To My Daughter — To Read In 18 Years
You weren’t exactly born yesterday, but five days is close enough to it to count.
These past few days have been a blur of waking in the dead of night, holding you, and beginning by slow degrees to absorb the magnitude of all that your arrival means. Six days ago it was just your mother and I, and now here you are; a new life, full to bursting with all the potential of the life you will live. It amazes me to think that even now there are people going about their day whose lives you will bless in some way, just as there are people going about their day who will someday cause you pain. I have wondered every day since you were born what art your hands will shape, what hearts your words will touch. It’s as though I can see the causes and effects of your new existence rippling out across the globe. In small ways and, perhaps, large as well, this world will quite literally never be the same again.
As I wonder about your future I find myself also aware of the fact that I might not always be present to witness it and share it with you. Of course, we always assume our lives will continue forward unbroken, but the only certainty we have is the moment we live in now. Holding you and beginning to know you these past few days has been an incredible gift, one I hope to continue to enjoy for decades to come, but I’ve decided to set down a few of the things that I hope to be able to share with you in person as you grow into your own woman, so that you will have them with you whatever the future holds.
So, although I hope to read it to you myself, one way or another I’ll ensure that this letter reaches you on your 18th birthday.
This life we live is too wonderful to waste. Every breath is a gift, even the ragged ones.
If your mother and I have done even half of the job we hope to do, this statement will come as no surprise to you. As you stand at the threshold of independent adulthood, I’ll add a question to it: What ought our response be to this truth? A life lived in pursuit of that question would be a worthy one indeed.
I regret to say that the world will not be kind to you for being a woman, at least not the world I am familiar with today. You have likely already faced discrimination: The easy dismissal when your male peers are given a chance, the snide implication that your passion and conviction are the result of your hormones rather than a disciplined mind and a mighty soul. It is not fair, but each of us inherits a battle already underway. This is one of yours, just as it was your mother’s, your aunts’, and your grandmothers’ before you. Take courage from their example.
Men will try to point you towards your place. Women will criticize you in an effort to avoid allowing the power of your living example to compel them to ask difficult questions of their own life. Always remember that the only voice that should compel your silence or your action is your own conscience. Never forget that the shape of your soul is not female. It is human. If anyone ever tells you otherwise, laugh in their face and move on.
Never allow anyone to shame you in your body. I do not mean only in it’s appearance, it’s most external qualities. I mean also in your enjoying the essential daily sensations of being fully alive. Eat fantastic food, drink rich wine, explore new places, laugh from your stomach, and wrap your arms around other people as often as you can. Don’t allow a pious man to tell you that enjoying the fullness of your senses or the experience of pleasure is sin, any more than a feckless man tell you that escaping unrestrained into them is freedom. Neither could be further from the truth.
Be kind to yourself. You will have days when your soul knows you could have done more, done better, pushed harder, or held your own standard higher. Some will tell you to use failure as a fuel for your next attempt, but frustration and self-criticism are not clean burning coals. They might get you where you want to go, but they’ll kill your engine in the process. Instead, breathe deeply, and let those days serve as a simple reminder that you are human, and that you, like all the rest of us, require a daily measure of grace to survive. Be sure that the things you fight for and pursue are worthy of you, and let that confidence compel you forward.
I would be remiss if I did not speak also of faith. It is an uncomfortable subject for many these days, but I hope by now you’ve discovered that it is both a necessary and fulfilling one. Those who do speak of God often reduce complex mysteries to binary certainties, talking of religion and belief the way one would speak of sporting teams, as though the only relevant question was where one places their unquestioning loyalty. Religion thrives on rules, exclusive boundaries, and spiritual equations, always attempting to define in advance what is right and wrong in all circumstances, but God always looks past the surface to see the heart of things, and the heart is rarely a simple or easily defined place. Identifying with a religious system becomes difficult if you use your mind and allow your conscious to draw you into questioning its most sacred truths, but in my experience you will find God waiting for you in the midst of duality.
Always remember that you are more than a collection of accidental matter. You were created with loving intention that your birth is even now helping me to begin to understand more fully. You were shaped by a consciousness that exists beyond time to be a singular, unique expression of beauty and truth. Faith is more than an adherence to a set of rules. It is the lifelong quest for deeper connection and relationship with the God who shaped your soul, born out through the daily choice to live as best you know how, to give of yourself for the sake of others, to steward all that has been entrusted to you, and through it all to become something profoundly greater than you are now. Keep seeking and searching. Follow the music, and never allow yourself to become so comfortable with what you know that you forgot how much you have left to discover.
I am grateful that I, as your dad, am allowed as many prayers for you as I like (and you can be sure I take full advantage of that), but if I were restricted to choose only one, it would be this: that throughout the whole course of your life you will always remember who you are. You are a spark on this cosmic ocean, fully known and fully loved. Your worth is and always will be defined by the universally unique expression of the creative mystery that you carry inside you. That worth can never be increased or diminished. It can only ever be stewarded.
I have just now reached a point in my life that you also will experience some day, when the awareness of physical loss, the procession of time, and the tension between order and chaos to which all things in this world are subject can begin to be felt as a present reality rather than a theoretical problem for tomorrow. I am determined to walk towards that growing horizon full of wonder and fascination rather than terror and regret. I encourage you to cultivate that posture now. There are some things you can do to extend the time you have on earth; rest, nutrition, care of self, commitment to a worthy purpose. No doubt humanity will discover more in time. None of them are worth very much if the hours you gain are consumed by fear of what will follow after.
Time passes more swiftly than we ever expect. It is so astonishingly easy for days spent checking off our lists to become years spent going out and coming in, keeping things clean, following up, and getting by. Do whatever you must to ensure that the pace of your life does not catch you by surprise and leave you wondering what has become of the time you were given.
There is more I could say, but the truth and mystery of life can never be fully captured by words. It must be experienced, so I encourage you to go and do just that.
Know that I love you with all my heart, and that wherever your path leads you, I am looking on with the fiercest pride imaginable.