Someone I admire greatly recently blogged about some of the things she has learned over the years and how much they came to her as surprises. Some as gifts, some as lessons in grief, some as arrogance checks and some as plain common sense. I liked her idea very much. We also are going through some similar emotional conflicts and questioning ourselves deeply about how to live and who to be now when who you thought you were somehow doesn't meet up with who you know you have to be.
She wrote her letter to her 14 year old self, which is right before she started coming in to her own. At 14 I was very close to becoming self aware, so I have to go back a bit longer. This is my letter to my 10 year old self.
Dear 10 year old and still innocent Brad,
I'm not sure how to go about this, even though I know the best ways to approach you and have you hear what I'm saying. You already know that life isn't fair and it's just something you have to learn to get used to. That's okay though, because things are going to happen that will be a lot easier to take if you're prepared for the fact that fairness doesn't necessarily play into much of life, not really. Just know straight away that you're a good kid and you're going to be a good man as long as you remember to always be yourself, on your terms, not somebody else's.
You already know that people can be very mean, very cruel, and at times downright evil. Not everyone is like this and some people deserve a chance to be trusted. You will have lifelong friends that you will meet this year who will be with you until you're as old as I am now, and they will be loyal to you and always have your best interests at heart. Some friendships don't work out, but that's okay because the ones that do will see you through everything you're going to experience. When your blood family fails to deliver, your chosen family will be what they never could and will never take you for granted. Hold them in the same reverence they hold you, and everything will eventually work out - even when the relationships become strained. Life is harder on some than others, so be patient and remind yourself that in the end, love wins the most difficult of games.
There are some things you should always be protected from. There are some things that happen to kids that just cannot be explained. Some people just sneak under parents' radar because they spend a lot of time pretending to be someone they aren't to get things that they want. They are treacherous and dangerous and unfortunately it is the innocent that pay for their crimes when they get away with it. Most times these really bad people you'll never see coming - nobody will. They create a lot of damage and sadly a lot of them get away with it, but it is never the fault of those who get damaged. It is the nature of children to trust the adults in their lives, especially the adults that are trusted by your parents, but adults are the ones who get to make all of the choices. That also means that even when they make really bad choices, it is never the fault of the kids involved who don't have a choice to make.
It is very easy for you to make friends but sometimes not so easy to keep them. It may take a while to understand why that is but the main reason is that you have high standards for who you'll allow into your chosen family and that is the way it is supposed to be. Not everyone is going to want to be part of your family like you want them to be, and that's okay. You already know that you don't always get your way and how to make yourself okay with this fact, because it's not always supposed to go your way. Being too disappointed about that is a choice you learn not to make, because it comes at too great a cost. You're a lot tougher than you think you are right now, but trust me - after enough time and experience has passed by you and you start realizing how much you've overcome that would have broken most people, you'll see how tough you really are. It might be hard to recognize because you'll never brag about it, but you'll know it when you hear other people whining about things you want to smack them for. Don't do that, hitting isn't nice.
You will fall in love a few times and have many broken hearts, but that's all just preparing you for the time you learn to take people who matter seriously. You'll learn how to not be lonely and alone at the same time by figuring out that most relationships don't work out because people stop taking care of each other properly, and that's the thing that they're supposed to share the most. You'll start filling up your life with experiences and making things happen instead of just watching others have all the fun, which is how you will learn to not be so lonely all of the time and have things for yourself. That way, when it is time for you to start having real relationships with people, you'll have things to share instead of depending too much on them for your own identity. Nobody owes you that, so get right with that now and decide who you want to be.
You are one of the most thoughtful people your friends could have, and you will work very hard for that. Sometimes you fall short of that, but not very much at all. Just remember to give yourself a break now and then and try not to take people too seriously. It will be hard to accept, but they don't always make the decisions for themselves that you wished they would. This is going to be a big problem for you to fix, because you're very wired to try and fix the people you care about. Sometimes you can give people all of the tools in the world to fix themselves, but you have to accept that they're not always going to use them and that has NOTHING to do with you. It is their choice to take the tools you give them and put them in a big "ignore this" box at the bottom of the closet, and that's going to be really hard to take sometimes. Don't let it drag you down into some of the places they choose to go, learn the difference between a friend falling into a hole and a friend who digs a hole to fall into. Your job as a friend when they fall into a hole they never saw coming is to climb down in there with them so they know they're not alone. Sooner or later they always see that you're there with them in that dark place because you choose to be, and it gives them the courage to climb back out. The ones that keep digging holes are the ones you have to learn how to love from a safe distance. Love them, but don't always follow them into fire when there's no good reason to go. That is their choice - it doesn't have to be yours.
You're going to do a lot of stuff that is bad for you in every way at the time, but you will overcome these things and in time you'll see that is how character is built. People love you because you're you, flaws, imperfections, scars and all - or they'll hate for for those very things and at times for the most stupid reasons imaginable - and it's all okay. Not everyone is going to love you or even like you, not everyone has to. That doesn't change the fact that you're going to be who you know you are without apology, without restraint, and without self censorship. You'll learn to control your temper and know when to back off before it gets the best of you, which is a good thing because you have a frightening amount of rage to keep a handle on until you can vent it creatively and productively. That will come in handy when you teach yourself how to chant silently when what you really want to do is destroy something or someone or just give up and cry.
There is never a good time.You're going to get knocked down more times than I can count, but you're always going to stand up and dust yourself off somehow. Each time you'll know that it isn't really important how many times you get knocked down, only that you have it in you to stand back up. Not everyone does, not everyone can. It is okay to feel defeated as long as you know that it's just a feeling and like most of them, with enough time it passes. Feeling defeated is never the same thing as being defeated anyway, so it's okay to feel like that. You'll get to be a grown up and have people who will fight each other to get to you first and help pick you up when you find it hard to do for yourself, making you that much more determined to stay on your feet. This will be helpful when you start having to bury family and friends at numerous funerals, and when all of the babies you love so much are born you'll know who and what it's all for.
There is never a perfect time.
There is ALWAYS a better time.
You'll have a home and a family of your very own, and even at the roughest of times you'll be safe there. You'll work hard to earn it and take good care of it, so you'll know you deserve it. You'll have to be more patient than you can imagine as you get older, but you're not perfect and don't always have all the answers you need so learn to breathe deeply and wait for them to come to you, trusting that they always will in time. You're going to be alright and you're going to get better with age. Make sure that the love you give is equal to the love you get, and it will all work out fine.
You'll never hear it enough from those who should say it most, but I'm proud of you. Don't worry yourself too much, because we're going to be okay.
Yourself at 37