Write to your future self and unlock a portal to the past, says Swati Daftuar.
Write a letter to yourself. Make this letter the most honest thing you’ve ever written. Fill it with what you know and remember; what you might forget later. Fill it with things that matter to you and send your future a reminder. Use a pen. Use paper. Slip this letter inside an envelope, put your name on it, tuck it in a safe place, and forget about it.
Then, when you are older; when you feel yourself hardening, when you feel your skin thickening and your eyes becoming glassy, open this letter. Read it and it’ll remind you of what you might be losing; not memories of songs and movies and the old Cartoon Network. This letter will be your shout-out to yourself from the past. It’ll remind you of everything you wanted to do and everything you wanted to be, once upon a time. And if you are lucky, it’ll bring back your youth in a way that even a rerun of Dexter’s Lab cannot.
Don’t choose an age to write this letter. Choose a time. Choose a time in your life when you can still find your heart twists with determination and swells with hope. Choose a time when you can make promises to yourself with the intention of keeping them. Write this letter when you realise that every day, through the window of your car, from the balcony of your house, on the way to work, you see things that you want to change. A time when poverty and despair and illness fill you with purpose and resolve, not impotent and uncomfortable rage; when life’s unfairness and unkindness makes you want to do something; when you want to get your hands dirty and keep your heart clean.
There are two kinds of magic we believe in when we are young. One’s the type that gets princesses out of scrapes and pulls rabbits out of hats. And then there is the other kind, the kind that makes us believe that we can grow up to be superheroes, that we can right wrongs and save the world. It’s the kind of magic that we have taken to calling idealism. The strange, fleeting magic of youth that vanishes far too quickly and leaves behind nothing except cynicism and a laid back, silent acceptance of things as they are. We grow out of all kinds of magic, and we forget that once, we weren’t who we have become now.
When you write this letter, hold on to this magic. Hold on to your will to become a superhero. Hold on to your naïve indignation and your childish rage. Write down what you see and what you would rather see. Write down how you feel when you spot a little girl selling strings of flowers at the traffic signal. Or how you feel when you read the newspaper and find reports of rape and violence and discrimination. Tell yourself how you never want to cheat, how you never want to hurt someone weaker, how you don’t mind sharing what you have and don’t understand why people are greedy.
Write down everything you think is wrong with the world. Pour into this letter the idealism that you still have. Make it a letter of the smallest complaints and the simplest solutions. Reach out in time through your words and tell yourself that you cared; that there was a time when you cared deeply and actively. That when you were young, life had served you hope and determination in equal measures and made you think that you could, singlehandedly, save the world.
Maybe this letter will remind you that you didn’t, after all. There is a possibility that it’ll make you sink back into yourself and feel lost and defeated. So put a little note in the end, and in this note, be kind to yourself. Reach out and jog your memory and tell yourself that these words, these thoughts, these hopes are yours to keep. This person you have become, this person reading about themselves in the past, has only forgotten. That this idealism, this naiveté is only hiding from the assault of jaded reality. Then, maybe this letter will remind you that if you want, you can try again. It won’t be the same, it won’t be effortless, but it’ll still have a big advantage. This time, you’ll be able to turn that idealism into action. If you can remember what you wanted to do when you grew up, how you wanted to change the world and make a difference, maybe this letter will remind you that this time you were waiting for, you time, has come.