Coincidentally, within a couple days of each other, John C. Wright wrote one of his amazing Chestertonian bits, and my beloved wife gave a brief commencement speech on the same topic.
First, Mr. Wright (and do follow the link and read the whole thing):
Let me say something of the wild poetry that now rules my life.
I have a charm chalked on my front door to call a blessing down from wide heaven, and carry a rosary like a deadly weapon in my pocket, and hang the medallion of Saint Justin, patron of philosophers, whose name I take as my True Name, atop my computer monitor where he can stare at me.
Two angels follow me unseen as I walk, and I live in a world of exorcists and barefoot friars, muses and prophets, healers who lay on hands, mighty spiritual warriors hidden in crippled bodies, and fallen angels made of pure malicious
spirit obeying their damned and darkened Sultan from his darkest throne in hell. And I live in a world where a holy child was born beneath a magic star secretly as king, and the animals knelt and prayed. And from that dread king that small child will save us.
You might think my world inane, or insane, or uncouth, or false, but by the beard of Saint Nicholas, by the Breastplate of St. Patrick, and by the severed head of Saint Valentine, no one can say it is not romantic.
My life these days is a storybook story: if there were more romance in it, it be enough to choke Jonah’s Whale.
Anne-Martine gave this talk to the graduating class at our utterly secular school:
Thank you to this year’s graduates for asking me to speak at their commencement exercises. It has been my pleasure and honor to know each of you, at least a little. Out of several possibilities, I chose the word “Commencement” for today’s festivities because it means “beginning.” This is the end of one stage of your life, but it is the end of a stage because it is the beginning of the next stage. You have completed the period of time that our modern, wealthy, and oh-so-enlightened corner of the world has set aside for compulsory education. Now you are taking on more responsibility and therefore will have more freedom with your time. If you were graduating from another school I would say that you were taking up this responsibility for the first time, but here you have always had it. Now you are taking it up at a new level.
Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Fairy tales have within them the wit and wisdom and experience of humanity. In fairy tales you can find the good, the beautiful, the true. Fairy tales can be more connected with the deepest reality than any pragmatic approach to life will ever be.
That quotation from Einstein reminds me of why G.K. Chesterton is one of my favorite authors. When I read Chesterton I can tell that he sees the world for what it really is, not what we have obscured it to be. In truth, life is an amazing adventure and unbelievable gift. In truth you all are princes and princesses, sons and daughters of a king, dearly beloved sons and daughters of a king who have been separated from your true birthright. Your whole life is the adventure of how you reclaim your kingdom, how you journey back to your true home.
You must always remember that all those you meet, your traveling companions, chance strangers, brief acquaintances are your brothers and sisters, they also are sons and daughters of the king. They are never to despised; they must be honored. Like you they have a story to live, like you they have a gift to give the world that no one else can give. Remember the old lady who visits the arrogant prince at the beginning of the tale of “Beauty and the Beast”? She looks ugly – she probably had warts and was snaggle-toothed, and I bet she didn’t smell very good either. And that is what the prince saw, but he didn’t care to look deeply, to see what mattered beyond the tip of his own good-looking nose. And so the fairy tale tells us that he was put under a spell so that all could see the “beast” he was being. You yourselves may not be so lucky. We all sometimes get away with acting like beasts and no one catches us out to reveal the truth.
We are living in a world under the enchantment of an evil wizard who has cast a hum-drum spell so that for the most part we cannot see how amazing our world truly is. We must not allow ourselves to be taken in by that spell and pat ourselves on the back for being “realists.”
Neil Gaiman says that “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” We all know that dragons exist. We must hold onto the truth that they do not have to win just because they are big and strong with nasty teeth and fiery breath.
And we must not go through life waiting only for the dramatic moment – that is another part of the hum-drum spell. Each moment, this moment is the only moment we have. We must deal with this moment’s dragon or we will never be strong enough to deal with the bigger dragons that will waylay us . And every victory over a dragon is a victory for all of us. The little, unseen victories, no less than the big public ones. No less? In deed, often far, far more. That is another thing fairy tales teach us. That we often misjudge a person by his appearance and that we are often wrong when we imagine it is the big, public things that are important. Fairy tales teach us the value of the everyday, the little, the overlooked, the forgotten.
We must care that everyone gets rescued from the dragons. Not just us, standing alone as shining heroes; not just our closest friends. And when someone else strikes a blow against the dragon we must cheer. Clearly only an evil enchanter could make us believe that someone else’s strength or achievement diminishes our own.
Why is it so much faster for you to get to Cowell Park now than it was years ago when some of you walked there on park days? Is it because your legs are longer and your lungs stronger? Yes. Is it because you keep your goal more firmly fixed in your mind? Yes. But it is also because young children have not been entirely overcome by the hum-drum spell. They can see how amazing that flower is. How curious that stick is. What interesting colors that pebble has. Try to keep fighting against that hum-drum spell so that you won’t miss what there is to see.
And if the world around us is such a stunning gift, how much more so the people in it. Hold out against that evil enchanter. Know that true love is possible. And what is true love? It is desiring the good of the other as other – not just as means to something we want for ourselves. It is when the Beast cares more about Belle’s happiness than the possibility of his own that the enchantment is broken.
You have each brought fairy tale enchantment into my life. Thank you. I wish you all the best as you move on to the next chapters in your stories. And if you do not keep in touch, I will send that evil enchanter after you!!