For more community-driven stories, visit our archive.
Out of the Blue
I’ve spent a lot of time in introspection since reaching the four-decade milestone. When I’m driving, I rarely have the radio on. I’m typically lost in my thoughts. On the rare occasions that I’m sitting at home – and not just there to sleep – I more often than not sit in silence. My TV probably wonders what it did to upset me.
I read. I think. I write.
If I could address a letter to myself a little over a year before the turn of the last millennium, it would probably go a little something like this:
Dear Soon-To-Be 21-Year-Old:
I know you know just about all there is
to know about life, but hear me out for a second.
On your birthday, you’re going to try something for the first time that will make you feel uninhibited. Free. Like you can finally be yourself. Like you’re bulletproof.
You should know ahead of time. It’s a lie.
The confidence it gives you is false.
While it might make people more tolerable to be around, those same people will take advantage of you.
While it might make activities seem more enjoyable, it’s going to lead to activities that are unhealthy, life-jeopardizing.
It might numb or cause you to temporarily forget your heartache, but it’s going to cause fresh heartbreak – tenfold.
Sure, it might make girls more approachable, but trust me, those aren’t the girls you want to meet.
You might think it makes you more creative; but it’s a mirage. It’s going to rob you of your creativity.
Worst of all, it’s going to steal from you. It will steal nights. It will steal days. It will steal weeks. It will steal years. It will steal memories.
It’s going to take your money. It’s going to take opportunities. It’s going to take your talent and brain cells and success. It will take your dignity. It will take respect. It will take friends. It will take relationships.
One day, it will take your wife. The next, it will nearly take your life – several times.
It’s going to promise you a lot of things. Don’t believe the lies.
Don’t live your life by YOLO or FOMO. Sure, You Only Live Once, but it’s going to be shorter. And while you live with the Fear Of Missing Out on fun, you’re going to miss out on the important things.
You’re not going to listen, I know. One day, many years later, you’re going to wake up and realize this is the truth; that the narrative you chose to believe, the “fun” life you chose to live was mostly a waste.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
You, 19 years from now
P.S. Don’t be a self-centered, narcissistic [redacted] who lives only for himself. Put others before yourself. Don’t even dream of lighting up that first cigarette. Don’t be so impulsive; little indulgences almost always snowball. Don’t buy that Camaro – you don’t need it. Keep playing basketball and tennis and football. Pick up golf. Learn to enjoy fishing or at least pretend to, so you can spend more time with your dad. Play more Scrabble with your mom. Take up photography, like you’ve always wanted to. Start writing poetry. Work on that novel, a little at a time. Trace your Finnish heritage that you’re so proud of. Learn to play the piano again. Or learn how to play the guitar. Or at least the harmonica. Volunteer more, especially with kids who need guidance. Sacrifice immediate pleasure for long-term goals. Invest. Travel. Learn more about God, instead of running away from Him. Spend as much time as possible with your loved ones – especially your brothers – because you don’t know how long they will be around. Wake up every morning and be grateful for what you have. You’re not bulletproof. Time is short. Make the most of it. Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone.
I’d probably write a whole lot more than that. But that’s the gist of it.
It’s a sobering thought. I mean, what are we (am I) living for? Time’s a-wastin’.
Life is so short Can’t take it for granted Come in with a cry Go out empty-handed
No second chances Make the most of my time Tomorrow’s not promised No regrets when I die
I wrote that little ditty a couple of years ago on a whim. It’s something I should consider every day. It’s something I wish my 21-year-old self had considered. Someone once said, “It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.”
But you can’t bring back lost time. One of my favorite, sad, nostalgic quotes is “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.”
The good thing is I still have today, and however many tomorrows I’m allotted.
Do I wish I had done things differently? Of course. I could have saved myself a lot of sorrow. I could have made a lot more lasting memories. The thing is, however, because of my experiences, I have some perspective and dare I say wisdom that perhaps I can impart to others. I’m still here. I’m not just a tragic tale of wasted youth or solely a cautionary story.
And for that I am thankful, every day.
Until next time…
Brian Miller is a longtime local writer who resides in Eveleth. He welcomes glowing accolades and scathing reviews at email@example.com.