I'm pleased and honored-and a bit surprised-to have been invited to speak to you today.
Pleased and honored because I assume my role here today is to dispense a bit of wisdom-and surprised that your University thought it a good idea to invite as your commencement speaker the man who brought to our culture Archie Bunker, George Jefferson, Fred Sanford, Maude, and Mary Hartman, arguably five of the least wise characters you've ever met.
This is a day for kvelling. Your commencement, the day of recognition for your great achievements. Your parents, mates, friends, family, and significant others, are all kvelling-and you are kvelling.
Kvell is a Yiddish word-one of those words that might take an entire paragraph in any other language. Kvell means to fill up to overflowing with pride and pleasure-usually over the achievement of someone you love-could be yourself...
A long time ago I came across this ancient saying: A man should have a garment with two pockets. In the first pocket should be a piece of paper on which is written, "I am but dust and ashes." In the second pocket, another piece of paper which reads: "For me the world was created."
Between that yin and yang rests knowing how much you matter. On the one hand you are that proverbial grain of sand on the beach of life-and on the other, when you open your eyes each morning, what's it all here for?
What am I here for? This room, this event, this moment, if not for you.
And if you can truly appreciate the size and scope of the Creator's enterprise here-this planet being one of perhaps a billion planets in our universe, our universe being one among about a billion universes-can you get your fingers close enough to measure the difference between how much any two of us matter. You can't. For each of us the world was created.
But, you may ask, how do I see the results of my mattering in the real world? My grandfather told me when I was about ten, as we stood at the edge of a lake in Moodus, Connecticut, that each time I threw a stone into the water I was raising the level of the lake.
I threw another stone. It wasn't happening. So I threw a rock. I still couldn't see the level of the lake rising, but my grandfather asked me if I saw the ripple.
Years later I understood what he was getting at. The ripple is what we all have to be satisfied with. That's what we all have to work our hearts out for-to make a ripple. Then, we won't see it, but the water level does rise.
If that sounds almost bromidic in its simplicity, it doesn't make it any less real.
Take the planet-the greatest example of sharing there is. What does the planet say to all of us? It says-here I am. Live on me, live off me, eat off of my vines. Sleep under my sky, traverse my oceans, climb my mountains, swim in my lakes, play with my animals, bury yourselves in me-I'm yours.
If we believe God gave us the planet and we're Christians, what could make us more Christ-like than living by this example? And since all religions are grateful to God for life and for the planet, we can assume that Muslims and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus would approach that example and sharing, similarly.
I'm aware that this talk has turned somewhat spiritual. I'm not a minister, I'm not a rabbi, I'm not particularly religious, but I am 100% invested in what I can tell you that may be useful in your lives. And if that has a strong spiritual component-we're going to have to live with it.
Some time ago, in preparing another talk, I was cautioned not to speak of the life of the spirit lest it conflict with my credentials as a civil libertarian. "You'll lose them with `God talk'," was the admonition. I thought about that as I was preparing to speak to you today and I wondered, Where is it written that civil libertarians do not care about the spiritual condition of our species?
Well, whatever habits and inhibitions our culture has conditioned us to accept, this civil libertarian believes that humankind has been embarked since the beginning of human history on a search for transcendent meaning-and that the next great and much needed improvement in our species' condition will come from more public discussion and a better understanding of the great mystery which frames our lives.
Who better to start that than you? You are coming out of a great communications school after all, and doesn't communicating mean engaging with the entire human being?
As you go out into your chosen field, then-whether you are in front or behind the camera; whether you are writing or researching in your field; whether you bring your talent to cyberspace or print journalism-I trust you will not be so squeamish or parochial on the topic as to continue to suppress an open discussion of one of the great human imperatives of our time.
It has never been so clear that what we need is to fling open the doors that contain the worlds' religions to find new ways of learning more about each other's values and spiritual conditions and what the peoples of the world, hold in common as a species.