This is, to a certain degree, a work of fiction. It is a work of fiction, not because it isn't true, but because I'm not dead yet. But, it is a letter, written to be read by my daughter after my death. (You get the idea.)
Well, my daughter doesn't browse the web yet. Well, actually she does sometimes, but she can't really read so much yet, and I doubt if she would stumble upon this place.
So, would one of you mind? Before my funeral, or, heck, after it is okay, someone please read this letter to my daughter. Okay... now I'm going to say some things here. In fact, I think I'm going to say everything I ever learned in life... You may agree with some of the things I say, and you may disagree with others. But who cares! I'm writing this to her, not you! :)
A Letter to My Daughter
My dear, sweet child, if you are reading this, it could be that I am gone, that I have left this earth, in hope of a better place. I wish I could do something to ease your sorrow. I wish I could be with you through all your growing years - all those hopes and all those fears. But circumstances were beyond my control. I did not leave you because I wanted it. No, on the contrary it greatly saddens me to know that I have left you like this. That you will now have to confront loneliness and sorrow such as no one should ever have to know.
I apologize. Not only that I have gone, but that I did so little for you when I was there. I hope that you will latch onto me, and keep me in your heart forever - for it is there that I long to be, and there that I shall always be with my whole heart, and every ounce of my love. I hope also that this letter shall comfort you, bring you guidance and truth, that I would have striven to give you myself if I could have stayed with you.
Now I tell you what I must.
I have lived my life with a constant sense of immortality. I never once feared death; for I did not believe death could ever come for me. Part of this was my religious faith, but another part of it was the plain and simple stupidity of my youth. I was not immortal. I was susceptible to death, and I wished I had lived my life mindful of this fact. Never letting it slow me down, but always letting it guide me with caution.
But, when I started into my thirties, I began to have a terrible sense that I might leave this world before I had accomplished all that I should. I still did not fear death. No, death would come for me whenever it wished, and there was nothing I could do about that. But the fact that I would leave something undone - something I should have accomplished, incomplete. That was a great cause for concern: the fact that I might have a story in my heart left untold, one that the world needed but would never hear. So I began to have that anguish that I might be forced to leave this world, without having accomplished what I should. I reminded myself often of the parable of the talents - that a rich man gave his servants certain talents and went to a far off land. I decided that if I kept my gifts to myself, I would be like the man who buried his talents in the earth. When his master returned, he was displeased with him: why did you not at least give it to the bank to gain interest?
And so, I began to live my life in a certain, newfound "fear" of death. It was not death itself that I feared, but the incompleteness of having not done anything with my gifts.
But now, my dear, that fear has been driven out by one far greater; one far more noble and far more gripping. How did this happen? I was given a child. You, my child. My new fear is that I would leave this world without having give you all that I should, without having taught you all that I knew about this life, and without being able to be there for you, to help you along life's path.
Well, that is why I am writing to you. To tell you everything I know that may be of some help to you. To tell you all that I've learned that can help you see your way down life's path.
The first things I must speak of are beauty, courage, and hope.
Beauty is a great power in this world. It is a power you possess and a power that is everywhere around you. Unfortunately, power is often abused, and the abuse of this great power of beauty is more commonplace, perhaps, than all others.
Why do I speak to you first of beauty, rather than faith in God, and love for Him and others? You shall find as I write, that they are related. Truly all things are related, but some things more than others. God is beauty, because God is love. God is infinite beauty, because God is infinite power. God is beauty, because He is the creator of all things beautiful.
Let there be no mistake. God created nothing that is not beautiful, nothing that does not bear the stamp of His perfection. That which is not beautiful, is ugly by virtue of it's deviation from the idyllic prototype which was created by God. That which is not beautiful has come about because of one thing, and one thing only: sin. Man, in exercising his free choice against the Creator, brought about the condition of sin. And sin, by virtue of its existence, brings about the illusion of evil. Evil does not truly exist, except as the absence of good. So, nothing is evil by nature, and therefore all things that give the appearance of evil are truly to be pitied rather than scorned, ridiculed or abused. This is why we do not repay unkindness with unkindness. This is why we do not repay abuse with abuse, nor violence with violence.
We repay all things with peace and forgiveness, and thus each in our own small way bring about the ultimate restoration of True Beauty - a state of existence in which there is no place for ugliness and sin.
So, let me speak to you of beauty and the abuse of this power in the world. You are a beautiful young girl, and some day I believe you will be a beautiful young woman. Beauty, as I have said, is a great power in this world, and that is why I will say: women are more powerful than men in this world. The world with its man-centered social structures, and its emphasis on strength and physical endurance, often appears to only allow the men to become powerful at the expense of the woman. But you can always be sure that behind every successful man, there was a woman.
