Letter to My Grandson, for the Future
July 7, 2021
My five-year-old pal, you are having one rough time. In 10 years or more, you might find some value in your Pop’s thoughts about what your heart, mind and body are going through these days. I’m asking your mom and dad to hold onto this letter until you’re confused, stuck, maybe miserable, trying to figure yourself out—why you feel like you feel and tick like you tick.
I’m almost 60 now, and for the whole stretch I’ve over-thought and over-felt nearly everything. I’m a genius at crippling myself with worry and concocting troubles that don’t exist. Just before your mother was born, I started to have panic attacks that raided my sense of self for a good five years. “Anxiety disorder,” that’s the box my therapist checked on my bill after each session.
Now at this point, listen closely. I’m not saying that someday you’ll go through what I went through. No, no, no. It’s just that the struggles you’re enduring tell me that you have a sensitive soul, like your Pop’s. If this is true, you’re in for a ride. Joy will take your breath away hour by hour. On the other hand, the wrongs you witness will bring on tears or—as my mother used to say—“make you so mad you could spit.”
The older you get, the less you’ll remember the preschool-aged Killian. I’m a reliable source, though, and you could do far worse than consider whether the boy you’ll now read about has turned out like his grandfather.
First, a caveat. Keep in mind that the last two years have been bat crazy. The Coronavirus, which has claimed over 600,000 lives in the United States alone, still has us frightened and confused. The social and political climate—to say nothing of our changing planetary climate—is brutish and wicked. In short, to be an American of any age in 2021 is to be hemmed in by exhausting absurdities.
Be assured, your mom and dad and both sets of grandparents are tender and mindful, doing everything possible to give you a safe, lively and fulfilling childhood. You and your brothers are lucky beyond measure. But I wonder if, despite much wise protection, you still manage to absorb how nasty and bonkers the world around you is without having the cognitive development to process it all.
Although your life with family and friends is charmed, you take deep breaths constantly. You’ve got a fiery, nameless burden in your chest that returns even as you blow it out through puffed lips.
For months now you’ve had a cranky stomach. You chew food, then chipmunk it in your cheeks, afraid to send it down for digestion.
Sometimes in the middle of the night you wake up with cramps in your foot. For a while your eyes were always itchy, and I thought you might rub them right off your fair face. Oh, and for another while you got sharp headaches while riding in the car. All of these concerns are improved, thanks to your mom and dad’s persistent efforts to find causes and treatments.
You’re now reading about your younger self and maybe saying, “Man, I was a mess.” Well, to tell the truth, kind of, yes. I would call you delicate. Your mom said, “Some kids are dandelions, some are orchids.”
So far, your older brother appears to be a dandelion, while it’s too early to predict what flower your younger brother will be. But you, sir, are a delicate orchid. Accept no blame on that account. Feel no shame. This is a comrade addressing you. If honorary doctorates were awarded for fragility, your Pop would have a wall full.
My list of your ailments isn’t offered to depress you, but to open you up to self-awareness and ultimately a growing sense of ease with the person you are. This moment’s cleansing breaths and bellyaches may well be outward signs of turmoil trapped inside you. Nobody knows for sure.
But since your folks have handed you this letter, what you went through so long ago is possibly paying you a return visit—in a new form, spurred by new circumstances, wearing a new mask. Then again, maybe nothing is wrong. Mysteriously you’re rubbing your eyes again for no good reason. Riding in the backseat hurts your head.
Mystery is the perfect word. Microscopes and test tubes teach us what truths they can divine, but human beings pretend to know more than we really do. In many ways, the person you are and the person I am are mysteries. We are tiny mysteries caught up in a loving, but ferocious, embrace of the Great Mystery.
Why is Killian Thompson the way he is? No matter how you answer that question, in dark valleys you might long to turn into a different person altogether—somebody stronger, braver than you are, some carefree guy whose troubles lift from his mind like morning mist.
If you are ever granted such a wish, you will find what’s left of me inconsolable in my writing hut. You will little remember how many times I sidled up to the troubled five-year-old you, pulled you toward me and kissed the sandy shock of hair behind your right ear. Nor will your hurting feet recall the heat your grandmother applied to them at 5:00 a.m. And how could you know that your mom and dad breathed in your every sigh to be sure you never worried alone?
I ask you now, Killian, to trust that your parents and grandparents have always had but one fervent intention: To help you give birth to yourself and to love you so fiercely and unconditionally that you will dare to love yourself—exactly as you are and much the same as you were in 2021, when you gave your Pop more gladness than you’ll ever know just by sitting in his lap.
With abiding love,
JOHN, hi hi, Iâm prepping to go teach that weeklong creative writing workshop (nonfiction) in Maryland, and I leave tomorrow, and with your permission, I am going to keep it handy as one of the resources for anyone in my group of ten adult writers, two of whom I think are anxiety-disorder folks. And Iâm going to send it to another person or two who could use it. itâs so loving and lovely.
As it happens, I just wrote something to do my own reading at this Victorian Chautauqua place in Maryland at the end of the workshop weekâjust finished it, just. Itâs sposed to be a shorty, and I clocked this in at 5 minutes. It started out twice as long, and now I think Iâve tightened it down pretty wellâand it speaks for me, and oddly enough, it speaks directly of grandkidsâseems a thing I should share with you. here âtis.
Much love, and I myself am, as I think I mightâve confessed (or not?), pretty anxious right nowâI may have taught weeklong workshops a hundred times, but not for a couple years, bc of the pandemic. Iâm even nervous bout driving down there, and itâs just short of four hours. Geez.
Love, from d
Hey, hey, D. Of course you have permission to make whatever use of the blog post you wish. Anything to help. At the end of your second paragraph you say you should share what you wrote with me. Love to see it, whenever you want to pass it along. So you’re headed to a “Victorian Chautauqua place in Maryland”? Ah, the four hour drive. Funny thing, at the height of my panic attacks I found driving on the highway excruciating. Not to mention sitting in the middle of a theater or church, surrounded by people. (No graceful means of escape.) For what it’s worth, you sound kind of maxed out–family demands, health crises, and now what amounts to a week during which you have to be seriously on your game. I think I’d be twitchy, too. And, yeah, you’ve pretty much communicated that at times you’re about to come out of your skin. I’ve made my peace with chucking a couple of Xanax when I feel myself unraveling. Anywho, much love back atcha. Break a leg with the workshop. Fingers crossed that you hit a stride that makes the week life giving rather than blood sucking. (BTW, is the workshop connected with Goucher?)
Wonderful! Miss our Saturday morning conversations, my friend. Cheers!
Hey, Matt. Miss seeing you, too. Starbucks is open again. When are you haunting the place these days? We could meet up sometime. Peace