Sunday, July 8, 2018

A Second Graduation...West Point

A Second Graduation

We all remember the tossing of the caps..this celebration of accomplishment and endurance.
And in the spring of each year since, we are reminded of our own graduation by many similar expressions of exuberance at military academies, and elsewhere.  This iconic ritual is gratefully remembered, and marks what I like to call our "first graduation."
Our freshly printed diplomas, signed by the Superintendent, stated that we were prepared to
participate as leaders in our nation's defense.  More preparation followed in branch and service schools to ensure that details were absorbed for accomplishment of many specific missions.

Some of us did not return from the Viet Nam war, for which dark clouds loomed as we graduated.  Others lived to observe the notable failures of this war, even as they fully supported their comrades in arms. A few declared openly the discomfort they experienced by their own participation in a war which, for them, lost all meaning. As a result of these varying experiences, questions arise as to how well our preparation served us for encountering failure in our life endeavors. Would an education more fully informative of the so-called negative aspects of life--mistakes, futility, egotism, duplicity--have improved our understanding in this early stage of our lives, and the stages to follow. Or is experience the only real teacher of such things?  To be sure, however, such  teachings seem most significant as we approach a vital "second graduation."

Which brings me to my suggestion of the need for a "second graduation" from the Academy, or  really from any institution attended by future generations.  The second graduation is unique to each individual, and might even precede the first!  Simply, the second is a recognition of that dimension of each of us which observes the multiplicity of activities, the good and difficult times, through which our lives seem to move. Our attention to the activities themselves entangles and diverts our attention from this most important realization. Although a maturing process likely occurred for most of us, and glimpses of a new graduation no doubt were perceived, it seems that something more of an awakening is necessary.  

Perhaps retirement is a time when such awakening  takes place.  There is a Japanese military tradition referred to as the "dismissing your loyal soldier," by which is meant an expanding perspective of reality, a birthing of widening contexts, leading to  a new self identification..transcending the duties which had so long filled our foreground. This self identity has always been truly ours, however veiled by those many situations requiring immediate and dutiful attention.The beauty of this recognition is that former times might then be revisited and experienced with much more color and fulfillment. Also, a new freedom may seem to hone our critical thinking faculties, reaching new possibilities of insight and service.  In other words, we might discover that all activities, past or present, are actually made of that wholeness now recognized by a second graduation.

The cadet hymn, "The Corps" sings of the "thrill that your presence imparts."  The "presence"  refers to the Academy's rich traditions, particularly the Long Gray Line, which indeed underly the excitement of our first graduation.  The thrill might, and should, then  expand to a larger and living presence, the gift of a second graduation.

(forwarded on July 20, 2018)

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