As I walked back from the craft store today with a bag full of yarn, I noticed boys in suits and bright ties helping beautiful girls in giant (or otherwise restrictive) dresses out of their parents’ cars. For high-schoolers, tonight is the biggest night of their lives to date: it’s prom night. They’re growing quickly into their adult skins, and they’re eager to really show the world what they’ve got.
For those graduating soon, this is one of the final steps before they venture off to college. I can’t help but be anxious and excited for them. They look at this night as an end point, rather than a beginning. I didn’t think about it as a starting point when I was their age, but it sure would have been nice to get that perspective. So, for fun, I’ve decided to write a letter to 18 year old enna.
To my lovely, strange, high-school self:
You are so young, so much before all the beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue.
You don’t know this just yet, but these words from a poet named Rainer Maria Rilke will become a mantra that you repeat during trying times. The uncertainty you feel right now will someday soon present itself to you as an adventure rather than the mild depression you consider it now.
You will learn and re-learn how to define yourself when others no longer do it for you (yes, even now, they have more influence over you than they should). However, you’ve scraped by with much less trauma and self-esteem issues that many teens face, so hold your head high and know that you are stronger than you give yourself credit for.
Soon, you will be thrust into a world you can’t even begin to imagine, and you are going to be fine. You will meet the love of your life (I won’t spoil it, but you know him now), make new best friends (and keep the old ones very close), and experience all of the other coming-of-age experiences that college has to offer.
But, you will be challenged. You will make mistakes, and more mistakes. All I can do is warn you, but know that each experience, good and bad, will shape you in a new way. Make the most of it, and never, ever take the easy road as a shortcut. You’ll be happier for it.
It’s likely that you are beginning your troubles with religion, and you are starting to notice that many people carry with them a deep unhappiness. This is a good thing.
Just know that it is not your religion that defines you, and you are not made happier by the car you drive (the one you like now will actually be totaled soon–everyone is okay though). Your age, clothes (you’re not going to be a fashion designer, by the way), and the things you own do not make you happy or define you.
What defines you are your beliefs and the company that you choose to keep. Remember, you can choose who your friends are. You’ll always have to remind yourself of that. Start early: reduce clutter, distractions, read what you want to read, and never, ever, settle.
And be nicer to your mom and dad. You might not like to hear this, and you may think I’m joking, but they are going to become your best friends and your greatest heroes. You’ll feel it as soon as you see the tiny tear in your dad’s eye when he drops you off in your first dorm room.
In closing, and to round out the quote I shared earlier:
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
And, at 23, you still won’t be close to the answers.