Dear Riley

Riley and Papa.jpg

A love letter (of sorts) to my granddaughter, Riley Jean Williams…

Dearest Riley,

I admit, this isn’t the best way to start a love letter, but the truth is always the truth, so…

Your Papa hasn’t been very happy lately.

Like many people (sadly, millions more feel the same way), the world around me has weighed heavy on my spirit for a long time.

Not that I care much about those who would (will) criticize me for saying so, but just to address them directly and make clear, right up front:

It’s not so much that a breathtakingly shallow, disturbingly nepotistic, shockingly selfish and astoundingly unqualified person now leads the country I love. I have learned in my 52 years that no individual, no matter how charismatic, can change anything – much less everything – alone. They leech their power from others with similar beliefs who enable their bad behavior.

That’s the real problem — that this person seems to reflect and is now speaking for many others who share his particular mindset of “I, me, mine!” at the cost of all human decency and systemic order.

That greed, that utter disregard for “other” in the name of self-preservation and enrichment is at the blackened eye of the hurricane that had consumed my spirit lately. It was absolutely confounding.

And then…

On March 23, 2018, you arrived.

You brightened our lives and brought a joy and peace and giddy excitement that I’ve known only three other times: when your Nana said, “I do,” and when I first held your mom and your Aunt Livie.

Now, as then, the clouds created by all the world’s problems and challenges and pains parted to reveal what was, is and always will be most important – not the world outside our eyes, but rather the one inside our hearts.

Unfortunately, Papa can’t do much about the world outside.

I can explain it just as I did with your mom and aunt. We can debate it, dissect it, try to understand it together, laugh about it whenever possible and cry about it when everything else fails.

But I can definitely help with the world inside.

To be very clear: your Papa doesn’t have a lot of talents. You will undoubtedly learn more practical and fun stuff from your Nana, and (probably) more about “real life” from your Aunt than your mom, dad, Nana or I need or want to know about. (And that’s ok. Those special secrets are the truest magic of aunts and uncles…)

My words are my gift, such as it is. The stories I can tell. The perspective I can share. The advice I can give.

That may not seem like much to you. Heck, I admit that most of the time, it doesn’t feel like much to me.

Yet, the power of words, when filtered through joy and sorrow and love and loss and success and failure, can be life-saving. Or, at least, life-altering.

Anyway, here goes:

First and foremost, pay attention to the world outside, but understand that it isn’t the most important part of your life. Issues, debates, politics, policies (and even presidents) will come and go, often with little true impact on who you are, who you will be and what you leave behind.

More important are the people directly around you. Choose wisely, with your heart and head both, people who:

  • Love you, certainly, but also love others, unfailingly, unquestioningly, sincerely and empathetically – people who love for love’s sake.
  • Neither see nor create walls, and fight to help others scale them.
  • Are willing to help for nothing more than the intrinsic value of friendship and gratitude.
  • Have the wit of poetry in their hearts, the chiming of music in their voices and the sparkle of adventure in their eyes.

Surround yourself with good books. Stories that carry you to fantasy lands and to the reality of the shared soul.

Appreciate the wisdom found buried deep in silence. Learn and practice listening, then thinking, then speaking only when your words will add, not subtract.

Listen to all kinds of music, whether of your generation, culture or taste. When the language of our heads fails us, truth often speaks through the music of our hearts. You may not always like what you hear, but who knows? You just may hear something that changes your entire perspective.

Be brave enough to cry. Little good comes from hiding your sorrow. No one can help you feel better if they don’t know you’re hurting.

Learn the healing power of laughter. Laugh at yourself, laugh with others, enjoy the humor and irony and the vexation and the silliness of life. We take ourselves entirely too seriously and cause so much anxiety and pain that could just as easily be washed away by a wave of laughter.

Find God.

It doesn’t much matter what you call God, or how you call God. What’s important is that we remember how small we all are. God, given His/Her/Its immensity is a pretty good measuring stick. (And don’t worry about the many people who will say that your name for God or your way for calling God are somehow wrong. Ironically, they truly do not know God themselves.)

Do your best to connect with other people. Try to understand their lives. Celebrate their victories and support them in their defeats. All experience is universal. What you give, comes back to you.

Most of all, learn to forgive. Not just others, but also yourself.

No one and nothing – no ideology, no viewpoint, no belief system, no political party, no family member, no coworker, no friend – is perfect.

We all fail. In our hearts, minds and deeds. Failure is as human as the skin that clothes our souls. We cannot stop it. All we can do is understand and forgive.

Forgiveness is grace in action. Grace is God’s love in your hands. Be grace-filled, and graceful, and the world will be a better place.

My darling granddaughter, I don’t know what value there is in any of this babbling. Certainly not much now, at only a month old.

But if it does any good later in your precious life — if it helps ease a broken heart; or gives you strength to lift up someone in need; or convinces you to try something new despite uncertainty; or generates the will to persevere against the greatest odds; or shows you the logic of something as illogical as love itself — then it will have been worth a cold, rainy April Sunday evening.

Papa loves you, today and always.