I had a long drive home the night that I found out my son was in grave danger of being born too early. Not long in the sense of distance, but long in an existential way, the way that a minute spent waiting in a dentist's office is far longer than a minute spent hooking up with someone for the first time (SO EXCITING). I had no choice but to leave my wife's bedside in the hospital; we had two other children at home, and my wife said that if I had stayed at the hospital, we would have just made each other cry all night long because we feared for our son's life. So I got in my car, cried into the steering wheel for a few minutes, and then turned the ignition and started the drive home.
When you drive alone at night and you don't have the radio on, you feel like you've entered some kind of void in the universe. There's no one to talk to. There's no one to listen to. It's just you, the pavement, and a scattering of other white and red lights around you. You enter an endless dark dream state; it's what an atheist imagines death is like. It had rained earlier that day, so it felt as if I were driving on top of a frozen black lake. All I could think about were all the bad things that could happen to my wife and child. Death. Chronic illness. Mental trauma. Think of a poor outcome and I could see it in my mind, more vividly than the road in front of me. I didn't feel entirely alive in that moment. My body was on autopilot. I was in a driving coma.
But after a few miles, I felt the urge to snap out of it, and I turned on the radio. Now, my car radio is a piece of shit. I had an adapter for my iPod, but the cassette deck ate it and, to this day, won't give it back. The radio reception blows. Pass under an overpass, and a period of shrill, ear-rupturing static ensues, regardless of station. But I needed company, and this was all I had, so I turned it on.
I had completely forgotten that this was the final night of the NCAA tournament. It never occurred to me that Kentucky was playing Kansas for the national championship until the moment I turned on the radio and heard the game being played. I don't care that much about college basketball. I didn't even bother to enter a tourney pool this year because I'm lazy and I never win. And this was a lousy game, with Kentucky kicking the shit out of Kansas from the tip. But in that moment, I was glad. I was so, so glad that this game, this THING, was existing at the same time as a massive cyclone of shit was heading my way.
Because you see, there are two worlds out there. There's your world, which is all about you and the people you know and everything else that's going on in your life. And then there's the actual world, which doesn't give two shits about your problems and is ALWAYS GOING ON. Even when you think there's nothing happening out there in the rest of the world, like on a slow news day, there are trillions of things happening—people being born and people dying and people fucking. It doesn't stop just because you had a bad day. It doesn't even know you had a bad day. You are barely a hair on its balls, and that's a good thing. Because it's always there for you when you need it. I needed it that night because I needed a distraction from all the fear and worrying. I needed to know that there was someplace else for me to go for a second to get away from myself, to pull myself out of that blackness and be part of something that was still alive, still fucking massive.
I got home that night, put my two older kids to bed, and hopped onto Twitter to send a tweet. I don't even remember what the tweet was. Probably a link to tree lobsters or some shit like that. It didn't matter. What mattered was that I needed reassurance that I could step out of my own world for a second and interact with the rest of the universe in the same way that I always did. And I could. And I was grateful for that.
It's hard to be grateful for the rest of the world when we're told constantly that it's going to shit. You college graduates out there—you fresh-faced, drunken little fuckers, you—you have been presented with a world that, on its face, seems terribly unfriendly. The job market is shit. The economy is shit. Wars are shit. People elbowing their way past you on the subway platform are shit. Life out here isn't as warm and friendly as it is on a college campus, which is good because people who stick around college campuses forever are pussies. When you're young and about to try to enter the workforce, it can feel as if the rest of the world is sealed away in some rich man's vault, and you're never allowed to access it.
But that's not true. You can access it. You can interact with the world out there in a million different ways. You can read a book. You can start a Tumblr. You can become a hobo and jump onto a railway car and then get beaten up by other hobos because you didn't realize what a violent subculture hoboing is. You can try to have sex with other people. There's no limit to the ways in which you can use the world around you (I only thought of the hobo and sex options because I lack imagination), and all of those interactions MATTER.
The great lie of most graduation speeches is when the speaker tells you you're going to do great things. That's crap. Most of you aren't. Most of you will be satisfied with a desk job and a spouse who ages gracefully. No one in the professional world is even gonna listen to any of your stupid ideas until you're at least 30 years old, unless you're that girl who made Girls, and we should all be hateful and jealous of that girl because she cut in line. You will most likely have no such luck.
But that's fine. The point isn't to do great things. The point is to just do things. The point is to experiment with the world around you and see how you can best use it to better serve your own little universe. Whether that means you use it for travel, or for a welcome diversion in the middle of a traumatic moment, or for selling guns to the North Congolese Army, it hardly matters. What matters is knowing that it's there and then taking advantage.
Your life is going to be monumental regardless of what happens after you graduate. Life writes a story for everyone and that story is filled with big, dramatic things like death and disease and love and addiction and despair. From the richest man to the poorest man, we all go through triumph and misery. No one makes it out alive. But the crucial difference is between people who think they can change the world and people who KNOW the world is unchanging and unfeeling, take comfort in that fact, and use the world as they see fit. They don't want to affect the world; they let the world affect them.
And the more you use the world, the more it opens up for you. The seemingly unrelated shit you do has a way of eventually connecting. You'll read a book and then bring it up spontaneously in some job interview and make a connection with your future boss. You'll go out to get shitfaced one night and bump into your future wife. I'm not saying it's all gonna fit together perfectly like you're in Slumdog Millionaire, but certain things will fall into place.
And that's true even if you aren't some asshole overachiever. Even if you're just a guy who can't find a job and spends most of his days getting stoned and hitting on single moms in the Target parking lot ... even YOU will be using the world in a way that could end up impacting your life in a profound manner. Turns out that 45-year-old single mom you slept with knows a book agent! NICE. Life is a cumulative experience, and the more random shit you do and the more people you interact with, the more the world can be of service to you.
One week after my wife was initially hospitalized, my son was born. He stayed in the NICU for four weeks until arriving home for the first time this past weekend. He's fine. He peeing and barfing and shitting and doing all the things that normal, healthy babies are supposed to do. And he's looking around. He's getting his bearings and already trying to sort out just what this world is, a world so much bigger than the neonatal ward that was his only universe for a month. He's already sorting out what he's gonna do with the world, and he's gonna figure it out at some point. And so will you. The world gives you everything, even if it doesn't give a fuck.