Saturday, June 9, 2012

What I Wish I Had Known at Graduation and What I'm Glad I Didn't

Our young friend Ryan Grady recently received his Master's degree in Social Work and we were so thrilled for him, we drove back to California to attend his graduation.  Watching the joy and optimism of Ryan and his classmates and their justifiable pride in their accomplishments, I thought back to the day I received my first Master's degree, at age 23 in 1968, and to those familiar feelings of happiness and relief and pride and the sense that just about anything was possible.

              My dear friend Marie Traina (l) with me after Graduation 1968                             

From this vantage point, thinking back in time, there is so much I wish I had known and, at the same time, so much I'm glad that I didn't know.

What do I wish I had known?

There's the small stuff:

  • that Apple and Microsoft would be good investments at some future date.
  • that it might be wise to put my sparse money into a California home when you could still buy a nice house for less than the price of today's average sedan - before all those bubbles
  •  the miracle of compounding interest and the wisdom of saving for retirement that all but eluded me in my clueless (and tight budgeted) youth.

And then there's the more important stuff:

  • that my body would never be so healthy or so slim or pain-free, that I should appreciate its youthful strength and beauty instead of wasting time focusing on fat and flaws
  • how important and life-affirming it was to appreciate all the love in my life at the moment -- from family and from friends -- instead of focusing so narrowly on finding just the right man.
  • I wish I had been more watchful, more sensitive and more aware. I wish I had realized that there are many small and subtle blessings in our lives that are so easy to overlook when we're young and careless with time and with people.
What am I glad I didn't know?

I'm glad I didn't know -- as I kvetched and felt occasionally tortured by my work schedule -- that my first job -- as an editor at 'TEEN Magazine --  would be, hands down, the best job I would ever have.

It wasn't just the excitement of monthly publication, the fan mail or the travel opportunities. It was the daily companionship of so many good souls. The staff was full of so many other bright, ambitious and talented young women on the cusp of a new era in women's lives. Some became very special friends then and have remained close through all the years since.

And there was the encouragement of a special man -- Bob MacLeod, 'TEEN's publisher. He was a unforgettable character who was famous as an All-American football hero from Dartmouth, a pilot in combat in World War II and a magazine industry veteran who had been at the helm of several famous national magazines. It was his yearning to get out of New York and to live the rest of his life on the beach in Malibu that brought him to 'TEEN, one of the very few national magazines then published out of Los Angeles. In  my foolish youth, I thought he was weird and a total male chauvinist pig-- a popular catch phrase in the day. I so took for granted the blessing of his constant encouragement, his delighted memos about articles I had written and ways he had seen me grow in my years there, his gift of near complete artistic freedom (which, in two cases, meant his facing down major advertisers who took issue with the frankness of some of my sexuality articles). Fortunately, I had a chance to thank him many years later and he was wonderfully gracious.

Silly me. I thought all jobs would be like that. I imagined some might even be better. I'm so glad, at that vantage point, that I didn't know the hardships and heartbreaks ahead.

I'm glad I didn't know on that day, as she celebrated graduation with me, that my dear college friend Marie Traina (pictured above), with whom I loved to sing and who so loved my bizarre family stories, would never live to be thirty, that her husband who had seemed so charming and congenial, would brutally murder her as she slept just weeks before her 29th birthday.

I'm glad I didn't know -- at a time when I thought 120 was bordering on obesity -- just how fat I would get in midlife, topping out at 258 pounds in 1999.

I'm glad I didn't know how soon I would lose so many people I loved -- even on the brink of losing them. My last lunch with my newly widowed mother -- listening to her talk about old boyfriends and the allure of an affair if she could just get her weight where she wanted it -- was much more enjoyable in its ordinariness than it would have been if I had known I would never see her alive again. My last memory is of a woman quite vibrantly alive.

And yet....I wish I had known to savor those moments, those people, to judge less and embrace more.

Like many of the parents and families around us at Ryan's recent graduation, I found myself dabbing tears as Ryan and his classmates cheered. These were tears of joy for all he -- and they -- have accomplished against some quite daunting odds. These were tears prompted by their hopefulness, their vulnerabilities and the prospect of so many triumphs and tragedies to come. They can't know what's ahead -- any more than we did. But, oh, how I wish Ryan and his classmates the wisdom to savor, to celebrate, and to embrace all of the experiences and the tough and the joyous times to come and the whole spectrum of love in their lives.


  1. I wish I had notbworried so much and had trusted the process pf like.

  2. This, "I wish I had known to savor those moments, those people, to judge less and embrace more," has to be, hands down, the best advice to give to a graduate. I feel so sad about your friend Marie- is her murderer still in prison?

