I feel it necessary to open this letter with an apology. You have likely never received a letter from anyone before, and likely no one has ever apologized to you before, but you are well worthy of both a letter and an apology from me. I apologize if you find the writing difficult to understand. I am not used to writing to small children—the recipients of my letters have usually been at least a decade older than you are throughout my life, and if I use words you do not understand, I hope you can borrow a dictionary to look them up. I also apologize that my handwriting is not very good; I broke my left wrist when I was a child and I find handwriting to be painful, although occasionally necessary to explain something to someone else. You do not know who I am, at least not yet, but I know you very well because I come from the future. Someday you will understand this much better, but in the meantime, I feel it would be both necessary and proper for me to apologize to you for any anxiety you might feel for having received a letter from an adult stranger. I know that you are not used to trusting adults, and admittedly you have had a lot of bad experiences with adults, whether they acted harshly towards you or freaked out whenever you did anything, so I can understand if you look at this letter and feel a bit skeptical about what I have to say because you are not used to receiving thoughtful advice and kindness from adults. I hope that you will forgive me for writing you despite knowing that it would likely make you anxious, it is a bad habit to send letters to those who are likely not to view them kindly, but I ask you the favor of viewing this letter as a kind one, springing from the most noble feelings of concern and appreciation, and the deepest and most sincere friendliness. I am not used to receiving the benefit of the doubt from the people who receive my letters , but I ask it of you.
I also ask another favor of you, and this is a delicate one also. I ask that you keep this letter private, at least to the best of your abilities. I do not ask for privacy because I have any sort of wicked intentions, although you are certainly very familiar with those. Nor do I ask because anything in this letter is likely to be secretive. Rather, I ask for privacy because I do not believe that others will necessarily understand what I am saying to you, and you may not even understand it the first dozen times you read it yourself, and I did not wish to give this letter too much publicity by having you spread it aloud, because there are some people who would read this letter, or any letter of mine, and read it in the worst way, as if I was trying to corrupt what innocence remained to you, or that it would be inappropriate for a single man such as myself in my mid-thirties to write to any child. And, I feel it necessary to mention, I wish for you to keep this letter private because there is a lot that I have to say that will likely sound critical to members of your family, and they are not a very understanding lot of people in general. I know that your brother will probably snoop in and read this letter before too long, but hopefully if I make it long enough it will discourage him from reading because he will find it long and boring and not full of enough good parts, and hopefully he will find the handwriting to be too difficult to read. I hope, though, that you will recognize the hand as being not very different from your own, although perhaps a bit smaller than your own handwriting. I have, for this reason, written in print rather than in cursive, since I know you do not read cursive yet and will never read it or write it particularly well. If you could put your books down for a couple hours a week, it would be worth your while to work on your penmanship at least a little bit.
You might wonder why I am writing a letter to you at all. After all, few people even know that you exist, much less talk to you and take you seriously. Remember the play therapy you do at the Panos Center, how the kind people there ask you to draw pictures and play with blocks? Well, from what you draw and how you play they try to understand how you are feeling, and the effects of what our father did to us. When you get older, one of the tasks they will have you do is write a letter to a younger version of yourself, so that you can see yourself from the outside, and remember what it was like to have been a small child with the weight of the world upon your anxious shoulders. Do not think it strange that I know this about you; I have never forgotten how it felt to be small. You will likely never forget either. I know that much of life is hard, and I wish I could tell you that it would get easier, but I will not lie. Life is hard and it will remain a challenge for you, but what I wish to tell you is that you are strong and brave, far stronger and braver than you know, and I wish to encourage you to continue to cope with life as bravely as you have so far. At least from what I can see, there is no point at which life becomes easy for you, but you are bright and clever and you are far more resourceful than anyone gives you credit for, so I would like to be the first person in your life, among at least a few, who will recognize the brave spirit that you have and give you appreciation for it.
