A Letter to my Younger Self Series: Ailsa

Dear Ailsa,

It may seem strange, this being a letter from the future. The last thing you want right now is someone bossing you around. In fact, you just want to be left alone so you can get done what you need to do.

I won’t say you’re wrong to feel that way. Not too long ago, I was feeling kind of grim and disheartened myself.

That was my reaction to the recent election, which has a lot of people sad, angry and freaked out. There’s been a constant stream of rhetoric against minority groups: people of color, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, GLBTQ folks…, the list goes on and on. I live in a liberal part of the country, so I’m more sheltered than most, but it’s still scary, and I worry for those who aren’t in supportive environments.

So I want to talk to you about grit and persistence. About not letting other people’s agendas completely overshadow your own. About how my friends, family, community and I plan to stand strong, and urging you to do the same.

Last month, my spouse and I were in the car, heading home after a holiday get-together with my in-laws. We were chatting about a recent piece she’d written about her family’s tradition of celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas, and agreeing that sharing warmth and good times with loved ones have become more important than ever.

(Bear with me, you’ll want to know this someday.)

Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights. It usually falls in December, the darkest time of the year. Logically, we know that spring comes after winter, so if we sit patiently, eventually the days will grow longer and lighter again.

That, however, is not what Jews do. We light the menorah, adding a candle for every night of Hanukkah, until on the last night the menorah is shining so bright it seems to push back the darkness. Metaphorically, we add more light to the holiday by celebrating with songs, games and delicious food. And while the Maccabees did experience the miracle of the oil, they didn’t expect their temple to be magically reconsecrated; they cleaned, built an altar and made new holy vessels themselves.

In other words, Jews don’t just wait for light to come–we bring it.

Since you’re not religious, let me rephrase this in secular terms. The cliché about light being at the end of the tunnel is fine as far as it goes. I’d add, though, that as much as you want to put your head down and keep your nose to the proverbial grindstone, you need to seek out happiness and joy.

Stop to look at a pretty sunset. Get lost in a funny book or movie. Sing while you’re doing the dishes. Go ahead and geek out with your co-worker about the Coyote and the Roadrunner cartoons. Find friends and community who will love you for you, not for what you can do for them.  If possible, try to find work that involves children (kids’ laughter is literally the best). When you get the chance to bust open those tunnel walls and let the light in, take it.

This isn’t to say that life is going to be all fun from now on. There’s no magic wand you can point at bad things to make them go away. But seeking out people, places and things to love will not only help you get through whatever life throws at you; they are what make life worth living.

I’m writing this as much for me as for you. My post-election funk had me too focused on all that’s wrong with the world. Thankfully, the last four weeks have renewed my faith in the things that matter most. And when I forget, all I have to do is pull out this letter and let these words remind me.

So hang in there, kid. Hugs and lots of light to you…and pass it on.



P.S. Yes, I said “we,” when I talked about Jews. Yes, I mentioned a spouse. No, I’m not going to give away any more spoilers. That’s cheating, and anyway you wouldn’t believe me.

P.P.S. OK, fine. I’m married to this nice Jewish lesbian from Boston. We met in swing dancing class but didn’t start going out until…

I told you you wouldn’t believe me. Guess you’ll just have to find out the future for yourself…


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