A Letter to Myself at Sixteen

We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be

May Sarton

Dear Harry,

I write from fifty years hence and apologise for addressing you so informally, but after all these years, I know you well.

For example, I know that right now, you enjoy chewing the fat with your friends and thinking about the future and what you and they might be up to in ten years. Well, I can do better than that in this letter and give you a peek at your life ahead over the next fifty years.

The first bit of news is that I am afraid you’ll never know what your current friends will be up to in the ten years ahead of you. You will lose touch with all but one of them by the beginning of the 1980s. But there’s no need to worry; you’ll make new friends well before the start of that decade, and some of those will remain close to you throughout the next fifty years.

I am also afraid your aspiration to find a job where you can make a difference in society won’t quite work out either. No, you won’t be working to find the causes of disease. While your career begins in science, that will change by the time you are twenty-one. You will, and you might want to sit down before reading the next bit, … spend much of your career working in an office, although as I write this, you are retired. You will enjoy those first few years of test tubes, Bunsen burners, Gas Chromatographs, and Electron Microscopes. But, when the opportunity arises to be part of a developing technology of the 1970s, you’ll jump at it. So far, you have only seen this technology on futuristic TV programmes. However, you will be good at it, enjoy it, climb the corporate ladder, and earn a good income.

That income will mean you can retire early and begin to give something back to society in a separate way than you originally planned. That way will be through volunteering, by helping children read, supporting a small museum, and helping the homeless. Your aspiration to help the community happened in a more minor, if not less valuable, way.

So, what else can I tell you?

Well, your thoughts of a life living in the Northeast won’t quite work out, either. Although, as I write this, you are soon to return. And even when living away from ‘home’ (you will continue to call it that whenever you speak of it), you will still visit and be proud of being from the area. But you’ll live most of your years to the tune of the ‘Lambeth Walk’ rather than ‘Lambton Worm’. You will also fall in love with a city you haven’t yet even visited (although you passed under it on the tube when you had your first overseas trip a couple of years ago). You will also have affection for many other places around the world that, for now, you have only seen on TV or read about in books.

You might wonder about family, and it will be no surprise to discover that you are now an orphan. There will be other loss and pain for you around family matters in the next few years, as a family schism means a break with your brother and sister. That pain subsided; however, the effect of the loss will stay with you. Happily, Andy and Judith come back into your life. And while they were both out of it for a long time, they were never out of your heart, and absence made that heart ever fonder, and all was well in the end. Although sadly, Judith, too, has now recently passed away.

As to girls, something of an interest of yours, as I recall, and something that you hoped would lead to a long marriage and children of your own at an early age. Like the other unexpected outcomes, life has some surprises in this area too. You will get married much sooner than you ever imagined, and yes, there will be kids (and, one day, grandkids). Your married lives (yes, there will be more than one) will bring you much happiness but also, at their end, some emotional pain and loss. But, while long in the future comes a life living alone, you will be comfortable with that.

The affection for art you discovered some years ago in the Kelvingrove Gallery and your more recent appreciation for literature will be lifelong companions. Many, many hours will be spent in their delicious company. One writer will influence your lifetime view of society and political outlook. Another will give you an insight into the magic of language and prose. As for music, its influence upon you is well-established and will never diminish.

The only other part of your life that will remain a constant is your support of Newcastle United. As well as stirring your emotions and giving you some happy excitement, they will continue to frustrate, depress, and disillusion you. You have already learnt stoicism following the team for the past 5 years. You will continue to need that along with much fortitude as you see the rise of several false dawns. Right now, though, the dawn looks bright.

However, what of you? The person?

Well, I don’t think you turned out too badly (I admit I am biased). You wanted to achieve something with your life, and I think you have done that, albeit differently than you currently imagine. You will fulfil the potential you possess. You’ll realise early in your career that you are a natural leader and a good ‘reader’ of people. You learn quickly, and your early self-confidence endures, although you now know a darker, more vulnerable side of your inner self. But you will learn to manage the fear and uncertainty it brings. You remain kind and generous both in spirit and materially. You’re still a bit quick to anger with your sharp summer ‘storms’, but at heart, you remain loving and, more than that, a romantic. Those first shoots of romance that emerged in you a couple of years ago will blossom even more through the years.

You will have many happy times in the life ahead of you, but you will always look back at the summer you’ve just experienced as the period when you were most content. That time in your young life when it felt like the sun shone every day. Your ‘O’ Levels are just behind you (you did OK, by the way), and ‘A’ Levels are three months away. At sixteen, those months between the two seem a lifetime. You don’t see it right now, but in the coming years, you’ll realise how good life felt in those few months when you had no obligations other than yourself. No demands or pressures upon you. The time was your own. You could play endless games of football and cricket. Take long walks to the coast. Read and listen to music until your heart’s content. Climb Millers Hill and lie on its grassy top, chatting, laughing, and joking with friends. Go bike riding and, on that one memorable occasion, bareback horse riding. So, as you go through life and experience its demands, be patient; one day, a feeling of inner contentment will return, even if your football and cricketing days are behind you by then. The same goes for horse riding, whether bareback or with a saddle!

So don’t worry, Harry, you will survive the knocks, enjoy the laughter, and endure the tears. The future works out for you, and if “the boy is the father of the man”, you can be a proud ‘father’.

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