Hello, fellow travelers! All the graduation festivities are over and I am ready to pick up my blogging again. It was a hectic but wonderful week during which I got to see many of my friends and meet some new people, spend time with my family, and, of course, walk across the stage at commencement. The actual commencement ceremony was, in my opinion, lacking, but baccalaureate the night before more than made up for those shortcomings. Although I rarely attended any chapel or church service during my time in college, I decided that it would be fun to go to the baccalaureate service – partly due to the fact that two of my best friends were going and I wanted to spend more time with them. I am so glad I went. The sermon was about two connected things: starting the next phase of life and finding one’s own voice.
At any graduation there is a lot a talk about what’s next, and going out in the world to live life. Our campus pastor talked about how it can be scary and exciting at the same time – as anyone who has ever graduated (or done something entirely new) knows. But he also talked about how we have to go and experience life and all of its joys and mishaps in order to find our own voice. He talked about using the stories that we’ve been given by others to help shape our voice.
This spoke to me first because it has an undertone of writing – every writer has their own voice, every writer uses stories to make new stories. But even more significant to me was talking about using stories to shape our lives, because my favorite professor always told stories in class, and always used them to teach us something new. Stories shaped his life, and he gave them to us and they’ve helped shape our lives as well.
Stories, whether they are from real-life or are fiction, can help shape us and help us find our voice – both our writer’s voice and the voice we use in the world, to make our feelings, thoughts, and beliefs known. These voices can be the same, or they can branch from a single place, like a tree, but the only way to find a voice is by living, experiencing, and listening to the stories around you.
To end his sermon, our pastor read us a poem called “The Mockingbird” by Mary Oliver, which can be found in A Thousand Mornings.
the mocking bird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings
from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,
for he his a thief of other sounds –
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;
mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life
to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and setting down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around
as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins
easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as though his subject now
was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret,
as anyone else’s,
and it was too hard –
perhaps you understand –
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.
Our pastor made the slight adjustment that we are given stories – we don’t “steal” them as a mockingbird might steal other sounds.
We are like the mockingbird, afraid to sound our own voice and instead pulling all the stories we hear to ourselves and simply replaying them. Too many people never find their own voice and simply repeat the things they have heard for their entire lives. What we need to do, in writing and in life, is be brave and let our voices be heard. Be yourself when people are around, try not to be afraid of what others will think of you for letting your opinion be heard. Share your voice with the world, even if you are still finding it. The only way to know what you believe and feel is by expressing yourself. Listen to the stories around you and let them shape you – let yourself find your voice and use it.
Take care, fellow travelers.