I heard this article: James K. Flanagan: A Grandfather’s Last Letter To His Grandkids on the radio yesterday, and knew that I had to present it in class to my students. Not only is it poignant and full of really great advice, it also fits right along with our This I Believe essays that we are writing. As I re-read this letter to my students in class, several of the pieces of advice stuck out to me:
Everyone in the world is just an ordinary person. Some people may wear fancy hats or have big titles or (temporarily) have power and want you to think they are above the rest. Don’t believe them. They have the same doubts, fears, and hopes; they eat, drink, sleep, and fart like everyone else. Question authority always but be wise and careful about the way you do it.
I’ve reasonably gotten the ‘question authority” bit down, however, it is more recently that I am learning to do so in a respectful way. As a teenager I would yell and scream or sulk or pout, all that showed a lack of maturity in my rebellious questioning. Though I would like to thank my dad for working in radio and showing me the truth behind the fact that everyone, even celebrities, are just normal folk.
Be kind and go out of your way to help people — especially the weak, the fearful, and children. Everyone is carrying a special sorrow, and they need our compassion.
While I don’t necessarily go out of my way to help people, like I’m “not looking for trouble,” I do find that I am surrounded in many ways by people who seek me out for advice or solace from life’s shitty storms. I loved how he put that everyone is carrying a “special sorrow” because it reminded me so well of my favorite quote: “be kinder than necessary, everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” I don’t always do a good job of this, in fact, I’m struggling right now with 2 students from a very conservative and churchy background who seem to be very arrogant in their schoolwork, that I am finding it difficult to see how young and small and scared they probably really are.
Travel: always but especially when you are young. Don’t wait until you have “enough” money or until everything is “just right.” That never happens. Get your passport today.
While I long to go back to India, I am glad for the opportunity that I did have to travel when I was younger. And I’m happy that Boof and I travelled when we were newly married and dating. Because, while I like traveling, in theory, the process wears and stresses me out tremendously, now that we have a kid. Gone are the moments where I felt rested and energetic enough to get on a plane and fly to Delhi or Manhattan or Atlanta.
Pick your job or profession because you love to do it. Sure, there will be some things hard about it, but a job must be a joy. Beware of taking a job for money alone — it will cripple your soul.
I do believe having a job that is a joy is a luxury for many, and is something that I have been striving for since I went to graduate school. While I don’t believe that my job will fulfill all of my heart’s desires, I do want to feel inspired and wake up every morning without fearing or dreading what’s to come.
Always keep promises to children. Don’t say “we’ll see” when you mean “no.” Children expect the truth; give it to them with love and kindness.
I think this one resonated with me the most. I remember hearing so many times “we’ll see,” or other vague parenty phrases, which left me confused. I know, now, that my mom/dad/grandma/uncle/etc. was probably trying to spare me the disappointment, putting it off or softening the blow, but the limbo-land was worse than just hearing the word “no” to begin with. It is almost worse than getting the answer “dinner” when I would ask, “what’s for dinner?” JUST TELL ME DAMNIT!, but I know that mom was trying to spare herself the whining that would have accompanied the answer.
What pieces of the list stuck out to you? If you were to write a letter to your children or future grandchildren, what lessons would you include?