A Letter to My 12-Year-Old Self

A young Vice President Joe Biden at bat in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Dear Joe,

You’re only twelve. Your stutter is debilitating. It embarrasses you, and the bullies are vicious.

But listen to Mom when she says, “bravery resides in every heart” — and yours is fierce and clear. Listen to Dad when he says, “we get knocked down, and then we get right back up.”

Because if you listen, you’ll summon the bravery to overcome the stutter and stand up to the bullies.

You’ll learn from Dad who moved the family to look for work — that a job is a lot more than a paycheck; it’s about dignity and respect.

You’ll learn from him that the cardinal sin is the abuse of power — and you have an obligation to fight the abuse whenever you see it.

And that’s why you’ll follow your heart to serve your community, state, and your country.

An intolerance for the abuse of power will drive you to stand up for civil rights, end the scourge of violence against women, confront corporations polluting the environment, and fight crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing around the world.

And because you listened, you’ll live a life fully consistent with what you were taught by Mom and Dad and your faith.
That you should say what you mean and mean what you say.
That we cannot serve ourselves at the expense of others.

Leading by the power of example will define you, and one day, find yourself forging a relationship a Jesuit Pope who embodies that universal truth.

But you’ll also learn early — and later — in life that reality has a way of intruding.

One day you’re on top of the world, only to be brought down in a flash with a profound loss and grief that leaves a black hole in your heart, questions of faith in your soul, and an anger beyond rage.

That’s when you’ll have to dig deep and live what Mom taught you — that out of everything terrible that happens, something good will come if you look hard enough.

You’ll hold on with faith and pure grit.

You’ll be blessed with a love that will anchor you as deeply as your faith.

Your bond with your children and grandchildren will be your redemption.

Your ties with your sister and brothers will hold you tighter together.

Because of a family grounded in unconditional love and loyalty, and the compassion of friends and strangers, you’ll not only get help.

You’ll get up. You’ll keep going. You’ll give back in kind.

You’ll realize that countless people have suffered equally or more, but with much less support and much less reason to want to get through it.

But they too get up. They too keep going. As you will.

You’ll learn what it means to be an American. There’s no quit in America.

You’ll learn that happiness and success in life is an accumulation of a thousand little things built on the character of who we are as Americans.

A country where no one is better than you, and everyone is your equal — regardless of who they are, what they do, where they come from, or who they love.

You’ll learn that it’s about being personal. Being there for family and friends. Serving your country.

Building real relationships, even with people with whom you vehemently disagree.

That’s America — made up ordinary people, like you, doing extraordinary things.

And one day when you graduate from law school, you’ll decide to become a public defender.

In the midst of the epic struggle for civil rights, you’ll be walking the streets on the east side of Wilmington, much of which has been burned to the ground after your heroes were assassinated.

Forty years later, you’ll stand on a train platform overlooking the east side. Wilmington and the nation are no longer aflame, but awaiting a new ripple of hope.

You’ll be waiting for a young black man, inspired by the dream of a King, coming from Philadelphia to pick you up and take you on a 124-mile trip to Washington to be sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States.

Together, you’ll prove that change is hard but necessary; progress is never easy but always possible; and things do get better on our march toward that more perfect union.

That’s the history of the journey of America.

And believe it or not, because you listened to Mom and Dad, you’ll help write it.

Keep the faith, Joey.

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