For the past decade, I have written an annual letter of advice to your father, your uncle and their cousins, trying to give them a little perspective on what life was going to be like for them as they grew into adulthood. Today, they are all adults and are experiencing firsthand the ups-and-downs of everyday living. I discern that they are finding that life is harder than they thought. Welcome to the real world.
With my grandsons out on their own, I thought it would be worth our collective time if I talked to you about some things that may be helpful to you in the future. I hope you will put this letter away and refer to in the years to come. Given our age differences, there is a good chance I won't be around to see you reach adulthood. I can't say with assurance what kind of world awaits you down the road but I am sure that some things are timeless.
For starters, let's talk about love. You have generated a passel of it since your arrival three years ago. You never got to know your dad's cousin, Zack, who left us much too early. He was the oldest grandson and Nana and I loved him passionately. His loss left us with an emptiness that will never totally disappear, but you have helped us cope with our grief. Every time you talk — perhaps babble is a more apt description — to us on the telephone or hug us and plant a sloppy kiss on our cheek, we heal a little. That is the power of love. The more you give, the more you receive in return. Don't forget that.
You will find out that loving people gets harder as you get older. It is easy to love those who love you. But what about those we don't particularly like? Should we love them, too?
The Bible says to love everybody as you love yourself. No exceptions. The Bible doesn't say you have to like them. There is a difference. And there is nothing wrong with loving yourself. It's called self-esteem and, in moderate amounts, it is helpful.
Feel good about yourself. A good self-image isn't about being arrogant or a braggart or self-absorbed. You were created in the image of God and are special in His eyes and in the eyes of those who love you. Never let anyone else's opinions of you change you. No one knows you better than you know yourself.
Be honest and ethical. You can't imagine how good your life will be if you live it without guilt. What you may or may not accumulate in terms of wealth and power is, in the long run, of scant importance. What is important is to lay your head on your pillow each night confident that you lived that day the best you could and that you didn't lie or cheat or steal.
Remember, you can't get the day back for a do-over. It's gone forever. Don't waste it.
Nana will tell you that whatever choices you make, you will have to live with the consequences of those choices, good or bad. That is not to say you should be timid in your decisions; just be wise. And never rationalize a bad decision. You know what is right and wrong before you do it. Listen to your gut. Your gut is never wrong. It is the brain that gets us in trouble when we try to justify something we know is not right.
Don't let others tell you what to think. Make up your own mind and march to your own drum. There will be a lot of pressure placed on you at times to go along with the crowd. But just remember that if you do become a part of the crowd and that crew is headed in the wrong direction, you will hurt a lot of people who love you. Life is not about being popular; it is about doing what is right. Don't disappoint us.
The challenges you will face in your lifetime will likely be much different than those of my generation, but the fundamentals will remain the same. Believe in God, be true to yourself, don't cheat anyone, love everyone — whether you like them or not — and give everything you do your best effort.
May the wind be always at your back and may the sun shine warm upon your face.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose columns appear on Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com.