11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection May 17, 2015
To Daphne Lou
As You Turn One
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Dear Daphne Lou:
This is your paternal grandfather again. I promised not long after you were born that I’d write to you for each of your birthdays. Think of this letter as but a small part of your birthday present.
Life is a wonderful gift but it is also fragile. My hope is to spend many years writing to you but no one is given an endless future. So I want to share what little wisdom I may possess as a kind of patrimony.
Daphne, your life now is almost all promise and possibility. You are not burdened by the weight of the past as are those of us who are elders.
Many of us, as we age, get bent over by mistakes made and potential unrealized. Not all of us age well and resentment is a common side effect of the aging process. Grumpy, angry, people are best avoided if possible.
But when we look at you, Daphne, we glimpse in your bright eyes a shining, luminous, promise. Life in you is bursting with potential. Life in you is overflowing with what is possible. It is a joy for those of us who are older to see and remember when we too held such potential. We thank you for reminding us of those lush, spring days when everything seemed possible.
Daphne, we applaud the growth that you’ve already achieved. We also delight in the growth waiting to embrace you as the weeks and months of your own springtime unfold. It is a joy for your grandmother Beth and me to receive photos of you each week.
What do I wish for you? I wish for you a meaningful life. Many people hope for a happy life. And happiness surely has its place. But happiness comes and goes. Happiness ebbs and flows like the tides. Happiness is hard to pursue and even harder to catch.
Your grandmother Beth keeps praying for my happiness. She wants me to be happy. And I’ve had moments of deep happiness in my life. Your birth is one of those deep and happy moments.
But I do not seek happiness. This may result from my being Irish. My mother and father, your paternal great-grandparents, came to this country from Ireland.
My father fled to this country because of the “troubles” that accompanied Ireland’s quest for independence. My mother came here trying to escape her family’s dire poverty. Both of them struggled in this country especially during what is known as “The Great Depression.”
I’ve traveled to Ireland many, many times. I say without equivocation that the Irish are not a particular happy people. They are very hospitable but are haunted by a deep melancholia. This melancholia may result not only from the long history of Irish suffering but also from the less than sunny weather that assails Ireland. And I seem to carry my share of this ancestral darkness.
So I pursue a life that is meaningful rather than a life that is happy. Be happy, Daphne, but happiness is fleeting and not truly worthy of being one’s primary goal in life.
As Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the great brutality known as the Holocaust, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning (a book I hope you will read in high school): “happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” If you seek a meaningful life, I believe happiness will come of its own accord.
As I tell my students, how one deals with the pain of life determines a great deal about the rest of one’s life. Pain, as you already know, comes whether we are ready for it or not.
Suffering, Daphne, cannot be avoided. It is deeply interwoven into the fabric of life. I hope and pray that great suffering will not afflict you yet suffering will be part of your life. How to deal with suffering in a healthy, healing way is a vital component of a meaningful life.
If I might sum up a meaningful life: a meaningful life is more about “giving” and less about “taking.” A meaningful life is about “going deep” instead of staying on the surface. A meaningful life is more about healing than it is about causing wounds.
Your wonderful mother, Hannah, serves people as a nurse. She well understands how important healing is. She will surely help you understand this essential component of a meaningful life.
Daphne, our world is wounded. A meaningful life is one that helps heal what is wounded. Your loving parents, your adoring grandparents and our families will certainly do what we can to help you understand how to heal what is in need of healing.
Having been involved in professional religion for over forty years, I’d like to say religion cannot be healthy if it concentrates on people’s “sins” instead of their wounds. Too many religious leaders focus on a hoped-for afterlife while neglecting the here and now of human life on this fragile planet. I’ve tried to speak about this in the two books I’ve written on healthy religion (which I hope you will read when you are older).
Daphne, you are truly loved. I hope and pray that this truth will find a permanent home deep within you. As you grow, I hope and pray that this love will nourish you - that this love will lead you and guide you to a most meaningful (and happy) life!
With much love, Daphne, as you celebrate your first birthday, Your Grandpa Tom
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister