On Eating It All Up

Once a student asked me what my ideal birthday gift would be, and I told him I’d just like to have dinner at a restaurant with really, really good food. I love good food, and I’ve always been an adventurous eater. Anyone who knows me well knows this. Good food is the one thing I have no sales resistance against.

Except. When I get anxious, I physically lose my appetite. When I am in a period of transition, or stress, or just general upset, my desire to eat shrinks and shrinks, and sometimes disappears entirely into a general guilty nausea anytime food is set in front of me. (This is compounded by the fact that I am hyper-conscious of being a thin person who sometimes eats less than she should, but who doesn’t want people to worry about her needlessly. So I fret over other people’s perception of my eating habits. Which makes me more stressed. Which shrinks my appetite even more. It’s all very silly.) So I love food, but when I am discontent, I lose the love I had at first, and the thing which I relished, which was the joyful fulfillment of a need, becomes a chore, a strange, sharp little reminder of my inability to do something so simple as cleaning my plate.

In case you hadn’t caught on, this entry isn’t really about food at all.

It’s about abundance. I think.

I realized about a week ago that my summer is just not going to be very restful in the conventional sense of the word. I packed up my classroom last week, and I’m packing up my apartment this week. A few days after moving back in with my parents, we are heading to Minnesota for a family wedding, and then I will spend a few days with one of my best friends in Minneapolis. I’ll drive home from there, with a quick stop in Indiana, and have a couple weeks to get my affairs in order, before visiting friends in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida in rapid succession. When I get home again, I will have only a week or so before another family wedding, and then I will blink, and it will be August 16th, and I will be sitting alone on a plane, soaring towards a bright, blank new life.

This summer is so full of good things. I won’t have much time to watch Netflix, or even as much as usual to read and write, but instead my effort is going towards spending time with a few of my very favorite people, people who encourage me and calm me and make me feel most whole, some of whom I haven’t seen in years. Seeing them will be like sitting down hungry, after a long, full day, to an enormous meal. It will be like real rest, like letting out a breath I’ve been needlessly holding.

And these people and travels are not the only reminders of the abundance spilling out around me. I am in the midst of packing up my life into boxes and bags. I joked to a few friends that I am perfectly capable of throwing things out–I just have to eulogize them first. In one notable case last week, a eulogy wasn’t enough, and I brought a piece of student work down the hall to a teacher friend, and asked her to discard it for me. I hate to get rid of these shabby treasures, not because they have any value in and of themselves, but because they are tangible reminders of the bounty of the last few years.

When I am anxious and sad, I tend to tie myself up in knots, which puts a kink in the line, stops the good things from coming in. But sorting through these papers and odds and ends (among them medical gauze, water guns, a child’s pioneer bonnet, a blacklight, an incomplete Candyland set, and a topographical map of Knoxville) is reminding me. I am literally, unavoidably counting my blessings. My appetite is coming back in more ways than one. The world is so full of good things–my world is so full of good things–I must have, get, before it cloy.

Last night, when there were several more practical, logical, or even just normal things I could have been doing, I spent a couple hours drawing up a floor plan for a house. It’s not as if I really believe I will ever build a house, least of all one with three stories, a conservatory, and sliding stained-glass windows, but if I am dreaming, then I am hungry, and if I am hungry, I am able to glory in the wonder of food, along with company, and poetry, and every good thing.

If wide-eyed hunger drives me, I can pick myself up and dust myself off, and run with the faith of my seventeen-year-old self towards the divine eucatastrophe, the happy ending. God’s blessings are proclaiming that it is coming, the King is coming. Therefore, let us keep the feast.

May Joys

May is not a month I have ever associated with peace. It is a month of chaos and sugar and absences and red ink up to our eyeballs and holding on for dear life. And this May at school has included some mysterious deathly malady which has occasionally affected not only most of the copiers, but the AC system as well. We’re on our last rope, our last thread.

And yet.

Yesterday I went to Raleigh with some friends. We went to the NC Art Museum and then to dinner at some very cool place called Brewery Bhavana. I knew it was cool because I felt too old and too young for it at the same time, but I still enjoyed myself anyway.

The reason we went to the art museum in the first place was to see a special exhibit called “You Are Here.” The pieces were all supposed to be interactive, and in some way associated with light, color, and sound. (Again–too old and too young at the same time.)

My favorite was a big white room with forty speakers set up in a circle, playing a fifteen minute piece of sacred choral music on loop. And that was it. If you sat on one of the benches in the middle of the room, you could close your eyes and be lifted, as you heard the voices blending and building and melding into one another.

