I’ve seen a lot of this going around lately. People are posting letters to the child/youth/adolescent they once were. They outline the wisdom they’ve acquired, apologize for self-doubt, ache over lost love, laugh at at their foolishness and take stock of all the things they thought wanted to accomplished by the time they were an adult. It’s an interesting exercise, and I’m all about the examined life, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Dear 18-year-old Amy,
It’s been a while now, and I’m an adult (at least on paper). I thought I’d check in and let you know how things turned out. A lot has happened in the past couple of decades, some of it on purpose, some of it unexpected. There’s been good stuff, and not-so-good stuff. I haven’t wasted any of it. I’ve paid attention and made the most of every opportunity. I’ve reflected on each experience and tried to pull what I could from it. You’re a smart kid and you deserve to share in what I’ve learned, so I’ll get right to the point.
I know nothing, or pretty darn close to nothing.
I thought that by now I’d have some kind of handle on how relationships work, how the world works, and how I work. As it turns out, relationships are infinitely complicated, and maybe not understanding them is what makes them appealing in the first place. The world, which I guess is made up of relationships, is also infinitely complicated, beautifully so. Sometimes I think I’m starting to figure myself out, but it seems I’m pretty good at churning out mysteries too.
If it’s possible, I think I know less than I did at your age. I have memories of certainty from my teens. Things got a little fuzzy in my twenties. Things got downright blurry in my thirties. I’m pretty much anticipating flying blind in the decades that are ahead of me.
Here’s the thing: as things have become less certain with each decade, and I’ve realized that I know less and less, I’ve become happier. The more I’ve admitted that I don’t know, the more new perspectives have opened up to me. As I’ve fessed up to my ignorance, opportunities to travel, to learn, to meet amazing people, have opened up. In not knowing, I’ve become more things to more people, taken on roles I never thought I’d be comfortable with. Admitting to all these new people in my life that I don’t know hasn’t been all that hard either. I think it’s made it easier for them to trust me, and easier for me to see what’s interesting about them.
At the end of the day, admitting I don’t know has been a great comfort. It sure beats thinking I know, and then getting slapped in the face later when it’s clear I’m just as much in the dark as anyone else. Not knowing means that I’m still learning, a tiny little speck in a universe full of things waiting to be discovered. In some ways, it’s made me feel younger than I did when I was your age. I hope that forty or fifty years from now (knock on wood), I’ll discover that there are even more things I don’t know, and that it will make me feel young even when I’m wrinkly and frail.
Hope I didn’t disappoint you too much. Your ignorant friend,