Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Advice To My Son: Play, Rest, and Sing

I had nineteen years to say what I wanted to say to my kids, but before the first two left for college, I wrote them letters in which I tried to say a few things in words that I had previously said perhaps only indirectly.

My son just left for college a few weeks ago, and I mailed him a letter so he'd have something waiting for him in his mailbox when he got there.  I won't print the whole letter here; most of it was just between the two of us, though if you need to know what I said, here's a summary: I already miss you, but because I love you, I'm glad to see you leaving home and becoming your own man.  You make me proud.

These two paragraphs from the end of my letter to him are things I often say to my students, too, so I'm reproducing them here not only for my son, but for all my students, and for anyone else who might benefit from them:

Take time off every week.  I mean that.  It’s my favorite commandment: get some rest.  College can be high-pressure and high-speed.  Take a few hours every week, even a whole day, to decompress and not to try to get ahead.  It’s like taking time to sharpen your tools; sharper tools cut better, and a rested mind will think better.  To put it differently: take time to play every week.  I think that John Dewey, Bronson Alcott, and Maria Montessori are all right when they affirm that some of the most important parts of our education are the parts in which we play.  I’m not saying you should neglect your classes, of course!  Do well in them, and give them serious attention.  But then be sure to take time off so that you have time to enjoy life, to reflect on the bigger picture, and to be fully human. 
Speaking of rest and restoration, I have to say something about music.   You used to wake up singing, and still one of my favorite sounds in the world is the sound of your singing voice.  My advice here is simple: make music.  Make whatever music gives you joy, just keep making it.  Sing or play or whatever, but I think a good life has got to have some songs in it.  And dancing.  Dancing is good.  Rest, and joy, and music, and dancing.  These are really good things, things worth having for their own sake.  As I write these words I am praying something I have often prayed for you: that your life will be filled with these things.
So there it is: Take time to rest each week.  Some of our best learning happens when we play.  Keep singing.  And dance a little, too.  Not much matters more than that. 

I have no doubt he knows these things already.  He's one of the most playful people I know, and his life is a musical one.  I wrote these things as a reminder of what's already so good about his life.

It was so good, so very good to have him under my roof for nineteen years.  And it's so good, so very, very good to see him going off to live under a roof of his own making.  May that roof always be a shelter for rest, for play, and for many joyful songs. 

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