Sitting in front of Shakespeare and Company
My Sweet Girl,
This is my favorite picture of you. Ever. It’s my favorite because it captures your sweetness and your spirit. I remember that you didn’t want to sit for the photo, but I insisted. In my haste to capture the moment, I didn’t notice George Whitman’s last line written on the chalkboard above you: Now it is my daughter’s turn.
You see, while you were busy forming your toenails and eyelashes and lungs and that beautiful brain of yours, I was busy planning your life. I wasn’t crafting your career path; that’s none of my business and not my path to take. I was, however, scheming ways to offer as much of the world to you as possible. I dreamed of the poetry that we’d read together (Walt Whitman, of course), the paintings we’d see, the songs we’d dance to in the living room, and the places we’d visit. And, yes, now it is your turn…
Here’s what I want for you: I want you to grab the world by the throat, to take it as your own without apologies. Devour it. Roll around in it. Attack it and then love its beautiful and mysterious lessons. You need to know that this ball of dirt is yours. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t.
Want to know a secret? We adults have a bad habit of extinguishing our own flames. In the minutiae of life, we forget about the dreams we whispered to ourselves as children. Sometimes, we compromise our dreams to make others happy, but I mostly think we give up because dreams aren’t always practical. (Remember what Langston Hughes says about deferred dreams. I’ll remind you until I die.) So, we play it safe. There are retirement funds and car repairs to fret over, you know. I hope you blaze your own trail, take risks, dare to dream big, and then use your fearless nature to make those big dreams come true.
Do you remember when you wrote the report about Amelia Earhart? I had forgotten that she was my hero when I was a little girl. I wanted to travel the globe with a free spirit unfettered by limitations like Amelia. I see that same spirit in you, and you’ve made me reclaim mine. As we travel the world together, I see the flame flickering in your soul. Don’t ever apologize for your verve, for your joie de vivre. Your spirit and desire to see the world are what make you an inspiration to the people around you. Don’t lose that spirit of adventure…ever.
Wanderlust is a disease, and I’m afraid that you’ve inherited the gene. The fact that you have the goal to reach thirteen countries by the age of thirteen makes me proud. You’re well on your way with ten countries under your belt. I have no doubt that you will reach your goal, and I hope that I’m with you when you receive the thirteenth stamp on your passport. We’ll celebrate, I promise.
Do you remember the first time that you saw the Eiffel Tower? The sun splayed through the hard steel, and Paris was beginning to wake from its slumber. You gasped. I could see your heart jumping out of your body. You wanted to run to it. Your eyes were big and bright, and we had to hold you back from running away from us. It’s this type of moment that I want you to experience over and over. We adults sometimes have a way of forgetting the joy of a moment. I hope you never forget the joy.
Remember, exploring the world is about the smaller, unplanned moments. Wander the streets. Take in the scents. Look at the sky. Hear the sounds. Soak it all in. I guarantee that these will be the things you remember when you are older. Sure, see the big stuff, but then wander. Your mind has a way of capturing and holding on to memories far better than any camera. You’ll be a walking scrapbook of sights and sounds and scents.
If you learn nothing else from your adventures, I hope it’s this: everyone you meet is walking his own path. Whether you travel to France or Japan, the bottom line is that we all have more in common than not. We all want freedom from suffering; we all want someone to love and to love us in return; we all want a place to sleep; and we all want food and drink. When you cross paths with others, remember these things. You will surely make friends if you remember the similarities and not the differences. Don’t let cultural, religious, or linguistic barriers keep you from learning and loving. You will be a richer person for it.
One day, much sooner than I’d like to accept, you’ll be on your own. I’ve no doubt that you’ll lasso the world and bend it to your will. Just remember to keep your passport current and a backpack at the ready. Pack a journal and a camera, and leave room for a spare pair of shoes. Keep your eyes open to the beauty of the world, your mind open to the differences, your arms ready to embrace humanity, and your heart prepared to fill with utter joy.