Our Dear Digory,
You are a story waiting to be told. You are the clean blank page in the fresh notebook; the hopeful, frightening words ‘Chapter One’ written large on the top line. You are a tale more fantastic than fiction and more magical than the myths told round campfires.
How can it be that you – so tiny – have taken over my story so entirely? In my life, every chapter from now until The End can never be the same because of you. Daddy and I, our own books bound together inextricably, now find ourselves captivated by the opening lines of your story. And I wish I could write it for you. I wish I could abandon my book mid-sentence; break off and leave it to write yours – to make sure the structure and shape, the characters and twists are perfect. But I can’t. You must write it yourself.
If I wrote your life, I would create a fantasy world for you. I would set your story in a land where the sun never set on sadness, and where the moon watched over you at night. There would be no enchanted forest of thorns, nor wicked witches to place you under a curse. Evil stepmothers would be banished, dragons would lie down with lambs. There would be no Black Moment, no All-is-Lost. It would be a story with many heroes and no villains. And nobody would want to hear the tale, because it wouldn’t be a true story. It would be a prison.
In these early chapters of yours, Daddy and I are the vocabulary that underlies every sentence. We are the heroes who can fight away fears. I know it can’t last. That is a parent’s curse. We must give you the words and the grammar, the inspiration and the imagination, and then we must let you write your story your way. We must love you more fiercely with each passing chapter, while gradually retreating from the tale. For a few pages we may be the villains: the keepers of keys, the setters of curfews, the curtailers of freedom. Then, all too soon, we will not even be that. We must retreat to be minor characters among your cast of friends and rivals, popping up every few pages to remind you how much we love you, knowing we’ll never really be able to make you understand. Before long you won’t look to me for comfort when you come across something new; you won’t need Daddy to rock you to sleep in his arms. And we will be sad, and we will be excited. And you will not even mark these passing moments. You will be too busy writing your tale.
You learned to smile last week, Digory. Soon you will learn so many other things – more important than walking, or reading, or tying your shoelaces. You will learn how to face rejection and how to be disappointed. You will learn that you are fallible. You will discover how marvellous it is to laugh until you can’t breathe and how to sit in silence with someone who fits into your story perfectly, as Daddy fits mine. You will learn how to be gracious in victory and how to get over defeat. You will know you are as self-centred and confused as the rest of mankind. You will know you are as beautiful as any human ever was.
So I don’t wish for your life to be free from dragons and witches, curses and thorns. I only pray that you know how to meet them. When they appear in your tale, meet them with courage and gentleness and, when the page turns, leave them behind. I feel as if I should have words of wisdom to impart to you as you start out. But I find there’s only one thing I have to tell you. There’s one secret that I hope will help you to enjoy life. It’s this: nobody really knows what they’re doing; we’re all just making up our stories as we go along. Isn’t that marvellous? Doesn’t that make you free? I hope so.
As I write this you are lying in your basket just a few feet away, gurgling at the monkeys decorating the wall and gradually falling asleep. And there’s so much I want to tell you when I look at you. I want to teach you every lesson from every mistake I’ve ever made to save you from making them yourself. But until you write your story I won’t know which lessons you need to learn. I must let you lead the way. So instead I should end on a quotation from a great piece of literature for you to carry with you through life. And however hard I think, I can’t think of a better one than this passage from Happy Birthday To You! by Dr. Seuss – “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
That’s why you need to write your own story: you are the only you there is. Be kind. Be gentle. Be compassionate. But don’t let anybody else write your story for you, or try to write anybody else’s. For if you don’t write your tale, it will never be told. And there is no greater tragedy than an untold story. Write your story, Digory. Write it well. Be free.