First Letter: On books, people and life stories

You may tire of me as our December sun is setting
because I'm not who I used to be
No longer easy on the eyes
but these wrinkles masterfully disguise
the youthful boy below
who turned your way and saw something he was not looking for:
both a beginning and an end
But now he lives inside someone he does not recognize
When he catches his reflection on accident

“Brothers on a hotel bed” by Death Cab for Cutie

“When we all pass from this life and gather on the other side, the only thing each of us will have is his own story to tell.”
Richelle E. Goodrich

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy — the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
Brené Brown

And so my Prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone…
Donald Miller

“The person may have a scar, but it also means they have a story...”
Jodi Picoult, The Storyteller

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My dearest two Children,

This is your Dad writing the first of many letters to you. I sincerely hope that both of you are doing well at the time when you read this first letter - and the others that you will find further on in this document if you ever care to read it. Let me confess, if you would? It was my intention to write to you for the longest time, especially after we became separated so many years ago when you were still so very young and so very fragile as young kids. And you still are – not only young adults now, but still fragile. I do realize that, and I do respect that. In any case, I just never got around doing this until more than a year ago now when I eventually started writing the letters that you will find here. And I am sorry about not doing it earlier; and I do apologize for my procrastination - but I am glad that I eventually started doing so, have no doubt about it. 

I intend to write you many more letters as time goes on, and I further intend to do so until the end of my time. Whether I will ever be able to finish telling you all that I wish in all honesty to communicate to you through these letters, I can’t tell – probably not, but we will have to see what happens over the time that I have left on this Plane. And whether you will ever care to read it whenever you receive it - now, or perhaps later in life – that is of course another matter and entirely up to you and not for me to dictate or even to expect…

In any case, my dearest Children - there are so many things I wish to communicate to you about my life and where I come from, and about Life in general, you understand? NOT implying that I “know” about Life and how to live and how not to live? I am just saying that I wish to communicate to you the few important things that I learned during my lifetime – given all my screw-ups, imperfections and all that. But remember that there were also times and moments when I did the “right” thing in Life – and times when Life taught me valuable lessons – lessons that I wish to communicate to you in all sincerity, for what it might be worth, of course. Things that I would have communicated to in person and verbally so – if only our circumstances were different and lot of other things were different… But it simply wasn’t. And we need to accept that and make the best of the “cards” that Life dealt us, if you understand what I am trying to say?

For that reason then I felt compelled to write these Letters to you. I could not communicate the things that you will find in these letters in person in the past – although I always had a burning desire to do so - but there is nothing in the world to stop me from communicating it to you any which way I can. This is my way then. It is certainly not perfect, but it is honest and it is sincere; it comes from my heart and from my Soul; and it is my duty as your only Dad. Please believe me for that? It is most certainly my privilege and my great honour as your parent – a parent who is so very proud of the two beautiful and talented children and young adults whom you are today…

My dear Children, as I said, these are the things that I wish I could communicate to you in person, but alas, that did not happen. So, at least this then is an honest and sincere effort from me to communicate to you some things about myself and where I come from (since you know so very little about that) and also about my own life experiences; the things which I believe to be the essence of the Lives we all live; the things that Life taught me – although I most certainly never “got” all of it or applied these lessons, that much I know... And yes, this is perhaps “second hand”; it is perhaps too little and too late, and certainly not the way I would have liked it to be in an ideal world? But is there an “ideal world”? I don’t think so. Let’s do the best with what we have – a principle that always worked for me in the past when I was at a crossroads in my life with its many trials and tribulations and when I had very little to work with. I always tried to make the best of what I had. I am doing it now and I am doing it for you… And perhaps also for the children that you hopefully will have - if you might wish to share all, or at least some of it with them in future.

So, please then – bear with me as I try to do the best I can at the moment; and in view of course of my imperfections and my human fallibilities (and there are many of those, as you know…) Do not be too, too hard on me for my past mistakes and incompetence and imperfections - if you can? Thank you for that…

So, let me start off this first letter to you by reminding you of the age-old saying – by now probably a cliché in a way – that goes: Never judge a book by its cover. I am sure you are familiar with this expression. It is so short - and yet it is so powerful. It touches the human psyche and the human Soul at its core. Let me explain to you, please…

Over the course of my lifetime, and especially during the last number of years that were marked by many personal trials and tribulations which became so commonplace in my personal life (which you know very little of, if anything), I have come to truly appreciate the deeper and wiser meaning of this old expression of “a book and its cover”. It dawned on me that in essence all of our lives are very similar to books in a symbolical way - books with covers; books in which our life stories are recorded; books that represent our own and personal individual life stories. From this perspective then I believe our lives are so very similar to “books” with “covers”.

I also came to realize that each of our individual lives can be viewed in a sense as a “story”, a story sandwiched in between the two covers of a book; a story told and penned by ourselves over the course of our lifetimes. And each one of us has his or her story; we are indeed the authors of our own books, pretty much as we are the “captain of our very own life-ships”.

As you know yourselves, my Children - some books - very much like people - are beautiful, often with flowery and decorated covers; although some are a little shaggy like a dog without an owner who cares; others are a bit frayed and even rough around the edges; some are nicely bound with a touch of elegance and even grace; others are just plain and ordinary; some are brightly coloured and catches the eye at an instant; others are somewhat dark and perhaps gloomy, and so on and so forth.

And when we initially take these books from the shelf and hold them in our hands and we lay eyes on their covers for the first time, some books tend to stir something in us, an emotional spark of some kind, a stirring as if the covers invite us to open them and to start reading what is written inside, while others leave us neutral and without any desire to open them. Others hold no appeal for us at all and we put them back on the shelf right away, with a certain knowing that we will never have any desire to open the covers and read what is printed inside. Is this not also happening when we first meet people? We “connect”, or we are “neutral”, or we are very interested to know more, to simply it… That is one of the essentials of how any human relationship starts of.

Between the covers of books are the pages of course, pages in which we read the story that the author wishes to share with us. Once we start reading, we often find that we can only read a chapter or two of some books since they do not interest us much, and we might even be disappointed in the content. Then again, we just can’t stop reading some books and we wish they will continue on and on, not wanting the story inside the cover to end and not wanting to return these books to the shelf; perhaps even keeping them out in the open where we can see them most of the time, or show them off to friends.

Is this not also typical of the human relationships that we become engaged in and the people whom we share these relationships with over the course of our lifetimes? Some people whom we meet turn out to be casual or temporary companions on the roads we travel on during our lives; while others turn out to be disappointments, not living up to our expectations when we first laid eyes on them or read the stories inside their “covers”. Then there are other people - usually only a handful - whom we wish to walk a long road with as friends and as marriage partners. These are the few people who bring so much meaning and love and fulfillment to our lives.

Children, then there are the two “books” that we receive the day we are born; books that are ours for the rest of our lives, whether we want them, like them, love them, despise them, adore them, or not… These two books represent our parents, of course. They are the books which we did not and can not choose. They just so happen to be on the “bookshelf” of our lives the day we are born. They are on our “mandatory reading list” for a long time, at least until we reach adulthood, or when we decide to reject them, or when they pass away, or when they are not involved in our lives any longer. Whether we love the personalities presented by these books or not, they are books that are ours simply because of genetics and inheritance.

In between the covers of these two books we find stories that are in several ways connected to our own stories, whether we want to believe and accept it or not. We are bound to them, at least by genetics, but also and hopefully most of the time by love and care. Some part of our personalities is irreversibly described inside the covers of these two books – that is the reality of mankind since the dawn of the human race. It is indeed part of our heritage. And isn’t that exactly what Hugo Hamilton wanted to communicate to readers of The Sailor in the Wardrobe when he wrote: “People say you're born innocent, but it's not true. You inherit all kinds of things that you can do nothing about. You inherit your identity, your history, like a birthmark that you wash off. ... We are born with our heads turned back, but my mother says we have to face into the future now. You have to earn your own innocence, she says. You have to grow up and become innocent.”

Keep in mind, my Children, that the story we find between the covers in each of these two “books” representing our parents is a human story at its core. It is a story that tells of love and hate; of success and failure, of hardship and perseverance, of grief and joy, of elation and disappointment, of tears and laughter, gain and loss, and so much, much more… It is their life stories. Tahir Shah put it so aptly in Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams when he writes about stories: “My father used to say that stories are part of the most precious heritage of mankind.”

