My senior classes are just beginning to read Hamlet.
The play opens with Barnardo demands to know, "Who's there?"
It is a question Hamlet will spend the whole play trying to answer.
This morning, I asked my seniors in class to make a list of all the different ways they could answer this question (son, daughter, athlete, and so on). After they jotted for a few minutes, I said, "Okay, so that is what you are at this point." I paused, then asked my thirty wonderful seniors if any one of them was willing to claim with genuine confidence that they knew who they were at this point.
Not a hand went up.
So, as with Hamlet, though we hope with a lot less trauma, they will spend much of their remaining time attempting to answer it.
When I asked how they will arrive at that answer, Jesus V. said that they must each test themselves, for it is only through finding our limits that we discover the answers to such questions as life and literature pose.
Many in their later senior years, of course, lose sight or sense of who they are--or who we are to them: many of our friends now care for parents that no longer know their own name let alone the names of their children or grandchildren.
In another of Shakespeare's plays, Romeo says, "Oh teach me how I should forget to think." Our students read Romeo as freshmen, a time when they rarely seem to need to be taught not to think since our most common refrain as parents is inevitably, "What were you thinking?" (Answer: "I guess I wasn't.")
As seniors, only four years older, our students read the story of the young prince Hamlet, who shows us at every turn what it is to think about who we are so that we may, as Polonius counsels his son Laertes, "above all to [our] ownself be true."
Today my senior students spent the morning in the computer lab with the counselors completing surveys, starting the process of applying to college. Our son is going through the same process.
They are struggling with how to answer the question: Who or what will I be, what will I do?
I see others in my life, somewhere in the middle of the passage, asking: Is this who I am, what I will do for the rest of my time?
And those seniors in my life, those elders, I mean: They struggle with all three of these questions all day: measuring out their lives to understand who they were, what they did, who they are now, and who or what they will be going forward.
These are questions they cannot always answer for themselves: Sometimes the body or the brain answers for them, telling them what it possible, or preventing them from even asking these questions.
So we, who are in our middle days, help our children look into their future to answer questions that we spend the other part of the day helping our elders answer by looking into the past.