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The Home for Christian Writers! Matthew 6:33
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Letter From Upstream
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(This was a submission for a writing contest where the assignment was to write a letter to the child you once were.)
I know that your initial surprise at hearing from me in upstream time will evaporate quickly. After all I am you, and self-affinity can’t be effaced by time. In a sense you already know what I’m about to say since whatever waves have washed through me began as ripples in you. Therefore even if you don’t fully grasp my words your spirit will acknowledge their echo within that wordless but unerring allure that will grant you a retainer of comfort until your understanding pushes its roots to a greater depth.
I wanted to tell you the things foremost in my heart before certain harsh events overtake you in hopes that I might mollify their severity. Not only of the events themselves but because your personality is one that drinks severity to the dregs. I have no power to prevent the events nor do I think I would if I could in every case. One thing I have learned is that everything is double-edged. The relationship or career with the most promise can wither into a source of the most painful bitterness while something you are convinced no good could possibly come from blossoms in a way you’d have never believed if you didn’t experience it.
At first I had thought to tell you of many things. But the impulse died almost as soon as it was born because I know that only a few principles underlie and rule legions of events just as DNA underlies a diversity of humanity. If you comprehend that then no event ever really catches you fully unaware. If with this letter I can at least water the seed of hope and perseverance already within you then I shall be gratified. For that is the seed I have found so difficult to coax into healthy growth, and I believe I’ve traced that difficulty to the despairing soil spread in you in your fledgling time.
Bruce, you well know that your main source of pain comes from one trait; your innate sense of fairness. Why you’re like that you have no idea. But whatever violates that sense causes you to writhe inwardly like a worm on a fishing hook. Take heart. You will outgrow being so overly sensitive about things. But you’ll always retain that sense. That sensitivity is why the double whammy so thoroughly devastates you. The kids tease you for being chubby, and it hurts. But far worse the other black kids keep their spears sharpened on the fact that you are such a light skinned black boy who looks almost white. I remember the day you walked up the street looking for someone to play with. When you saw everybody congregated around the front steps of Tim Kelly’s house your heart rejoiced at the prospect of shared fun. But why were they all looking at that big book? And why were their eyes darting back and forth mischievously between you and the book?
It was only when they all began dancing around as you stepped into the yard, singing out the word CAU-CA-SION slowly, and then swiftly repeating twice CAUCASION, CAUCASION accompanied by sharp hand claps that you realized they’d been looking at a dictionary. These were your classmates. Your parents knew their parents. You were not a stranger. So when you approached you had no reason to think anything was out of place. Your innocence was clean and open. So when they drove this spear into your heart without cause you were so simultaneously astonished and crushed that you wordlessly turned around and went home so they couldn’t see your tears and humiliation. This was the prototype event out of which others of its kind will reproduce as you grow up. It gets worse in the short run, not better.
For a long time you will believe that you’ve been cursed in some unfathomable way. This belief alone will rape your sense of fairness on a regular basis and you will choke on this poison many times, carrying within yourself a constant scream of why that nobody else will hear. But that is all you need to know about that. It is enough to know, as I said, the principle that future events will grow out of.
The assaults you will suffer because of the way you look will cause you to be filled with bitterness beyond words. Blessedly it will not make you a bitter person. Despite our faults, and they are many, you will never desire to visit the same pain on anyone that you were subjected to. Yet be prepared for the truth of the adage that when it rains, it pours. For in the midst of your teenage years when you’re dealing with typical teenage turmoil on top of the painful consciousness of your appearance your parents divorce after years of discord. You will see it as the final fall of a crumbling edifice you had always hoped could be restored. Yet that alone won’t be the cruelest blow. Your father will set things up so that you and your sister must testify in court against your mother. The inner death you die because of that could only be expressed if the rocks cried out. It will be that all that can contain your pain is silence, and if there is anything you’ll learn it’s how to maintain yourself in silence.
But don’t forget: everything is double-edged. You will live to see many who seemed to rule while all you knew was heartache move into areas of life for which they have no inner fortitude. Always having depended on their popularity, looks, money or connections they fail at the things that truly matter. You take no pleasure in that but you do notice it. The silence that you were forced to maintain for so long does not become for you the mental breeding ground of a serial killer or other kind of monster. Instead your imagination thrives and you develop a genuine love of the life of the mind. Gladly you won’t do this in nerd fashion but with true joy. Those who get close enough to you to see this will find that they are quite happy with the discovery because your quiet exterior makes it easy for them to think otherwise easily. Therefore the friends you do make are truly friends.
But check this out. There is a woman waiting for you. In your teen years you will have girlfriends but none of them will be able to stay long with you because neither you nor they realize that the intensity of your feelings are so overwhelming because of what you’ve been forced to hold within. But when you finally leave home, knowing that if you don’t something bad will happen, soon thereafter you will meet a woman who is truly a woman. Not only will she be physically beautiful but her heart will match. The very simplicity of her femininity will speak for itself. And as if these qualities were not enough she will be genuinely kind because she is genuinely Christian. She will be the first person to cause you to really reconsider Christ. And though you will not believe it could happen to you until it does she will become your wife. Couldn’t resist telling you.
Beyond this I think it wise not to go, but to leave this overview on a positive note (even though I obviously gave in to the temptation to describe some events; couldn’t help it). You will go on to experience many pains, deeper than you ever thought of, but also pleasure and gratification. Bruce, you will come face to face with the reality of your great selfishness and it will humiliate you, as it should. But the double-edged secret you will find within that humiliation is that neither you nor anyone else ever finds a way to fill the great canyon between what they are and what they think they are. I can tell you that you will not try to blunt that truth with drugs, work, alcohol, money or sex (though you dabble in them all). I will let you find out for yourself just how you learn to live with your fractured self. Like a starfish your cut off inner limbs will grow back to make the saleable appearance of a man.
But you, like most of the human race, are damaged goods. Without going into all the dreary specifics, which you will experience so much sooner than your present sense of time leads you to think, you will learn the secret of a genuine laugh. I’ll leave it at that because it’s something I’ll only spoil by trying to explain it and I’m not about explanations here as much as I am about hope. Try not to fear as many things as you do. You will find that fear is a greater prison than anyone could ever put you in. When you look back at the time you wasted because of it you will be ashamed, especially when you see that some of your most enduring fears were more like midgets casting giant shadows. But that is another place where the laugh will save you from despair.
I think that is enough to tell you. I am still learning, and, more importantly, relearning all the time. Relearning is much harder than learning because we like to think we know. But one sure piece of knowledge I have above all others it is that I know pathetically little compared to what I think I know. To make your peace with that truth is indeed a blessing. Overall we don’t do bad considering our formative circumstances.
Oh…before I forget…you’ll be pleased to know that your great confusion about God will transform into your main assurance. Don’t worry about how. You’d never guess in a million years. Suffice it to say it will be so simple it was always hidden in full view and thoughts of it will always make you smile.
One final thing: You'll be pleased to know there will come a time when you know how to be a warrior and a peacemaker without suffering schizophrenia. Some won't understand it but it won't matter. Live your life.
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