When our grandson Benjamin turned one, our daughter asked my wife and me to write a few words of advice for him. Mine went something like this:

Do. Get out on the playing field of life and give the ball a whack. Be active. Participate. Join. Get your fingers dirty. Calloused hands are the toughest.

Read. Reading is mental doing. It requires time, thought, and imagination. Reading frees the mind to roam the world. You will find reading fun, amazing, informative, and it will help you be a better writer. It is also a wonderful consolation, a way to enjoy being by yourself.

Learn. Be intensely curious about things, places, and people. Life is an amazing, incredible adventure, an incomparable and precious gift, a treasure we can never fully understand and appreciate. We can only try. So never be afraid to ask questions and respect and seek out wisdom.

Explore. There is no better way to experience the world than to see it up close. I have traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, and have visited Israel and lived in England and West Africa. All my trips, even (especially!) the ones that didn’t turn out as expected, were an incomparable way to see and experience life.

Shine. Smile and be happy, if you can help it. And guess what – you can. The glass half empty and the glass half full is the same glass. Most things, even the biggest challenges and problems, tend to work themselves out pretty well. “Shine” also means be a beacon of light, support, and friendship to others.

Adjust. Life is a constant series of corrections: learning to walk, talk, run, play, and fit in. You will make tons of mistakes along the way. Study them, learn from them, and move on.

Feel. Be sensitive and compassionate. Try to experience the world as others do, feel their pain as well as their joy. Be a part of the community, not apart from it. Be a support and help to others, and most times they will do the same for you.

Be thoughtful. Think before you act. Impulsiveness is only good in an emergency. Otherwise try to anticipate the effect your words and actions will have on others before you say and do them. It will save you and others a lot of grief.

Laugh. Life is a mystery and sometimes very painful, but most of it can be navigated with the attitude that what doesn’t hurt you and others is really, when you stand back and look at it clearly, pretty funny.

Grow. No one knows how or why we’re here. It could be God’s plan, or it could be an accident. Either way, we should live the same way: help others and make the world a better place. At first you’ll need a lot of help just learning how to get along in it, but after a while, you’ll get the hang of it. Then you can start helping others. The goal is to be the best Ben you can be. That’s true growth.

Les Jacobson

Les is a longtime Evanstonian and RoundTable writer and editor. He won a Chicago Newspaper Guild best feature story award in 1975 for a story on elderly suicide and most recently three consecutive Northern...