I was catching up on Jaquandor's blog recently and got slapped with an intriguing idea. (That frequently happens over at Byzantium's Shores, but this time it hit me with all the might of a Boston cream in the face!)
Someone had sent him some questions to answer, one of which was: If you could go back in time, what one piece advice would you give yourself?
I was impressed by Kelly's response. He wrote:
"To when? If I'm talking to my five-year-old self, I'd say, "Smile when they take the damn picture." If I'm talking to my thirteen-year-old self, I'd say, "You know, maybe that guy's not blowing smoke up your ass when he mentions that you should be on the swim team every time he sees you." If I'm talking to my seventeen-year-old self, I'd say, "You're barely going to remember her in ten years, so stop acting like an idiot stalker and move on." If I'm talking to my twenty-one-year-old self, I'd say, "Start writing now." If I'm talking to my twenty-six-year-old self, I'd say...actually, forget that one, it's a bit kinky. If I'm talking to my thirty-year-old self, I'd say, "Don't take that telesales job, and call back that grocery store." If I'm talking to my thirty-three-year-old self, I'd say, "Get ready, because this is when it all gets worse."
I cannot help but wonder - how would my younger self respond to old me?
Would I listen to her/me? Would I believe in her/my wisdom based on experience and perspective? How would my old me perceive my younger incarnations?
If I were talking to my 5 yr old me what could I possibly say to that child that could insulate her from the sorrows, chaos and complexities of her world she had to grow up in?
Or, if instead, I happened upon my early adolescent days, my 13 year old self, would there be any words that could convince me to NOT take LSD and drive down the middle of the small town airport runway as fast as that old Plymouth would go?
But where it really gets complicated ...when I turn 16 or 17...would I caution myself DANGER IS COMING - GO THE OTHER DIRECTION! Would I choose to avoid my first marriage to a violent man who caused me more heartache than I could measure? Without that union I would not have the brilliant sons that I do or be the person that I am. Granted, the cost was seven years of darkness, soul destruction, horrific pain. So I cannot help but wonder, if I had the power to do so, would I be willing to give up a large portion of who I am now, and to uncreate my children and grandchildren in order to save myself from being brutally belittled and shoved down a few staircases?
I think of different seasons in my life - the years of chaos, the drug days, the struggle to make it on my own caring for my two little kids. Then came finding Larry, reinventing my world with a whole new pattern. I reflect back on the struggle to climb up the graduate school mountain, the years when I was first establishing my career, and the things I didn't take time to notice along the way.
Are there times when I or the world would have ultimately been better off had I made a different decision? Should I have zigged where instead I zagged?
Sure, there are some episodes that I now shake my head over and wish might have played out differently. But given the power, would I honestly go back and change it?
From where I sit today, I don't think so. Overall - I'll take the rough spots along with days of sunshine and abundance. Some of the most poignant heartaches have been my most effective teachers.
I have no idea what I will think of my NOW - this season of my life - 30 years from now should the chances play out that I were to live that long. How will I define my turning the key in the lock to touch the half century mark? What will this mean to me when I'm a wrinkled old lady? How will I reminisce about today?
I speculate I'll chide my younger self a bit for getting so worked up over stuff that wasn't all that important and not caring or doing enough about some of the big issues that truly were significant. But overall, I think there will be few regrets as I look back. I hope my old lady self will be able to view this woman that is me today with affection, tolerance and patience. I like to think of that older me yet-to-be as invoking the Arabian proverb that says: "A friend is one to whom one may pour out all the contents of one's heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it; keep what is worth keeping and, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away."
Because, after all, I don't think it is ADVICE that would help me - at any point in my life. I probably wouldn't listen to it anyway.
The words that are most powerful to me come from Henri Nowen who said:
"When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares."