Lovesick New Year — beware of ideas!
by Ashley Bean Thornton
I don’t know what made me think of this, except that I guess a New Year is a “commencement” in a way, but a few years ago I read a terrific graduation speech. It was given by law professor Mark Osler to the graduating class of Vanguard College Preparatory Academy here in Waco on May 28, 2010. If I were (for some strange reason) to resolve to read a new graduation speech every day this year, I doubt I would read a better one. Sitting here at Whataburger, three and a half years later, I had to blink away a little tear as I re-read it. Embarrassing! (Google “Osler’s Razor Love and Graduation” if you’d like to read it for yourself.)
In this wonderful speech Dr. Osler urges his young listeners to fall in love – totally, crazy, silly in love – with an idea, a transformative idea, any idea. “It can be about art or politics or almost anything that exists at that point where the mind meets the world,” he exhorts them, “but just let yourself fall in love.” He does go on to warn them that, “Love does funny things to you when you are 19—it will make you stay up all night, it will make you blurt out stupid things, it will make your friends jealous, because you aren’t really the same person when you are in love.”
I am here to report this falling-in-love-with-an-idea thing can have the same frightening effects at age 52 as it does at 19, except it’s actually worse because you really should know better, and all your friends know you should know better. And, you really don’t have the energy for it! Embarrassing!
Yes! i admit it! It has happened to me. Maybe it’s evidence of a mid-life crisis (Why couldn’t I have fallen for a red convertible?) but, I have fallen unexpectedly head over heels into a late-in-life love affair with, of all things, an idea. What is this tempting idea that has somehow wormed its way past the stout defenses of age and wisdom and into my heart?
I am intoxicated with the idea that our community of diverse people – old, young, rich, poor, every race, every creed, even different political persuasions – can figure out ways to think together and work together, to overcome serious challenges together (like less than optimal health, income and educational acheivement), and to shape a beautiful future together.
As predicted by Dr. Osler, this goofy love has made me stay up – well, not ALL NIGHT (Come on now!) – but certainly later than is my custom. It has definitely made me blurt out stupid things numerous times and hopefully also a few smart things, or at least passionately believed things. I don’t know if my friends are jealous, but sometimes, especially when my devotion to this idea seems to be requiring me to sit through lots of meetings or work on a Saturday morning, I am jealous of my pre-love self who didn’t have much better to do than take long walks, read books, and go to movies with Mr. Thornton.
I guess what is different is that when you fall in love in your late teens you expect your beloved idea to be perfect, and for everything to be moonlight, magnolias and mockingbirds (as my friend B. Sharpless would say) and it can be fairly crushing when that turns out not to be the case. But in your fifties… Oh wait…there’s no difference…it is still painful as all get out when your beloved idea turns out to be much more demanding and disappointing and difficult than it seemed in the first days of blissful infatuation.
Of course overcoming the challenges just makes it that much sweeter when things work out. That’s how love baits its trap!
It’s terrible really – this falling in love with an idea, derned inconvenient. Maybe it’s just this particular idea that is such a pain in the (ahem!) neck. It’s so elusive, yet so desireable. Of course it’s not a new idea at all – in many ways it is the original American idea. I am just one of the millions who have fallen for it — some of the most desperately smitten live right here in Waco. None-the-less, It’s terrible. I don’t recommend it – except that I can’t resist it. Can you? I hope not! it is so much more fun when we are all lovesick together!