It is what it is

A letter to my son when he was 22 – and studying in England.

Dear Max:

You once told me, in a French cafe in Roslyn…

– over your onion soup with its crust of toasted Gruyere and my salade compose; you were a freshman at Hofstra and I, frazzled and overwhelmed, was meeting you halfway between Great Neck, where I was helping your grandmother pack up her house, and your campus) –

I’d been wishing aloud, wistful, thoughtful – the way that I get when you and I are together, talking about life, sharing a meal. I said, “I wish that I’d known, at 20, how much I’d love doing this work…”

– this work that I now do, this listening to stories, this weaving of meaning and memory, this alchemy –

And you said. “Mommy. You could not have done this work when you were 20. You had to live your life first.”

And I understood something I hadn’t understood before.

It is what it is, you taught me. You were 19 years old.

A few years later, when you were a Junior, at another college, closer to home, we met at another cafe. This time, it was Panera Bread, and I was worrying about your future, your resume, your after-college career plans

– You were having half a sandwich and a bowl of soup. I was working my way through a chicken caesar salad –

“Mommy,” you said. “All of this concern about what I am going to do; what plans I am making or not making is anxiety. It’s future tripping and it’s not doing anyone any good. Right now, I am going to enjoy this bowl of tomato soup. Isn’t it nice?”

And I understood something that I hadn’t understood.

It is what it is, you taught me. You were 21.

So now, dear love, I am reaching across the ocean – across the Skype connection where you and I have been having an extended conversation about suffering; and the Facebook Chat box that pops up each evening when I am just finishing dinner and you are getting ready, in England, for bed.

I am reaching across miles and memory and placing, back in your hand, this pearl that you have given me (twice) and which I have treasured ever since:

Open your hand.

Here it is.

It is what it is.

This blog post, this night in England;  that romance, that friendship, that new town full of unfamiliar streets and buildings – all of it, simply, is what it is.

it is not a test designed to trip you up, to test you, to force you to reveal your imperfections, your scars.

It is what it is.

Just a romance, a friendship, a cafe to discover, a bunch of classes that you’ve never taken before.

And you, meeting it, are what you are.

There is no right path to take, no choice that will not lead back to you, as you are.

All the rest is anxiety.

You, my wise son, are a teacher of “It is what it is.” And so you are learning what you will one day teach: You are learning about suffering and attachment and wrestling with your mind and your ego and your body and your soul.

There in the monk’s cell of your college dorm, you are learning, as all teachers must, the things that you will teach – by meeting their opposites.

You are living through it, strengthening your understanding through simply living your life.

Still, it helps to have a teacher. And for that, I have a suggestion.

There was another teacher, a great teacher, of “it is what it is.”

You learned about his life in 6th grade: A young nobleman, a prince, protected and pampered looked down one day upon the village that surrounded the castle where he had dwelled all of his life and suddenly, that teeming, lively, chaotic world called to him.

He had never cared about it before. And now it was all he could think about.

And a great longing surged through him. A longing to know more, to explore and experience that world. To leave the protective walls of his castle and learn the ways of the world.

So he did.

I can see that longing surging through you now. I can see it lighting the fire under your questions, making your search feel more urgent and also, more painful. That is the kind of suffering SIddhartha was feeling when he left his familiar home to travel and to learn.

He learned so much. He also suffered. He missed his family. He missed his familiar habits and routines, the ways of the castle.

But the contrast between the ways of the unfamiliar world and his home taught him much. He met many people – new kinds of people. Meeting them, also, taught him much.

One day, he sat down under a Bodhi tree and closed his eyes. He sat there until he became enlightened.

When he opened his eyes, the young man had become the Buddha.

The Buddha gave the world many teachings – among them, four noble truths:

1. Life is Suffering.
2. The origin of suffering is attachment.
3. The cessation of suffering is possible.
4. The path to the cessation of suffering. (This path, according to Buddha, is the middle way between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism). According to the Buddha, this Eightfold path leads, eventually, to the end of the cycle of rebirth.

I would like to call your attention to the second truth – the origin of suffering is attachment – and to the middle way, since you and I often talk about hedonism and self-mortification.

And now I will step aside.

Just as I did when you were 1, 2, and 3, when you were just learning to speak, to walk, to run. I let you practice, make mistakes and make your own way. I let you choose your own path.

The truth is: Even if I did not let you, you would choose your own path.

You are free.

  • Free to follow or not follow this teacher.
  • Free to suffer or not suffer.
  • Free to learn or not learn from that suffering.
  • Free to find a middle way between hedonism and asceticism.
  • Free to read or not read this post. (I have done my part in writing it. In leaving it here along the side of the path.)
  • Free to walk the path, or walk the rougher terrain off the path.

Just remember, whatever you choose: It is what it is. There is no way you can choose a path that will lead anywhere but back to you.

My heart, and my door, will always be open to you. My Skype connection; and Facebook Chat are open, any time.  I have loved you since the beginning of time; as I will love you until the end and beyond.


