Dear Friends and Family
I’ve been thinking lately of a song I’ve always loved. It’s called, “What are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” Sinatra, Streisand, Sting (what’s with all the S’s?), Bill Evans, and best of all Sarah Vaughan all recorded it and recorded it well. You can find it on You Tube. This is a beautiful love song. Its chorus goes:
What are you doing the rest of your life?
The North, South, East and West of your life.
The song came back into my head, not because of its great love theme, rather because of the enormity of the concept, “the rest of your life.” In the past year or so I’ve had several conversations with Indiana University students who have come to me to declare that they have no idea what they are doing with their lives. They personalized those lyrics to read “what am I doing the rest of MY life?’ Some talked of leaving school (“it’s all bullshit, you know”) and making Aliyah. Others were simply lost and/or frightened by the thought of making their way in the world. That’s usually about it for the students’ part of the conversation. Then there is silence. Then they look at me as if I have answers. How to respond?
Well, I’ve thought a lot about where I was at when I was twenty-one and how much I had no idea of what I wanted or where I was headed. And I’ve thought about my wife Juca in this regard. How would Juca, living in Brazil, working for Ha Shomer Ha Tsa’ir (a socialist, Zionist youth movement) have responded if, at that age, someone told her she would be married to a guy from Chicago and living in Bloomington, Indiana? I can almost hear her Brazilian accented laugh from here.
What I learn from these thoughts is that these students are asking themselves the wrong question.
So I respond by saying that it is unfair to ask one’s self a question that cannot be answered and then become depressed when no answer can be found. Perhaps no one can answer the question, “what am I doing the rest of my life?” because life happens, things change, life takes you along, you just use your paddle to try and stay in the middle of the stream. It is overwhelming to think in terms of life. Not so overwhelming to think in terms of, “what do I want to do now? What do I want to pursue in the next part of my life, two years of my life, five years?” Those are the questions. I encouraged those students to try and figure out how this semester can be the best possible, next summer, the rest of his or her time here at IU. “First the socks and then the shoes” was a cartoon that hung in my office at camp for many years.
It is interesting rubbing elbows with Jewish college students. I’d almost forgotten how difficult it is to grow up and start out in the world. Also interesting that as wonderful as it is here at Indiana University in 2014 (this is a great campus, great town, great spirit, great community) compared to how terrible it was for me at the University of Illinois in 1965, students still ask themselves the same questions. So it’s not the time or place, it’s the coming of age, the growing up. Whereas I used to think that Vietnam, Nixon, the threat of the military draft was the cause of all the stress, now I know that the stress is within us and comes with the age.
It’s hard to tell a kid to lighten up; to not take it all so seriously; that it will work out (I can hear those words coming out of my own father’s mouth). But I’m hopeful that I can help a college student discover what might be the appropriate question to be asking; a question that might actually present an answer.
Nevertheless, growing up is not easy. The questions are tough and often the answers difficult to come by.