Happy 18th birthday <insert name here>!
What you’re about to read is a letter from the past. I wrote this on my 31st birthday, October 17th, 2012. In the future, robots probably read letters for you, out loud, in robot voices. If that is the case, please disconnect the robot now, and read this with your own eyes (Or your “mother’s” eyes, according to her side of the family. Whatever.). 18. Wow. I’ve probably already told you 10,000 times how it seems like you were born yesterday, so I’ll spare you that comment here (but seriously, it does seem like you were born yesterday). I’m sure all sorts of exciting things have happened since 2012. The Cubs have probably won the World Series, we’ve probably had a manned mission to Mars, and a female president. You’ re right, that’s ridiculous, the Cubs still haven’t won the series.
I’m writing this because, in 2012, when someone turns 18, they’re given the right to vote. That’s pretty important. So, being old and wise and 31(….I’ll wait for you to stop laughing….ok….good to go now? ok good….) I figured I’d try and explain to you why it’s important to take that responsibility seriously.
First off, I don’t care who you vote for. Seriously. Growing up in this house you probably know by now that we love you, no matter what. Remember that time you <insert embarrassing incident here>? Still love you. Can’t help it. So I don’t care what political stripe you are, but here’s what I do care about:
That you care.
There’s a great poem. I’ve probably read it to you more than once. It’s called the Desiderata. At the heart of it is a message that’s good and important – and that’s that people are worth caring about, worth believing in. It may seem odd that voting is an extension of that message, but it is, because politics isn’t just what you see on TV. It’s not soundbites, or a horserace. No, politics is everything. Everything you do, from the time you get out of bed, is politics. Politics is negotiation, compromise, debate, contemplation, decision making, and everything in between. And, as you know, the things you do throughout the day have a direct impact on you, and others around you. So when you hear people say they don’t like politics, or they don’t care, or that their vote doesn’t matter, they are, to use a bad cliche, judging a book by its cover. The reality is there are good people out there in government working very hard every day to do what they feel is best for the people in this country, this state, this county, this township, this tiny piece of land in the universe that we call home. That brings me to my next point:
Just because what someone thinks is ‘good’ for the country is different than what you think, does not make them a bad person.
I want you to sit and think about your life for a second. How many times has a door been slammed in your face because of your political beliefs? The answer is probably: “never”. How many times has someone with different political beliefs offered you a hand, or otherwise shown you care and compassion? The answer is probably: “a lot”. Like I said, politics is everywhere, so let the conduct in your daily life and the way you treat the people you come into contact with carry over to the way you treat those whom you may not even know; those who are of a different political persuasion. Stand up for what you believe in, and defend those beliefs with all the strength and courage you can muster, but avoid reducing the other person to something less than human. In the same token, avoid people that prey on ignorance with hate and fear. When you hear someone trash the other side(s) based on their color, their creed, their gender – stop listening. They’re not worth your time. You undermine their efforts by refusing them an audience.
This is a country with an amazing story, and its people are its story. Always remember that you are a walking, talking, beautiful American story. The Irish and Scottish blood that courses through your veins saw the Revolution, and stood its ground at Gettysburg during the Civil War. It helped build the oil fields in Pennsylvania. It landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, and fought alongside Patton against the greatest threat this world has ever seen. Your English blood has been here since before the Revolution; it built successful businesses in Rhode Island and had a root beer named after it (!). The French and German blood in your veins settled this area we call home. Farmed it, cultivated it, gave it a name – your grandmother’s maiden name. The Polish blood you carry landed at Ellis island – your great-great-grandparents – and made a life in New Jersey and Michigan. The story continues and you have the pen now, write something amazing.
You’re entering into a period of your life that will be marked by enthusiasm, hope, and idealism. That period will at some point give way in part to cynicism and mistrust. But don’t lose sight of all of that hope, all those dreams. Find balance. Believe in yourself, believe in those around you, and believe in the power of your voice, your vote.
In case you forgot:
Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy