Last year, I stumbled upon a post written by a 37-year-old woman reflecting on the advice she would give herself at 17. In a few days, I will be 37, and though I was thinner and less rumpled 20 years ago, from where I sit today, 17 doesn’t look all that pretty. Like many 17-year-olds, I was selfish and naive, and I thought it was the end of the world when things didn’t go my way (which, of course, meant that the world was ending at least once a week).
At 17, any of the following could signify the end of the world:
- a prominently protruding pimple
- missing a spot when shaving
- gaining an ounce
- losing a game
- a bad hair day
- a good hair day seen by the wrong people
- wearing the wrong label
- being labeled
- the break-up of one’s favorite band
- being broken up with
- a younger sibling breaking one’s favorite cassette tape
At 37, the only thing that would signify the end of the world is the actual end of the world, and I would have to see the meteor coming at me before it would matter. Over the last twenty years, I have loved and lost, laughed and cried, had more and less, been puked and pooped on (both literally and figuratively), and helped shape the world view of my future 17-year-olds. In short, life has thrown a lot at me, and I’ve learned that most of it is insignificant at the end of the day.
As I write this, I weigh about fifty pounds more than I did at 17, my legs are unshaven, my pajama pants do not match either the shirt or the faded hoodie I have on, my graying hair has been thrown into a messy bun, and I am sporting two pimples just above my jaw line. Yet, I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and the love of family both near and far — all things I took for granted at 17.
So what would I say to my 17-year-old self? And what will I say to my future 17-year-olds? I could say that it’s not the end of the world, but I’m almost certain that message would fall on deaf ears. Rather, I’ll say something to the people who were there for me each time the world was ending. Thanks, Mom and Dad. You’ve been there with me and for me for 37 years now, catching me when I fall and helping me get back on my feet again. You’ve patiently listened as I lamented my impending doom, and though you were probably inwardly laughing at my naivety, you never once showed it. As your grandchildren approach 17, I’m sure there will be many similar end-of-the-world moments. I’ll give you a call so we can have a good laugh about it.