Tomorrow, my daughter leaves for Scotland to attend the University of St. Andrews. It seems like she was only home for a very short while having just returned from an internship in the United States Senate last semester. She is a junior at Smith College. She spent last summer as an intern for the Children’s Defense Fund. She is young and optimistic. She is hell bent on making a difference. She already has.
It is easy to lose your faith in these complicated times. The news is full of details of a global economy so complex that not even the experts seem to understand it. The wealthy have figured out how to keep getting richer while the middle class is shrinking and opportunity seems to be slipping beyond the grasp of ordinary people.
My daughter’s education has been breathtakingly expensive. Yet another sign of the times. We no longer believe that education is for everybody. The stratification of educational institutions by price and quality is just one more indication that our not-so-free market economy has run amuck. Rich kids get a brand-name education, middle class kids get a public education and the poor kids go to work, or not. Everywhere the game is the same. If you have position in our society, you are given more tools to keep that position. You get lower tax rates to keep you rich and in control. The wealthy have no use for upward mobility; it is not their version of the American Dream. It is a competitive threat. And like any market position, the defenders put up barriers to entry.
We have three kids in three of the best schools money can buy – Harvard, Smith and Miami of Ohio – not a bad collection of stickers for the back window of our economy car. My kids did not get into these schools because they knew somebody. They got in because they are somebody. They had to do it the old-fashioned way – they had to earn it – literally. If it were not for scholarships, these fine young people would not be where they are today.
My children have been taught from a very early age that the most valuable human trait is to be useful. Useful people make contributions. They add value to the human race. To live your life thinking that just because your grandfather left you a bid wad of cash that this has somehow made you special is delusional. Money does not make you anything. How you use money merely amplifies the content of your character. A great number of people of means live in the fantasy of their own entitlement while they bemoan welfare recipients.
I miss my daughter already even though as I write she is in New York still a day away from the flight that will take her across an ocean. I don’t understand her entirely. She is very smart and deeply committed to her values, but she is also emotionally complex in ways that my man-brain simply does not always comprehend. It was so much easier when she was a toddler dancing to the music on the radio, barely able to walk, but always able to dance to rhythms that made her huge mop of blond curls bounce in time to Bob Marley and the Whalers. I can still feel her hair in my face as she sat on my lap while I told her tall tales of Julietta Poopski, the fictional American girl who moves to Russia just before the Bolshevik Revolution to become the prima ballerina of the Great Romanov Ballet. Julietta, who just so happened to look exactly like my daughter befriended the family of the Czar and had amazing adventures with her brother Ferdinand before revolution destroyed that world and made all things common. “Not everyone knows about Julietta Poopski”, I would say to announce the beginning of a new adventure.
To tell the truth, I cannot keep pace with her dynamism. I don’t want to try, really. She is a woman under her own power now and her life is her own. She sets the tempo of her own heart’s content and this is as it should be. It is not my place to know what she knows. Her time has come to do the exploring and the come into the knowing. It is her time to say what the world is and by what name she shall know it.
And yet I see her in four haunting dimensions. I cannot look upon her face without seeing the baby, the girl and the woman in a single point of space while stretched across an ever increasing span of time. She is a phenomenon. To embrace her totality demands that I shed my silly temporal notions and watch, simply watch, my little girl fly away.
[Post Graphic: Garrison Keillor and Emma Kenyon in Washington, D.C., Fall of 2011.]