Giving the Gift of Wisdom

My daughter graduates from high school this week! My, how time flies! When she was a baby, older folks (almost always, women) would approach me with a sparkle in their eyes and tell me to savor this time because children grow up so fast.

I found that difficult to believe back when she was a baby and a good night’s sleep was an elusive dream, or later when I spent my days chasing after an energetic, mischievous little runner-climber. I remember how difficult it was while pregnant with my second child to take a nap in the presence of my daughter who, at 2 1/2, had long since given up napping. My bright idea was to babyproof a room completely, with barely more than a futon mattress on the floor and a variety of toys to keep her occupied while I attempted to nap. But after a few minutes, when I was just starting to fall asleep, she’d tell me she needed to use the toilet. So I put her training potty in the room with us. And then, rather than use it for its intended purpose, she employed it as a step stool and attempted to climb over the baby gate and jailbreak when I was nearly asleep. Her timing was impeccable.

She also infamously led other toddlers in a momentary breakout from the health club’s child care room into the parking lot while I was on the treadmill – an event the former owner and I laugh about to this day (although we weren’t laughing then).

It was always a gamble to leave my daughter alone in a room. Once I left her in the kitchen unattended for a minute or two, and in that time she managed to mastermind a way to climb onto the countertop to gain access to a bag of cheese puffs that were stored up in a cabinet. Her (premeditated?) route involved pulling out drawers and climbing on the washing machine to work her way around the kitchen on countertops. (In hindsight, maybe I should have kept a bag of cheese puffs in the babyproofed room where I tried to nap!)

By the time she was preschool age, we found it necessary to install a home security system and chain locks high up on the doors so Little Houdini couldn’t open the doors and escape. (Strategically placed chain locks alone were insufficient because she would stack pillows, sofa cushions, and whatever else she could find to attain her goal of freedom.)

The preteen and teen years were really rough, especially once I began teaching full-time and moved to the neighboring school district. Within months of moving and beginning my first year of teaching, she moved in with her dad full-time and was able to return to her former school district, spending summers and school vacations with me until this past year.

This is a soul that has always refused to be confined or hindered. Now that she has greater freedom, she seems so much happier, more motivated, and stable. She doesn’t seem to mind the responsibilities that go along with greater freedom – and even embraces them – because independence seems so necessary in order for her to thrive.

I was tired by the end of the day but never for a moment regretted staying home with her when she was little. Although we didn’t have a second paycheck, we were rich in golden moments, and I journaled and wrote lots of poetry about magical moments with my daughter. We spent rainy days reading books and watching birds feast from feeders mounted outside the large picture window. It was so amazing and life transforming to bond with her and to see the world through a child’s eyes that when I finally prepared to re-enter the working world after her little brother started kindergarten, I knew I needed to work with children and changed gears completely to pursue a career in teaching. But back in the early years, time passed in milestones: smiling, rolling, crawling, eating solid food, cruising, first steps, walking, weaning. Each day blended into the next, and it almost felt like time stood still. It was impossible to imagine that she would grow up as quickly as the older folks assured me she would. I think life really sped up once she began school.

Now that I’m on the other side, with an 18-year-old daughter who began taking college courses last fall, I realize how very true the words of the older folks were. Children grow up more quickly than any new parent could ever imagine. Now I’m one of the older moms who looks wistfully at new moms wearing their babies in slings or wraps, remembering how precious it all was. And knowing how fast it goes by – and that someday they, too, will wish they could hold their baby just one more time or read one more bedtime story. These small moments that seem so routine and eternal are the moments that matter most when you look back. You don’t remember how tired you were. You remember the splendor of ordinary moments. That ultimately eclipses all else.

My daughter’s path hasn’t been what I had envisioned for her, but it is her path, and I have learned the hard, roundabout way to honor and trust it. She has always been fiercely independent and unbridled, creative and compassionate. Although she is currently interested in business, she is also a talented writer, singer, and pianist. How she will weave together the strands of her personality, talents, passions, and choices into the fabric of her life remains to be seen. I surely hope to be around to watch it come together in a pattern that is uniquely hers.

