To Brian and Thomas Yarbrough and Nicholas Wansley:
I don’t know if you are keeping score but my annual correspondence with you is now entering its second decade. We started when you were gap-toothed, giggly moppets. Now one of you is married and is a father, one of you is about to graduate from college and the third is winding up high school.
Even after 11 years of dispensing grandfatherly advice, I still don’t know if you read these missives, save them or even find them relevant. I haven’t asked. You haven’t said. I do know that a lot of people tell me it is the most important column I write each year and it is one they share with their own children and grandchildren. Knowing that, I soldier on.
I sit here wondering what I can tell you that I haven’t already said over the past decade. Does my advice to you in 2000 remain appropriate in 2010?
I have suggested over the years that you love your country, obey your parents, believe in God, reject prejudice, work hard and have some fun. I don’t see anything in those words that needs to be revised simply because you are no longer little boys.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said, "Two things fill the mind with new and increasing wonder and awe — the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." Both are God-given. The longer I live, the more I learn about our universe. And the more I learn, the more convinced I am that a God beyond our comprehension put it all together. Believe.
Moral law means God has also given us the ability to distinguish between what is good and what is evil. What we do with that ability is up to us. Just remember that you are a walking sermon and you will be judged by your actions as will those who have put a lot of time and effort into getting you to this point in your life. Don’t disappoint us. Don’t make poor choices.
Look in the mirror each night before you go to bed and ask yourself, "Did I do my best today? Did I make a positive difference in the world or did I squander a precious day that I can never get back?" Only you will be able to answer that question. We both know that your beloved brother and cousin Zack lived every day to its optimum. I can’t imagine a day that he didn’t do his best. I can think of no better way to honor Zack’s memory than to emulate him.
We talk a lot in this country about our personal freedoms. That includes the freedom to say what we choose, to act as we like and to do as we wish. We can utter obscenities, burn our flag and adopt the sexual behavior of a yard dog. That is our right, but that doesn’t make it right. I am afraid you are part of a generation that does not understand that personal freedom also includes personal responsibility.
Does obscene language and desecrating our national symbols make us better people? Does promiscuous behavior in any way strengthen us as a society? Should we sniff, snort, drink or chew anything that numbs us from coping in the real world? When our personal concerns outweigh the concerns of others, we will be well on the road to destruction. Please don’t let it happen on your watch.
I love you boys more than I can express to you in one letter — or 10. I want you to be happy and to live fulfilling lives and I will do everything I can to see that you do. But the responsibility of how you live your life is on your own shoulders. If you need a yardstick by which to measure your progress, I suggest you refer to my favorite Bible passage — Galatians 5:22-23: "The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
May you know them all and may you share them with the world.
Happy New Year. PA
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.