Dear Younger Version of the Current Me,
Why are you so smug about being young? It’s really not like you. You are so kind about other things. You care about the environment, for example. You recently marched in that nuclear weapons protest in front of the UN. You even volunteered, unprompted by your parents, at a soup kitchen. Sure, it was only one summer, but you went. And you went again. Maybe, like, three or four times. And when you went, you felt good about yourself, not in an entitled, self-satisfied way, but in a way that said, “I have seen suffering and I have done my bit to alleviate it.”
But you also haunted cafés where parents sometimes brought their children, and children being what they are, they cried and whined, and sometimes threw tantrums. Instead of trying to understand the pain and misery of the poor woman who only wanted a cup of coffee and knew it would be a fucking disaster to bring little Becky, or Bridget (or whatever her name was) along — but hell, it would probably be a way to kill an hour and maybe even, by some miracle, stuff some food into the little beastie that wasn’t scooped from a jar left in the back of the pantry because along with coffee she was out of pretty much everything one could eat for lunch — you had to glare at them. Not once. Not twice, but on and on. And even when she looked up at you with desperate eyes and mouthed, “I’m sorry,” did you smile? Did you reply with a kind word of sympathy? No. You thought to yourself, why the fuck did you bring your child here where serious people try to do serious work? And you rolled your eyes.
And perhaps I — that is to say the older version of you who were once so young — would not be mouthing those same words of apology to that smug little fucker reading Wittgenstein, with his beard, and hipster sneakers, and stupid face, if only you (that is to say the young me) had been nicer. Perhaps I would not be simultaneously feeling like I will never have a moment’s peace from the child hanging on my arm crying for a brownie even though it’s only nine-thirty in the morning. And, No! No matter how desperate I am for my child to just stop, I will not stoop that low, unlike last week.
If you had only offered that poor, desperate mother all those years ago any word of encouragement, or even done something remarkable like buy her a cappuccino and some steamed milk with vanilla syrup for her miserable child, perhaps now you wouldn’t feel so desperately alone, trapped in this parent-like body that will never ever sleep again. And you wouldn’t be longing for comfort from any human being who possesses a modicum of rationality, even that fucker who, I swear if he glares at me one more time I will redefine analytic philosophy for him with my shoe up his ass.
And you wouldn’t be seeking eye contact with any willing person in the café to relieve your desperate humiliation at this moment by acknowledging a commonality of feeling. A recognition of our social contract that we are all human. We all have our shame, our flaws, and our love for each other, even if that “other” is a screaming child who, projecting snot and sneeze-juice in all directions, has likely infected every last patron with the nasty head cold that has already decimated his family.
So, please, younger self. Be kind. Smile instead of being such a dick. When the poor mother apologizes, say, “No problem.” And remember that destinies are shaped by small gestures. Go out of your way to help and be compassionate. Because if you don’t, everyone will hate you and your son forever. And you will deserve it.
Eric Henry Sanders