Refuse to Play it Safe. Live Dangerously, Live Lovingly. – Tom Robbins
The following is the long-lost 1974 commencement speech given by the great Tom Robbins, one of the funniest writers of our time and author of my all time favorite book Still Life With Woodpecker.
I am often asked whether there is life after death. Certainly, there is.
There is also death after life, and life before death, and death after life. It goes on forever. There’s no stopping it. You will live forever and die forever. In fact, you already have.
As for heaven and hell, they are right here on Earth, and it is up to each of you in which one you choose to reside. To put it simply, heaven is living in your hopes and hell is living in your fears.
One problem with the notion of Heaven and Hell, is that although they are exact opposites, an astonishing number of people seem to be confused about which is which. For example, all over the United States on this very evening, commencement speakers are standing before audiences not greatly unlike yourselves describing hell as if they were talking about heaven.
Their speakers are saying things such as, ‘Graduating seniors, you have reached the golden age of maturity; it is time now to go out into the world and take up the challenge of life, time to face your hallowed responsibility.’
And if that isn’t one hell of a note, it’s certainly one note of hell.
When I hear the word maturity spoken with such solemn awe, I don’t know whether to laugh or get sick.
There circulates a common myth that once one becomes an adult, one suddenly and magically gets it all together. And, if I may use the vernacular, discovers where it’s at. Ha ha. The sad funny truth is adults are nothing but tall children who have forgotten how to play.
When people tell you to grow up, they mean approximately the same thing they mean when they tell you to shut up. By shut up they mean stop talking. By grow up, they mean stop growing.
Because as long as you keep growing, you keep changing, and the person who is changing is unpredictable, impossible to pigeonhole and difficult to control. The growing person is not an easy target for those guys in slick suits who want you to turn over your soul to Christ, your heart to America, your butt to Seattle First National Bank and your armpits to the new extra crispy Right Guard.
No, the growing person is not an ideal consumer, which means, in more realistic terms, he or she is not an easy slave. Worse yet, if he or she continues to grow, grows far enough and long enough, he or she may get too close to the universal mysteries, the nature of which the Navy and the Dutch Reformed Church do not encourage us to ponder. The growing person is an uncomfortable reminder of the greater human potential that each of us might realize if we had the guts.
So, society wants you to grow up to reach a safe, predictable plateau and root there. To muzzle your throb. To lower the volume on the singing in your blood. Capers all cut, sky finally larked, surprises known: SETTLE DOWN – settle like the sand in the bottom of an hourglass, like a coffin six months in the ground. Act your age, which means act their age, and that has, from the moment they stopped growing, always been old. Growing up is a trap.
As for responsibility, I am forced to ask, responsibility to what? To our fellow man? Two weeks ago, the newspapers reported that a federal court had ruled that when a person’s brain stops functioning, that person is legally dead, even though his or her heart may continue to beat. That means that eighty percent of the population of the Earth is legally dead. Must we be responsible to corpses?
No, you have no responsibility except to be yourself to the fullest limit of yourself. And to find out who you are. Or perhaps I should say to remember who you are. Because deep down in the secret velvet of your heart, far beyond your name and address, each of you knows who you really are. And that being who is true cannot help but behave graciously to all other beings – because it is all other beings.
Ah, but we must be responsible, and if we are, then we are rewarded with the white man’s legal equivalent of looting: a steady job, a secure income, easy credit, free access to all the local emporiums and a home of your own to pile the merchandise in. And so what if there is no magic in your life, no wonder, no amazement, no playfulness, no peace of mind, no sense of unity with the universe, no giggling joy, no burning passion, no deep understanding, no overwhelming love? At least your ego has the satisfaction of knowing you are a responsible citizen.
The only advice I have for you tonight is not to actively resist or fight the system, because active protest and resistance merely entangles you in the system. Instead, ignore it, walk away from it.
Turn your backs on it, laugh at it. Don’t be outraged, be outrageous! Never be stupid enough to respect authority unless that authority proves itself respectable.
So be your own authority, lead yourselves. Learn the ways and means of the ancient yogi masters, pied pipers, cloud walkers and medicine me
Get in harmony with nature. Listen to the loony rhythms of your blood. Look for beauty and poetry in everything in life. Let there be no moon that does not know you, no spring that does not lick you with its tongues. Refuse to play it safe, for it is from the wavering edge of risk that the sweetest honey of freedom drips and drips. Live dangerously, live lovingly.
Believe in magic. Nourish your imagination. Use your head, even if it means going out of your mind. Learn, like the lemon and the tomato learned, the laws of the sun.
Become aware, like the jungle became aware, of your own perfume. Remember that life is much too serious to take seriously – so never forget how to play.