Letters to the Future

Shortly before the baby shower for my pregnant daughter, a friend sent me a YouTube video of a young girl on her 16th birthday, opening letters that had been written to her by family and friends—some now passed on—at her birth.

I loved that idea, and shared it with my daughter; she was enthusiastic. And so it was that at her own baby shower we passed out paper and pens and asked that those present write a Letter to the Future to be saved for Morrigan Lynn and opened on her  16th birthday.  Laughing, I told the participants, “You can’t tell her that boys suck; she’ll figure that one out on her own!  But give her your best advice, or a blessing–not Maleficent-style, please!–or tell her the most important thing you’ve ever learned in your own lifetime.”

We gathered together the finished letters, carefully sealed into their envelopes, and placed them into two special wooden boxes, painted gold and decorated with dragons and mermaids.

But when it came time for me to write my own letter to this as-yet-unborn granddaughter, I found myself at a loss. For two months, I struggled with what I should say to her.  And then, finally, I simply sat down and started writing, and I found that the words flowed easily.

My dearest granddaughter,

As I write those words above, I wonder…will you be my dearest granddaughter? Will you be someone whom I love, of whom I am proud—an amazing young woman on the brink of life, right at the starting line, preparing to run the good race?

Even more, though, I wonder what you will think of me. Will I be a woman you admire?  Will you dislike me?  Be totally bored by me? Think I’m a fool?

Will I even still be on this side of the Veil when you read this letter?

There are no guarantees in life. Any or all of the above may be true 16 years from now.  But none of that really matters, because the purpose of this letter is so that I may share with you whatever I’ve learned in my 64 weary years of walking this planet.  So here are the bits of wisdom I have assembled in my life.  And though they all seem to be very different, they all essentially amount to the same thing: living your life with courage and kindness.

 The truest thing I’ve learned is that my entire attitude is up to me. No one can “make” me feel anything—anything at all. No one else can “make” me angry; I allow myself to get angry. No one can “make” me feel small or insignificant; only I can take ownership of the belittling behavior some people express, and decide within myself that they are right. I, and I alone, can make myself happy, sad, depressed, exalted, fearful, resentful, joyous. I decide every minute of every day what my response will be to every event and every person I encounter.

 There are truly only two emotions: Love and Fear. All other emotions are merely subsets of those two. Make your own decision about which one you want to act from.

 Read poetry. Remember it. Poetry is wonderful material to think with. Read Kahlil Gibran. Read “The Desiderata”. More than read it: try to live it.

 Be thoughtful. Remember people’s special days. Run an errand for someone who is busy. Go to see someone who is sick. Hold the door open for the person whose hands are laden with packages.

 Always says to yourself, “How would I feel if…” Then behave in the way you would want to be treated.

 Do nice things for people for no reason at all—yes, even for the people you don’t like very well. Especially for the people you don’t like very well.

 Dance with the ugly or geeky guy who has no partner. And then smile at him and thank him for dancing with you.

 Stand up for the person who is being bullied or mocked.

 Remember that, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

 Say please and thank you. Especially, say thank you.

 Give to charity—not just your money, but your time.

 Stand up for what you believe in.

 No matter how angry you are, calm down before you speak. And remember that it matters less what you say, then how you say it. There are a thousand ways to say even hurtful things in a kindly manner.

 Be slow to anger. Learn to keep your temper.

 Remember that there is no failure. There are only lessons to be learned.

 Be grateful even for the bad times. You cannot appreciate the light if you’ve never seen the darkness.

 Keep an open mind, but keep it like a window: put up a screen for the bugs!

 Remember that resentment is like taking poison while hoping the other person will die.

 Go ahead and cry; it truly does help, and there is no shame in weeping.

There is never enough kindness in the world. Be sure that, at the end of your own life, you will be remembered as the person who was kind.

 And, finally, always forgive. You don’t have to forgive the wrong done to you, but always forgive the person.

All my love to you, my dearest granddaughter,

Mimsey

Welcome to the World
Morrigan Lynn
“Great Queen of the Water”
Mermaid Queen with the Heart of a Dragon
August 23, 2018

Age Is the Great Leveler

When I was in my 30s and early 40s, I was still moderately invested in reading those “how to look your best” articles in women’s magazines. One of these I’ve never forgotten, chiefly because I never made it past the first few paragraphs.  The writer described an interview with a young woman who, having been to the gym, hopped out of the pool and was strolling back to the lockers when, as she described it, she noticed a young man “checking her out”.  This circumstance occurred a few more times as she wended her way to the locker room, and she was mightily pleased with herself until the changing room mirrors provided her the truth: she’d forgotten to wear waterproof mascara, and the evidence was streaming in two great, black runnels from her raccoon eyes.

Those young men had been staring all right – but not in approbation.

I was dumbfounded, not at the young woman’s mascara mistake, but at the confidence that led her to believe she was proving interesting to several young men. In her place, at her age, being glanced at repeatedly by anyone, man or woman, would have sent me scurrying as fast as I could to that locker room to find out what was wrong.

And that, I realized, is the difference in consciousness between a pretty, confident young woman and one such as myself, who was always plain. Plain women – plain people – do not expect anyone to glance at them with immediate approval.  Ever aware of our physical defects, we know that the first, assessing glance when we encounter someone new will almost always slide over us quickly and then look away, finding us wanting.

Although terribly painful to endure in one’s early youth, this unintentional disregard isn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least not once one comes to terms with it. Confidence steeps into the soul in a number of other ways; true self-esteem is slowly built not on a sliding scale of personal appearance, but on a sense of individual competence and effort, self-knowledge and personal evolution. The bricks of pride are slowly mortared  into place with a firm certainty that worth is based not on individual appearance, but one’s behavior; that kindness and courtesy and compassion are worth a thousand times more than a pretty face which will, after all, eventually fade.

And in that lies the next basic truth: Age is the great leveler. No matter how many face lifts and tummy tucks one has, no matter the beauty creams and Botox shots – we all age. Those of us who began the race plain have very little to lose, and so slip comfortably into old age. Sometimes middle and old age even provide us with a presence and dignity that we never had in youth.  But I cannot even imagine the angst of a once-beautiful person who sees that beauty slipping away each time they glance into a mirror. Sometimes (although certainly not always) they have spent most of their youth concentrated upon that reflection in the glass, and haven’t even begun to take the time for building personal pride from the genuine components of self-worth.  Doing so can be a difficult task when begun too late in life.

Having little beauty to lose can be a blessing.

Not that any of this means I’ve given up caring for my personal appearance – far from it. Loreal is my friend; monthly, I fight every strand of my whitening hair. I dab lotions on the lines around my eyes to lessen their appearance; I still put on (waterproof) mascara and lipstick and eyeliner and, occasionally, a few other cosmetics when I want to look my best.  But I am always aware that the face and body reflecting back at me as I dress and make up are just a shell.  I am enhancing the “me” that others will see at first glance only in the hope that they might take the time to know the person who lies beneath.  I acknowledge the somewhat sad reality that everyone, myself included, makes an immediate judgment about a person based on that initial glance.  (And if you do not believe this, take note of your own reaction the next time you see a homeless person on the street.)

If being plain has not been a blessing, it has also not been the curse that I thought it in my teenage years.

Yet I will always wonder what it might have felt like to be the woman who believed each young man she passed thought her lovely.