I think childhood is to everyone a lost land. ~ Dennis Potter
Dear Nine-Year-Old Self,
I miss you. Well, not you, exactly, or even your age, but the things that make you who you are. Your innocence. Your vitality. Your delight. Your absolute conviction that being yourself is quite enough.
You were quite daring, weren’t you? Oh, you had the usual childhood fears, but the things that worried adults didn’t faze you. You had so much confidence in the future that while the other kids talked of being doctors or lawyers, you dreamed of being a princess. Not just by marrying a prince, but by becoming one in your own right, with your own kingdom to lead. (By the way, I haven’t quite figured out how to accomplish that without regicide yet.) You had such an abundance of faith that no dream was impossible.
But if you dreamed bravely, you loved even more courageously. You invited everyone into your heart, from human beings to little creatures that no one else bothered about. Every pet that died broke your heart, and you wept for it, then threw yourself into loving the next stray kitten or wounded sparrow as unreservedly as if you had forgotten the possibility of grief. And with people — you welcomed everyone unquestioningly, and never harbored doubts that their hearts would be open to you as well. What an incredible joy that was.
But most of all, you were yourself. Fully and fearlessly, you were simply yourself. Unafraid of being different, you never even gave a thought to trying to conform. You played with other kids when it suited you, or you would leave the group and lie down under a huge acacia tree and watch the changing pattern of the branches against the moving clouds. On days when the soccer team wasn’t practicing, you’d climb up on the goal and lie down on the net like it was your personal hammock, and just let yourself be mesmerized by the hypnotic hovering of dragonflies in the afternoon sunlight — right there in the middle of the football field with people walking by. You had no idea that it was “strange” to be the only student who would rush to the library as soon as the bell rang and stay there until it closed up and you had to tear yourself away from what you were reading — which sometimes happened to be novels meant for high school literature classes. (Remember those big kids who asked you for help with their reports on Swiss Family Robinson and The Count of Monte Cristo?) Other parents, worried that you might fall or get bitten by something, would call your house with reports of you playing by the ditches and gathering flowers among the tall grass, but your mom would shrug, tell them not to worry, and then find you an empty vase to put your wildflowers in. She was used to more peculiar things than that, such as having to serve snacks to all the kids you’d invited to the formal funeral service for a dead caterpillar. Even now, my family teases me about what an odd little girl you were, but I miss being like that. I miss being free.
How could so much change in only fifteen years? Where are those outrageous dreams now, or that openness of heart, or that self-acceptance? I wonder if you’re disappointed in me — in my doubts about the future, my fears about fully letting people in, and in my need to live up to expectations. Or does your endless optimism still make you believe that I’ll be okay, that things will turn out well in the end? I need some of your courage now, some of your hope and confidence. I know you’re still a part of me, somehow. Please, show me how to be brave again.
The girl you will become