Dear Lily June,
I turned thirty-one yesterday. That’s a fairly unimportant mile marker along the road of life, but a birthday always makes me think–far more than a New Year’s–about the state of things in my life. I know I owe you updates on my Franklinian progress and my father’s visit, but I think I’ll reboot my Franklin Fridays after Christmas (because there’s no way Benjamin Franklin became Benjamin Franklin over the holidays.)
And in terms of my visit with my father, it brought as many revelations as my birthday itself, reteaching me some hard lessons about who he can’t be, and reminding me, in glimpses, of the best he can be. When he held you in his lap, for instance, and you smiled up at him like he was made of pure light, a little darkness went out in our past. He smiled down at you in the same way, and I know he was touched in that moment, just as I was touched to witness it. He has a way of seeing through me and listening past me, but he was all eyes and ears for you, little one, and that’s exactly what you deserve from anyone who loves you.
In considering my life after thirty years the night before I was to become thirty-one, I held you in my lap and wept. I knew I wouldn’t have a cake the next day (I didn’t ask for one), so I knew I wouldn’t have anything to wish on. What I didn’t know until that moment with you fast asleep in my lap–as I looked down into the porcelain preciousness of your pale face and the lashed smiles your closed eyelids make–was that I truly, honestly, earnestly would wish for nothing. I have, between your father and you, everything I could ever want for myself.
I wish for some things for him and you both (freedom from the debt that chains our family; the ability to live in a place where you’d have your own room), but I want for nothing. I have love, and it is a wealth I’ve spent too much time seeing through and listening past myself. The warmth you generate when you fall asleep on me, under the green sweater blanket your father bought us just to snuggle with, is a gift I couldn’t purchase anywhere and can’t live without. Someday, just the memory of these moments will warm me in the worst of winters, Lily. You can’t imagine what that means to me.
And though the burden is heavy, you lighten your parents’ pasts with your present. Through you, we have the opportunity to relive a childhood of pure wonder. It doesn’t take away the weight of the fear we once had to lift as kids, but it changes it into a shape we can carry. And I only wish, in return, I had more (you know, than just your life) to give you, Lily.
I don’t yet know what thirty-one years will do for, or to, you, or what you may need to hear to encourage you to keep going along the way. I know some of these lessons below, though they can be read easily, can only be understood the hard way–by living. I hope like hell some of the lessons below are ones that will never enter your life. Others, I dream you’ll know without being told. But even if they teach you nothing else, the dozen lessons below will show you some things your mother believed she knew at thirty-one years of age. I make no promises that any held true until I was thirty-two.
- Some people need to be held just close enough to remind you why you don’t (or can’t) hold them closer.
- Live like every part of your past was always leading up to this very moment. It’s true of every single moment of your life.
- You don’t need to regret anything if you learned something from everything.
- If you’re accusing someone of hurting you, do so in such a way that your accusation doesn’t hurt them back. And make sure, first, you shouldn’t really be accusing yourself.
- You can find God everywhere if you want to. You can also convince yourself God is nowhere. That’s free will, and it’s a blessed burden.
- Know the difference between holding and holding on to.
- No matter what they’re telling you, look the person you love most in the eyes.
- To the people who matter, there is no such thing as oversharing.
- We’re all vulnerable. Fragile. Lonely. Loved.
- Don’t let someone else’s limitations define the kind of love you think you’re worthy of.
- Don’t ask for more from others than they know how to give of themselves.
- Whatever happens between us, know that I love you more than you could ever imagine and more than I have the ability to communicate. There aren’t enough words, Lily.
There just aren’t enough words.
- “William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) – The Difficult Lesson (1884)” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Difficult_Lesson_(1884).jpg#/media/File:William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Difficult_Lesson_(1884).jpg