A Letter to Baby Me, from 30 Year-Old Me
Dear Catharine Jane,
A good friend said to me very recently, "if I only knew then what I know now..." We usually do not have the benefit of hindsight to help us live in the present, but I think that we can still learn a lot by paying attention to our own story, by telling it, by writing it.
Dang, you were a cute kid. I look at the picture above and I find myself moved with compassion for you. It is amazing how much easier it is to think of myself with kindness and gentleness when I look at you like that. I want to protect you, I want you to be happy, I want people to show you love, I want you to have true joy in your life.
Look at your mom's hand, holding onto yours. Probably both because she loves holding her baby's hand and also to get you to hold still. You are pulling yours away, probably both because you want to move around and explore, and also because you just hate being told what to do. See the ring on her hand? That ring was her grandmother's, passed down to her mother, who then gave it to her. She will give it to you, too, on your twenty-fifth birthday, and it will be your most treasured possession.
You come from a big tribe that values family above all else. You are named for both of your aunts - your dad's only sister and your mom's only sister.
You will be the oldest of your parents' five children. You will be the big sister and live up to just about every stereotype in the book. You will be bossy. You will make your brothers play dress-up in your mom's skirts and heels and lipstick with you. You will share your room with one brother and you will play dolls together when you are supposed to be napping. You will fight with your siblings. You will scream at each other. You will punch, slap, pinch, kick, and pull each others' hair. You will tell on each other. Your fighting will make Mom cry. You will build Lego pirate ships with your brothers and help them catch tiny baby lizards in your backyard. You will be your first sister's most enthusiastic babysitter, and you will perfect your diaper-changing skills on her. You will suggest to your parents what country they should adopt your second sister from, and when she is matched with your family, you will show her picture to everyone in your junior high school. You will want to kill all of them at some point or another. But you will also be ready to kill other people on their behalf, if you ever think that anyone has harmed them in any way - the girl who will once stand your brother up on a movie date before he is even old enough to drive, for example. Mom will actually be worried that you might track her down and beat the crap out of her, you will be so mad. You will graduate from high school swearing that you don't ever want children of your own, but as soon as you do, your relationship with your siblings will begin that magical transformation that happens as people grow up - you become friends. And just like that, they will become the most important people in your life (which is something you always knew, even if you couldn't admit it.)
You will go to college and hate it. You will experience some of the hardest times of your life there. You will stick it out, though, because you are tough, and you will discover that this is true as a result of having lived through those experiences. You will suffer depression and you will recover.
You will love wildly and you will have your heart broken into a million glittering pieces. You will discover how happy dancing makes you. You will travel the world by yourself and with other people, and you will learn a thousand important things in the process.
You will eventually discover - to your simultaneous relief, joy and horror - that your calling is to be a doctor. You will forget this a few times. You will consider trying to talk yourself out of this. You will regularly feel frustrated that you couldn't be called to do something fulfilling that required a little less in the way of hard work and sacrifice. But you won't, for the life of you, be able to imagine what in the world that could possibly be.
You will do hard things. You will live through them and survive them. You will be stronger because of them (even though that is such a cliche - and you hate cliches - it is true.) You are brave. Mom says that you are ballsy, and that you have nerves of steel. She will tell you that you should be a surgeon, long before you will ever even consider going to medical school. You are creative. Abby tells you that you should be a writer. By the time you are my age, one of your regrets will be that you never published anything in time for her to read it before she developed advanced Alzheimer's disease. But take comfort in knowing that if and when you do someday write that book, you can still dedicate it to her, and I think that she will still know. You love people fiercely. Your soul is fed by your loved ones, and cultivating relationships with others is your joy.
I do not have this all figured out. Far, far from it, actually. But that's ok, and you know how I know? Because I have never had it figured out. Occasionally, I have felt that maybe I was close, but I usually wasn't. And it has always been ok. There is still so much in life that is uncertain and hard. But you are a lucky one, kid. You won the life-lottery when it comes to your family. You've got more than enough brains and talent to get you where you are going. You have more than your fair share of passion, curiosity and enthusiasm. And even better, even more important, even more humbling - you are wildly loved and adored by your Heavenly Father.
Here is my life advice for you: give people big hugs. Cook dinner with friends often. See your family as much as you can. Go dancing, even when you don't feel like it (maybe even especially when you don't feel like it.) Take deep breaths. Pray as often as you remember to. Trust that there is a plan for you, and that it is a good one. Take my word for it - you will end up doing things you never thought possible.