The music of Mitch’s graduation

Warning: This is a gushy tome, filled with poorly shot videos, albeit with awesome music.

Last night I saw people dancing to music my son created.

It was at his graduation party. He wasn’t playing some huge venue, just for a handful of friends. A big handful, but something most people wouldn’t think was a big deal.
But why wouldn’t it be a big deal. This is music he and his friends created with their minds, imagination, practice and dedication, and their hands. My son and his band mates in Community Theater took toned vibrations from their instruments, the words in their minds, and arranged them into songs. They played them for other people – and those other people felt so touched by what they heard that they smiled, they experienced happiness, and they moved their bodies.
We forget, I think, exactly what music and art really are. We take it for granted, maybe, because we have streaming internet radio, or a billion pictures of whatever on Instagram or Facebook. But I think it really is a connection of our souls, a reminder that we’re all in this together and we can try to make it a little easier.

Yesterday, I watched my son graduate from high school, the universal American symbol that a person has grown up. The pivotal point in their lives where we tell them life really begins, where they get to choose their own paths and reach for their own dreams. Friends and family came by, people who have watched him grow up, to offer their love and support and wish him well as he embarks on adulthood. And later than day there was music, done by a handful of young men who have something to say. So they used their words and what they know about music to write songs. They took their energy, passion and love and poured it into a performance.

Last night I saw people dancing to music my son created. And it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.

I began this day struggling to write a graduation letter for Mitch. It’s sort of a thing I do at different times, holidays and such, and my kids know to expect it. I’m pretty sure my daughter, Erica, and Mitch joke about it. But I couldn’t quite find the words. I wanted to tell Mitch that he needn’t worry about how his life will turn out. He’s good, tries his best to do right and has the most pure and loving heart I’ve seen. He can afford to live a little without much worry. I wanted to tell him that it’s not often the big things, the big days, that matter – it’s all the shit in between. A birth doesn’t make a life, I wrote, a wedding doesn’t make a marriage and a graduation doesn’t make a future. It’s the sunsets and the smell of flowers. It’s a child’s smile, and it’s these moments that exist once, for a brief time, that never can happen again.

I also wanted to tell him that I was sorry I never made him the Master Sword he wanted as a kid. I made the shield, and he played with it for years. But I never got around to making the sword. I wish I had.

Tonight, though, when I watched him and his band play and I saw how it affected people – how it made them happy – I knew I’d be writing something different.

So here’s the letter I feel like writing to my son now.

Dear Mitch,

I watched you play tonight, and it was incredible. I watched people dance and be happy, and all of that was happening because of you and the music your band was playing. It filled me with the sort of awe and pride you’ll not possibly know until you have children of your own.

Today was graduation, and there’s always a lot of talk about the things you’ll do, the future you’ll create and the great things you’ll accomplish. But while I was watching you play tonight, I realized that you are way ahead on this game. Because what music, or any art, really is at its core is taking something that one person has inside him, creating something tangible from it, and sharing it with the world. When people respond to that creation, you have made a connection, you’ve touched something universally human in a very visceral, profound way. It’s like you’ve exposed your soul, and in return, others expose their souls to you. That is no small thing.

When all those people watch you play, though, they don’t see or hear the same things I see or hear. They don’t see a kid who was held back by an unsure nurse at birth. They don’t see the kid who had to go to speech therapy for years. They don’t see the kid who drew the shit end of the stick and got saddled with Type 1 diabetes. They don’t see the kid who accepted it with poise and grace, and they don’t see the kid who turned to music at a time in his life when life had been inexplicably unfair.

But I do.

And I see more. I see someone who has done a rare thing in the world, someone who has listened to the voice inside of him to create something special. I see someone who has the courage to share that creation with others, so they might hear it and feel it. I see someone who reached inside himself to find something that allows others to feel happiness or joy or excitement for a few moments. And that is really the most beautiful thing that exists.

It’s a passion for life, and a desire to live it the way your soul compels you to live it – and then to care enough to share that. And one thing they don’t talk about much during these hopeful graduation ceremonies is the way life will try to beat that out of you. I know, it’s depressing, and not the sort of “you can do anything” pep talk I’m supposed to give. But you know this already, thanks to some of the struggles you’ve already faced. And adult life can, and does sometimes, dim your fire. Days bleed together into weeks, then months, then years, and it all starts to seem gray. There are relationships that fall away, jobs that aren’t fulfilling, bills that you don’t have the money to pay. If you are not careful, that part of life can consume you.

But there is music, and there are concerts. There are thunderstorms and rainbows. There are lightning bugs and the show they play on a summer night. There are conversations with friends, and miserable failures that will be remembered with laughter. (Remember the “disaster vacation”). Every single day the world presents you with a million ways to see the wonder, beauty and uniqueness of your life. I hope as you grow, you will push all the other shit aside, even just for a few moments each day, and consider everything the world has made available to you simply because you are breathing. If the world starts to feel gray or unexciting, I hope you’ll write a song and remember that there is still a fire burning inside of you.

Thank you for the amazing experience of raising you, and watching you grow up. Thanks for your curiosity and always vibrant imagination, your lust for adventure and new experiences, your sense of justice and fairness, and your eagerness to stop and see the beauty of things. Thanks for your good heart, and the love you show others. But as much fun as it has been to watch you grow to this point, I think this next part will be better still.

Mitch, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Where ever you decide to go with your future, you will be fine. I know this because I know your heart. I know this because I know your spirit. I know this because I’ve seen the way you work, and I’ve seen the way you care. I know this because there is something about you that is unique – always has been – that allows you to see the world a little differently than most people, perhaps with a little more color and sound.

Mitch growing up

I know this, because I’ve watched people dance to music you created, and that is where life is lived.

Welcome to this side of the life, son. I can’t wait to see what you do.

Love,

Dad

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