My parents asked that I share with others this letter I wrote to/for them for Christmas. I’m happy to honor that wish, and I hope it inspires in anyone reading it similar feelings of gratitude and love for the people you may not express those feelings to enough (if ever). Merry Christmas!
Dear Mom and Dad:
I love you. Unconditionally. This isn’t an inheritance; it’s a lived revelation. DNA is not a promise of affection. If it were, all people would live together in love, realizing that human being is the ultimate – and ultimately the only meaningful – tribe (sorry other living beings, but hey, you’re still cool too; I’m just trying to make a tender point here).
The concept of family and everything that comes with it? A cynic might call that social conditioning, where whatever we learn as normal, natural, and necessary is particular to the culture in which we grow up. Because we don’t know any better (and are taught, at least implicitly, not to think of knowing differently), we confuse our particular with the universal and move forward with a skewed worldview that privileges our way of being above all other ways.
That is to say, if you’re taught “to honor thy father and mother” as a matter of fact, you’re not supposed to question such “obvious” truth. And so when you experience feelings where you’re not so inclined to honor your parents – who you’re supposed to conceptualize as worthy of unquestioned honor, respect, and love – you must accept due shame and guilt and admit that you’re wrong for such a terrible lack of faith. They’re your parents, after all. How dare you.
Or you can metabolize these feelings as a path toward a more compassionate reality. There is nothing negative in your doubt about your parents; all you’re seeing is who they are more truly. You’re seeing their fallibility and lamenting your loss of the image of their perfection; when your gods crumble and die, how are you supposed to feel except angry, resentful, and betrayed? Is it such a shock that you then project all this frustration on your parents and blame them for…everything?
And then you pause and digest these new feelings of despair. Left without the foundation of your entire worldview – because your parents anchored everything you knew to be true – where do you turn? Why not right back at your parents, the now complex, infinitely more interesting human beings? Why not learn true empathy through connecting to them now as fellow people instead of these things that you’re supposed to hold in reverence above you? In your recognition of their humanity (painful because it underscores the great gift and burden of life: mortality), you’re closer to them than you’ve ever been. You now have the chance to actually love them. All you did before, at best, was blindly adore. You learned worship. You undermined authentic relation by never actually seeing them there. Alive in all their beauty.
So look again. Take interest. Wish to understand. Be with them. Wonder about who they are, how they feel, how and why they do this or that thing, how and why they think this or that way. Learn from them. Stop judging them. Stop assuming they need to change. Who are you to know the “right” way to be alive? Accept each of them as they are, which is not an imaginary, static thing in your mind, but a dynamic, ever-evolving person in the world. In the world that you share if you let yourself be in it with them instead of stuck in your head, away from them. Without them. In your head, there is never anything except you. Let go of all that you and be present with the endless possibility of all that exists around you.
Do you see them here? Not in these words. Not on this page. They are boundless. Words cannot capture them. And yet – how lucky you are – despite their infinitude, they are here with you. How often have you let yourself be grateful for this miraculous present? That these forces of energy have cohered into forms that have devoted themselves to you. You settle for calling them “Mom” and “Dad” and you let your wonder cease. What a pity if your love ends there!
Look again. They are way more than your parents. That they choose to be your parents is a gift; that they are alive is eternal Christmas.
This letter is your my way of saying thank you. You’ve given me everything I’ve ever asked for, but way more importantly, you give me everything I’d never think to ask for. Or rather, you share with me everything I’d never ask for.
Again, I love you. Unconditionally. Yes, you are my parents, but I’m grateful I’ve learned to love you as human beings. As way more than human beings.