[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
Jonathan woke with a purpose the morning after revisiting his list. There was a new positive energy surging through his body. Possibility was an endless force that stood in front of his every direction.
-I feel good.
Yes, that’s what I was saying.
-Cool, keep it up.
You too, Jonathan, you too.
There was something about our protagonist that was instantly more likeable. He smiled. It had been a rare image to see, but it was an infectious smile. When Jonathan showed his pearly whites walking done the street every stranger he passed also smiled back. It was hard to deny Jonathan’s earlier suspicions that the world revolved around him when his very own smile could light up the world around him.
-This feels good.
It should. It’s a great, fresh start for you. But remember, you’ve done this before. It’s all been done before.
Try not to get stuck in those downward ruts for too long. Those too can bring everyone else down with you.
Yes, Jonathan. You’ve got fabulous powers that you need to be in control of.
You are human. Everything about you is powerful, to yourself and others. Be careful what you do with your words, emotions and actions. They can ripple on forever.
-They leave scars.
I’m glad you listen, Jonathan. It seems like you forget too.
-I will try my best not to.
It’s okay, it’s all been done before and it’ll probably all happen again. You can try to learn from your mistakes, but there will always be something new.
Jonathan walked in to the bookstore and went to the biography section to peruse the discounted table. He saw stacks of books of the greatest and most interesting characters of history. Each and every one of them was flawed.
-It takes away some of the mystique, does not it?
Sure, look around and listen.
Two men were standing across the table from Jonathan. In one man’s hand was a book about George Washington.
-One of the best military leaders of all time.
-Right up there with Napoleon and Hannibal, I reckon.
-You think he’s that good?
-He defeated the British when they were overwhelmingly the world’s greatest power.
-Yeah, I suppose.
-And when most Americans still considered themselves overwhelmingly British. They didn’t want a new country. They wanted representation.
-Or fewer taxes.
-That too. That never seems to go away.
-Can’t blame them. It’s human nature to want to keep what we earn.
-Ha! For sure, could you imagine when fire was invented?
-Um, Og, we really appreciate what you’ve done and all, with the fire and everything, but we’re going to have to take half of it from you.
-Og make fire, Og want all fire!
-Yeah, the thing is Og, that the rest of the tribe is actually without fire and it would be for the best for all of us if everyone has a little fire, what with the cooking of food and the scaring away of sabretooth tigers.
-Og make fire, Og want all fire! You want fire, you make fire!
-Og, we’ve had a vote. You remember voting? We’ve had a vote and the tribe has decided you have to share your fire with everyone else.
-Og make fire! Og want competitive advantage!
-Og, it’s just the way things are. The rest of the tribe really likes barbequed woolly mammoth and we need fire for that.
-Og make fire, Og want keep fire! Og small business owner!
-Haha, that would have been hilarious. I think I’m going to buy this bio of Washington, though.
-Don’t you already have a couple?
-Yeah, but I can’t seem to get enough. He was a very complex individual.
Jonathan realised that even though Washington had some major flaws, flaws that would be obvious to anyone who had read one, let alone multiple biographies, the legend of him as a military leader and first president of the United States still remained. When Jonathan thought of Washington he thought of the guy who almost singlehandedly caused the Seven Years’ War by accident due to a poor working level understanding of French. That hardly seems like a military genius. But perhaps that just added to the complexity that others saw in him. Flaws become complexities. Each and every one of us was flawed.
-Each and every one of us is beautifully flawed.
It was a horrible conceit that Jonathan had carried with him his entire life, that somehow in order to be special someone was not allowed to have a few warts. Some of his best friends could have blind spots in knowledge or opinion, but that didn’t take away from their overall intellectual brilliance. Jonathan had to stop selling people short for their flaws. It was a childhood philosophy that needed to be rekindled. Jonathan needed to see the good in everyone, starting firstmost with himself. All the weight of his own expectations had left him with an invisible hunch. He had been slumping along for years, burdened by impossible standards. Having thought deeply about his goals the night before, Jonathan was trying to align that with his own personal shortcomings.
-I want to find that amazing person to spend my life with.
There was a sense of purpose in Jonathan’s life now that rather than being sabotaged by disappointment and impatience was now replaced with optimism and the hope that carrying himself with a smile might bring better results. What was the saying about flies and honey, again?
-I want that amazing person to find that I’m the amazing person they want to spend their life with.
At twenty-five years old, Jonathan was finally beginning to get it. He had always been a slow processor. He was not dumb, in fact he was quite intelligent, but that didn’t always resonate through his alternating turns at arrogance and depression.
When he returned home that afternoon, Jonathan sat at his computer desk and began to seriously read what he had written earlier. He didn’t like the end. So, as writers often do, he began to change it.
Jonathan sat listening to the old gray men and decided that perhaps there was something beyond all this. Perhaps, while he felt bittersweet about having to leave after only four years, he should remember that bitterness passes and the sweet experiences he had will only grow in posterity. He wanted to share that message with Nick and Gio, wherever they were. He wanted to share that message with Drew and Charlie, with one more year before they would be sitting where he was. Most of all, Jonathan wanted to share that message with himself. He didn’t want to try holding on to the vapours of the past. They would be impossible to grasp and frustratingly dissipate. He wanted to move forward to accept all the exciting and wondrous adventures that awaited him. It had been fun to play around, but it was time to get serious about living life. He didn’t want to be serious, but he wanted a life that others would take seriously. There was a small, but impossibly important difference between the two.