I would also like to thank you for something that you may not yet understand. Remember how you befriended Jimmie, that bully at school who later became your friend? I know, it probably just happened, and you didn’t tell anyone else about it, so you’re probably surprised that I know about this, but I do. Remember how you are friends with Elizabeth Miller and Maria, the girl at the end of the street? You won’t be going to class any more with Maria after this year because she will not speak English well enough, although you can certainly try to help her with her English if you want. She’s a nice girl, after all, and it is good to encourage one’s friends. What I wish to thank you for is that you are not the sort of person who holds the past against other people, or who holds onto a grudge when people have changed and their hearts are no longer hard towards you. You are kind and quick to forgive others and overlook slights. God only knows you have enough practice at these things, far more than any five year old should have, but thank you for these qualities, for being empathetic and quick to have compassion on those who suffer around you. Wherever you go you will find many people in distress, and you will frequently be in distress yourself, and one of the qualities that will enrich your life, and make you the most worthy of finding friends at any age, is the fact that you have such a tender heart full of empathy and compassion. I thank you for being strong enough to be kind, even when you are hurt. You do not know how rare that quality is, and how unusual it is that people should be polite and nice by nature to those who are not thinking or behaving nicely towards you. I wish I could tell you that people understood you better when you were older, but that’s not true either. You will have to take comfort in knowing yourself and in knowing that God knows who you are, because other people will not give you very much comfort at all, not for a long time.
I hope you keep this letter, and that you read it every once in a while to keep in mind that someone cares for you and wishes the best for you. I would also like to encourage you to trust your own intuition a bit more. I know that you are used to doubting yourself and just about everything that is around you. Continue to wrestle with that doubt, the fight will last a long time, but in the meantime I hope you are able to trust your own instincts a bit more. For example, I know that in school you sometimes write your name as Nathan Bennett Albright-Martin, thinking that Jim will marry your mom. He will, but it won’t be for a while, until 1995. And they will marry without telling you, even though you knew they would marry before they did. Life is funny that way. Adults are full of secrets, especially the adults you happen to know, and you are clever enough that you will pick up on these secrets sometimes before anyone else does. Keep the secrets to yourselves—the adults will not appreciate you telling them, but know that you have a gift for recognizing things that others are not interested in acknowledging. Do not cast your pearls before swine; that means do not go out of your way to teach and instruct those who will only be offended by it and upset at you for trying, thinking you are showing off being far too smart than someone your age should be. Believe me, I understand. You will need all of the cleverness and intuition that God gave you, and a good deal more besides that. Don’t be afraid to ask Him for help, and to thank him often for what He has given you, even if you want a lot more.
I feel I have written long enough to give you enough to think about for a while, and it will be some time before I write you again. You are moving into school and I do not wish to distract you from reading enough books to keep yourself fed by personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut, which I recommend you do often, or into making friends or figuring out pre-algebra in order to impress some of the migrant farmers around, which I recommend you do as well. So I would like to leave you with some advice and some encouragement. You are a good kid, and even though you are very nervous and hyper, you will eventually learn how to restrain your behavior to such an extent that others will have a hard time seeing what you feel and when something is bothering you. Be kind to others for not understanding you—above all be kind to your little brother, even if he bothers you a lot. You’re going to miss him for many years, and you had better take advantage of the good times you have now to get along with each other. Those good feelings are not going to last. Also, could you please learn to ask your mom or your grandma for permission to go places. I know it seems like a silly thing, but you’re going to suffer a lot if you do not learn to ask permission for things. It is better to learn the habit now than to deal with all the pain later on. Trust me on this one. You’re a good kid, and anyone will be lucky to be your friend, even though it is going to take some time before many people learn it. Be kind especially to those who are kind to you. Many of them will be going through a lot, and your own kindness with them will make their own lives better, and hopefully help you to find some sort of safe place among the storms of life. You know the storms I am talking about, because you sit and watch them roll in every summer afternoon, full of fierce winds and pounding rain and the terrifying sound of thunder and bolts of deadly lightning. Anyway, I’m rambling on, and you probably have other things you need to do. I apologize if I have taken too much time as it is. A friend knows when it is time to shut his mouth, although admittedly that is not something I necessarily know very well even now.
Nathan Bennett Albright
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