Dear Younger Me
“A Letter to My Younger Self” is a series of deeply personal letters written by world-changing women to their younger selves at an age when they could have used a bit of advice. Join GOOD + GAP in celebrating the power of perspective and the universal moments of struggle, healing and triumph that inspire the best in all of us. #WomenInspire
Dear Younger Me,
When you were in school you wrote an essay, “Life After Thirty Years.” You wrote about your desire for success, for a good life, an exciting career, and for a passionate love in your future. I remember every word in that composition clearly, replaying it over and over again in my head. The reality of your life, however, has been so very different.
Your youth was filled with happiness and laughter. However, this happiness was only on the surface. Your willful ignorance and arrogance afflicts your parents with great troubles and suffering. Even now, as I write this, my eyes become wet with tears. The biggest pain in my heart is still the pain I caused my family, the pain caused by my willfulness and ignorance.
Your parents are traditional farmers in China. They placed all their hopes in your younger brother and you, putting a great deal of importance on you both receiving an education as a way to get ahead in life. The summer before you entered secondary school, your rebellion was full blown. You did not want to attend school any longer, something that was directly at odds with your parents who continued to force you to study. You did not understand the reason why your life must be decided by them instead of by YOU. That summer you ran away from home. You were 17.
You traveled alone to Shanghai to seek refuge at your aunt’s home. You were happy, you felt free when you arrived in Shanghai. You thought that you would look for a job, that you would live a much better life without the constraints your parents put upon you. This single wrong decision would forever change the course of your life. It was the summer you ran away to Shanghai that your accident occurred. You fell from a great height, surviving the accident but nearly paralyzing yourself permanently.
When you opened your eyes in hospital, the first thing you saw was your parents with tears in their eyes. When learning of your accident, they immediately traveled to Shanghai, spending their life savings to save your life. Your parents comforted you when you woke up, reassuring you that you would get better, that they would not leave your side. This was the first time your parents had ever traveled far from their home, caused by your carelessness and disregard for them. Those moments in the hospital, where you expected words of blame and disappointment were instead met with words of love and compassion; their comfort and support made you feel so guilty.
You tried to move your body, but failed. You asked why, why your legs had no feeling, and why you could not move. Your father told you as he choked back tears that your spine was fractured and a vertebra was compressing a nerve. He again reassured you that it was only temporary and that with a strong will you could recover. All the while your mother stood in the room, she could not speak but sobbed uncontrollably. Your parents looked after you day and night. Sometimes they could not sleep because of the fierce pain you felt in your body. You felt such grief when looking at their gaunt faces and white hair. This would not have happened without your arrogance and willfulness.
You were bound in a wheelchair for two years. When you stood up again from your chair for the first time with help from your parents, tears began to run down your face. Taking your first steps was like being reborn through your parents’ love and care for you. Your parents brought you into this world and then gave you a second life, both times through their love.
A parents’ love for their child is innate. We as children do not understand their love when we are young. When we grow up, we hopefully realize and understand that a parent’s strictness and anger is born out of their deep love.
You are now a wife and a mother. You may not have achieved the outstanding fantasies like you had wished for yourself when you were younger, but fortunately, you have achieved your own happiness. You have a husband who loves you greatly and a daughter who is very clever and healthy; you are now satisfied.
I wish you knew that everyone experiences ups and downs during the life that they do not fully comprehend. Someday the true meaning of feelings and experiences will be understood. Until then, I hope you cherish what you have now.
Liu is a seamstress at the Yida Denim Factory, part of the Crystal Group in Zhongshan City, Guangdong, China, and is a 2014 participant in the P.A.C.E. program. After a rebellious childhood that ended in a traumatizing accident, Liu made a commitment to working hard to honor her family and improve her station in life. Liu chose to participate in Gap Inc.'s P.A.C.E. program to strengthen her interpersonal and communication skills, learn ways of improving her time management abilities and capacity for dealing with and resolving conflict. Liu, 31, is happily married and a mother of two children, and counts herself as part of the P.A.C.E. family.
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