I hope you are well.
And not in the generic and unengaged way that we experience from day to day, but in a true, if strange, way.
"Why would you care", I'm sure you're asking yourself — I don't even know you. But does one truly need to know one's neighbour to have a feeling of care or kindness towards them? Do I need to be on a name-by-name basis with the old woman who feeds the birds every morning, or the barista crafting my morning brew, to wish them joy, contentment and fulfilment in this life? I don't believe so.
I care about you. I know, it's even strange for me to say, but I don't know what else to call it. Perhaps the Buddhists would class it as a universal love, maybe a prayer for the good of others if you're religious. But for now, I'm going to call it care — even if it is an indirect one. Life is tough, you and I are not ignorant of this. But I ask you this: is it not more beautiful to go through life wishing well to others and knowing someone out there feels the same way about you?
I don't know if you're like this too, but I find beauty is such small or overlooked things. For example, you and I are in conversation right now. We're talking yet neither of us is speaking. Is that not incredible? We can't even reply to each other in real-time and yet here we are. I've felt the same way when reading books in the past. I remember reading Selected Discourses and Writings by Epictetus and it felt like I was in conversation with the man over 2,000 years later. It was like he was sat in a chair across from me and we were discussing stoicism or aspects of life, yet there was no discussion; I never said a word. I'm not sure how it's possible to feel connected to a person you've never met and never will — someone who stopped existing 2 millennia ago — but somehow we can.
Let's talk about legacy for a bit. No no, I don't mean leaving behind large sums of cash, business empires, or other financial instruments. By legacy, I mean more about what we will leave behind to those after us to help them feel connected to their ancestors and environment. Personally, I feel very disconnected. I don't think I'm alone in this, and I suspect it's one reason why group politics is becoming such a huge thing today — don't worry, I'm not going political on you. But maybe you feel this disconnection too. The point is that I often wonder how I could live my life in a way that those after me would be proud of sharing the same blood. What could I leave behind that allows them to connect with me long after I've left this earth? Money certainly would do no good, it's bound to be squandered or stolen at some point in the future. It would be an incredibly weak and short-lived foundation for the legacy we wish to build.
And this returns me to the premise of this letter — connection. Writing transcends time. We can connect and converse with people long past by reading. Think of your children, grandchildren, and great-great-great grandchildren — what would you like to say to them? I bet you'd tell them how much you love them. Just how much you care, and what boundless beauty you wish for their life. But you don't know them. They're strangers just as much as you and I. But let's say you had this chance to talk to them directly, to direct them in living a better life, what would you say? What would you encourage them towards doing, and what would you dissuade them from? Is that advice timeless? Now the final question: are you living your life by those words? That's the legacy I'm talking about. You don't need to be famous, rich, or the best of the best — simply live life in the best way you can, for yourself and for those after you.
Personally, I want to set it in writing, a book I can hand down as an heirloom. If it's any good, I'd think of publishing it so that it becomes something greater. More like a collection of philosophical ramblings condensed into something readable — the truest work of my life. But it's a pretty lofty goal; I'll likely die before I finish it. At the very least, my family will have a collection of records and journals that they can read, in the hope of connecting with this man who tried to live his life in the most honest way he knew how — even if some actions or thoughts, like the writing of this letter to you, were odd.
Alas, this letter is getting long and carving off in all kinds of directions. So let me end with this.
Find that message, define some principles in which to live life, and finally, love and believe in yourself enough to live life by those words. It doesn't need to be perfect, you'll refine it over time. While some will poke fun at you for living your life in the fullest and most honest way you can, there will be an equal number inspired by your actions. And finally, know that, in times when you lose faith in yourself, I will not.
Sincerely, thoughts from a stranger,