Don’t try to make yourself into somebody perfect
A letter of sisterly advice from Clarice Lispector
Born in what is now Ukraine in 1920, acclaimed novelist Clarice Lispector was still a child when she and her family emigrated to Brazil as a result of the Russian Civil War. She lived there for the majority of her life. In 1948, she wrote the following letter to one of her two sisters, Tania, and offered some advice.
Berne, 6th January 1948
My little flower,
I received your letter. How happy I was, my little sister, with certain sentences you wrote. But please don’t say: I discovered there is still a large part of me that is alive. No, my darling! You are entirely alive…
My little sister, listen to my advice, listen to my request: respect yourself more than others, respect your needs, respect even what is bad in you—respect especially what you imagine to be bad in you—for the love of God, don’t try to make yourself into somebody perfect—don’t copy an ideal person, copy yourself—that is the one way to live. I am so scared that what happened to me will happen to you, because we are similar. I swear to God that if there were a heaven, a person who sacrifices themselves out of cowardice—will be punished and go to any old hell. That’s if a tepid life isn’t punished by that same tepidness. Take for yourself what belongs to you, and what belongs to you is all that your life demands. It seems like an amoral moral. But what is truly amoral is having given up on yourself. I hope to God you believe me. I would even like for you to come and watch my life without my knowing—because just knowing about your presence would transform me and give me life and happiness. It would be a lesson for you. To see what can happen when you make a pact with complacency in your soul. Have the courage to transform yourself, my darling, to do what you desire—be that going out at the weekends, be that what it may. Write to me without worrying that you need to speak of neutral things—because how can we be good to one another without this smallest degree of sincerity?
May the new year bring you every happiness, my darling. Here is an embrace filled with saudade, with enormous saudade, from your sister,
Clarice Lispector: Letter ‘Para Tania Kaufmann, Berna 6 de janerio de 1948’, Todas as Cartas © 2019, Paulo Gurgel Valente. Translation © Ana Fletcher
I will be rereading this for days to come, and passing it along to my younger sibling.