Chapter 17: Class of 2017
June 10, 2017
Raines and I hurry down the aisle, looking for two seats. We walk to the end of the middle rows and sit on two small black folding chairs. All the students are carefully walking down the inner aisle in their white cap and gowns. I slide on my glasses and push them up my nose to adjust them, looking the whole auditorium up and down, but I don’t see him. I look at Raines as she eagerly searches through the rows and rows of students.
“I can’t see him yet. It’s about to start,” she whispers.
Rays of sunlight are beaming though the top windows and lighting up the stadium floor. Tiny particles of dust dance in the beams of light. The air is humid and warm, and I fan my program sheet back and forth in front of my face, still searching the crowd. My right foot is bouncing up and down with my unusual impatience.
Da, na, na, nare . . . Da, da, da, nare . . . I take a couple of deep breaths to calm my type “A” self down a notch, which always seems to get the best of me. I pull out my fidget spinner. Nope, maybe not a good idea. I put it back in my pocket.
Ouch. My head hurts bad. I reach in for my pocket and pop two Tylenols in my mouth. I’ve been coughing and had a massive headache for two straight weeks. Ugh. I massage my forehead with the tip of my index finger.
Da da, na na nare . . . da da, na na nare . . . Da, na, na, na, nare . . . da, na, da, na, nare . . . I look up at the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling of the high school auditorium. Da . . . na, na . . . na . . . nare . . . Da, na, na . . . nare . . .
I let out a sputtering cough into the air. Ahem.
I wonder what good ole’ Henry is doing right now. Too bad he couldn’t make it to graduation. Poor kid. You see, after Leo told me the entire story, I realized that it just so happens that his dad, Thomas Gates, had become one my newest clients a while ago. Sadly, his dad had been battling with deep depression as well as alcoholism over the last year, and he disclosed to my firm that he had lost millions to some pretty bad investment deals he had made at another firm. Everything he had was on the line. He was about to lose his house. His wife had one foot out the door. His son making bad decisions left and right. Luckily for him, when I initially accepted him as my client, I made special arrangements to advance him a loan for keeping him afloat. We now have some pending deals in place that can help him regain all his financial standing in about two years.
But after my conversation with Leo and learning what was going on at school, I had a little chitchat with Mr. Gates. In a nutshell, he now understands that if his son even as much as says a single word to my son, he will be reported to the school, and the contract with my company will be terminated immediately without question, while I will watch all his investments burn in my new firepit.
Mr. Gates decided to pull Henry out of school early, and their whole family went on a trip to Europe for a month to get away and straighten some things out.
Da, na, na, nare . . . Da, na, na, nare. I twiddle my thumbs.
I really do hope the best for their family. Da, na, nare, na, na, na, nare . . .
My patience is now wearing extremely thin. When will this thing start?
Finally, music starts playing throughout the auditorium and from the corner of my eye, I see him marching down the steps. It’s funny I don’t even have to look, because I recognize his blonde hair and his humble walk even from the corner of my eye. I turn and watch him walk down the steps and find his way over to a seat along the front row, with all the other students. He is so tall. I think he is about my height now. God, he even sits the same way as me. I love noticing these small similarities.
All of the students walk on stage, one by one, the excitement clearly written across their young eager faces, and before I can blink, Leo crosses the stage. I watch him hold his diploma inside the same tiny fist I use to play with when he was a baby. A tear rolls down my face and I take my glasses off and put them in their case. I put my arm around Raines. Where did all the time go? It seemed only yesterday, we were taking him to kindergarten. They are right, you know. Time flies. If I could just go back in time, I would’ve held onto that tiny fist a lot more than I did . . .
The air stiffens. The auditorium becomes completely silent as the most anticipated moment has finally arrived. My son walks to the center stage. He stands in front of the microphone, straightens his posture, and reaches into his pocket for a piece of paper and puts it on the wooden podium, clearing his throat.
“My fellow students, after four short years, it’s already time to say goodbye. Now, it’s time to move forward into a world of new beginnings and write new chapters for our lives. First, we extend our thanks to the teachers and administrative faculty of this prestigious high school . . .”
