Virulent Word of Mouse

May 31, 2010

A Bar-Mitzvah, adulthood, and the big puzzle

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 1:40 pm

Dear Noah,

Like all teenagers, soon you will conclude that your father resembles Darth Vader. Fortunately, this has not happened yet. Since I do not expect to have your attention for much longer I would like to take five minutes to say a few things.

For the Bar Mitzvah you had to learn to lead a service. You have done exceedingly well. It is quite an achievement, and I am proud of you.

What did mastering all material for the Bar Mitzvah teach you? I would claim it introduced you to life’s biggest puzzles.

You may not see that yet. Right now you can see what you just did. The Bar Mitzvah required *study* and *organization* and *perseverance*.

Look, there is good news right in that experience. It provides you a handle for adulthood. Many of life’s challenges require a bit of study, a tad of organization, and a dose of perseverance. In other words, once you can handle the responsibilities behind a Bar Mitzvah, then you are ready to handle many of life’s challenges like a mature adult. That is no small thing.

I wish that was it, but there is a catch. With this handle comes adulthood’s big puzzle.

Some of life’s most vexing moments require study but it is not clear *what* to study. Some vexing moments require organization but it is not clear *how* to organize the effort. Some situations require perseverance but it is unclear in *which* direction you should persevere. In other words, study, organization and persistence are not enough for every setting.

You should be saying “Hey, wait a minute!” You worked your tail off on this Bar Mitzvah so you could face more puzzles?

Yes, that is what I am saying. And now here is the big secret to adulthood. Nobody has any sure fire method for solving this puzzle. Anyone who says they do is either delusional or selling something.

Still, it is not totally hopeless.  While I have your ear, I would like to take my prerogative as your father to offer three pieces of advice about the big puzzle.

First, achievement is often not the point. Learning is. It helps if you make an effort to learn from each experience. Better yet, learn from the experience of others, and it will multiply the lessons. In other words, do not try to solve the big puzzle. Try to learn along the way. That makes the journey more enjoyable.

Second, and I mean this especially for you, Noah…, the Internet does not have all of the answers. There are many situations in which Wikipedia will not provide the right clue, Facebook will not link you to the best friend, and You-Tube will not help you visualize what you need. Nope. The best way to learn is to go out and experience it yourself. (An aside to other parents: a lot of parenting is telling a child to go out and play.)

The third piece of advice starts with the first act of Hamlet, when Polonius gives advice to his son, Laertes. Shakespeare had Laertes do in Iambic Pentameter what I am doing less poetically right now. Polonius ends a long speech with these words:

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

I hope that someday you will look up the speech – it is on the Internet, by the way. But I really hope you see it someday in the theater, where the immediacy and intimacy of the stage will drive home the message.

That message especially applies to you, Noah. You should remain true to yourself. You were born with an unpretentious and insouciant cheerfulness. When you were a child you would walk into a room and say “Hi, I’m Noah” and it would make others happy. It still remains there today.

Your temperament is a gift. Your inner voice reflects the joy of life. Only good can come from listening to that voice. It is a compass for becoming a Mensch.

Here is what I am trying to say. Welcome to adulthood. It is great you have reached this moment with the right preparation. Now you must face the big puzzle. There are no easy solutions, and, as far as anyone knows, being a Mensch is as good an approach as anyone has ever come up with. You were born with a head start. That is truly a gift for life.

With that, let us raise our glasses and say “L’Chiam.”

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