letter from my 16-year-old self

November 1st, 2017


Yesterday I reached into the bottom of a drawer and rediscovered my English Composition notebook from my junior year in high school. I knew that I had kept it, and flipping through the pages of my tightly curled script, spaced so sincerely between faded blue rules,  I remembered why.

We often think that if we had the chance we would go back in time to illuminate our younger selves with mature insights, to foreshorten expectations and prevent cruel disappointments. Drop the notion that you’re wiser now than you were then. What did your 16-year-old self know that you’ve forgotten? Before your last hour, can you remember again?

My Last Wish
English III
October 23, 1972

My life is a collection of small occurrences. In looking back over sixteen years, I remember incidents which, when they happened, seemed quite forgettable. A handshake with a friendly dog, a gift of bubble gum from my father, and a playground chase are a few of the scenes that come to mind.

When confronted with the possibility of only one more day of life, I immediately respond with a desire to experience all of the thrills our earth has to offer. But, after considering further, I reject that idea as a way to conclude my life.

What experiences, after all, has my memory chosen to include in its vast enclosures? The everyday happenings remain most clearly in my mind’s eye. They have influenced and molded me into the complex person that I am.

If I had one day left to live, I wouldn’t want to circle the world or sail the seas. I might wash my hair, play cards, clear the dinner table, fight with my sister, say my prayers and go to sleep.

We must become the ones we always were. How else to explain the sublime recognition when we meet ourselves again.



  1. What a wonderful post. Glad I followed the Twitter link to read this. Oh yes, my 16yo self. Frankly, I am sure he would be disappointed in me.

    Comment by Richard — August 28, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

  2. Such sweetness, such a gift.
    I realized a while ago that I really liked who I was at about 17. Parts of myself at any rate. That idealism, the dreams, the focus on living life fully, the moments. And then I got bogged down with what I thought was important about life, only to come full circle and recognize that way back then I was on to something.
    I think my 16 year old self would have adored your 16 year old self 😉

    Comment by Corinne — August 29, 2010 @ 1:02 am

  3. Wow!

    You were already a superb storyteller and wordsmith at age 16. Whenever I read my old writings, I always throw them away. I’ve never found a thing in them worth remembering.

    Thank you for sharing all of the facets of your beautiful self, both the younger and the wiser. It is such a gift.

    Comment by Melissa — August 29, 2010 @ 1:05 am

  4. Wow, a Zen Priest-in-the-making even at the age of 16. Wonderful.

    Comment by Jim (in Mongolia) — August 29, 2010 @ 1:05 am

  5. Thank you friends, when I read this aloud to my husband, I cried at the clarity. My daughter, however, wrapped in her own shoe box, was impressively disinterested.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — August 29, 2010 @ 1:11 am

  6. I love, love, love it! It’s amazing how wise a person can be even at such a tender age 🙂



    Comment by Amor Maternal — August 29, 2010 @ 1:47 am

  7. My goodness. We really are who we are and who we’re going to be even when we’re young, huh? You were already on the path. So sweet, and what a gift you gave yourself when you saved that. Wow. Wow. Wow!

    Comment by Meg — August 29, 2010 @ 1:54 am

  8. “We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.” Eliot

    Comment by Alan — August 29, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  9. oh!
    I felt compelled to hit “comment” but I don’t have much to add, except: Thank you, again.

    Comment by alyssa T — August 29, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  10. How wonderful that you saved that letter for yourself; yet even more wonderful is your willingness to share it with all of us. Thank you. What a wise and thoughtful 16-year-old you were. You were already blessed with the gift of beautiful prose. Thank you for sharing your past and current insights. They are always an inspiration.

    Comment by Crashing Waves — August 29, 2010 @ 12:16 pm

  11. How wonderful to be able to see that you have always been who you are…that the 16-year old who wrote that piece could only have grown up to write the books you’ve written and become the person you are. I love this…so much.

