Saturday, February 23, 2013

Graduation and the Dead Letter File

In my desk at home, there is a file labeled, “Unsent Letters.”

Near the end of my senior year of high school, I started a list of people who I wanted to thank. I wrote brief notes about how they had impacted me, some of them without even knowing it. Most weren’t fully written out, but all of them were sincere.

There are no envelopes in the file.

I never sent them. I’m not even sure I ever intended to send them. It was a portrait of me, a helpful exercise to see who I was going into college, and what had made me that way.

Some of the compliments found life in comments in people’s graduation cards or in their open house guest book or with actual words to the person’s face. There weren’t very many of those. Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell people what I admire about them.

To me, “unsent letters” has the same sad ring as “if only.” It sounds too much like regret. It’s the progression from “I could have sent them” to “I would have sent them if….” And, of course, there’s always the quiet, nagging wonder, thinking about those dead letters, if “I should have sent them.”

How will other people know what they mean to us unless we tell them?

Well, they should just…know. Right? It would seem silly, forced, if I actually wrote to tell them or said something to them in person, out of the blue. They might misinterpret what I’m saying, because people don’t say things like that anymore. Or they might feel too much pressure if I tell them what I admire about them—like I’m holding them up on a pedestal and they can’t get off.

That’s been my thinking, anyway, although I’m getting better at this. Sometimes, I have overcome the lure of the dead letter file and sent some anyway. People think this comes easily to me, that I love encouraging others and giving advice and making them feel loved.

All of those things are sort of true. But it’s really, really hard for me too. Hard to love in a world with endings and goodbyes, hard to tell people what they mean to me when I’m afraid, hard to admit in written form that people are important when they’re not going to be around forever.

It’s my senior year again. Today, I started the job hunt of applications and résumés and boring things like that. The picture that everyone gives of this stage is one of a senior becoming a real adult and moving on to the real world.

Sometimes, I’m afraid that if I love too deeply here, I won’t be able to leave. Sometimes, I don’t know if I will survive on my own when I have no idea what I’m doing. Sometimes, I stay awake at night and wonder who I am and what I’ll become and who will be beside me and if I’m doing it all wrong.

And then I choose to believe that courage is a transferable skill.

So is integrity. Kindness. Joy. When I say, “God, show me my failures” as a college student, I’m learning how to be an adult who’s always willing to learn and grow. When I practice having the humility to ask for help now, I’m preparing myself for the many times when I’ll need help with post-college problems and stresses. When I’m brave enough to love others here, it will help me when I’m starting over, looking for friends among a new group of faceless and nameless people.

I choose to believe this. No matter what I feel. Because my emotions are often directed by fear instead of faith, at which point my will can intervene and say, “No. Not today. Today, you will love others regardless of these lies that seem so very much like truths that you want to curl up into a ball and never leave your apartment. Today you fight back.”

Fight with me. Please.

If you’re not reading that last line as a terrified half-whisper, read it again. Because I’m still scared, deep down where we try to hide these things, where we don’t admit that we share the same insecurities.

At least, I think we share them. I really don’t know if anyone else who’s thinking about graduating feels like this.

But I know that there are some letters that need to be sent, thank-yous that need to be said. There are hugs to give and hard choices to make and stories to tell where God is still good and in control no matter what is still unknown about my future. That’s what I want to do before I graduate.

In my desk at home, there is a file labeled, “Unsent Letters.”

On my desk at college, there is a box of envelopes.

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