This setup will take a couple paragraphs, but if you’ve got some time, I want to tell you a story of something strange that happened today. And in the past. Simultaneously.
So I’m currently in Los Angeles for a visit, and I figured that as long as I’m down here, I should meet up with Sarah, a dear friend from my days living in San Diego. We agreed to get breakfast in Irvine this morning, which is roughly about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. I was telling Zech how interesting it is that I would be returning to Irvine, which is exactly the place where my life took a drastic turn about 5 years ago. Long, long, longtime readers will remember that story, but for others, I’ll quickly fill you in:
In 2005 I had finished college and moved to California in search of something (happiness? sense of purpose? a theme for a graphic novel?) After 4 months of working as the mail girl at a lumber company in Northern California I decided it was time to really apply myself to some kind of career path. Hastily, I decided on a Masters of Education program at Concordia University Irvine. I had always wanted to live in Southern California, after all, and I figured I may as well be an art teacher at a Lutheran school because it was the best idea I could come up with at the time. I applied, was accepted, and enrolled, and by January I had moved into on-campus housing at Irvine and started classes. Within three days I was absolutely sure I’d made the wrong choice. I made myself physically sick about it, considered myself a failure, and believed I’d dug myself into a horrible pit. Turns out it was a huge turning point in my life. I dropped out of my classes, with the support and understanding of my friends and family, and I left that entire career path behind me. I could go on and list every single way that this decision impacted my life, and all the countless lessons that I learned from it, and how I’ve never once regretted that decision. But that’s not really the point of this story – the point is that life is very strange and I want to tell you what happened today.
So, this morning Zech and I were getting ready to drive down to Irvine for breakfast with Sarah, and I commented on how funny it is, to be returning there all these years later, when it was really such a pivotal point in my history. And as I logged in to my email to get the directions to the breakfast place, I saw a strange message in my inbox. At first I thought it was spam, with the sender, “capsule” and the subject line, “well hello there my elderly self.” Out of curiosity, though, I opened the email and was told that I had a message from my past. Apparently, five years ago, I wrote a message through some internet time capsule service, and it was now being delivered. I have no recollection of writing this message, but I recognized it immediately as my own voice. I’ll share what I wrote with you. (To put it in context, five years ago I was just getting ready to move down to Irvine, so of course, I had no idea what was about to transpire, what with the existential crisis and dropping out of grad school and all that.)
It is the year two thousand and five as I write this. I am living in Fortuna California with my grandmother’s sister. You are me, five years later. What has become of me, I can only wonder?
Am I a teacher? Because right now that is what I’m preparing to go to school for. Right now I’m grumbling about how much it is costing me to just APPLY to grad school (it is costing almost one thousand dollars, which, in 2005, is a lot.) Am I still living in California? Am I driving a hybrid car? Am I looking for scraps of food in the gutters?
Am I married? Dear God how depressing, if I am 28 years old and not married. Have I even had a chance to be married? Has anyone ever fallen in love with me? Right now I am getting over some heart ache, bruised not broken, by a boy I never should have fallen for in the first place. I’m sure you remember all of this, future me. You really liked him.
Do I have children? Do I have friends? Do I have the same hobbies as I do now? Don’t I ever get tired of “learning guitar?” Have I had a book published? Have I finished a comic book? Have I sold a painting? Have I learned to surf? Have I learned anything?
Oh future me, have I figured out what leaves me so unsatisfied? Have I filled that hole? Is it doubt? Is it loneliness? Is it chemical? Is it real at all? Have I made a connection? With anyone?
There are certain things that I have never doubted, to this day, in 2005. Things like God and salvation and redemption. Do I still believe in those things? If not, I should, okay? Because they are very real to me in 2005. Can I save you with this time capsule?
In five years it will be 2010. There will be a lot of changes. We will have a new president. I will have made a lot of choices. Do I regret any of them? Have I learned, yet, to live beyond my regrets?
