I hope you will be free to become the best possible version of who you are meant to be and of who you want to be. You can rest assured that we will always love, embrace, and support you. I also hope the world in which you will grow up and live will progress toward being an even better world than the one into which you have been born. I hope you will join with people of good will to contribute to that progress.
I hope you will help your world become more sensible. Right now we’re not displaying much sense and much of what we are displaying is bad. We do things that are counter-productive, harmful, and hateful. I hope the world you help build will have a better grasp on reality than the one into which you have been born has. I especially hope it will grow in realizing that all of us on Earth are in this together. In the words of one of your grandfather’s favorite bands, “There is no more new frontier. We have got to make it here.” Any other way of looking at it doesn’t make sense.
I hope you will help your world become more knowledgeable. Too many people in the world in which you have arrived are against knowledge; they reveal that by valuing their opinions over demonstrated facts. My parents (your great-grandparents) didn’t go to college but they taught me that doing so was crucial to having a good life and to helping others find a better life. Your grandparents taught your parents the same thing. No matter what career you end up choosing and what kind of training it requires, it is vital that you continually pursue knowledge, that you develop varied interests, that you read widely, and that you travel to other regions of the world as much as you can. It is also crucial that you respect and listen to those who know more than you do about particular areas. Don’t disparage those who possess greater knowledge than you have. Listen to them and learn from them.
I hope you will help your world become more aware. Specifically, I hope you will help it become more aware that the real is not limited to the physical and that the true goes beyond the literal. I meant what I said about seeking, embracing, and appreciating knowledge, but too many people limit knowledge to what can be seen with the eye, touched with the hand, or tested in the laboratory. There is much more to life than that. I hope you’ll help your world do better at taking the spiritual into account. That’s where understanding that not all that is true is literal and not all that is literal is true becomes important. Learn the power of metaphor and symbolism. Help your world embrace that power.
I hope you will help your world become more humble. Arrogance is way too prevalent in this one. Too many people believe their experience is normative, assume their perspective is right, and put their own wants and needs ahead of everybody else’s. I want you to develop a clear sense of self and to have the courage of your convictions. But I also want you always to remember that you are one of 7.5 billion people (and by 2050 you’ll be one of 9.6 billion people) who live on this planet. In our eyes you are one of the most important ones, but in fact you are not. Remember that the same God made all of us and that you and every other human being have 99.5% of your DNA in common. (By the way, if you really want to enhance your humility, always remember that a chimpanzee has 98.8% of the DNA you have.) At the same time, remember that you are unique. There is only one you. You differ from other people in only .5% of your DNA, but that little bit is crucial. Take pride in who you are, but don’t be arrogant about it. And always be willing to change.
I hope you will help your world become more loving. From a Christian perspective, to love means to put others ahead of self and to give self up for others’ sake. Not everyone in the world is a Christian. Furthermore, not everyone who claims to be Christian is and not all Christians practice Christian love (I know how strange that must sound). Still, you can think, talk, and act in ways that will help people see the value of service and sacrifice. If enough of them can grow into wanting to help more than to be helped and to serve rather than to be served, this world will finally be ready to begin being a better place.
Sullivan, I realize that it will be a few weeks before you can read this letter for yourself. I also realize that it lays some lofty expectations on you. It is not a burden you can or should bear alone. Surround yourself with people who want to journey with you on the road to a better world. Build a community that wants to help make the world an even more wonderful place to be. I pledge to you that I will help you in whatever ways I can for as long as I am here.
Know that you are loved.
Know that your love for other people can make all the difference.
Mike and Debra Ruffin are celebrating the arrival of their first grandchild, Sullivan Nash Gunter, on July 12. Mike’s professor, mentor, and second father, Dr. Howard P. Giddens, was known by the nickname “Duke,” so he has taken that as his grandfather name.