The strength of beauty, on the other hand, lies in the fact that a beautiful woman with a clever disposition can get a man to do anything she wants him to do. This is a very dangerous power that a woman can hold, and you being both clever and beautiful must be aware of it: so that you can master this power before it masters you. (Think of the ring, and poor Frodo.)
I truly believe that eventually in the course of our world's history, women will come to power politically and even militarily because of this great power they hold over men. When the souls of women are unleashed and they begin to realize their power, we shall see abuses in this world on a far greater scale than anything we have seen before. But it is important to become aware of the power, and to learn to use it properly, rather than abusing it.
The proper use of beauty as a power, of course, comes in the beautification of the world. A beautiful woman should shine like a light in the world: a light of poise and self confidence; a light of goodness and kindness to others; a light that shines outwardly and not inwardly.
The abuse of the power of beauty comes about like this: First there is conceit. The light turns inward rather than outward. A young woman who believes herself to be beautiful begins to think that she is more beautiful than others. But this is a great deception, for the greater beauty is she that considers all beautiful. For even if some unlucky girl is gifted with an un-lovely countenance, she still possesses an inner beauty, and that inner beauty, if she will recognize it, shines more loudly than the outer beauty. How then to solve the puzzle: be beautiful both outwardly and inwardly. Do not spend all your time before the mirror, but do spend some of it there, please. And spend a healthy amount of time before the mirror of your soul - lifting up your hear to God in prayer, and remembering always those less fortunate than you. There are girls, young women and old that have mastered this technique, and it is well worth the mastery. There is nothing more beautiful in all of God's creation than a woman with beauty of both body and soul, with a nobility of purpose that transcends the beauty of the flesh, and yet with the prettiness of flesh that makes a soul smile from ear to ear.
Such a beauty is a very powerful beauty, and all the more powerful than the abusive types of beauty because it remains within the realm of God's beauty and not outside it. Beauty that is contrary to God rapidly becomes ugliness, even if it is still praised by those in society who do not love Him.
The next level to which one may descend after conceit is the beginning of the abuse of the power of beauty. Here a woman uses her beauty to gain mastery over others. She may use her beauty to enslave men, but that is not truly her doing... men are already slaves to their lust, and she has simply found a way to take advantage of that. Keep away from conceit, and you will never fall prey to this abuse of power. Keep yourself forever mindful of others - their humanity, their beauty, their needs, hopes and dreams, and you will never fall prey to this abuse of power. Be mindful of the fact that as you walk through life, you are only a heartbeat away from death, and that which is beautiful can become quickly worn and soiled. Walk through life with a gentle smile that is loving and caring to others. Let your eyes speak joy to the soul, and dance like diamonds in the night, but never let them take advantage of others.
We speak of this virtue in the Church as virginity, but unfortunately in our modern age the term has been relegated to the realm of the strictly biological. You will learn about such things in the proper day and time, and I have no intention to discuss them now. But keep in mind this: virginity is a virtue of the soul. It is the power of "singleness of mind" - of the heart's intention to please God with singleness of purpose. It matters not whether you some day give your heart over to a husband, nor whether you give your heart over to God alone, but let your purpose be to please God, and you shall never lose this virtue. This virtue is the very apex of Divine Beauty. This is one of the reasons why we so often sing praises to the Theotokos. In fact, we are speaking of this very virtue when we say "ever blessed and most pure..."
That is enough about beauty.
Next I have spoken of courage. Courage is the nobility of the soul that drives you forward through every circumstance without fear of either loss or failure. Courage is a very important gift that you have, all the more important because, while you have been blessed with your mother's beauty, you have been blessed with your father's courage. Your father, I am sorry to say, did not possess beauty, and your mother did not possess courage. So, let me say this once and for all: do not let your mother's timidity dissuade you from your own possession of courage.
Courage is not conceit, nor is it any lack of humility, nor is it a vice of any sort. But rather it is a gift and a blessing. Whatever you decide to do in life, day by day, moment by moment, there are only two steps you must take: (a) you decide, and (b) you do it. It is very important to do it once you have decided. There are times when a decision is important, and you should wait over night before acting in haste. There are times when you should take a short break before sending that email, or dropping that envelope in the mail box. Your decision may be "no" - and that's okay too. But if your decision is "yes" then do it. Do not hesitate, do not falter, do not lack courage.
Jesus often said: "your faith has made you whole." You see the power of faith? Once you decide to embark upon a course of action, do it with your whole heart. Even if you end up being wrong, you will be glad in the end that you did it whole heartedly. There is nothing worse on this earth, nor more to be pitied, than an indecisive person: someone who never accomplishes anything in life, because they are afraid to. It is more important to accomplish something than it is what you accomplish. It is better to not do something at all if you are not going to do it whole heartedly.
