And while the thought that there - inevitably - are dreams yet to be had when I'm old is comforting - my mind trailed. To a column that appears in my Women's Health magazine every month: a writer's letter to their younger self.
In those articles there is always a measure of - albeit sensitive - criticism. "You focused too much on men", "You tried too hard to fit in", "You were too consumed with your appearance"... Eventually the older selves tell the younger ones that their lives turned out great - but - they really shouldn't have been worried about all those things.
And that's all true. You don't have to be a literary to know that when you get older you look back. And when you look back you realize. You realize the stress you didn't need, the mistakes you made and the paths you could have taken. You don't necessarily regret them - but you see them like a big, flashing, neon sign.
So I just started thinking...maybe as a gift to my younger and present self...I could outline a few of the things I've done right.
You discovered loyalty. As a child you knew one thing: everybody leaves. That was the way things went. Friends didn't keep in touch, parents left - whether in anger and only to return a few hours later - or for good, brothers had other agendas that took them away from you, families crossed oceans or stopped sending birthday cards. But you stuck around. Even when it was hard. You found those few people who you cared about all your own. The best friends you'd ever find. And you were loyal.
You slept on their couches for a few hours at a time, when a tragedy so big, took both of you by surprise and changed her life forever. You stood by them in marriages - and divorces. And fights. And you held their hand until you both fell asleep after a drama filled night. Sat up all night with them when they didn't want to be alone. Dealt the blows of a parent's cancer as best you could - for them. You cheered on birthdays and graduations and new jobs. And you could have done it all via phone calls from another state. But you didn't. And when you'd finally get home, to a deserted apartment - there may have been laundry and dishes piling up - but not resentment. And you did all that before you were 30. And when you're 40, those people will still be around.
You saw things. You may have yet to see a sunset in Havana, the Wailing Wall, or Machu Picchu. But you stood at Ground Zero long before it was cleaned up and ready for memorial. You saw the destruction one generation will never forget. You stood at the edge (even with your fear of heights) of the Grand Canyon - and realized how small you really are. And it was comforting. You saw the pain of the homeless on the streets of a city that was not destined to be your home. You related. You hiked a mountain with a sinus infection. You people-watched in a dozen airports.
You took it all on. He died. Right there. In front of you. Leaving her and all of his kids and grandkids and great grandkids - with a missing piece. And you put everything back in its place, before she came back from the hospital - saving her the sight of death. And then you spoke at the funeral. And then you watched them all mourn. You worried over salary and bills because your money now had a new destination - a house full of people who you had to help. You washed dishes, mowed the lawn, shoveled the drive, helped with dinner, bought groceries, took care of the trash and the laundry and managed, while working and going to school - because she needed you to. And when she was sick, just months later, you dressed her, took her to the doctor and got an ambulance to take her to the hospital. And you only cried in solitude. You'll realize - you can handle crisis better than you initially think you can. And you'll drop everything to do so. And that is admirable.
Your cooking rocked. The one thing you wanted to do when you were out on your own, was to have the kinds of dinners that meant a lot of wine and a lot of procrastinating on the clean up. You entertained and - You. Really. Can. Cook. You made lavish meals for you friends and went through bottles of wine and beer and laughed and talked and had the most fun. And you always have a menu ready in your head - when the opportunity presents itself again.
You knew. A lot of people at a young age wonder what they're supposed to do in life. You knew at 18. In the midst of a rough depression, you were asked to think about "what you're meant to do". That one thing. You knew. The NY Times, the novel, the essays and the journey - those are all ambitions. Writing is the thing, no matter how you do it - or on what scale. You do it. Go you. And while you watched other girls - even, eventually younger girls - give away their worth...you knew yours. It. Wasn't. Easy. But you knew what you were worth. And you knew that you showed that off... When a conversation was had between friends, and it was relayed to you that they all came to the same conclusion: He's going to have to be the best man there is. Flattering - and so needed.
You struggled. Depression didn't leave you alone. It came up time and time again. It had you wearing black all through high school and writing letters to relatives that said you didn't know why you existed at all. It confined you to your bathroom when you were hundreds of miles away from home, a towel shoved in your mouth so no one could hear you cry. It confined you to your bed, a friend threatening to physically come over and pull you out - if you didn't get up. It made you afraid of everything. Afraid to live. Afraid to die. Then - you fought, you won and you kept on going. Each time. You faced the dragon time and time again. And you did so w/o any drugs, w/o any mood elevators. You just dealt.
You worked your ass off. You love your work ethic. You've gone in to work at 7 a.m. and left at 1 a.m. only to go home, sleep and go back and do it all over again. You worked your way through positions that didn't fit you to positions that had you in charge of people twice your age. You knew your job. You did your job well. You handled every problem. Then you took on a new job. Then you took on three. You wrote for three newspapers while working all night to pay the rent - and went to school. And you held a 4.0 for a couple of years - until that bastard got all technical in American Politics which took you down to 3.98. You've consecutively made the Dean's list. You have the student loans to prove it. You've slept on anything but your bed, so you can get up and go on just a few hours of snooze time. You do what's asked of you. You work your ass off. And if you're lucky - you'll do it forever. Because you like to work. It gives you a surprising sense of purpose.
And you partied, you went to concerts, you got too drunk and kissed inappropriate men. And you read some amazing books, watched some amazing films and filled every day with some amazing music. You stayed out of trouble, and you messed up and you were generally good. Nothing too detrimental.
Just as you would wish for your own daughter some day.