Advice from a mother on death row.

I have a pet peeve– people who dispense advice freely and frequently, and on subjects they lack intimate knowledge of. There is, of course, an exception: death row inmates. Those individuals have little to lose, and even less of a reason to lie or feign optimism. When they speak, or in the following case, write, I stop to take note.

Which is why I recently paused to consider the words of Milada Horakova, a 48-year old socialist politician found guilty of high treason by the Soviet Czech regime and sentenced to death in 1950. Before she died, Horakova composed a lengthy letter of life advice to her 16-year old daughter. And while my 16 has come and gone, there are moments in which I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self some dose of post-collegiate advice. But then again, if some 40something political activist has already done the legwork, I might as well focus on highlighting her apropos points:

1) “Amazing love, you were the greatest gift I received from fate.” Perhaps the key to surviving the rough and tumble of New York living is remembering that you are not alone in your confusion or struggle; that your biggest cheerleader is your mom, who through thick and thin, stands by you and your decisions. You are her “miracle child,” and she never hesitates in her devotion.

2) “Go through the world with open eyes, and listen not only to your own pains and interests, but also to the pains, interests and longings of others.” Even when it’s a rainy Wednesday September morning and the only thing you want to do is sink into self-deprecating mode, try to remember that whatever personal issues you may be working through, there are others working through even greater issues– take, for example, the residents of Costa Rica who just experienced a 7+ earthquake.

3) “Learn to love work!” Until you turn 65 or whatever the retirement age becomes by the time you receive your AARP card, you are a member of the working class. Embrace it. Explore it. But more importantly, remember it’s necessary to pay your exorbitant rent prices. So long as you seek to make a difference, you will need some degree of capital. Earn it, and then spend it on something that makes you (and perhaps a few others) smile from ear to ear.

4) “Read much, and study languages. You will thereby broaden your life and multiply its content. ” Even when you graduate college and books are no longer a prerequisite to your academic success, keep reading– memoirs, magazines, mysteries. Anything that keeps your mind fresh with new and old ideas, and particularly pieces that force you to continuously question everything you believe.

5) “And love your neck and feet as you do your face and lips.” Which is to say, love all of yourself– from your Mr. Clown Smile to your ever expanding adipose tissue-ridden thighs. Let your thighs become best friends. Just try to hit the gym more than once a week. Oh, and just say no cheese danishes. And cheese blintzes. And anything of the spoiled milk variety. Cheese– like tequila– is not your friend.

And just in case you are not satisfied with the above advice, you can read the full transcript here.  But be warmed Horakova’s musical tastes are limited to Mozart and Chopin, almost exclusively.


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