July 9, 2016

Ten on Ten

Ten piece of advice for my daughter on her tenth birthday:

1. Leave every space you are in better than you found it.

Whether you are in your own room, a restaurant, a park trail, the beach, a classroom, a sidewalk, a park or a car always pick up after yourself and leave no trace of yourself behind. If you can make it better by picking up other peoples’ trash or pushing in a chair or setting down some flowers, then do it. Sweep if it needs sweeping, wash if it needs washing, tidy when tidiness is needed. Arrange things to make the next person enjoy the space more than you did.

2. Every person has a story and has suffered in ways you need to understand.

Do not judge people or gossip in hurtful ways. You do not know the pain that people may have faced. Put yourself in their shoes and give them the benefit of the doubt. Even when they are mean or cruel, try and understand their anger. Listen when you can and ask questions before you react. Many people in life will act from pain and suffering and they may warrant your wrath, but give them your grace instead. The ugliest people need love too, and sometimes you might be the only one that can give it to them.

3. Do not act violently or in anger.

You will see suffering and injustice that will make you want to hate. You will see ignorance and racism and violence, that is so intense that you will think the only answer is equal amounts of anger and violence, but know this- love and peace will be the only way out of this trap. Even in the face of unspeakable atrocities, your love is the only way forward.

4. There is no right. There are only different ways of seeing things.

Anybody who tells you they know the right way to be, to think, to pray, to believe is not to be trusted. There is no “right” way to exist in the world. Only blinded, close-minded people think the world is so simple as to have a right way to experience it. Take it all in. Listen, trust, believe, explore. Try to balance opposing ways of thinking. Try to make sense of two opposing truths at once.

5. Art, music or a book will always make things better.

You are not the first person in the world. There have been countless others on this journey. They have sung and written and painted and sculpted their love and pain onto vinyl and stone and paper and canvas. Their pain and joy is your pain and joy, learn from it, be swallowed by it. Seek it. Devour it. Love and be loved by it. There is no question that cannot be answered by the exploration and/or creation of art. Music. Books. Dance. It will always be there for you. Create it. Turn yourself inside out and tell your story. It has value and is beautiful and necessary.

6. You are nature.

Never think that you are something different or separate from the ocean and the stars and the moon and the universe and every leaf and bug and animal on the planet. You are the planet. Love yourself and love all life. There is no need to kill. Respect the powerful form of nature that runs through you. Spend time in the forest and the desert and the ocean. Admire and protect every piece of life, from the tiny plankton to the giant whale. Learn about biology and chemistry and zoology, and be sure to spend time in nature. Take hikes, dive, ski, swim in rivers. Marvel at the clouds and the small breezes. Pay attention to shadows and leaves and trees everywhere you look.

7. Be kind even when it feels like unearned.

Smile at strangers. Especially when they have their heads down and scowling. Hold doors for people and let others go first. Pay for people when they are short. Compliment your friends and send handwritten thank you cards. When someone makes you feel bad, forgive them. When they insult you, know that they are dealing with their own insecurities. Go out of your way to make people feel better. Put other people’s needs before your own.

8. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.

Love that voice in your head. It will be with you till the end. Trust your gut. Love yourself. Long and hard. There is no one in the world who will be there for your more often and with more consistency than yourself. Take quiet walks. Watch movies alone. Lose yourself in a book. Eat alone at restaurants. Talk to yourself and ask questions. Never lie to yourself. Trust yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are doing your best. You are enough.

9. Stay away from guns and people who love guns.

Nothing was ever made better by a gun. They are weapons of destruction, anger, violence and pain. You can live your whole life and never even see a gun, I have done it. When people have guns, go somewhere else. If you meet people who glorify or love guns, leave them and find people who love peace and nature. People might say that they are good for hunting or shooting or protection. They are good for nothing. If you are in a place with a gun, move to another place without a gun. Your life will be much lighter and more beautiful if you avoid guns and people who love guns.

10. There is no such thing as race or countries or religions.

You are no better than anyone else for any reason. We are all human beings, regardless of what we believe, where we were born or the color of our skin. Love all people with the same enthusiasm as if they look and think just like you. Don’t believe in dogma or flags or passports. You are a child of the world, a wonder-star in the universe, never limit yourself to something as petty as a nation or a race. Love people. The more oppressed and poor that they are, the more they need your love. Take people in. Love them. Fight with them. March. Protest and stand up for the voiceless. If someone says that they are oppressed, do not question their oppression. People are scared of poverty and so they make excuses to hurt and oppress the poor, but you do not need to be scared. You simply need to listen and love.

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