Dear Regina and Leo,
I am writing this letter because I want to establish a more honest relationship with you…
Who am I? What is my approach to life?
Basically, I am an explorer. I want to experience the universe in different ways, gain insights, and to the extent that I can and that it is helpful, share those insights in various ways with others.
I know the universe is full of contradictions, of good and evil. I want to be acontributorto theside of good. I want to do this not just contemplatively, but in practice.
I believe in working hard, in achievement, but not for the sake of appearances, not for the sake of money or security or status, but for the purposes above: exploring and contributing to good.
I try to give more than take from the universe, while recognizing that I have been blessed with many gifts. I believe in the law of karma — that I you trust the universe and give to it without expectations, you will get back from the universe what you deserve.
This is not always the easiest way to live one’s life. Sometimes I have to wander around a bit until I discover the right thing to do. But there is an overall logic to my life that satisfies me.
I understand that your approach to life is different from mine. I accept this difference, and hope you can too. Perhaps we could even learn from each other.
Your approach to life is no less valid than mine. Our approaches and personalities just happen to be different. Ideally, we should be able to acknowledge those differences — and not try to change them — and still love each other.
I know about your childhoods, your families. I know about the Great Depression, anti-Semitism, the Holocaust. I understand and accept the effects that all these things have had on you. They have affected me too.
But I am a child of a different era. Thanks to your efforts, and to the relative affluence and peacefulness of this ear, I have had a healthier, happier and more secure “launching” in life than you did…
For your own reasons, to fill some of your own needs, you wanted your son to be a certain way. You wanted me to be well-behaved, well-groomed, respectable, professional, financially secure, family-oriented — and also, in some ways, to remain your little boy. I understand many of the reasons you wanted me to be this way — and do not blame you for it.
I know that, underneath your “instructions” to me to be a certain way, has been your own (understandably) fearful and pessimistic attitude toward the world: the world is basically out to get us, the lot of man (or at least of Jews) is to suffer; what we must do is build the safest possible fortress for ourselves and try to survive. This attitude isn’t bad or wrong. It is, simply, yours….
I think you know that I share many, if not most, of your basic values. I am honest, I am loving, I am generous and giving. I want to do meaningful things with my life. But, in addition to these similarities, I am different from you in many ways.
I am, I would say, more trusting — trusting in the universe as well as in other people. I understand suffering, and am greatly saddened by it, but I am less fearful, and less needing to build my “fortress.” My experience with fortresses is that they are deadly and stultifying. I am more interested in experiencing and understanding many aspects of life and the world than in simply surviving.
I am adventurous, romantic and a bit mischievous, as well as serious and hard-working. I am inclined to take risks rather than hew to the safe, beaten path. I like relating to — and finding value in — people who are not professionals, not highly academic or intellectual. I am more interested in what is going on inside people—psychologically and spiritually — than in outward appearances. I like finding things out on my own, creating my own “syntheses,” rather than accepting handed-down dogma. I like creating products and living organizations and relationships that embody my values.
I am not oblivious to financial security. But the fact is that I’ve got it (thanks to you, rising San Francisco real estate values, and my own frugality). So the question I face is not what I can do for financial security, but what financial security can do for me…
It is not illogical or “wrong” that I have chosen journalism, political work and ‘socialist entrepreneurship’ rather than academia, medicine or law. Had I chosen any of the latter, I would have been bored and unhappy.
I realize that, by your standards, I am not “normal.” So be it. But I must live by my own standards.
You may be interested to know that the family member who meant the most to me was Grandpa. I always got positive feedback from him about what I was doing with my life. However he may have been as a younger man, as a step-father and as a Stalinist, to me he seemed to embody many of the qualities I was discovering in myself—the explorer, the adventurer, more concerned with ideas than with appearances or financial rewards…
I know you often have gloomy and doomy anxieties about me. You imagine that I am experiencing — or will experience—depression, loneliness, poverty, illness, death. Of course, I do and will experience most of these things, but so what?
I also know that, no matter what I do or say, you will continue to have such anxieties, such being the nature of anxieties. If helps me, though, if you keep your anxieties about me to yourself. If you want to share your anxieties about yourselves, that’s fine.
Similarly, it helps me not to hear your judgments of me, your advice on careers, relationships, appearances or behavior. If you want to share your thoughts about your own careers and relationships, that’s fine. I won’t judge them, either…
I would like to close this letter with some words from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends
you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Despite all that I have said before, I want you to know that you have been fine archers. I know that you have always given me the most that you could — and so much of it was good.
If the test of your “archery” is whether I am happy with the results, rest assured: I am. You have done well, and I will always love you for it.