Discover more from Inner Life
Finding my secret power
A conversation with my past self
“Hey there grandpa,” my 18-year-old self says with a chuckle.
I put my iPhone in my pocket, smile, and reply, “Wow, we’re off to a great start. I’m not even close to a grandpa, although I guess I could technically be one if I had kids earlier in life. Shit, I’m giving away too much about the future already. Anyway, it’s good to see you again.”
“Wait, what did you just put in your pocket.”
“Oh, it’s my phone.”
“That’s a phone? Is it like a wireless version of Dad’s car phone or something?”
“Uh, yeaahhhh, I guess you could say that. But let’s not get into that and focus on why you’re here instead.”
“Okay, fine. But why am I here?”
“Well, if I’m being honest, this wasn’t entirely my idea. You see, I like to write things and share them with people and—”
“No, not really. Well, sort of. The details aren’t important right now. The point is that sometimes I get busy and I have a tough time coming up with a topic or a story to write about. This week, a writing community I’m part of gave us a writing prompt to help get our creative wheels turning.”
“So I’m guessing this prompt has something to do with me then?”
“Yeah. Or at least it reminded me of you.”
“What’s the prompt?”
“Okay, here goes: ‘If you travel back in time, what is special or meaningful about this moment?’ I think it could be interpreted in a few different ways, but I thought of it as what would you—that is, me at 18 years old—think about me—or rather, us—at the moment I’m in right now.”
“Innnnterresting. But how am I supposed to know anything about you when you’re even afraid to talk about that weird flat phone you put in your pocket? I want to know what the hell that thing is!”
“Hmm, yeah, that’s a good point. This might be tricky. Although, you know what? I’m in charge and I’m creating this whole thing, so we’ll just suspend the whole space-time continuum thing for now.”
“The space what-a-what?”
“I’m saying that we’re going to pretend that I can tell you anything I want to about the future and it won’t have any effect on how your life unfolds. Like I can tell you the thing in my pocket is called an iPhone and that’s it’s made by a company called Apple. You know of Apple and think of it as a weird company that makes computers that are different than the PC that Dad brought home in the mid-80s. And I could even tell you that if you invest the entirety of your paltry life savings into Apple in 1995, the year you’re in now, it’ll be worth about 693 times as much when you’re my age. But you won’t remember any of these details. When we’re done here, you’ll go back and forget any of this ever happened.”
“Okay, I guess that makes sense. But also, holy shit, 693 times?! That’s insane.”
“I know, right? Who would’ve known.”
“Can I remember a little, tiny bit of it, please?”
“No, that would break things and this moment wouldn’t be possible since everything would—,” I stop for a second. “Look, let’s move on.”
I proceed to fill my younger self in on all my various life experiences. Going to college, dropping out to play in a major label band, getting married, going back to finish college, getting divorced, getting remarried, having a kid with a disability, countless jobs, writing your newsletter, etcetera, etcetera.
“Wow, you’ve been through a lot,” he says.
“Yes. Yes, I have.” I pause and take a deep breath. “So, now that you’re up to speed on things, I’m dying to get your take on the writing prompt thing. What do you think is special or meaningful about this moment for me?”
My past self stares off in the distance to collect his thoughts for a few beats.
“This moment you’re in is special because you’re connecting with so many people. I’m impressed with how you’re willing to jump in and get involved so easily. You might remember how hard that was for you at my age. How stifling your shyness was at times. How small you felt in the world.
“Your ability to connect with such a wide variety of people is your superpower. As your friend Drew put it, ‘You have a secret power in disarming people,’ and ‘I don’t imagine Lyle as a person with any enemies.’ I couldn’t agree more.
“In school, you were the person who wasn’t super popular, but not unpopular either. You were just kind of there. In the middle. Nobody got upset, annoyed, or threatened by you. Maybe it was a good thing. You largely avoided being bullied and you don’t live with regret about how you treated your peers either. But you also wanted more recognition for your achievements. You were the only pitcher on the high school baseball team who pitched a no-hitter, but you still weren’t given the ball first in critical games. It was a small chink in the armor of your self-confidence.
“I haven’t ever pictured myself as a father. Yet I see you doing your best given your difficult situation. You’re working hard to pave a unique career path, all the while keeping your family’s future at the forefront of your mind. The amount of things you’re juggling at once is staggering. Just keeping up with everything going on with that iPhone of yours is crazy. It’s like AOL Instant Messenger on steroids.
“You should hold your head high and be proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish, especially considering how much adversity you’ve had to deal with over the years.
“Maybe I’m being too nice, although that’s part of who we are too. You’ve learned that being nice to yourself and not being your own enemy is one of your secret powers too.”
“Wow, thank you,” I say. “You’re making me tear up. That made my day.”
“Okay, that’s great and all, but can we talk about the gray hair going on in your beard? It reminds me of what Dad says where he’s not sure if the gray hair makes you look distinguished or—”
“Extinguished. Yeah, I remember that. You have no idea how many times you’re going to tell that story.”
“I can’t wait, old man.”