In this collaborative piece, writers around the world pen letters to their younger selves about coping with an experience that provoked fear. Participants think back on a time they were scared or anxious and offer some tips (including in poetry form!) on facing these emotions from their older, wiser selves.
Let me introduce myself: I’m someone who loves swimming. I happened to see you crying and running away from your coach this morning. Don’t be ashamed. I know that Coach is famous for making young kids terrified, and you’re not the first student to run away from her. But let’s set the record straight: the reason for your fear is not just how horrifying it was when she shouted at you; it’s the deep water itself that made you afraid.
From the moment you first jumped into the pool, when you realized that your feet couldn’t reach the bottom even at the shallowest side, you were already screaming for help silently within. You felt the cold gradually surrounding you, and you struggled for breath, sensing the unpleasant smell of chlorine. That was the exact moment that a possibility emerged in your mind: death. You’ve heard about drowning, and you know that it’s a miserable way to end one’s life. You struggled to get out of water and hid in the washroom even before the coach finished her scolding. Now I’ve found you sitting on the toilet, shivering and sobbing.
No hard feelings, Yasi. I totally understand your fear of death, which is absolutely normal even for adults, let alone for a four-year-old girl like you. However, I’m not here to tell you that what you fear will never come to you. No, I can’t deny the fact that death is inevitable, and it is possible at any second. Nor am I here to tell you how to eliminate your fear, since that’s almost impossible. Rather, I deliver this letter to offer you some advice about how to face your fear.
At this moment, there is only one possible outcome regarding swimming within your mind, which is, unfortunately, death. But consider one question: Is it the only possibility? I admit that you might drown in the pool, although its probability is almost zero when your experienced (and terrifying) coach is watching you. But listen, not only will you prevent your may-or-may-not-happen death by hiding here all day long, but you will also erase the possibility that you actually fall in love with swimming. What does that mean? It means that all that probable fun generated by swimming won’t exist in your life at all. You won’t spend hours of summer vacations playing with your friends in cool water; you won’t have the chance to learn your grandpa’s secret swimming method; you won’t be able to lose weight in such an enjoyable way. All those wonderful experiences are part of my indispensable memories, as a girl who overcame her fear of swimming and turned it into her favorite sport at the same age as you are now.
Anyway, I’m not saying that you have to go back to the pool. You have your own right to decide whether to give it up or not. Just remember that you should never reject a new beginning because you fear one end. If you don’t consider all the possibilities, you’ll miss a lot.
You’ve always been a reasonable kid, Yasi. You know what you should do. No matter what decision you make, you are taking control of your own future — that’s enough.
December 5, 2014, was when your life changed. At 7:21am, you stared at your pink, polka-dotted alarm clock. You had been dreading this day for a while, but more specifically this event; it was time to say goodbye to Bibi (Grandma). As you left her house, your heart sank and tears filled your eyes. Leaving someone who had taken care of you and loved you since birth — your other mother— was the hardest thing you had ever had to do.
The airport was crowded and you jostled your way through. One more goodbye. To Baba. The person for whom you would hide inside a closet so you could jump out and startle him when he got back from work.
As the plane took off, you looked outside and said goodbye to your home for the past eight years. The only eight years you had known. You felt as if your head was being hit with a hammer. Twenty hours later, you landed in your new homeland with a thud as the plane hit the runway. You hated it. How could anyone love a city with so much filth?
You thought things couldn’t get much worse. But they have. You have to share a room with your four-year old brother. Your new school starts two hours earlier than your old one, and you have to wear a uniform. You think you will never get your old life back, and that is true. You don’t know it yet, but you’ll get a better life.
Be patient, because over the next three years, things will change. Moving to Pakistan will mean getting to bond with family you never had a chance to know: people who will be, literally, next door if you need them. People who will stop by after school in sleepwear, watching television and eating your popcorn. You will get a new room, and a vivacious, frisky puppy. Baba will move to Lahore before you know it. You will go to a new school and make incredible friends. You will realize it may have its flaws, but it also has its strengths, like kind-hearted and genuine people. In order to appreciate happiness you will have to feel these sadder emotions. The discomfort, sadness and frustration will all be worth it.
To my younger self:
Hey, would you mind listening to some old lady's words? (For the record, I’m calling myself an “old lady’’ because lots of people say that we sound like an old lady when we are complaining about something.)
Well . . . remember that tragic time when you were looking for the folder in which you had done your homework? Okay, I would like to suggest that you not look for it. Trust me, you won't find it, and you'll find something that you're not ready for, at least not yet.
