Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A New Year

I've thought for years that Judaism has it right: September is definitely the beginning of a new year. It most certainly seems so this year after such a deeply engaging summer, the highlight of which was the consuming experience of our daughter's wedding, a far bigger event psychically than I had anticipated.

Earlier this month I got to mark the beginning of the new year with the students, staff and faculty of Hebron Academy, where I was invited to give the keynote address at this year's convocation, marking the start of their academic sessions.

The time I spent at Hebron was a delightful introduction to a remarkable school, "a small, independent, college preparatory boarding and day school for boys and girls in grades six through postgraduate. At Hebron students from across the United States and around the world are challenged and inspired to reach their highest potential in mind, body, and spirit through small classes, knowledgeable and caring teachers who provide individual attention, and a friendly, respectful, family atmosphere."

I drove an hour north from Portland to rural Hebron to share stories of the life I had created in the forty years since I graduated from a small international high school not unlike theirs.

One third of Hebron's student body are international students from 11 countries. One of the highlights for me was connecting with the 14 students from South Korea, with whom I got to share dinner. Afterwards they all walked me back to my car and one student snapped photos on his cellphone.
I ended my convocation address with one of my two lifetime favorite quotes (the other is here), from the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, from his Letters to a Young Poet:

And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle that tells us we must always trust in the difficult, then now what appears to be the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

We live in mythic times. This seems a proper invocation with which to begin a new year.

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