My youngest child graduated from high school today!
I had intended to bring some tissues to the ceremony, and when I arrived at the venue without any regretted the oversight. However, it ended up not being an issue – for, surprisingly, I didn’t shed a single tear. The graduation ceremony didn’t move me emotionally – maybe because it was nearly three hours long, which seemed about twice as long as it needed to be. And I’m not keen on formality to begin with.
It wasn’t the graduation ceremony that got me. It was watching the movie, Boyhood, with Cianan the night before that did it. We had watched the movie together about a year and a half ago, but watching it again felt like the perfect way to prepare for his graduation, especially since we have a history around film, and he is going to college in the fall to study film.
If you aren’t familiar with Boyhood, I’ll summarize it by saying that it was filmed over a period of 12 years, so throughout the course of the movie, all the characters really had aged that much. At the beginning, the main character was in kindergarten, and his mom had a talk with him about why he put stones into the classroom pencil sharpener. (Because he had an arrowhead collection and wanted to see if he could turn the rocks into arrowheads, of course!) The film ended with him – now an aspiring photographer – arriving at college and connecting with his new tribe of kindred spirits. The high school graduation party scene got me, as I knew it would – especially when his parents (who had split up before the movie even began) were having a harmonious, reflective moment in the kitchen. And the scene in which he was packing to leave for college, and his mom became emotional about that chapter of life coming to an end. And the damn “Hero” song that played as he drove himself to college. (That song triggers tears every time I hear it.) There’s something about the main character that resembles Cianan. He even has the eye and passion for photography that Cianan has for film – which intensified the realism.
Before starting the movie, Cianan pleaded, “Mom, please don’t cry too much.” I was fine during the first half, but toward the end, I fetched the box of tissues and tried my very best to cover my face and control my breathing so he wouldn’t realize how much I was crying. The movie was awesome – so real and honest. But even bigger magic came after the movie was over, and my tears had dried.
Cianan and I have had so many heart-to-heart talks through the years about film, philosophy, psychology, spirituality, music, and relationships. He is an old soul and a deep thinker. Our talks have been a source of great joy and satisfaction, and the one we had last night was perhaps the best yet. The events, relationships, and dialogue in the film were a springboard for Cianan opening up about how he perceives himself, what high school was like for him, how events from his childhood affected him, ways in which he wants to grow and change, and how he longs to connect with his tribe at college – with people who share his passion for filmmaking and truly “get” him. We talked openly and honestly about relationships, drugs, feelings, and the joy of finally finding your tribe. We talked for a long time, and it felt exquisite and holy. It felt like our own private graduation ceremony. After he left, I cried again because, for the first time, his graduation felt real. It wasn’t so long ago that his world revolved around his Thomas the Tank Engine trains and his beloved frog pond. This milestone came sooner than I could have imagined back then. And I have so loved our time together.
Although he’s always been deeply loved, Cianan has not had what I would consider a particularly carefree life. He’s experienced some challenges and family drama, despite my best intentions and efforts. When I was pregnant with him, his dad (who I was married to at the time) applied for a position with Disney World. Moving 1,200 miles away from our family and friends in upstate New York was the last thing I wanted to think of while preparing for the arrival of a baby, but when Cianan was two months old, we were on our way to Orlando to begin a new chapter that would end up lasting for two years. I wondered and sometimes worried about how the stress and upheaval of the move would affect Cianan. But he was the calmest baby! His aura was pure peace, and his gaze was deep and penetrating. When I nursed him to sleep at night, if my mind wandered to anything other than the present moment, he would become restless and squirm. He was like a tiny Zen master who kept bringing me back to the present moment, and I’ve always felt that, if there is such a thing as past or parallel lives, he must have been my spiritual teacher in another lifetime.
Cianan has had a passion for filmmaking since he was four or five years old. Around his sixth birthday, he was interviewed by the local newspaper because he’d helped compose the lyrics for one of the holiday songs his musician stepfather had been commissioned to write. When the reporter asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “A movie maker.” His passion for film has endured for 14 years now. I’m excited to see where it leads him and am grateful for how his art and writing have helped him to channel his emotional responses to life situations and events and cultivate a wisdom and compassion beyond his years. I expect that someday he will make a movie that caricatures the adults in his life and that doing so will be cathartic for him. When he’s experienced bumps in the road, we’ve often reframed them as material for his future movies and talked about how he might put a humorous spin on them.
I remember taking him to the movie theater when he was young and feeling it was a very important thing to do. It felt like more than just a fun and entertaining mother-son activity. He’d cue in to the music and know when a scary part was coming up so he could either close his eyes or bolt out of the theater (which he often did when his dad took him to movies, much to his dad’s frustration). I’ve often joked with him about how, when he makes his autobiographical film, there will be a montage of him bolting out of one movie theater after another.
Even when he was a preschooler, he responded to seeing a movie or reading a book by making a movie poster of it, which was often followed by a book (the further adventures of…). Early on, he’d dictate the text to me and create the illustrations. Then he’d script plays and eventually movies. He’d pace back and forth in the back yard with a tape recorder in hand, dictating his ideas for stories and movies and humming soundtracks. (I saved all the cassettes!)
When I was decluttering the house last month, the sweetest find was a letter from Cianan’s closest friend when they were in either first or second grade. It read, “Dear Cianan, I would like to be in the movie. What part will I play? Tell me about the movie.” That note was concrete evidence that the movie director was already ignited in Cianan at that young age. Although I remember that being the case, holding such an artifact in my hands reinforced how strong it was.
