Every couple of months, I do something I haven’t done since I was 14 years old—I go to the orthodontist. A number of years ago I began to notice that the fine work done by Dr. Berkowitz circa 1979 was reverting back to the snuggle-tooth-smile of my adolescence. A little over a year ago, I decided to do something about it and get Invisalign—at my kids’ orthodontist no less. (I should have gotten a multi-mouth deal back then!) Even though I’m not a metal mouth this time, the rubber bands, the choke-inducing impressions (Ugh! Remember those?) and being in an orthodontist’s chair surrounded by teens takes me back to the first time I went through it. And It got me to thinking, what would it be like if I could go back to other moments of my adolescence, just for a bit?
I’d be sure to tell my younger self to rethink the wisdom of the Dorothy Hamill haircut. (With my fine hair and, um, late development, I looked like a stand in for Davy Jones.) I’d revel in Love’s Baby Soft and Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers, in Bermuda bags and add-a-bead necklaces again. I’m not sure I’d let wanna-be punk rocker David Brockie kiss me at that dance freshman year. (Though he was my only foray into “bad boys” so maybe it was good to get it out of my system.) I’d tell myself to hug my dear friend Sarah a little more, because she’d be gone before we turned 26.
But the main thing I’d try to get through my thick adolescent skull was to take my faith more seriously, to make it my own. It was always a part of me, but for years I didn’t try to deeply pursue it, to really live my faith. Sure, I belonged to youth group and went to retreats and lock-ins. But my family home wasn’t exactly a domestic church and let’s be honest, the 70’s were a bit of a catechetical wasteland, trapped between Vatican II and Steubenville Conferences. If I could go back I would tell myself to embrace the richness of the faith, to find the beauty and truth of the Eucharist amid the folk Masses and churches-in-the-round. I would tell myself that trusting God, following His path would lead to a fuller life. And keep me out of some troubles I didn’t need to suffer.
But just as I wouldn’t have comprehended Sarah’s mortality when I hadn’t yet experienced loss in my life, I probably wouldn’t listen to my hard-won wisdom about faith. And would I really want to trade the journey I’ve taken? I know that my self-absorbed younger self didn’t listen to God’s plan at times. (A lot of times!) Or maybe, He knows I wouldn’t listen and so my mistakes, my desert wanderings and my fits-and-starts path to the faith are all part of that plan. I needed the lessons from my hard-headed insistence on going it alone to grow and I’ve needed my mistakes to grow my faith. So yes, I’d tell young Susan to keep with it, that faith will get her through the hard times. But I’d also let her know that mistakes can’t ever make God stop reaching out for her. And that He will be there when she decides to reach back.
Oh yeah, and there is one more thing I’d tell my younger self—wear your retainer.