I watch him speak fluently and flawlessly to the crowd, and his voice rings perfectly through the auditorium; it’s like music to my ears. He doesn’t flinch. Every second is perfection. Damn, he is a natural born speaker just like my father. I shake my head, smiling through the tears. I’m damn lucky. I look over at Raines, knowing that it was the invaluable bedrock of all her love that shaped my son.
As I watch my son standing there, never have I felt prouder. Giving the valedictorian speech too. I’m just so proud of him. Look at him. The way he stands on stage, his shoulders high, his confident hand moving gracefully through the air, that maturity in his voice. I think about how wrong I was all this time. I wouldn’t change a single damn thing about him. Every moment and every second in his life has led to this moment. Leo pauses, and looks through the crowd as if he is looking for somebody—and he continues.
“So, yes I would like go on about the future and success and the plans we all have for college, but you know, I would like to talk about something else for a minute. Something that really matters, the stuff that no one wants to talk about. What about the hard stuff in life? High school problems? Problems we face in life. What about those? Well, I was faced with something really difficult recently. I was at a really difficult point, and I . . . I got lost. So quickly, I just got lost. It’s amazing how fast all of us can just lose our ways. I finally told my dad about it, and you know what he told me? He looked me in the eye and said that whenever you face a difficult situation, the hardest thing to do will be to forgive, but you must do this through difficulties before it snowballs in your soul. He said there is no pain, no heartbreak, no bad grade, no fight, and no mean person bullying you that should push you into a corner. There is always hope. There is always a solution. He said we will ‘all’ face pain at various points in our lives. So get ready. Sometimes, life is hard, and sometimes, it’s unfair. But guess what, it is for everyone. So, you ask then, what’s the answer when it gets hard? The answer is not revenge. And it sure isn’t to run and hide. The answer is to turn and face the problem. Most importantly, talk to your parents, your friends, and your school counselors and tell them if you are hurting or if you should ever feel your back against the wall. One day, we will all realize that the answer to most problems, are perseverance, forgiveness, and love.
“So with that, I will end by saying, every choice in life matters. Make the right choices. Every single one of you sitting in this room has a bright future waiting to be carved by you. Seek the good within. And thus, I close with this quote, ‘Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself’ by Epictetus.”
I hold my breath. His words pierce through my soul like lightning. Tears steam down my face uncontrollably.
“So, congratulations my fellow graduates of the Class of 2017. May we always be friends and until we meet again.” Leo folds his paper and stuffs it back into his pocket and smiles.
All of the audience clap and cheer. I watch Raines wipe the tears from her eyes. We both stand together, clapping, as we watch our son walk back to his seat.
“The ceremony was outstanding. It couldn’t have been better,” I open the door from the auditorium.
Raines and I stroll with glee outside into the muggy air. Just as I try to inconspicuously light up a cigarette, I can see Leo walking out through the doors with a young girl with long brown hair.
“Oh, we finally get to meet Becca!” Raines almost jumps off the ground with excitement.
I remember Leo telling me about his semi-girlfriend. Hmmm. So, this is the girl he has been talking about. Quickly, I butt out the cigarette, straighten my shirt collar, and put on my best game face. I know how important this is to him.
They walk over to us.
“Mom, Dad, this is Becca,” Leo stutters in his shy voice.
Becca flashes us a big beaming smile.
“I am going to go to dinner with Becca’s parents. They are waiting for us in the car,” Leo says.
“Do you guys want to come too?” Becca asks us.
Raines and I look at each other, “Uh, ah—well ok, yes, that would be nice. We will follow you to the car,” Raines suggests.
September 30, 2017
“Betty, hurry up and fax my signatures over to them,” I instruct my secretary. I hand her three large packets of paperwork.
“Ok, yes, got it.” She picks up the first one and examines it, “This is a charity donation to Red Cross organization and I will fax this info in a second.” Next, she picks up the second one, flipping through all the pages. “Mr. Lawrence, what charity is this? I don’t see . . . I don’t recognize who to send this to. Mr. Lawrence, I don’t think I have ever heard of this,” she sounds completely lost.
“Oh, yeah, that one stays here. Hand it back to me. Sorry. That is a small non-profit start-up that I actually whittled together. I started this thing myself. You see, uh, how do I explain? Well, it’s a program to help women who have been housewives all their life transition into the job market.”
“Huh?” she says.
