I was watching my son playing in the yard yesterday, and I suddenly thought about you when you were his age. I wondered what you were like then; the friends you had, the memories you made, the dreams that filled your head. I imagined you there among his friends; running and laughing and tumbling wildly into the grass. I began wishing I could go back and tell you something. I wished I could step into your story then, and say the words that someone else may not have told you.
I’d tell you what I tell my son: that you are worthy of love, not because of the things you do or the successes you have or the achievements you pile up. I’d tell you that you don’t have to earn or deserve or win this worth. It is your only real birthright.
I’d tell you that you are not defined by your outward greatness, but by your inner goodness; by the way you treat the people in your path, the compassion you show, the kindness you extend, the love you give, the sacrifices you make. You are not the person who exists in the glare of the spotlight but the one residing in the deepest hidden recesses of your heart.
I’d tell you that you do not matter less than anyone else, nor more than anyone else; that you are not in competition with the world, you are connected to it. I’d tell you that another’s prosperity doesn’t have to come at the expense of your own. I’d tell you that this life isn’t about you—it’s about you and those you get to share this planet with for a brief space and time.
I’d tell you not to chase the applause of fickle strangers, which though intoxicating in the moment is Fool’s Gold. It will lead you to do and say and become things that right now you’d never dream you’d do, and that once that applause fades (and it always does), you will be altered by all that you did to receive it.
I’d tell you that your life will move by more quickly than you can ever imagine, and that at the end of it, yours will be measured by whether or not the world was made more or less good, decent, and benevolent by your presence. Your real legacy will not be made of steel and stone and glass, but by the choices you make, the words you speak, the lives you renovate. And I’d tell you to choose wisely, because the older you become the less chance you have to rewrite that legacy. Eventually you will lose the ability to manage perception of your truth. You will simply be left with what is true—and that will be your epitaph.
When you were my son’s age, I don’t know how frequently you laughed or how often you felt loved or what words were spoken over you when you were just figuring out who you could be. I don’t know whether you often heard words of encouragement or received gestures of affection. I don’t know how you became the person you’ve become.
We all have our stories and we are the product of those stories. We are the sum total of every beautiful memory, every painful defeat, every warm embrace, every harsh word. And I can’t help feeling like somewhere along the way your story let you down, that at some moment or maybe in a million smaller moments, those entrusted with showing you how to live—failed you.
I feel like the young boy you were missed something; because for all the wealth you’ve now acquired, for every accolade you’ve accrued, for all the measurable achievements you’ve recorded—you still seem a miserable, sad, bitter man who doesn’t believe he has done enough. You still seem like a desperate young boy, trying to feel worthy, trying to prove deserving, trying to purchase belovedness.
Maybe none of this would have made a difference to you then. Maybe it wouldn’t have altered your path in the slightest. Maybe it would come to bear little fruit in your adult heart. But I’m going to keep speaking these words over my son, in the hopes that he is made a better human being by them; because I don’t want him to end up being an old man who has gained the world but lost his soul.
I want the boy playing in my yard today to know that he is loved and valued and made for goodness. I want generosity to come easy for him. I want compassion to be his default response. I want fear to be a stranger. I want him to be wealthy in friends.
I want him to be the kind of person the world needs.
I hope these words change his story.