When I read the teaser to Letters To Me: Conversations With A Younger Self, a new anthology of retrospective wisdom edited by Dan Schmidt, I imagined a collection of reprimands and finger wags in the spirit of “If I only knew then what I know now.” Good thing I like surprises.
Letters To Me reunites writers with their younger selves, inviting readers to sit at the table and share in nineteen heart-to-hearts between artists, teachers, poets, consultants, bloggers, pastors, activists and their earlier versions—with almost no finger-wagging to be found. The letters are validating, not reprimanding, infused with a kindness and grace I know I certainly needed on my way to becoming Me. Sure, you’ll find a few forehead slaps in each letter—my favorite being when Seth Barnes confronts his self-in-progress over yelling at a rooster—but the compassion in this gentle scolding predominates, giving way to luminous moments of forgiveness and self-acceptance that will shift how you talk to—and about—yourself.
This is why I love Letters To Me: this heartfelt collection of chats between Now and Then reinvents the exercise of looking back as a way of affirming the present and accepting the past, instead of fretting and regretting. In fact, while the anthology is built on the If Only premise of somehow reaching backwards in time, its message is firmly rooted in Today. “Relax!” the contributors seem to say. “Stop worrying about who you’ll turn out to be and just be.” Reading each letter, you’ll get the sense that each writer on the roster is speaking as much to their current self as they are to the former.
Of course, to embrace life as it is happening to us—the emerging theme of Letters To Me—can be painful, a truth these nineteen writers unanimously want their younger selves to know. Kristin Ritzau captures it perfectly when she writes: “I’m sorry. This does indeed suck.” And in her letter to “Little Therese,” grown-up Therese Schwenkler grapples with a loss her younger self has yet to experience, revealing how Little Therese helped the Therese of 2012 learn how to accept, understand, and ultimately grieve love.
Letters To Me is a humbling, human anthology that breathes new life into the lost art of letter writing and encourages readers to approach future trips down Memory Lane with joy, compassion, and self-love. Finishing the book, I can’t help but feel that, somewhere out there is a Rachael-less-traveled who is patiently waiting on her letter.
Dear Me…it sure has been a while. You’ll never guess what I have in store for you!