Wow, things sure look different this year. You, in particular.
A year and five or six inches ago, you were a newly anointed teenager, not quite happy about the prospect of becoming a young adult and still easily passing as a kid at movie theater box offices and museum entrances. And now here you are, at least an inch taller than your mom, your voice in a state of perpetual change, your journey into teenagedom one year deeper. With a birthday that lands smack in the center of final projects and exams, your countdown to becoming a high school student is reverberating all around us.
So, hello to fourteen… the atomic number of silicon, the number of lines in a sonnet, the number of pounds in a stone, and the number of days in a fortnight (which is a game you know all about, but have mostly resisted playing). Johann Sebastian Bach regularly incorporated the number (and 41) into his compositions because numerology gave them a mystical connection to his name. In the lunar cycle, the moon waxes to full in approximately 14 days, then back to new in approximately 14 days. As it happens, the “Moonlight Sonata” is Beethoven’s fourteenth. (And you have told me, more than once, that you prefer Beethoven to Mozart because of his work ethic as a composer.)
There were 14 questions that, when asked, the Buddha would answer with silence. We are, of course, big fans of the 14th Dalai Lama, who, like us, observed the birthday of the Buddha on the eve of yours this year (determined by the lunar calendar). And on your actual day, Theravedic Buddhists throughout Southeast Asia are observing Vesak – celebrating the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death in one fell swoop.
People celebrating the Buddha on your birthday seems like a lovely symmetry to me, because whatever nonsense people tend to believe about teenagers, you are one of the most spiritually grounded people that I know. It is true that you have eaten an entire lemon—skin and all—on a dare. (I am still trying to understand why a middle school cafeteria had a whole lemon available for sale. Mystery of mysteries. Maybe a friend brought it? When I ask, you answer with silence.) But the insights you provide me with about the universe, the U.S. Constitution, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the ethical questions about CRISPR, and the behaviors of people around you—especially your mom’s—are invaluable. I have always felt like I get to become a better person by knowing, and listening, to you. Like the moon, your reflections are light, genuine, and gently lucid.
In all the ways that society likes to measure children, you are looking pretty fabulous – grades, test scores, awards for musical accomplishments, academic awards, scholarly society memberships. I am happy that you are cracking the code on meeting or exceeding the standards that we know can open more doors for you, but I am even prouder of you for the things they do not track, like your unflappable enthusiasm for learning, your openness towards other people and your sense of justice. Right at the beginning of this impossibly busy week, you knew you didn’t want Walter, the sweet beagle that adopted you, to leave this realm without your being in the room with him. You stretched out next to him and played classical music to soothe him as he lay collapsed, worried that he might be feeling afraid.
For the last two years, you’ve been on the cross country and track teams, primarily because you enjoy running and the process of trying to improve. Even though running tends to be one of the rare sports where personal best is of great value, I sure wish the world appreciated the disposition of a boy who isn’t focused on competing a little more than it does. Your tenacity inspires me. You have helped me see just how much can be missed when the focus stays too much on winning instead of growth.
This year’s letter may be a little shorter than most. So much has been said between us that I want to keep in that private space. I just feel so grateful that you invite me to share bike rides and deep conversations over breakfast and a sound healing meditation in a salt cave on your birthday. I like you. Do you know this? I really do. I feel like you walk around this world knowing that you are loved, and that makes me happy.
As always, I love you infinity sweet boy,