I had not stepped foot on the Bowling Green State University campus since the day I walked off it dressed in my graduation robes and tassel.
Twelve years later, I finally returned.
University Hall—where I’d had so many classes—was dimly lit, shadowy, the floorboards creaking and footsteps thudding just like they had all of those years ago.
It was a Saturday, and the hallways yawned wide with their weekend abandonment.
I located one of my old classrooms, and as I neared that familiar doorway, I half-expected to see one of my professors standing at the front of the room. I could almost hear my fellow classmates sitting there, flapping notebooks, shuffling papers, discussing homework and exams.
The desks looked the same. I touched my fingertips to the cold tops. The musty smell of the room made my visions palpable.
I had back to back classes in this room one semester. Craft of Fiction blended into Shakespeare. I sat in the first row when you came in the door, the third seat back.
Time travel exists—our memories so forcefully move us, jar us, suspend us between the now and the back then.
I slipped into my old desk and felt space and time collapse. The English teacher I am became the English student I was.
In my mind, I stood at the front of the room and pictured my young self sitting at that desk.
What would this teacher say to that student?
Here are five things I would share with her:
- Love isn’t what you think it is. You’re going to lose precious years of your life to what you felt was love. You’re going to move from state to state and sacrifice your own ambitions. You’re going to regret it, deeply. Actions always speak louder than words. Two people do not always feel the same way for each other—Love’s hardest lesson. Two people can have genuine care and trust—Love’s greatest joy. You’re worth someone’s time and affection. Most importantly of all, you are worth someone’s respect.
- Never take Time for granted. Each minute is a valuable gift. Don’t squander them. Clocks are a ghastly invention. Each tick is a silent death. Your grave chases you like the second hand of a clock. It is all too easy to kill time. There are no reset buttons. If you want to do something, do it now. Enjoy the journey; the stopping point will arrive far too soon.
- Be content with your life. You will never be anyone other than who you are. You are the sum of your experiences, the result of your choices. You will become what you never wanted to be and enjoy it more than you could have believed. Revel in waking up and finding yourself in your own skin again, even as it ages. Stop waiting for your life to begin. Never want to be anywhere else. Never want to be someone prettier, richer, or smarter. Never ignore the simple pleasure of searching across a crowded room to find a familiar pair of eyes searching only for you.
- Your faith will waver. You will doubt the certainties of your childhood. You will doubt that God exists. You will doubt your prayers are heard. You will spend months barely able to eat, crying yourself to sleep, betrayed by your own body, doubting you can ever reconcile who are you with what you believe in your soul. Was there a Jesus? Did he die on the cross? Is there a Heaven? If you accept earthly happiness, will you even be allowed entrance into Heaven? If your faith didn’t waver, it wouldn’t be worthy enough to believe. The questioning and the struggles provide insight into day to day existence, offer a rare sense of compassion, and grant the ability to accept others in a spirit of peace. Without the wavering, faith can harden into piety. Doubts are the necessary bridge between spirituality and true humility.
- Not everyone is going to like you. No matter what you do, no matter how kind you try to be, no matter how much effort you expend—there are people who will simply not like you. You will have moments when you will have to be unlikeable, and that’s okay. Do not purposely offend or harm. Be as good as anyone can be, and wish everyone well. Try to smile and tip a hat to everyone. You cannot constantly walk on eggshells. This will be your hardest lesson.
As I finished my lecture to my younger self, I felt satisfied at the wisdom I had imparted. But, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a silhouette on the periphery. Another teacher. Her hair grayer, face creased from laughter and sadness. She nodded to me and beckoned me towards her.
I know another lesson awaits me from a wiser teacher. Already, I know in another twelve years, she will teach me that everything I just taught my younger self is foolhardy and the years ahead will render it all a lie.