It would be pretence to play the wise old man on the occasion of your twenty-first birthday. I am not yet old or wise. 

Besides, you already have more advice than you need or can remember.
But I do have some thoughts to share – three, actually.

1. While listening on the radio this week to a man who formerly directed special operations for the C.I.A., I heard him say that the fundamental operating principal of his secret service was “Expect surprise.”
And I thought to myself that pretty well sums up preparation for the road ahead from beginning to end, for you as well as me.
Add the Boy Scout motto to that, and you have a zen koan:
“Be prepared. Expect Surprise.”

2. While reading a biography of the greatest Japanese artist, Hokusai, the same week of the double-disaster in Japan of earthquake and tsunami, I found the story told of Hokusai that when his house was burning down all he saved was his brushes. When friends expressed sympathy over the loss of all of his art, he said he had lost nothing of real importance – he didn’t even need the brushes. He still had his life, his imagination, and his dreams – and that was all he required.

3. And that story reminds me of a truth that crosses my mind at least once a week. It was expressed by the concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl:
“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances – to choose one’s own way . . .”

That’s the best part of what came to mind this week as I thought about you and something to say before we went out together for dinner.

May you be prepared to expect surprise, and find delight in that.
May you trust your inner strength and imagination when all else fails.
May you choose your own attitude and way, no matter what.

Happy birthday, Hayden Maxwell Fulghum.

From your grandfather, Robert Lee Fulghum.
March 11, 2011



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