I believe that life is not an exercise in engineering. You have to use the materials given to you and create something unique and special – one of a kind.

The tools we use are inherent in each of us. Our talent and intellect are certainly important. But, those tools can only be applied through the values and principles that underlie their application. Sometimes we use clashing pieces to create a beautiful harmonious piece. Sometimes the art of life is a replica of a copy of the master by following a well-defined path. But at times, our art can be grotesque and alarming – an unhealthy stew of hatred and malice. It is our choice.

The choices we make are defined, in part, from the values and principles passed on to us by family, teachers, and friends. I was fortunate because I had a cast of characters who provided guidance for me. They spanned generations from my grandmother, who could barely speak English, to my mom, who had to raise two kids after my dad died. Both had Old World values of hard work, perseverance, and honesty. My mom’s sisters and brothers – my aunts and uncles — were also important role models. How fortunate I was!

In my mind, the role of grandparents is invaluable in helping to define the principles to a life well lived is invaluable. Many children don’t have the front porch where they can sit on their grandfather’s lap in the proverbial rocking chair, hold his hand, share stories, and talk about life’s journey.

Grandparents have time to proffer advice and listen. Our mobile lives took away that homespun method to connect with our grandchildren, pass on important values, and build intimate, enduring and endearing relationships and memories that last a lifetime. Visits six times a year do not always provide that opportunity conveniently because moments of significant closeness blossom at unexpected times. We can’t always plan significant spontaneous moments when those magical times happen: two generations – the old and young – bonding in a rich way.

That is why I resorted to the tradition of writing letters – the old fashioned way with a fountain pen and paper. As we grow older, communicating what we learned … the stories, the people, the triumphs, and the tragedies become more important. A family’s heritage is wrapped in those stories, sealed in nuggets of wisdom, and embedded in the aphorisms we learned. They carry some truth and should be passed on to the next generation.

A life worth living has a commitment to values and principles, and the passion to pursue and experience life in all its wonder and promise. I hope that in 60 years my grandchildren will have followed Socrates’ advice to continually examine their lives and learn along the way. In fulfilling our promise, we must live with meaning and purpose, and contribute positively to the common good and answer the ultimate question: “Why are we here?’

All lives are exceptional — molded with love and contentment, not for notoriety, but for self –the satisfaction of doing the best one can in a principled and unique way.