If you could write a letter to yourself when you were sixteen, what would you say?
Joseph Galliano, an editor, has compiled a list of letters from people many of us know, and has created a book from that collection, entitled “Dear Me. A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self”.
What would I say?
It would go something like this:
Hi there. There’s some stuff you should know.
First off: trust your instincts. Remember how troubled you felt when that guy came to pick up your sister for a date? Remember how normal he seemed, and yet you couldn’t shake off a feeling of danger? Well, sadly, you were right. Your sis was OK and everything, but it got pretty dicey for a while there. The man was dangerous and you were right to be afraid for her. You have an instinct that borders on ESP. Don’t worry that it sounds all airy-fairy – just go with it. Trust yourself. It doesn’t mean you should quickly judge everyone. You’ll get older and wiser and soon you’ll be able to differentiate between prejudice and empathy. You have the empathic spark though – don’t forget it.
Oh, and to help you along: here’s one indicator of the difference. Empathic awareness is insistent and relentless and often has no bearing on perceived logic at the time. Prejudice on the other hand, isn’t nearly as urgent, and it tends to rationalize – usually based upon someone else’s opinion, presented as fact. It’s almost a form of laziness. You’ll understand. It’s just a matter of time and unending curiosity.
Which brings me to another point. Remember how your dad criticized you for thinking all the time? Remember how weird that seemed? Well he was wrong. This is actually one of your best qualities, and it will serve you well. Though you’re not great at school (and by the way, forget about trying to memorize names and dates – I’ll tell you why in a minute), your curiosity will take you through life in an amazing way. You’ll learn so much, just because you thought to question. And you know what else? This is a side benefit of your curiosity: people love to talk. Especially about themselves. So ask them, and just enjoy their experience. It’s sort of what makes you tick.
Which brings me to another point. If you’re curious enough, and ask the right people, you can probably avoid a lot of years of spinning your wheels in frustration. Start slowly, but work on it constantly. Ask questions from people who don’t share your religious beliefs. Get to know what life is like for people who don’t go to your church. It’s important. Read some of the great philosophers (if you can – I know how hard it is to get into intricately detailed books. There’s a reason for that. More later.).
There is such a great value and such pleasure available to you when you learn to open your mind up a bit.
Oh, and something else: remember how you sought out the advice of a school counsellor during those times when your father was creating a living hell on earth at home? Remember how you sat in her office and told her about how he would get so drunk and so angry, and everyone was afraid – and about how you called the cops on him?
Well that was a good starting point for you, but it wasn’t the end. In between all of that crap you sort of got lost. You thought your identity was with the church, because people there were really nice, and they welcomed you so gladly. Their hearts were real, and they really did like you, but you made a tiny little mistake: you thought you had to be like them. I mean, exactly like them. You mimicked them so closely that you really had no idea who you were. Oh, I know you think you did, but trust me, you didn’t. You tried so hard to be the social chameleon out of habit: you knew that in order to survive in that hellish house, you had to figure out what The Beast wanted at any given time, and manoeuvre yourself accordingly. You learned how to placate and accommodate, as this is what your eight year old self figured out, to survive. You knew if you did this, maybe The Beast wouldn’t hurt anyone. You had no idea back then, that what you did didn’t really matter. He was looking for an excuse to lash out.
I think you should take the time to see a doctor and get yourself sorted out. You lack one major thing right now – self awareness. Once you have that, you’ll be on your way.
When you’re talking with the doc, also share with him about how much you hate school projects, and why. Tell him too about all of your clumsiness and accidents. It’s important. Tell him about how you daydream all the time, and forget so many things. Tell him about those comments in your report cards, where the teacher says “could do better if he applied himself”. About how you’re always late, and always always ALWAYS have to run to school every morning to get to band class, because you’re just not able to ever leave on time. What you’re going through is not normal – and hopefully the doc will pick up on that.
Pay attention to what you like in school, and what you don’t like. Indulge your love of music and dramatic arts. It’s part of who you are. Find ways to get more involved. Forget about what others tell you that you *should* do, relative to class courses. Take up the drama class, and join the drama club too. There’s a brilliant teacher there – get to know him, even though he’s a little frightening, because he’s abrupt and cold, and because he’s really big, like your dad.
Even though your history teacher is amazing – because he brings history to life so well, – you’re going to find yourself hating it in Grade 13. The new teacher will want the class to memorize names and dates for everything – and you’d rather get into a fight with a school bully than do that. The daydreaming at this point will be your downfall and you’ll want to give up. And maybe you should. But not for long. Being a kid, you think that you should be able to do everything, or nothing. You’re kind of black and white like that. It won’t occur to you (which is why I’m telling you now) that everyone has strengths in certain things, while they suck at others. You’re never going to be an academic – you’re intelligent enough, but it’s just not who you are. You won’t work in the trades either. You don’t know it, but your strength is in people, and in entertainment, and in the arts. This is not a bad thing. These are the things that excite you, and get your heart racing.
There are other things to tell you but they should be a surprise. You’re going to go through some heavy stuff, but if you follow all of the above advice, you’ll at least establish a firm and trustworthy foundation for dealing with them. Some of the harsh stuff will bring some interesting surprises that you’ll love.
One last thought: some of the best plans never work out. What is true for you today might not be true tomorrow. Trust yourself, and trust your instincts. The one seed for your tree of life never changes: you must live. Not just survive, and not just tolerate. You probably have no idea what I mean by this, so search out a book, called “Jitterbug Perfume”. Read it one time so that you satisfy your curiosity about the plot. And when it’s done, read it again.
So. What would you write to yourself? Better yet – if you feel like it, write a blog, and provide a link to it in the comments here.