Dear Mrs. Wilkes,
Forgive the formalities, but I have to get used to this. I may as well start now. We are going to have different names from this day forward, but I feel like you and I are closer than ever. It is only for this reason that I burden you with some humble advice I have learned over a lifetime of pain, struggle, and experience. None of this will be particularly new to you, but perhaps to have it all in one place will be of some benefit to you tomorrow, next week, or at some unknown time in the future. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order of importance:
Choose Your Friends Wisely—A lot of people want things from you, and will say anything to get them. At best, these friends are transactional and will treat you as such. Your friends will want things for you, not from you. Don’t waste as much time as I did to learn this. But once you use this test to find your friends, hold on to them.
Don’t Chase Status—Tom Wolfe wrote “I think every living moment of a human being’s life, unless the person is starving or in immediate danger of death in some other way, is controlled by a concern for status.” Having seen this up close, it is both true and pathetic. Yes, it is enough that this chase will destroy your soul, but turning away from it also presents opportunities—if everyone is chasing status, consider the opportunities out there for those few that aren’t.
The World Is Bigger Than You Think—There will be a time in your life that you will come to a dead end and think that your only road has ended. The truth is there are a thousand roads, each with its own perils and obstacles and potential destinations. Take some of them.
Think Different—Groupthink is everywhere. So much is assumed that no one has tested, much less verified. Some people know this, and they assert things as truth anyway. These are liars. Some people do not know this, and assert things as truth anyway. These are ignorant. Avoid the liars. Teach the ignorant. If you’ve taught the ignorant and they won’t listen, move on. They’re likely to become liars, because it pays well.
Create—Make things. Don’t make things to sell them, though you may sell them. Don’t make things to give them away, though you may give them away. Don’t make things to win awards, though you may win awards. Make things because the act of creation is divine. Make things for the love of making things. Make things because art and beauty and ideas are still important, no matter what Republicans think.
Even the Devil Quotes Scripture—Don’t we know this. Throughout the centuries, mankind has done more evil in God’s name than for any other cause. It is happening here, right now, in 2020. And therein, I am quite sure you will face the greatest opposition to your faith—not from faith’s enemies, but from some of its most allegedly loyal devotees.
Not All Power Corrupts—Yes, arbitrary and acquired power corrupts. Always, without exception. But earned power is ennobling. With intelligence comes the power to teach. With empathy comes the power to care and protect. With sacrifice comes loyalty and devotion. With vulnerability comes support. And remember, acquired power is situational. That’s why those with unearned power must go to any length to keep it. But earned power is given, not imposed. Earned power is also portable. You can take it with you.
Therefore, and as a result…
Question Authority—Always, if only to determine what kind of power your authority wields. If they have earned power, they will answer your questions—possibly not always to your satisfaction, but they will respect your will in the asking. If the questioning isn’t welcome, then you know what kind of power you’re dealing with, and you’ll need to start doing a lot more walking backward.
Truth Matters—Several years ago, a truly great friend of mine sat down with me at lunch and as we discussed the state of my life, he said “You know, Steve, your life would be a lot easier if you just gave up on the concept of objective truth.” As much as I love this friend—and as much as I still think about what he said—I simply can’t recommend this to you. The reason why is what Sam told Frodo—folk in the stories had lots of chances to turn back, only they didn’t, because there’s some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for.
This is good news, because I beg you…
Don’t Forget—You and I know things. Our family knows things. We don’t know them because we read a book, or someone told them to us, and we believe it. We know these things because we’ve seen them up close, experienced them for what they are, and know what they represent. We’ve made the sacrifices from which knowledge and wisdom come. As difficult as this knowledge is to confront on occasion, to know what we know—to be assured, despite the noise, confusion, and darkness—is a gift granted to very few. And you are only 19. You have a couple of decades’ head start. I suspect your advanced tutorial is what gives you the confidence to take this step today. If so, all the more reason to cherish the process by which you have reached this point.
We love you and we have been through too much together to abandon you to the world now. We know what you know, and while it may have been easier for us to have you bear these burdens on your own, we cannot in good conscience do so. Therefore, we will be with you in love and counsel, we will stand behind you in courage and valor, we commit to teach with you the truths that must be taught, and we will rejoice as we watch you grow into the role you will take upon you tonight, no matter how difficult the road ahead.
With much love, now and forever, I am still, don’t forget, your