(The following letter was written by Mark Colville to his son, on the occasion of being absent for one of the biggest days of his life. Mark shares it with his son’s gracious consent.)
June 15, 2021
The past few weeks have been such a whirlwind, that I haven’t taken the time to let the reality of missing your high school graduation sink in to my mind and heart. Maybe I’ve been distracted, or maybe I was avoiding it as a way to preserve the emotional strength necessary to survive parting from you and mom again. But whatever the reason, it is sinking in now, and not without plenty of tears. (Note to self: try not to let the white supremacist biker dude who’s doing two life sentences for murder see you cry.)
Anyway, there are two things to say about that. The first is, I am so damn proud of you- not so much for what you’ve accomplished (which I never really doubted you would), but for the person you’ve become- I’m so proud that I’m starting to cry again. (Note to self: SEE NOTE ABOVE.) In particular, the compassion that you show toward other people is a gift that is too rare in this world, and I hope you will continue to nurture that quality in yourself. I am certain that this compassion comes from the fact that you have had your own share of trouble and pain in life, and you’ve managed to face it with courage and work through it. You are a fighter and a survivor.
And the second thing to say is, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for missing this day at which you’ve struggled and fought to arrive. Yes. But it goes deeper than that. I’m sorry for everything that I’ve missed. Most of all, I’m sorry for all that I missed when I was not away, when I was right in front of you, in the same house with you, at the same table with you, but not there for you. Being a parent- as perhaps you’ll learn firsthand someday- is an inexact science at best. Most of the time we don’t really know what we’re doing. But I will never use that as an excuse. You are precious to me, and you are a treasure in this world. You deserved perfection. Too often, though, what you got from me wasn’t a hell of a lot better than mediocrity. That’s on me. But I will say this: Love can bandage up a whole lot of injuries, and you mother and I have never been short on that when it comes to you. So, whatever wounds you might carry with you on your path through the adult world, I am confident that, by the strength of your character, you will be able to turn those scars into beauty marks. And in my old age, it will be wonderful to be along for that ride!
Okay, so here comes the fun part (for me, at least). This is where I get to break one of my most important rules as a father, the one that says “Never give any advice unless the kid asks for it”. When your child reaches graduation, you get to throw that rule out the window for a day. (Look it up, it’s in the fine print somewhere.) I’m sure you’ll be relieved to know that my advice for you today is simple, short and sweet. In fact, it can be summed up in just four one-syllable words:
“First, do no harm.”
Maybe you recognize these words? Unless I’m mistaken, these are the first four words of an ancient creed called the Hippocratic Oath. As for what the rest of the Hippocratic Oath says, I’m sure I haven’t got a clue. But I do know that this is the creed that all medical doctors and physicians are required to swear to uphold under all circumstances. They must promise, in other words, that everything they do as members of the medical profession will be intended to heal the body, and not to harm it.
In case you’re wondering, no, I am not advising you to become a doctor- unless, of course, that is what makes you happy. What I am suggesting is that you take those four words and apply them to every aspect of your life, from your personal relationships to your job, to both your private and public life, to your neighborhood, to the earth, to the world. “First, do no harm.” Hold yourself accountable to this, adopt it as your creed. When you violate it, as we all do, own up to that and make reparations if you can. In my experience, there is no better way for humans to walk upon the earth; I believe this creed lies at the heart of what it means to be human and to be happy.
Then again, it doesn’t really matter what I believe. The simple fact is, every one of us on this planet, whether we know it or not, lives by a creed. What we do in the world, every act, is on some level an expression of what we believe. Sadly, the problem with so many of us is that we don’t really know what our creed is. And if you don’t know your own creed, it will be very hard not to let the world around you shove its creed down your throat. The most unhappy people that I have known in my life are those who live according to a creed that is not their own. So my deepest desire and highest hope for you is that you find, in these four words, the creed that fits your soul; that you claim it as your own; that you let no one ever take it away from you.
And with that, I leave you to the celebration you have earned, and that I wish I could share with you in person. Now I’m going to make my way across the cellblock with this letter, to the outgoing mail box, and hope White Supremacist Biker Dude isn’t watching. I love you always. Please take good care of your mother. Be home soon.