To Five-Year-Old Joanie On Becoming Seventy

The child we all once were still lives within us, as does the young woman or young man we were before our aging bodies began to betray us with those plaguey ailments and sometimes tougher challenges. I’ve been thinking a lot about this even before my 70th birthday arrived. I know that I am fortunate to have lived a long life; I have dear friends who were denied those extra years in their own lives. So, I try not to whine about aging and be grateful for the blessing of more years. Still, it is true what they say: as we grow older, memories we may have set aside often flood in; photographs resonate anew; occasionally, with new wisdom, we understand our lives now in ways we could not when we were younger. As I look at this picture of my five-year-old self, I wonder: if the spirit of my seventy-year-old self could lean protectively over her through time--as she looks into the distance--and could speak to her heart, what would I whisper to her that she could unconsciously draw on in the years ahead?

Maybe this . . . .

“Joanie, you are a precious child, happy and healthy. You have a vigorous life ahead of you with family you love and who love you. You will have friends from all walks of life who will support you and teach you as family, too. You will enjoy a long, richly rewarding career as a teacher with students you adore, and some will love you back. You are an animal lover from early childhood: you will be surrounded by them all your life, including dozens of rescues; they will bless your life, too.

"But, like all people, you will also make mistakes you must learn from; you will have trials that will test you. Still, you must always believe in yourself and the people you love. No matter what happens, never worry about what other people think of you (they probably aren’t thinking about you at all), or what obstacles they place in your path (you will see them for what they are); or even about the ones who will disappoint or hurt you (they needed to be let go). Remember the ones who stood by your side and whom you stood by as well: they will keep you. Remember you are strong: though you may feel battered at times because you will have to work all your life, and you will be tested all your life--you will always survive.

"However, Joanie, part of your survival will include two major events. First, you will meet the man who will become the love of your life, who will love you, too. But, because of the coming darkness you cannot prevent, you will try to grab his hand and run away with him, hiding him, protecting him from his destiny. You cannot. And if you could, then he would not be able to save the lives of the people he is meant to save even at the cost of his own life. Your role will be to honor him, love him, ensure he is never forgotten by the world.

"But, also, if you could stop him, the second major event, who is your own child a few years later, would not have his rightful destiny. The first event will become the greatest challenge of your life, and the resultant tragedy will haunt you. But your child has much to do as well: people whose lives he will touch, music and stories he will write, animals he will save, happiness he will seek and share. You will be this gifted, precious child’s mom, blessed and amazed and comforted every day by his birth, talents, kindness, and very presence in your own life as he grows into the fine man you love and admire.

"So, Joanie, even when you are tired or filled with self-doubt, when you think you can’t go on, when your body begins to fail, when the stinging grief of terrible loss rips into you through the years--there will always be a reservoir, a bit of energy, a bit of hope left. You will be sustained by the reservoir, by your students who will inspire you, by the people you love and who love you back, by the memory of the adored man who loved you and remains in your heart, by your beloved child. And this is what will happen: you will be 70 one day, and you will look back on the picture taken of your happy five-year-old self--gazing into the distance--and you will understand. The happy child still resides within—tested yet strengthened throughout her long life. You will want to look back and whisper to her, protect her from the distance of years: but you will then realize it is she with her joy and youth and hope who protected you all your life. And you will begin to understand the great mystery of the human soul.”