Like many people I have a couple of shoeboxes with old letters, photos (yep, real photos) and Christmas/birthday cards in them. I don’t often go through them, but recently I was moving house and opened up the boxes to see what was in them.
It was only to label them for moving (some of the shoeboxes are full of USB cables and old chargers etc) … yet on top of one box was an old Christmas card from my father. I didn’t realise it was from him until I opened it, and I don’t know how it was on top, but it read;
Change is inevitable and it lets us know we’re alive. This Christmas I wish for you the gift of peace. Peace within and peace without – peace with yourself and peace with others. I wish you time to waste = just feeling peaceful. I wish you someone to talk to .. to put your heart at peace. Above all I wish you the freedom to feel and the gift of feeling at peace with the way you feel. You are an extraordinary young man and extraordinary people face extraordinary challenges… they also manage to face those challenges. I know you will face the challenges ahead in ’99 in the same honest, caring, intelligent way you have always done – and I know you’ll come out on top – I just pray that you will know when you get there.
It’s not often you can reach so far into the past and catch a snapshot of who you must have been, but through the context of my life since and our relationship, reading it, I had a little eye-roll to myself. My father aside, I have been fortunate to have had people wishing me peace since I was a kid, and I still get those wishes today. I guess the way that I am is different to most, and people feel I need more peace in my life. It’s like reading my school reports from prep and year 12, both of which say, “Josh is a bit too social in class”. My stormy nature is something that lots of people pick up on.
I’m not prone to extended periods of appearing to “[feel] at peace with the way [I] feel”. Regardless, I am in an unusual way, extraordinarily comfortable with who I am. It is interesting to me that if nothing else, I have been consistent, nearly 20 years later I am still being wished the same things as I was as a young teen.
It was strange to read these words from someone who is no longer here. My father took his own life last year, but he left mine many years before that. Apart from failed attempts to reach out, we didn’t have much contact. His legacy was one of heartbreak, violence, and substance and physical abuse. One of the hardest things to reconcile for people, is the juxtaposition between good moments and the bad. Someone who is always an asshole, is fairly easy to write off. Someone who has shown moments of great caring and love can be harder to give up on completely. It is harder, because of the knowledge that, somewhere in there, lives a capacity for goodness.
Long ago I decided to work on coming to terms with the fact that there are things in your control, and things that aren’t. Worry about how you conduct yourself and focus on being a virtuous person, a character-led person. Earn your self-love, earn your self-respect and let everyone else earn theirs too. Really, in light of this 20-year-old letter, I decided to make sure I continue to face challenges in the same honest, caring, intelligent way [I] have always done.
A moment of goodness doesn’t mean that someone is a good person, any more than a moment of weakness necessarily makes them a bad person; a person is the sum of their experiences and actions.
As a result, I’m able to enjoy the good times that I have had with people who turned out to not be so great in the long run. The fact that, in the end they were not the people I had hoped they would be, does not take away from the pleasant and wonderful moments that we have had together. It also doesn’t mean that I must maintain relationships with them, simply because once or twice they showed me a kindness. Everything has a season. I don’t expect warm days in winter, and I don’t believe that everyone is destined to be in your life for any predetermined amount of time either. There have been kind words, nice letters and pleasant gestures from people that are no longer in my life, and I know I have done the same for others.
In the end, the very last letter that my father wrote to me, was written indirectly, and to all three of his kids.
It was him actively writing us out of his will.
Twenty years later, from this message of availability, love and understanding (even though it was unaccompanied by actions that match the words), the last message was one of isolation, rejection and distance.
Everything has a season. The lessons are no less valid, and in a way, he had given me advice to prepare me for what was to come regardless.
Extraordinary people face extraordinary challenges… they also manage to face those challenges. I know you will face the challenges ahead in ’99 in the same honest, caring, intelligent way you have always done – and I know you’ll come out on top – I just pray that you will know when you get there.
I think maybe the lesson is to take the good times, the good advice and the good people when they have their season in your life. Don’t try to hang on to them when their season is done. Decide how you will face challenges and commit to being a person that you can be proud of. I will continue my work, continue to strive towards being the person that I want to be and encourage people to Just Be Nice. Twenty years on, I still hope that one day I will know when I get there.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports