Do you ever wonder...if you were to change one little tiny detail about your day...how your life might be different? Show up a few minutes early instead of a few minutes late. Take a different route. Shop at a store you've never shopped at. Call someone you haven't spoken to in a long time. Say hello to someone you don't know. How would all of these things change the life you are leading now? And would it be a good change, or a bad change? Or any change at all?
I stumbled upon some pictures today from 2000…the year of Y2K…the year I turned 21…before iPhones and low-rise jeans and Facebook…before 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War…a world in which Michael Jackson and the World Trade Center still existed…a world that seemed more innocent somehow…when I had only had a total of two significant relationships in my life and lived on minimum wage and Ramen and dreams.
I had to wonder, as I looked at the innocent, fresh-faced girl in the pictures: If given the opportunity, would my considerably more seasoned and wise 31-year-old self hop in Doc Brown’s DeLorean, travel back in time a la Marty McFly, and give my 21-year-old self advice? Warn her of things to come? Advise her on which roads to take and which decisions to make to avoid the heartbreak? Would I sit her down and look her in the eye and tell her everything I’ve learned, every lesson earned, every bridge I‘ve burned? And if I did…would she believe me?
Would she believe that she would go five years during her formative dating years without so much as kissing a boy because she had an idealistic; albeit, somewhat misguided plan to wait until her wedding day to kiss again? Would she react with shock when I told her that come 2010, she still hasn’t had a wedding day? Would she jump up and down with excitement if I told her that in the year 2003, she would land the job that had been her dream job since she was a little girl, and cry when I told her it would be taken away just one year later? Would she even begin to be able to fathom the amount of love her heart would be able to hold come 2004 when she would become an aunt for the first time; and again in 2007 when she would become an aunt for the second time? Would she spend more time with her grandparents, if I gently broke the news to her that by 2010, both her precious grandmother and grandfather would be bedridden, and unable to share with her all the stories from their lives that she forgot to make time to hear?
Would she change her plans that night in December 2006, when she would wander into a bar and he, a boy who would eventually become THE boy, would wander into her life? Would she risk it all…take a shot…throw all caution to the wind, and actually tell The Boy how she felt about him, just to see if anything turned out differently this time around? And if she did, would he STAY?
Would my 31-year-old self have the courage to tell my 21-year-old self that in 2008, she would begin a relationship that would nearly destroy her? Would my younger self even be able to imagine that my older self could, and would, willingly see this relationship through to the bitter end; enduring a litany of abusive and unhealthy behaviors, until she was a mere shadow of the woman she used to be? And would my younger Doppelganger believe me when I told her I was actually grateful for the pain and for the rain of those lonely two years, because they transformed me into the woman that I am today?
I can almost see the giant grin that would break out on younger Mandy’s face when I tell her that her 31st year would be her best year YET; a year of self discovery and passion and enlightenment in its purest, rawest form. That she would finally be settled into her niche in life; that she would be surrounded by the best friends of her life; that nearly 85,000 people would care about what she had to say each day. At that, she would probably laugh in delight and disbelief; until I showed her the evidence, and introduced her to the army of strong women who in 2001, didn’t know she existed, but by 2010, would allow her to speak wisdom and encouragement into their lives on a daily basis. Yes, younger Mandy would undoubtedly laugh and cry when I shared this news with her; and laugh and cry even harder still when I told her that at age 31, she would finally grasp how to love with every ounce of her being, live life to the last drop, and doggedly pursue the road less traveled in search of her destiny, no matter how many around her chose Easy Street.
Would I tell her any of this?
I think, after carefully considering it, the answer is no.
To tell her would be to compromise the journey. To tell her would be to forever change the outcome of certain events; thus changing the “Me” that was born from every tear, every laugh, every heartbreak. Go back and alter even one step along the way, and we would not be who we are today. And though we would almost certainly, at first instinct, choose to save ourselves from the pain, in doing so, we would never experience the gain. The blessings that came as a result of the lessons. The victory that came as a result of defeat. The break-up call that was really a wake-up call. The agony and the ecstasy of living every moment, facing down the fears and the tears, and coming out on the other side, still standing, stronger and better and more powerful than ever. Do even one thing differently, and we might have become someone else entirely, with some other script, some other dream, some other LIFE.
So what WOULD I tell that 21-year-old girl, standing on the precipice of the rest of her life?
I think I would tell her to smile...to lighten up...to hum a little in the shower, and to sing a little in the car. I would tell her to look up at the stars more and maybe even make a wish on one, and most of all...to believe that the wish really could come true. I would tell her to walk barefoot in the grass and dance in the rain and pick a dandelion and blow all of its wondrously white fuzzy petals away, as hard as she could. I would insist that she dream more and sleep less and laugh until she cried and eat cotton candy simply for the fun of feeling it melt in her mouth. I would remind her of yellow brick roads and white picket fences and knights in shining armor...of summer days and ice cream trucks and sandcastles and fireflies.
I would tell her that the journey is not always going to be easy…but that it will always, always be worth it.
Finally, I would point me in the direction of my own north star...and whisper in my ear that it's okay to be me. Simple, human, fallible, wonderful me.