Two years ago my high school English teacher asked us to write letters to our future selves, telling them how we feel now and what we hope to see in five years time. After we’re done, we put the letters into small envelops with our addresses on and gave them to the teacher, who would keep them for the next five years and then mail them back to us. So in three years, I’d probably wake up one morning and stumble into a cheesy, sentimental rant from 17 year old me. God, I’m not looking forward to that.
I think writing to 22 year old me is much easier than writing to 12 year old me. Past and future are pretty much defined by familiarity and speculation: with familiarity comes regret, and with speculation comes hope. I’d much rather confront hope than regret. So if I were to meet nine-year-old me for coffee, I probably would be wallowing in despair and helplessness because all the things I’d say to her wouldn’t change a single thing. The next 10 years of her life would go by exactly the same way the last 10 years of mine did, and I’d still wake up the next morning the exact same person I am right now. Confronting the past is rarely a cheerful thing.
I’d tell her to get rid of that atrocious mullet to save her of three years of embarrassment. I’d tell her to stop wasting time on her left-brain because all her talents and desires are on her right. I’d tell her not to dream for a second about becoming a doctor/engineer because once she takes her first algebra class she’ll realize that numbers and sequences are a mental labyrinth she can never escape. I’d tell her to suck up to her parents as shamelessly as possible because she’ll disappointment them countless times in the coming years. I’d tell her not to be fooled by her parents’ happiness because they are just putting up a facade to keep their family intact. I’d tell her to endure high school because college will be the greatest years of her life.
But what will any of that do? She’s still going to trip and fall and scar the same way I did. Life doesn’t do rewinds or shortcuts. Thinking of her and of those earlier years only brings me sadness, but that’s the only way for me to really understand the person I am today. The painful way is the only way to learn.