What letter would you write to your teenage self?
I’ve been reading Nicola Morgan’s Letter to my teenage self. Her teenage years weren’t happy, and the novelist and author of The Teenage Guide to Stress and Blame my Brain empathises with that teenage self. She wants today’s teenagers to understand what’s going on in their heads so they can be less hard on themselves; can see how their current worries will fade in the long run.
“You are a work in progress; you are becoming and have not become; you are not finished, and with luck you never will be: there’s always room to change.”
It got me thinking about what a similar letter from myself would look like.
I was fortunate. I did well at school, succeeded at exams and other activities. When school friendships caused angst, I had a church youth group (pictured, centre) to fall back on. I was a high-achiever, interested in the world, thoughtful …
Actually, I’m not sure I want to write that letter. My teenage self wanted to change the world. She’d wonder why her 59 year-old self wasted all those advantages and achieved so little. (Though she’d be too polite to say so.)
That’s when the letter arrives from my 89 year-old self:
What’s all this about wasting your advantages?
Look around you, appreciate all the different things and lovely people you’re involved with.
Value what you HAVE been able to do rather than what didn’t happen.
Be fully who you can be in the here and now, rather than lamenting what you used to be.
You used to like that R S Thomas poem The Bright Field:
“Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush”
PS I’m still playing table-tennis!
Because 89 year-old Annie – everyone seems to know me as Annie by then – has learned to live fully in the present. She knows what really matters. She wants me to slow down and experience the NOW.
People at the end of life speak sometimes of how vivid everything seems. Clive James, for example, in his moving poem Japanese Maple, refers to his mind dying “Burned by my vision of a world that shone/So brightly at the last, and then was gone.”
Oliver Sacks, who too is dying, speaks of seeing his life “as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life, on the contrary, I feel intensely alive.”
Morgan shows how young people’s brains change during their teenage years, so that they are very much “works in progress”. 89 year-old Annie will, I think, want to remind me that we are works in progress at 59, and that even at 89, she is “still becoming”. What Oliver Sacks says applies whatever our age:
“It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.”