I have a stack of six or eight journals piled on my desk, dating back to my 8th, 9th, and 10th grade years. This had started as a simple task to find an old story or two. Before long, though, I was consumed by my old words, my tales of growing up and the way I saw things. I was a wordsmith even then, and though I was inconsistent at times, I focused my lens enough to catch the swirling stories, the drama and my developing perception of it, on the page. The big things are all there.
Reading my old written words takes me right back, and I can feel this weird surge of emotions bubbling from my belly. My brain hasn’t even had a chance to speak wisdom into this mess, the wisdom of distance and age that can talk reason into this bath of adolescent feeling. Before I can rationalize my way through my teen years, I let myself get lost in the words.
There is a lot of silly girlhood crush talk, and a good amount of boy-time drama. But in and around what I can only assume is typical adolescent experiences there are my sobering words capturing feelings about life, about friendships, and about God. Some things don’t change, and this visit with my younger self makes it clear that I have always been swimming in the deep end.
I was surprised to feel some of these things almost as strongly as when I first wrote about them. The butterflies in my belly were only slightly less real today as I was reading about that first boyfriend, and when he finally kissed me I wanted to hug my teen self. And I ached with myself remembering how sad things got in the end. Reading it out today, I wanted to call him up, explain myself. I wanted to say “I’m sorry” and to offer a different ending. But that’s my grown up self, trying to make sense of those teen things, and I know now to accept the story the way it is. Now I know, that while sad and aching, it wasn’t heartbreak, but a bruised ego. Seeing his place in my bigger story, I want to confide in my sad self that we were able to find our way as friends again.
There is something about having that retrospective edge, isn’t there? I want to go back and set straight the missteps that I took. Oh, how I cringe when I see what a lousy friend I was in some instances! It’s hard to take an honest look at myself – seeing the blemishes of character, the poor choices of figuring it all out. Because the thing is, while I wrote my heart out on those pages – the hurt, the rejections, the confusions, the frustration, I also know that there are other journals out there, telling the other side of things. Someone else wrote their heart out, too. How much did I contribute to the drama of their lives?
There are times when I wish that I could feel the presence of those folks in my life who know this deep history of mine. Oh, they are here, still in my life, but mostly they are not part of my everyday. There is deep comfort in those friendships that have gone the depths and back and who know exactly what I looked like when I curled my bangs with a curling iron. I love the grown up friendships that I have now, but you can’t make up that kind of history. Nothing can replicate the friendship of 13-year-olds staying up all night, eating pretzels and M&Ms while looking at magazines, and practicing eyeliner, (even if as a grown up I hardly ever wear makeup, and care little for those glossy covers). These are the friends that help reflect myself back to me when I forget who I am. So, yes, there is nostalgia in reading these old stories, remembering back to the glory days. But sometimes it’s helpful to remember the wise words of Billy Joel: the “good ol’ days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
Oh, I know, no one gets through unscathed. And it takes time to figure it out – figure out how to love yourself, and how to love others. Once I got past my most cringe-worthy moments, I began to feel so tender towards my younger self. There is an arc of growth that spans those journals, and a clear sense of searching – for justice, for God, for faith, for love – a searching for self.
Sometimes, I don’t think that much has changed. I still write with a sense of searching, and often hope that my written words will reflect myself back to me. And I wonder: if writing out my life as a teenager holds this kind of weight for me know, as a 33 year old mom, then what will the words of my life, spilled on these pages, mean for me in another fifteen years? Will I cringe when I read my struggles and heartaches? Will I find my insight shortsighted? Will I long for these years back? And will I be able to be tender and full of grace to myself?
Here’s to finding out.