Sometimes, I mistakenly call my son my little brother’s name. It sends him into fits of giggles every time because to him it seems absurd that I could ever confuse him with his gigantic uncle who towers high above him, has a full beard, and speaks in a low baritone. He doesn’t understand yet that we are all just like those little Russian nesting dolls, the people we are today just housing a bunch of miniature, perfectly intact versions of our former selves. Mausoleums of all of our closed chapters. Somewhere inside of me I’m still 9 and bear a striking resemblance to the girl dressed like a bee in Blind Melon’s No Rain video, and my brother is 7 in his Karate Kid pajamas. To me, it makes perfect sense that when I see a little boy my brother’s name is sometimes the first one that comes to me. Matryoshka Dolls. Sometimes the buried versions are just loud enough that we can still hear them. I’ve spent the past year trying to remember what it is that I really want to do and be in this life, and I’ve been surprised at how much that has caused me to look back instead of forward.
The day that I was struck with the notion that all of the former me’s were preserved inside of the current me, came to me a few years ago while I was bellied up at a bar with my college roommate. Some of my best life thinking has happened in that exact scenario. It’s traditionally followed shortly thereafter by some of my worst, so it all balances out….a real yin and yang of sorts. But anyway, her friend was there too, and he was in the throws of a quarter life crisis, mourning the loss of the inspired kid he thought he was leaving behind. He felt like the free-spirited, adventurous guy he had been in college was being eaten alive and forgotten by the professional grown-up society was forcing him to become. It seemed to be a pretty devastating thing for him as he all but cried into his whiskey, and part of me just wanted to tell him to quit his job and move to Bali so he could be cool again like I always fantasize about doing myself. But, then it sort of hit me that the people we once were don’t disappear at all, they are still in there somewhere no matter what. And if you can’t move to Bali you can still reconnect with them on occasion like I was doing right at that very minute. My current life didn’t usually allow time for listening to the troubles of strangers in the bar midday, but my college self would have considered that to be just another Tuesday. And there I was having a great, grand epiphany, so there was some definite benefit to the activity in question. Sometimes the nested versions that are lost inside of you have to be paid respect and allowed to be heard again just like I was doing that day. I think that remembering who you really were at 10, 15, 20, or 25 can give you some pretty serious insight as to what you want out of your present. I’m willing to bet that as a kid you wanted a lot of the same things that you still want today, even if you’ve lost sight of some of them along the way. Or maybe if you’re honest with yourself, you realize that you’ve even given up a bit. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from spending the past 6 months with kids it’s that there is something to be said for a person before the world beats them down. There have been MANY days where I’ve come home feeling like they taught me as much as I taught them or more…especially when I’ve been lucky enough to hear their ideas, and passions, and dreams. How attainable they all seem to them at this untarnished, idealistic point in their lives… and how disappointed their 10 year old selves would be in their 40 year old selves if none of it came to be. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that.
Today, I let the 9 year old me win. The girl that used to sneak outside with a wide rule lined notebook and pencil to spend the afternoon writing poems propped up against a cottonwood tree. Sure, I had about one quadrillion other things to do and it was slightly irresponsible not to do them, but I didn’t want to disappoint that kid that I know is in there somewhere. Some days the best thing to do is remember ones that have come long before and let them help you figure out what to do with your tomorrow.