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Dear 17-year-old me,

  First of all, you are every bit as good as that wealthy DuPont boy who didn’t ask you out on a second date after he saw where you lived. You don’t know it now, but you are so much better off without him. I want you to know you are beautiful. You are not fat, an occasional pimple does not make you repulsive, and your butt is not too big. Ride in that convertible and let your hair go where the breeze blows it. Most of all, don't ever underestimate your worth. Dream big. And remember you'll never know if you can succeed, if you don't try.

            I know you are devastated over the breakup with your first love. Don’t let anyone make you believe your feelings for each other weren’t real. I’ll tell you a secret: In later life, you will become friends and be the one person he wants to talk to before the brain tumor takes his life. You will make a quilt in his memory for the grandchild he didn’t live long enough to see. That cosmic wrong will be righted in a way that will open your heart and make it sing.

            You will make mistakes with men you choose to love. They will hurt and humiliate you. And you will behave in ways you never dreamed you would. You will do some things you are ashamed of.  Most of us do shameful things at one time or another in our lives. Be kind to yourself. And don’t let your hurt turn to bitterness or your shame darken the rest of your days.

            When love beckons again, follow it even if you’re afraid of where it is taking you. Don’t hold grudges. Forgiveness is an amazing gift to the person who wronged you, but more importantly it's a gift to you. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. But do take time to reflect, to be grateful for the good and learn from the things that weren’t. Always make your mistakes on the side of love. 

           Explore the world's religions until you find a spiritual path that feels right. If that path leads you to love and goodness, it will also lead you to God. So stay on it.


             Take the time to talk and listen to your parents. Ask them questions about their lives, about the past and their place in it.  Once they are gone, there will be no one left to answer. 

          Love your mother with all your heart. She is the earth from which you sprang. Write her long letters and visit her as often as you can. There will never be anyone else in your life who knows and cares about you the way she does. She is your greatest advocate, your biggest fan, and the one who will pick up the pieces and put you back together when you fall apart. Trust me on this. Your mom will be taken away much sooner than you know. She is so wise in matters of love, life and forgiveness. When you hear her singing hymns in the garden, stop and listen. You will never hear anything quite so beautiful after she is gone.

            Spend as much time as you can with your little brother, Jerry. He is fourteen years younger than you and will lose his mother at a vulnerable time. Don’t give up on him, no matter how much he acts out or how much advice you get from others to exercise “tough love”.  Later, when you loose him in that hit-and-run accident, tough love will mean nothing and you will never fully forgive yourself for letting him go before you had to.


            Forgive your father. Your teenage angst may tell you that you hate him, but you don’t. Realize that WWII grenade that exploded before you were even conceived took more than his flesh and bones. Though no one knows it yet, he is suffering from PTSD that has led to his alcohol abuse. He was orphaned at 6 years old and had no role models for parenting. One day he will tell you his story and it will break your heart. Open that heart to him now. Don’t waste any more time. 


         After your mother dies, and he doesn’t behave the way you think he should, hug him. His grief is as real as yours. Your mother was his first love, and though he will live another 20 years after her death, he will never love another or get over losing her. Your children will call him Pop Pop and he will love them in ways he was never able to love you. You will swallow back tears as you watch him paint your daughter's toenails or wave his crutch from the sidelines when your son scores a soccer goal. He will one day tell them you were the best thing that ever happened to him.

           Make strong connections with women of all ages. These friendships become more important as you grow older. Love and celebrate them. Life didn’t provide you with birth sisters, but you can choose your own. Hold on to your best friends from high school and college, even if your life takes you miles away from them. But don’t be afraid to let go when you no longer feel the connection. Some friends are for a lifetime--others may only be for a short while. Our time here is limited. Letting former friends go does not negate what you had when you had it. There is nothing more important than how you treat your fellow inhabitants of this planet. Be kind to people and animals. Don’t be afraid to reach out and be of service to those in need.

            Take as many writing classes as you can, read how to books, attend conferences and make friends with other writers. Practice your writing every day. The need you already have to capture life in words is going to grow. You don’t know this yet, but writing will save you. It will lift you out of your grief, help heal the holes in your heart left by the early deaths of your mother and three brothers. It will teach you all you need to know about yourself and the world around you. Though you will hold other jobs and even climb a few rungs up the corporate ladder, writing will be the most rewarding work of your life.           

