I have been looking all over for a specific picture, but have been unable to find it. In the picture, you are about four months old, and you're in a "snugli", (a little canvas pouch on my belly). On my back is a backpack which carries your food, which enters your body through a J/G tube in your belly in a measured and precise way, 24 hours a day. In between us, leading from the pack to you is the tether of your feeding tube. In the picture we are out on a rock jetty which juts into the bay. The walk out was fraught with jagged rocks and seaweed covered stepping stones. It was slippery and precarious. It was,perhaps, downright irresponsible of me to walk out there with you. And yet, there we stood, both smiling into the early spring breeze. Bound by the visible cord, and by the much larger invisible one joining our hearts.These days, thank God, you are well, and are no longer limited by the feeding tube.For that, and for so much more, I am grateful. However, that picture reminds me that even if we hadn't been so lucky, there would still have been hikes into dangerous and beautiful places.
As I watch you today, preparing for your senior year in high school, and pondering "what you are going to do with your life", I worry (a lot!) over whether I have provided a large and secure enough foundation for your growth. Have I given you too much freedom? Am I holding you back too much? Should my expectations of you be greater, or is that my own ego chiming in, brazenly declaring what accomplishments of yours would make me proud? Should I be pushing you to write those essays? Should we be traveling the country looking at colleges? The spiraling amusement park ride of parental self doubt and fear makes my stomach lurch, until I am reminded that the lessons that are your foundation are ones that you learned early in life. They are lessons you'll continue to challenge, tweak, re-learn and grow with for the rest of your life. This, more than any college or career path is the work you've come to do. My hope is that you do it in love.
The first lesson is the one depicted in the picture. There will be times in your life when it may be downright stupid to walk across a pier. The obstacles may seem too great, and the path may feel risky. When in doubt, ask yourself if you are stopping because the risks are real, (a rouge wave or rip tide that will carry you beyond your ability to find safety), or just slippery stones. Only you will know if the view from the other side and the wind in your face is worth the perceived risk.
The second lesson is one you learned in your many early years of making crafts with me. Always choose a forgiving medium when creating a project or a path. Those who feel absolute certainty might paint in acrylic, allowing their vision to set firmly, quickly. Oils allow the artist time to change his mind, to blend colors more deeply, or to completely change something on the canvas without irrevocably wrecking the painting. Sometimes we find a hue we didn't know existed in what began as a blemish or mistake.
The third lesson is one you appear to have been born with. Find compassion in all that you do. There will always be people whose experiences are more vast than yours. There will be people who have much more money, and those who have so much less. "Having it all" is a myth. More often than you know, those who have less find great happiness, and those who have much can't fill a void. Each being's journey demands compassion. Their own, and yours. When you can interact with others through a filter of compassion, you open yourself to richer relationships, stronger friendships and more rewarding work experiences.
I've left what I find the most challenging lesson for last. Listen to your passion. You may not feel it yet, or you may have noticed little flickers dancing and spreading light. Your passion is yours alone. It may be the arts, sports, academics...anything that breathes life into you in such a way that you feel you could burst because it fills you that much. We push ourselves in this society into the self limiting belief that our work has to feel laborious We fall prey to the idea that if we aren't busy all the time, feeling overworked and under appreciated, then we must not be working hard enough. We come to believe that we might only find "success" when we work very hard. When your passion becomes your "work", you have found success.
There is so much before you. There is greatness within you. The possibilities are limitless. You are standing at the lip of the canyon. May you never stifle the sound of your thoughts, ideas and beliefs. May you shout to the wind, and feel the echo of wholeness wash back over you. May you never again feel tethered by tubes, but may you always feel the faint tug of the invisible cord that links your heart to mine. May you venture into the vastness of your life, knowing that yes, your foundation is strong.