But if you do look (because I know you will), you have to know that none of what you find is your fault; it's just adult stuff, I guess. You'll notice that both of them will do the same: they'll try to convince you that they are better than the other. It will be some sort of psychological war (luckily it won't be a physical one). However, keep in mind that both of them will be there for you whenever you need them, because they really love you. I know it's hard to realize, but they do.
Let's talk about our siblings now. Our older sister, Natalia: she's so wise and mature, and she's also the one that will support you during hard times. Our middle sister, Leticia: she's so funny. Sometimes she's annoying, too, but in the end, she will teach you a lot and also give you the best advice. And last but not least, our little brother, Rodrigo: you might think he's dumb, but he can fix almost anything without anyone's help. Now, you might be wondering why I'm talking about them? Well, this is because you won't realize how valuable and important your family is for you until you grow up, so, try to remember all of this and get along with them as much as you can. That way you will create new memories with them (which is highly important for us since we have memory issues) and with that you will also strengthen your bonds with them, resulting in a healthier life as a family.
And with this, I've said all I need to say. Be strong and make sure to always thank our parents.
- Your older self
At this age, you are a compulsive liar. Day to day, you draft mini works of fiction in your head and regurgitate them when it feels appropriate. When you see a friend wearing a sweater you like, you inquire about the brand and then feign a realization that you had purchased the same one, only three weeks prior and in green with a different pattern.
You are constantly confined within your “truths,” as such a sweater does not exist and neither does your pink pet bunny, your canopy bed, or your cousin who makes pastries in Paris. But these stories need no further explanation; after all, you are well acquainted with them. At the cusp of when pretend is no longer appropriate, you use these lies to hold onto your imagination and worlds that could be.
For a while, your lies were frivolous, but now you’ve begun to lie about your race. What are you? Those three words act as a catalyst for your lying spirit, causing you to spew out the most far-fetched explanations for your racial background and identity. You claim to be Native American, Mexican, and even to have been born and raised on an island in the Philippines. You are ashamed of being multiracial, an insecurity which has sprouted from a fear of not belonging. Your confusion as to why you do not look directly related to either of your parents channels feelings of isolation and anxiousness. On Sundays, when your mother takes you to her favorite Korean restaurant, you bow your head and narrow your eyes, believing you stick out like a sore thumb, the only person who isn’t fully Korean.
Liana, at the moment, your lies are rooted in a fear of being different and a desire to be something else. We often lie about the things we wish we could change, and our lies embody what we long to be true. Thinking back to your anxiousness, I remember how binary the world seems to a child. Not appearing directly related to your parents does not mean the antithesis is true. You have your father’s ears, your grandmother’s eyebrows, your mother’s chin. But beyond surface observations, what really matters is the soul you share with your family. If you reflect on the mindset your parents have given you, these fears about the way you look will soon fade away. After all, reflection is the cure to insecurity.
I started off scared and insecure,
But over time I evolved.
I’m the new you,
With most of my problems solved.
I know you get scared easily,
And there are a lot of mistakes you’ve made,
But here’s my advice to you
So you’ll be able to rest in the shade
Everyone is staring at you,
Waiting for you to speak,
And your head
Starts to feel weak.
You overthink the overthinkable,
And your mind starts to scream.
You’re standing in front of them
With your smile nothing but a gleam.
You break into a cold sweat,
And your knees start to shake.
Your heart starts pounding
As your world begins to break.
You try to say
Whatever comes to mind,
But everything has gone blank,
And words are hard to find.
You hear a noise,
A thumping sound,
From your heart.
It slowly reaches the ground.
We learn from the past,
To do better later on.
Here’s my advice to you,
So you won’t follow the path down which I have gone.
Courage lies inside us all,
But why wait for fear
To come call it out? All you have
To do is try, and it will surely hear.
Accept your fears,
Know they are there,
Because worrying isn’t going to make them
Face your frights,
Don’t provoke your fears,
Don’t keep crying
Until you have no more tears.
Look fear in the eye,
Tell it what to do,
Because you are the
only boss of you.
Yasi Zhu is a 16-year-old from Beijing, China. Her interests include reading, traveling, collecting coins, musicals, languages, running, horse riding, history, archeology, jigsaw puzzles, and daydreaming. Alisha Amjad is in the seventh grade. She attends Lahore Grammar School in Lahore, Pakistan. Alisha is involved in Model United Nations and her school choir. Gustavo Ramos is a 17-year-old from Coronel Oviedo, Paraguay. He is interested in the environment, video games, politics, cooking, science fiction, chemistry, physics, and psychology and its importance in daily life. Liana Kaye-Lew is a Senior at Polytechnic School. She lives in Los Angeles, California, and is passionate about environmentalism, design, and art. Adya is a 12-year-old student at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India. You can normally find her reading a book or dancing. One of her favorite pastimes is playing with animals (especially her cat).
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