I recently had occasion to speak with a young person who is trying to deal with a difficult family situation. Although in many ways this situation is different from the problems I faced at that age, I found myself remembering… remembering things I had gladly forgotten. As I was trying to find the right words to say, I thought about what would have been helpful for me to hear all those years ago. If I could send a letter back in time, what would I say to myself?
I’ll skip the clichés, like “buy stock in Apple.” I’ll skip the regrets, like “ask Marcia out in high school.” I’ll even skip the wish that I had found this spiritual path 20 years sooner. I had to go through what I went through in order to get from where I was to where I am – and I’m confident I’m where I’m supposed to be. But it could have been less painful, less stressful, and more enjoyable if I had known a few things I know now.
I – you – am almost 50 now. We started wearing glasses a few years ago, but we’re not old. We can see old from here, but we’re not there yet.
And I guess that’s the first thing I want to tell you: life is a lot longer than you think it is. Oh, I know, all the songs and stories talk about how short life is, and it’s true you’ll lose some of your friends before you get out of high school. But you – and most everybody you know – will live much longer. The point is that you don’t have to do and have and be everything by the time you’re 25. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy yourself along the way.
But those singers are still right – life is short. You’ve got time to do everything you need to do, but some opportunities only come once – if you wait till everything is lined up perfectly, you’ll miss out. Say “yes” whenever you can.
Life’s not easy and it’s not fair and you have to do a lot of things you don’t really want to do. I’d like to tell you that will end when you leave home and don’t have to do farm work for our father any more, but that wouldn’t be honest. You’re good at keeping your eye on the future – accept these things as the price you have to pay to get to where you want to be. It’s worth it.
You know you’re smart and resourceful. That will get you through difficult times – there’s no need to be afraid. And when smart and resourceful aren’t enough, you’re stronger than you think you are. A lot stronger.
A lot of people have told you a lot of things and not all of them are true. Some of them come from ignorance, but some of them are lies meant to manipulate you. You’ve already figured out what they’re preaching at that little Baptist church is wrong – believe what your brain and your heart are telling you. It’s going to take longer to figure out what you see on television is wrong too – nobody really lives like that.
You’re going to make mistakes and some of them are going to be painful. So will everyone else. But you’ll learn from them, and you won’t make the same mistake twice very often. Don’t let fear of mistakes stop you from trying something new – if you do you’ll miss out on some great things. Plus there are some things that can only be learned by trial and error.
You already know that some people aren’t very nice. I hate to tell you, but that’s going to get worse before it gets better. Understand their actions are a reflection of what they are, not of what you are. You’ve already discovered the saying “living well is the best revenge.” You’ll do very well with that. For now, do what you have to do to get by.
I’m not going to tell you what my life – your life – looks like right now. You’d like most of it, but some of it would strike you as unimpressive, and some of it you probably wouldn’t believe. You already know you can do or be or have anything you can imagine, but your imagination isn’t big enough yet. It will grow as you feed it and exercise it.
For now, have faith that everything will work out OK in the end. You’ll have help along the way: some from family and friends, and some from what we’ll call Divine Providence, for now. Mainly, though, it will work out OK because you’ll make it so.