Of course, it helps if you make the right choice. You want to do the right thing. Let love and forgiveness be your first guide and faithfulness to God be your second. It is always possible to do the wrong thing out of mere faithfulness to God, but without love. It is equally always possible to do the wrong thing out of mere love, but without faithfulness to God. However, the wrong that you do without love will be a far greater evil than the wrong that you do forgetting your faithfulness to God. God is love, and if your love is true, then you have not forsaken your faithfulness to God, even if you cannot support what you have done by dogma and apologetics. And yet since God is love, it is impossible to be faithful to him in an unloving manner.
My daughter, you must learn to understand that far more people have been murdered and destroyed in the name of God throughout the history of this world, than from any other cause. Nations wage war against their foes because they believe their own idea of God is superior to that of others. But let me say this: no one who has ever killed for the glory of God, and not later repented, shall enter His kingdom. God is a God of love, and not a God of retribution. Vengeance upon an enemy belongs to Him and Him alone, and we believe that His forgiveness is boundless. The moment we wield the sword of vengeance in our own hands to slay others, we have departed from Him. We no longer know Him and are no longer known by Him. I suggest a reading of the Epistles of The Holy Apostle John to better understand this.
The danger of misunderstanding this is great, because in our world, people like to fling around the concepts of Divine Truth, Divine Justine, and Divine Retribution, more than any other concepts as justification for their savage acts toward others. And I tell you they are wholly unjustified.
Let your mind be filled with Peace, and love for others, and you shall never depart from Him and He shall never depart from you. Forgive others, and God will forgive you. So much greater shall be your reward if you live a life of sin, and yet forgive all others, than if you live a life of perfection, and constantly criticize and harshly judge others. We say it in the Lord's Prayer daily: "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." This prayer that we say multiple times daily truly teaches us that God will not forgive us unless we forgive others. And Jesus said in the Gospel: "whatever judgment you dish out to others will be dished out to you." There are many you see all around you in the Church and out in the world who harshly judge others. I would not want to be in their shoes for anything.
One of the silliest and stupidest bumper stickers you see now says this: "Mean People Suck". The bumper sticker really reveals the depths of depravity of our humanity in this modern age. Somehow we think that by being mean to "mean people" we are not like them. But on the contrary, if we are mean to them, then we are exactly like them! What is disappointing is that the level of intelligence in our world has dropped so low that people can see those bumper stickers all day long, and not realize this. I think taping a sign to your own back that says: "kick me" is less stupid than that bumper sticker.
That leads me right into the antithesis of this virtue, for as you see, it is possible to abuse courage. The abuse of courage is when you have courage without love, and courage without the consideration of your humanity.
That is enough about courage.
Lastly, I said I would begin with "hope." Hope is a very noble virtue and closely tied to courage. I do not speak of faith, or religious belief, or courage, but hope. Hope is the lack of hopelessness. It is having something to live for, and something that drives you to get up and greet each new day. There are so many, many people living without hope in this world that I really think I must speak of it. Hope is the belief that through love, and patience, and understanding, you can in some small way help bring about a better tomorrow.
The opposite of hope is despair. And the abuse of hope is arrogance.
You should have no reason to despair, because you have Christ Jesus living within you. And yet I know that this world may yet bring a person to despair. We have every reason to believe from our reading of scriptures that hardships and difficulties will come to Christians, even persecutions by those who do not believe. I have been fortunate so far in my life to never have to face such things, but you may not be so fortunate.
Why go on hoping and believing in the face of drastic opposition? Because it is the right thing, and you know it is the right thing deep down in your heart, and you know that if you turn away from it, you will be most miserable. So, it is important to keep your hope in Him, even in adversity. God will some day melt away the sorrows of this earth, and you will be able to sigh. But if you turn away from Him you will find yourself most miserable.
The most difficult kind of hopelessness a person may have to face is ennui. It is an inexplicable hopelessness not tied to any circumstances (or perhaps even tied to a circumstance, such as the loss of a loved one.) Guard yourself from despair. Know in your heart that God loves you, that you father and your mother love you - even if circumstances prevent each of them from expressing that love to you right then and there. Have patience, and you will see. Eventually you will see again that you are loved, and you will look at the glow of the moon, or a frosty mountainside or the quiet shimmer of a lake, and you will remember that all is well, and beauty (the stamp of God's image) is everywhere to be found.
And as I said, the abuse of hope is arrogance. Arrogance is to hope what "good pride" is to "bad pride." Pride can simple be a feeling of satisfaction in what work one has accomplished. That is a "good pride" and synonymous with "hope." But a "bad pride" is arrogance - the feeling of superiority to others. Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Even if you accomplish some great things (and I hope you do) remember that you are mortal, that you are human, that you can make mistakes some time, and fall. It only takes a crack in the sidewalk to bring you to your face on the ground. Remember that, wherever you are at in life. And remember: the higher you climb, the further you can fall.
I hope to write more. I hope to speak more. I hope to spend my whole life with you, watching you grow up and loving you. But right now I am tired and must sleep.