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Gandalf and the graduates


Retired pastor John E. Harnish ruminates on graduation—his and those graduating in 2023—and the importance of deciding what to do with the time we’re given.

Retired Pastor, Michigan Conference

Our great-nephew Alex graduated from high school recently. Cheers to Alex and all the graduates of 2023. We’re proud of you.

I graduated from high school in 1965, that remarkable year in a remarkable decade, but honestly, I remember little about it.

From the black-and-white photos in an old album, I remember my Uncle Ed came from Cleveland, the last time I would see him before his death. Of course, my twin brother, James A., always preceded John E. alphabetically, so there we were in our black robes, diplomas in hand, marching bravely into an unknown future that is now our well-known past.

Graduation from 1965
John E. Harnish (right) and his twin brother, James, graduated from high school in 1965. ~ photo courtesy Jack Harnish

I remember our senior prom and the dreadful blue plaid tuxes the Harnish twins rented for the occasion. (Yes, we even dressed alike!) And I remember some of our good friends, most of whom have long since been lost to me, except for Glenna, our dear mutual friend who still keeps in touch via Facebook.

I’m trying to put myself in the place of Alex and this year’s graduates, a truly impossible task.

My generation was headed into a conflicted decade—the war in Vietnam, the fight for civil rights, the social and sexual revolution. It was a turbulent time.

This year’s graduates face another time of turmoil. The global community is torn by too many wars, and our national fabric is stretched thin by divisive politics undermining our democracy. The economy and the job market are uncertain.

On the other hand, when I graduated from high school, I carried a draft card in my wallet. Some of the graduates of 1965 headed off to Vietnam, a journey from which too many did not return.

The words running through my mind are from Gandalf in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Frodo says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

“So do I,” replies Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We don’t choose the times, the times choose us, and each of us has to decide what we will do with the time given to us.

I confess to Alex and the graduates of 2023 that I wish my generation had given you a better world. We thought we could: “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius” and all that. I wish I could paint some rosy picture of the bright dawn opening in front of you as you joyfully march into the future, but we all know that is only half the story.

What I can say is this: “Decide what you will do with the times given to you. Choose to live with courage and hope. Find a lasting faith that will guide your life. Look for joy even in times of despair. Choose love in the face of hatred and bigotry. Make room for mystery, wonder, and beauty in a world that seems bent on darkness. Put down your cell phones long enough to look into the eyes of your fellow human beings and discover the ties that bind us together. Choose life! Abundant life!”

You can’t choose the times, but you can decide what you will do with the time given to you.

Choose well.

Last Updated on June 27, 2023

The Michigan Conference