My 16 year old self--naive and a little dumb.
Be kind to others and just as kind to yourself.
Birthdays seem like a good time to take stock of where you've been and where you want to go. Since today is my birthday, I will do that in a letter. The idea of the letter comes from the book What I Know Now, Letters to my Younger Self, edited by Ellyn Spragins. The book contains letters by women such as Madeleine Albright, Maya Angelou, Queen Noor, Vanna White, Lee Ann Womack and twelve other notable women. It is a slim book since each letter is about a page and the book's editor wrote only a page or two introducing each woman.
My birthday letter is a variation on Ellyn Spragins's theme of a woman writing to herself, giving advice, describing behaviors, and trying to help that young self understand life.
My letter notes where I've been and what I hope for myself:
On this October 13, 2011, the anniversary of your birth in a tiny Georgia town, more years ago than you will admit, you were much celebrated as the first grandchild by both sets of grandparents. The expectations of all the family were put upon you and remained with you. You were often reminded that you had to set the "good example" for your sisters and cousins, and for the first 21 years of your life you did try. You earned good grades, you graduated from college (the first of the family to do so), and you were a "good girl." You got a job teaching high school and seemed ready, set, but then the snake of discord sneaked into the room.
Since you had been so carefully protected, you didn't know how to handle some of the people and situations that came your way. So, you disappointed your family with a hasty marriage, but from that marriage came your daughter, the love of your life. Then divorce and twenty lonely years of being a single mother and teacher. Finally, you married again to a kind, congenial man. You gained wisdom about people and life. You had a successful teaching career and the love of your daughter's family.
Sounds idyllic, but still that snake of discord, now reduced to a mere worm, winds his way into your head from time to time. He whispers to you of other worlds, other places and makes you restless. He goads you about lost ambitions, old dreams and wasted days. I used to think that when you became a "grown-up," you were sort of on-hold. You were "there." Things didn't change; your life was set. Now I know that each phase of life, each year even, requires that you reinvent yourself. If you don't, you become stagnant, rigid, boring, and bored.
You must continue to grow by exploring new subjects and ideas different from those that are comfortable. You must try to be yourself with all people, no playing games, no pretentious
attitudes. Most of all, you must try to be kind to everyone you meet, and be kind to yourself. Realize you will not please everyone and sometimes no one. Don't let that bother you. That doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to other people and consider what they say, but don't pretend to agree with them if you don't. Don't be easily led by fancy rhetoric and other people's beliefs and persuasions. One belief of mine that has not changed through the years is to practice moderation, be flexible. Extremes can be dangerous.
Often I fail in keeping the above list of desired behaviors, but I try again, and hopefully learn something new from each failure. One of my faults is to slip into that dark hole of depression when I do fail, but someone or something always pulls me out. My husband and my daughter sometimes tell me that my greatest fault is stubborness, and I know that is true. But, being stubborn all those years, continuing to move forward in tough times, made me a survivor, able to stand on my own. Sometimes people think you're stubborn when you don't do things their way : )
On my bike at age 10 with my two sisters.