Escaping ‘The Waiting Place:’ wisdom from Dr. Seuss

Capecchi

By Christina Capecchi

Another batch of graduates is nearing the finish line, and preparations are humming along — party planning and robe ordering, i dotting and t crossing.

And speech writing, of course.

That’s my favorite part of the pomp and circumstance: the prospect of a send-off speech that summarizes the past four years and prepares for all the remaining ones. An address that wipes away distractions — sweltering heat, silly stilettos, stiff chairs — and makes us all feel promising and powerful. A boldface life manual.

My hope is to be surprised, to be challenged and delighted by something original, free of cliché and the standard quote recipe (JFK + MLK + Helen Keller).

I’ve collected my favorite commencement addresses, stored as hardback books and YouTube clips, and I turn to them on foggy days.

Last night I revisited what may be the best one, Dr. Seuss’s rollicking speech turned book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” It was published in 1990, the year before he died, and has enjoyed one of the longest stays on The New York Times bestseller list, landing there 178 weeks — nearly three and a half years.

It was nothing like I had remembered.

I remembered the rhyming fanfare, the mountain moving and “banner flip-flapping.” The part about my success being 98 3/4 percent guaranteed. I suppose that’s what I wanted to hear.

But reading it again, I saw it more clearly, not as a celebratory book but a cautionary one.

“Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best. Wherever you go, you will top all the rest. Except when you don’t. Because sometimes you won’t. I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

The book is a tour through pitfalls and potholes, which makes it a valuable read for the post-graduate, those of us who have traveled far enough to have hit some. 

Dr. Seuss doesn’t sugar coat, noting that life’s detours are lengthy, that you’ll “grind on for miles” and “hike far” and you’ll row “up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak.”

The two-page spread that struck me most illustrates “The Waiting Place,” which looks like one big, drawn-out staring contest: long lines, long faces, blank expressions. There, people wait for “the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or a No or waiting for their hair to grow.”

It’s a wake-up call for 20-somethings like me, caught in the drift between graduation and The Rest Of My Life, floating between the milestones of 21 and 30, settling for The Good Enough For Now.

Somewhere along the line, the important and the urgent are divorced. A bad job market takes the blame. Grad school slows our pace. And busyness masquer­ades as meaning and purpose.

Suddenly, we’re in The Waiting Place, sitting on stories and leads and invitations, holding the keys but afraid to unlock the door.

“NO!” Dr. Seuss screams out. “That’s not you! Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying.”

So join me today: stop waiting, start doing.

We walk the path of the saints, who turned dreams into deeds — whether there was rain or snow, whether they heard yes or no. We heed God’s call to action, his summons to use our talents and not bury them. And we hold the banner high, with a Seuss-like bravado, so the new graduates can see where to go.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at www.ReadChristina.com.)

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