A Letter From Me-Now to Him-Then
A while back I started this exercise of writing an imaginary letter from myself at half the age I am now. You can read it here. It was a pretty harrowing thing to try, and I actually put off writing the second half simply because I didn’t know how to talk to Me-Then. The blog went on hiatus, then, and it was one devoted reader who told me that this was the one bit of unfinished business that made her feel a bit cheated.
Well, we can’t have that, can we? So here we have the letter from me to the man I was back in 1992.
I’m really glad you wrote me, even with a letter so filled with sad things. I forget sometimes just how hard that time was for all of you – M, the girls, and others you don’t know about. Watching the girls grow up and go through their own trials has given me an appreciation of how hard it must have been for Dad and others to see you where you’re at.
But hey, that’s some good news for you right there: I forget. It probably doesn’t help much where you are now, but it gets better. It gets amazingly better, in fact, in ways you can’t even imagine. But since I also hate hearing that kind of thing (if I can’t imagine it, why bother telling me?) I’m not going to dwell on it.
Instead, I want to tell you take that apology and stuff it.
You have nothing to apologize for. You are doing the best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt. The fact is, that hand is pretty strong. Right now it may feel that the Corps destroyed you, but it actually put the finishing touches on a resilience and resourcefulness that you’re going to need in the next couple of decades. You’re right, you and M aren’t meant to be, but that distance will eventually turn into a friendship and shared pride as you watch your daughters and (spoiler alert!) grandsons grow up.
The thing that you don’t realize, buddy, is that you are fighting hard for two things: one, your children, and two, yourself. You are facing the beginning of one of the worst economic times in U.S. history with no job skills valid outside Croatia, and you are focused on keeping that home secure for your daughters. It’s going to be hard.
But you still play guitar. You are starting to get interested in that medieval re-enactment group that will let you dance, sing, act, teach your children to shoot and throw sharp pointy things at bad people and play dress up. You’ll make wonderful friends, and that combination of creativity and fatherhood will give you an authentic voice to share astonishing beauty.
It won’t be easy. It will, in fact, truly suck for a long time and in ways that you can’t ima- wait, I said I wouldn’t say that again. Trust me, though, until you’ve actually smelled mouse droppings inside your oven when you’re trying to bake cookies…spoiler alert again, there. But basically, I’m not saying the worst is over. Not by a long shot. That would be silly to even suggest, even if I did want to cheer you up, which I really don’t.
No, it’s going to be hard, and painful. You’re going to screw up, a lot. The one good thing I can tell you is this: from where I’m sitting, it was worth it.
And that’s why, bucko, I’m not going to give you one shred of advice. Oh, believe me, it’s tempting. Don’t go out with her! That job looks good but it’s a Bad Idea! Ashlei isn’t really over at her friends, she went to that party! I made up that last bit (no I didn’t) but you get the idea. There are experiences ahead of you that I wouldn’t go through again for any amount of money.
But anything I tried to change – any experience I tried to spare you, any lesson I tried to teach you before you taught it to yourself through some mistake – runs the risk of changing where I am right now, sitting here writing you. Are you kidding me? I have work I believe in, I have people I love surrounding me while still giving me space, I have created and learned and still work on challenges that keep life interesting while not being desperate. If I tried to change your path, we might not end up here, and it’s not worth that risk.
Seriously, my dear self, would you want to miss seeing the incredible adults your daughters turn into? Do you have any idea just how awesome being a Grandpa can be? You are going to meet and love amazing, remarkable people, some of whom will drift in and out of your life at the most unexpected times. You know that trapped feeling you have now? You’ll end up traveling around the world, young man, so much that you’ll have to cut back just to give yourself a chance to feel home. You’ll have work that is fun, work that is meaningful, work that is rewarding, and occasionally you’ll have work that is all three. And let me tell you, that’s when you’ll really get tired.
It’s far ahead of you. Frankly, the path from where you are to where I am is so twisted and unlikely I couldn’t guide you on it if I tried. But you don’t owe me an apology; rather, I owe you a debt of gratitude for taking on this challenge and meeting it head on in the decades ahead of you.
OK, fine, I suppose the least I can do is try and say some things that you could use right now. Er, then. Here’s a short list:
- Knowledge is power. Keep learning everything you can, because the most unlikely skill may end up being what puts food on the table.
- Don’t stress about your career. The job that puts food on your table now doesn’t exist then. See #1.
- I don’t wish I’d worked more, or harder. I wish I’d spent more time with family and friends.
- The time you spent with your family and friends is enough.
- When you make that horrible mistake that ruins everything – it didn’t. Put your head down and keep going.
- It’s ok to give up. To quit. To decide you can’t keep going. Just stop. And then put your head down and keep going anyway.
- Yoga sucks. Do it anyway.
- Stop reading so much about zen. Start doing it more.
- You will never know when you’re saying something – in words or example – that your daughters will remember for the rest of their lives. So stop worrying about telling them how they should act and just show them by being yourself.
By the way, don’t worry about saving that list, because even the stuff I knew when I was you (like #3) I didn’t pay attention to. That’s ok; like most truth, it’s true regardless whether either of us believes in it.
Thank you for what you are doing, and for what you’re going to do. You seriously rock, buddy, and I can’t wait until you get here with me and I can show you just how incredible this life is.
So. Like the last entry, I ask you all: what would you tell your former self? Angsty teen or struggling young adult or 30-something, what kind of a conversation would you have?