Future me, I hope you are doing well. I hope that we are doing well. We’ll always be connected, whether you like it or not. You must live with me forever. So let’s just be friends, let’s get along. And let’s gang up on the 2015 version of us, I hear she is getting a little bit rowdy!
I wrote this shortly before I was going to move down to Irvine. I read it shortly before I was going to drive down to Irvine, 5 years later, knowing everything I learned between then and now. Needless to say, it was a very strange coincidence. Zech says it’s not a coincidence, and I’m inclined to agree with him about that. He also suggested that I write a reply to this letter, that I write back to my 2005 self. So now, after spending the day in Irvine, even visiting the campus where my supposedly rock-solid plans crumbled, I will do just that.
It is the year 2010. We are doing a strange thing, writing back and forth between years, but this is a strange time to be alive. I wanted to reply to your message. I just returned from a visit to Concordia University Irvine, where you seem to think you’re about to earn your Masters degree in education. Well, I should tell you, that doesn’t work out exactly the way we planned. We dropped out after two days of classes. We moved to San Diego and worked for five months. We quit that job and moved back to Wisconsin for a few years. Now, in 2010, we are living in Portland, Oregon (although not to confuse you, this message is being written in Los Angeles, where you’re enjoying a sun-shiny visit.)
You asked a lot of questions in your message. You didn’t say very much about yourself, 2005, you mostly wanted to know about the future. That is very much like you, and I should say, we haven’t changed much in that way. We still have very little interest in revisiting our past, which is why today was a very funny thing (to get this message from you) and this is probably a very good, if not bizarre, exercise. Writing to you, my past-self, that is. But, for what it’s worth, I’d like to address your questions. For the most part, you’ve been pretty patient to hear the answers.
You are not a teacher, and you have not revisited that whim. You’re not driving a hybrid car, but you did just finish a year without a car, so that should about equal out. You’re not searching for scraps of food in the gutters (you joker you) but you do sometimes eat like crap. You should take better care of yourself. We should take better care of ourselves. I should take better care of myself (This tense/person stuff is getting confusing!).
You’re not married, and it’s not actually depressing. You have done so much with your life once you learned to enjoy being single. Plus, you’ve got a really wonderful boyfriend these days, so who knows. You don’t have children yet, but you do have really amazing friends. If I told you that you won’t always feel lonely, would you believe me?
Don’t call the things you love, “hobbies.” There are things in life you have always been passionate about, and you are finding ways to make them a priority. You haven’t been published yet, but you just finished drawing your first graphic novel (that’s right, you finished!) and you are hopeful. You are proud of what you’ve done in the past five years.
As for what leaves you unsatisfied, I’d say you are further along in that journey, at least. Much further. You have become closer with God, more intentional in your relationships, and more grounded in the things that really matter. The ups and downs of life continue to come at you, and are unpredictable as ever, but you are learning to be okay with that ambiguity. You are learning how to deal in gray areas. You are learning how to trust. We will always be learning that one, I suspect, as it’s not an easy lesson.
If I may, you’ve matured a lot since you were 23. This is natural, as a person grows older, so don’t get puffed up about it. But really, when I read your message I was struck by how lost you felt at the time, and how desperately you wanted answers. To be fair, you taught me things as well. I was struck to hear you say that we would always be connected, that we are the same person, and we should learn to get along. I still have a hard time facing the past, and I still have a tendency to ignore my past and fret about my future. But really, we need to find a balance. To appreciate our past, hope for our future, and enjoy our present. I don’t hate you, I’m not ashamed of you or embarrassed of you. You are doing your best and learning a lot. Your message has encouraged me to continue in this way. If, five years from now, I get another email from the past, I hope to be searching as honestly, and earnestly, as you are now.
This has been a weird, wonderful day. Here’s an article about this time capsule email project, if you’re interested. When you read about all of the trouble that went into it, it makes me appreciate the experience even more, and makes this strange coincident feel strangely less coincidental.
And now I’m trying to shake the urge to watch the Lake House. (Kidding!)