What would it be like if my Younger self and my Older self had some conversations with each other. I decided to try it, to see what memories I could recapture and how they would touch me. To see how reflecting back and forward might illuminate some things. To see where I might still be going on life’s journey.
So Younger says to Older: Walk with me, okay? Let’s go outside–come and take my hand. We’re going out the front door of the house where you were raised. The door is heavy, give it a push; the floor boards of the porch shift downwards toward the street and the steps creak. Breathe in the perfume of the peony flowers parading down the front walk–better yet, let’s run and pick up some of those petals, toss them up toward the blue sky and watch them fall onto the grass. It’s spring–the bushes are full around the front yard–so no one can see us. We can climb the mulberry tree, but don’t eat those berries and remember you don’t like it when you step on the fallen ones and they stick to your shoes. Messy. But hurry now, and let’s run into the backyard, ’cause the mock orange bushes are in bloom. Another great smell.
Jeanie might come over later and we can play in our fort behind the garage. But right now let’s swing. You take the swing nearest the garage, pump hard now and up you’ll go, up and up so that your toes feel like they’re touching the top of the apple tree. But your toes can’t touch the house–because the flowering apple tree hides it–but you know it’s there, that grey house in the sunshine. That’s where mother sits typing in the dining room. She’s always there when you need her. And your body shivers a bit with contentment–the swing, the grass, the clouds, the birds–and the very best, the sun on your face.
So Older responds back to Younger: I knew about love living in that house. I felt love every day of my life, and even though my father died when I was very young–my mother made up for that loss. And my brothers. Then I found a true friend, right in the neighborhood. A boy-friend at that. I found that “other” who loved me–my mistakes as well as my brilliant flashes of insight. Together we found our differences to be the best glue for our bond. And we helped each other through the ups and downs of becoming adults. And then we married and had three children. But Younger, you didn’t always understand that your life and its trajectory was NOT like the lives of many people. You didn’t get that. Then, as a teacher at a high school you truly woke up–met children who had no food in their houses, few changes of clothing, few chances in life. And then even later in your life, you found more wisdom when you decided to become a nurse and worked at a hospital where often your patient was a thirteen-year-old girl.
That was hard, Younger. Because you were still very much running the show and you wanted to be judgmental–to ask: Why had this girl not stopped the passion or experimentation or alcoholic stupor that was NOW bringing a new life into the world? Didn’t she have the voice in her head that we had, the voice to guide her? Well, it didn’t take long to realize she did not. She didn’t have the grey house and the mother typing in the dining room.
But Younger, my Older self decided that in birth there had to be hope. That somewhere in her world this new mother, though so young, knew what love was, knew because of someone. And she could parent, model, could repeat in her actions that love she once knew. Or her child would bring her into that light.
But it was a struggle–to crack open my older heart so that my belief in a sustaining relationship between this girl-mother and her child would overcome my initial negative judgment. So Younger, you know what happened? Conversation. I talked to these young mothers about love, about gentle care–I did that despite risking that they might turn away, think me a fool. I even mentioned caution with the male person in their life, the father of the baby. I encouraged that they focus on their child and not another sexual encounter. Later, I even became part of a social project called RISING STAR, teaching pregnant teens how to care for their unborn child through good health practices and how to set goals so that a high school diploma would be what they would seek instead of immediately having another child. (Read more about this period in my life here.)
Younger, you were so fortunate to have what you had growing up.The love and understanding of our family helped you achieve, helped you to become empathetic so that you could reach out to others and help them–something that continually brings peace and happiness back to me now.
The world says that wisdom increases with age. Younger, I believe that as we age, we learn how to examine life events with more care and with more empathy. When good things happen in our own lives, it helps us reach out to others–to want good things for others. It’s about spreading joy and love. Younger, I attempted that as a maternity nurse. I did that as a mother. But I was blessed because I was modeling back what I had already learned from my own beginnings, the love that filled my home–being you, Younger.