I saw this quote on my Twitter feed just the other day, and at that moment, it gave only momentary pause. My more or less immediate response, as I retweeted it, was, “Well, I hope so, although I’m not quite sure what 18-year-old me would think of present-day me.” But that rather glib comment got me thinking: what would the me who’d just graduated from high school think of the me several decades later? (Several decades more than I’d like to admit.) Or the me who’d just graduated with my first bachelor’s degree? Or even the me who’d just graduated with my Bachelor of Education and was now ready to take the teaching world by storm?
Truth be told, I’m completely certain 18-year-old me --- who’d just greeted one of life’s great rites of passage --- high school graduation (and at the ceremony, gave what many characterized as an electrifying valedictory speech, he said modestly) --- wouldn’t know what the hell to make of the grey haired, slightly used teacher sitting at his laptop who’s currently preparing to greet yet another major rite of passage when he retires from a long (and mostly satisfying) career at the end of June.
That bafflement is okay with me, to be quite honest. I still have the journals that 18-year-old wrote his daily thoughts in, then and for several years previously and afterwards, and when I scan through them, which I do out of morbid curiosity from time to time… well, frankly, I don’t know what the hell to make of him, either. (Note to self: make sure to burn the damned things well before departing this mortal plane, sparing myself any possible posthumous embarrassment… and to hell with posterity.) I also have a memory or six still hanging around from that time period, although I’m cheerfully prepared to admit the Rose-Coloured-Glasses Effect is almost certainly in full play on them. But I do know he was a very intense young man, struggled with issues of shyness and self-confidence and social awkwardness (like almost every teenager ever, in varying degrees, I suppose), and really didn’t know what he wanted to do with life. I see and recall he was keenly aware he was single, and really wanted to rectify that empty part of his life. But I doubt --- hell, I know for a fact, even after all this time --- he would ever have envisioned a career teaching hormonal adolescents for nearly three and a half decades. Nope. He was bound for fame and fortune, he was. Or at least he thought so, if he really bothered to think too much about the future at all. After all, there was all the time in the world for that future to unfold, wasn’t there? But I think he would recognize the turmoil that always seems to be the companion of change, because he was going through a lot of it himself.
So… would he be proud of me? For living on despite my scars? Well, I think he would, by and large, although he couldn’t understand much of it --- after all, he had waaay less life experience than me. And he’d probably be pretty horrified by some of the things lying in wait, coiled like adders in the undergrowth at curbside of life’s roadway, to cause those scars along the way. But he’d be glad to know he made it through them more or less intact. He’d also probably be baffled --- perhaps a little aghast --- by some of the choices he’d make along the way, too. That’s inevitable, because it’s all very well to confidently assert you’d do this or that in any given situation, but it’s another thing entirely when that situation materializes and there you are, caught flat-footed and taken completely by surprise, while life stands there tapping its foot impatiently and demanding a decision right now concerning how you’re going to handle this little slice of reality. And oh, yes, that decision could well come with life-changing consequences. Just so you know. (Carl Sandburg once said “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” Amen, brother.)
I think he’d be enormously glad to know he’d find a life partner to muddle through things with, and glad to know he’d have a family. He’d also be proud I eventually did get a novel written, because he loved to write, too, and he’d approve wholeheartedly of my intention to focus much more on writing, once those self-same hormonal adolescents are no longer snapping at my heels all day, sapping my creative energy away, bless their lovable leech-like natures.
I’ve read quotes by various writers all saying something to the effect that you should never look back. Well, with all due respect to those armchair philosophers, that’s a damned silly thing to say. You look behind you all the time when you’re driving a car, mostly to make sure nothing unpleasant is sneaking up on you, and driving your life isn’t much different, as far as I’m concerned. You look back to see where you’ve been; you look back because, to understand where you are and where you’re headed, you need to see where you’re coming from --- those origin points often explain quite a lot. And yes, to a certain extent, you look back to make sure nothing unpleasant is sneaking up on you, too.
So a little navel-gazing, a little reflection, a little look back --- like in today’s epistle --- is not a bad thing at all now and then. If it’s thoughtful and rational, it can sure go a long way towards quieting that babel of doubts and fears circulating in our collective consciousness.
And that’s a good thing.
So it’s probably not the last time you’ll see it here.