This is going to be a post about milestones, about taking the time to listen and really hear what’s going on around us, about realizing that despite what we see on the surface in life, things aren’t always as they seem. Lots of times too I might add.
In a couple of weeks, kid number two – Jason – graduates from a college in Southern Maryland. We as parents have become conditioned to fill out financial aid forms, buy sheets and pillowcases (thank you dear wife), pack up the boxes of Oreos and clean boxers and ship these kids off for a four-year adventure filled with stress, high hopes and dreams and the realization that by the time most of them are seniors, they really don’t need us around to hold their hands any longer.
It’s about growing up, it’s about spreading wings and finding a place in the world order, about finding a person they love so they can marry and continue the insanity for yet another generation.
It’s about not judging, not thinking you know what’s really going on when you don’t – and shouldn’t – and about Michael Courtney. Who the hell is that? Stay with me.
So what did I learn in the past 72 hours? Well, I learned not to be as scared of life as I had been. I learned that the next generation is probably not that bad after all and that there are lots of really smart kids about to accept diplomas.
I learned to listen and hear that while they are playing video games and holding one – and in some cases – two cans of Bud Light, that they are also discussing world politics, Hemmingway, and whether or not “The Piano” is truly a feminist movie. Personally, I agree with the young dude who insisted it’s not. But I digress.
I also learned that it was foolish not to learn more about your kid even after they graduate from the 12 painful years of high school. And it was silly not to learn more about the area of the world where at least one of the kids spent four years – a presidential term. I learned that three out of four residents of the county where he attended school are either employed by the U.S. government or work in a related field. It shouldn’t be a fact I find out 10 days before graduation. My bad.
I suppose thinking back it has become such a rat race and such a monumental task getting these kids to school and through school that we forget to pay attention to what they have been doing IN school. That the kid with the long hair, the tattoos, the whacky clothes, etc., may just be the next guy to invent a new form of social media, a medical breakthrough to cure a horrible disease or maybe just be a wonderful parent, wife or husband.
So what does Michael Courtney have to do with this? Michael and his wife run Courtney’s Restaurant near the water in Southern Maryland. If you drive up to the place you think it’s anything but a place to eat. And when you walked in, it was like a time warp. Pictures of Willie Nelson on the walls, random furniture placed in I imagine are strategic locations.
And Michael. Michael shuffled over to our table to wait on us for lunch. At first glance you figured he was either a maniac killer (nothing personal Michael) or a guy who wanted nothing to do with you and whose total knowledge would fit in one of his callused hands. He was in no apparent rush for anything and took forever to cook some sandwiches. Now to most of us who are constantly in a rush we would think, “what the hell is this guy’s deal anyway”?
But to Michael, it seems as though it’s business as usual and something he had been doing for like 50 years. And to be honest, if he’s been doing it and making a buck for that long perhaps he’s the one doing it right and I’m the one doing it wrong.
And by the way, the guy, an obviously talented fisherman, has a B.S. in biology. There are pictures of him on the walls hauling in many a fish. Enough said.
So Jason did his thing, a 20-minute version of a 90-page research paper. As I watched it was still the same kid who later that day I took to get a quick trim (gotta look good on graduation day), the one I gave a few bucks to before I left and the same one I watched grow up running around my house.
But he’s different now. He’s a man who knows how to research an issue and sound pretty darn smart doing it. He’s a guy who has lots of really nice friends who were really nice to an old guy out of his league.
It’s a passing of the baton. The Michael Courtneys of the world (and maybe Jason’s dad too) are hoping to pass on some knowledge and some experience of life that their world and their lives may be a bit easier.
But there are no guarantees, no promises of something better.
Perhaps to best lesson to learn is that maybe things are just not what they seem. Maybe they’re worse but perhaps – and hopefully – they’re a lot better.
Judging from Michael Courtney and bunch of college kids I just met, I’m banking on the latter.