    Comment by Swirly — August 29, 2010 @ 4:12 pm

  12. Wow. Indeed, what we always knew and forgot. I’ve got to spend some time with those old boxes of journals and letters in the basement. o

    Comment by Lindsey — August 29, 2010 @ 11:11 pm

  13. We underestimate the maturity and power of our young offspring, and forget that in modern times, our children get to be children much much longer than children 100 or 200 years ago, when most people, especially women, were married before 18, and considered “an old maid” if they reached their 19th birthday and were not married yet. We obviously live much longer than we did centuries ago, when the average life expectancy of 90+ replacing what used to be an average life expectancy of 34 years old in many parts of the world centuries ago. I am not saying we should go back to those days, but I am saying that if adolescents were raising families and leading their communities back then, in their teens, perhaps they are smarter and capable than we give them credit for today. Perhaps we should be cultivating their intelligence, resourcefulness, and abilities rather than treating them like children, when childhood actually ended when puberty began. Their brain is developed enough to solve complex problems and think independently at that age, and perhaps we need to respect that more.

    Comment by Tejan Ausland — August 30, 2010 @ 12:47 am

  14. How amazing was your reflection and awareness at 16yo! How inspiring to ‘hear’ your voice bubbling from the past .. yet still most definitely your voice. The tree within the seed. Just wow! I will have my daughter read and perhaps she will also write down her thoughts as a child to revisit later in life. Thank you once again.

    Comment by Sarah — August 30, 2010 @ 3:56 am

  15. This one landed right between the eyes.

    Comment by Jena — August 30, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

  16. Thinking of Hillman’s acorn theory–what we will become is already inside us, awaiting its moment to grow and bloom and be expressed. You were an amazing 16 year old; no surprise there. What IS surprising is just how far we humans can get off track in our efforts to be right. When all we have to do is be ourselves. Love you, love your post, as usual.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — August 30, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

  17. I wonder what I would have written then . . .

    Comment by Mama Zen — August 30, 2010 @ 9:23 pm

  18. Wow. You always had Zen in you. What a keepsake.

    Comment by 6512 and growing — August 31, 2010 @ 3:16 am

  19. It looks like you didn’t steer too far from your 16-year-old self. I’m sure she would be proud to meet you again, recognizing herself in you, and you in her.

    Comment by Justine — August 31, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

  20. Wow, so true! You were an eloquent writer at 16, as well. Just four paragraphs and I was pulled in immediately. Thank you.

    Comment by Michelle P — September 3, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  21. You were brilliant then too! And yes, you are the same now. What a beautiful example to remind us that we can all come home.

    Comment by Kirsten — September 9, 2010 @ 4:51 am

  22. oh i would never want to illuminate my 16 year-old self; she was so optimistic and naive!

    Comment by Joanne M — September 9, 2010 @ 6:35 pm

  23. Out of the mouths of babes

    Comment by Jane — February 20, 2015 @ 5:43 am

  24. So beautiful! There you are, so clearly an earlier version of who you are now. Looking for the truth, and sharing it, with talent and clarity.

    I don’t have any early writings or journal entries, but I have an old Christmas photo of myself, about age six, with three generations at my sides, my mom, my grandmother, and my great grandmother. There is such a clear sparkle in my eyes, such a simple happiness in the moment, that just a glance at it can center me in a powerful way.

    Comment by Clare — February 20, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

  25. Wow, here I am, I sometimes like to think that my future self could come and help me out (when I’m desperate) but now, here is your past self helping you out, wow, I never thought THAT would be possible. So cool. Have a wonderful day!

    Comment by Simone — February 22, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

  26. I am teary reading this. The gift of the time-capsule. The wonderful unmaking of our ideas of life-as-progress. The young girl looking forward and back, for you, with you. How disavowed all our young selves are. I’m touched by her. and me. Her time capsule worked.

    Comment by Dana Maya — February 22, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

  27. There’s an old story about Saint Francis. He was working in the garden, probably down on his hands and knees, pulling the weeds away from the vegetables. One of his disciples, working with him, asked him: “Teacher, what would you do if you knew this was the last day of your life?”
    Francis turned his head around and said, “I’d finish what I could of my work in the garden.” Then he went back to work.
    Thanks, Maezen.

    Comment by Bobby Byrd — February 23, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

  28. […] http://karenmaezenmiller.com/letter-from-my-16-year-old-self/ […]

    Pingback by Mystery | faeriesrevenge — February 27, 2015 @ 7:08 am

  29. I read this, and then perused the comments, surprised to see one from me. I didn’t realize I’d read it before! But funnily, between that comment and now, I did come across an old journal from my 20s. Oh my gosh, it was so silly. I am actually considering getting rid of it lest my son read it some day.

    Comment by Clare — November 17, 2017 @ 9:51 am

  30. Forever and again 16!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — November 17, 2017 @ 11:47 am

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