            Rejoice in your children and all they will teach you about unconditional love. Take every opportunity to spend time with them. Housework doesn’t matter. Drop the dust cloth and pick up the crayons. Tell them stories. Encourage them to tell and write their own. The years pass quickly and their childhoods will be over before you know it. In what seems like the blink of an eye, they’ll turn into kind, productive and responsible adults. They will surprise and delight you—go on to do amazing things of their own. And perhaps most astounding will be the grandchildren you’ll love more than you can possibly imagine now.

            Be grateful for every day you are alive. We all experience loss and disappointment. All life is impermanent. But, trust me, you will have enormous happiness as well. You will travel to places you never dreamed you’d go. You’ll live in the Northeast, the South, the Midwest, the foothills of the Sonoran Desert and the mountains of Southern Oregon. You’ll retire early and spend a decade living on an Arabian horse ranch where you’ll be free to write poetry and fiction.

            Finally, seventeen-year-old me, be brave and embrace everything life offers you. In the end, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than you’ll regret the things you did. I can promise you this: while your life won’t always be easy, you will find joy and a love that finally lasts.          

With love,
from a much older (and hopefully wiser) you.


 

 


Comments

jay
11/01/2015 6:46am

I am so very proud of you, you know. May the Lord bless you, and keep you. You have picked up the pen of golden oil that shares your journey in life that allows others insight to their own. This perhaps, is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can give to any searching soul, and you do it well. Rock on....

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11/01/2015 6:56am

Thank you so much, Jay. Your kind words mean a lot to me.

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11/27/2015 4:45pm

Jay. I thank you so much for this comment. You are a person who helped me find my path--who encouraged me on this spiritual journey. And I am grateful for you and your loving presence in my life.

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Perry Counts
11/01/2015 7:09am

Susan, I have just finished reading your latest, the seventeen
one. Iam so happy that you wrote and shared the story with me. I have been somewhat depressed with my life and the many things I have done that I feel very sad as they are recalled think Mothers day, fathers day etc. I have been able to forgive others, but foy myself that is a different story. I have been working very hard the past few days helping raise $11000. to bury three people, a man his wife and a sister, all killled by their son and their nephew.. The man was the Commander of our Post 24 American Legion and I have been active in the American Legion for many years.It is the first time I have really worked at fund since United Way efforts. I will be going to the Cleveland Clinic in the next two weeks and have my arotic value replaced. My Dris Kapadia, the head of the Cardiology Dept. Clare is about the same and we sold our Lake House Clare just got up and I am demand,more later via e mail. Best wishes and love to you, Andy and your family. Perry

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Andy
11/01/2015 7:17am

Susan, This blog makes us all reflect on our lives and hopefully put things in proper prospective for us all. To soon we forget all the benefits we recieved from our parents and friends

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Anne Stabile
11/01/2015 7:55am

What a beautiful letter, Susan. I feel like I'd like to copy and paste it to my daughter's newsfeed! Instead I'll just share it and hope she'll read it. It brought tears to my eyes when I read about your dad, and made me think of my own dad and what he went through. I remember him saying to me once, "If I'd known grand children were so much fun, I would have had them first." I love your writing. It continues to inspire. But I think you should consider writing a memoire...just a thought.

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11/01/2015 8:15am

Thank you, Anne. I am considering a memoir. Actually attempted to write one entitled: He Was After All My Father. I put it aside. The time wasn't right, but... I encourage you to write a letter to your 17-year-old self. You will be amazed by what you learn.

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Chris
11/01/2015 8:06am

Amazing, simply amazing! Your writing allows the reader to see within you. You have the gift of leaving the reader wanting more. That cannot be taught, it is a gift. Secondly what you share identifies with how we all feel but don't know how to express. Keep writing, we will keep reading!!

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11/01/2015 8:25am

Thank you, Chris. I don't think there is any way I can stop writing. It is what I do and in many ways who I am. I so appreciate your support.

