To my fellow Class of 2020 parents,
Let me be as un-rabbinic, yet as appropriate, as possible: this stinks.
Our kids deserve the pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony. They’ve worked hard and have earned the right to take part in this important rite of passage. We as parents have earned the right to watch this moment of passage! We deserve to experience the emotions of watching our child walk across the stage and receive her/his diploma. We’re sad and angry. Our kids are depressed. Virtual graduations just don’t cut it. The lack of a meaningful ritual to mark the end of this important chapter in our child’s life magnifies all of the negativity of this COVID-19 nightmare.
Of course, I understand that having a traditional graduation ceremony is just not possible right now. It’s not safe. But it still stinks.
All of this being said, we need to realize that this moment holds within it tremendous lessons that our kids desperately need – lessons that many of us need as well.
Many of our graduates were infants, toddlers or pre-schoolers as the World Trade Towers came crashing down on 9/11. Others were born in the weeks and months following that dreadful day. Abigail, my graduating high school senior, was seven weeks old when the reverberation from the first jet hitting the North Tower woke her up. Uncertain what the sound was that woke up my sleeping daughter, I turned on the television as I picked her up. I don’t think she left my arms or Cheryl’s arms for days.
We raised our graduates in the shadow of 9/11. The terrorist attack on our country made the world an overwhelmingly frightening place. So many of us with young children responded by doing everything in our power to protect and, yes, overprotect our children. We built bubbles around them, hoping to keep them immune to the harshness of the world. We kept them connected to us physically, at least within our range of sight, for as long as we could. When this was no longer feasible, we hooked them up with cellphones so that we could be in touch with them should there be a crisis. As this cellular connection developed, we learned ways to monitor our kids on the internet and track their every move, whether they wanted us doing this or not. In response, they learned that we were never that far away. Facing a difficult situation, they could text us for a solution. In need of cash, they could tap a few buttons on their phones and the cash, usually from our bank accounts, was instantly accessible to them. The protective bubble grew stronger.
As parents of 2020 graduates, we have quite the reputation. We have very high standards for our kids and many of us will do anything we need to do to get them to reach and exceed these standards. The problem is, not all of us expect our kids to do their part – to put in the work needed to establish their own standards, to become the person they were meant to be. Many of us are there to quickly fix our kids’ academic and social challenges. We give teachers and coaches a hard time when our kids don’t get what we think they deserve. We meddle in our kids’ social drama. Heck, some of our peers have served prison time or are facing charges for buying spots for their children at prestigious colleges and universities. This way of parenting is all part of that protective bubble.
COVID-19 has popped that bubble. Suddenly, so many us find ourselves unable to give our kids the ceremony, the accolades, the celebration, the party, the trips, the attention they so deserve. Our kids who have relied upon us to fix things for them, are left stumped because we can’t do anything to solve this one. Sure, we’re trying. Some of us are creating elaborate virtual graduation celebrations. Others are petitioning schools to postpone graduation until late summer or fall. But, as we all know, this does little to lift our kids’ spirits – and this makes us feel so helpless as parents.
COVID-19 has brought with it so much destruction. The loss of life, health, jobs, financial security, peace of mind, the disruption of family life, friendships and communities will have long lasting, negative impacts upon all of us. But, the popping of the bubble that so many of us placed around our children after 9/11, while overwhelming for many of us right now, not only is it insignificant in the scheme of things, it has the potential to be a beneficial, defining moment in the lives of our children.
The cancelation of graduation doesn’t mark the end of our children’s academic/professional journey. It does, however, serve as a much-needed reminder to us, as parents, that we’re not in control of this journey. Whether we like it or not, life will interrupt our kids from time to time, throw them curve balls and force them to change plans. No matter how loudly we complain to the powers that be, no matter how much power we think we have over our kids’ lives, no matter how hard or quickly we work to change things, we are not all-powerful. As we get ready to send our kids to college, graduate school and out into the professional world, it’s time we learn this lesson. While I wish it had happened in a different way, it’s time for the protective bubble to pop and for our kids to face the real world.
For our kids, it’s time for many of them to learn that we can’t fix everything, that life is sometimes unpredictable and, most importantly, that they’re blessed. Yes, blessed. They’ve got a roof over their head. Food on their table. A comfortable place to sleep. A family that cares about them. Technology that allows them to connect to the outside world and a future that, while on hold for a bit, is out there and waiting. They have been given so much. To have graduation taken from them stinks, but this is by no means the end of the world. Instead, for our kids who, for the most part, have been privileged to receive so much, this has the potential to a beneficial, transformational moment.
There is a Jewish legend that describes how the wise King Solomon asked one of his ministers to find for him a ring that could turn a happy person sad and a sad person happy. The minister searched far and wide for such a ring. His search led him to a market in Jerusalem where he saw a merchant selling odd pieces of jewelry. Hoping that this merchant might have the ring he had been searching for, the minister approached him and asked for a ring that could “make a happy person sad and a sad person happy.” The merchant smiled and handed the minister a ring that was inscribed with the Hebrew words: “Gam zeh ya’avor” – “This too shall pass.” The minister purchased the ring and brought it to King Solomon. King Solomon, the legend tells us, looked at the ring and was immediately humbled.
The King learned what we need to learn: that there is nothing out there that will make us instantaneously happy – nothing that can magically fix our heartaches. There is only patience. Patience to ride out the storm. Patience to sit in the current moment, with all of its challenges, and take stock of all that we do have – to count our blessings. Patience to dig deep, appreciate that this is not the end of the world and we do have the internal strength to ride this out. Patience to step back and discover not what COVID-19 has taken from you, but insight into what lessons this pandemic has given you.
To my fellow Class of 2020 parents, may we and our children have the strength to discover the gifts and insights that come with patience. Gam ze ya’avor – this too shall pass.