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July 11, 2023

To my 31-year-old self

Time is a funny thing. At once, I can remember you with perfect clarity. At the same time, you feel so far away that the memory of you feels like something I made up. It seems impossible that we were ever so young, so lost, so prematurely hopeless. Don’t worry. You don’t just lose things along the way; you also find them again.

I wish you could see what I see. I know it’s hard to look in the mirror and imagine my face overlaid on yours, a face that’s lived 80 years and carries our memories in its lines and wrinkles and marks. I know you spend at least a few minutes every day looking in the mirror wondering if you have suddenly aged overnight. Please try not to do that. I promise that you are not old, won’t be old for many, many years. You will laugh at how worried you were about your looks one day. You’ll miss the way your body was able to do everything you wanted it to. Keep going to the gym. Keep walking. Please, buy new walking shoes for yourself.

And throw away those mismatched socks and old underwear. Get rid of the boxes of stuff in your apartment that you mean to donate. Try to think of decluttering as a daily practice rather than something you do once a year. I know you hate to let things go, that your stubbornness feels like loyalty to you, but sometimes (often), it holds you back. Cut loose those ideas you have about yourself, older even than your too-old underwear. Come back to things that felt right one time to see if they still fit. Some people move too quickly. That’s never been a problem for you. Be more willing to change. Be more willing to become who you want to be.

I wish I could tell you that life becomes easier at some point, that the things you’re wrestling with have receded. Some do. But what I can tell you is that life has so many beautiful things in store for you, and that you will be glad you lived to see them. I think you’re starting to understand that you don’t have to lose a sense of wonder about life, even when things hurt. Keep cultivating that. Be excited about trees and dogs and lattes and chance encounters and books that you can’t put down. Be endlessly awed by everything, even crying hard on the kitchen floor because you won’t always feel this way, and I know it sounds strange, but you will miss it.

At my age, everything is tinged with nostalgia. For me, could you try to revel in life while you’re right in it? I know it’s hard to do. You couldn’t possibly know how wonderful all of this is until later. And I guess the memory of the difficult things have faded for me now. I’ll admit I have rose-coloured glasses on, and I’m wistful for days when my body was stronger and my mind sharper and when the world seemed to be open to me, interested in me without my having to do much at all.

Do everything you want to. Do it alone if you have to. Do it even if you know without a doubt that you will fail. Swim at midnight. Wake up for the hike. And rest when you need to. Relish the feeling of living alone and the perfect peace of being with yourself. One day you will have other people beside you more often than not, and you’ll be grateful because you love them deeply, but you will look back with longing at those days of solitude. They’ll be over sooner than you think. And then they will come again. And then disappear. Seasons of being. I’m in the final season now.

If you knew what I knew, your life wouldn’t feel so difficult. But you wake up every day not knowing that anything will turn out at all, not having any assurance that the universe will catch you when you try new things. That makes you braver than brave. It makes you blindly faithful. I’m so proud of you for not knowing and living anyway. For believing that the worst thing would be not to live at all, even if living is just stumbling around.

Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep asking so many questions that it annoys everyone, including yourself. You already know love isn’t a finite, definable thing. That loving isn’t about romance or even friendship—that loving can be a practice too. Keep your heart open, or you’ll only ever skim the surface of things.

Take photos and back them up. I still look at them now, and they transport me back to the life we have lived. I can close my eyes and remember the fall of rain on the balcony of our first apartment, the smell of coffee at our favourite café. I can feel the sun on my shoulders and the laugher in my belly as we were surrounded by all our favourite people, some of whom aren’t here anymore. Hold them. Tell them you love them, even when it feels embarrassing to show your hand. I know privacy and strength seem like everything right now. These things fall away like useless extremities, revealing the simplicity of what’s important.

I won’t give too much away. You never liked to be told what to do or how to do it. Of course, that would defeat the purpose. You’re here to swallow things up and see them for yourself, not to read about them in books or watch them in movies, no matter how much you love books and movies.

What I’m trying to say is—keep trying. But don’t try too hard. Keep doing what you’re doing. Just pretend I’m there with you, because I am, and take an extra second to soak up the moment, whatever moment it is. For me. For the woman you’ll turn into. I’ll see you there.


Your 80-year-old self

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