Friday, January 13, 2012

dear 16 year old me

There's a video making the rounds on Facebook right now, and after avoiding it for a few days, the right person posted it and I clicked to view. It was not what I expected - titled 'Dear 16 year old me,' I expected the message to be universal things we all wish we knew when we were young and invincible and maybe not so wise as we'd like to have been. 

The message that is delivered is a powerful and important one - melanoma is a killer of children, teens and young adults. Like all cancers, it's ruthless and devastating. And like many cancers, there are many things we can do to protect ourselves, especially in our teen years. My heart goes out to the people whose lives have been touched by melanoma. 

And yet, there are dozens of other messages I wish I could deliver to 16 year old me. And to so many of the 16 year olds I meet:
  1. "It gets better / this too shall pass / it came to pass, it didn't come to stay" - they are cliches now, but I wish I'd known when I was 16 that the things that hurt me the most would one day be things I have to work at to remember. 
  2. "Forgive them for they know not what they do" - I heard this at least once a year at church, cried out as Jesus hung on the cross, but it never occurred to me that this was a model of behaviour and not just a something only God himself could do. Little tiny hurts lingered and festered and drained me of connection. In a small town, there was no room to nurse all those supposed slights, and I'd have had a much fuller social life then if I'd let go a little more. 
  3. "You're gorgeous and healthy - don't let them tell you different" - when I was 16 a doctor told me I was obese. I was 5' 9" and 170 pounds, and a doctor told me I was obese. Oh, and depressed. Those two labels have haunted me. They cling to me like the stickiest of dime store price tags. It doesn't matter that the doctor was eventually charged with ... malpractice? fraud? ... it doesn't matter. Some expert told me I was those things. And I've remained those things through all of life and weights highs and lows. 
  4. "That chocolate-bar-a-day habit you can get away with now is going to bite you in the ass in 20 years. You're young - you walk to school. You play basketball and ride your bike. Someday you will have a desk job and a sedentary life style and will have to break that habit. It's easier if you just don't start it." 
  5. "You are not your label. You are not JUST your label. You are smart, yes. But you are also creative. And athletic. And so many things you don't know you are yet. You will travel. You will be a mom. You will do things you can't imagine. And you will be up to all of it."
I suppose there is something in the ignorance of youth that is an important part of the growing experience. We need our lack of knowing in order to work our muscles. Birds and reptiles have to fight their way out of their eggs to gain strength. Butterflies have to emerge from their cocoons to be fully developed. Maybe being an unknowing teen is the human way of experiencing that process. But still ... I wish I'd known that what happened in a miniscule backwoods town meant more about that town than it did about me.

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