published Sunday, May 18th, 2014

Cook: To high school graduates

Congratulations. What a special weekend. Graduation is this really sweet ceremony of in-betweenness, like getting bear-hugged by the Past and the Future at the same time.

Savor it. One day, you'll go scrounging around in the attic of your mind, looking for graduation memories, and find them fuzzy and fading. I don't remember what our valedictorian said, whether I turned my tassel, or who I sat next to, although I think she was humming A Flock of Seagulls song.

These days, you're probably getting lots of advice. That's just how it is. When people your age graduate, people my age feel the urge to impart wisdom -- on life, college, relationships, the real world. Forgive us. But one day, you'll do the same.

So before you commence out of here and into the rest of your life, can you handle one more little piece of advice? It's not that much to remember. Just three words.

Rescue the girl.

You may have heard about the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by terrorists in Nigeria. Half the world is either praying or hashtagging for their rescue, and may that day come. And come fast.

But those aren't the girls I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the one inside you.

You may not even know she's there. Sometime years ago, probably around middle school, she went missing. Underground.

Like she was stolen.

Or kidnapped.

Not by terrorists, but our society, which since its beginning has preferred the masculine and feared the feminine.

(In case no one's told you, we're each a mixture of both. All people are. Male and female are the two spheres of human existence, each representing different ways of responding to life. There are blessed portions of both cobbled together in each of us.)

Yet in America, we bury the female.

It begins early, when boys are taught not to cry. To suck it up. To be a man. It continues through adolescence, when kids are bombarded with a sexualized consumer culture that culturally beheads the teenage girl: taking away her brain and mouth -- where she thinks and speaks -- and only focusing on the body.

The American male? Competition. Individualism. Brashness. Toughness. Aggression. We build factories and send men to the moon. We cut down forests and wage unceasing wars. We work hard, harder than anyone on earth.

But in doing so, we have not gained any wisdom, and wisdom comes from the feminine side of the street. So does sensitivity. And grief.

Why have we never seen a president weep?

We've masculinized the church, the White House, the school boards and board rooms. We mistake maleness for power, and we think equality is about putting Erin Andrews in the locker room. It's why guns -- both aggressive and phallic -- are everywhere.

These distortions are as damaging for guys as they are for girls. We're left confused, angry and trapped: the feminine part of the American male freezes up while the female experience is paralyzed, like a seed in winter. Our whale doesn't swallow Jonah; it swallows Eve.

So we -- you -- need to learn how to rescue and recover that female part of who we are.

The American experience must descend from the head to the belly, from the mouth and all its commands to the heart with all its questions. Rescuing the girls is not about Hillary, and I don't think it's about leaning in, either.

It's about empathy. Intuition. Cooperation. Compassion.

It's about emotional intelligence and creating cultures that give life.

It's about the still, small voice.

"Connection over separation, understanding and acceptance over assessment, and collaboration over debate," write the authors of the classic "Women's Ways of Knowing."

It's about connectivity and mystery. It's about relating to the earth in maternal and just ways.

It's about love, the most censored four-letter word of all.

"Could this be the time?" Richard Rohr writes. "I think it must be. The world is tired of Pentagons and pyramids, empires and corporations."

I couldn't agree more. Your generation is the one we've all been waiting for. Your technologies will catapult you into landscapes we can't even imagine, yet your greatest gains will come when you explore your own interior world.

That's where she's waiting.

And you're the rescuers, the ones to set her free.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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