To right the unrightable wrong / To love pure and chaste from afar / To try when your arms are too weary / To reach the unreachable star / This is my quest, to follow that star, / No matter how hopeless, no matter how far / … And the world will be better for this…”  Songwriters: Joe Darion / Mitchell Leigh.  “The Impossible Dream” lyrics © Helena Music Company

“Wishing and hoping come directly out of the function of dreaming and making myths.”  — Rollo May, The Cry for Myth.

[Music: “I Dreamed a Dream” is a song from the musical Les Misérables.  It is a solo that is sung by the character Fantine during the first act.  …  The song is a lament, sung by the anguished Fantine, who has just been fired from her job at the factory and thrown onto the streets.  See Wikipedia for more history and analysis] :  “I Dreamed a Dream”/Anne Hathaway :  “There was a time when men were kind … There was a time when love was blind … And the world was a song … And the song was exciting.  There was a time…  Then it all went wrong.  I dreamed a dream in times gone by / When hope was high and life worth living / I dreamed, that love would never die / I dreamed that God would be forgiving…  I had a dream my life would be / So different from this hell I’m living / So different now from what it seemed / Now life has killed the dream / I dreamed.”  Songwriters: Alain Albert Boublil / Claude Michel Schonberg / Herbert Kretzmer / Jean Marc Natel.  “I Dreamed a Dream” lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

“Dreams are a private application to one’s life of public myths in which we all are participants.”  –Rollo May, The Cry for Myth.

“What happens to a dream deferred?  / Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?  … / Or does it explode?”  –Langston Hughes

LET THE DREAMS BEGIN! 

“Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die / Life is a broken / winged bird / that cannot fly. . .  Life is a barren field / Frozen with snow.”  –Langston Hughes, “Dreams.”

 

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“MAGIC MOMENTS” : Magic moments, when two hearts are carin’ // Magic moments, mem’ries we’ve been sharing … Time can’t erase the memory of // These magic moments filled with love … Magic moments filled with love  [Songwriters: Burt Bacharach / Hal David.  “Magic Moments” lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC]

“There’s a magic and mystery in positive events.”  –Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, psychologist

The term magic has a variety of meanings, hence there is no widely agreed upon definition of what it is or how it can be used.  However, some treat magic as a personal phenomenon intended to meet individual needs, as opposed to a social phenomenon serving a collective purpose.  The explanatory power of magic should not be underestimated, however.  Both in the past and in the modern world, magical belief systems can provide explanations for otherwise difficult or impossible to understand phenomena while providing a spiritual and metaphysical grounding for the individual.  [See “Magic” in Wikipedia.]

“It’s a mystery!”  –Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love

“…moments of epiphany, or revelation, of radiance…with meaning essentially wordless, for words are always qualifications and limitations.”  –Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

“Persons who come for therapy do so because they lack power; they complain that they cannot achieve.  …  Patients want ‘magical knowledge,’ and no matter how correctly the therapist explains that insight is not magic, it still feels that way to the person when an insight ‘dawns.’”  –Rollo May, “Faust in the Twentieth Century” in The Cry for Myth (1991).

“There is no myth which is not the unveiling of a ‘mystery,’ the revelation of a primordial event which inaugurated either a constituent structure of reality or a kind of human behavior.  [But] when no longer assumed to be a revelation of the ‘mysteries,’ the myth becomes ‘decadent,’ obscured; it turns into a tale or a legend.”  –Mircea Eliade, “Preface” in Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries (1957)

“MEMORY”:  Midnight // Not a sound from the pavement // Has the moon lost her memory // She is smiling alone // In the lamplight…  Memory // All alone in the moonlight // …I remember the time I knew what happiness was // Let the memory live again // … Tonight will be a memory too // And a new day will begin // …  –Andrew Lloyd Webber, T. S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn, Zdenek Hruby • © Universal Music Publishing Group, Imagem Music Inc.

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Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS (16 December 1917–19 March 2008) was a British science fiction writer, science writer and futurist, inventor, undersea explorer, and television series host.

How dare he change the symbols for evil used by Christianity for hundreds of years and iconoclasticize them into order, truth, and peace?  He did dare, in a small, powerful, prescient novel published in 1953–Childhood’s End–, taking place in the year 19–.  In 1968 came 2001: A Space Odyssey–filled with myth, archetypes, rituals–and IBM and HAL.  An odyssey by the master artisan who writes a sequel to Homer’s story of the wanderer.  Then, among others, Rendezvous with Rama (1972); 2010: Odyssey Two (1982); and 3001: The Final Odyssey (1997).

