My dad died six years ago today on his 83rd birthday. Teacher Cal, Mister B., Slim the Milkman, Cowboy Joe, Dad… he was loved by so many for his gentle presence, his musical talent and his kindness. On the day I was born he wrote me a letter. Thankfully I still have a copy of the letter in his distinctive block letter handwriting. His wisdom about the world, heartbreak and all, is too good to keep to myself. So, in tribute to him, today, I am sharing his letter with you:
“Welcome, Gweneth, Welcome to the World.
You picked a fantastic day to get born on. It was one of those incredible days in early fall. The air was as taut as a harp string and the sunny morning color was a sensual ache. As the day aged, great packed rollers of chilly cloud tumbled in from the Northwest. Your mother and I didn’t see much of it, though, for the light had almost gone when Mother Nature and Doctor Kroll finally changed you from a promise to a presence. I won’t forget that moment when you were wrapped in blankets and canvas and handed to me, still streaked with blood and hollering. You soon quit bawling and blinked your eyes open to look at life and try to find out what it was all about.
I wonder now if there aren’t a lot of times ahead when you will be just as bewildered about life as you were when you first peered out, unable to focus on the swirling whites and greens of the delivery room. This life is confusing, Gwen; it’s full of paradox and inconsistency. It’s beautiful and warm and exciting and at the same time, brutal, harsh and full of pain.
The pain. That’s what hangs people up. We can’t accept hurt as a natural part of life. Your body will be bruised and cut many times but it’s the injuries to the spirit that you’ll find are the hardest. People you love and trust can desert you and laugh at your loneliness. Kids will insult you; cut you up just for kicks, and sooner or later you’ll even face the anonymous, smothering hurt of the system: Institutions, Procedures and Regulations.
Yet, oddly enough, I don’t want to shield you from these hurts because resisting and hardening to the hurts of life means you must also harden to the joy. Insensitivity stifles what is meaningful as effectively as it deadens pain.
Look a the person who hurts you. What’s his hang-up? Does he cringe behind the barricade of the clique? Drugs? Alcohol? The Establishment? Be compassionate. The more he works to turn off pain, the harder he must work to turn on life. So many of us are uptight, Gwen, because we’ve deadened parts of ourselves out of fear of pain. Look at us, Gwen; try to understand and in your frustration at the hurt we must cause you, strengthen your courage so you need not lose your own vulnerability. With all its bitterness and hazard, the art of living and loving offers enough to keep you turned on and high forever.
So, welcome, baby.
Welcome to life.