When I was thirteen I stepped upon the bima to become a Bat Mitzvah–singing with my heart and soul as I became a woman in the eyes of Judaism. As a family we decided not to have you do that, because your Daddy and I have tried to raise you to see the world spiritually without being restricted to one specific religious philosophy. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve done you an injustice that way–but I hope we have shown you that goodness comes from the heart, that doing mitzvah and being kind to others is a spiritual act, and that we should live our lives to make this world a better place because it is the right thing to do–not just in the hopes of reward in an after life that we cannot define. If someday you wish to choose to follow Judaism or any religion more clearly, I hope you do it recognizing that faith is a personal thing unique to every individual. There is no one way to believe, but there are many ways to live with kindness and love.
It wasn’t my intent to turn this into a letter about religion. I mention my becoming a Bat Mitzvah because that year was significant to my life. That moment remains powerful in my memory. Today, as you turn thirteen, I wonder what I can offer you that will be as significant. I watch you take your first steps as a young woman, and my heart grows with pride but also fear, because your journey will not always be safe or easy.
You and I have had some growing pains over the past few months, as you struggle to discover your own path and I try to remember that your choices are your own to make. I don’t always have to agree with them, but I promise to support you and love you even in our disagreements.
Still I have so many wishes for you. Lessons that I hope you will carry with you into the future, even if you don’t yet fully understand them. I’m not even sure I fully understand them myself yet, but discovering these are part of my journey too.
Discover what brings you joy and fulfillment and make that central to your life in some way. [Please don’t just work to make money or take the easy path because it is easy. Find hobbies that you love to do and do them. It is fine to take a job to pay the bills, but don’t make it the center of your existence. If you choose to have a career, make it be something you life doing. But, most importantly, find your vocation–that one thing that you will always do whether you get paid for it or not. Find that thing that makes you feel the most yourself, whatever that may be. Find it. Live it. Do it. (Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for helping me understand the difference between these terms.)
Life is a verb–live it that way. If you sit around waiting for life to change, for things to get better, for you to win the lottery, for magic to happen . . . then the only thing that really happens is you sit around waiting. Go out and live life. Try new things. Explore. Imagine. Create and dream. Amazing things will happen while you are out living your life.
Learn to love yourself first. I know I’m not the best example of this. You’ve seen me be hard on myself. You’ve heard me be cruel to myself. I want better for you. Over the years, I’ve learned that love and friendship come when you learn to be happy with yourself first. Please don’t go seeking love because you are afraid to be alone. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, and who give as much as they take in your relationship. There have been many times when people reached out to me as they were going through dark times, and I was there for them. But, as soon as I reached out to them for help, they had no time for me. That is not true friendship.That is not love.Those were also the times that I would begin to judge myself most harshly, thinking I was somehow unworthy of true friendship. I don’t want that for you. Believe in yourself, respect yourself, and give friendship to those who are worthy of the wonderful person that you are. When you run into those people who take but do not give (which you will inevitably do) let them go and remember that it is their loss not yours. Do not rush to find that one true love. I believe that love will find you when the times is right, when you are ready, and when you learn to love yourself.
Never stop learning. I know I love you a lot about reading, but that is because I love discovering and learning new things through books. But there are so many other ways of learning, and I hope you explore them all. I hope you travel, but not just as a tourist. Learn about culture and difference from the people who live in other worlds. Explore language. Take classes. Wander through museums and gardens. Listen to music and see shows that you never thought about. Conduct experiments. Accept invitations to go to services with people from different religions. Debate ideas. Question others. Research things that interest you. Challenge rumors and gossip while always searching for truth. Remember that there aren’t two sides to any argument, there are many sides and perspectives. Strive to understand the complexities before you make your decisions. Then make choices, but always be open to listening, learning, discovering. Amazing things happen when you accept that you don’t know everything, and that you have a lifetime to learn more.
Define success for yourself. This is, perhaps, the most important lesson I have to offer you. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you aren’t good enough. Only you get to decide when you have succeeded and when you have failed–and even failure can lead you into new ways of defining your own success. This is a lesson I struggle to remember every day, I hope you can learn it as well.
Happy birthday, Sarah. You have brought so much joy into my life. I can’t way to see where your journey takes you next.