Future letters to our former selves

We came down to the end of June and I hung the flag for the Fourth. I had the summer off from work, and wouldn’t accept any new contracts until September. That gave us the flexibility to see Lily whenever we could and focus on self-care. They said with grief you have to over-compensate the self-care, put the oxygen mask on yourself first. Dawn got a paid medical leave from Microsoft and with Charlotte out of school, the three of us would have all of July and August to ourselves. It was just getting warm and I settled into the relaxed pace of summer, that old feeling of childhood excitement when the school year finally ends.

We had plans to fly back to Durango for Lily’s graduation ceremony at Open Sky. Most students who attend a wilderness therapy program go on to a residential treatment center afterwards but because Lily had worked so hard she had more options, so we enrolled her in a prep school in Cedar City, Utah. We wanted some family time after her graduation from wilderness and plotted a road trip from Durango to Moab, then Bryce and Zion national parks.

In one of my letters I had told Lily about my trip to Moab when I was her age, back in the late 80s. I still had pictures of me with the pictographs painted on the rocks, me pointing at them looking stupid, wearing that PiL T-shirt from 1987. It was on that trip I decided I wanted to live in the West one day, when I grew up. My dad in those photos is younger than I am now and his beard is still black, no white.

That would have been the same year our sociology teacher Mr. Midway had us write letters to our future selves, an assignment I didn’t understand or see the point in. We were to write letters in a journal style but intended for ourselves to receive five years later. We packaged the letters and put extra postage on them and then he would mail them in 1992, right as I graduated college.

I remember what it felt like to receive that package, my old handwriting, still me but not me at the same time. Poring over the days as I sat in my old bedroom, the same room I’d written those notes years before. It was like a message in a bottle, traversing time and space. I read it once and put it in a box with other things and then carried it across the country when I moved to Seattle a few years later.

And with Lily graduating soon, we came down to the last of the weekly letter-writing scenes, the Sunday mornings I’d sit down to write her. I told her about my first AA meeting, the one that meets on top of Tiger Mountain called OSAT (one step at a time). Every time I went up and down Tiger I’d think about the time she and I had, right before she went off to wilderness.

It was still spring and a rough one weather-wise, snowing by the time we got halfway up. Lily had fallen and hit her head badly at the last hospital she’d been in prior, they’d even checked her for a concussion at another hospital, and so I didn’t want her to over-exert herself on the trail. But she insisted on getting to the top, and said it had become a metaphor for her sobriety, to summit that day. That’s when I knew the wilderness program was right for her because she was seeing the metaphors in nature reflecting her own experience. The one step at a time club is like that too, and they joke at the end of each meeting “don’t slip!”

This week Lily read her letter of responsibility to me and Dawn, the final task for students in wilderness therapy. It’s the culmination of the student’s reflections on what they’ve learned about themselves and the impact of their prior actions. They learn about Glasser’s Needs Theory, the notion we all have five basic needs (like power and control, survival, and so on) and what happens when we start meeting those needs in unhealthy ways.

Lily brought up a scene from the third Harry Potter story, one I’d written her about, my favorite moment throughout the series. In the scene, Harry is fighting a dementor in the forest and losing, about to die, but is saved by a supernatural force. He assumes it’s the spirit of his dead father come back to rescue him but later discovers it’s actually his own spirit he’s summoned with the Patronus charm. And because he’s time traveled, his future self has actually gone back to rescue himself. It’s a turning point for the hero, to witness the power of his own magic and capabilities.

When she was done reading her letter I told Lily how proud I was of her for how far she’d come. That there were like four or five really big things she was struggling with, and how funny, we kept trying to find someone who could help us figure out where to start and what to focus on, and just like the Patronus scene in Harry Potter, that someone was Lily. She had connected all those things herself.

Perhaps we can reach out to our own selves in some healing way through the power of our own words. Perhaps that is the funny feeling we get rereading old letters or journal entries, it can really be like a message in a bottle from another time.

So now I will toss another bottle as far as I can for the waves to carry it off to another me who must be better, if not different and loving, who will regard what I have written and smile, and know it was just me from a different time.

Categories: inspiration, writing

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14 replies

  1. Your weaving of the poetic and the matter-of-fact always carries me along, Bill. Thank you for sharing this important story.

    I’m attuned to the rich magic of parent-adolescent bonds today. A youtuber the boy has been following for some years, a young man in his early 20s, died of cancer. His father posted a final video (can you imagine that?) and we watched and cried and talked about grief and death. I’m not sure why I’m sharing that, as the clock ticks to midnight, but there you are.

    – Bruce

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rich magic it is, that parent-adolescent bond! Sorry to hear about your YouTuber friend, though I’m glad the two of you and the opportunity to greave together; that’s a special thing too I suppose. Thanks for sharing Bruce and spending some of your late night over at my channel ha ha!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Bruce, clearly that video impacted you deeply. I’ve found that in the sharing of those stories, I discover meaning. Perhaps that’s what your soul seeks, too?

      Liked by 2 people

      • You are most certainly correct; sharing our stories is a rich way of connecting and processing. I imagine… hope, probably… that any parent would be deeply moved by a personal video by a parent reporting the death of a child.
        Thank you for your response. Though not a believer in ‘soul’ or any associated concepts, I appreciate the gesture.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A fantastically written story Bill, and timely as earlier today while responding to your comment, I found myself wondering how things were going with you. They say substance abusers are never fully sober. I am. I hope Lily finds the peace of total sobriety. I’d hate to read a letter I wrote to my future self at any age. I look back on stuff I said on my blog five years ago and I cringe. In high school, I’m pretty sure I was an ass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff! Hope your trip was great and thanks for thinking of me, appreciate that! Yeah I haven’t been sober this long since like 1983 or so, so that feels different! And awesome. You’ve been such a great proponent of mental health awareness and sobriety yourself, so thanks for having a positive influence on me in that way. And for keeping on it with the deep commitment to good blogging. Have a great holiday weekend and thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the idea of writing letters to our future selves. That was never an exercise presented to me in any of my student iterations. Might be fun to start now, with my graying hair and all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love this piece today.
    Being in a reflective mood too today I looked through my journals from 2010 to 14 te see where I was and what happened then.
    At the time I was hoping to spend the rest of my life in small town Revelstoke BC , but here I am in big City Calgary and not sure if this condo with 3 level will be my last dwelling ..,
    Enjoy the summer and the self caring time.
    Sitting on the deck with a cup of tea and listening to various birdsongs around me

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Inamarie I so appreciate you sketching out your scene there in Revelstoke this morning and sharing your reflections with me! Yes, self care is quite a revelation and gift isn’t it? Enjoy the sound of the birds and your summer, my friend! And be well. Bill


  5. So grateful the “bottle” you put this in landed in my view – and applause for father-daughter communications and acceptance. Great that you credit her with leading her recovery. She sounds very mature for her age, and I’d guess much of her wisdom comes from parental personalities/availabilities. Wanting to reach the summit in spite of recent fall & current weather? WOW. Definitely a point to document for future re-living.

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s lovely Jazz! Thanks for your encouragement and kind words, really appreciate that! Enjoy your Fourth and thanks for reading, glad it reached your shore too, so to say!

      Liked by 1 person

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