This morning I sat down at the table with my 22-year old self. She drank ginger peach black tea with cream and sugar. I drank darjeeling, black. We met in a cafe, the kind with classical music and the pleasant hum of conversation in the background. The people sitting next to us wondered if we were sisters or if I was the mother and she was the daughter. It was clear we were related but there were definitely significant years between us.
We met by chance earlier this year and had been planning this breakfast date for months, but both of our schedules have been so busy we couldn’t meet until now. We didn’t know we were the same person.
I asked her how life was. She prattled on about grad school and her first year of marriage. She showed me a stack of photographs that she had made in the darkroom. She is working to start a photography business of her own to help pay the bills. She and her husband are just starting out–they are clearly deeply in love and finding their way through the first small struggles of building a life together. It is moving to see someone so freshly in love. It stirs up a bittersweet longing in me to experience those days again.
She asks me what my life is like. I tell her that I have six children, that we homeschool, that we teach music lessons from our home. I told her that we get to eat every meal together as a family, and that I consider it one of God’s greatest kindnesses to me that my husband and I both work from home and get to raise our children together. She laments how little she gets to see her husband–between her schooling, teaching, and his 10-7 job, they are starved for time together. I remember days like that, I tell her. It’s tough. She asks me what it is like to be married for fifteen years. I am completely honest with her. I tell her it is wonderful.
She tells me that she hates it when people tell her to wait till the honeymoon is over. I roll my eyes and laugh and agree. I tell her that people never stop saying things like that. When you have children, they say: wait until he’s walking, wait until she hits the terrible two’s, wait until they’re teenagers… I tell her I don’t believe in those kind of statements anymore. I tell her that love grows and deepens in a way that you can’t even begin to understand when you are standing at the beginning of it. I would never trade the love that we have now for those early years. It was amazing and exciting, and it was the thing that propelled us into this great love story. But fifteen years in, our souls are superglued together. They can never ever be separated. I describe the look in my husband’s eyes that I never saw until he became a father. It is a look that draws me deeper into love with him. We have been through joys and sorrows. We have weathered storms and come out more grateful to be alive and together. I know this is forever love.
I can see gratitude in her eyes when I say this. Like all along she has been hoping that love doesn’t have to fade away, even if that is what we are culturally conditioned to believe. I am reminded of the people who gave me this kind of hope when we were just starting out together. I will never forget the impact it made on me. And how it was a balm for my soul.
I am reminded of myself when I look at her. The uncomplicated version of myself–the one that is deep in thought over a journal with the right pen. The version of myself pre-children. The version of myself that sees and feels deeply and has the ability to turn off all of the noise and distractions in life and just process and feel and write. I don’t even try to articulate to her what a gift she has been given–uninterrupted thought. I know that it will be years before she can even begin to fathom what I am talking about. I notice all the things that are beautiful about her. And even though I don’t know we are the same person, because we are alike in so many ways, I compare myself to her. The fresh haircut that frames her face, the vintage dress and Doc Martins, her easy, fluid way of talking. Her confidence. How pretty she looks. I am a little taken back by her zest for life, for ideas, for making a mark on the world. I am convicted by her passion. I think to myself that I want to be more like that.
She perks up when I tell her I am a writer. I explain that I don’t have a lot of time to write, but that I am working on a book that I hope to eventually publish.
I told her that I love to bake. That I grind my own grain and make bread. She said that is something she has always wanted to learn. I tell her maybe I can teach her one day.
I tell her that my children are my friends. That they fill our house with music and laughter, and that they fill my life back up with wonder.
I get a text saying the baby needs me and tell her I better get going. She said that’s best for her, too, because she has a big critique coming up in two days, and she has no idea what she’s going to show. She is praying for a good idea, and she’s going to keep sitting here for a few more hours brainstorming and trying to come up with a new project. I don’t envy her that kind of pressure.
I sense a real gratitude in her that I’ve taken time to meet today. I can tell that she is trying to figure out her place in the world, that she is hungry for conversation about spiritual things, that her mind is working about what it is like to be a wife and mother and how to reconcile that with the calling that she feels God has put on her life. She is gathering data for what her life may become one day. She is seeing what works and what doesn’t. She is making lists in her mind about her future. I understand. I do the same thing.
We exchange a hug and both say, at the same time, that we’ve so enjoyed getting together. I can tell she she means it. I feel like I’ve learned something from her. And she feels the same about me.
Let’s do this again sometime, I say.
I grab my journal, stuff it into my bag, wave goodbye, walk out to the car, and head back home to a houseful of people who love me. I feel rich. I feel alive.
I see her disappearing in my rearview mirror. And I think to myself,
I would never go back to 22.
I take a deep grateful breath and drive on home.