This piece was featured as a sermon at the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City as well as a nationally syndicated column for GateHouse Media.
I am writing this letter to you, my fabulous 16-month-old-granddaughter.
Wait—what’s that you say? I’m an astonishingly young grandmother? Awww, yes, thank you. Always the charmer.
You know, people don’t write letters anymore. It’s all texts, emojis, or maybe an email if you’re old school, but I miss the handwritten letters that you can hold, and, more importantly, keep. So, here’s my letter to you, Madeleine.
I was thinking about what pearls of wisdom I might offer someone at your bright new stage in life. Then I realized that you don’t need help. You’re fresh out of God’s arms, which means that you still have all your superpowers. Actually, we adults still have them too. It’s just that we’ve forgotten.
Let me give you an example. I know that currently one of your favorite things to do is go head-first down the slide. And that’s just the beginning. Soon you’ll rip the training wheels off your bike and zoom too fast down hills that are too steep. You’ll do these things because they’re fun and new—and because they’re there. That’s your superpower.
Sadly, many grown-ups have lost their appetite for risk and adventure. Unlike you, we hesitate, saying, “I’d better be careful because I might get hurt. I might fall. I might fail.” And you know where this tends to happen the most? Love.
Oh girl, in a few years, you will discover love. And when you do, your Dad, who is now an avid supporter of gun control, may change his mind.
You will break many a heart, and you will have your heart broken too, but it’s okay. All you have to do is remember your courage and sense of adventure. One skinned knee never stopped you before, right? The knee will heal, your heart will heal, and you’ll move on to the next too-steep hill and the next love. Remember, life is just like your favorite slide. The best way to live it is head-first, full-on.
Here’s another example. Something wonderful will happen in about six months. You’ll discover a fabulous new word. Your parents will hate it, but you will love it and say it with more gusto than you say any other word.
And that word . . . is “NO!”
As in, “Madeleine, will you please eat this delicious broccoli I have cooked for you?”
It’s a great word and one you will use freely. Ironically, as people get older, they use it less and less. Big people say “yes” instead of “no” a lot more than they should. And you know what happens then? They get really grumpy and mean because they feel put-upon and over-worked.
Once again, if we could remember what we knew when we were your age—our ability to draw boundaries, to take care of ourselves, and to say “no” when we need to—we’d be in a much better place.
I want to mention one last superpower, Madeleine, and this one is not only your greatest, but also the one the world needs most desperately: the ability to see our common humanity.
Recently, as your parents pushed your stroller through midtown Manhattan, you waved, flashed a big smile, and said your current favorite word to every single person you saw:
“Hi!” to the woman with the briefcase and angry expression rushing for a cab
“Hi!” to the young guy standing on the corner with gang tats
“Hi!” to the elderly woman no one else noticed
Thanks to your greeting, a momentary smile appeared on each face. Such a tiny gesture with such profound impact. You didn’t judge people based on what they looked like. You simply cared if they smiled back.
You have so many gifts to share, Madeleine. Whatever you do, hang on to them! Remember your courage, your confidence, your sense of adventure, and your open heart. These things will inspire a full and wondrous life and will give you—and all our children— the superpower to truly change the world.
You are loved. Until next time. G-ma Susu