10/10/2013 03:39 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

What 71-Year-Old Me Would Tell 17-Year-Old Me

Seventeen-year-old me grew up making blunders, hitting some luck, missing some parts along the way, but whole in spirit - and arrived this year to the flip-side age of 71.

If I could reach out to the girl I was, and give her a glimpse of the future, I would tell her:

that looking into the mirror at 17 you can't see - and probably wouldn't want to see -- the woman of 71. But at 71 you will still see the girl of 17.

hang on. Although your parents are hard on you and seem uncaring, you will live a fascinating life, with more ups than downs.

that abundant surprises of all kinds are ahead: A president you will admire will be assassinated in a couple of years. Your dreamboats Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter (and the president of your student council) are gay--a word that just means "fun" to you at 17. You will become active in the Civil Rights Movement. And many years later a black president will be reelected. But bigotry and racism will remain. Just less obviously.

the boy you just started dating, your Mr. Wonderful, will marry you when you two are 21. And you will be happy for a long while. And after you grow apart and divorce, you will marry two more fine men: one a brilliant rabbi who dies too young and the other a kind, attentive lawyer, whom you marry at 67. And for the 20-plus adult years you lived alone, you will not only deal with it, but will enjoy your solo life, and even write a book about it and become a spokeswoman for independence.

that you will mother two fine sons who grow up to do meaningful things--making art, teaching students, raising money for the poor, running magazines. And that you will become a grandmother of two little girls who would remind you of yourself.

don't worry about seeing the world or what you will do with your life. Beyond your wildest dreams, you will travel from Antarctica to Greenland and 100 countries in-between, and get paid to write about it.

More advice to that 17-year-old girl:

Keep up Spanish after college. And learn Chinese.

Find a way, any way, to invest in property near where you attend high school in South Beach--the area may remain seedy until you are about 50, but it will then become trendy and valuable.

Put on sunscreen. The Miami sun will give you at least five skin cancers in your lifetime.

Relax about your juicy lips your mother tells you to bite. People will eventually spend lots of money to emulate them. And don't worry about being too skinny. Time will take care of that, for sure. And don't fret about your stick-like arms, your freckles and curly auburn hair; alas, they will change in 50 years into flag-like appendages, age spots, and gray hair that needs constant attention.

And even though you don't smoke and never will, get far away from second-hand smoke -- a term you have never heard yet-- because you will be diagnosed with lung cancer when you are 65. And you will be among the survivors.

More direct wisdom from 71-year-old me to pass to 17-year-old me:

Life is random. The two most popular, athletic girls and the most popular boy in your graduating class will not make it to 71.

You may think old age is far, far away. But it abruptly catches up. Don't waste any days. They may seem endless at 17, but they go faster and faster. So find something special in each day and think about that special thing each night before you sleep.

Look at older people, and engage them. They will appreciate it more than you can imagine. Inside they do not feel as old as they look to you. They even make love.

Being nice, smart and fun outlasts being pretty, and being young.


I wish that I could have reached out to her with these realities. The best I can do is to tell my granddaughters the things I would have told her.

She would have liked that.

The girl I was at 17, who loved to read about science fiction and giggle and dream of faraway places, could not possibly understand that she would someday be living in the year 2013 and be 71-years-old and writing something called a post on something called a blog.

She would be fascinated. I hope she would be pleased. And I'm pretty sure she would smile and shake her head at the wonder of it all, and go right back to her 17-year-old life, some 54 years ago.