My Dear Ivy,
This one is a hard one to write. It won’t be the first time I try to share with you the importance of something I’m not very good at, myself. But it may be the most difficult.
It is this: In order to put into practice what we’ve talked about in the previous couple of letters, it is important for you to seek connection.
As a toddler who is still learning how to communicate, we’re still in the process of discovering your personality. But you’re being born into a family of introverts, and given the amount of time you like to spend off in some corner of the house playing by yourself or paging through one of your many books, there’s every indication that you may be one as well.
If so – and particularly if you’re as far on the introvert side of the scale as your daddy is – that connection can be tough sometimes. For us introverts, it’s draining to be around too many people, too much or too often. Self-isolation comes naturally, and is our comfort zone.
This one is particularly poignant right now. We’re in the midst of a national pandemic that I dearly hope will be nothing more than a distant, historical memory by the time you’re old enough to read this. But the measures we – and much of our society – are taking to keep this disease from spreading further, make it even harder than normal to connect.
I hope that by the time you read this, we will be past the pandemic and will have figured out a good balance between the relaxing home life and the need to foster connection with others. Time will tell.
And as you grow up, only you will be able to determine what that connection looks like. If you end up being an introvert like the rest of us, it may look like it did for your mom and me growing up – finding one or two, really close friends and investing deeply in their lives. If you’re an extrovert, your mom and I will be in unfamiliar territory, but we’ll work with you to figure out what that looks like, too.
Just be aware that it’s easy – way too easy – to disengage. Our technology makes it even worse: too many people confuse keeping track of friends on social media – learning everything there is to know about what’s going on in their lives – with actually knowing them.
That’s a really important distinction: Knowing about someone versus knowing them. The former is a one-way street, while the latter is sharing life with each other.
Again, I’m really bad at this. It’s a lot easier for me to retreat into a book or a computer screen rather than connecting with someone – even someone who is really important to me. I pick that easy choice a lot more often than I should, and it’s hurt over the years as I’ve seen a number of meaningful relationships fade into virtual silence.
I hope you’ll always feel comfortable sharing – and sharing life – with your mom and me, but you’ll need others in your life, too. Remember what I said in an earlier letter about unlocking universes through other people’s eyes? Sometimes I feel that, by indulging my own tendency toward isolation, I’m missing out on that. There are a lot of ways in which I hope you follow in my footsteps. This isn’t one of them. For me, it’s one of those regrets I talked about in my very first letter, and one that your mom and I are actively talking about how to fix – particularly once this pandemic passes and we can see other people in person again. There’s only so much connecting that can be done over a computer screen.
Whatever it ends up looking like for you, keep in mind the importance of connection. In order to love, empathize, and share life with others, you have to connect with them first. That will be a challenge, regardless of your own personality, simply because the world we inhabit, and the time in which we inhabit it, seem designed to prevent it. Isolation is our culture’s default setting. Overcoming it takes work – work that I need to do in my own life, and work that I will do my best to enable you to do in yours.
I love you.