I’m about to be very transparent as I pummel the following prose into submission. So, in the lyrical words of Chris Brown, “Please, don’t judge me.”
If you do, I promise I will… just have to get over it.
(Did you see what I did there?)
Okay, all bad jokes aside. Please, keep reading.
As I was putting the finishing touches on my Imbroglio manuscript, I pulled out my college English notes to refresh my memory on some grammatical rules and came across an essay I’d written. The assignment was to write a letter to me as a youth. I read it and nearly cried. The words were even more poignant in September of 2015 than they were when I wrote them in 2002.
The letter begins, “Hey, little girl! I am so excited to have this opportunity to communicate with you. I would bet that you are sitting in your small wooden rocking chair reading this letter. As I sit here thinking about you, I remember that you are a very busy seven-year–old and I wonder what you were doing before you settled down to read. Maybe you had just hurriedly removed your school uniform, anxious to get to the letter you discovered waiting for you when you got home. Maybe you were outside playing with the neighborhood kids that come by because they like how you can come up with fantastic things to do. Maybe you were in that huge pool in the backyard, letting your imagination take you on a wild adventure, swimming relentlessly except for the occasional break to the kitchen or to eat fruit off of the trees. If you were swimming, I am sure you stopped for only three reasons: your Nana told you to, the sun went down, or you caught a stomach cramp. (Whatever the reason you emerged from the water, I am sure it was long after your fingers and toes had wrinkled up like prunes.) Maybe you just returned home from tap, ballet, or piano lessons. Or maybe you just finished eating some of Nana’s delicious cooking. Nevertheless, thanks for taking some time to hear me out.”
How that imagery sparked nostalgia and made me recall the beauty of endless childhood wishes, sense of possibility, and freedom of adult burdens, as well as the precious moments I’d ignorantly taken for granted back then.
Have you ever seriously considered what you would say to a young you? What advice would you have? Any encouragement? Any admonition? If you haven’t given this concept any real thought, I submit to you a challenge, for as you continue to read (and hopefully enjoy) what I wrote, you’ll see I had plenty to say to me.
In the next paragraph of my letter, I get right to it:
“Let me warn you. This letter is stocked full of advice on things I wish I had known or realized when I was your age. You may not want to hear these things now, but if you would receive my words they would make a world of difference in your life. I wish that I could be there in person to give you a big hug before I tell you these two things: you’re okay and I am proud of you.
No matter what you think others think of you, you’re okay. I do not recall anyone ever telling you that you were not good enough, not smart enough, or not cute enough. I also do not recall when or how you arrive at these conclusions. Maybe it happens because you are the only black child living in a predominantly white neighborhood, and you look different. All of your friends’ hair is straight while your hair is curly. Maybe it happens because the only people you see on television who are supposed to be truly beautiful look nothing like you. Maybe it happens because you do not learn about all of the great accomplishments made by your people until later in life, and you cannot imagine any black role models that are successful, smart, and attractive. (l know that your own family does not count––and will not count until much later. ) Maybe it happens because society has not come around to portraying true images and roles yet, and you are fooled into believing such things as the great Egyptian ruler Cleopatra looking like a white woman with violet eyes. I have news for you. There will come a time when society will openly appreciate your beauty and the beauty of other non-Caucasian people, as well. Most importantly, one day you too will appreciate your own beauty.
When you grow older, you will find that you are your own worst critic. Listen to me. Stop getting in your own way. The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to what others look like, what others have, or what others are able to do. You will struggle with comparing yourself to others even when you are grown, but don’t let it consume you or deceive you into believing you are second-rate. Even if your talent and capabilities are not where you’d like them to be, know that you are talented and are capable. Believe it. Even if it seems that you’ll never be who or what you would like to be, do not give up and do not stop trying. Even if it seems that you should have accomplished some things by a certain time frame, understand that you walk the path of your life at your own pace and no one else’s. Know that God has given you a hope and a future, and that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.
Little girl, you will not be a failure. I know that new tasks may sometimes seem too difficult to you, and you believe that you will fail even before you try. (How do I know these things? I just do.) My encouragement to you is do not make your decision before giving the task a try. You will be surprised at how good you can be and with practice, how much better.
Although you may look back and wish you had made different choices, I commend you on the choices you will make anyway. They are part of what makes you who you are. Also, maybe things may not happen when or how you want them to, but be patient. One of life’s lessons that you’Il learn over and over again is that things may not happen when you want them to, but when they do they will be right on time.
Cherish every moment that you have with your family who loves you dearly. Appreciate the fact that you know both your mommy and daddy and that they are married. Understand that not every little girl has two Nana’s, two Papa’s, and a grandfather. Know that not every little girl gets to meet her great-grandmother. Praise God that you are not abused, starving, or lacking necessities. Unfortunately, there are so many kids that cannot make these same statements. They see and feel so much pain that they do not get to enjoy their childhood like you do. Realize how very blessed you are.
I wish I could take away the pain, personal dejection, and disillusionment you will feel as you grow older and experience life, but I cannot. Some things you will just have to go through. However, I leave you with this song of encouragement by contemporary gospel duo, Mary, Mary:
‘When you get up in the morning
Look yourself in the mirror
And say, “I love me!”
Even with all your flaws
And all of your downfalls
Just do your best
’Cause to Him you already are!
Little girl, Little girl,
God made you so beautiful
Little girl, Little girl,
I just though that you should know…’
P. S. Enjoy all those homegrown fruits and vegetables, and savor Nana’s cooking while you can. In fact, try staying in the kitchen while she is cooking and learn what she is doing instead of running away. And next time, when she is out planting, digging, and picking in the garden, ask her what she’s doing and why she’s doing it. Believe me, you’re going to wish you had in the future. Again, God loves you, and by the way, I love you, too.”
Happy to say, I got an “A” on the paper. But I really got an “A” in life–– “A” for Acknowledgment of my shortcomings and growth and for a prophetic Advisory that would still be relevant thirteen years later. My life has certainly taken some unpleasant turns, and I’ve faced significant failures, disappointments and set-backs. But today, by the grace of God, I’m pressing forward, operating outside of my comfort zone, sharing “me” with the world and being blessed by the responses and the delight people have with my imagination. I’m taking risks. I’m following my own advice.
Is there something you need to say to that younger you, today? Something that will release that gift or talent or wisdom you’ve suppressed and make it available for others to experience? There’s no better time than now.
Perhaps, you should write yourself a letter.