My own life story as your Dad is no different than all of the above. It is in essence a story of being human. It is a story that recounts and lays bare my vulnerable humanness; my strengths but also my fallibilities; a story about my wisdom at times, but also about my foolishness often times; about my capabilities but also about my human inabilities; about my blessings, but also about my trials and my tribulations; about my anxieties and my fears; but also about my conquests, my aspirations and motivations, about the dreams I once had; but also about my lack of expectations many a time…

In some of the letters to follow, I will provide you with a glimpse into my life story then, since you really know so little about it. It can only be a glimpse, because how does one really recount all of one’s life yourself between the covers of one short document or even a hundred letters? Or, for that matter within the scope of a few letters written over the course of a year or more? No, this is not the aim of my letters to you. Neither is any of what I will communicate to you meant to be an autobiography, not by any stretch of the imagination. It is simply a selective recount of a few details, or even tidbits, related to my life story that I believe you do not know about or might be interested in knowing; although some of what I will tell you are known to you, but you might not understand it – perhaps you might gain some understanding then when you read the letters that deal with my personal life story.  

Some of what I will communicate to you might be to your liking and might resonate with you. Other details might put you off and you might wish you never hear about it again. Some of what you will read in my letters might strike a chord with you at the time when you read it, while some might perhaps be of any value later on in your lives. Some of what you will read might never be of any significance to you at all. This applies to books as well, as I said earlier, and this is also true of the many people that we come in contact with and relate to during our lifetimes, including our parents.

I realize that what you might find in the letters to follow could possibly invoke a number of questions from you – questions that may go unanswered forever, or that you might succeed in finding either partial or unsatisfactory answers to in my letters or during conversations with people who knew me personally – which you might consider doing when you mature and I am not here any longer. I do apologize for this. My intention with these letters is certainly not to leave you with unease or with unanswered questions at all - please believe me for that. Then again, isn’t this true as well of the people that we relate to during our lifetimes – some for a number of years, others perhaps for a lifetime: at the end of the relationship, whether broken up or because of death or another reason for separation - we still might have lingering questions that beg for answers, although we believed during the relationship that we knew the other person fairly well? This is part of our imperfect knowledge on this Plane and in this lifetime, I guess – and it is typical of human relationships and of the human existence, if one wishes to reflect on it through the lens of philosophy. Just be assured that the one and ultimate goal with my letters is to enlighten and inform you, and not to disturb you at all?

My wish is of course that you might find something of value in the letters to follow – even if it turns out to be of small value if not exactly a golden nugget by the time all is said and done. One of the many lessons that I’ve learned during my lifetime is that there is always - and I mean always - a takeaway from any person’s life story or even tidbits of that story, no matter who that person is, whether one likes the personality or not, or whether one has a bond on a personal level with that individual or none at all. Especially during my last years of trials and tribulations I learned that there is always something that one can take home, or can ponder about, or can reflect on, or can admire, or be curious about in the life story of any person that crosses our paths.

My wish is also that my letters to you will be a blessing and for sure not a curse. I do hope that you will one day feel to share at least some of it with your own children, although these are not meant to be a “heritage” at all. In essence it is a humble offering of remembrances about my own life to you, and a few thoughts on Life as such. At most, I’d be pleased if you “hear” these letters calling out to you when you read them, saying: “Hello dear Children, this is Dad! And do you know…?”

My dearest Children, I wish conclude this first letter to you with a poem that I have written a few years ago. Its title is also the title of this compilation of letters: “Living between the tempest and the fog”. The full meaning of this title might become clear to you in the letters to follow.

With much love then,

Your old Dad.

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Living between the tempest and the fog

The ocean of my life ebbed and flowed
Undercurrents dragging my Soul ever deeper into dismay
Ever further ever faster ever more harshly
Stormy winds of loss and grief and remorse building, building
Shaking the foundations of my wounded psyche
Swirling emotions threatening to overwhelm my sanity
Gathering pace at the center of my confused mind
The cold water of regret a pendent spear stuck in my heart
The tempest of self-loathing and contempt a pack of wolves
Howling with deafening intent at the gates of my Being
Thunderous clouds pregnant with shame and pain
Unabated raining sorrowful tales of despair...

And then it all stopped.
Abruptly.
Without warning.
And all became still.
Eerily still.

And then the fog moved in
Rolling slowly closer and closer
Enveloping my sad existence
Enfolding my naked self with its purity
Wrapping my shattered dignity in its white blanket of peace
Taming the wild horses that are my confused feelings
Enclosing my mind in defensive protection
Barricading the world with its impenetrable density
Soothing the raw and exposed wounds of my loneliness

And me...

Laying exhausted in the bare crib of my bleak inner world
Longing for the freedom that forgiveness promises
Yearning to hear the promise of a better tomorrow
Anxious to wake up to a tomorrow
When there will be no living
Between the tempest and the fog…