Each morning this past school year, he patiently stood on the gravel at the end of his driveway, near the corner, where the school bus stopped to pick him up.
Depending on when I can rouse myself out of bed, I often passed him during my daily walk.
He was shorter than me, with wavy hair, a stalky build, and a bloated backpack that looked like he carried his life possessions with him wherever he went. But as a mom who raised a son, I know he toted little more than he had to; that’s just how students have to travel these days, given the amount of homework they receive.
I don’t know his name, but we’ve engaged in casual conversation several times, him and I. The weather, the traffic, the demands of academics, the election.
Most teenage boys are, well, goofy—awkward, socially challenged. You get the gist.
But not this young man. He’s alert, cordial, and poised, commanding conversational skills that belie his high school freshman status.
This one day, a chilly morning, he wore blue jeans and an untucked plaid shirt with sleeves scrunched to the elbows, and I shivered for him. Teenage boys never feel the cold.
Still, I wanted to take his mind off the crisp air and the wait and the countless school days that he probably couldn’t wait to put behind him.
So, I asked him about his future plans. He responded affirmatively to the suggestion of college.
And, of course, my next question is the one that we grown-ups are so good at asking. Even as I inquire if he knew yet what he wants to study, I fully anticipate hearing the standard—and understandable—answer: “I don’t know yet.” (A NY Times article says that, on average, 80% of college freshmen are uncertain about their major.)
But this young man surprised me. Without blinking or shifting or shrugging, he responded, “I’m a musician.”
I was immediately struck with what he didn’t say. No “I hope to study….” or “I want to be….”
No, there was no hope or want or maybe-ing about it.
Because he already is.
And, more powerful than just his three words, is the confidence and comfort with which he delivered them. Like I should immediately get it. Like I should intuit that if that’s what he is, then that’s what he has to continue to be. Like it’s in him, so he has no choice.
Instantly, I thought of the many friends I’ve made at writing conferences. So many of us have said, “I want to be a novelist,” or “I want to be a writer.”
This young man would not understand such language. Because, you see, he’s too busy being what he is to give much thought to becoming what he (already) is.
Yes, he can practice and get better. He can study. He can stretch himself as a musician.
But, he’s already one.
I continued on my walk, wondering: Why is it we dream of something rather than just starting it? Being it? Doing it? Living it?
And, how did this young man learn this lesson so early, when it took me more than four decades to stop dreaming of becoming a novelist to instead start being one?
Lessons come from the darndest places, don’t they?