the Bridge aCross forEver
©2013 by Karsonya Wise Whitehead
What if (as Richard Bach once asked) we were able to send a letter back in time to the person we used to be? Which “you” would you choose to communicate with and what would you say? (And even more important, how would you know that your letter has arrived and that the “you” you contacted has taken your advice?) I think of the Back to the Future movies where one change in the fabric of history, changed everything in his future but him. What started as a simple question really had me thinking long and hard about my life, the choices I have made, and the impact of those decisions. At 40+ years old, I now have the benefit of seeing the long-arm of history and how so many small decisions made in haste with very little thought have become the pillars of the life that I have constructed for myself. I have never been a reflective decision maker; instead, I tended to pray, make a decision very quickly, and just hope for the best. I believe that things do have a way of working out for the best and I have learned to trust myself enough to make a decision and stand by it. I have had so many adventures in my life from backpacking through East Africa to living with a blind woman on a mountain in Chemundu; from seeing the black Madonna to literally watching the moon “rise” on a fishing boat off the coast of Lamu; I tried unsuccessfully to climb Mount Kilimanjaro but made it to the top of the hot springs mountain in Wondo Genet; I have been roller skating in South Africa and bicycling in Paris; I cried when I stepped through the door of no return in Senegal and when I was learning how to breathe “Benedictine” style in Minnesota; I have lived in a Peace House in Indiana and in a tent in Shashamene; I became an adopted member of tribe in Tanzania and I pledged a sorority at Lincoln University; and, I literally met my soul/mate when I was moved to New York without a job to live and work as an independent filmmaker. I have stumbled onto more jobs, adventures, opportunities, and really good people simply because one thread of an experience has typically led me to another one.
What would I tell myself if I could get a letter back in time? When I first thought about it I decided to send a letter to the 16-year old girl that I used to be. I remember that that was the last year before I started to really believe that I knew everything. When I turned 17, something clicked in my brain. I felt like I had become an expert on the world and that there were very few people who could tell me anything. It took me years to break through and to realize and recognize how little I knew about the world and about myself. My father used to tell me that if I ever forgot who I was I should call him because he would remind me of who I was and whose I was. I have called him and asked him this question more times than I care to remember. (I thought I would tell my 16-year old self to go and find my husband so that they can marry early and not have to suffer so many heartaches before they found one another. When I shared this with my husband, he pointed out that when I was 16, he was 21 and he would not have listened to or spent time with a minor.) I then thought about the bad decisions that I have made and how I could use my letter to warn her about them. I then realized that every past “bad” decision helped me to make better future decisions. My scars, just like my gray hair and my wrinkles, are part of who I am. It has taken me years to understand who I am and whose I am and those decisions are the building blocks that are holding me up and helping me to move forward. Those decisions made me who I am and they are helping me to shape my boys into who they will eventually become. I try so hard to do for them what my parents did for me —to be their “Catcher in the Rye,” using my experiences to shield them, to mold them, to shape them, and to ultimately let them go. My parents pushed me out of the nest and then flew in front of me when I followed, behind me when I strayed, and beside me when I faltered. My parents taught me well.
I am who I am because each one of my ancestor/selves made the best decision she could, prayed, and then hoped for the best.
With all of these thoughts in mind, my letter to my 16-year old self would actually be very short – I would thank her for being who she was, tell her that I loved her, and tell her that despite what she may think or how she may be feeling at that moment, everything will (and does) work out.