On The Occasion of My 30th

Dear Mom and Dad

It's weird isn't it? Me turning 30 today.

To be honest I almost can't believe it. While I have spent enough time at every age contemplating my place in the universe, and certainly around the time of my birthdays the last five years, this one seems particularly unbelievable. I have a hard time understanding that I have been alive for 30 years.

I read somewhere an author talking about getting older and how he wasn't just the age he was at that moment he was every age he'd ever been. I like that idea, it helps me cope with the range of childhood emotions that regularly reappear in my day to day life.

But that's not why I am writing you this letter Mom and Dad, to rehash my internal emotions, or to tell you how weird it is to be 30. You both understand that and much more already.

I am writing to say thank you.

I bet it's surreal for you too, seeing me now, almost 11,000 days into my existence, 6 foot 2, living on my own in the city we lived next to our whole lives. Dad can this really be the same toddler who peed on your shirt that first trip to Disney world? Mom is this the same little boy who constantly asked you to bring him a cup of water after you said goodnight to his sister? 

In hindsight perhaps those two incidents were related.

It is weird for sure, being this age, in this body, in this place, with a head full of memories and yet a severe incomprehension of how I actually got here. While there were goals and dreams (and still are) there was no one planned route or guidebook (there still isn't). Of all the things that can go wrong in this world it blows my mind that I, that any of us, make it this far.

Surely I haven't been focused and attentive every minute of every day, taking careful note of where each choice and each decision would lead me. Like highway hypnosis I have maneuvered the vehicle of myself through obstacles and traffic with a sometimes complete unawareness of what I was actually doing.

Somehow I have made it through alright.

At every age I watched as people I grew up with cashed in their chips early.

The kids who started drinking around puberty, drugs in high school, or who chose not to go to college. And perhaps scariest to me, were the ones who managed to avoid all that but inexplicably refused to strive for something more. 

I believe in luck for sure, and I have had my fair share but I think the large majority of the credit is due to you both.

I have this conflict within me of having loved every minute of our family's life and yet I still don't really understand how you did it.

You both worked, sometimes doggedly, to provide for us things you never had and we never could have imagined.

Some people stumble upon good fortune every once and again, it sat with me always, like a golden fleece on my shoulders.

And wasn't because you were able to control every situation and every decision.

Quite the contrary.

It's even more impressive when taken into account how much freedom I always wanted and how much you gave me.

I always told you both that you could trust me but what credibility did I really have? What did I really know? What can anybody know at such a young age?

As I get deeper into early stage adulthood I find myself incredibly paranoid and over-protective over the kids I haven't even started thinking about having.

Between birth and now there have been so many potholes, so many. How did you know which ones to let me avoid and which to let me fall into? Did you really not know either? Was it all on gut instinct? Because there are plenty of people I know whose parents went on gut instinct as well and they didn't end up so good.

Or was there some sort of preparation involved? Was having Dana first the best prep? Did that prepare you for me?

We are similar for sure but different in so many ways. Had we been more similar in who we were I'm sure it would have been easier. But I imagine saying raising one child makes it easier for you to raise another is like saying Sisyphus had it easier the second time.

Because of you I have lived robustly. I have experienced a life I did not know was privileged until much later. I had unique experiences I took at face value but did not dig deeper into the significance of until years later.

We have eaten as a family in the most tropical of places and I have danced alone in the most exotic of piazzas. Both were because of you. You taught me how to operate in a world that had a seemingly endless set of changing rules.

You gave me enough freedom to feel independent but not so much that I could silo myself.

You shaped my world view while allowing me to create my own.

It is both what you did and didn't do that has made my life marvelous. It continues amazes me daily.

There are two times in my life when I have felt unbearably lost.

That time (or times) when I wandered off in the department store as a little boy and when I first started college. Both times you came to find me. The first time you brought me home. The second time you didn't. You let me continue on my own, even though you might have wanted to bring me home.

It took a lot longer but it was worth it.

I'd like to believe it was my college education, or travel, or my creativity, or something germane to my core that has created this life. But none of those things are even a hope without you both.

You asked me on my graduation why I cried when I opened that plane ticket you gave me to go anywhere in the world, the one you had bought with all of your saved up Airline miles. You asked why I cried when I had previously hinted that a ticket to travel somewhere was something I'd want.

It was because you had encouraged and allowed me to spend 4 years thousands of miles from home while you worried and wondered if I would be ok, only upon the eve of my return home to offer me a trip anywhere else in the world. The opportunity to go off again, and do more things for myself.

What could I have possibly done to deserve that? How on earth could some grades (mostly Bs but more Cs that As) and a diploma warrant such an act of selflessness and generosity? 

It's overwhelming, now and always, any time I think about every single thing you gave up and sacrificed so that Dana and I could have. I don't understand it.

Part of me wonders if it is because you were raised in a different climate, in a different time, but I also wonder if you both haven't been wiser than I am at my age.

I remember almost everything you told me, even if there were years in the middle where I seemed to forget or tried hard to ignore. Those lessons you taught they all mattered, it just wasn't always time to understand them yet.

I wonder how I got so l lucky. It certainly wasn't of my own doing. And I don't know if I believe in Dharma either because that would mean that I was still responsible for my good fortune based on my actions in a past life. And I don't think any actions could warrant such fortune.

Though now that I write that, I know that yours do.

Did you worry about who'd I become as I grew up? What I would like? Who I would befriend? Or did you always have an idea?

I absolutely cannot fathom what it feels like to have children who are now the age you are when you yourselves started having children.

I am aware that every generation at every age feels, for at least a little while, that they are experiencing feelings and emotions for the first time in history. I am also aware that there are traits and characteristics of yours that I don't remember consciously inheriting. They just suddenly appeared one day without my effort or attention, like how one gives no second thought to sitting down in a chair that suddenly engulfs them.

It is one of the saddest scariest and most beautiful traits of our universe that life moves only forward, which is to say that the only true way to express gratitude for the past is to nurture the future.

It's safe to say that I don't know if I would have a life as fractionally filled with wonder if I had any other parents. 

I have spent much time thinking about my life, our family, my first 30 years and I have still been left utterly useless when trying to explain my good fortune. And in the absence of understanding I am indeed left with gratitude, a gratitude so significant and present that I lay with it in bed every night as I nod off.

So on the occasion of my 30th I say thank you, for all of the times I forgot to say it or was too proud to, for all of the in between moments I never knew about but am still learning from, and for all that I will never know but will always benefit from…

Thank you.

Love always,

Richard