For the past couple of months, I have been seeing all the “Ten Year Challenge” pictures. It has made me think a great deal about 22 year old me. So much so, that I dug through old photos trying to remember who that person was. As I came across picture after picture, I started thinking, “If only I knew then what I know now”. Which, for most, I don’t think is a far stretch of something to think when reflecting back at who you were in your early 20’s. However, it brought me back to a place I fought incredibly hard to get passed after Tyler died…all of the ”what-if’s”. It was almost as if I could see this parallel life running along side the one I have actually been living.
I sat there wondering “what would I say to 22 year old me?”, “would this information help me change the future, or just protect me from it?”. But, then again, does it actually matter what it would do because, clearly, this is all hypothetical anyway. Plus, how do you even drop your actual life in a conversation to your younger self- “Hey, make sure you wear sunscreen and enjoy not having to wear foundation. Oh and by the way, don’t get too comfortable in your life- your husband will die before you even turn 30″.
In reality, I stared at the pictures thinking about how at that point in time I was a year away from meeting Tyler. All of the visions for my life included everything we eventually built within our life together. What I never accounted for was how short that time together would be and how it would end. Twenty two year old me believed time was on my side and there was an abundance of it to go around. To that, it also made me stop and consider how fleeting time truly is. Within 7 years of this picture being taken I would celebrate all of the most wonderful things life has to offer and also endure the most painful side of it. For me, two of them happened within 10 months of one another. Our son was born on January 2, 2015 and by Thanksgiving of the same year Tyler was gone. Even though I have lived this, it remains an inconceivable thought.
Of all the notions and words that came to mind, if I could in fact say something to my 22 year old self, I believe it would be along these lines:
“This life is going to be harder than you ever imagined and there are going to be times when you sense that the universe is at odds with you. You are going fall, you are going to lose what feels like everything, and you are going to wonder “why me” more than once. BUT- you will fight, you will grow, you will become a version of yourself that no one can take away. Your life will always be complex, but don’t let that discourage you. Always keep what this world tries its damndest to take from you- happiness, humbleness, and gentleness. You will come to learn that life is far more precious than what you can see with your eyes and more fragile than anything you could ever touch. Embrace your pain and take the time to tend to its needs. But also, allow your heart to feel grateful and worthy. The two, pain and gratefulness, are not mutually exclusive. They are both allowed to live within your heart- one along side the other.”
Part of those words I would take the opportunity to say as they continue to be a struggle for me at nearly 33. However, the more I say them, the more I can truly believe in them. So, perhaps, if I had those to lean on 10 years ago, they would be long engrained. The other side of that is the fact that those are words I would speak to my son. While he unfortunately understands all too well (more than any 4 year old should) how painful life can be, I also want him to know unambiguously that he has unimaginable strength to navigate this world and all that it has in store.