  3. Thanks, Linda and Shelly!

    I'm sorry to say that Marie's murderer never went to prison. He's a lawyer. He pleaded temporary insanity and was judged not guilty on that basis. He is now practicing criminal law in Chicago, is remarried and he and his wife adopted a child. (!!!!) He was diagnosed, somewhere along the way, with bipolar disorder and, in fact, was suffering a severe bout of depression just before the murder. Marie had made an appointment for a therapist for him on a Monday because he had been expressing suicidal thoughts. On Sunday night, he slashed her throat while she was sleeping because he was afraid she would prevent him from committing suicide but, of course, he never even attempted suicide. Don't get me started! Marie was such a lovely person and would have been such a great mom and grandmother and was a fantastic journalist -- won an award her first year out of school and was the pride of her immigrant Italian family. She was killed in June, 1974 and there are times when it seems like yesterday.

  4. If I think about it, I feel that I wouldn't want to know what will happen in the future. I never wanted to, at any point in my life.

  5. For any who are interested in the Marie Traina murder case, google Marie Traina Murder and select an article by Roger Simon written in 1983 about the murder and the horrific aftermath:
    her murderer later took her parents to court to get all of her possessions and, in the process, her father was jailed for not complying right away. It still takes my breath away.

  6. Good advice. I also had work experiences that I didn't realize were exceptional until I had moved on to a decidedly unexceptional workplace. Given the chance to do it over, I would focus o n relationships and not worry so much about work.

  7. How Marie Traina's case ended up is horrifying. Wow- and then he sued her PARENTS top it off? Justice will come at some point.

  8. Oh Kathy, you are voicing the very same thoughts we all have! Beautiful post!

  9. How awful about your friend and that her husband didn't even go to prison!! Sometimes life is such a mystery, but as you wrote, at times it's so good not to know what awaits us. God in His almighty wisdom know what we are able to "take" and only HE knows what He has spared us.

  10. Hindsight is so wonderful, Kathy, but on the whole I'm glad I have never known what is coming as it would have spoiled the joy of what then was.

  11. That would have made an amazing graduation speech. The first part had me smiling and nodding, the second was heartbreaking for I think we have all lost friends and family way to soon. How terrible to lose your friend in such a senseless manner. That he has thrived and was never punished is disgusting.

  12. I know you have shared bits of your friend's story before, but this fuller description of how her husband avoided justice is unfathomable. I am so sorry for your loss, and her parents' loss too.

    Excellent advice here. There are so many things I wish I had known when I was younger, and several marvellous people in my younger life who I wish were still around so I could both thank them and enjoy their wonderful company now that I am older and hopefully wiser.

  13. This was an amazing post
    Thank you :)

  14. Arkansas Patti wrote the exact words I was thinking. This would be a wonderful graduation speech. You expressed so many of the same things I have thought about in recent years. We were naive. I guess it was a good thing. I just wish I would have savored the times more than I did. We can only go forward with what we have learned and hope to never repeat the same errors.

    My heart breaks over the story of your dear friend. If only she had known who this man really was. I miss so many from the past also. I wonder if my children realize how transitory life really is. People, money, jobs, and relationships should never be taken for granted.

  15. I love how you think. I agree whole heartedly with hindsight and the beauties of the everyday...


  16. Dear Kathy, I so agree with Arkansas Patti and Sally that these few words would make a wonderfully helpful graduation speech. You reflected the lives of all of us. When looking backward we see so clearly. It's the looking forward that calls for our deepest trust.

    I'm reading a memoir right now you might enjoy, given what you've written here. It's by Anna Quindlen, a favorite writer of mine. The title is "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake." It was just published this year and I'm so glad I read a review and got it at the library.


  17. Thanks to all for your wonderful comments!

    Dee, I absolutely love "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake"! I just checked it out of the library for the second time and may need to break down and buy it! Along with you, I heartily recommend it to all!

    Pearl, thanks so much -- and hope you're feeling better!

  18. Hi from Vancouver Canada.

    Been doing a great deal of jaw dropping research into our Curis Resources and the IS copper mine IN Florence. The same Curis Resources that was discussed at an ADEQ meeting on Wednesday in town.

    Co MUST have the TIP (Temporary Injection Permit) and the next hearing for that is for public input.

    Peruse my blog for critical info my stand on this grotesque offense.


  19. Yours is the second back-to-back post on what we didn't know and collectively, they are causing me to think of all the things I didn't know, too. I had to laugh with your body image thoughts. I beat myself up for years on how I looked. Not long ago, a friend and I were looking at pictures taken in the early 80s -- it was at a friend's Oscar party and we were dressed in long dresses and we looked GREAT! Thing is, neither of us knew it. Fifty pounds later, well, I know it now! And there are other things I'm glad I didn't know... but that's another day!

  20. I saw your comment about cats on Olga’s blog and came for a visit. I see we share many readers. We are at my eldest daughter’s in Memphis, TN. She has three cats and we brought our own, Cody. They don’t get along too well though.

    It is true about what we did not know way back then. I did not know that Paris, France, where I was brought up and lived was such a fantastic city – for me it was just my hometown. Now I realize it, but I left it then, but I'm still nostalgic.