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Kitty
11/01/2015 10:54am

Susan,
Thank you for seventeen.
Most of us have no talent for writing but you have the gift. Keep writing, you make us think. We have the kind of friendship that will endure. We never seem to finish our last conversation. Keep making us reflect. Love, Kitty

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11/01/2015 12:54pm

We are sisters of the heart, Kitty, and so our connection will always be there no matter how many miles separate us. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this blog. It means a lot to me.

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Martha
11/01/2015 3:56pm

You did it again, Susan -- made big tears come to my eyes. You are so gifted, and I suspect a big part of that gift came to you from your 17 year old self. Thanks for sharing your letter. It inspires me to write one too!

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Dan Kaufman
11/01/2015 4:28pm

"Seventeen" is fine reflection, Susan. A graceful missive filled with consciousness and wisdom. Would you request a do-over with your knowledge now? Me neither - this journey, however poignant, is our destination.

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Linda
11/01/2015 6:08pm

I think this is one of your best blogs so far! My words to my 10 year old self would be "don't move away from your cousin" she can sure teach you a lot and she will need you to dodge the curve balls of life. And you will need her too! So proud of my accomplished writer!

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11/01/2015 9:57pm

I come away from your writing with more understanding of you and of me. You have this ability to look deeply into intense emotions and make sense of them, and find the gift in them. Thank you. I will write a letter to my self at seventeen or some other age,

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Kathy Goldner
11/02/2015 4:20am

Beautiful, dear Susan!

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Bob Olds
11/02/2015 4:37pm

This is wonderful. I especially admire your courage in being so open about your life and feelings. Not sure I could do that. But that's what makes for success with blogs or memoir writing of any kind. The letter reads so lovingly to a person who is actually you, but it's as if it's to someone else. Which it is, in a way. Any 17 year old girl would find meaning in this letter.

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susan domingos
11/04/2015 9:52am

Very touching.
Susan D.

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Jane
11/04/2015 3:22pm

It's truly special to glimpse into another's soul, as you have allowed us, your readers. This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

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11/10/2015 5:54pm

Ms. Clayton-Goldner, you have me in tears again. I wish someone had sent me this letter when I was 17 years old. Your words are magic.

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Martha R
11/16/2015 10:58am

An exquisite letter, Susan. So moving to look back with a different perspective, knowing what you know now about how people in your life changed and grew. It brought tears to my eyes to see how bravely you face truths and refuse to let bitterness blight your life.

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01/12/2016 10:39am

Don't toss a lot of too quickly, however. Hold every thing open up regarding concern. Due to determine what pieces may very well be had to complete the main challenge

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Barry
02/23/2016 6:28am

A stunning portrait of a beautiful brown eyed girl who would learn to live as she’d been intended to be: kind, loving, and free. The choice of the color ‘green’ herein, like the magnolia tree, symbolizes growth and curiosity yet is complimented by a dash of freckles inferring a ‘Gigi like quality’: “Thank heaven for little girls. They grow up in the most delightful way.’

She was destined to heed a medallion affixed ascription bearing ‘You Have The Freedom To Be Yourself, Here And Now’ and she’s embraced her inward beauty of sharing with others via prose and action in the manner that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross captures well: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

As her life unfolds she’d discover her love of books would lead to a love of writing where John Steinbeck’s axiomatic wisdom is key: “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself" and “When two people meet, each one is changed by the other so you've got two new people.”

To Gigi and her first love, Conrad Aiken, in Preludes for Memnon, may have said it best:
Pawn to king four; pawn to king four; pawn
To king's knight four-the gambit is declined.
The obvious is declined; and we adventure
For stranger mishap than would here have fallen.

Thanks for sharing your personal path to love and goodness that also leads to God with us all who, like you, are still listening for and open to appreciating ‘hymns in the garden.’

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Linda Wilkinson
11/02/2016 5:30am

I have always said to others you should be grateful that your glass is halfull not half empty. But at times,to be truthful, I haven't always felt that way about my own life. Reading this has forced me to go back and rethink those half empty times and give "my 17" a different perspective than when I lived it. As always your honest words open other doors for others. It is an amazing gift you have. So proud of you.....

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03/19/2017 7:38pm

Happy you had a decent blog, for example, this, whatever the menu with a specific end goal to make an awesome online journal like this???

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03/19/2017 7:45pm

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04/12/2017 7:03am

I think this is a wonderful idea. This experience you feel need to find an exit.

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