What advice do we have for our younger friends? What advice would we have for our younger selves? Will our young friends listen? Would we have listened? While reading The Letter Q, I gave some thought to passing back advice.
Your younger self
Recently another blogger suggested a book to read this month that is a collection of letters that writers would send to their younger selves, if only they could. Some letters are just a couple of pages. Some are a bit longer. Some of these writers may be well-known to you. Others may be interesting just as a study of what an older person still sees of his younger life. Although I am not yet far into the book, I can already tell that theses letter will touch me. I can feel the emotion that I am reading. I suspect that is because I am looking back over my shoulder at the same time.
If you were to write such a letter today, at the age you are now, to what age would you send it? Would it be you at 12? 14? 18? Older or younger? When would you need your advice the most? I guess it should be no surprise that many of these letters were sent to teenage years. Perhaps it is when growing pains are felt the most. Maybe it is when young love hurts the most. It could be when you were terrorized by bullies, parents or supposed friends the most. It might be at the time you needed advice the most, but you trusted no one to give it to you. Would you even have taken it if it came from a more experienced you?
It seems pointless to me to send back a letter to a good time. What would you say? “I am glad you had such a great time at the picnic?” No, that has just melted into a fond memory. At your current age, you would probably want to send yourself advice to help see you through a problem. You might want to send words of encouragement for times when you may have wanted to give up, or worse. An early letter in the book is sent to a child alone and crying in a park. She hopes to be murdered there because she thinks it can not possibly be worse than the hurt she is feeling. Of course, you would go back and comfort that child, if only you could.
Few fall in love with their high school sweetheart, get married right out of high school and live happily ever after. Even Cinderella had a tough life before her prince came along, and so it is with fairy tales. Most of us may have thought that we were falling in love in high school, but we are really just falling and needed to get back up. It does not look that way in the isolation of your teenage room, however. What words would have helped you then? You got little comfort from the one you longed for and had little or no desire to tell your parents, teachers or anyone more than 25 years old. Do you now have the words for your younger self? How would you help yourself through teenage angst?
If the thought of living without your “true love” was scary, I suppose life after school held a bit of panic for many as well. “What will I do? Will I make enough money? Can I support a family? Can I support myself?” What answers can you send back to those questions? Somewhere between 10 and 20 lie the years that produce emotional changes, doubts and questions. Can you write the letter today that could have helped you then?
In looking through these letters, I think it is fair to say that people are writing back to what they see as a defining moment in their young lives. While some may see that as 12, others are writing to 18. Perhaps they only wish to send letters to a time that today’s knowledge could help. Maybe we can not even find the words for certain moments in our young existence. Some can only say that he or she will have to work through the problems with the knowledge from your older self that it gets better.
Awkward, yet emotionally charged, are those that struggled through their sexuality, the questioning, “Am I loveable? Am I attractive? Am I gay?” We may spend many youthful hours looking in the mirror and asking questions. We may spend many more avoiding the mirror because we do not like what we see. Some years ago I spent a lot of time reassuring a handsome teenager (not me, btw) that he was indeed handsome. I am not sure he believed me then, but he is much more self-assured now. What could you tell yourself about those self doubts? What would I tell myself?
This book was not just for those who “made it through the rain,” and came out the other side a stronger person. It is also for those who are struggling now. The Letter Q gives half of its royalties to The Trevor Project to help reach youth in crisis. There are those that desperately need advice. Let’s hope they are around to send word back to their younger selves that “it gets better.”
Next week: My letter to my younger self.