Letter to a Newborn Girl

M A Y   2 0 1 9

Little One,

I’ve just had a letter from your father telling me that, although you were born two weeks ago, you still have not been given a name. How wonderful! You come fresh from the place where names are not needed, and it’s good that you can carry that quietness about you a little while longer. In that place there’s a blissful secret most of us baby girlcan no longer remember. I think we would bow at your feet if you could tell us about it, if you could remind us what we have forgotten, but of course, you do not know words yet and that’s just how you remain wiser and holy and inscrutable to us.

But soon you will start to learn words. You will learn to say what you feel and want, and with that saying you too will forget what is so natural to you now. Or perhaps you will be lucky, and a current of the bliss you come from will continue to stream through your heart — I pray it will! This world you have arrived into is a serious place, often tragic, and remembering the beauty of your origin can be a great help in the years to come.

I’m an old man now and I have a lifetime of experiences behind me; you, you’ve just hatched out of the egg and are as innocent as the morning! Because of that, I suppose it’s only natural that I should want to give you some advice that (I hope) might help make things easier for you as your life unfolds. I know advice from one’s elders can be tedious, and even a little pointless, considering that each of us is unique and each of us has to find our own way. So I’ll just name five lessons here that have served me well in my own life, and you can do with them what you wish.

Know you are safe. That’s the first lesson and for me it’s been the bedrock of my life. When I’ve been uncertain, when I’ve been afraid, when accidents have happened, I’ve somehow been reassured deep down that all shall be well. Even though “knowing I am safe” has mostly supported me in the mundane challenges of my life, it has ultimately freed me from the fear of death, which is no small thing in the drama of being a mortal. We’re safe. Everything is all right forever. We are made out of light. I think you know that yourself now, as the infant without a name that you are. One day you may doubt it — that’s part of the drama — but if you remember nothing else from this letter, I hope that, when things get rough, you will remember this: Know you are safe.

Here’s another lesson that’s been dear to my life: Walk in the open air. That’s a way of saying spend as much time as you can in nature, in the open air, in places that humans have not built on and paved over. The natural world will teach you, heal you, and replenish your soul with its beauty. It is, like you are now, fresh from the generosity of the Unnamable. When your love for wild nature is alive in you, you will find it is an inexhaustible source for your creativity and for your caring for others and this beautiful planet. Walk in the open air.

Another: Pretend you can do it. I know that sounds a little odd, but I can only tell you it’s been the way I’ve learned all my life and how I’ve managed to do things I never imagined I could. One day you’ll hold a pencil in your hand and you’ll want to draw a tree — just pretend you can do it and start drawing. Or you’ll kiss a boy for the first time — pretend you can do it. Or you’ll be asked to lead a meeting and you’ve never done that before — just pretend you can do it. Of course, you’ll make mistakes, your fingers will miss notes on the piano, but just try again, “pretending” or believing you can do it, and slowly by slowly you’ll learn how.

One more: Be interested in everything. Be a generalist. Neglect nothing that is part of life. Be curious and amazed by things. Listen to others. Welcome new ways of seeing, but always think for yourself. Gain skills that have nothing to do with each other, like repairing a broken chair, fasting in the wilderness, speaking Portuguese, consoling people in distress, singing. As societies get more stressed in the years ahead because of climate change and the host of dangers facing us, being a generalist will serve you and others well.

Lastly — and I name it last because it’s the most resistant to description — Follow your love. Do what you love. Love what you love. I can’t say that love will protect you from mistakes or sorrow — it hasn’t done that for me — but in its mysterious way it makes everything worthwhile. I’m not talking simply about love that’s affection or passion — although it’s that too — but love that continually moves to heal what is broken or has been separated. Follow that. This world you have come into is full of hurt and distrust and density (as well as beauty!), and your love is the gift that will heal it.

Little one, you are about to start on a great adventure. Follow your love. Be interested in everything. Pretend you can do it. Walk in the open air. Know you are safe.

With love from your old friend,