When I look at this photo, I am reminded of how far I have come - of how many challenges I surpassed, battles I lost, victories I enjoyed, hours, days, months, or years my determination was repeatedly tested, lessons I learned and still continue to learn, the people who came and went or stayed, and the many times I changed the course of where my life was going.
The constant question I have asked myself remains as powerful today as when I started asking it 9 years ago. I would ask, "What will your 8-year-old self say to you now?" I think she will still say the same thing, "Not bad, Den. Not bad at all."
But then I realized that maybe I should also ask those other versions of 'a younger me' and reflect on big events at certain ages that made, broke, and reinvented my life. Maybe you can even make your own list too. It's quite therapeutic (at least for me).
Here are what my other younger selves would probably say to me.
10-year-old Den: "See? I told you that you did nothing wrong. I'm glad that you no longer wait for acceptance into unkind circles. Well done, you brave girl."
12-year-old Den: "You know it happened. Don't let her change your truth. Forgive her anyway but don't you dare agree that it never happened."
14-year-old Den: "You have not destroyed your life and you are also not as angry. You have learned to channel your anger into something creative. Keep going."
16-year-old Den: "I'm glad you chose to go to the university that was as far away as possible. The sad truth was that many people would have not given you a chance to transform your life. You made the right decision to move away from home."
18-year-old Den: "Working at a young age was tough but it was a blessing in disguise, don't you think? Look at where you are now. No one can ever accuse you of being lazy nor of not being able to stand on your own feet."
20-year-old Den: "You were always so restless, impulsive, and wanting to do everything at one time but now you have finally slowed down. Good."
22-year-old Den: "I told you not to take opportunities for granted because they don't wait on anyone. Take good care of what is being offered to you and make the best out of it."
24-year-old Den: "Do you know how frustrating you were with your horrid choice of men and relationship woes at this age?!? I wanted to bash your head just so I can knock some sense into you."
26-year-old Den: "Enough said. That struggling artist phase was a disaster. "
28-year old Den: "Good job in working your way up but you are doing a better job now by doing the kind of work that makes you happy."
29-year-old Den: "Thank you for traveling and for the many adventures that came thereafter. You will have so many stories to share with your little ones in the future."
30-year-old Den: "You are a published writer! You have been wanting to do this for such a long time. I'm so proud of you. Please continue writing. Never mind if it's not mainstream or the kind that will be a bestseller. Just keep writing the stories that you have safely tucked in your heart, the ones that you, yourself, would have wanted to stumble into."
31-year-old Den: "You could have handled that better but there really was no point in wallowing. You did what you did. It wasn't your proudest moment but I'm glad that you have learned not to beat yourself up. Most failures humble us and teach the greatest lessons."
33-year-old Den: "When's Operation: Redienne Selah happening?"
34-year-old Den: "I know it still hurts. You will always miss him, Den. Remember Doc Danny with gladness. I'm sure he would have wanted that. Know that he was proud of you."
35-year-old Den: "I don't know what you were thinking but I'm happy you are alive. You don't need black eyes and bruises. Please, be kind to yourself."
36-year-old Den: "You showed up for your dream. Thank you for not letting go. Thank you for using whatever ounce of courage you had left in you then. Thank you for picking yourself up. Thank you for believing."
37-year-old Den: "Well, well, well. The #1 rule breaker is now a stickler for law and order. It's a relief that you are no longer waging wars with regulations."
38-year-old Den: "I approve of your husband. He is a wonderful man. Congratulations! You deserve to love and be loved."
39-year-old Den: "Well, look at you. Grateful, at peace with your past and your aging body, with a hundred dreams fueling you to take one step forward each day. I love you. God loves you even more than you can imagine."