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Lately I’ve been thinking of the relationship between my various selves: who I am now, what I owe to my younger self, what I should do for my older self. So I decided to write them both a letter. Here is the first one:

Dear Anya-of-the-past,

First of all, don’t worry. I’m not going to spend this whole letter scolding you. Okay, maybe just a little. But I want to say the good things first.

I really appreciate that you paid attention in school. This might sound trite, but it actually made a huge difference. The things you learned there proved the most useful in my life – like fractions, and elementary statistics, and geometry. It was great that you paid attention in your honors history and literature classes, because the man that you, I mean I, am with now, just happens to be a philosopher, and you – I wouldn’t be able to even feign understanding if we didn’t know some basic concepts or names.

Also, thank you for sticking with orchestra all through high-school, and for piano. You don’t know how much joy I am still reaping from the experience and knowledge gained there. And in case you’re wondering, neither you nor I will ever really regret not going to parties or getting drunk or wasting away our teenagehood. But for that I guess you or I should thank our parents and friends – that lifestyle was never even a temptation.

Now about you-know-what. Those student loans of yours – ouch. I understand you were not very well informed. And I understand your situation perfectly. I’ve been there…. I know. But you should have thought of me. YOU took them out, and I am left paying them, only now they are much larger, and now I have children to support. And unlike you, I am actually thinking about Anya-Future: she’s gonna be old and feeble, and won’t be able to support herself, so I have to put some money away for her too. If you had gone to community college your first two years, you would have saved me, and us all, a lot of grief. But alas, you were consumed by your present self, which is typical.

The other thing I’d like you to think about is this: why do you do the things you do. Now I know what you’re gonna say, so don’t bother. Just think about it. Some of your undertakings will prove long-lasting, others will prove a waste of time. It would be nice if we could tilt the scale in favor of the former.

Overall, though, you’re doing good. Take care of yourself and spend more time at the beach.

– Anya

*                                  *                                  *                                      *

Surprisingly, a few days later I got a response in the mail. In a hurried, scribbled chicken-scratch is said:

Dear Anya,

Thanks for dropping me a line – I appreciate the sentiment, although it is kind of weird hearing from you. I’m glad the stuff I learned ends up being useful. Don’t take it personally, but I was doing it more for me, the process of learning was enjoyable.

As for the loans, I had to do what I had to do. You’re reaping the benefits of my education now, and so it’s only fair that you should pay now. I will try to take it easy once in a while, but life is so short, you know? And there is so much for me to accomplish, to try, to experience. I have to run.

Catch ya later,

Anya-of-the-past

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About a month ago we celebrated my son’s 6th birthday. There were other mothers at the party, and I got to talking to one of them about children. She mentioned that she had an older son, and when I inquired about his age, she said he was 18. I instinctively thought, “Wow, she looks so young but her son is almost my age…” Only a few minutes later, looking out at my children playing did I realize: I am almost thirty.

Now, as I sit here eating the remnants of my birthday cake, I wonder about age, and growing up, and growing old.

More and more often I find myself thinking, “…but that was ten years ago”. What have I been doing these past ten years? Where have I been? Most of my friends on Facebook are people I met in my teens, kids from school and church, their parents, and, curiously now – their children. Having them so vividly in my memory, I cannot help but notice the physical changes that time has impressed. From 20 to 30, about 70% of my friends gained weight. From fresh and peach-fuzzed they have become amorphous, slushy. Those who have maintained their physical appearance have turned more crisp, all of their features settling in, emphasized by fine creases. For example, now when someone smiles, the corners of their mouth fall into pre-defined crevices – smile wrinkles that weren’t there before. This is a definite indication of age. Also, while ten years ago the softness below the cheekbones protruded ever so slightly to give faces a smooth, roundish complexion, now the cheekbones are exposed, and the cheeks aren’t as full as they used to be. It’s as if the face has become more rigidized: it bends only along its familiar lines of expression.

Physical inevitabilities set aside, thirty, for me, raises several important questions. Do I have to start wearing make-up now? Should I stop climbing the playground equipment with my kids? Should I stop climbing trees? At which point does looking like a fifteen-year-old stop being advantageous? At which point does “looking youthful and silly” turn into “being old and looking pathetic because you’re in denial about your age”? I also wonder about how long I get to look forward into the future for “grand and magnificent things yet to come”. I wonder about when my metabolism will slow down and I won’t be able to chow down cheesecake and donuts with no penalties to my waistline.

There is also that nagging fear that maybe this is the decade in which natural self-regeneration mechanisms start slowing down (which means I’ll have to actually watch my diet, how much I sleep, how much I exercise). Maybe this is even the decade that the little quirks in my body will stop going away on their own. I will have to go to the doctor and “get things fixed” and then pay attention so that they “don’t get broken” again.

The most poignant part about turning thirty is that now I can look back and realize that this is the way my life is turning out. Some mysterious have been revealed. I will live to see thirty. I will get married. I will be divorced. Some of these realizations are painful: I will have only two biological children. I will not have a nuclear family of my own. I will not be a gymnastic Olympic champion. That ship has sailed. Some other revelations are joyous: I will have two children! I will get to work for NASA, doing important things for the ISS Program. I will reach 30 with three of my grandparents still living and in good health. I will get to fall in love, I will get to be happy.

Time did crazy things with me my first two decades of life, but I can say that I was fully cognizant for the past 10 years. I was an adult this whole time, and hours did not seem to go on forever, while years actually took some time to pass. Looking back I have a good feeling of what “ten years” is, and looking forward, I can say that I have just five or six of these chunks of time left. At best. Just five of these finite, tangible pieces of time on Earth. That imparts some real urgency and yet, less and less I find myself wanting to run around grabbing blindly at every activity, thought or project that comes my way. I have a slight suspicion that a lot of the things I’ve done don’t really matter. But something else matters. Something somewhere just out of reach. Maybe I get to figure that out this decade too.

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