(John Steinbeck with his two sons)
This morning I found my new favorite blog, Lists of Notes. It led me on journey through hundreds of letters and lists, generated from one famous person to the next. In light of Juani’s post about the importance of writing letters and my recent obsession with famous authors, Lists of Notes is the perfect marriage of my new interests. What I’ve found most beautiful are the letters from parents to their children. There is such tenderness in their wisdom and humility.
While away at boarding school, John Steinbeck’s oldest son, Thom, wrote to his father expressing that he had fallen in love. Below is Steinbeck’s reply:
November 10, 1958
We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.
First — if you are in love — that’s a good thing — that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.
Second — There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.
You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply — of course it isn’t puppy love.
But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it — and that I can tell you.
Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.
The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.
If you love someone — there is no possible harm in saying so — only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.
Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.
It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another — but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.
Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.
We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.
And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens — The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.
(F.Scott Fitzgerald and family)
The infamous F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a letter to his 11-year-old-daughter in 1933 and ended with a list of things to worry about and to not worry about.
Things to worry about:
Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
With dearest love,
These letters both remind me of a few things my parents have written to my siblings and me over the years. Below are quotes from each of them.
“What I want to share with the people I love most on the planet is to drop the grudges, don’t hold on to anything that anybody says that does not resonate with you, don’t hold on to beliefs and restrictions and rules that don’t make sense to you – even if your mother drummed them into you head. It turns out the the Orcle of Delphi and Suz, our modern day oracle, was right, Trust Thyself or Trust in Yourself, do what’s right.”
The letters above represent some valuable lessons on their own. More importantly, there is an unwritten lesson: share words with your children. At times you may feel like you don’t have all the answers, but just like anyone, all you can do is share your experience with your children. They will value it more than you will ever know.