Halfway down the stairs
Is a stair
Where I sit.
There isn’t any
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
So this is the stair
Halfway up the stairs
And isn’t down.
it isn’t in the nursery,
it isn’t in the town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head:
"It isn’t really
It’s somewhere else
— A. A. Milne
“Halfway Down,” When We Were Very Young
Dear #1 Son,
You are at the halfway point of college, somewhere between
childhood and the realities of adult life. College isn’t really anywhere; it’s
somewhere else instead. It’s a time for trying new things, for putting aside
old habits and getting some distance from parents. I like to think you know
most of the things that really matter, even if they don’t seem important at
this particular moment in your life. I like to think those lessons stay with
you and find their way to the surface when needed.
And you probably also remember seeing that old episode of
the one in which the castaways set Shakespeare’s Hamlet to the score of the
opera Carmen? I still laugh when I think of the Skipper, dressed as
Polonius, singing this advice to his son, Laertes:
Neither a borrower nor a lender
Do not forget: Stay out of debt;
Think twice, and take this
good advice from me,
Guard that old solvency.
There’s just one other thing you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.
It’s not bad advice, although it’s not complete.
You’ve been to many years of Sunday School and Confirmation
Class and sat in church and heard many, many sermons, some of which you may
just have snoozed through in the choir loft, even though I was the one doing
the preaching. I like to think that God is with you, unchangingly, even when
other matters occupy your mind. The stories you heard became part of you, just
like A.A. Milne and Gilligan and Shakespeare, for that matter. You
learned that it is not what goes into us that defiles us, but what we make of it.
You learned that anger doesn’t please God. You learned to love yourself so that
you can love your neighbor the same way. You learned that what is in your heart
One more quotation:
If I’m not for me, who will be?
If I’m only for me, what am I?
If not now, when?
(Words adapted from
Hebrew Pirkei Avot)
Your life at college is a funny mix of immediacy and
waiting. As you sit on the halfway stair, you may feel like the important
things of life are in the future. But it is never too soon to reflect on these
questions, especially the last. It’s too easy to go through life avoiding and
delaying, guilty of spiritual procrastination. Finding the balance between
being for yourself and being not only for yourself is a life’s work that needs
regular attention, just like a good relationship.
Sometimes you’ll be bad at it. We all are, sometimes. I hope
you know that wherever you may find yourself in as you move beyond the halfway
stair, I will be here for you, just as we know God is there for both of us.