“I wanted to help women, who by no choice of their own, have to support themselves or their children after previously being completely dependent on a husband and now don’t have that option. A portion of my personal profits goes to this organization. It’s supposed to start next year,” I say.
My secretary looks at me like I’ve lost my mind.
“Yeah, ok, Mr. Lawrence, so what is this third packet? Do I need to do anything specific with this?” she says, slowly breaking into a smile.
“Yes, now, this one is a long shot, but damn if I am not going to do this thing. Ok, so I am working on this together with a client of mine. It is another start up organization I am heading up and hoping to make a big change.”
“What is it?” she says slowly.
I hesitate at first, but knowing that I will need some help along the way I sit back down and explain,” Ok well, you know that technology client of mine? We have put together something that could be a real technological breakthrough. Together, we have written a business plan to develop a radar system that will detect guns in public places. It’s very high tech, and he has the technology know-how on how to get this all in place. The idea is having these radar systems at the entrances so that anyone carrying any weapon of any kind will be blocked. There are also ways to hide these sensors behind walls, in the ceilings, and so forth that will alert proper security. There are some other companies out there working on the same type thing, but ours is specifically designed to hopefully be installed in every school across the country. But the hard part will be convincing lawmakers that this is a necessary evil in today’s society.
“Wow,” Betty furrows her brow. “You are really putting yourself out there to make a difference. That’s great.”
“Oh yeah, Betty, one more thing. The company is missing something. You know, in here, Lawrence Investments. We need more life in here. More color. More culture. Can you order several pieces of art or something and just hang them around the office? I just want to add some more pizzazz and color to this place. I will let you pick them out, but I just have one request in the matter,” I continue on as another wave of soreness runs through my body.
“What’s that?” she stares at me, her mouth gaping open. She spilled her coffee over to the side slightly.
“Make sure one of them is a big painting of a huge white egret or bird flying across the ocean,” I said.
“You heard me. A big white bird. Yeah, and I want that hanging in my office above my desk. I know it sounds silly, but just find something online. Ok? Google it. My wife will love it every time she comes to visit,” I instruct as I cough.
“Yes, Mr. Lawrence,” she has a disbelieving look in her eyes as she scurries out the office door back to her desk.
A tiny measure of happiness warms my soul, as I organize the last bit of paperwork on my desk. And that’s a wrap. I’ve completed the numbers for the meeting with one of my clients tomorrow. I’m outta heeeere. I throw on my blazer. I have a dinner date with Raines this evening. And tomorrow I have my third doctor appointment to discuss surgery or chemotherapy.
That’s right. You see, two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer. I also just learned that the five-year survival rate is only about 30 percent.
I haven’t told anyone yet. I needed some time for myself. I will tell my family after I discuss everything with my doctor tomorrow.
I have faced the truth. I have endured these last two weeks of my cruel fate with only one thought in mind, I don’t know how much longer I have left to live. And my biggest regret is not that I wish I hadn’t been a smoker, it’s that I should’ve walked into my soul a lot sooner than I did. If only I had known, what I know now.
But that’s neither here nor there at this point. Whatever time I have left—whether a day or a miraculous forty years—I’m gonna do something that matters. I am going to give.
The true irony is that we all live here under the assumption that we have tons of time. But the truth is we don’t. We never do.
I’m out. Peace.
Oh yeah, before I forget. My son ended up attending Duke this fall, and his girlfriend was accepted to UNC Chapel Hill. They continue to be together to this day.
Raines is currently taking classes and updating all of her graphic design certifications and skills.
As for our marriage, well, I got lucky. She decided to forgive me and decided that we could start all over again as long as I continued with therapy. It’s excruciating, but I still go every Monday morning. We realized that all the love was still there. It was merely frozen inside that cold hard glacier for years. I give full credit to the journey inside my soul. Tonight, I’m going to tell her how lucky I am to spend every day I have left with her.
To this day, I do not know whether I was truly inside my own soul or on some crazy head trip. I really don’t know. To be honest, there are still a lot of things in life that I am not sure about.
But this, I do know—I will never forget that journey. And because of it, I know many great things.
I am steering the wheel through intricate details of decisions, dreams, secrets, desires, joy, pain, transgressions, knowledge, and love throughout my life, all of which fall within an even greater plan than my own.
