A few weeks ago a British newspaper asked some famous writers to compose a letter to themselves as teenagers. It was such an interesting exercise that I thought I'd try it myself. So here's my letter to 15-year-old Mary:
You look very young. I know the last thing you want is more advice from another adult, but I’m different from the others. I am you. I have walked in the very Capezios you’re now wearing. I’ve slept in your bed, shared that one bathroom with the rest of the family, and agonized over hair, pimples, and carpools to school.
Nothing I say here will keep you from those agonies and doubts, but perhaps you can just hang on to what I tell you and know that you survive – and survive quite well. It wouldn’t be fair to avoid the pain of adolescence. In many ways it prepares you for the wider world in which you will have to live out your life. But I think I can ease your heart and mind about a few things.
First, you’re right about algebra. Totally useless. Accountants, engineers, and little hand-held calculators will sort that out for you. Just pass the damn classes and move on.
Also, the infamous “permanent record” that your teachers hold over your head is a hoax. Beyond high school, no one cares a flip about it. Trust me. Stop quaking over that one.
Don’t fight Daddy about getting braces. You’ll thank your lucky stars he made you get your teeth straightened during the first two years of college. Go with it.
Pay close attention to 1968. It turns out to be a watershed year. I know you’ll be busy with school work and boyfriends and school productions, but do stick your head up every now and then to mark what’s going on. It’ll be the subject of studies and documentaries for the rest of your life.
And your current crushes? Believe me, if you could see what they look like and what they’re doing in 2009, you will be ever grateful that they broke your teenage heart during high school. I know you’ll think otherwise while you’re going through it, but, really, no great losses.
Let me assure you from the start that your 2009 self has a smart, beautiful, wonderful 26-year-old daughter. Being a mother won’t always be easy, but it’ll be fun. Wait and see. Lots of love and lots of pride.
Another assurance: you do get out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. In fact, you get out sooner than you can imagine. Once you leave for college, you never live there again, except for a couple of summers. Atlanta will be your long and lasting home, as you always knew it would be. But it won’t be the only place you live. Without going into the whys and wherefores, look forward to: Tuscaloosa, Alabama; St. Paul, Minnesota; Oxford, England; New York City. Enjoy old Chattanooga for a few more years. You won’t be there much longer.
And another thing: Don’t worry so much about what you’re going to be when you grow up. You seem to have a Midas touch where careers are concerned. You’ll flounder around a bit until your mid-20’s, when you land a perfect job for yourself at a little Atlanta television station that grows into a major network. You’ll also teach high school, write and create commercials, and wind up doing exciting mission work for the church. (And not the Baptist one.) Your jobs will take you to cool, interesting places and you'll meet wonderful people. Alas, you’ll never be rich. Can’t have everything. But enjoy your career and faith journeys, you lucky girl!
Forget the image of the future you have from the Jetsons. We are still not driving cars through space or wearing clothes as cool as Jane Jetson’s in 2009. But incredible things will be commonplace for you - computers, microwave ovens, tiny little portable phones with instant access to people and information all over the world. Really.
In 2009, you are still good friends with your childhood buddies – Sharon and Susan, Linda, Emily, and a handful of others. Modern technology lets you connect with lots of childhood neighbors and friends on a daily basis. Nurture those friendships. They only get stronger.
One constant throughout: Family is the most important thing. Our big crazy family stays close and caring. You’ll love seeing the children and grandchildren of our generation. There are losses along the way, but this family remains loving and committed to one another. It’s a gift to cherish all your life. And the crazy things that happen when we get together in 1966 will be re-told with love in 2009.
There’s a lot more to say, but I don’t want to spoil all the surprises you have in store. Yes, there are some hard, bad things, but 90% of your life is just wonderful. You love and are loved. So have faith in yourself. Be nice to people. Don’t worry about the boys and Booster Club. They mean nothing even in the short-run. Relax. Don’t be so uptight. Enjoy the ride!
Love from across the years,