June 2, 2008
So you are graduating high school and your Mom and I are trying to fathom just what a day will look like when you are not here!
It’s not just that we will miss you – of course this is true. I have been preparing myself for this day for years: for when we will have to soldier on knowing that you will be orbiting some other planetary pulls and gravitational forces. But it is not just that we will miss you. I have learned over the years that things are far more ephemeral than they appear to the eye. All things pass: the good things, all too soon it seems, but also the hard times pass as well. You should always find some comfort in that, scary and sad as that is.
For now, I must come to terms with the fact that one of my very favorite people in the whole world will not be here for me to talk with, to discuss etymology at dinner with, to discuss philosophy with. Hardly seems right that as a parent, if I am doing my job right, your leaving should hurt this much, but it does. Rest assured though that this is the kind of hurt growing older offers in return for other things: like getting a beautiful, poised, intelligent and loving daughter in you. I will take the hit for that any day.
I think we have told you this before, but it bears repeating and in writing: did you know that we imagined you long before we were married? I often tell people that we named you “Katherine” after Katherine Anne Porter, one of my favorite short story writers. That sounds so impressive, doesn’t it? The fact is, your Mom and I were at The Bottom Line in NY City once long before we were married watching folksinger Tom Paxton. It was a snowy evening.
Before your Mom and I had the discussion that many couples have about whether or not to have kids, long before you were even an abstraction in our mind’s eye, you came to us that night from of all things, the lyrics of a folk song.
Paxton had announced to the audience that he just had a little girl whom he named “Kate” and he proceeded to sing these words:
Oh, I have a little daughter, and my daughter's name is Kate.
And she's every bit mischievous as a kitten on a skate.
Take an angel with the devil in the twinkling of her eye,
And that's my Katy, little lady, and I love her.
You might have heard me sing this a few million times in your life.
Fact is though, I would jump the moon for you; I would swim the sea. There is nothing that Mom or I would not do for you. I believe now that he was singing to us about you.
When the song was done, I remember looking over to your Mom and she to me, and it was as if the same idea struck us each simultaneously, independently – two discreet souls being touched by the single stroke of God at that instant – and we knew, we KNEW that you had to be Katie.
To be fair, there was never a thing about you that was mischievous as the song indicates. When I tell you that you have been a joy as a child, I do not say such a thing as parents might from time to time because, well, that is what parents are supposed to say about their kids. I say it from my heart because it was and still is true. You have been air to our stifled lungs, certitude to our moments of doubt, a road sign that our steering might not have been so cockeyed after all.
So what do I want you to know that we haven’t already taught you as you head off to college?
You have everything you need to succeed, however you define that term, and remember, that defining “success” is really the tricky part of living an adult life.
Remember what Blaise Paschal wrote: that many human problems can be traced to the fact that people have a hard time sitting quietly, alone in a room.
There is only one absolute in the universe that I know simply by intuition: that love is the power that rules it. Never forget that, though it may seem hard to believe at times.
People will literally throw themselves at you trying to get you to hate them and you may or may not love them in return. No matter what people do or say to you, no matter how hard they try to make you hate them, how mean they are to you, how badly they behave towards you –you will always have the capacity to love them. This, mi hija, is infinite in you and is as boundless as space.
It is always, always, always your choice to love, to forgive, and no one can ever take that away, or diminish your capacity to love even more fully.
Finding meaning in life is easy, but discerning how to love more fully, ah, that, as brother Shakespeare wrote, “there is the rub.”
Your Mom and I have raised you Catholic. It is a tradition that we believe, despite its flaws as an institution, is a pretty good way to experience this love of which I write, God’s love for you and all. But keep in mind this is not the only way to find God’s love. All the great faiths of this world point to the same sacred source of life for their strength. I pray in time you will recognize this more and more and in turn, realize your kinship with the whole world. May you expand all your worship experiences and find God in each breath of every living being on this planet. May you find God in the whispering winds, as Ezekiel did.
Embrace the mysticism of your faith, Katherine, and never be ashamed to proclaim that your greatest faith is often in things that are not explainable at all, except in the quiet whispers of your own heart.
Take time at college to cultivate a habit of solitude, for it will serve you well in this culture that thrives on distraction and noise. It will bring you peace and perspective.
Pray constantly and learn that prayer is not just uttering words, but can be the act of listening: to a friend in need, to yourself. Be forgiving to yourself first and foremost. It will be easier to forgive others. You have a pure heart and no amount of wrong-doing will ever change that.
I am so grateful for many things, but your gentleness, your intellect, your sweet, sensitive personality are right at the top of my list. Your work ethic is impressive and I even admire your somewhat “nerdish” tendencies.
You should know that you have taught Mom and me so much more than we have ever taught you. When you have kids, you will understand that last sentence. It seems odd, but it is true, nevertheless.
Remember always that you were a child of a vision; that you came to us as a lyric in a song, so of course you were destined to always make our hearts dance. This is your heritage; this then becomes your destiny – it is yours to fulfill.
Have fun. Make lots of mistakes. Admit when you are wrong. Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. Know that even the hurtful times that will come are important too, and you should not avoid them, just because they hurt. (You will learn the most about yourself!)
We have loved you for so very long, long before you were even dreamed of, sweetheart. In this way, you are magical.
God Bless always and thank you for gracing our lives with your beautiful being.
Mommy and Daddy