Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Letters to the future

When I was thirteen I started a ritual. I got the idea from a novel - the name of which has long fallen out of my memory.

Each birthday I sit down and write a letter to my future self. A real handwritten letter on paper and sealed in an envelope for a year. Then at 3pm each birthday (my birth time) or as close to it as I can manage, I open it, read it and write the next one.

I did it for ten years, then stopped for ten years, and started again last year. Ironically I think the years I wasn't writing it were probably some of the hardest years I've had: the ones where that annual reflection and reminder from my past self might have been more useful than usual.

I've only ever showed those letters to a few select people in my most inner circle, but maybe there's something in there for other people too. So here's a snippet from last year's letter:

"When you are lost, you only need to remember. Look at who you have been to remember who you are. Look to the dailiness of love that you have lived, even when the softness of it was not there. Trust your reserve and your patience and kindness. Follow your sensitivity."

For me those letters have become a touchstone for the person I am. A way to reconnect with who I have been all along, a reminder of my ambitions and daydreams and yearnings. Sometimes reading them makes me sad at the contrast between one year and the next; sometimes it leaves me with a wry smile at the surprising wisdom of my younger selves; and then sometimes it's incredibly grounding.

People write letters to their younger selves all the time, but that seems pretty useless to me. We can't go back in time. Our youth cannot be shaped by the adult we will become, but the reverse is usually true.

So, what do you want to say to your future self?

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