Refocusing on the ‘Big Picture’

June 13, 2019 in Rabbi Greg Harris

Celebrating high school graduation

In parenting, it is too easy to forget the ‘big picture.’  The immediate overwhelms the senses and focuses my attention on the messy room or the homework assignment not yet begun.  Maybe the fabrication of short term emergencies causes an adrenaline surge reminiscent of our ancestors’ ‘fight or flight’ responses… except they were fleeing wild beasts and pogroms.  With the intense focus on the present, it is common to miss a larger perspective.  Life’s milestone moments can help shift our view.

I was unprepared for the effect “Pomp and Circumstance” would have on me.  The high school orchestra had been playing various musical selections.  I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were because just a few weeks prior I had attended an elementary school’s instrumental performance.  The delta between the musicianship of each group was apparent.  That alone should have emphasized for me that over time, people and skills develop in beautiful ways.

As the first bars of this graduation anthem were played, the audience rose to its feet and my emotions swelled.  According to a story on NPR’s Morning Addition in 2003*,

Sir Edward Elgar composed Pomp and Circumstance — the title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Othello (“Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!”) — in 1901. But it wasn’t originally intended for graduations. Elgar’s march was used for the coronation of King Edward VII.

It first became associated with graduations in 1905, when it was played when Elgar received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in 1905, but it was played as a recessional, not as a processional, at the ceremony.

“After Yale used the tune, Princeton used it, the University of Chicago [and] Columbia,” (musicologist Miles) Hoffman tells NPR’s Bob Edwards. “Then eventually… everybody started using it. It just became the thing that you had to graduate to.”

Listening to the familiar march which had greeting me at my own graduations years ago suddenly shifted my perspective to the ‘big picture.’  I cared about the neglected deadlines and messy room and the dirty dishes abandoned as if there were servants (or parents) expected to clean up after him… but I cared because those are the daily actions one needs to learn along the way.  The responsibility of caring for your belongings, creating healthy spaces, thoughtfulness for others, chipping in to help in small ways matter.  The small kindness train you to be the kind of person that helps in big ways when needed.  It is a parent’s job to transform small moments into teachable moments so children grow to be good people.  Frustratingly, the cumulative results of those daily efforts are not revealed for years.

The processional music thrust into focus something I deeply believe – we did more than ok.  Our son is greater than the individual lessons we tried to instill.  He has talents all his own.  He has integrated the kindness and thoughtfulness, humor and compassion, curiosity and passion of both his parents and extended family.  He and his sisters are tightly bonded. From a parent’s perspective, too often his inherited talent of procrastination casts shade over his many gifts.

The ‘big picture’ is again very clear to me even as his canvas is still being painted on.  My tears were of pride, gratefulness and excitement for what discoveries and unexpected turns lay ahead for him and his fellow graduates.

Thus, it was the perfect time to recite a blessing:

…shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this moment.