Dakota is perched on the precarious edge of womanhood now, and she’s a deep one, never precipitous in her approach to life, always observing and assessing. Because of the difference in our ages I sometimes wonder when we speak of important question marks in life whether she’s tucking away what we say to each other on the great tape-recorder of soul, for some faraway day, when I’m just a memory, and she’s standing at the kitchen window, wishing she could share a cup of tea with me again… just as I often find myself wishing I could sit down with my own parents, now long gone, to share some thoughts on what the years have wrought. I wonder if whatever I say now will seem quaint and old fashioned by then, or if whatever comes directly from the heart, never ages at all.
The Love List
That said, I’m trying to make a list of some of the important stuff, to give to Dakota should she ever ask me what I think about life. And she’s the kind who might. I’d like her to know where I stand as an observer of the human condition. I want her to know, as her own life unfolds, that the important things in life aren’t things at all – and they mostly have to do with the heart, not the pocketbook.
So far, life looks to me like it’s mostly about love. The quest for it… the giving and receiving… the loss of it. And kindness and compassion. And maybe about forgiveness, although the jury’s still out on this one for me, as its not easy at all and usually the best I can do is park my enemies in neutral or consign them to the Lords of the Karma to deal with, as my own inclinations are a bit old Testament.
Life seems also to be about courage and honor and a lot of virtues that are simple to say and tough to live. And it’s pretty hard. Life is definitely not for sissies, and, I’m sorry to say, it’s not so very fair. The good don’t triumph, except every once in a while. The cruel and the ruthless often end up with the world’s spoils… there’s never been a poor tyrant, as far as I know. You can work all your life diligently and honorably, yet never get to be a rock star or a zillionaire or even get the 15 minutes of requisite fame allotted us all by Andy Warhole. So a lot of the time you have to find a way, as best you can, to remember that much as our 21st century “gimme, gimme” mindset might disagree, life is about much more than money.
In fact it’s about a whole lot of valuables that have little to do with bling or bank accounts or becoming a Household Name. We used to call these concepts Values, before the term was politically usurped and bastardized.
The word “Values” has become such a catch-phrase of late, bandied about by spindoctors and unscrupulous politicians, so I’d better make a disclaimer right up front before I get started. To wit: the Values that make life worthwhile have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with denying rights to homosexuals, keeping women from having free choice about their own bodies, vamoosing Mexicans from our borders, (God help the poor Statue of Liberty, she must be so ashamed of us) or any of the other perversions of family values that have been invented by the narrow-hearted to confuse the simpleminded. Family values never involve hatred, prejudice or unkindness. Never.
The Life List
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, here’s some of the Values I’ve put on the list, so far:
Life’s about decency, sharing and compassion and trying to be your best self in the face of formidable odds.
It’s about the thousand acts of courage that daily life demands of you.
about trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.
about holding a child in your arms and kissing away the hurt places.
about helping an aged parent face the future with dignity and the memory of accomplishment.
about taking the time to hold out a hand to someone who needs one.
about having the guts to face life alone, but still believe in love.
about telling the truth, when the consequences aren’t easy.
about being brave even when you’re scared, and not letting fear make you impotent.
about sleeping nights because you can live with your conscience.
about striving to be what you were born to be, whatever that is.
about being willing to fight for everyone’s rights, not just your own.
about loyalty and trust and generosity and integrity and all the human decencies that constitute grace.
It’s about the fact that everyday-humans can, and often do, change the world. It’s never governments or institutions that bring about profound alteration, it’s individuals with the courage of their convictions, who stick together in their resolve to change what must be changed. Better worlds are built one action at a time, one person at a time. One person, who knows who s/he is, and will not be less, even when the going gets tough.
It’s about never buying the lie that you can’t fight City Hall. About knowing in your gut that you not only can, but very often must. The human heart is bigger than institutions and governments, bigger than hopelessness and despair, bigger than injustice. History has proven that over and over again.
Most of us will never be rich. Or thin. Or beautiful. Or famous. But most of us can have a pretty successful life – a life that makes a genuine difference for having lived it. Maybe, the real challenge in these greedy, celebrity-crazed times, is to learn not how to have more, but how to be more… to learn not to be just a person of success, but a person of value.
And maybe, in the final analysis, it’s also about finding our own song and singing it, because no one else can. When we stay small, whether through fear or shyness or a sense of unworthiness, we do ourselves and the world a terrible disservice. It’s in becoming all we can be, that we serve God and humanity best.
That could be all I know so far… if I think of anything else as we go along, I’ll add it to the list.
For My Daughter
Cathy Cash Spellman
I love you just as you are.
Did you know that?
I don’t need you to be more perfect
Or more beautiful
Or to win the Nobel Prize
Or beat the four minute mile.
I love you exactly as you came from
The Hand of God.
Perfect in your astonishing uniqueness.
Perfect in your soul.
Your kind heart
And beautiful spirit
And contagious laughter
All are bonuses.
The astuteness that sees into
The soul of things,
Beyond the dross,
The memory of chubby baby fingers
Wrapped around my heart,
Feel safe in that love, child.
Feel yourself whole and just exactly
As you should be.
Never wonder if I could have
Loved you more
Had you been
Something other than you are.
Carry that safety in every cell
As surely as you carry my unalterable love.
It’s the curse of motherhood
That we always
Raise the bar
Our children strive to clear.
Our hope is to inspire,
Make impossible dreams, possible.
But the reality, more often,
Is a child who feels s/he never makes the grade.
So to you now
I give with my whole heart
This simple gift:
The surety that you are
Exactly as you were meant to be.
Perfect in your utter uniqueness
The only snowflake of its kind in all Creation.
Not mine to mold
Or second guess.
Better than I could ever hope or dream
Exactly as you are.
My efforts those of a gardener
Who tends the perfect rose
She never could have made…
A gardener who stares in wonder
At every astonishing petal as it unfolds
I love you just the way you are.
I hope you know that.
© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2010