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Karyn Thurston Headshot

What I Hope I Never Teach You: A Letter to My Daughter

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Dear Beautiful Girl,

You find him on the train.

He's wearing aggressively voluminous jeans, a face-shielding hoodie, pounding earbuds, a scowl, and brand new sneakers that mark him, instantly in my quick sideways glance, as someone who does not want to hear from me, someone with whom I will not connect, should not engage. He and his backpack fall heavily into a corner of seats, sprawling in a wide and inconsiderate way that ignites someone condescending and irritable underneath my sunny day mood. He looks out the window, scowl backlit now and glowing like a No Vacancy sign, the antithesis of hospitality, all barbed wire and junkyard pitbulls.

You yell. You echo your tiny, persistent "Uh-Huh!" greeting across the otherwise empty MAX car, you wave your chubby baby arms, you squirm and shine and insist until he sees you. At which point, naturally, you beam.

I don't know how to explain your smile to you, except to say that whatever remains of heaven in the very young is in that smile.

It is a holy thing, your smile -- a moment of grace.

You win him. You win them all, but this one you keep for the remainder of the train ride. He makes goofy, heart-melting faces, you coo and flirt, and I watch the two of you, opposites attracting, Kingdom coming, friendship lived.

He isn't the first or the last. The tired, angry gray woman at the grocery store, stooped and shuffling and forgotten, who flinches when you reach for her twisted fingers and grins when you grab them with your perfect new ones. The dark-eyed girl on the other side of the food cart window who looks at you in wonder as she whispers to her friend, "No baby has ever smiled at me before." The obviously drunk and pungently disheveled man half asleep on the sidewalk who somehow earns your giggle and smiles back at you with the most perfectly beautiful white teeth. You find them, the others -- the unlike you, the separate, the unnoticed, the avoided -- you find them, and you greet them with all of the heart you can muster. And that heart of yours -- oh, my love -- the wonder of that heart.

No one has taught you the rules.

No one has told you the shoulds and the shouldn'ts, no one has outlined for you the difference between the haves and the have-nots, the friend and the stranger, the us and the them. You barely have words -- you haven't had time to learn the language of wardrobe and age and race and size and beauty and alliance and all of the other excuses we use to divide ourselves. You count faces in eyes and noses and potential for grinning, and each is equal to the last, and each is worthy of your time and your magic and your smile that leaks heaven. No one has taught you the rules, so you do not see them -- you just see them -- the loved, the longing, the dear, the needed, the created, the precious, the His.

Somehow, God in heaven, help me not be the one to teach you.

Lend me the courage to unlearn what years of decorum and propriety and society and sin have placed in my bones. Grant me the innocence to follow your sweet and life-opening lead, to smile when it isn't safe, to cross any and all imaginary boundaries in search of giggles and healing and common ground. Teach me to see through our ridiculous categories, our absurd little boxes -- show me eyes and noses and souls and hearts. Because a thousand rejected smiles, a thousand awkward moments in which I'm the weirdo grinning lady on the train, a thousand pits of embarrassment sinking into my gut are a thousand times better than the moment I see you turn and look the other way and know that you've become like us, like me -- governed by fear and nonsense, indentured to invented madness, a follower of the rules.

We will find him on the train, he of the hoodie and the earbuds and the aggressive denim, and we will grin at him like Cheshire cats, like mad men, like fools, and we will let a little heaven leak out.

And when they ask me how I learned all the secrets, the answer will always be you.


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