You just turned 17, and I gave you the stuff and the cash you wanted – as is right and proper for a 17-year-old to want – but I wanted to give you something more, something bigger, in honour of the small child I miss so much, and the spectacular young man who has taken his place, and of whom I am so very proud.
A trip to Italy would have been ideal, but that’s just not on. I don’t have the money for that – but I DO have writing. It’s how I enter the world. And maybe it won’t mean so much to you today, but perhaps someday you’ll read this to my grandchildren and it will have some real depth. At any rate, it’s what I’ve got to give, and if I have it to give, it’s yours.
I wish I could throw out some pearls of wisdom for you here – but while I’m often the smartest person in the room, I’ve never been particularly wise. All I can offer is what I’ve learned. (Kinda like a very small version of the 10 Commandments, which I’ve never really seen as ‘commandments’ per se, but rather ‘God’s Guide To Good Living’, and they’re a good guide, and a great fall-back when you’re not sure how to proceed, so keep them in mind, and try not to covet your neighbour’s ass. lol).
So here are my commandments (which is hilarious, because you would totally not tolerate being commanded to do anything, and I hope you get that I’m using the word facetiously), meaning these are just the things I’ve learned:
1. Be generous. Not just with money, but with time, empathy, caring, thoughtfulness. Those last things are 1,000 times more important than money. And don’t do it with expectation of return, but never see it as a loss, either. It’s an investment in your community, in your people, and in yourself. But don’t be stupid about it, pay your rent first.
2. Try not to get fat. No diss at fat people, here – most don’t get to choose, and it’s so, so hard. Imagine spending every day with a belt around your waist, carrying 100 lbs of buck shot. Imagine just getting out of bed with that, never mind running and playing and working and going up stairs. Now imagine it’s not a belt, but your own body dragging you down like that. It hurts and it’s hard, and some people have to do it because of genetics or thyroid issues or hormones or just not knowing how to do otherwise – you don’t. You’re naturally very lean and strong, and if I’ve taught you nothing else, I have taught you how to eat according to your particular needs. Don’t take that for granted. Work as hard as you have to, to stay lean and strong.
3. Try not to lie. Everyone does it. I mean, EVERYONE. Anyone who tells you they never lie is … well, frankly, they are lying. Boasting, exaggerating, cushioning – these are all lies, and we’re all guilty of them, to some extent. In my experience (and I’ve lied a LOT) the bare naked truth (and by the way, bare naked is always the preferred state, it’s just healthy, physically and emotionally) is always both more effective and more appealing than any fabrication you can come up with – and when you missed that day of work because of some stupid decision you made yesterday, your boss will see right through any lie you come up with and resent the living daylights out of fabrication … and appreciate your courage if you just say, “I screwed up, I’m sorry.” If he doesn’t, you deserve a better boss, go find a new job. Better that than lying. It makes you feel crappy about yourself, and makes the good people around you shy away from you
4. Read, read, read. No word read is ever a waste of time, even if it’s really, really bad. Waiting in a line at the bank? Read. Constipated and stuck in the washroom? Read. Read pamphlets and hand-outs and books and cereal boxes. It makes life less boring, offers you new ideas, perspectives and insights – but most of all, it teaches you how to write. Bad writing does, too – ask yourself, what did they do wrong, that this is so boring/cheesy/insipid? Poof, you’re a better writer because at least you won’t do THAT thing. Writing doesn’t just matter in resumes. It matters when you write an anniversary card to the woman you love. Or maybe when you someday write to your own son. You’ve been given the gift of language. Let it make you more powerful.
5. Be afraid. Sounds dumb, no? It’s totally not. So many people think courage = a lack of fear. Those people are stupid, do NOT listen to them. Be scared, don’t shy away from it, don’t hide it, or hide from it. Grab it by the horns, embrace it, accept it as the gift it is. Throw your arms around being afraid. Because it’s teaching you one of two things. Either a) you’re on a suspended bridge with no guard rail and high winds and GET OFF THE DAMNED BRIDGE, or b) your life is about to change in a very big way, and that’s terrifying, but maybe the best thing that ever happened to you, so do it anyway. Most of the time, in my experience, the best option is to do it anyway. But I’d prefer you got off the bridge, if it’s all the same to you. J The only way you can know the difference between productive fear and fear that will take away the best changes and most wonderful new things is to just look it straight in the eye and accept your fear as the valuable thing it is. To deny it or to avoid it means losing the opportunities it can give you. Be afraid. Do it anyway. And be proud you did it. And know I’ll be proud of you either way.
6. Never have more than a handful of Friends. Wanting people to like you is normal and healthy and part of being human. But true, real friendship takes time, commitment, and energy. You can’t give that to everyone, and if you try to, you will be left with many acquaintances and no one in the world you can trust. Have 2,000 FB friends, if you want; fill your boots. But have strong boundaries, and test people to see if they can honour them. If they can, and if they enrich your life, keep them. If they can’t respect your boundaries, if they lie to you or hurt you, as much as I would like to then beat the living crap out of them, it’s still okay to keep them as casual or FB friends. But know the difference between a friend and a Friend. Keep your circle small and safe.
7. Love with wild and reckless abandon. When you DO find your tribe, don’t be guarded or careful with them. Give all that you have to give, and take all they are willing to offer. Roll around in the joy of finding your people, and never second-guess it, take it for granted, or waste it. It is the greatest gift the world has to offer. I know this for sure, because YOU are my tribe (part of it), and you are my greatest source of joy.
8. When all else fails, laugh. I would like to pretend I can protect you from life’s hurts … but I know that’s not real. I know you will have times of brokenness and heartbreak, of sorrow so deep you feel numb. You’re the kind of person who feels things that deeply, and it scares me for you, a little. In those times, go to YouTube or Netflix, find some comedy. Go to your friends who have the ugliest sense of humour – dark laughter is still laughter. Laugh long, hard, and often. It’s medicine for the soul.
9. Let me worry. I did wrong by you, in teaching you it was wrong to make me worry – I was speaking to needless worry, which really pisses me off, lol. Real worry is a good thing. When you leave the house, I worry until you come home. When you are home, I worry about how you’re feeling, how much you’ve had to eat, etc. It’s annoying for you, to be sure. But should anything (God Forbid) ever happen to you – if you get in an accident, or someone hurts you, or you are lying in a ditch somewhere – you can trust my worry 100%. You can know that I am ruthlessly and relentlessly looking for you. And that I am ruthlessly and relentlessly forcing everyone I know, every contact I have, every source I’ve ever spoken to, to do likewise. You will never, ever, ever, no matter how dark your hour, be alone, as long as I am alive. I will never, ever stop guarding your safety, not ever. My worry is also my love, it is yours forever, and it is largely a good thing, no matter how annoying it gets.
10. Love yourself. Be kind and forgiving with you. Never be cruel to you. You don’t deserve that. Accept your mistakes, learn from them and move on. What you deserve is to see how beautiful your soul is, how good and strong your heart is, what a gift you are to all who have the grace to get to love you back.
11. I was trying to keep this to 10 (commandments and all, lol), but I have one more. Want ALL the stuff. As left-leaning people, we are inclined to feel guilty for wanting stuff. That’s silly. Want all the stuff, have all the stuff. You totally deserve the stuff. There are only two rules: NEVER have the stuff because you took it from someone else; and NEVER want the stuff over the people. Want the stuff, earn the stuff, and live a life of outrageous abundance.
Your mom doesn’t just love you – she LIKES you, too. You are just the best son anyone could possibly want, and I wish you a happy birthday and a lifetime filled with joy, abundance, and accomplishment. But don’t feel you owe that to anyone, just live your life. As long as you breathe, all is right with the world.