I rarely breach the literary custom of quoting writing in entirety it’s presumptuous, rude and often illegal. I relent here today because a journalist of iconic Canadian statute reflects on a personal life moment all of us should be so lucky to lament sending a child off to college. Not only does Enright write such beautiful prose but as a contemporary, he reminds us of the heartfelt values so many Canadians cherish. Enright describes the simple action of driving a son to college but primarily writes an essay on optimism and the value we hold for education.
My father was an optimist. He volunteered 4 years of WWII because he had faith in something -God, nation, justice? He survived and raised 3 boys. Optimistic? Ya! He once drove my things down to college too. We had the ‘drive’ the poignant moment of separation. My father’s mother, only had the chance to send him and his younger off to WAR!
In BC, this story could not be more poignant. Our nation de facto in another kind of war. A war against the value we hold for education. If not college, every mother and father has had a chance to drive their child to their first day of school. In BC that poignant moment had been stolen. I’m very sad for those parents and hope the innocence if that moment isn’t spoiled any further. Our kids and parents deserve this right. It’s a Right, in our Charter!
I’ve been through his little journey. ( in fact, I met his boy years ago when he visited Kelowna and taught ‘magic’ to some Grade 1 students. His lovely mother, Karen Levine was a speaker at the COTLA Author Week. I witnessed the love and optimism the Enrights possessed for their boy up close) Even today I find myself engaged with my adult son about the challenges of our upside down world. As I often experience with exchanges with my high school seniors, I am routinely amazed with the intelligent thinking and the human resilience they already possess. In my view, they live in a world far more emotionally challenged than mine ever was and that included the catastrophes of a Cold War, JFK, King, Watergate, Vietnam… Optimism for our young men and women today expends huge psychological resources. Anxiety is rampant and no wonder in a world hyper focused on selfishness and apocalypse. Even Faith today seems like a global pit of insecurity. I’ve learned much lately, not just from my son’s anxieties but rather from his intelligent responses to the dark world we live in. He has coped with his own failures, gifts, bad luck. The journey to college is one moment. Adapting and growing within this modern world takes more than a good education. Receiving and giving love from his sister and parents is a pre-requisite course in the journey. In a world of instant propaganda he has learned to seek spiritual wisdom not just gather data sets of facts. He is a very strong man and he has not returned from a war- he is in one.
……please listen to:
Optimism in the face of a world gone mad. – Sunday, September 7, 2014
What is it about the flight of time anyway? In my mind it was only six months ago or a year or three, that he was seven, learning to throw a fastball and getting his second teeth. Now he is a man in the making. He is 19 and taller than his father. He smiles more easily than me, sees and understands things far beyond my reach. He seems perpetually on the verge of something, something dynamic, something different. He is, like others of his generation, the breathing incarnation of potential.
It is summer’s end and he must be delivered to his university. The drive takes more than seven hours. He inhales a banana and sleeps most of the way. The car groans under the weight of teen cargo. His mother and I are quiet for much of the long drive, torn between excitement at the beginning of something new and sadness at the thought of something lost. David Carr, the magnificent media critic of The New York Times and clearly in the same boat, tweeted: “Dropping a kid off at college collapses the joy/sadness continuum to the width of a human hair.”
Dropping a kid off at university is also an act of absolute optimism. In fact, most everything about children, including having them, is infused with sensations of optimism. It’s something of a miracle that any of us can be optimistic about anything following upon this most murderous of summers when the world seemed to lose its collective grip on reason and evil rode humankind.
It seemed for a while that nature and man held a conclave and decided to rain down horror on the innocent, the suffering and the wretched of the earth. Typhoons, droughts, earthquakes, beheadings, war, pestilence and slaughter almost too difficult for reasonable people to describe. Our electronic, paper and digital media fed us daily doses of horror from every corner of the planet. We had just about recovered from the disappearance of one Malaysian airliner when a second was blown out of the sky over Ukraine…then we were confronted by the mounting death cases of Ebola in West Africa.
We had almost managed to navigate around the Ebola crisis when the beheading of two young American journalists flashed across the world, storming our very senses. Death was a constant morning coffee companion. Children in Gaza, Christian believers in northern Iraq, women in Sudan and Pakistan, a single unarmed black teenager in small town Middle America. Events were – or is it are – beyond the control of presidents and prime ministers, diplomats, the wise and the worldly.
The actions of former KGB thug Vladimir Putin and his incursion into Ukraine, revived long dead memories of the Cold War. Bellicose U.S. right wing pundits, demanded, from the physical safety of their Beltway redoubts, that the American president or NATO or somebody do, for God’s sake, something. It took the old pro Dan Rather to dismiss the Krauthammers and Kristols for the wild men they are. Don’t talk to me about boots on the ground, he said, unless you are willing to send your sons and daughters into combat.
In the name of Islam and hegemony, Muslims slaughtered Muslims in Syria and Northern Iraq. We were warned that the butchers of Islamic State – ISIS – are far more of a lethal threat than Al Qaeda ever was or could be. Our newest enemy, it seems, is no longer an organized state, but roving bands of bandit terrorists who hold allegiance to no one but themselves and who put forward no agenda other than more and more killing. The thoughts of the kind of world into which you are delivering a child can cloud the mind on a long drive. What fresh horrors lie in a coming world he never made?
You grope for shards of optimism to sustain enthusiasm for the bittersweet task at hand. Back in July, cultural critic Robert Fulford wrote this in his National Post column: “Optimism makes farmers put seeds in the ground, makes young couples conceive children, makes businessmen create business, makes artists dream of making art, makes all of us imagine a better life.” And it makes parents drive hundreds of miles with a sleeping child to a faraway place of learning.
I guess the underlying feeling in that long drive is that while we of the outgoing generation may have managed to screw up much of human life, the young will apply their special temperaments and talents to set things aright. History tells me there have been many times of horror, many other summers of death and destruction. A hundred summers ago, the First World War began, 75 summers ago, the Second World War…and 9/11 debuted a new kind of terror 13 summers ago.
Earlier this year, I interviewed a London researcher named Tali Sharot. She is a neuroscientist. She spends much of her time looking at brain scans. We rebroadcast that conversation early last month. Her research indicates in a very strong way that humans are hard-wired to be optimistic, that we were designed by evolution to be naturally hopeful. If we were not, would there be any point to anything? As Fulford put it; “Without optimism, we are bereft.” If you look at optimism as an act of imagination, it all makes sense. We dream, therefore we are.
A road trip ends, a young man is delivered to the next stage of his life, a summer of hellish global assaults on the psyche draws to an end. For the young man and all young men and all young women setting out on the next phase, a fall and winter of magic and chance await.