Arthur C. Clarke opens up the possibilities of gaining or losing: souls or history, in speculative fiction in the spirit of Jonathan Swift.  He writes of trade-offs for survival.  He speculates upon the worlds of peace, the new/next Golden Age.

As much as Milton or Bosch, he has a vision.  But he is sometimes, not unlike Teilhard de Chardin, showing evolution continuing, not stopping with the human, which may be a missing link.  Man is moving toward the Omega Point.

One looks to Clarke–SERIOUSLY–for metamorphosis, for mysticism, for the awareness of the fragile beauty surrounding [us] earthlings.

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“We’ve been playing games since humanity had civilization.  There is something primal about our desire and our ability to play games.  It’s so deep-seated that it can bypass latter-day cultural norms and biases.”  — Jane McGonigal

“You have to learn the rules of the game.  And then you have to play better than anyone else.”    — Albert Einstein

***

I hate games!

I don’t care whether they are intellectually or physically challenging: I simply hate them.

I have been a Player in this Game of Life.  It’s a game, with winners and losers.  And that “crap” about “it’s not about winning but how you play the game”?  It’s crap!  Otherwise, why keep score?  Statistics?  Population numbers?  Win-Loss columns?  Is that what Life is all about?  Scoring?

So life is The Big Game, this life of ours.  From beginning to end.  Parameters.

When did it all begin?  (Big Bang Game Theory?)  LET THE GAME BEGIN!

Who set the rules?  “RULE NUMBER ONE: Don’t eat the fruit from that tree over there!”  And all amid them stood the Tree of life, / High eminent, blooming Ambrosial Fruit / of Vegetable Gold; and next to Life / Our Death the Tree of Knowledge grew fast by, / Knowledge of Good bought dear by knowing ill.  [Paradise Lost, IV:218-22.]  Was there a rule book for the participants?  Too late!  “Unfair!”

Ten Commandments?  The Constitution?  Case Law?  “Color inside the lines.”

Does everyone get a chance to play?  (“Many are called, but few are chosen”?)  The strong/strongest survive–those picked for the team.  But “some play by different rules” (“march to a different drummer?).  The mystery of it all boggles my mind.

4.1.2

Boggle–I hate that game, especially the three-minute sand timer: “the sands of time run out.”  Maybe the Whole of Life is Boggle?  or maybe Monopoly?  What game are we playing that is NOT physically or intellectually challenging?

From birth, I play Either/Or: Either breathe or not, crawl or not, walk or not.  If I can move, I move on to the next plateau, the next level.  (Flying is out of the question: I have to compete with gravity–and that is really some opponent, that Gravity Character!).

Physically, I learn the rules as I grow: “Don’t touch!  You’ll burn yourself!”  “Careful!  You’ll fall!”  Those rules of physics, natural science, natural selection, X-Y rules, and other theories, like Germ Theory.  I have to compete with bugs; I have to fight, win-lose, survive: illness, wellness, strength, weakness; weather, climate, natural destruction and/or disaster. 

Most of this is out of my control, usually lucky or not.  (Is 98% of my life really out of my hands, not under my control?  Fate?  Chance?  Providence?  Good or Bad Luck?  Predestination?) 

Oh, the Lucky Theory: Where was I born?  On an island?  In Canada?  On a tectonic plate line?  (A “fault” line?  whose fault?)  In a village in the Sudan?  Oh, that Lucky Theory.  So some have been dealt one hand better than another.  Another Game of Life: Poker, Hearts, Go Fish (“Teach a man to fish…”).  The metaphors, the symbols, the myths all reflect–or are–Game Theory in Life:  kings, queens, jacks, spades, clubs, deuces, aces.  And those Tarot Cards?  Have you seen the movie The Red Violin?

the-red-violinI hate games.  Chess?  A beauty this is, with royalty, pawns, knights, and even a bishop or two.  I was even in the high school chess club.  I played on a miniature board with a classmate while we rode the “L” to school.  I made a chess board for my boys.  But I’ve had it with chess.  And Battleship, Solitaire, Minesweeper, Husker Du, or HOOSKER DOO– whatever.  I have outgrown Cops-n-Robbers, lost my Confederate soldier cap, never did the Cowboys-n-Indians thing, but Soldiers?  Now THAT… 

I was a regular in John Wayne’s squad–er, Sgt. Stryker’s squad: “You gotta learn right and you gotta learn fast.  And any man that doesn’t want to cooperate, I’ll make him wish he had never been born.”

john-wayne-sands-of-iwo-jimaJOHN WAYNE aka SGT Stryker

I had the pluck.  I had the skinned knees to show my battle damage as I played war games on the neighborhood sidewalks of Chicago.  Not in the parks: Couldn’t be too far from home.  Not too far from supper.  Not out too late.  Homework.   

Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians (13.11), in that now-famous verse, that when he became a man, he wasn’t playing with the kids anymore.  I can’t believe that:  “…when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  No, he didn’t stop playing.  (I just bet he was a good soccer player!)  He is saying that at the time he was serious about love.  And life.  But not that we couldn’t have fun.  Nor shouldn’t have fun.

Subsequently, I accept Life.  The Game of Life.  I’ll play.  I’m in.  Deal me in.  I hope I get a good hand.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.  I shall play my best.  Besides, it’s not about winning and losing but about how I play the game anyhow, right?  (Said that.  Heard that so many times.  That mantra.)  I’ll keep my eyes on the prize, maybe getting into the semi-finals, for I know that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” 

Along the way, I might even pick up a medal or two–or a ribbon–or have a moment of fame.  I’ll run the good race, fight the good fight, go for a three-pointer, believe I can win.  “I think I can.  I think I can.  I think I can.  I know I can.”

thinker-by-rodinRodin’s THE THINKER

“HE SCORES!”

I’ll have to wait, however, in the “the kiss-and-cry area” for my results, maybe not a Perfect 10, but for sure a

-30-

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

NUGAS LUDOSQUE ANTE GRAVIA.

[FUN AND GAMES BEFORE SERIOUS THINGS]

I cannot forget the motto of my college class.

Cardinal Glennon College (Saint Louis, Missouri), 1963:

 

“Once upon a time…” Sam Keen told and repeated the story of the death of his father.  Keen’s world was shattered, he writes, leading to his finding “a new myth by which to live.”  He realized that he “had a repertoire of stories within my autobiography that gave me satisfying personal answers about the meaning of my life.”

“Everyone has a fascinating story to tell, an autobiographical myth.  And when we tell our stories to one another, we, at one and the same time, find the meaning of our lives and are healed from our isolation and loneliness.”

“We don’t know who we are until we hear ourselves speaking the drama of our lives to someone we trust to listen with an open mind and heart.”

[“In a strict sense myth refers to ‘an intricate set of interlocking stories, rituals, rites, and customs that inform and give the pivotal sense of meaning and direction to a person, family, community, or culture.’”]

“The organizing myth of any culture functions in ways that may be either creative or destructive, healthful or pathological.  By providing a world picture and a set of stories that explain why things are as they are, it creates consensus, sanctifies the social order, and gives the individual an authorized map of the path of life.  A myth creates the plotline that organizes the diverse experiences of a person or community into a single story.”

“Every family, like a miniculture, also has an elaborate system of stories and rituals that differentiate it from other families.  …  And within the family each member’s place is defined by a series of stories.”

“Each person is a repository of stories.  …  We gain the full dignity and power of our persons only when we create a narrative account of our lives, dramatize our existence, and forge a coherent personal myth that combines elements of our cultural myth and family myth with unique stories that come from our experience.”

[Santayana: “Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.”]

“To remain vibrant throughout a lifetime we must always be inventing ourselves, weaving new themes into our life-narratives, remembering our past, re-visioning our future, reauthorizing the myth by which we live.”

TO BE A PERSON IS TO HAVE A STORY TO TELL.  WE BECOME GROUNDED IN THE PRESENT WHEN WE COLOR IN THE OUTLINES OF THE PAST AND THE FUTURE.”  –Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox, Your Mythic Journey (1973; 1989)

So, “Tell me a story, pleeeeze…”

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“Religious man experiences two kinds of time: profane and sacred.  The one is an evanescent duration, the other a ‘succession of eternities,’ periodically recoverable during the festivals that made up the sacred calendar.  The liturgical time of the calendar flows in a closed circle; it is the cosmic time of the year, sanctified by the works of the gods.”  Mircea Eliade,   The Sacred and the Profane

“There is a time for everything, and for everything there is a season and a purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to harvest what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.  A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time not to embrace.  A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew, and a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.  And there is a time to love, yet a time to hate; a time for war, but also a time for peace.”  –Ecclesiastes 3.1-8.

 …And I’m not alone,
While my love is near me,
And I know, it will be so, till it’s time to go…
So come the storms of winter,
and then the birds in spring again.
I do not fear the time.
Who knows how my love grows?
Who knows where the time goes?  –Sandy Denny / Judy Collins

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