It may feel as if you are going through the darkest of times; but trust me, things will get better. You’re lying there: cold, alone in some damp and dingy hostel in the middle of nowhere, on your way to God knows where, with the weight of your entire existence hanging in the balance…
I wish I can tell you what I know now.
You’re an idiot for the choices you made.
There is no excuse.
However; you’re only 17, so on the plus side, it’s better to get it out of your system now and learn and grow wise from your mistakes. And you will, little by little. The year ahead of you will fly by like the breeze you feel standing over the Mekong. You’ll end up in places you never expected. Some of the old dreams you’ve guarded for so long will fall short of your expectations. Don’t fret. Newer, fresher dreams will evolve to take their place.
Your new life begins after this night with the sunrise. You’ll hop on a bus with what few bills of kip you have: just enough to get you far enough to where you need to be.
I know you’re planning to get all the way to Vietnam, lose your identity, and succumb to the life of a vagabond; but, you won’t make it. Be happy that your fickle body failed you and you end up at your relatives’ pho shop. You gave up that defiant conviction to lose yourself and you begin to heal. Little by little, what miniscule sense you had before, returns to you. So over warm bowls of beef pho, your broken soul begins to mend and your heart beats anew, with fresh and cleaner blood.
One of the nights during your little exodus, as you were lying in someone else’s bed and wearing clothes not yours, a turbulent storm rages in your mind. Time continues to tick forward: one moment you’re 17 and the next moment you’re 18 and forgetting what it was like to be 17 just a few moments ago. Soft light begins to poke through the hurricane of worry and the clouds open up, briefly. You’ll swear for awhile you felt the presence of God. Maybe it was. You feel lifted and the raging fire thrashing your insides, ceases to exist.
You’ll meet your mentor after this and he will hit you hard with the truth and you’ll breakdown. He’ll tell you how the little toddlers you teach were worried about you when you were off on your little spree and that’s when you’ll shatter completely.
You’ll go many places. Most of your dreams will come true. You’ll find wisdom from the oddest sources. You’ll meet and get to know amazing folks that will get you on your way to where you want to go.
You’ll miss home terribly. You’ll miss your people. You’ll miss your long walks alone along the Mekong. You’ll miss the breeze and the smell of gasoline as you whiz your way through Vientiane.
You’ll finally began to understand the teachings of the great teacher who died over 2500 years ago. For once in your life, you’ll leave a temple actually believing you’re a better person. You’ll be living among monks as a beggar among beggars but will gain great spiritual wealth and an unfaltering state of mind.
You’ll go back to that small town you missed so well and you’ll see some of the old faces you use to dream about. Not many are left though because people change and go and that will be the first time it really hits you. You’ve waited all these years just to go back home to an empty house, where the only thing left of the past is nothing more than a whisper in the wind blowing through the cypress trees. All your friends either got married, moved away to college, or ended up joining the military.
Then you’ll find yourself one year from now in a place you’d never expect yourself to be. From flip flops, a motorcycle, and sunsets over the rice paddies to dress shoes and cruising around America’s capital, alone.
Things will change.
You’ll be driving through downtown D.C. one night after leaving a reception at one of the biggest law firms in America, and you’ll look up at all the lights in the buildings and you’ll feel like you’re on your way. You’ll be standing on some high building’s balcony viewing the whole world below, with the stars above, and you’ll feel that sense of wonder, in complete and genuine awe. The question, “How did I get here” will vibrate within you.
You’ll meet a girl in some harbor town and you’ll think she’s the most wonderful thing. You’ll convince yourself God placed her on Earth just for you. And then you’ll lose her. You’ll lose a lot; but you’ll keep going, because that voice that spoke to you will never leave.
You’ll be okay kid.
P.S. If you could talk to your 17 year old self, what would you tell them?