A Letter To You When You’re 18

Thoughts to share with your teenager before they leave your nest, courtesy of Anne Lamott
Photo Credits: Lobito (aka Borja Barrilero) with Sofia
March 7, 2024
Dearest awe-inspiring and awe-inspired (son or daughter),

As you prepare to leave our aegis, take flight, explore and discover yourself and the meaning of your life, we’d like to impart some helpful thoughts. One of our greatest intentions for you is that you expand untiringly upon these and your own perspectives and truths. You’ll hear and be told many things. Some good, some bad, some outrightly absurd, some devastating. But it will always depend on you how you choose to interpret and use this information.

Anne Lamott compiled “a list of everything she knows for sure” in a Ted Talk. We find her disarmingly human and familiar and hope her truths can help you make some sense of some of the doozies you’ll encounter.

“There’s so little truth in popular culture, and it’s good to be sure of a few things.

Our inside self is outside of time and space. It doesn’t have an age. We’re every age we’ve ever been…

The FIRST and truest thing is that all truth is a paradox. Life is both a precious, unfathomably beautiful gift and it’s impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It’s been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It’s so hard and weird that we sometimes wonder if we’re being punked. It’s filled simultaneously with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, desperate poverty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. [It may not seem] an ideal system.

SECOND, almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

THIRD, there is almost nothing outside of you that will help you in any lasting way, unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I resent it. But it’s an inside job and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world. They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem you probably don’t have the answer anyway. Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control….

FOURTH, everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides…. Also you can’t save, fix, rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped [Anne] get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of her behavior and thinking. So she asked some sober friends for help and turned to a higher power. One acronym for GOD is the “Gift Of Desperation”… while fixing, saving and trying to rescue is futile, radical self-care is quantum, and it radiates out from you into the atmosphere like a little fresh air. It’s a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, “Well, isn’t she full of herself,” just smile obliquely like Mona Lisa and make both of you a nice cup of tea. Being full of affection for one’s goofy, self-centered, cranky, annoying self is home

FIFTH, every writer you know writes terrible first drafts. But they keep their butt in the chair. That’s the secret of life. That’s probably the main difference between you and them. They just do it. They tell stories that come through them one day at a time, little by little.

SIXTH, families are hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. Again see number ONE. Remember that in all cases, it’s a miracle that any of us, specifically, were conceived and born. Earth is forgiveness school. It begins with forgiving yourself, and then you might as well start at the dinner table.

SEVEN, food. Try to do a little better, I think you know what I mean.

EIGHT, grace. The mystery of grace is that God loves Henry Kissinger and Vlademir Putin and me as much as He or She loves your new grandchild. Go figure. The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us, and heals our world. To summon Grace, say “Help,” and then buckle up. Grace finds you exactly where you are but it doesn’t leave you where it found you. The phone will ring or the mail will come and then against all odds, you’ll finally get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated Holiness. It helps us breathe again and again and gives us back to ourselves, and this gives us faith in life and in each other. And remember, grace always bats last.

NINE, God just means goodness, it’s really not all that scary. It means the divine or a loving animating intelligence. A good name for GOD is: “Not Me.” Go outside a lot. Look up. Secret of Life.

TEN, Tears will bath and baptize and hydrate and moisturize you and the ground on which you walk…. And when you’re a little bit older, you realize that death is as sacred as birth…. You won’t be alone…. And as Ram Dass said, “When all is said and done, we’re really all just walking each other home.”

If you don’t know where to start, remember that every single thing that happened to you is yours and you get to tell it…. If you take action, take a really healthy or loving or friendly action, and you’ll have loving and friendly feelings.”

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