What if we really could travel in time and visit our older or younger selves? What wisdom could we share? What comfort could we provide? What advice would we give? First I thought it would be fun to travel back twenty years to December 1991 where I am 22 years old and a graduate assistant at the University of Florida's Center for Latin American Studies. This is an exciting time for me as I am waiting to embark on a year of scholarship and travel in South America, first with a Fulbright fellowship program in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and then as a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar of Good Will in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
Dear Brooke (age 22):
Greetings from 2011! I smile as I think about you. The world is literally at your feet. As a Latin American Studies and Spanish major at the University of Virginia, you were bitten hard by the travel bug and you are taking it as far as you can go. Although the economy is terrible, you have brilliantly found a way to continue to travel and study culture and languages without having to get a real job. You are old enough to enjoy all the perks and freedoms of adulthood and young enough to not yet know the burdens of taxes and mortgages and other grown-up responsibilities. Hurray!
At this point you are still the Golden Girl. Everything always works out for you. Nothing bad ever happens to you. You are still in your age of innocence. You have yet to know real pain and suffering. Life is easy and happy, although you still manage to fret over things like your weight, boyfriends and that one professor you got assigned to work with because nobody else wanted to deal with her insanity, and you are the low woman on the totem poll. You can handle it.
Just soak it up, Baby! Enjoy the bliss of the innocent. You are having experiences, visiting places and making friends you will carry with you for the rest of your life. You love who you are and so far your life is everything you hoped it would be. Travel. Explore. Learn. Live. Things are going to continue to go your way, for the most part. You are young and beautiful and educated and free. You don't have to worry about anything yet, and why should you? 1992 will be your most amazing year yet.
Maybe I shouldn't tell you this, but these are the days that will shore you up when the Tragedy happens. This makes no sense to you now, but in another year or two you will finally know grief and loss. Your eyes will be opened. You will understand for the first time true pain and suffering. You think you already know these things but you don't. The shell around your soul will break open and you will have a greater awakening about the Universe. But don't worry, you will be okay. In fact, this will prove to be the pivotal experience that makes you a deeper, wiser, more empathic and spiritual person. After experiencing this true loss and grief, you will learn more about yourself and how to pick up the pieces when life falls apart and how to keep moving on. This will prove to be an inspiration to others. You will reclaim your happiness and continue on in your journey of this wonderful gift that is your life. When you are in your deepest pain, try to remember your life as it is now in 1991 and 1992. Remember that who you are right now is your true self.
And don't worry, even with the Tragedy in 1993, you still have a few more years of travel and study and adventure. You will fall in and out of love several times yet. More of your dreams will come true. You will make it into and graduate from Harvard Law School, where you will meet more amazing people and do more amazing things. In fact, until your graduation from law school in 1996, these are the times you will look back on wistfully when your obligations and priorities change first to making money and then to being married and raising your children.
Actually, despite your dreams and intentions of creating world peace and building infrastructure in developing countries, you are actually going to go the corporate route. Despite your world travels, Corporate America is going to be the biggest culture shock of your princess life. You will get your butt kicked. You will question and doubt yourself, lose sight of the Golden Girl that you are and feel a lot less interesting and brilliant than your former self. But this all serves a purpose. Another great awakening. The real world can't wait forever and learning doesn't stop just because you graduate from school. Besides, your dreams and goals will change and you will decide to forgo that international trajectory for staying close to home, marrying the all-American boy next door, having 2.3 kids and a house and yard with a white picket fence. So don't cry too long over the boys who will break your heart and stop fretting over things like your weight and whether or not you will ever meet Mr. Right. You will, you will. Just go and do and be. Have your travels and adventures.
Writing to you from 2011, I can tell you that the economy is the pits again, and your wanderlust is in check because your kids aren't old enough to appreciate exotic places yet, and even if they were, you and your husband are too busy putting all that money towards their college education and a mortgage payment to feel like you can spend the money anyhow. So enjoy your 20-something freedom and do not fret, even though you will eventually face some great life-altering challenges. Your life force is very strong and will continue to be so despite what comes. So, keep making wonderful memories to squirrel away for those middle-aged years when you have to be more responsible. Do I make it sound boring? Not at all. Marriage and motherhood are their own special adventure you will not want to miss. You think you are having a good time now? Believe me, nothing you will ever do will be as awesome is being a mom. You'll see.
But for right now, you have so much to look forward to. You will never be this young again. I'm really excited for you and your bright future. Always appreciate it, for you are truly blessed.
Oh, and when you and Laura are on that bus in Bolivia don't just stop at Lake Titicaca, go all the way into Peru and climb Machu Picchu while you still can. Despite my best intentions, it's 2011 and I still haven't made it back. Perhaps there is still time. Maybe I'll take the family.
Love, Brooke (age 42)