Dear Lily June,
When I was little, I had a stutter. The speech pathologists who met with my mother told her my brain was thinking faster than my tongue could talk. I know, in part, my brain was a needle skipping over the track of things I felt like I couldn’t say, and so every syllable re- re- re- re- peated to keep me from getting from the start of a thought to the end of it. There’s a beautiful piece by Phil Kaye about a similar experience with repetition:
I am well past my stuttering days, and yet, I find some things are so important in life, they’re worth saying over and over and over until they pass the point of sounding meaningless and come back around to being emphasized through the repetition, like taking a text and bolding and underlining and italicizing it all at once. That is why I continue to put out my call to anyone (seriously! anyone!) who stumbles upon this blog to write you a letter for your upcoming first birthday on May 13. Below is the eleventh of these I received, with my introduction to the fellow blogger who sent it.
Let me be the first to admit that when I came across Lonna Hill‘s blog about being an expat mother, I was immediately jealous. I read a couple of posts about traveling, seeing parts of the planet I find intriguing and exotic, and talking about the best kinds of places to stay with young children, and I was ready to give up on her blog entirely. I knew I would never have the kinds of funds to travel like she has or show you with the sights her children have seen, Lily, and so I intended to just stop reading her blog altogether so I wouldn’t have to worry about my envy.
Let me be the first to admit that I was an idiot: There was so much more to be jealous of Lonna for than just her geographical location. Her writings about, her images of, her musings on both the beautiful and the horrifying parts of this world are fascinating. She writes like a reader, like one who simultaneously realizes the importance of the story alongside experiencing the intoxication of the words chosen to tell it. Being jealous of just her settings meant missing the opportunity to be envious of her as an author.
Let me be the first to admit I am addicted. It was probably her post on finding (and keeping) perspective that gave me some of my own. Lonna is the kind of empathetic and sensitive soul who I want to follow into the light. Like Amy, her faith is her candle, and she holds it up in such a way that even if you don’t personally endorse its fire, you can find aspects of your self and your own life illuminated by it. To me, Lily, the best members of any faith lead by example, and their lives become the embodiment of what they believe. Lonna is just such a lively liver and believer.
Someday, Lily June, I might be able to take you as far as the next state over. Maybe, if we’re struggling harder by that time, I’ll only be able to take you as far as the next street over. But that, my darling daughter, is why your mother reads anyway, be it news articles or blogs or novels or poems: Because what you read will make your world larger. I once read Marcel Proust’s words that
“The voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
The best writers, Lily, loan you their eyes to show you, not just what you’ve never seen, but what you’ve seen dozens of times and never given proper notice. They make the whole world seem simultaneously large enough to surprise you and small enough to relate to. That is what each of the following dozen pieces of advice from Lonna do, and I hope you’ll take them all to heart. They are a bouquet of wisdom, from the vulnerability of their petals to the threat of their thorns. Behold them, Lily. Their beauty belongs to your eyes now.
Dear Lily June,
Happy first birthday!
I know it will be many years before you read this letter. I imagine you: a dark-haired teen flipping through the pages of a shiny touch screen, ignoring the homework you should be doing, and instead consuming the advice your mother has so carefully and thoughtfully crafted for you. You’ll read her letters bit by bit, and then set them aside to pursue whatever delights teens devote their rapt attention to in the next decade.
It will be hard for you to grasp her wisdom in your youth. But, the treasure that your mother’s letters will be, I know you’ll return to them throughout your lifetime, and with each return, you’ll glean some other detail that you missed, some other bit of wisdom that slipped through your fingers the first time around.
Even though the world is changing rapidly, there are some truths that will endure no matter how much our worldly circumstances change. Some truths are simply timeless. And these are the things I find your mother writing to you about.
I don’t know how many years from now you will read this letter, Lily June, but I am honored to give you my own bits of wisdom. I have no idea what the world will look like in fifteen years, but I tried to pull out timeless truths that I’ve learned throughout my own life. I know they won’t be the same treasure to you as your mother’s, but I do hope these words from a stranger across the Pacific ocean will one day encourage or strengthen you.
1. Be kind. Everyone you see has an invisible struggle that you know nothing about. No one has a perfect life, even if it appears so on the outside. Everyone struggles, some people are just better at hiding it. When you struggle, Lily, don’t be one who hides it. It’s scary to be vulnerable, but that’s the only way we can build relationships—the meaningful relationships that last a lifetime.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t know their struggles. Comparing yourself to others is a poison that will torment you. Open your eyes to the blessings you have and celebrate them. Share them.
3. Strength and bravery don’t always look like what you expect them to. The person who stands up for another kid being bullied is much more courageous than the bullies—even if the bullies are the ones who have the voices that the crowd notices and hears.
4. Knowing how to de-escalate a situation shows much more wisdom than one who only knows how to retaliate and cannot step away.
5. Crowds are fickle. And they aren’t always right. Sometimes they just hear the loudest person, not necessarily the wisest.
6. Things aren’t always how they appear. Don’t jump to conclusions and make assumptions too quickly. Always give people the benefit of the doubt. And when in doubt, communicate. Ask questions. Listen.
7. Don’t feel threatened by people who disagree with you. Disagreement will make you re-evaluate your own position. If you are wrong, wouldn’t you want to know it? And even if you are right, wouldn’t you want to know why others disagree? It would clarify your opinion in your own mind. You would win either way.
8. When you find yourself in a disagreement with someone, even if you come at an issue from opposite ends, always try to empathize. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try not just to understand their position, but the reasons that brought them there in the first place.
9. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or to admit mistakes. There is nothing wrong with mistakes as long as you use them to grow and gain wisdom. Wisdom is much more important than being right. And, in the long run, it’s wisdom (not inerrancy) that will win respect from others.
10. Recognize your value and don’t let others trample it. You know that verse in the Christian Bible, “turn the other cheek”? You don’t turn the other cheek so that someone can slap you on the other side. That’s not what it means. There is value in knowing when to walk away from someone.
11. Years ago, a friend of mine who was going through a particularly rough time, asked me to pray that her suffering not be wasted. I never forgot that. Sometimes our circumstances can’t be changed, but that doesn’t mean the pain we experience can’t eventually become a positive force in our lives. Pain can shape us into someone stronger and more sensitive. It can make us a better friend to someone in the future. It can give us the drive we need to be a change in the world. Don’t ever waste your suffering, Lily.
12. There will be times when you don’t feel like you have much strength, but I can assure you that there will always be others out there who are weaker than you. Use your strength to help and defend. Don’t ever be one who looks for the weak to make yourself feel stronger. Be the one who looks for the weak so you can lift them back up and offer them love in a scary world.
Remember, Lily, you are deeply, deeply loved. This world is so noisy. Someday, when you grow up to be too big for your mommy’s snuggles, it will be easy to forget that you are loved. Everybody notices a cute baby. Everyone likes to peek into strollers to catch a glimpse of chubby cheeks sucking on slobbery fists. And then we grow up. And we begin to look like every other too-busy person hustling along the streets, looking at our phones at the bus stop so we don’t have to smile and talk to people in real life.
You’ll have moments when you wonder, “Does anybody care that I’m here? Is there even a purpose or a point to all of this?” I can assure you, Lily—yes, there is. And, yes, not only does someone care for you, but someone loves you, Lily. So much more than you could ever fathom.
Happy birthday, dear one,
- By asenat29 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/72153088@N08/6510934443, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org