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A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Self

Dear Elsa,

Greetings! It is the start of the new decade, 1990, and people are already preparing for the world to come to an end in 2000! In the midst of this chaos and uncertainty, you are feeling quite confused  – you have just started college, you have a boyfriend who your parents don’t accept and you have a bright future in front of you, or so you are told. Yet you are worried about failing people and their expectations – especially your parents and those who love you.

As your older self, I want to advise you that you are going to be fine and everything is going to turn out pretty okay. Don’t worry too much right now.

You see, you are being pushed and pulled in all directions because people around you, whether family, friends or the larger society, expect you to behave in a particular fashion and stick to existing norms. However, your inner voice is telling you to challenge these norms and follow your own path. You feel conflicted because you would like to follow the rules but you also want to experiment, test the waters, and push the boundaries of what you are capable of. And you will, so don’t lose hope. In the bargain, you will have to make tough choices which will alienate some, but it will be fine.

Your Catholic faith defines your value system, and also the framework in which you live your life. It can be comforting and yet restricting. You will always judge your actions from the lens of not committing a “sin”. Of course, the Ten Commandments will be the benchmark for what a sin looks like and I can assure you that you will break several commandments at some point in your life. You will also given in to some if not all of the Seven Deadly Sins as most people do, but you will also learn to set boundaries that are within your value system.

In the years to come, you will question the agency you have over your body and ‘free will’. You will question the ideas put forth by religion on sex, sexuality and rights. You will have many friends of various identities on the gender spectrum and you will support their choices. You will be pro-choice and defend a woman’s right to decide for herself what is right for her, her body, her family and her future. At the same time, you will defend the rights of children, women and vulnerable groups. Sometimes things may seem blurred and contrary and might require debate, discussion and self-reflection. But you will go through it all –  you might drop some people from your life,but you will be fine.

You will argue with your parents to be with the person you love, you might change your mind about that person later and you might fall in love over and over again with several different people. Some may be part of your life for a short time and some for years. You might have relationships that are unconventional, breaking every rule in the book, unexplainable to others as your relationships won’t fit in with their ideas of ‘normalcy’, but it will work for you, and it will be fine.

You will agonise about experimenting with sex before getting married. Let me inform you that you will not yet be married at age 46, so please go ahead and experiment, and enjoy it. Do not live with the guilt that others impose on you. Instead, learn to love your body and find out what pleasures you. I can assure you that your body is beautiful now at 16, even though you don’t think so. Ironically, you will only love and appreciate your body when you are around age 40, when it will no longer resemble your 16-year-old body.

As for marriage, your ideas of what it is or looks like or should be, will evolve over the years and you will no longer feel pressured to marry just because it is expected of you. In fact you will welcome the idea of being in a relationship without having to necessarily have it be formally endorsed by society and religion.

You will also embark on a journey of spirituality which is beyond religion and man-made beliefs. It will be very rewarding.

So, as your older self, I encourage you to be confident in your abilities, stay focused on your dreams, develop an inherent value system free from dogma, always stay curious and nurture your desire for continuous learning, and live your life freely and fully. You walk this earth only once. Live your life to the fullest – with pleasure, joy and confidence.

Love,

Elsa

Cover Image: Pixabay

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Elsa Marie D’Silva (www.elsamariedsilva.com) is Founder & CEO of Safecity (www.safecity.in) that crowdmaps sexual harassment in public spaces. She is a 2015 Aspen New Voices Fellow and recipient of the 2017 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award

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