I know that the greatest measures of happiness come from the purest and simplest things in nature. It’s true, the best things in life are free. A million dollars does not even compare to the success of raising a child like Raines did with my son. Priceless.
The soul moves quickly from thought-to-thought, feeling-to-feeling like a river that only stops to rejoice in that which is pure.
And I know that my purpose in life is what I choose to give of myself give back to the world. It’s not in what we gain, it’s what we give.
And I will make sure to never judge a single soul again. Not one person. Winners may look like losers, and losers may appear in the garb of winners. Winning is only calculated by the measures of joy that come from within our own souls. You know if you’re winning, that’s all that matters.
It is certain, that every new day and every new moment in time is a new chance to do better. Pick a better choice. And do what brings you happiness.
And one day, your sons and daughters become you and the cycle repeats . . . inside you are tiny pieces of your mother and father. Don’t hold grudges against them if they do wrong. We are all blind until we are aware. In other words, we don’t know what we don’t know. If you have the choice, forgive. Because life will come full circle, as it always does, and you and your children, as well as the whole world, will in their own time, realize they too, were blind at some point.
And I know that most answers in life are usually not black and white. There are usually many grays in between. You see, had my son chosen to drive into that school parking lot that day with the gun, he would have not only ruined the rest of his life but also killed another teenage boy. As for the country, there would have been a moment of silence, leading to explosive news coverage, an investigation, as well as more gun debates. It would then have just slid under the covers until the next big newsworthy event, all a while, the underlying problem still not fixed.
I think if we all could agree, the answers to this gun problem in today’s society are not black or white. It’s gray because there are many misfortunate reasons it exists. Number one, I should have been there for Leo. I am not going to deny or covert the blame. “I” should have been there for him. I have lost countless hours of sleep wishing could have deterred him from picking up that gun. Parents need to clue in better to their kids’ issues. Number two, parents need to make sure to lock up their hunting or defense weapons in the house. Number three, we need stricter gun laws. Number four, we need more people communicating with school officials when we witness bullying or student issues in order to increase awareness, as well as help with mental illness.
If we could just do all of these, maybe we would be better off.
But here is the problem, we aren’t. And doing just one or the other won’t work all of the time because these issues are coming fast from all different directions. It’s an imperfect world and we can’t control all these measures perfectly.
So I developed a number five, something can we can control, updated technology for security in schools to detect guns. And it will be the kind of technology that will deter individuals from even entering the school. We need a law that ensures that these are in every school. Sound silly? Well, they are in airports, so why can’t we have this security in schools if it is to keep our children safe?
Well, it’s getting late and I better be going, but I’ll end with this—the most important thing I learned inside my soul and this I will always know for sure—it is that in true love, lies forgiveness, and within forgiveness, there lies true love. One cannot exist without the other. Because behind every clinging lover, every raging oppressor, every egocentric partner, every guilty defendant and every human folly, is the oblivion to God and his principles and his quiet suffering.
It is forgiveness that leads us home.
I fly over the ice, water, and land,
I have traveled the world,
Swoosh . . .
The wind blurs my eyesight,
My wings spread far across the sky,
I furl them in with a gust of wind, letting it carry me,
My feathers are white like the pure winter’s snow,
Where I fly above them,
Day after day,
Night after night,
Do they even know?
Inside of their soul,
Their life unfolds,
They move across time,
They shape the earth,
As I fly,
Day after day,
Night after night,
Across the mountains,
Close to the flowers,
Above the lakes,
Do they even know?
That tonight I will soar,
Above the clouds and up to the stars,
Looking down over this great big world,
Inside of God’s soul.
Tonight I will give him a prayer,
And he will whisper his secret back to me,
I am love.
We can only truly love others when we love God. Because God is love.
“The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.”
“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
- Swami Vivekananda
“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul.”
“The great paradox of the 21st Century is that, in this age of powerful technology, the biggest problems we face internationally are problems of the human soul.”
“Here is where our real selfhood is rooted, in the divine spark or seed, in the image of god imprinted on the human soul. The True Self is not our creation, but God’s. It is the self we are in our depths. It is our capacity for divinity and transcendence.”
- Sue Monk Kidd
“For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?”
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