When I was in secondary school. a teacher talked to us about the idea of writing a letter to yourself in the future. I don’t really remember the details of the assembly, didn’t even remember the teacher who talked to us about it… until the other day when I found my letter, written on Friday 14th December, 2001!
I always knew it was somewhere in my room at home, remembered writing it, even remembered a few lines; but I hadn’t seen it for years. Then, the other day my mum, quite rightly seeing as I moved out over a decade ago, asked me if I would mind sorting out my things, the accumulated junk no longer needed. And there it sat, nonchalantly in my drawer, faded over time, surrounded by knick-knacks and nonsense from across my life.
My first reaction was surprise, then delight, all mixed with a touch of nerves. I was going to meet myself from the past! I was going to find out what I was like 14 years ago – the decade limit that had been suggested at the time long since passed. I tore into the envelope with trepidation: would I like the person I was about to meet?.
It was, I suppose, largely what I expected and what most people would probably expect from a 15 year-old teenager: immature handwriting, poor punctuation, and confusion between write and right. It was a journal of typical insights into an adolescent girls’ life: Who my friends were, which boys I liked, the music I listened to and the shows I watched. Wonderfully, the closest friends listed are still amongst my closest friends, and I’ll gladly still listen to a Robbie Williams’ album. Regarding my old crushes, in case you’re interested, I’m not even friends with them on Facebook! These little snippets of my past amused me, but they didn’t surprise me in anyway.
Other things, though, did. Talk of God for one; I wrote a paragraph about religion. I don’t remember that. I talked about the September 11th attacks. It had only just happened and the ‘war on terror’ was just starting. I wonder if I realised then how much those events would be shaping the world we live in today. Me back then wanted peace, wanted to look on the positive side, appreciate life, and do well.
Despite this mixture of forgotten ideals and still treasured beliefs, family, and friends, what is even most interesting to me are the things I asked of myself. The things I wished for myself. They, I think, show my nature back then and it feels fortunate to be happy with the answers I can give, be happy with what changed and what stayed the same.
In answer to myself, yes I did go to University, I did get married, and I don’t have kids. I became a teacher, 15 year old, Helen, are you disappointed or happy? I bet you’re not surprised. Did I make a difference to the world – the dream I listed for myself? Working on it.
Overall, that page and a half of green ink made me smile and laugh at myself. It illustrated the power of hindsight and the naivety of youth. Putting the letter back in the envelope, I feel mildly amused and a mixture of satisfaction and regret. I keep picturing myself back then, childlike and awkward. Worried with nothing to worry about. If I could go back and shake anything into that awkward girl, I’m not sure what I would say. Perhaps tell her to be braver sooner, more independent of mind and less worried. But I’d also tell her that it turns out okay anyway. And that 10, even 14 years down the line, it’s never too late to start to try harder and do better still.