He wanted to take back his eulogy. This was not a funeral at all, he realised. He wanted to give that commencement speech after all. This was a beginning, and not just of the end, but of that journey in between. Jonathan’s mind took over and he imagined himself walking down the aisle and up the stairs on to the stage, taking the microphone and lectern from the old gray man. Turning to his graduating class, Jonathan began anew.
“I’m so excited to be here today. I was not before. I don’t know why. I woke with trepidation and fear. I thought today was the end. I can be stupid like that. They call this a commencement for a reason. We’re beginning to move on in life, starting today. I know it seems strange that after more than twenty years of living we can finally begin to say that we’re beginning. It seems like forever we’ve been preparing for something, that we’ve been in school in some form or another. We’ve been learning, getting educated so that we can finally begin. I used to want to be done as soon as possible. I think it was in high school when I just wanted to leave as soon as possible. I wanted to get here; I wanted to come here, to university to begin to live. I was confused; I don’t think I really did know what living was about. I did want to drink, but I’m not sure that’s what life is about. The Latin name for alcohol is sometimes aqua vitae, or life water. That’s what I thought it was, even before I knew the words aqua vitae. I thought that coming here I’d be able to drink in as much life as I could imagine. I did. I think we all did. I know I remember some epic nights of consumption. I’m sorry to the parents in the crowd for mentioning this, but yes, almost every single one of us has vomited due to too much alcohol. I actually vomited several times. Most of them were in the toilet of my shared bathroom, my bog that I shared with a strange dude named Gio. If you think that’s bad, you should probably track him down and make sure he hasn’t died due to liver damage. He once drank enough alcohol to take out a small village in one day. He also alternated between going on all out benders and convalescing in his dorm room bed. It was hardly heroic. It was stupid. We heard about the century club and did it several times. Your kids know what I’m talking about. For the uninformed, century club is a drinking game where you drink one hundred shots of beer in one hundred minutes. You might remember it from the news a couple years back. Some kid drank too much, the object of the game, and then tried to walk home in the freezing cold. He passed out in a ditch and they found his dead body the next morning. Yes, we heard about that. No, that story didn’t deter us from playing drinking games. We were young and stupid. We thought that this was what life was about. Another reason I came to university and I don’t think I’m alone, was for the purpose of getting laid. There are more than a few blushing faces in the crowd. Oh, good, it’s nice to see some alumni parents also blushing. They know exactly what I’m talking about. There was this idea that perhaps by coming here, to some small town where I didn’t know anybody I could reinvent myself. I thought I could reinvent my morals. It becomes a lot easier to lower our standards when we’re in the process of reinventing whatever standards we might have had before. I’m sure at some point in my future I’m going to be like you parents in the audience. I’m going to be here celebrating the fact that my child has put in four or five years of university and come away with a piece of paper that certifies that they met the standards of the academic world. You are going to hope that along the way your son or daughter has also spent four or five years preparing to leave and live a life that meets the moral and ethical standards of the real world. I don’t know what to say about that. I’d like to think that we’re all going to leave and treat each other with more respect and dignity than we did here, I really do. I’m not sure if it will happen. There will probably be a few people who allowed their moral and ethical compasses to break while they were here. They may end up living lives that are entirely selfish and will hurt most of the people they come in to contact with in the future. Then there are a lot of people who maybe feel like they faltered while they were here. They feel like they let their families and communities down. Perhaps they come from a religious background and feel like they’ve fallen. These people may have lost themselves in a moral wilderness while here. Many of them might exit and go in to the real world with a renewed vigour for behaving better. They may try to go and live a proper life, whatever they consider that to be, and they will hurt most of the people they come in to contact with in the future. There is a lot of other people in a lot of other states, but the one thing that I’m going to guarantee is that no matter how you leave here today, and with whatever intentions you leave with, you will hurt most the people you come in to contact with in the future. I want to be clear, and that’s important to me, clarity. I’m not trying to be pessimistic. This is not to be pessimistic about us or the future, I just want to leave with a bit of advice. Tread gently, wherever you walk. You are going to leave footprints. People are going to get hurt. We’re all human. Even some of the most despicable and discouraging people I met in the course of four years here have feelings. They can get hurt, too. Some of my dearest friends have also been hurt. I have hurt them and they have hurt me. No speech will ever be able to take those moments away. What’s done, well, it’s pretty obvious that it’s done. I can only sit here today and offer an apology and hope that they all offer the same, whether in their words or at the very least in their hearts, I would hope they feel that I mean the same to them as I once did. I know that despite any hard feelings or past mistakes on my or their part, they will always have a place in my life. I hope that it’s not only in my past, but that we might meet again some day, and share a beer or two, and laugh about the good times while we let the past melt away in to the dust. We have no need for malice anymore, we have no need for bitterness or built up resentment. We ought to move forward in to this wondrous future, hand in hand, and support each other. It’s dangerous out there and we need all the friends we can get. It will be bumpy, but I think that we can at the very least try to watch out for each other. Don’t be a jerk and hopefully that positive energy will be shared with others and reciprocated with us. I don’t know whether this is all just platitudes and bullshit or whether or not I’m just rambling out of the dear excitement that you are all finally listening to me. Perhaps I’m just delusional. This is a dream, right?”
Jonathan looked around and confirmed that he was just daydreaming and that he had not actually been speaking to anyone from a lectern. It didn’t make his words mean any less, though.