Recently, Cianan’s dad shared some old family movies with me. There was one in which kindergarten aged Cianan was directing and co-starring in a movie with his older sister in the living room. They were acting out The Letter People Come to Life, a story he’d previously dictated to me and illustrated in book form. (When he was in kindergarten, his teacher used balloon “Letter People” to teach letter sounds. So he created a story about the Letter People coming to life.) It was clear, even at six years old, that directing movies was his passion. When his sister did something that wasn’t in the script, he’d look directly into the camera and ever so seriously and authoritatively say, “Cut that part.”
He also loved to create a dinner movie theater at home, which included a menu that he wrote up. While I prepared the food, he’d make tickets and set up the chairs, covering them with silks to make them look fancy. He was so excited! By the time the food was ready, and it was finally time to watch the movie, we were often tired, and sometimes he didn’t have the turnout he’d hoped for. But the thrill seemed to be in the preparation.
It’s amazing to have given birth to someone who has such a clear purpose! I can’t do anything but encourage him because clearly, filmmaking is his path. He and I have had several conversations about the blessings, curses, and challenges of being a creative person and how you really have to be honest with yourself about what is most important to you. If you prioritize materialistic rewards, then take some time to consider whether a vocation in an artistic field is the best path for you. But if creativity itself is as vital to you as breathing, then you must find the courage to go for it.
As long as he maintains his passion and determination, is resilient, and can handle competition and criticism, I think he will do fine as an artist. Driving home from graduation, his dad and I talked with him about that. Earlier in life, I was a pianist, and he was an actor, but neither of us followed through because we felt intimidated by the competition and our fear of failure. We advised Cianan to learn all he can from his fellow film majors and not compare himself to them. The world needs creative people to express their unique voices and not allow fear and doubt to silence them.
As much as I will miss him when he begins college two months from now, he’s so ready to move on to this next step. He’s prepared me for the empty nest over the past two years, during which time he’s lived mostly with his dad after having lived primarily with me until then. During his senior year, he’s been involved with lots of film-related work, such as: interning with a local, independent filmmaker; founding and organizing a film festival for young filmmakers; being the theater manager for the local film forum; and working on his own screenplays and films in addition to assisting other young filmmakers with theirs. He was too busy with activities outside of school to act in school plays or get up at the crack of dawn to attend Vocal Ensemble, so both of those activities slid off his plate. High school seemed to get in the way of his next step, which he already was embracing.
Cianan is a young man with a mission. He hasn’t allowed other people, situations, or limitations to deter him, and I pray this will continue to be the case for him. Recently, when there was a question about whether he’d be able to afford going to college this year, his sheer determination made me feel that I would do everything in my power to support him however I can. I was ready to move mountains. You don’t argue with determination like that. You just have to bow to it and do what you can to support it. His English teacher told me that Cianan’s passion for making movies inspired him to return to writing short stories. That’s the kind of enthusiasm I’m talking about. It’s infectious. May it endure.
When I look back at what classmates wrote in my high school yearbooks, many of the comments referred to piano. One person wrote, “You have a great talent, and you’d be crazy not to let it take you as far as it can!” Well, I guess I was crazy, then – crazy enough to allow fear and self-doubt to snuff out my passion for music. Unlike Cianan, I didn’t have anyone in my life assuring me that rejection, failure, and mistakes are natural parts of the process, rather than conclusive evidence that you’re not good enough. Or that cultivating resilience and developing thick skin is every bit as important as artistic talent and sensitivity. Back then, books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and Pema Chodron’s Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better hadn’t been written yet.
I gave up too easily. Sometimes I still regret that and wonder how my life would have been different if I’d kept going with piano and considered failure a stepping stone, rather than a roadblock, to success, as Timothy Bradberry advises in an article for The Huffington Post. But regret is a waste of time and energy, and it’s more worthwhile to apply that wisdom to my current pursuits. Do what you love to the best of your ability, and enjoy the process. Have goals, but don’t get caught up in outcomes or comparisons. Each of us has a unique voice and perspective, and we contribute to the evolution and expansion of the universe by expressing our unique talent(s). And if your passion for one thing ends up fizzling out and igniting a new passion, then so be it. Follow that. Follow your calling, even if it compels you to head in a different direction than what you generated student loans for. Above all, don’t let fear, a relationship, drugs, or enslavement to any kind of addiction (which can include all of the above) snuff out your light and steal the gift that gives meaning and purpose to your life. May you believe in yourself and have the courage to follow your passion and talents as far as they can take you, dear son, so you can be amazed by what you are capable of.
Who knows: Maybe you will be the next Steven Spielberg or Kevin Bright. Or maybe you will simply enjoy doing what you love at whatever level you do it and will cultivate a happy heart and gratitude for your precious life and for not giving in to the temptation to trade your talents for something much smaller by playing it “safe” (which, I’ve learned from experience, is the riskiest thing you can do). After all, a peaceful, contented heart is a state of mind and way of life that many outwardly “successful” people would trade their BWMs and mansions for. That comes from being true to yourself, doing what you love, and loving what you do. And that is what I wish for you, my son: To go forward and shine your light in this world, no matter what. I have been amazed by it since the day you were born, and now it is time for you to know it, grow it, and share it.
© 2016 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. To use any or all of this blog post, include this exactly: Susan Meyer (SusanTaraMeyer.com) is a photographer, writer, clutter coach, feng shui consultant, and mindfulness mentor whose work is infused with a deep interest in the nature of mind and appreciation of the natural world. She lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.