Dear younger me
Where do I start
If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far
Then you could be
One step ahead
Of all the painful memories still running thru my head
I wonder how much different things would be
Dear younger me
MercyMe. “Dear Younger Me.” Welcome to the New, Fair Trade/Columbia, 2014
Kevin M. Sparenberg
Edmondson Heights Elementary School
Mrs. Sarnecki’s 4th Grade Class
First things first, this is you writing from the end of 2018. I can’t explain how, but I’ve found a way to send back this single letter with advice on your future, hoping that you’ll find a way to live a better life. Please take this advice to heart and try to incorporate it into who you will become—in essence, me. Not everything will make sense right now and some of the words may be unfamiliar (I’ve put explanations in parenthesis like this for those words), but please keep this letter, think on it, and read it when needed.
I know that you think this letter will be a list of things to avoid, like Marty McFly did for Doc Brown at the end of Back to the Future, but it’s not. Unfortunately, if I give you too much information about your future, I could irrevocably injure the timeline. If my calculations are correct, this letter should find you some time before installments two and three of that franchise. Do yourself a favor and just re-watch the original twice more. I’d say you’ll thank me later, but that would just be self-serving.
Even without seeing you, I can appreciate the skepticism on your face. “If he’s not going to tell me how to avoid problems, what good is this letter?” I understand, I really do. There are going to be things that you cannot avoid, pivotal moments in your life, and for most of them, the pain of the event is outweighed by the experiences you gain beyond them. There is a television show that Pop watches that I begin watching in 2005 called Doctor Who. In the show, these events are called “fixed points in time.” Experiences at a time and place that cannot be changed. What I will tell you is that although these can’t be changed, you can prepare yourself for them.
Well before our time, there was this playwright (person who writes plays) in New York who was the talk of the town. When asked about the most beautiful thing in the world, George Bernard Shaw is attributed as saying, “Youth is the most beautiful thing in this world – and what a pity it has to be wasted on children!” What I want for you, more than anything, is to not waste your childhood.
Later this school year, Mrs. S. will hand out an assignment asking where we will be in five, 10, and 20 years. I still remember doing that assignment, so it’ll happen. No, I’m not going to tell you where you’ll be – that would be cheating. What I will tell you is that although this is a good exercise, you should slow down and not look forward so much. Enjoy the today, today.
In your future there is going to be pain — pain that defies logic to the deepness and sadness it creates — and you’ll think that it will break you. You’ll ask yourself questions that start with “What if I…?” You’ll berate yourself with statements beginning like “If I had just…” All I can say from this side of the fence is that those questions are good, healthy even, but don’t lose track of the good in life. You are stronger than you think. Just take the time to appreciate the small things in life between the big stuff.
Even now, I’m an introvert (person who prefers to spend time alone). I don’t find it easy to associate with people, I’m almost always anxious in front of an audience, and I envy others who connect so easily with humanity. For most of your life, you’ve felt like an outsider, regardless of your qualifications. In my time, we refer to that as “impostor syndrome”— when you feel like your success isn’t deserved, regardless of your skill.
The best way I can tell you to combat this is to surround yourself with cheerleaders. Now I don’t mean “yes-men” like those jocks and their buddies in high school. You haven’t met them yet, but they are all jerks. Worry less about what the general population thinks of you. You’ve got a few great friends, and in your life, you’ll continue to have friends like this. They may not be the same people in the future as they are now, but your friends will be in your corner. They will push you to be better than you are and give you space when you need to have down time.
The other thing I can say is that you need to take the time to appreciate the small things in life. This can be anything from keeping score for Mom and Dad at bowling to watching movies with Mike and Doug. I know that your brother is frequently a pain but remember that he will always be your brother. There are things that he can teach you about life. Just take a minute and watch the world from his perspective.
For that matter, watch the world from as many perspectives as you can. Watch people, I mean really watch people, and how they interact with each other. Stop thinking about how much of a baby your cousin Barbara is when she sings along with Cinderella. Just look at the joy that she has dancing around the room singing along with the mice. She’s not out there doing big things in the world yet, but she’s living every moment of life.
Find these moments of joy, even if they aren’t yours directly, and capture them as memories to replay in your mind later. Treasure every hug from each relative, every sunny afternoon in the pool, and the joy in reading a good book. Find these small things and keep the memories of them close. Pain and trials lie ahead, because that is life, but holding onto these memories can make you heal faster and be a better person.
So, what’s the real message of this letter? Simple: have fun and enjoy other people having fun. There are going to be times where fun is sparse, so use the memories you collect to banish some of the gloom.
Kevin M. Sparenberg
P.S. – Remember to comment your code. You don’t know that this means yet, but trust me, it’ll save your hours and hours of time later in life.