A Letter to Myself on My 20th Birthday (1961)

November 2, 2021

Dear young Ham, 

            On your 20th birthday, I’ve come back to 1961 to offer some advice. 

            I have heard that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly, and that would be my recommendation for you. You may not be interested in actually flying, but I’ll bet you would like to shed some of the seriousness that weighs you down. I know for a fact that you sometimes walk around like you have loads of responsibilities on your shoulders – like you’re some special super-guy who has serious tasks to perform, tasks that simply must be done by you alone. On those days, young dude – believe me – you take yourself way too seriously. Unlike angels, you are weighed down by a dreamed-up sense of your own importance. On those days – and I remember this clearly – flying is out and self-absorbed slogging is in. 

            My advice to you, from my bald and wrinkled 79-year-old vantage point, is to get loose from this seriousness and see yourself for what you are – an infinitesimal but beautiful swirl in the everlasting dance of a generous universe. Your silly self-importance would then disappear like a small star in the precious vastness of dawn. You would definitely feel light on those days – light and free and ready to loosen up with life instead of wrestle with it. 

            And here’s a poem I wrote just for you:

(for Ham, age 20)

Notice the way stars 
seem to rustle 
when you see them
from a field. 
Find the place 
where sunsets disappear,
and visit it 
when you're sad. 
Listen to the breezes 
when they organize themselves 
and sing together. 
And keep your eyes 
on other faces. 
Notice the kindness 
that sometimes blossoms  
like crowds of flowers 
in these faces.

With lighthearted love,

Old Ham

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