Dear 16-year old me,
It feels strange, writing to a memory.
Of course, I know I can never reach out to you – I may be a romantic, but I’m not disillusioned, or stupid, for that matter. But perhaps, addressing this post to a former self gives me the confidence I need to talk about certain things. I’m not too old yet, just 11 years older actually. I can’t say I’ve been through it all, far from it. But I have seen change and sometimes I feel things slipping, like grains from a fist too full of sand. And I cannot have that. Which is why I’m sitting here, writing this to a girl whose head has just started forming ambitious dreams, but whose mind still wanders off into stories she’s built just before falling asleep. It gives me an audience I suppose, one I know would listen, only too raptly, to words from the future.
You know, it’s funny. I told you that I’ve seen change but, if truth be told, people only did what they know how to do best. War. You’ve already seen the toppling of the Twin Towers, war breaking in Iraq. You remember the intermittent white light illuminating the dark screen on TV, as bombs were filmed falling in the night. You shuddered. You couldn’t quite believe something like that was happening in your lifetime. But you slept that night, albeit a bit later than usual, and days went on as they always did. It’s 2005 and nothing has touched you as such. You are still young and perhaps you cannot fully comprehend the scale of it all. The horror some people go through every day. But fear will follow us. Like a constant shadow it grows larger and stronger.
Today there are those who feed off it because they feel powerful. They belong nowhere and everywhere. They act like gods and in the name of their gods spread fear because they believe that fear subdues. Do you think it does? What if I told you that acts of war were happening closer to you? What if I told you that the same streets you’ll walk in Paris, the mosque you will visit soon in Istanbul, the airport you will be in shortly, will have served as a stage for these monsters to play in? You will have friends abroad under strict lockdown because there was a bomb in the metro down the street. People will start looking at each other suspiciously and in their fear they will close their doors. Love thy neighbour will become just another mantra, screeched by those whom society has already shunned. What then? Would you still believe terrorism is something which belonged in an Afghan cave?
A little side note: you will also soon become acquainted with a relatively new phenomena – Social Networking. You know what I talk about, you’ve already had a small taste of it. In simple words, people around you – including yourself to some degree – will take to pouring out so much of you on the web, to so many people, that you slowly become dependent on it. Here’s why I’m explaining all this: fear thrives on addiction. Everything is spread in a matter of seconds, absorbed in milliseconds. And it grows, like a ripple effect, playing tricks on the mind which drinks it all in, day in, day out. And you know what the worst part is? That as you scroll through the news, as you’re bombarded with terrible events, with deaths and killings, kidnaps, rapes, bombings and burning in real time, the eye turns blind. And the horror and the suffering gets mixed up with thigh gaps and #relationshipgoals and, very slowly, you become desensitised. And unless it blows up, right under your nose, you will not feel anything. Like grains of sand they will slip through your fingers unnoticed, because your fist is just too crammed already.
Fear, dear 16 year old girl, is all around you and actions will reverberate louder than ever before.It’s in the propaganda you will study, it’s in the hate speech you will hear from mouths of future leaders. It’s in the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO, yes it’s a word now), that constant desire to be everywhere, at the same time. It’s in the feeling that you’re not good, or pretty or intelligent enough to fit in with what the rest of the world is throwing at you. I guess that’s why most of us have it all but are still unhappy. We’re just scared we’re not doing it right. Add man’s propensity to share and react to the shocking and the horrific, rather than the good and you have the perfect environment for fear to breed. Am I painting too bleak a picture? Maybe I am, but I guess that’s exactly what I wanted to do – paint it black so I can see the stars more clearly.
We are surrounded by people who live their life watching over their backs. Don’t be like that. Look at the world as you would a map with directions. Ahead, never back. Because, there’s still so much good left in this world. The acceptance and legalisation of same sex marriage, for exmaple, goes to show that while some enjoy tearing apart, others find happiness in bringing together, whatever the differences. States still wage war against entire countries, but many others seek peace after long-standing enmity. While some close gates, others still thrust and will open their doors wide. Species exit the risk of extinction and the ozone layer is healing up. We are raising awareness about everything under the sun – and it’s just astounding how the same medium used to propagate fear can be used to share knowledge and hope. See, it’s not all bad. It is definitely not all bad.
I suppose it’s just how you look at the world which makes all the difference. You can decide to let the grains fall or to scoop the sand up in small doses so you give yourself time to think over what you’re seeing. In the grand scheme of things Rob, there’s little you can do. You cannot fight all the wars and all the battles. But you can decide to fight one battle. You can decide to not be swept away. You can decide to not let the fear of terror, of hate, of not seeming “good or normal enough” determine your beliefs and your values. Living happily has become akin to dancing on thin ice. But while it holds, make sure you dance the night away.
Just watch out for yourself. And you really should switch off your phone every now and then.
A 27 year old you. x