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The following is an excerpt from Connie Zweig’s book The Inner Work of Age: Shifting from Role to Soul.
You own my heart.
This love has been a surprise and the most precious gift of my late life.
I was not a mommy so I did not expect to be a grandma. But I married Neil and, when you came into the world, I became Grandma Connie. And my heart swelled with the sight, sound, smell, and touch of each of you.
This surprising love has forced me to grow, opening my heart wider and wider, as you grow too.
I see your radiance and don’t want to do anything to squash it. So I try to meet it with my own diminishing energy, to keep up with you when you run and play and bike and scooter.
I see your beauty. Your value is in what you are, not what you do or what you own.
I see your curiosity about everything and your passion to learn letters, recognize them, and put together words. So I try to be with you in your learning, as inspired and excited as you are. Your curiosity is a clue that can lead you on a lifelong treasure hunt.
I see your play “The sun’s up, it’s time to play” and the joy in your faces when we go on our Sunday adventures; when we take our special family trips and celebrate your birthdays and holidays. And your joy stirs a joy in me that is youthful, innocent, and vibrant. For the child in us is alive (at every age) and can be rekindled with play.
And I see your one-of-a-kind-ness. No one has ever been like you before, and no one ever will be.
No one has your smile or your voice or your fingerprint. And no one can take your place in the world, where you are wanted and needed to do your part. You are a light, and your job is to let it shine.
And I want you to see in me that the full span of life is rich and meaningful, that we never stop playing, learning, and loving. I want you to feel in me an unconditionally loving presence, an embrace of all of who you are, a hand to hold to keep you safe, a lap that’s warm and cozy.
As you continue to grow and become teens and adults, you will find a world that’s not all safe, people who are not all warm and cozy. You will face a planet in a climate crisis and a society with rich and poor people, who live very different lives. You will be disappointed, hurt, and angry sometimes—as all people are. You may have your heart broken, struggle with health, or have financial problems.
But my hope is that you will take my love with you. Like a locket next to your heart, you can carry my love as a feeling of your innate lovability. You can carry my positive gaze as a memory of your innate value.
As you find your way to a great education and a satisfying career, as you discover how to give and receive love, you will remember that there are boys and girls who are not as fortunate as you, not as loved or safe or happy as you are. And I hope that (when you’re ready), you will turn and offer your hand, your love, and your positive gaze to them and return all that you have received.
Don’t let others define you and limit you.
Some of us are being raised Jewish, others Christian, others agnostic—all right in one family. But the values that I’m sharing here transcend those differences; they are shared ideals that transcend religion, race, gender, geography, and age. And they can lead you to a life of meaning and purpose.
And don’t let technology distract you from real human connection. Life does not happen on text, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or WhatsApp—it happens face to face, eye to eye, skin to skin.
It happens outdoors in the sun and rain, woods and oceans. Research is telling us that those teens who spend more time at home looking at screens than going out with friends and family feel more lonely and unhappy, not more connected. Their brains are over-stimulated, and their bodies are under-exercised, so they struggle with being attentive and sleeping well. So, remember to use your iPhones and iPads to serve you—don’t serve them. Don’t let your devices be the last thing you see before bed and the first thing you see when you wake up.
Always strive to connect to something greater than yourself, whatever form that takes for you. And you will find a meaningful life.
It may mean striving to understand how life began, to unlock the mysteries of the universe, of human history, of our brains or cells. If this is your striving, then explore science: astrophysics, quantum physics, anthropology, neuroscience, physiology, or microbiology. And make your unique addition to the vast body of knowledge that science has built.
It may mean striving to understand why people do what they do, how they are motivated, why they hurt others, and how they recover from hurt. If this is your striving, then study psychology like Neil, Cher, Sage, or me.
It may mean striving to understand the beauty of the natural world and to support the elegant web of life that connects us to plants, animals, and all living things. If this is your striving, then study botany, zoology, sustainability, and climate science.
It may mean striving to inspire people through creativity. If this is your striving, then explore the visual arts, performing arts, poetry, and music.
It may mean striving to make a difference to others; to ease their suffering, and thereby contribute to the greater good.
If this is your striving, then find a passionate cause: climate change, racism, sexism, homelessness, hunger, gun violence, hunger, poverty, education, refugees, animal welfare—make it your own. Take the resources and gifts that you’ve been given and become an advocate, an activist, a teacher, a doctor, a volunteer, an attorney, a journalist, a candidate for office.
It may mean striving to figure out how your devices work. If this is your striving, then explore technology: robotics, artificial intelligence, social media, and steer them to be used for the common good.
It may mean striving to connect with the great mystery, something beyond your small self, behind the layers of life that we can see or touch. If this is your striving, then study religion, spirituality, and philosophy and find a contemplative practice that teaches you to sit quietly, alone, and hear the whisper of your soul. You may, like the great mystics before you, penetrate the veils covering our illusions and come to know your true source and destination.
As adults, then elders, strive to become your own ideal. Become the generous, compassionate role models you had or sought out. Become the grandparents who Neil and I tried to be for you or become even better than we were.
I had my shortcomings as a grandma. I ask for your forgiveness for my absence at important moments, my impatience with your anger or tears, my over-eagerness to shape you to my own ideals. I was always imperfect, and I’m leaving you an imperfect world.
My generation’s unfinished business falls to you.
I fought for racial equality, watched moments of humanity waking up, watched in sorrow as some in our nation went back to sleep. I fought for gender equality, watched moments of humanity waking up, then watched, heartbroken, as some in our nation went back to sleep. And I fought for environmental justice, watched moments of humanity waking up, then watched in horror as our nation, gripped in a stranglehold by oil companies, denied climate change and refused the call for a sustainable planet. So today, tragically, we hand down these fights to you, a challenging legacy but significant social causes that can offer you a purposeful life.
The future is being shaped now, as I write, in the hearts and minds of you children and in all children everywhere: rich and poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, White, Black, Latino, Asian. The future lies in your feeling nurtured or abandoned, safe or afraid, confident or insecure, hungry or satiated.
The future lies in the roles models you observe—your parents and elders, heroes and heroines. What do they strive for? What is the meaning of a successful life to them?
The future lies in the spiritual and moral values being transmitted to you: kindness, generosity, empathy, service, personal development, and caring for the earth. How do your teachers and leaders live these values? Do they practice a lifestyle that embodies them?
The future lies in the vision we transmit to you.
When I was a teen, long before you were born, I watched TV when an astronaut sent back to us a photo of the earth from space. We saw—for the first time—a tiny blue ball floating in darkness, no borders, no labels.
And I watched a moment of humanity waking up to the reality that we are all in the same boat, sharing the same small habitat and bound to the same fate.
But, all too quickly, many went back to sleep, remembering only their differences and their small self-interest.
Today, climate change is a fierce reminder of that vision.
The earth is one living, breathing organism that feeds and sustains us, responds to our choices, and cries for your care.
So, the future is you.
Each one of you is a fragile and powerful force for a more promising future for everyone.
I bless you, as you fill me with blessings.