Photograph from the 1970 Griffin
John Daniel ’70 is the author of eight books of essays, memoir, and poetry. His recent memoir,
Rogue River Journal, won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. He lives in the Oregon Coast Range
west of Eugene.
John Daniel ’70
To a Freshman at Reed College, Spring 1967
Well, it’s clear you’re not the talking kind,
but I can see you, at least—you’re cadging
steak-night scraps in commons, learning to climb
at Rooster Rock, working all night in Eliot
on a paper for Hum 110, flipping burgers
in the coffee shop amid laughter not your own.
Why do you cling so hard to loneliness?
Why fear what you most want—to open up?
Trust more. That’s mainly what I’ve got to say.
And you’re not answering, so I’ll go on:
Be more skeptical of drugs, more respectful
of the classes and professors you dismiss
as irrelevant to your life. You don’t
have a life, remember? You drift the campus—
autumn drizzle, spring blossoms—hoping life
will track you down and jump you in a flash
of knowing. You yearn for enlightenment.
I’ve got good news about that, but first,
the bad. You won’t find it. Not in LSD,
your dilettantish Zen, or anything else—
not in your first fifty-eight years, anyway.
I write, you see, and if I were enlightened,
wouldn’t I be selling a lot more books?
Yes, I’m a writer, as you hope to be,
though you hope with little belief. I have
a home, a wife, stepsons, grandsons even…
I’ve got a life. And I’m wondering, of course,
how you would rate it—but you’re stone silent,
you deaf-mute boy, and just as well. The man
you have become might disappoint you.
I prefer martinis to pot or mescaline.
I buy from businesses you would denounce.
America is waging needless war again—
I hate it, but I don’t resist. I don’t
stop for hitchhikers. I own too many things
and tread in rutted habits you would scorn,
you with your pure, prideful intolerance.
I’m compromised. But listen, it should cheer
you up that I’m still here, and I’ve learned,
in the forty years between us, the good news
about enlightenment. You don’t need it.
Keep waking to the common light of day.
Keep following the hungers of your spirit.
One thing will lead to another, and through
the good and painful years you’ll realize
that life is not still hazily ahead
or off in a distant land, but here, now, you.
You’ll do not as well as your best hopes
but far better than your worst fears, and this
you will call happiness. Trust me on it.