Sunday, May 14, 2006

How I misbehaved at graduation but learned something anyway

Today was graduation at my school, and I kind of had to attend even though I don't really know anyone who is graduating. It's one of those things I have to do for political reasons -- to be seen is the point. And I knew it would be long, so I brought along some sudoku puzzles to keep me from going insane with boredom. I would have brought a book, but the puzzles I could hide away faster if I thought I needed to. A few other people were nodding off or grading papers, but most were paying attention, or looking like they were. So I sat there and did my puzzles and looked up now and then to pretend I was aware of what was going on.

I did tune into the graduation speech long enough to hear something cool, though. The speaker mentioned a Jewish teaching (he said it was from Maimonides, but I can't seem to find anything that confirms it) that "In the world to come a man will have to face judgment for every legitimate pleasure which he denied himself." I'm so used to thinking of people being responsible for keeping themselves from mistakes or "illegitimate" pleasures or "sin" that to reverse the thought is a bit disorienting. We have some kind of responsibility to seize pleasure when we can? I'm not a believer in any traditional God, so I'm not imagining some other world where I'll be held accountable for denying myself enjoyment, but I still like the idea that we have some sort of cosmic duty to seize pleasures when we can.

For some reason yesterday I kept thinking about the line from a Flannery O'Connor story: "Shut up, Bobby Lee ... It's no real pleasure in life." But today things are different.