The sudden community, Part 4: Commencement

by Wolf Pascoe on July 2, 2012


THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Wordsworth—Ode on Immortality

The spring camping trip is over. A final week of school and another year at Fern Hill is done.



Commencement Day has arrived. Sun-dappled chaos. Teachers, friends, parents, grandparents, children spill over the yard. Nick flits behind the trees, as if the trees could contain him. His friend Jay perches in a tower festooned with banners.

The upper elementary band takes the stage, performing “Magical Milkshakes.” The band features two guitarists, three keyboardists, two percussionists, and a fiddler. A vocal by Ella-Jo—she has pipes far beyond her eleven years—stops the crowd.

No speeches, many thank-yous. Each class takes the stage in turn, each child is handed a flower as her name is called. This year eight will graduate. Their teachers bless them and give them bouquets.

Nick has alighted next to me.

“Now it hurts to see them go,” he says.

In the past, less so, because Nick was younger, and the graduates were giants. Every year he’s seen them closer. Now they are his friends, we share their big feelings. We are closer and closer to leaving this place.

I hug one of the graduate moms, and she doesn’t want to let go. I hold her, weeping, for five minutes. In two or three more years, I will be this woman.




A paradox of Zeno claims you never can get anywhere. Because first you must go half way, next, half of that, and so on, so it takes an infinity to reach any goal. It was many centuries before mathematicians were able to prove what parents knew all along, that infinities can be contained.

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind . . .


An inexorability impels you toward some inevitable edge, the distance halving by increments. You wish, like Zeno, never to arrive. But you always do. And then it’s over and you’re past it, and on to the next, and the next, and the edge of the infinite world rushes ever closer.




Was it right to come here, to give Nick this childhood in exchange for academics? His reading skill improves, but slowly, slowly. Perhaps this place wasn’t the right place for him. Perhaps more structure.

I worry about the littlest things. He jerks the dog while walking him.

“How would you like it if I did that to you?” I say, knowing it’s the wrong thing to say.

I seem to have to learn the most basic of lessons again and again.




Kay’s daughter, Petal, is leaving the school a year early.

“She wants to be in a classroom,” says Kay.

I nod.

“She said, ‘Mommy, why didn’t you tell me about classrooms?’ I said, ‘Honey, you were being an animal for the last five years.'”

I laugh.

Kay says, “She said, ‘Oh yeah.'”

I confess my worries about Nick.

“Nick will tell you when he’s ready,” says Kay, then stops me cold.

“The thing is,” she says, “They have very clear voices now.”

A splash of water, clear voices. Isn’t that, in the end, all we want them to have? To speak in their own, clear voices?

Such a leap of faith, to have a child.



The sudden community concludes next time with Infinite water.




Nothing to Do from Sweet Juniper



Commencement stories? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

carole July 2, 2012 at 11:54 am

love this entry Wolf! It captures the bittersweet poignancy of all life’s impossibly ambiguous paradoxes – and the equally impossible decisions we have to make, living them.


Wolf Pascoe July 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
in Letters to a Young Poet


Barbara July 2, 2012 at 11:01 pm

To have clear voices. Indeed, that’s the goal of parenting our children. And each of them find it in their own way. Unfortunately, as parents, we’re working blind trying to help them. You’ve done a great job!


Wolf Pascoe July 3, 2012 at 12:32 am

Reminds me of a line from Yeats: A living man is blind, and drinks his drop. Ah, well.


Kyle Bradford July 4, 2012 at 8:28 am

“A splash of water, clear voices. Isn’t that, in the end, all we want them to have? To speak in their own, clear voices?’

At 8 and 10 I often felt I would never get to this point when my children were 1 and 3. I’ve always looked forward to when they have clear voices, personalities, thoughts, and opinions.

Parenthood is a practice in phases. Each brings with it new joys. I don’t look at the past ones as a loss but the new ones and potential gain.


Wolf Pascoe July 4, 2012 at 11:55 am

“Parenthood is a practice in phases.”

Phases? I thought you said phrases.


BigLittleWolf July 5, 2012 at 8:29 am

That exchange you mention – of “childhood vs. academics.”

I think that’s one many of us will wonder about, and that we wonder about as we’re making the decisions when our kids are younger, and guiding them along a certain path even as they become teens.

I’d like to think we could provide enough of both – a taste for both – so they would be more grounded and, ultimately, capable of all sources of options, and capable of joy.

I think most of us grope our way along, hoping we get it as right as any of us can, given how little we control in most respects.


Wolf Pascoe July 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm

how little we control
This is key, somehow, don’t you think?


BigLittleWolf July 8, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Yes, I do think it’s key. We guide, hoping for the best. And learning from them along the way. But I know you know that. 🙂 our own voices become clearer, I believe.


Wolf Pascoe July 8, 2012 at 6:41 pm

“our own voices become clearer, I believe.”
I like that.


Mitchell July 10, 2012 at 2:31 pm

With my daughters both entering their first year of full time school this fall (and in a non-traditional school, no less), this post hits me hard. I so appreciate how you always give me so much to think about.

And this – “Nick flits behind the trees, as if the trees could contain him.” – is an example of why I enjoy and admire your writing. Just beautiful.


Wolf Pascoe July 11, 2012 at 12:06 am

Readers here are encouraged to visit Mitchell’s lovely blog, Thoughtful Pop, whose current post features a song by Adele.


The Exception August 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm

This past June my daughter graduated from sixth grade and elementary school. Over the past month she has become more confident and clear of voice but she remains the child who dances with butterflies, believes in magic, and is often held to earth only by my hand, which she still holds (at times) when we walk. As stated above, I don’t know that I am disappointed at the aging of this, my only child, and I ove discovering the mysteries of her life as they unfold. I am not perfect, but I do my best to ensure that her wings are developing with grace and poise and so much love and strength so that she is really ready when she takes her final jump out of the next… This was truly a thoughtful and inspiring post


Wolf Pascoe August 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm

“I do my best to ensure that her wings are developing with grace and poise and so much love and strength so that she is really ready when she takes her final jump out of the next…”

Beautifully said. What more can we offer?


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