I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue. I’d go crawling down the avenue. There ain’t nothing that I wouldn’t do, to make you feel my love. — Bob Dylan
“I just want my kids to be happy.”
This seems to be a generally held sentiment among parents, though to me it always felt like a politically correct way of saying, “I just want my kids to get what they want.”
I’m sure most parents aren’t selfishly desiring their kids’ gratification. So how do we define happiness? What is the good life?
On a pleasantly cool evening in early June, I watched my daughter walk across a metal stage set up in the middle of her high school football field. From high up in the bleachers I saw her take a paper from the principal’s hand and later fling her mortar board up in the air with hundreds of other graduates, like shooting black stars against a blue sky. She became a high school graduate that night, leaving the home of childhood and entering the world as an adult.
People love to give advice to graduates. Though well-meant, I fear the advice is mostly pointless given an 18-year-old’s belief that she’s got life pretty much figured out.
Still, after months of visiting colleges and hearing the usual tropes about dreams and new beginnings, I can’t help imagining what I’d say to her as she goes down paths where I cannot follow.
This time I have to let Dolly Parton say it for me:
“I hope life treats you kind. And I hope you have all that you dreamed of. And I wish for you joy and happiness. But above all this, I wish for you love.”
Before you dismiss this as cringey, saccharine platitudes, consider the wisdom of her blessing.
Parton separates love into a class of its own. Love is different from an easy life, one’s dreams and even joy and happiness. Real and true love is sometimes none of these, and yet the best of all.
Of course, I hope my daughter finds love that comes easy. Love that feels exhilarating and fun. Love that isn’t difficult or demanding.
But then again, perhaps these descriptions of love are not love at all. Perhaps we should call them attraction, affection and camaraderie. These are all pleasurable and bring a lot of joy and happiness. They are the beginnings of, but are not yet, love.
Love, in its truest, fullest form, involves sacrifice; it is born of doing things we’d rather not. Miraculously, it is inside these relationships where we find things even more essential than joy and happiness: hope, peace, safety, acceptance and grace.
I do not understand why sacrifice, something unpleasant, is essential to something as glorious as love. It doesn’t make sense, but it is true.
So this is what I wish for my baby girl, now grown.
I hope she has a dog she loves enough to walk three times a day. I hope she loves a plot of earth somewhere enough to give time and money to protect it.
I hope she has relationships that are inherently uncomfortable, where she must sacrifice her security and be mindful of what she says and does so she doesn’t offend and hurt others. I hope she has people and groups with whom she can say the first thing that comes to mind, knowing that even if she’s corrected or admonished, she’s in a context where she’s understood and accepted.
I hope she is willing to do the awkward work of creating boundaries with gentleness and humility. I hope she chooses to say sorry and accept blame. And I hope with all my heart that she will sacrifice her pride and forgive others.
Christianity is the only religion whose God (in human form) sacrificed his own life to model true love, and I hope she sticks with it. I hope she’ll find a church that will remind her through word and deed that sacrificially loving God, others and herself is eternal life.
I don’t think I ask too much for her. Only heaven on earth.
As Victor Hugo wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”