To My Past Selves, at 39—

I am proud of who you’re becoming, and your struggles and mistakes are a part of that. But there are things I wish you could have known sooner: 

The religion you were born into is not for you. Other people will find what they need there—you won’t. That’s okay. You’re okay. It’s not you. The sooner you get out, the better. Take the beautiful things—the way that the low vibration of an organ, or voices joined together in song make you feel, a willingness to take care of others in your community, the ability to believe in and appeal to mystery and magic, things you can’t always see. Leave the painful things—the plight of perfection, the shame of bodies and sexuality, the contradiction of the teachings with the actions of policies and politics—those things will poison you if you let them. Find your own way. Sometimes you’ll feel so lost, you’ll long for ritual—maybe study Buddhism. You will find out that you’re happiest when you love yourself and others now, and unconditionally, as if we were all dying. We are. Now is what we know we have, there’s no time for perfection. When you’re holding your dying grandmother’s hand, and she is talking about a Heavenly Father, and Eternity, notice the sound of her voice. Bathe in it. Watch the rise and fall of her chest as her lungs miraculously move air in and out. Match your breathing to hers. Feel the softness of her skin. This is your religion. 

Love your body. It will serve you so well. The legs that you are endlessly critical of, and trying to hide will take you places that will change you. You will meet people who cannot use their legs…don’t wait until then to love yours. Those cellulite dimples and varicose veins are part of your beautiful, working, legs. Please stop hiding them. Be free. Give others permission to do the same. Your stomach, which has never been flat enough for you, will stretch and bulge to grow the loves of your life. Your body will be pushed to its limits, and you will cry tears of joy at what it creates for you—what it’s capable of. Don’t wait until then to thank it. You will age. You’ll start to see it in your face first. When those age spots and soft wrinkles show up, close your eyes and feel your feet in the sand on the coast of Africa, remember the magic of the African sun and wind on your face, the joyful shrieks of the children playing in the breaking waves.

There will be people who don’t like you or what you’re doing. Don’t hustle for their approval, walk away. Look for the advocates who you have always had trouble recognizing. Look for the people who see who you are, and see yourself through their eyes. Then, let others see their brilliance reflected in you. 

It’s okay to not know. You’ll waste too much time worrying if you’re doing the “right” thing. You’ll feel shame at leaving school to work and travel. As your peers achieve academically and seem to be growing up in ways that you don’t think you can, you’ll feel insecure. Here’s a secret—nobody really knows. You’re learning what’s important to you. Life doesn’t begin when you’ve accomplished what you think you are supposed to. Life is now.   

This planet, and the people who inhabit it will break your heart. Keep loving. You will witness and learn about things that may make you wish you weren’t human—that your name, your species, were not connected to those atrocities. When you hear and see those things—immigrant children in cages crying for their parents, calves being kicked in the face by dairy farm workers—let your heart break. Feel it. Then put your heart back together by getting to work. Hear the words of Desmond Tutu, “[Human Beings] can leave you speechless by the horrible things they do, but they also leave you speechless with the incredible things.” Witness the incredible things, be a part of the incredible things, live for the incredible things.