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Showing 26 comments
  • Barbara Newman

    This is breathtaking. It made me cry, too. Max chose his Mommy so well…. many lifetimes together, for sure. 5 little words from a wise young man that sum up it all up: “It is what it is.” Acceptance. Non judgment. No drama. Just being. So great that he got it so young! You and Max have co-created a beautiful and rare relationship– mutual guidance. I can see him under the Bodhi tree, the one you planted. Love love love, barb

  • Reply

    Erin sent me over here, and I am glad she did! Lovely, Amy. Really and truly lovely. I can only hope I can grace my daughter with something so deep and profound when she hits 22. 🙂

    • Amy

      I’m so glad Erin sent you, as well. Thank you for stopping by – and leaving a comment so I know you were here. 🙂

  • Erin Margolin

    This post is perfection, Amy. I cried, too, although my children aren’t quite 5 yet. Beautiful imagery—with the cafes, the food, and the reaching out across the ocean and time and space….LOVED IT. Love YOU.

    • Amy

      Thank you, love – and thank you for sending others, like Annie, to my blog.

  • Lisa

    Perfection! Pure love! xxoo

  • lauri @grnladybug

    Absolutely beautiful!

    I loved this post….this letter……

    This is a gem of your parental journey……

    Bravo and Mama hugs to u and ur son…..


  • Lisa Adams

    Lovely, Amy… just lovely. You are so lucky to have eachother.

  • Dian Reid

    what a post. what a mother. what an intuitive son. what a lesson. — it is what it is. —
    and see, even when we KNOW this, we have to be reminded, still.

    the part that smacked me across the chin was: “it is not a test designed to trip you up, to test you, to force you to reveal your imperfections, your scars.” sometimes i try so hard to see the lesson in everything that happens in my life, i forget that sometimes: everything does NOT happen for a reason. sometimes things just happen. we end up seeing them as tests, using them as learning, remembering the scars. but really, it’s just life.

    and we’re all just doing what we can to get through it. thank you for this beautiful post, my friend. you and your son are perfect for each other.

  • Cherry Woodburn

    Beautiful Amy. Absolutely beautiful, and I join with you and other commenters in crying. I have a 26 yr.old son and a 28 yr. old son. I understand and grieve and celebrate. Thanks for this, Cherry

  • Becky

    This was absolutely lovely.
    No other words needed — you said them all.
    Thank you for that.

  • Shelly

    OH my Amy… I cried and had chills all the way through reading this…

    You have raised a good son it seems! You know – my son is only 5, and always feel that he teaches me more than I will ever teach him… and I love it.

    It shows me… what I am sure that you have also figured out… that when your kids teach you something… they are reflecting back the great knowledge they got from you.

    I’m not talking directly really.. I’m talking in the fashion that you let them be what they were going to be… no trying to change them… You give them the room and tools to find their own way and they do!! you are who you are – and it is what it is 😉

    • Amy

      Sounds as if your five-year-old has the best mom in the world! My eyes fill with tears when I remember that magical time with my own children. What joy they have brought to my life. Blessed journey!

  • Hilarie

    Wow! You never cease to amaze me. Incredible love and insight. If only I could learn to live that seemingly simple lesson.

    • Amy

      Oh, my lifetime friend! We are all learning this together. Thanks for walking the path with me.

  • Judi knight

    Amy, your letter to your son touched me. I too have a 22 year old son. He is going through a hard time with a relationship that ended long ago but didn’t. It is so very hard to just have it be what it is. I hate to see the pain and then I remembered me at 22. Damn the twenties are the hardest. So many lessons and when we love the first time full out, no reservations, it is really hard to recover or to find another love quite like that. I remembered that I had been there too. Right where he is. And it hurt then as it hurts for me to see him struggle. Thanks so much for sharing this. You are an angel.

    • Amy

      Judi – I know just what you mean. I feel every ache with him. Thank heaven he doesn’t share them ALL! I’d never sleep. I’m so blessed that we can talk about things. That he lets me write letters to him, that he let me post this here. Love that boy…. um, I mean, young man.

  • Sherry

    How lucky he is to have you. And how lucky we are to find your beautiful writing in our path.
    Thank you, Amy.

  • Darryle

    This speaks to me on so many levels as a mother, cancer survivor and human being. Ironically, despite all I know, it is my son, who is now also 22, who taught me the very same lesson that you describe so beautifully.

    • Amy

      Amazing how they know us so well, these beings we have loved and lived with all these years. My best teachers, this son and his sister.

  • Liz

    This is so beautiful & loving. It speaks to the very imperfect me – the imperfect parent, daughter – I wish my mom could say this to me, I hope I can teach my children this.

    • Amy

      Oh, Liz, I know. I know. We are ALL imperfect parents – like our parents, and theirs. Such blessed and soul-challenging work.

  • Ash

    Oh so beautiful. I can only hope to be so wise, as both you and your son, with my two boys. Thank you for sharing these lovely words.

  • kelly

    okay, this totally made me cry. my son is 24, a few big mistakes have been made. i have tried to let it be what it is, to know that his decisions are his, not mine, that i must relinquish my desire to lead him in the direction that i think he should go. oh, my, it is so difficult. it is what it is. i know this, in my mind. my heart has a harder time.
    what a beautiful message you send to your son. he is lucky to have such a wonderful mother.

    • Amy

      I cried all the way through writing it. This has been a long time coming, this letter. Two years of suffering, of trying to explain to each other. Of wishing I could find the words. All of our children bless us – and all of THEM have wonderful mothers, who are doing the best we can.

  • Megan Matthieson

    How I love to attach!! Damn. Damndamndamn. (This is so beautiful Amy! I feel so lucky to be a mother as well- they have taught me so much. xoxo)

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