Eleven years ago, I went to an early morning drawing class and when I left, the world had changed.
When I started my sophomore year of college in September 2001, not many of my peers thought about national pride. We were comfortable. We were secure. But then, only a few weeks later, there were American flags hanging in residence hall windows and printed on bumper stickers. People were a little kinder. We all felt a little closer. Many of us had parents, friends, or siblings who worked at the Pentagon, in DC, or at some military or government facility. Shanksville, Pennsylvania, was only thirty miles or so from our campus. We were stunned. We were scared. And we knew exactly how lucky we all were, in so many ways.
Looking back from today, it seems like that short time was the moment — that almost invisible fraction of a second — when a glass shatters and the water inside holds together before gravity takes over, and it finally loses form and splashes all over the kitchen floor. Because there was war and protest and injuries and death. There was politics and there was economics and science and religious zeal. Today, We The People feels more like We The Hot Tangled Mess, and it’s not always easy to know what to think about the world that we’ve brought you into.
It has occurred to me that in my lifetime, one that seems perfectly ordinary in the spectrum of individual lifetimes, extraordinary change has happened.
When I was six or seven, at the tail end of the Cold War era, my second grade teacher asked the class if we thought we’d ever live to see a black or female President of the United States. It was a hard question. The very idea was so alien to the world that existed at the time. But of course, now I know the answer.
Frankly, I’m glad you’ll never have to face the same question.
Instead, maybe your second grade teacher will ask you a different question that will force you to reflect hard on your perception and optimism about the world. About what it is. About what it could be. And maybe you won’t know how to answer, because what she’s asking you to imagine can only happen in a world that’s vastly different from the one we live in now. A world where we all zip around in flying cars and wear white jumpsuits and sensible shoes and use luminous touch-screen, voice-activated computers the size of an adult hand. (OH! WAIT!)
Which is why I want you to know something. Something vitally important:
Anything can happen. Anything good. Anything bad. Anything.
I know this is true because I’ve already lived through more Anythings than I could have ever possibly imagined in only thirty years. You’ll be going about your ordinary life one day, and then out of nowhere — BLAM! — an Anything will blindside you with one world-shattering blow. But it won’t knock you down, at least not for long. You’ll pick up the pieces, hug the people you love a little tighter, and carry on.