She doesn’t actually have my eyes. Not this daughter, anyway. Mine are blue, her’s are brown. She’s borrowed. All of my children are, for now. It’s a gift I often speak of, the joy of having young people in your life. I’m lucky to be able to count dozens of them, most of them adults now and enough new ones coming into this world each year to keep my heart full. Too many to name, but each one a blessing.
Still, when I think of this one in particular, I think, “Daughter – you wear my name, those are my eyes, keep them raised“. It’s a lyric from a Jakob Dylan song called ‘War Is Kind’. And the name I have to give her, is Courage.
You can read all about Brylee’s story here but the short story is, after multiple setbacks, my sweet girl finally landed in Sydney to attend the prestigious Brent Street dance school just a few weeks ago. It’s been a long journey that started many years ago.
My girl is tough and kind. She’s going to have a strong, robust character with grit and warmth to her. She’ll always find it easy to make friends but she’s not all the way there yet. She’s not done baking, so to speak.
My friend Marko is a pretty smart chap. He said to me at the end of 2014, over a cigar in a Zen backyard in San Diego (one of my favourite places on earth).. “You know, you’re at a stage of life when you should still be learning in whatever environment you’re in.”
It’s pretty damn good advice and a good situation to be in at 35 years, to have someone prepared to remind you, you should still push yourself into learning environments. So when I think about Brylee, I hope and pray I’ve encouraged her to do what I try to do, hopefully to do it better. To take every opportunity as a learning chance, diving deep into the marrow of life and to keep learning, no matter where you are.
If I’ve done anything as a mentor and friend, I hope it’s been to encourage young people in establishing their voice, committing themselves to constant learning, evolution and most importantly, the courage to do those things ongoingly.
If there is one thing more I have to give Brylee, it’s courage to face her fears. Courage to face loneliness, insecurity and doubt. Courage to push through the toughest of lessons, even when they come around again and again. Funnily enough, when it came time to write those words down for her… all I had was a story. A story of the women I come from; tough, resourceful and resilient women who have been brave in many aspects of life – from solo mums, missionaries, oppressed housewives and many more. I come from a line of women who have grit and warmth and so I invited her into it; my surrogate, adopted daughter.
The funny thing is, I’m trying to give this lineage to her at the very same time as trying to grasp it myself. I think that’s magical, though. All that has come to me through mentors, teachers and family I’m trying to live and work out alongside a young woman who will be braver, stronger, kinder and tougher than I. We are forging this path together. We are making a way for each other.
So I wrote to her, the story of the family lineage I’m offering her, on top of the wonderful family she has. And then I wrote some advice – the kind of advice that I’ve received and the stuff that’s worth passing on. Even a few pieces entirely my own.
Your life is about to get really practical and hard. So promise me that you won’t lose the mystery and wonder and the possibility of ‘what if?’. And remember, that you come from a line (even by adoption!) of strong, capable women who push through when they get scared or intimidated. You have grown up capable and brave. Remember that we are all cheering you on, a family of women who are immensely proud of you but also pushing you on to cross over borders and boundaries for us. We have all pushed through our own to open up paths for you. Don’t forget that……
Remember your spirituality. I’m not talking about religion and you know that, right? Still, I hope that you’ll remember you are more than a body and mind and heart. There is something bigger in the universe and the more connected to it you are, the easier it will be to know yourself, to trust your instincts and to make your way on the earth. So take time out, even if it’s just to ask questions and write a journal…..
Choose your friends wisely. There will be some people who come in and out of your life for a season. That’s ok. Don’t let every new person into your innermost circle. Let them earn your trust first……
It’s really easy for people to focus on the challenges that you’ve overcome to get where you are. Now’s the time to start living as if you never faced them. What I mean by that, is you’re about to start growing up in all the normal ways everyone does. Learning to really take care of yourself, how to learn from every experience and how to admit when you’re wrong, how to say sorry when you don’t have to. All that kind of stuff that we have to learn as we grow……
Don’t do it by yourself. Keep talking to people when stuff goes wrong. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed if you make mistakes or get into trouble. I wish I had learned this lesson a long time ago. Part of the risk of being a strong, independent woman is that you actually become too independent. It’s easy to start thinking as if any failure is unacceptable. Failure is simply a faster way of learning. It’s ruthlessly more efficient. So you should expect to fail often……
The most important thing is to learn to fail well – which means admitting something hasn’t worked or has gone wrong, to talk about it with others and to figure out what to do differently. Failing well usually means having people to keep you accountable in the mix as well. So these are things I hope you’ll remember when it happens next. It’s normal. Just reach out and get people to help you recover well. I promise that if you learn to do that, you’ll save yourself so much hardship in the future and become a much more compassionate and forgiving human being……
No triumph or mistake is the total sum of your success or failure. So don’t crow or mope more than you need to…….
Something else I want you to hold on to – this next part of your life is an opportunity and a risk, to become really selfish and self-centred. It’s easy when the whole focus of your life becomes what you are doing and what you want. So find someone to help when you get to Sydney. Find something that gets you out of your own world once or twice a week. It will help you stay grounded and it will also help you to remember that while dance school is everything right now, it won’t be everything forever… therefore it’s not the be all and end all in your world. Don’t live for today… live for tomorrow…..
In any situation, whether it’s an argument or someone who drives you crazy with love or crazy with hate – ask yourself first , what can I do differently? Then ask yourself what else might be going on for the people involved. Ask yourself whether there is anything about their perspective that might be true or worth taking on board. Do this ritually, even when it’s uncomfortable or when you are convinced you’re right. Especially when you are convinced you are right. This will help you to learn. It will make you stronger, more rational and more understanding…..
Don’t sleep with dumb boys. Seriously. And think hard about the story you’ll tell me about any tattoos. Mine have great stories, so I expect the same from you. If a conversation is good, then let it go on all night but don’t expect every night to be the same…..
Hold everything loosely except your own heart – you should hold that tight. When you decide to give it away, even in a little piece, give it freely without needing anything back. If you give love away because you need something in return, that isn’t love, precious girl. So give love when you know you’re still happy to give it without receiving anything in return from friends, with boys, with family…..
Love because love is good, not because you’re trying to fix anything within yourself. There will probably be times you do this anyway. Just make a note and ask yourself what you needed at the time. Don’t be afraid to go to therapy ever to deal with those questions….
I love you, earnestly and truly. I love you for the wonderful things about you and for the flaws we all have, that are about to begin being knocked off by your experiences in the world. Brave girl, you are always in my heart and I will always be with you in spirit, in love and in presence whenever I can…..
Lastly, I am always proud of you even if you ignore all this heartfelt advice. You will probably forget most of it at first, but maybe in six months or even six years you will remember this letter and pick it up again. I pray that whenever you pick it up, no matter how often or otherwise – you will find something in it that gives you hope, something that reminds you of what you can do to help any situation you are in. Remember you are only a supporting actor in the lives of all those people you’ll be around… but you can still win Academy Awards for that. So live well to encourage and support others. And live well to make a great story…..
She gives me strength, when I see her persevere. When I know my words lift her up, my spirit is also lifted. I want to say to her, ‘Daughter.. when you lift your eyes, my eyes are lifted to the horizon’. When you steady your heart against the tide, my heart is steadied.. because we share a name.
That name is Courage. Sometimes I remind her, sometimes she reminds me. We are bonded in that, my girl and I.