In 1968 I was a junior in high school. And at the tender age of seventeen, I considered myself lost because I was.
As a fiercely independent soul, I measured my future options to be scant, too few to express any real autonomous behavior. I faced either the draft or some menial job. That’s it; I had but two viable choices.
Since I gazed out of the window for much of my high school career, college was out of the picture. My GPA was a joke. Eventually, a third option broke the horizon. I could enlist. Yeah, that’s it. I needed to flee my parents and residential surroundings, this much I knew.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My hometown kicked ass. I had an idyllic childhood. But I’m the wandering/wondering gypsy type; I needed to roam.
The Air Force was my ticket to many wild and scary adventures. I somehow survived them. But it has never been lost on me that every year of my life since age twenty, placed me in the bonus round. I hovered near the abyss, on numerous occasions, during the war. I’ve been on life’s exit ramp on more than one occasion. I thus live every day of my life inside the bonus round. And on most days, I can even feel this gratefulness.
As I look over my shoulder back to the year 1968, I asked myself what have I learned about myself since then?
OK, I think the question is too big, and too broad to answer succinctly. So, let me try this one, instead – what would I tell the seventeen-year-old iteration of my present-day self, knowing what I now know about both him and me?
Let’s go back in time and create a thought experiment where I encounter my younger self. He is trying to jump-start his motorcycle to no avail, so I approach him and ask if he needs a hand? “It died and won’t start”, he tells me. “It could be out of gas, I guess. It’s really finicky. Yea, that’s most likely the problem , actually.”
I offered him a ride to the nearest gas station; he accepted. In route, I asked him what plans he had for the future. Or if he had ever given it any thought.
He looked at me with his head tilted slightly to the left as he peered at me through squinted eyes and a wrinkled-up forehead and said “I have given this matter much consideration. But you are the first person to ever ask me that question.”
While I had his attention, I asked a follow-up question. “Have you talked to any adults about your plans for the future?” “No sir” was his response. He then went on to tell me in great detail his plans for the future. I knew in advance that he took only his own counsel on major decisions. But knowing this, I offered him some unsolicited advice, nevertheless.
“Alan, my advice to you is for you to take, or not. For reasons beyond your comprehension, what I am about to tell you is the complete truth. I know your future path. I know the various directions in which your major decisions will take you. I know what your struggles and triumphs look like and feel like, as well.
Alan, I must tell you that there will be times when you will falter. There will be times, as a fighter, that you will go down. Hard. And you will think to yourself while lying on the ground that you cannot possibly get up. You will believe you are down for the count for good. And you will find yourself in this position numerous times throughout your life.
Do not believe these thoughts or emotions for I have glimpsed your future. And you always get back up. So, trust yourself. And when your nerve waivers, for this will happen, know that even then, even when you doubt yourself unabashedly, that you still will rise. It’s what you do. It’s who you are. You are much tougher than you think.”
After the above exchange, we engaged in small talk the rest of the way to the station and back. After Alan filled his tank with gas and cranked it, it eventually started. He then promptly turned his motorcycle off, turned his attention to me and said, “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I find this whole experience to be rather peculiar, including you, sir. It’s true that you seem somehow otherworldly, but you don’t really know me. I’m not that tough. I’m not very sure of myself, either. And I don’t view myself as a fighter. So, your words ring callow to me. But this one promise I will make to you and myself, going forward. When I’m lying on the canvas, feeling beaten I will remind myself that I, or something in me, always finds a way to get back up.”
And with that, he hopped on his bike, started it, and took off. I plan on keeping an eye out for him, going forward. He takes way too many risks, in my opinion. He’ll tell you he’s cautious but he’s a thrill seeker at heart. Oh, well – I guess I shouldn’t be overly concerned about the young lad – after all, he did make it this far.
Have you ever fantasized about having a conversation with your younger self? What, pray tell, would you tell this younger version of yourself?
If you run across this essay on FB, I’d love to hear what advice you would offer up to your late teenage self?