In a recent gathering, a sweet young couple came up to talk to me about this column. It feels good to be appreciated and to know that my weekly ramblings serve a purpose, if only to amuse someone on a quiet Sunday morning.
They suggested topics. Some were funny, others controversial. This one caught my attention: If you were writing a letter to your 20-year-old self, what would you say?
It made me wonder. In the twilight of my life, what can I tell someone just starting to live hers?
Would it be words of wisdom? Advice? A warning perhaps? And would it come from a defeated heart or from an older and wiser warrior?
At age 20 I was a wife, a mother. Surely I needed to hear many things. But would I have believed or even listened?
But how can I tell someone just past her teens and with stars in her eyes that most dreams don’t come true; that a shining armor tarnishes, that castles dissolve in the air, and “happily ever after” is just for fairy tales?
While she learned how not to poke her baby or herself as she changed diapers, she was a junior in college, worried about midterms, and still reading Nancy Drew mysteries and Emily Loring romances.
I allow my thoughts to wander a little further, to a time two decades later. That would be me at age 40 and the mother of six. How’s that for a “fast forward”?
Life has changed. She lives in the US.
One scene comes to mind. She gets off a Greyhound bus, walks briskly down Market Street in San Francisco, on her way to work. She sees an elderly woman eating alone at Foster’s. And her heart breaks at the sadness one must feel having no one to share the meal with. And she tells herself, “I don’t want to end my life like that woman.”
What would my letter say?
Today I can promise the young me that growing old is nothing to be feared; that it is a privilege, that getting on in years will yet prove to be the most rewarding time of her life with still much to learn.
I can assure her that being alone does not mean being lonely, that there is a difference between loneliness and solitude; that solitude is beautiful, and she must embrace it.
But at that age, no one wants somebody else’s stories.
At 20 or 30 or 40 years old, she would have scoffed: “That’s easy for you to say. But your thoughts are old. I want to do it my way.”
If I knew then what I know now!
And with the passing of the years, when her hair has turned to silver and when laugh lines and tear marks become permanently etched on her face, and her footsteps have become slow and tentative, I urge her to hold her loved ones close to her heart and give thanks for the memories that will keep her warm through the winter of her life.
PS: Someone just e-mailed me a piece about aging.
“I know I am sometimes forgetful. But then again, some of life is just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the important things.”
I remember the happy moments. And my life has been full of them. I am grateful. Thank you God.
A woman wrote an advice columnist. She described herself as a devout churchgoer who also belongs to many social clubs.
But she is unhappy at the way her relationships always turn sour. She cannot understand how friends can change so quickly from a warm welcome to indifference and rejection.
“I have opened up to them,” she writes. “I tell them all about my life. But they don’t bother to understand my problems. They are cold and unfeeling. I feel like a wallflower at a dance party. I am not bad-looking. But I feel people avoid me.”
Her letter continues.
“I am disheartened. No matter what congregation or club I join, I have no problem making friends. But soon things start changing. I don’t know why. I feel they owe me an explanation. But I don’t want to make it worse by insisting. And so I leave them to look for a more welcoming, more understanding group of people. But the same thing happens every time. What’s wrong with these people?” Signed: Stephanie.
The reply was amusing, but spot on.
“Dear Stephanie: I don’t know what you are looking for. You seem gregarious. Outgoing.
“But when things start going south in your relationships, have you stopped to think that perhaps the problem is not with the new friends you make?
“Finding someone to blame is not the solution. Changing the location or composition of your group obviously has not helped. Do not look for an escape.
“Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, a change in you is the answer?
“Going away will not solve anything. Because no matter where you go, guess what—you are there.”