Letters to Our Younger Selves: Dear Dana
You're just a tiny girl, sitting on a tree branch, reading about someone's adventures far away. Your world is your family and house and school, and you can't imagine it will ever be any bigger than that.
Right now you get to go to town -- to the library -- and that's where the world opens up, ever since the first book you checked out with your brand new library card. You devoured "My Side of the Mountain," and you've thought ever since about that boy who made his own way. You make your way in the old apple orchard and creek and field across the road, but you know there's more to the world out there.
If only you knew how much of it you will discover.
I think about you when I'm lingering over dinner in Paris, wistful with my second glass of wine as I remember that little girl who felt so out of place and unsure of herself. I want to sit down and put your little face in my hands and tell you that one day you will make your way with confidence and bliss through the most wonderful places in the world.
You're embarrassed now that your clothes come from garage sales, but when you grow up you'll spend hours picking out vintage (because that's what we call it now) clothes from thrift shops in Paris -- and you'll wear them with pride.
You don't want anyone at school to know you get free lunches because your hard-working parents don't make enough money, but one day you'll gladly take budget lunches to work so you can save enough money for a cooking class in Marrakech. Your parents drive an old car and you don't like that now, but one day you'll ride the bus instead of owning a car, so your money can go toward your next trip to Russia or Slovakia or Paris -- always Paris.
You know you only made the cheerleading team because they put everyone who tried out on the squad. You're not a natural at it, and you know it shows. But guess what! When you grow up, you'll stop worrying about not being good at things and you'll take a Muay Thai lesson in a steamy back alley in Bangkok. You'll learn to kayak on the Rogue River in Oregon. You'll go rock climbing in the fairytale Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. And you'll know that learning is as much a part of the journey as the trip itself.
You know the boys don't notice you now, but I want to tell you you're going to meet a man who will hike through fields of wildflowers in Switzerland with you, who will sleep in the Sahara under the stars with you, who will ride next to you on elephants in the jungles of northern Thailand.
I want to tell you all this because I want to ignite a smile fueled by everything in store for you. You will do all these things. You will make them happen.
The world, little girl, is yours.
In sharing this story, and others, we hope you are inspired to Raise Your Hand for girls' education, helping us spread the word on this crucial effort.
Dana McMahan lives in bourbon country (Louisville, Kentucky) between travels, where she writes about the local culinary scene, bourbon -- and fitness. Her work can be found on major travel websites and in publications ranging from Elle and Food Network magazines to the Chicago Tribune and Women's Adventure. Follow her at www.facebook.com/sheeats.shewrites or @danamac.