I was twenty-one years when I wrote this song.
I’m twenty-two now but I won’t be for long
Time hurries on. – Paul Simon
Dear Twenty-Year-Old Me,
You’re two decades into a great life. You’re fortunate; you were born into a loving family. You’ve had a pretty normal and happy upbringing. You’ve enjoyed a great many things. You’re young, vibrant, energetic and creative. You’ve done a little traveling, you’ve made some great friends, and you’re just getting started.
You, of course, have no idea that you only have two more decades before one night after you fall asleep a blood vessel will burst (unceremoniously) in your brain, an aneurysm, causing a hemorrhagic stroke…and it will affect you physically.
Some of these affectations may be permanent, others will improve with many months, and even years of inpatient and outpatient rehab. And you can count your blessings that you won’t have been affected cognitively.
Believe it or not, despite everything…you got lucky. You’re alive at forty two, and you’re doing alright upstairs. You know, in your head…your thinking faculties are still there. Your personality is still pretty much intact.
If I actually could write you this letter I would want to pass on some of the important things that I have learned along the way on this journey. Naturally there’s some wisdom that has been picked up, but there is also the inevitable comprehension that one of the important goals in life is this; do not have too many regrets when you’re older.
What’s too many you may be thinking and it’s really up to each of us to decide that. But I’d love to impart on you that you’ll be a lot happier in the long run if you can laugh at yourself more. Don’t take yourself too seriously, or get embarrassed so easily. You tend to do that, you know that you do.
Whenever you get the chance…get up and move; dance, skip, bend, hike, climb, roll around, do a cartwheel, or a somersault. Don’t spend so much time being afraid of looking silly. No one will care, and if they do it won’t matter in the end.
Someday you’re not going to be able to do these things as easily, if at all. Do them now…and also when you’re twenty-five, thirty, etc.; in other words while you still can. And for the love of all that is holy, enjoy them…or you will look back and wish that you had. Trust me, you don’t want this to happen.
I’m glad to say that you will spend lots of time over the years laughing with your kids. Don’t forget to play with them often, and on your own, too. It’s hugely important to flex that imagination muscle. It really does weaken if you don’t use it, just like other muscles.
The time will careen along, and days will turn into years, and then decades will have passed. Whenever possible, don’t take things for granted. Whenever possible, slow down, take it all in, and inhale it. Savor it, savor your life. Some things will be one-time-only experiences.
Your kids will have grown up and you’ll feel like you only just blinked, then you’ll remember hearing your own mother say something eerily similar, and you’ll nod your head in acknowledgement. It’s a pretty common sentiment for good reason.
Speaking of your kids…let them get dirty. Get dirty yourself. Play in the mud. Finger paint and dig in the garden. Don’t worry about mess and stains and ruining stuff. You won’t remember the sweater that you kept white near as fondly as the time you picked big juicy blackberries from their thorny branches and ate them there with your children, dripping deep purple-ly, wine colored juice everywhere!
And please…please don’t get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses, such a waste of time and energy. For a brief period during your thirties you will worry that your children will be missing out on some important part of a good childhood if they don’t live in the right house in the right neighborhood. Thankfully you will learn that this is not nearly as important as you thought.
Trust your instincts! Go with your first thoughts, know that you have a good head on your shoulders. If you sense something, there’s more than likely a good reason. Your intuition is strong. Listen to your inner voice. Don’t over-think everything.
Sometimes you’re going to feel lonely, you can handle that. Some days you’re going to feel ugly, sad, scared, anxious…these are all normal occurrences. Ask for help, or ask for guidance whenever you need it. It’s not a sign of weakness!
You’ll find that making friends gets more difficult as you get older. In your thirties you will be shocked, and even shaken, when a friendship doesn’t pan out. Don’t let this keep you from putting yourself out there. It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do.
And then some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever know will be put in your path in your late thirties.
At times your self-confidence is going to waver. You’re going to think that you don’t deserve to be loved. Typical stuff will go through your head; you’re not smart enough, pretty enough, not funny, exciting or unique.
But you’re wrong. I mean there is no such thing as this concept of enough. It’s a myth, a story that we tell ourselves. And for one person you will be all of these. I know that’s a difficult one to believe. Believe it.
“Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.”
― Alan Cohen
You’re going to fall in love and it’s going to be reciprocated. You’ve already met him and you don’t know it. He’ll become your best friend. You will balance each other out. His kindness will appeal to you. Recognize this. You’ll see the signs pop up…the ways he says things are familiar. Don’t be scared off by this.
Be patient. It won’t happen overnight, and it will take effort; not the attraction part, that will be easy. It will take some faith and opening your heart. It will test you. The best things usually do and they’re usually worth it, too.
Tell people that you love them. Do it often and mean it. Some people won’t be comfortable with this. They may not say it back. Let that be okay. Say it anyway, and you will never only wish you had.
And let people know how much you appreciate them. It’s especially important with your kids. Set a good example. Listen even when you’re tired. Give people your undivided attention. Make them feel important, because they are.
Here’s a short list of advice…do yourself a favor and post this where you can see it often:
Every one of them is true, except for maybe that last one if you’ve found a job that you love. Which you should most definitely do. Dream big and never give up on your dreams! You’re going to spend your entire life wanting to be a writer. Unfortunately you’re going to spend much of it so afraid to fail, so afraid to suck, and not believing in yourself. Your time will come though.
No star is ever lost we once have seen,
We always may be what we might have been.
― Adelaide Anne Procter
So you’re twenty years old right now, and things aren’t exactly easy for you. You’ve got a lot on your plate, but you can do it. Things will get better, in all the ways it’s hurting you right now..
Life really is a ride. It really is like a roller coaster, ups and downs are just the way it goes. You’re going to get older. You’re also going to watch all those people that you love as they get older. Always remember that it is all precious.
Try not to be afraid of life. And try new things whenever you can. Say yes to travel as much as possible, you’ll never regret this. Mark my words…
Be happy. Whenever you can, choose to be happy! Live all the days of your life…
Hello, hello, hello, good-bye,
Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye,
That’s all there is.
And the leaves that are green turn to brown,
And they wither with the wind,
And they crumble in your hand…
— Raina K Morton January 13 2015
*Title and posted lyrics from the song The Leaves that are Green by Simon & Garfunkel
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