I have been putting together a graduation gift for her and am excited to give it to her. It’s not money (which I’m sure any teenager would prefer) but comes from the depths of my heart. My desire is to pass along some life wisdom to her via a collection of books that have been particularly influential in my life. Some of the books are dear friends that I have turned to in times of sadness, confusion, and/or when I sought answers and guidance. Many of them have lifted my spirits and opened new doors of awareness and possibility. Every one of the books was a response to the questions: What do I want my daughter to know about life? What kind of wisdom would I like to pass along to her? What is most important for her to know? If someday I’m not around when she needs motherly advice, what resources can I give her to help her along her way?

Fast forward from my daughter’s napless toddlerhood to this afternoon, when I set out to acquire books for her graduation collection. While stopped at a red light in town, I noticed a woman in the car behind me and thought for a moment that she was trying to get my attention for some reason but couldn’t figure out why. Was there something wrong with my car that I didn’t know about? When I looked again in my rear view mirror, it didn’t appear that she was trying to get my attention after all; she was moving her hands in a curious way that my mind interpreted as perhaps smoking a cigarette with panache. I continued to drive along the road, and when I stopped at the next light, I thought once again that the same woman was trying to get my attention. This time, her arms were held out to her sides in a gesture that begged to know, “What is wrong with you?” I wondered what on earth I could have done to upset this woman. And then I realized that the woman was my daughter and waved exuberantly at her! In our separate cars, we shared a good laugh, and then I waved again as I turned and she continued on (not smoking, I might add). Never before have we followed each other on the road unintentionally. And the fact that it happened for the first time – and that she looked so grown up behind the wheel that I didn’t even recognize her – while I was on a mission to buy books for her graduation present was highly significant to me. How perfect!

Anyway…

Here are the books I selected and why:

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran: A friend whom I knew only for a summer and experienced as a kindred spirit loaned me his copy after we spent a day boating on Cayuga Lake with friends and engaging in philosophical conversation. This book awakened something in me and left my soul rejoicing. I bought a copy for myself that same week, and it has been like a bible to me ever since, offering advice about Love, Joy and Sorrow, Children, Pain, Marriage, Teaching, Work, and many other aspects of life. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I know many passages by heart, and I think it would be interesting to see what chapters would resonate most with me now. Probably many of the ones I found less compelling when I was younger. This book turned me on to the Lebanese-born poet, Kahlil Gibran, and I went on to read the rest of his published works and to think of him as a soulmate of sorts.

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach: My dear, departed friend, David, gave me a copy of this book when I graduated from high school. It was a mind-blower that started me on my spiritual journey. It is the story of a spiritual mentorship (making it a perfect gift from my first spiritual mentor) that forms between the author (a writer and biplane pilot) and a former mechanic who teaches the author how to let go of the personal limitations that he passively allowed to define him and the world around him. Interspersed throughout the story are passages from the “Messiah’s Handbook and Reminders for the Advanced Soul,” and I memorized and was intrigued by nearly every one of these gems. I read several of Richard Bach’s books after this one and found them all to be illuminating and magical. Giving my daughter this book is like passing on the torch that David handed to me. It is an empowering book to read when you’re feeling stuck.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: Soon after we met, my husband insisted that I read this book, and I’ve never had a book recommended by so many kindred spirits. It is a fictional account of a quest to find a treasure and all of the helpers and circumstances the main character encounters on the journey that point him in the direction of the treasure. It is an inspirational story about listening to your heart and following your dreams. One of my favorite children’s picture books, The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz, has striking similarities to this novel. It was so enchanting that I ended up reading many more novels by Paulo Coelho, who has become my favorite novelist.

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle: Eckhart Tolle is one of my main gurus, and it all began with this illuminating non-fiction book about entering the present moment and transcending ego consciousness. I love his explanation of the pain body, which I think my daughter (a quintuple Scorpio) will relate to. I think she also will appreciate his lack of religious language. His teachings make sense, and so much of what he talks about I know to be true through personal experience. I practice “entering the now” every day of my life and have been transformed and enriched by doing so.

