Reflections on the arrival of my Goddaughter
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The surge of feeling I had when you were born surprised me. I imagine it is a shadow of what your parents felt the first time they saw you; a wave of love, a fierce desire to protect, and a tinge of fear.
Fear — because, really, who am I to guide you?
You have been born into a world that is filled with awe-inspiringly beautiful things. A world filled with love, tenderness and joy.
And you have been born into a world of such unspeakable tragedy. A world of disaster, both natural and human-made. A world filled with a callous cruelty that eventually finds each and every one of us. I would tell you that you’re safe, but it would be a lie.
You have been born into a world I only half understand. One in which our every action is tracked and fed into an algorithm. We delegate our thinking and our memory to computers. This is no luddite rant, I genuinely believe they do a better job of much of it. But where does it leave us?
I don’t know what the future story of humanity is. Right now, there are some power-crazy, selfish, and shortsighted people in power. Nuclear threats come and go, and right now they are a-coming. It only takes one mistake, one pride-filled ‘leader’, to throw away millions of lives.
Meanwhile, tech-genius-billionaires work on eternal life and space travel. Who knows, maybe you’ll be able to upload your brain into a new body by the time you’re twenty.
I guess I would give you the same advice whether you spend your twenties in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or a sci-fi utopia.
I would tell you to be kind
Kindness is the foundation of civilised society, and civilisation is what enables happiness and peace to thrive. I believe that we owe kindness to every other human on this planet, regardless of who they are. Be kind to those you know. Be kind to those you don’t know. Be kind to those you like. Be kind to those you dislike.
Kindness does not mean you should let yourself be used or abused. Rather, it means that you accept that people are doing the best they can with the hand they were dealt. It means being honest with them, and it means listening to what they have to say.
Sometimes, the kindest thing to do is to walk away from someone.
I would tell you to survive
There have been times in my life when the blank, unyielding awfulness of some years have ground me down until I didn’t want to get back up. Sometimes, it takes all you have just to stay alive.
You must stay alive.
I have always come out the other side and found myself blinking in the light of a perfect sunrise. You will too. Life ebbs and flows. We all have dark days. Grief is painful, and it is messy, and it is exhausting. And you will grieve. You’ll grieve for friendships broken, lovers lost, family that pass on. And you’ll grieve for the chances missed, the lives you didn’t lead, and the dreams that perished in the living of them.
But I promise, we all have light days too. Days of joy and triumph. We’ll feel ourselves present in a moment of love, a moment of tenderness, a moment of ascent. And you will be glad of your life, that you got to experience such a moment.
I would tell you to not let fear stop you from living
We are taught that danger waits for us, that strangers are evil and predatory, that we are always on the edge of disaster. But we are just as likely to experience ‘the kindness of strangers’ as we are to experience ‘stranger danger’. People can be generous, helpful, loving, patient and forgiving, if you let them be.
Everything we do is risky. Growing up is about figuring out how to weigh the risk against the benefit. Fall in love. Travel by yourself. Do foolish things ‘for the hell of it’. Trust your instincts, and let yourself trust other people. Don’t hide yourself away, and miss out on all the pomp and glory of this incredible world.
And, I would tell you to treasure the good memories
Collect them like pearls, and bring them out to study regularly. The things that you choose to remember will form the core of who you are. Good memories ground us in our best self. They remind us that we can be strong, generous, kind and happy.
This doesn’t mean you should try to forget or ignore the bad memories – but bad memories tend to stick with us, regardless of what we do. Good memories are something we need to work at. Rehearse those times you made the right call, and look back at the days that everything went right.
And the most important thing to hold on to? That will get you through everything, if you can just remember it.