Our Younger, Wiser Selves

Once a year, when I’m out climbing a mountain or sitting by a river, I write myself a letter. When I’m finished, I fold it up and mark it with a (stern, brightly-colored) note that says something like READ AFTER 9/16/16! Then, I hide it away in my house for my future self to find. When I do find these notes again, they astound me.

Yesterday, my heart got wrecked by love. I found an old letter written to myself from a younger, wiser me. Here it is.


Dear Jenny,

A year and a day ago, you sat on a hill in Lemmenjoki–the one with Petronella’s ashes–and wrote for hours. You had just turned 28. You had just finished the capstone trek of your journey of a lifetime. I can’t wait to read what you wrote.

It’s strange, this year we are also coming off of a journey, though a much different one. I am sitting on the bank of the Raquette River between two cedars and a red maple, and the OLP class of 2016 is sitting around me. It is day 9 of a 10-day whitewater canoeing trip. I’m leading it with Evan, who once again threw down the challenge to come lead something I didn’t fully know how to do on the fly with him, and I once again answered the call.

Three nights ago, before we hit whitewater, I sat on a rock by the river and wept. My tears were for my ancestors, the O’Connells who lived and loved and grew in this area, whose blood runs in this river as well as my veins. I gave my tears to the water, and then washed my face. I boiled water from the river to drink; it has sustained me all this way.

My tears were also because I was afraid. So afraid. I was afraid that when I hit whitewater in a canoe (for the second time in my life, I might add), the ruse would be up; my students would know I wasn’t the woman (leader) they thought I was, or worse: the one they hoped I’d be. I wasn’t scared of other things, like the spiders that crawled across my face at night. These are old fears that no longer belong to me. But that water had me trembling.

The river gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it. Every time I am on it, I am forced to face whatever I am working through, head-on. This is no exception.

Oh my Jenny, dear Jenny, we will always have so much to learn. We will never stop saying yes. I know this now, and I both love it and hate it. We don’t get to rest comfortably, that is not the essence of our living. Evan says marriage is unsafe and having a kid is even more so, and I see his point. You must surrender yourself, your heart to another being who is not in your control. You might get broached and beat up and swept downriver. You might feel like you will die. You will yearn for safety, for comfort, but only sometimes you will find it, and even then not for long. But goddamnit, you will taste the sweetness of adventure and wilderness and love. You will be full.

We asked our students to think of one thing they will take away from them from this river trip, and one thing they will leave behind. I will take away the wild surrender to something greater that I feel when I traverse whitewater, and how that connection to something greater than myself reminds me that I am enough, just as I am. I will leave behind any preconceived notions of who I should be, and relax into myself. I am here. I hope to take this simplicity forward.

I am only me, but I am fully me. And that is more than enough. I love you, woman.
Take care in those rapids, and remember to smile the whole way down.



3 Comments on “Our Younger, Wiser Selves

  1. Hi Jenny!

    How is your book about Petronella?

    tuomo.pietilainen at hs.fi

  2. Just reading this one now and so inspired by your words. I love you so much!

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