Oneness with All Life by Eckhart Tolle: This is a beautiful edition of inspirational passages from A New Earth. It is one of my favorite books to open to a random page and read whatever I find there when I seek guidance or inspiration.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: This is the author’s personal account of being a prisoner in Nazi death camps and how the suffering endured by him and fellow prisoners became a path of renewed purpose and meaning. This book was assigned reading for a Death and Immortality course I took as an undergraduate. The author asserts, “It is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent.” Survivors accomplished this through a sense of humor and noticing beauty in the natural world. Well, if people were able to practice the art of living under such deplorable conditions, we have no excuses! This is also a book that makes you count your blessings. I had trouble deciding between this book or Night by Elie Wiesl. I like the way Frankl’s book emphasizes the importance of having a sense of purpose and meaning that makes life worth living.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom: In this popular book, the author reconnects with a former college professor during the final months of the professor’s life and learns important lessons about life as his mentor approaches death. This is a book that puts life into perspective and highlights what really matters.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch: One year on our professional development staff day at the beginning of the school year, the principal showed a video of Randy Pausch, a Carnegie-Mellon professor who had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, giving a lecture about living life to the fullest and pursuing our dreams. This book is an easy read based on the principles he presented in the lecture. It’s similar in theme to Tuesdays with Morrie – a book that looks at the Big Picture.

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver: Everyone needs a good collection of poetry. This is Mary Oliver’s most recent book, and I want my daughter to have it because it’s so lyrical and inspiring and focuses largely on the wonders of the natural world. It took a while to decide which volume of Mary Oliver’s poems to give my daughter. I plan to attach a couple of my favorite poems found in other volumes to the inside cover. It’s something she can read during a quiet moment when she needs a lift or is trying to make sense of her place in the world. I like this collection because it has fewer religious references than some of the author’s other works – something my daughter would appreciate.

Life’s Journeys According to Mister Rogers: Things to Remember Along the Way by Fred Rogers: Mister Rogers always had a way of making you feel good about yourself. This little book is a collection of nuggets and gentle advice that we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman: This is a personal account – kind of like a travelogue – written by a woman who gave up her house and possessions and became a nomad back in 1986. She remains a nomad today and continues to write about her adventures on her website and blog! How interesting – I just visited her blog so I could link to it and discovered that right now she is staying in the Berkshires, which is very close to where I live! And equally fascinating, her latest blog post discusses Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which I listed above! The book is filled with fascinating accounts of the author’s experiences with people in different cultures around the world. It reaffirms the goodness of people all over the world and the reality of serendipity and chance meetings that open one to a whole new world of possibility. What possibilities and blessings are we passing by because we are functioning as creatures of habit, not fully seeing or perceiving the living world around us? What possibilities might we discover by being truly present when we interact with others by listening, by speaking our truth and being honest about our needs, by lending a helping hand?

Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho: This is the author’s latest book, and it reads very much like Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. It is loaded with wisdom that really resonates and inspires. I find myself quoting it frequently lately.

The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz: A colleague gave me this book a few years ago, and it contains a lot of practical wisdom around the “four agreements” for rising above self-limiting beliefs that compromise our quality of life: 1) Be impeccable with your word, 2) Don’t take anything personally, 3) Don’t make assumptions, 4) Always do your best.

Women in the Material World by Faith D’Alusio and Peter Menzel: This book provides, through gorgeous photos and compelling commentary, an intimate look at the lives of 20 different women in different countries and cultures throughout the world. It underscores what women around the globe have in common and also how our lives are, in many cases, dramatically different. I have opened up this book countless times when I was feeling down, and it never failed to remind me that I am blessed beyond belief and share a connection with women around the globe, who experience the same feelings, frustrations, and joys that I do. At times when my energy is vulnerable and I think that my life situation doesn’t measure up to the standards our society seems to expect, this book sets me straight! I hope it will serve this purpose for my daughter, too. She and I have enjoyed exploring the companion book, Material World, together over the years, as well.

Warrior of the Light: A Manual by Paulo Coelho: Is it obvious that I love Paulo Coelho’s writing? This is a phenomenal companion to The Alchemist that offers wisdom for our life’s quests. I bought my copy of this book when I was pursuing a career in teaching, and it provided perspective that kept me fighting the good fight to attain my goal.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom: I have loved everything I have read by Mitch Albom and am convinced that his work is deeply inspired. I was in a college bookstore many years ago perusing the required and recommended books for various graduate teaching courses, and this book was on the list for one course. It speaks to the potential within each of us to change someone’s life. Although this book wasn’t originally on my list, it revealed itself in a way that convinced me it needed to be included in the collection. I could have included any of Mitch Albom’s other novels, as well.

Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard (not pictured): The title of this book says it all. I want my daughter to be happy on her life’s journey, and this is my favorite book about happiness, written by a biochemist turned Buddhist monk in the Tibetan tradition. It offers practical, sound advice synthesized with neuroscience.

I intend to present the books to my daughter in a wooden crate. I have had so much fun planning and putting together this present!

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