Letters to myself · Life

Dear eighteen-year-old me

Hindsight is truly a beautiful curse. From where I’m standing, I can see you from an angle you could never have before. I do not live in uncertainty of the consequences of your actions, but I’ve lived through them. I can see the beautiful moments of your life and the ugliness and the torment; I can examine and reflect on them at will. But, as far as life is concerned, my hands are tied. I cannot re-live life at the cusp of adulthood. That power, my girl, is down to you.

Your eighteenth birthday lies in the middle of a time of uncertainty and change. You were under an extraordinary amount of external stress: more than you’ve experienced before or I have come across since. You need to attain those sky-high grades to secure a place at medical school. You worry that you’re buckling under the weight of expectations now. You worry that there is no hope of you coming through the next few years in one piece. You feel tensions brewing between your parents and the person you’re in a relationship with. You’re constantly thinking, constantly worrying: what if? What if? What if? 

Your eighteenth birthday also lies in a time of self-discovery and excitement. You’re tasting your first experience of independence. It’s sweet on your lips and promises of more. You’re excited at the prospect of going away to university. You’re terrified of the thought that your safe, close-knit, familiar group of friends will be scattered through the country in a few short months.

I want to tell you that I’m proud of you. Of the woman you are now, of the woman you’ve become, of the woman you will be. I want to gather you into my arms and reassure you. You’ve been through bad days, you’re going through bad days now, there will be bad days coming. If only I can show you the woman you will become in one short year. Two short years.

I want to give you advice. I want to tell you that the things that you think govern your world won’t matter in a year. Two years. I want to tell you to relax a little. You will shine a torch into the causes of your worries and find that, in the beam of the light, they are no more than shadow puppets, only coming alive in the dark. I know you will make the very mistakes you’re terrified of. I know that one day you will walk away from your values; I know that it will take a long time for you to find them again. I know you will grapple with your identity. I know you will question the world. Above all I want you to know that everything will be okay.

I know that such wishes are fruitless. I can never change how you’ve lived, what you’ve thought, what you’ve done. I can’t even make you aware of my thoughts now. In truth, I don’t want to. Your choices made me the woman I am now.

Be careful with hindsight: for all its wisdom-imparting and truth-revealing tendencies, I know that you spend a lot of time in the past. Hindsight is a fantastic weapon in your arsenal; you’ve used it incredibly effectively to guide your future. It’s just that you, eighteen-year-old Ruth, you need to be careful not to let living-in-past-times masquerade as hindsight.

It’s time for me to follow my own advice. Goodbye, eighteen-year-old Ruth. It was a pleasure knowing you.

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