One of my Skirt Sports ambassador friends, Sandy Stiner, wrote a post on her blog recently that moved me this morning. I was thinking about it while I showered and dressed and got ready for work. Partly because yesterday I was discussing with another Facebook group about the shame you feel in your 40s as your body starts to change, and how hard it is to see the beauty of sagging tricep skin and soft belly rolls and deepening wrinkles. I love the thought patterns and knowledge of my 40s, I wrote, but I miss the way my body was in my 20s, how I could eat whatever and never gain weight, how cuts and burns barely scarred, how my joints never hurt, my belly was flat, my teeth were white.
What would I tell that self I used to be, twenty years ago, when Haley was three and Jake was a baby, when I still had so many unknown difficulties in front of me, but also two more babies, a stint at teaching, and a job I never imagined?
Start running sooner. Stop drinking soda. Don't dread the upcoming adolescent years so much; they will be even more painful than you can imagine anyway, but also full of redemptive, joyful moments and besides, worrying about them won't stop them from coming.
Hold your babies, I might say, savor them, savor them. Inhale their scent and send it forward through time to me. But I already know that I savored as much as I could.
And I already know that the knowledge and thought patterns I have I could only attain by going through what those years, and the years of my 30s, brought me.
The only way to learn is by going where you have to go.
Instead, I found myself thinking forward, imagining myself in twenty more years. Who will I be when I am 66? If that version of me could send back a message in time, what would she tell me to savor about right now?? What will she know of losses and of blessings? How will she use this afternoon of our life? How will the world have changed, or our family, or our body?
I cannot change the choices I made in my 20s and 30s. But some of the work I am doing now is for that Amy in the future, who I will become sooner than I can imagine. Here is my letter to her:
I think often, right now, about our grandma Elsie, my dad's mother. We didn't know her very well, whether because she truly loved us less or because of the clashing of two women's strong personality (or some combination of both) I might never know. But I know this: she walked. Almost every day, she went for a walk, until only five or six months before her death. At 66 I think you will still be healthy and strong, not thinking about death, but still thinking about it because that door is closer. I hope you are still running, but if not, I hope you are still walking. And hiking! I am doing everything I can, right now, so that you are healthy in your time. I'm trying to keep our knees strong, and our heart, our spine flexible and our internal organs healthy. I still eat too much sugar but I will continue to work on that.
I would like to think the next two decades will be full of joy, but I also can't help but be myself and wonder: what sorrows have you suffered? Are you a widow, or an orphan? Is everyone I love right now still with you? From my perspective now, I am doubtful that there have been no losses. I only wonder who is gone, and how we bear it. But I also hope there have been additions, marriages and friendships and grandchildren. I hope you are the kind of grandma I imagine being right now, one who has drawn strong ties and whose grandchildren know an unconditional love like Grandma Florence gave us. I hope you have moved past this current painful time, when all seems full of doubt and unsteadiness.
And speaking of unsteadiness: I hope your world is better than ours. I hope we have found ways to heal the earth instead of continuing to ruin it; I hope the stress lines in our social structures have been smoothed and shored up. I know you are wiser than I am now, and I hope our world is, too. I hope there is still clean air and clean water, trees and mountains and wild, untouched landscapes.
I hope when I reach your time, I have fulfilled some of my goals. That long trip to Ireland. Some writing success. Stronger relationships with the kids and with Kendell. Hiking the Alps. Some way you have impacted society in a meaningful, lasting way. I know that is on me, to accomplish and not to leave until your time.
And maybe that is what I hear from you, sending your message back through time. That time is short. That two decades will pass before I know it. That I need to stop putting everything off, to seize right now and do what I haven’t done yet. I hear you.
The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
What falls away is always. And is near.
Are we still reading? Do we still love poems? Are we strong and happy and successful? Less lonely, more content?
I hope so. It is what I am working for.
Love 46-year-old Amy