You turn 22 today. Happy birthday, sweet pea. It’s an exciting moment in your story. Another year, another step in the midst of your real, wild, precious life. This time last year you wrote a letter to yourself to try and teach yourself lessons for the future. You wanted to learn how to be patient, how to laugh, how to remember the moon rising over the Atlantic or the feeling of your muscles carrying you home.
And here we are, a year later. How we grow is not best measured in years. It’s a tangled, unlikely journey. You’ve grown much more and much less than you think. You won’t really know what the last year was until you’re telling someone years from now, when “Stubborn Love” by The Lumineers plays on the radio and you smile.
But the very first Dear Sugar column you read (funny, isn’t it? That wasn’t very long ago) was from a 22 year old. It was called “Tiny Beautiful Things” and it changed your life. And now a book by the same name is on its way to you. Dear Sugar’s letter was asking for advice. What would you tell yourself at 22? It seemed like the right moment, now, to write that letter.
Give more than you have. When someone asks you to take a walk with them and they hold their heart out, trembling and raw, to you, take it gently. Sometimes you must give it back to them. Sometimes you must hold it in your hands and not let go. Not even when you don’t know what to do and you are screaming in your head that you are only 22 and you don’t know anything! Not knowing and still holding on is the gift.
You are not your college transcript. You are not the silver bowls gathering dust next to your brother’s Star Wars battleships – not the awards, not the opportunities, not even the ones you are most proud of. Laugh, Hilary. How could those things be the sum of who you are? You are alive and growing. There aren’t boxes or categories to contain you.
If your heart feels left behind, remember that love is never wasted, only given a new purpose. Remember that disappointed hopes are still beautiful. Remember that most of the work you were meant to do was in the hoping, not the coming true.
Don’t work too much. There is enough time. Not everything you touch is urgent.
You are most wise when you admit you have no earthly idea what the hell you’re going to do. You are closest to the truth when you lie in your bed sweating on a July night and whisper to Jesus that He’ll have to fix it, because you can’t.
You aren’t really very old, sweetheart. So dance to “Hello” and for goodness’ sake, will you please stop worrying about how you look? It’s the time you forgot your makeup and didn’t care that you were the most radiant. It’s the joy you have in your body and your heart that’s beautiful.
Call even if they don’t call you back. Write letters. Do not waste your time on less than real love. Sugar’s right: it moves freely in both directions. Set yourself free from trying to earn it. Give it to others as much as you possibly can, and then more.
Be brave enough to be empty. Be braver than you think you need to be. And yes, you’ll keep learning this over and over. Desire and heartache and confusion and courage can’t be mastered in a day. Or a year. You will relearn everything a hundred times.
It’s a gorgeous world and a broken one. But it is your one wild life, love. Spend your heart in it.