An Open Letter to Adolescents

I recently graduated from college after being away for thirty years. I tell you this only as a way to introduce this blog post. The last class I took was Adolescent Literature, which was really an exploration of issues and problems of adolescents. Our under-lying theme was community. We made our exploration via adolescent literature. We read plays, short stories, non-fiction, biographies, short novels and longer novels. One of the components of the class was keeping an on-going journal, and a final assignment of the class was to make a journal entry that tied together what we had gleaned from the coursework.

Sometimes friends would ask what I was working on or what I might be writing for school. Here is an example. It is my final journal entry. I send it out with love and great wishes for all of you who are wading through the muck and mire called adolescence.

Please bear in mind that since this is a journal entry, it is unedited.

 

An Open Letter to Adolescents

Hey, you! Yes, you, with the nose ring and the bright red streak in your hair. And you, with the sullen look on your face. And you, preppy girl with the alligator on your polo shirt. While you’re at it bring your friends. I have some things I want to say to you. Bring everybody.

No one gets out of this life alive.

The first thing I want to tell you is that you are not alone. No, I don’t mean aliens, ghosts, angels, or even God, for that matter. I mean you are not alone. You are part of something bigger than you. You are part of a community, and what you do matters. Your first community was your family. You may think that sucks, but it’s true. You didn’t choose your family, but there you are, in the middle of it. And no matter how your life goes, you will always be attached in some way, even if only by genetics.

Your life may seem small and controlled by others now, but how do we really know when life ends? In “Our Town” life went on and on, even after death. Dream big. Don’t let the life you know now keep you hemmed in. Even if your life is as bucolic as the sunset over rolling pastures, step outside your comfort zone, leave your home, at least for a few years. Many people refer to this as “The College Years.” If you can swing it, go far enough away so that you cannot commute. Get out of Dodge. It will do you good, especially if you decide to return. It’s good to know what your home and family look like from the outside. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Who are you going to see when you look in the mirror twenty years from now? Thirty? Forty? Will your grandchildren throw themselves gleefully into your arms when they see you? Or will they be wary of you, uncertain of how an encounter with you will go. Yeah, you. You’ll probably be a grandparent.

Don’t be afraid to ask your parents or a professional about sex. It’s good for your parents to be embarrassed once in a while. Besides, your parents do worry about you and care about your sexual activity and inclinations.

I hope you don’t face any early losses through death, but if you do, remember to be kind to your parents. They are fragile too. Even the slightest act of kindness will go a long way. Share your friends with your parents. It will make life better for you in the long run, even if they don’t like your friends.

Speaking of your parents, I want to tell you this. Follow your instincts. If they ask you to lie, steal, or cheat, don’t do it. That money your mother keeps hidden may save your life someday. And if it’s never needed, so much the better. Let it sit there. It’s for you even though you don’t realize it. You just can’t have it now, and believe me, she doesn’t want to have to use it. Because if she has to grab that money, it means the house is on fire, so leave it there like a good luck charm.

Of course we know you snoop.

As your community widens, try not to burn bridges. It’s okay to leave folks behind for a while, but let them go with love. Do not discard them. They are probably having a bad day too and don’t need your disdain.

People who look different from you or have invisible differences like deafness or mental illness bleed just like you do. You don’t need to cut them open in order to prove it.

When you make a promise to a little kid, keep that promise. People are there for you, even if you have to bang on the door to get them to let you in. Be there for the next kid. They are scared too.

Oh – and be willing to put up with a few crappy rules. You will be eighteen soon enough.

Do you remember that girl who was in your Seventh grade class for only one semester? Did you wonder why she didn’t come back after the winter break? Well, she moved back to be with her mom. She was a foster child. She was lonely, scared, and out of her element. Did you take the time to even say hello when she was in your class? You will be given another opportunity to learn this lesson. Stay alert for clues.

Another thing about your parents – yes your parents. They make mistakes. Sometimes they will even pull up stakes and make you move new a new town or a new lifestyle, only to realize once they get there that it was the wrong move. It’s as hard on them as it is on you, so the best thing you can do is stay true to yourself, and if there’s something you love to do, continue to do it. Grow into your own skin and learn to enjoy your own company. You only think everyone else is out partying on Saturday night. Many more are home alone, reading, writing, editing their photographs, watching television, or playing computer games. Find a hobby, something that you can lose yourself in. If you do what you love, you will never work a day in your life. I forget who first said that.

How about that freakish kid in your class with the cats-eye glasses and mousy brown tangle of hair? She never looks up and shies away from any encounter. You heard that when she’s bent over her desk in class, she’s writing notes to herself in cat language. Did you consider this? Maybe she’s the daughter of parents who are abusive or psychotic. Maybe she likes to think she’s invisible so she won’t be hit. Maybe she is psychotic and her parents won’t allow anyone to treat her. Maybe she goes home to a house that is so filled with filth and clutter that a person can walk only a pathway from room to room. She may have had cat chow for breakfast because it was the only thing she could find. Don’t mock her cat language. We all cope any way we can. And let me ask you, when did you take the initiative to develop your own language? She may not respond well to an outreach of kindness, but you don’t have to make fun of her. She didn’t ask to be dropped into a living hell. What gives you the right to make it worse? School might be the safest most supportive place in the world to her. It might be her safe haven. Don’t destroy that too.

Think about the kid in art class who has spent the whole semester working on carving trees in linoleum blocks. They bend over their work, letting their hair fall like a shroud over their face. That curtain of fine strands may be their only protection from the bully who mugged or raped them during the summer. They will let you in, maybe even trust you a little bit, but you will have to step up and say, “Don’t I know you? Weren’t we friends last year? What happened to you?” If you want to have a good life, you need to step up and care.

Beware of those who are in power. Focus on truth, not legend. If truth dispels the legend, then so be it.

You can expect help from unlikely sources, like intuition and spiritual awakenings. Stay open. People will come and go in your life, some like angels to help you, some like ghosts to scare you out of your complacency and the luxury of hiding. Learn who you are. Know your name. Remember who you are. You are someone who matters. You are not a pawn. You are learning to be a self-directed human being.

Question authority or someday you may find yourself in a fight to the death with your neighbor, someone you once helped when they were down on their luck. Don’t be afraid to turn away from what doesn’t feel right. Your intuition is real. Honor it.

Don’t let hate motivate you. Be a leader, or better yet, be an example, and others will follow naturally.

Stop every day, even if only for one minute; look up at the sky and say, “Thank you.” Thank yourself if you have to, or thank gravity for preventing you from drifting off into the stratosphere, never to return.

You’ll be gone soon enough. Believe it or not.