What would we all tell our 17 year old selves? In July of 1984 I was 17 years old, thin, newly engaged to Dominick, uncertain about what I wanted to be when I grew up, tinkering with the idea of going to junior college and then transferring to Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara if I proved good enough, working full-time at Sav-On Drug Store, and wishing I felt more like the 17 year old I was rather than like the 28 year old I felt like on the inside. I was never carefree, was always pretty serious about life in general, and no matter how hard I tried I could never be like everyone else.
Looking back with the wisdom of an almost 44 year old, here is what I would tell my 17 year old self:
1) You are not less feminine even if you prefer not to dress like everyone else, wear make up like everyone else, or act like everyone else. Femininity is an attitude, not an outward appearance. That boy you are planning to marry...really good choice. Give yourself an A+ for intuition on that one.
3) You've never traveled anywhere, never been on vacation, never been on a plane before. Don't worry, your life will lead you to places you have never even heard of...or that do not even exist as sovereign nations when you are 17.
4) Too bad you studied German instead of Russian...wish your intuition had kicked in on THAT one!
5) The God of your heart does exist. Keep up the dialogue, it will be your salvation in more ways than one.
6) There will never be one friend who meets all your needs, this will take you years to learn. Embrace anyone who walks into your life with whom you click in some area, and you will find yourself fulfilled.
7) You think you are strong now? Just wait...you'll learn what strength really is one day.
8) Take a writing class or two.
9) College doesn't make you smarter, a curious mind makes you smarter...and more importantly, smarter is not equivalent to wiser.
10) You're right, Southern California is not your soul's resting place.
11) Be willing to admit your shame and mistakes, be open to the wrongs you commit...it will keep you from doing it again and prevent you from placing yourself on an undeserved pedestal.
12) Don't ever say "never". Seriously.
13) Continue to be the 4-eyed (now with contacts) bookworm you always have been. Those who laughed at you will never understand the richness that comes from traveling back in time, reaching towards different lifestyles, and learning more than you ever thought possible about the human condition...all from the printed page.
14) Don't think less of yourself because you don't have the career that teachers and others assumed you would have in high school based upon grades and test scores. That comment of utter disappointment made by your high school English teacher when she saw you years later and you revealed you were married and "just a clerk" at a drug store ate you up for years. You do NOT have unrealized potential...you will LIVE out your potential in ways others may never understand is valuable. The cool thing is, they don't have to....you do.
15) Those kids in high school that created that ridiculous hierarchy that made 95% of the student body feel like they were worthless...well...your mom is right and the day after graduation they cease to be important.
16) Thinking only of self-gratification is the surest way to misery and disappointment. Thinking of others and how you can reach out to them is the single best way to achieve happiness.
17) You have a deep, deep capacity to love. You think right now at 17 you don't really know how to love. You recognize your shallowness, and are disappointed by it, wondering if you will ever change. You will.
18) Courage to say what others can not, courage to feel what others run from, courage to challenge pain and heartache, courage derived from gut wrenchingly difficult circumstances are just around the corner in a couple of years. It will mold you and shape you in ways you can not fathom. It will make you unafraid to reveal your truth to others, to be the one to walk up to the hurting and put your arm around them when everyone else politely walks away for fear of having to "say something". You will learn that presence is everything, and often what is not said is more important than what IS said. I know you don't see that at 17 in yourself, but it is coming.
19) When you saw "Who are the Debolts and how did they get 19 kids?" a couple of years ago at 14 or 15 years old, you heard God speak to you even then. You knew it, didn't you? You may not have understood infertility was down the road, but you knew you would be mother to those who had none, and that "perfect" in your eyes and "perfect" in the eyes of others would be very, very different. Guess what? You'll end up with 5 of the most perfect children ever created...and it will come in part because of #18,
20) You will cry buckets of tears, you will have your heart squeezed so tightly by sorrow that you will think you can not go on. You can go on, you will go on, and you will also find you will laugh barrels of laughter and live out dreams that may not be someone else's idea of "Fantasyland" but will create for you an authentic, joy-filled life. Live it, love it.
And I'd hug that 17 year old Cindy for all it's worth, and never let her go.