Jan. 1, 2002: Annual Letter To My Grandsons:

As we begin this new year, I wish your great-grandmother were around to put things into proper perspective for us. She always found something good in everything and everybody — although I imagine network television news and Osama bin Laden would be a stretch even for her. If Granny were here, no doubt she would say that despite the unprovoked attacks of Sept. 11, we survived, our country is intact and our faith in God is stronger than ever. As usual, she would be correct.

The past year was tough on all of us and 2002 and the years that follow might be even tougher. If that is the case, so be it. Life can be hard and unpredictable and not always fair. How you deal with it is going to depend on how prepared you are. You come from well-grounded, stable families, and that is a big step in the right direction. But much of the responsibility rests squarely on your own shoulders, including your own value system and the daily choices you make.

Deal with life one day at a time because when the day is gone, you can’t get it back and you don’t know how many more you will be given. Give every day your best effort, and don’t cheat yourself by giving less. Keep your life in balance. I would like to retrieve some of the days where I hurt people’s feelings for no good reason or was confrontational when I didn’t need to be or when I put my own interests ahead of your mama and daddy and your grandmother. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get those wasted days back. Please don’t make that same mistake. Consider every day a precious gift.

Understand that a power exists which is greater than all of us. Our universe has too much majesty and mystery for us to be running the show. Your dads are science teachers and a lot smarter than I am, but I believe the more we learn about the cosmos, the less we find that can be explained scientifically. Things don’t just happen randomly. We are put here for a purpose. Too many people go through life only occupying time and space. Don’t be one of them. Make your life count for something. Make a difference.

Be aware of false prophets. Mean-spirited religious zealots of all faiths believe they are right and everybody else is wrong. Just remember that God is bigger than they are. The faith I practice requires that we love everyone, even our enemies. For years, I have tried to find a loophole but no exceptions are out there, not even for the narrow-minded.

Speaking of love, loving isn’t enough. You also should let people know. For too long, men have been conditioned to believe expressing one’s feelings isn’t macho. What a bunch of bunk. What is the purpose of loving someone if you don’t tell them? Being able to say what you feel is a strength, not a weakness.

Be proud to be an American, understanding that we are not perfect but neither is any other country that presumes to sit in judgment of us. We are the freest, most powerful, most compassionate country on earth. However, we also can be our own worst enemy. Some of us use our freedom of speech to harp on what is wrong with the country, instead of being proud of what is right about us. Being an American is a great privilege. Don’t ever apologize for what you are.

Finally, whatever you do, never forget Sept. 11th. We owe that to the victims and their families, to our country and to those groups and people who tried to hurt us. We’ve learned a lot of lessons because of that tragic day. We found out how resilient we are. We found out that cowards can run but they can’t hide. But most importantly, we found out that many more good and decent people live on this earth than bad. I can think of no more fitting epilogue to the year just ended. Somehow, I suspect your great-grandmother knew it all along.

Happy New Year,