Three wishes for Naomi, my graduating granddaughter

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, June 3, 2009 

This week, like so many young people across the land, my first grandchild will mount the platform and receive her high school diploma. Adolescence left behind, she will soon head off to university to further develop her mind and her sense of humanity – to study great thoughts, to learn from history, to mature in her critical skills, and to immerse her imagination in the fountain of wisdom. With this open letter, I make three wishes for Naomi, the most wonderful granddaughter a grandpa could ever have.

My dearest Naomi,

I am so proud of you, and every day I thank God for bringing you into my life. In a few days you will complete the high school phase of your journey into adulthood. Already you have demonstrated your abilities in music, art, languages, writing, editing, and public speaking. Now you will have the opportunity to further hone the skills essential to your particular calling. As you do, I want you to carry with you three wishes – my prayer for you as you search out and follow the path of life:

First, I wish for you beauty.

By this I am not so much referring to the physical beauty of human attractiveness as I am to the beauty that brings life together in a pleasing wholeness, aesthetically satisfying and imaginatively motivating.

Of this the Russian writer Dostoevsky rightly declared, “The world will be saved by beauty.”

Such beauty as this is no friend of the cheap and tawdry, however, nor does it chum around with violence, deception, and injustice. Contrary to a popular song of another generation, everything is not beautiful in its own way.

Which brings me to my second wish for you: goodness.

Beauty without goodness is nonsense. One of my favourite posters celebrates Mother Teresa’s words, “Let’s do something beautiful for God.” Could we ever equate that kind of beauty with the actions of Hitler as he stormed across your beloved maternal grandparents’ homeland of Poland, or as he brought upon the earth the horror of the Holocaust?

No, not at all.

Although evil may attempt to hold beauty hostage, true beauty never loses its virtue of goodness. Indeed, if it ever did, it would no longer be beauty but ugliness. It is of this intimate relationship between true beauty and goodness that the Hebrew prophet Micah spoke, when he declared: “(The Lord) has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

But even then, in this Internet age when so much of what comes into our Inbox purports to be beautiful and “good for you,” there is one more ideal to consider.

Which brings me to my third wish for you: truth.

Things can appear beautiful and good, when in reality they are a sham, a deception to drag us into someone’s sinister or self-serving agenda. Would you really have trusted a Hitler who promised life would be beautiful and good if only we employed a little violence?

Of the intertwining of violence and falsehood, Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said:

"Violence does not always, not necessarily, take people by the throat and strangle them. Usually it demands no more than an oath of allegiance from its subjects. They are required merely to become accomplices in the lie."

In our relatively polite society it is quite simple to become “accomplices in the lie.” This can happen as easily as just not bothering to check out the facts before believing an accusation, a proposition or a promise. “Ignorance is bliss,” some naively believe, but such ignorance is often hard to distinguish from indifference.

Of indifference, another Nobel laureate, human rights activist Elie Wiesel, reflecting on the Holocaust, once said:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”

But for you, Naomi, indifference, gullibility and laziness are not options. You believe in the importance of critical thinking and hard work. You have already shown your commitment to truth, goodness and beauty in your personal life. Now may you demonstrate it more and more in your scholarly and professional life.

For these three – truth, goodness and beauty – are essentially one. They have their roots in the most ancient of days but are as relevant today as the air you breathe.

Congratulations, Naomi, child of God. May truth, goodness and beauty be your lifelong companions.



© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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