If you ever need a reminder of how far you haven’t come - and really, who wouldn’t want that? - write yourself a letter and just happen upon it ten plus years later. I was recently organizing files on my computer, getting rid of duplicates and obsolete documents, as a means of keeping myself busy and feeling productive, during quarantine. “To My Dear Self,” the title read. “Oh, this should be interesting,” was my first thought, and then the thought that followed was, “Is this a good idea?” You see, like many of my fellow Earthlings, I’ve been feeling pretty low lately. That would explain my reluctance to dip even further by opening this can of worms, and yet, like a good train wreck, I couldn’t look away from it either.
I’ve been a journal keeper most of my life, but this idea was a little different. It was born from my old youth group leader when I was in high school. Every New Year’s Eve, he and his wife took all the kids on a retreat up into the New Hampshire mountains. You would be given the letter you had written to yourself the year before, and you would write a new one to be opened and read the following year. I don’t remember it being very eye-opening. Honestly, I don’t remember anything I ever wrote or how I ended up feeling about it a year later, but I do remember enjoying the activity of it. When I sat down in 2009 to write to my ol’ dear selfie, I don’t know when I thought I would actually read it again. I had completely forgotten its existence until now. My old and dear friend, Mario and I recently talked about that whole idea of writing yourself a letter. In his Graphic Arts class, he had been given the assignment to write himself a letter, but wasn’t allowed to actually write it at all. It had to be using anything but words. I began to wonder how I would respond to this particular assignment. It would be quite challenging for me. I’m all about words. Mario mused that he might construct an image of his older, more mature self now smiling back at his frustrated young man self. That made me giggle because I realized mine would look more like the older, more mature woman scowling at the happier young version of me. The irony!
2009 was not a stellar year for me. It turns out, 2019 and definitely 2020 weren’t either, but hindsight is — again, here comes our old friend Irony — 20/20. The truly sad part is that 2021 isn’t shaping up to be any better, although honestly, not worse either. Anyway, in 2009, I was being laid off from the job I had held for eleven (for the most part) happy years. It would mean the end of tough shift work, which was good, but the bad part was I was losing a decent hourly wage while trying to live in a high cost-of-living place. To make a long story short, I had some tough decisions to make. Big ones. The kind most people don’t make more than once in their lifetimes. I didn’t feel ready for that. Family relations, usually solid, were strained during this time period making decision-making more emotional than it should ever be. The 2009 letter broke it down basically to this: “I know you’ve been second guessing everything, so the purpose of today’s letter is to encourage you to stay the course. I think it’s a good plan.” To round out the long story, I actually did stay the course and gave the plan a shot, but it didn’t work out. Less than a year later, my life would change again when, at 37, I finally met the man I would (very quickly) marry, and life would get better for awhile, and then strange again, as life does. To be fair and honest, and to add some positivity here where I’m starting to feel like a Debbie Downer, 2010 was the greatest year of my life. I’m willing to bet that will be a story for you for another time.
What I learned from my Dear Selfie letter was actually basic life stuff. Mostly, the more people and life change, the more they stay the same. My life is night-and-day different now from what it was back then; yet, here I sit today, still feeling kind of unsure about things. The lesson? Maybe that’s okay. I missed something when I read that letter the first time. Sure, I got the message: Stay the course. But, what spoke to me even more loudly the second time was the nurture and care I gave myself back then: “You handled yourself well, and you should feel good about that,” I wrote. “You took much more of the responsibility than was ever yours to take.” All I remember feeling during those days was guilt and regret, but no, look! My own words directly challenge those feelings, and I’m so glad. I wouldn’t have written it if it weren’t true.
Maybe I haven’t come that far, but who cares? I’ve managed to stay true to myself, and somehow, even while being neglected and abused, I’ve been able to show myself compassion and love. The world is going to be the world. Life is life. You are you. Sit down today and write your dear old self a letter.