This is the last time I will be able to call you Niecephew because soon you’ll be here, in the world, and they’ll drape you in the color that society has selected for your sex. I can only assume, since your momma and your dadda have decided to make your name a surprise, that in a few short days we will call you something like SnuggleMuffinPieSquishLoveSoSweet. I can’t wait to call you by your name, and oh so many nicknames. (Speaking of calling you by your name, when you’re 18, you must see Call Me By My Name–it is the most beautiful love story but too mature for a little boo.)
Since you’ll soon switch from a fetus to an infant, I think it’s high time we get you into some literature. So here’s my favorite poem. Eat it. Let the juice run down your chin. I’ll add my own commentary–you’ll get used to it–Aunt Amandy always has commentary. Just ask Uncle Chas.
by Max Ehrmann
(Commentary by Aunt Amandy)
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Before we get going here, little boo, placidly means peacefully. When you’re ready to know about Greek and Latin roots, I will teach you that plac comes from the Latin word for “to please.”
I love this stanza for so many reasons, including the appreciate silence. As you grow up I cannot imagine how loud the world will be. Find silence whenever and wherever you can. It’s a commodity these days.
When people make you angry, when you make people angry, find a path to resolutions. Life’s too short for animosity. Sure, your Aunt Amandy often jokes about her nemeses, but they’re just people who need to be called out on their shit. Also, don’t say “shit.”
When you listen to others, look them in the eye. Show people that you’re listening. For the love of all that is holy, do not look at your cell phone while someone is telling you a story. See also this.
One of the most important lessons of living is that everyone has a story. Listen to it. Really hear it. Default to compassion. There is no way of knowing the burden someone is carrying silently. Even meanies**. They might be meanies because life does get hard and sometimes you’re just not sure how to spit that back out and it ends up landing on other people, maybe you. Assume positive intent and help those people if you can.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
As I said above, even meanies have a story but that doesn’t mean you need to hang around them. Model your peace for “loud and aggressive persons,” don’t join in. We want your spirit to remain vexation-free.
Comparisons are a fruitless pursuit. It’s amazing that Ehrmann wrote this before social media because at its root, it seems that the stuff it’s really made of is comparison. Be proud of who YOU are. Be proud of who others are too. Life is so much harder if you make everyone else a competitor. Let your only competitor be yourself and you’ll always continue to grow.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
For the foreseeable future, your career will be tummy time, then learning to eat on your own and then potty training, then it’ll be school for 22 years. Find times to celebrate yourself. And when we say that school is your job, know that your learning and to a lesser degree, your report card, are your paycheck. Earn them.
Find the heroes that surround you. Start with your grandparents. They’re pretty kick ass. While you should hold things close to the vest, look for the good, the great, in others.
Money is important for some things but do not let money drive you. Let passion drive you. I want you to wake up everyday and feel like, “Yes, this is what I get to do!” You’d be surprised how many people are never able to say that because money is what drives them. Make enough to pay your bills. But be happy everyday.
Also, to that end, it’s always just easier on your psyche in big parties to ask the waitress for separate checks from the beginning. If you want to enjoy the meal, get the financials out of the way at the beginning.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
“Feign” is one of those words that is an exception to the “i before e rule” and it means “to pretend.” Don’t worry, I will teach you that soon. My niecephew will not misspell “receive.”
Love openly, but no need to fake it. Your heart will be broken. And then again. And then more times. I will give you a great playlist of sad songs and we can eat ice cream from the container. But don’t let those heart breaks break you. Love wins.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
Welcome aging, you’ll know more as you grow. Inside you, in your spirit, you have everything you need to weather the letdowns that will surely happen. Acknowledge the power inside of you. Breathe. Face feelings, even the painful ones. It’s the only way to really heal.
Sometimes we are the hardest on ourselves. Learn how to forgive, not just meanies, learn how to forgive yourself. Apologize to those you’ve wronged and then open your clenched fist and let it go.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
The above is my most favorite stanza. Read it whenever you need to.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive her to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
This poem was written in 1927 so I had to make an edit. If god exists, we all know she’s a she. If you believe in god, great. If you don’t, great. You can decide that for yourself. But don’t be afraid of spirituality and the powers of the universe. You’ll find throughout life that something or someone is at hard at work to ensure that whatever is meant to be, will be.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
You’ll encounter many pessimists in your life. Don’t be one. Show them how to be an optimist and they’ll be better for having known you, Niecephew. Sure there’s hurt and pain and sorrow and awfulness, but there’s so much beauty. Default to joy. See the pink blanket under the cherry blossoms that have dropped their petals. Find the only cloud in the sky on a blue day. Fold over your legs and enjoy a stretch at least once a day. Smell what’s baking. Listen to the song of the birds who woke you up too early on a Saturday.
We’re all so ready to meet you. You know how I mentioned “placidly” above? Please, for the sake of your momma, enter the world placidly. Also, soon.
**meanies = ass holes, but I don’t want you to have a potty mouth