Yeah, you. The blond girl with the big smile and the wide eyes. I know you think no one sees you, but trust me, they do.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I can’t stop looking at you. Creepy, I know. If you had any idea that people were staring at you, you’d hide like a turtle in its shell.
I can’t get over the smile on your face. I know you hate your smile, especially the forced ones that most pictures capture. It’s always a little bit crooked and it just looks like you’re trying too hard. But this spontaneous smile, it’s golden. I wish you could see it more than you do.
This is what you look like when you think no one is looking. You have a light, a joy, a you-ness that can’t be contained by whatever life throws at you. A friend told you this once and you refused to believe her. You know the darkness of your heart and mind and you find it hard to believe that any light shines from you.
But I see it. I wish I could jump into this photo and tell you all the things I’ve learned about you in the years since this photo was taken. Sure, I’m from the future but time travel isn’t a thing yet, so this letter will have to do.
First, you’re beautiful. Truly. You’ve never really believed it and in 20 years or so, you’re still going to have a hard time believing it, but it won’t mean the same thing as it does now. You’ll know about a beauty that goes deeper than your skin, and you’ll be so full of the knowledge of who you truly are that your default will be to believe you are beautiful even on your ugliest days. You will have some great friends who will help you believe the best about yourself on these kinds of days.
Second, you are unique and valuable. Wait. Hear me out. I know you feel terribly ordinary and overlooked. You introduce yourself to people you grew up with because you’re convinced you’re forgettable, but you are not that at all. I know you hide what you’re really thinking and feeling because you’re afraid you’ll be rejected, or worse criticized, for your opinions. I know you ordered the Plain Jane hamburger during college orientation week because you didn’t want to make any waves by doing anything shocking like adding cheese or pickles. I promise you this will not be the way it always is. Someday, you will know exactly what you like, think and feel and you will not be afraid to share it with the world. (This is not always as glamorous as it sounds, but trust me, it’s a better way to live.) You are uniquely you and your perspective on the world will change people. God did not make a mistake bringing you into the world.
Third, you are tough. And tender. I know it’s a weird dichotomy but it’s true. You can be both. You haven’t faced a lot of hardship yet, but you will, and I don’t want you to be scared by that. You are going to have some hard times. I can’t stop them from happening. I would spare you some of the pain, but trust me when I say that you are going to be a better person through all of these things. It’s going to hurt. And you are going to survive. Not only that, but you are going to have a big, soft heart for hurting people. You know how you always felt like you were just a tiny bit on the fringe? An outcast? You are going to go right to those same people with your great big smile and be their friend. I know it sounds crazy, but you’re going to talk to strangers and ask them questions about their life and you’re going to smile a lot and tell them your name. And you’re going to love it!
Some people might look at this photo and long for the good old days. Sure, the girl in this picture is younger, thinner and seriously, can we talk about your hair? It’s like three colors and radiant! When I look in the mirror these days, I see less luster and more sparkle. (Okay, it’s gray. I see gray hairs around the edges.)
But I don’t want to go back, not even knowing what I know. I want you to be the best you, you can be in this season. When I look at this picture, I see a girl who is trying her best to find her place in the world. Who is on the verge of adulthood. Who is going to make some mistakes. Okay, a lot of mistakes. And she’s going to turn out just fine.
Just like 20 years from now, I hope to look at a picture of me now and see a woman doing her best to live out what she knows is true. A woman on the verge of middle age, whose body won’t do the things she wants it to do but who is more certain than she’s ever been of who she is. But I hope I won’t long for these days either. I hope I’ll be happy with who I am then, grateful for the women I’ve been, the variations of myself that have made me the me that I am.
You won’t hear anything I’m saying, College Girl, but I’m saying it anyway. Because sometimes the Woman I Am Now needs reminding. I am a sum of my parts: who I was, who I am and who I am becoming.
If time travel is ever invented, I can’t promise to stay away. I don’t want to change anything about you, but sometimes I miss the girl in this picture. And I won’t be offended if you decide not to talk to the stranger who looks eerily familiar. It’s probably better if we don’t speak anyway. All that time-space continuum stuff that I don’t understand. (Spoilers: You’re going to someday like sci-fi nerdy shows. I’m sorry. But good news: nerdy will be cool!)
I guess I’ve rambled on long enough now. Funny how that happens the older I get. You’ll understand someday. Bottom line: I just want to say thanks for being part of my life, College Girl. I wouldn’t be who I am without you.
A big thanks to Heidi and Justin Bennett for sending me this photo that initiated a trip down memory lane!