Or you could get up and walk slowly around the room from speaker to speaker, each of which was playing a different individual voice. Once, as I was doing this, the entire piece took a two beat rest, and then the three deep voices which were closest to my head at that moment swung solidly back in. I almost jumped with joy. I felt surrounded, unaccountably loved, known, as if my dear friends were leading the way. My friend Lauren whispered to me, It’s like heaven!

I wish May were that room, that I could walk up to each voice in the peace of a big white space, and listen to its separate resonance and contribution, over and over, that I could take my soft time with each word, each need, each demand for attention. I wish I could parse the million colors and faces swirling in my vision all day long, give each one its due in care, at long last.

But I can’t. I’ll have all the time and more for that in eternity.

But just for now, in these last two weeks as a teacher, I must sit in the middle of it all, close my eyes and be lifted.

Old Loves and Magic

The other night I finished re-reading the fourth Harry Potter book, and I realized my heart was racing. I felt warm and sad.

I’d forgotten how much I love children’s books, which is funny because I have shelves full of them. I read them when I was a kid, and continued to read them unashamedly through middle and high school. They weren’t the only things I read, but clear, sweet stories of adventure meant for audiences with the most wide-open minds were always my first love. I wrote my high school senior thesis on happy endings in children’s lit, and returned to my favorites during summers in college to be reminded and rejoice.

But I don’t read quite as much anymore (though I’m trying to make up the deficit this summer), and when I do I feel duty-bound to plow through grown-up books, to check them off my list, so that I will be improved.

For example, I’m about to force my way through the end of Brothers Karamozov, which was recommended to me over and over with great sincerity and enthusiasm by quite a few people whose opinions I respect. However, the novel has sat next to my bed for a very long time, containing three separate bookmarks which represent more than a year and half of teeth-gritted effort. This is not to say that I think that Dostoyevsky is too smart or difficult for me, or that it is not a wonderful novel, or even that I won’t enjoy it someday. I’m just saying that right about now, I am not loving it as it ought to be loved.

I must face facts I have forgotten: I do sometimes get that lifted, warm-and-sad feeling when I finish a book for adults, but I get it so much more often with kids’ books. When you write for children, there is no need to be obtuse, because children are not shy about the truth. It will not startle them coming round the corner as it does many adults. The best children’s books treat good like good, bad like evil, and mystery as if it is something wonderful to revel in. But I can’t really explain–stories have to be experienced.

Grown-up literary novels are written by people who expect, for better or for worse, to have what they have written discussed and pondered and considered, and perhaps, on a sunny day, enjoyed. But a good children’s novel is meant to be fallen into, to be put on like a garment,  because that’s what kids do with the things they love.

On my fridge is a little slip of paper in my fourth grade handwriting. It looks like this:

Council of Galadriel

A written explanation of the inner workings of this girl-power-on-the-grammar-school-playground circa 2001 version of Tolkien’s masterpieces would not be worth the space it would take up on the page. But suffice to say, when I look at this little list now, more than fifteen years later, I have two reactions, both of which make me smile.

First: Only one of the girls listed had even a small working knowledge of what the novels actually contained or who any of these characters really were (and she was not me), but we understood magic, that these names with all their solemn vowels could be portals to some greater world, and we wanted in to that place.

And second: That magic naturally fit and even characterized a childhood friendship which would become the foundation of something which has so far proved to be enduring. Of the three other girls on the list one just moved out of my apartment, one just moved in, and the third is moving back to Greensboro with her husband at long last later this month. And if you mention a good story to any of us grown women, we will glow. We loved magic then, and in a different, deeper ways, through years of practice, we love it now.

So shame on me for neglecting the stories which first taught me so much. Maybe next time someone acts surprised that I’ve never read whatever adult classic changed their life, I will write down the title, but then, if I am feeling brave, I will recommend right back at them one of the books which changed mine.

Maybe, in good time, I will become my grandma as I remember her, repeatedly confessing with only a very little bit of regret that as she got older she would merely re-read the her same favorite books over and over, because “they were just so good!” It is well for each of us to find stories in our own heart’s language.

Note: This entry from 2012 contains recommendations of some long-held children’s favorites, all of which I still stand by wholeheartedly, if you’re willing to stomach my sometimes stilted and flowery descriptions.

A Brief Note of Appreciation

I’m writing this because my mom suggested it a while back, but also because I mean it. (I always mean it.)

Week before last, over Thanksgiving break, I got together with a bunch of high school classmates. Since I work at my alma mater a friend wanted to reminisce about our teachers, and he began enthusiastically with “Of course, Mrs. Liebmann was always a champion.”

I’ve been processing this. I think of her now as a friend, and don’t always take the time to remember her as a teacher. Freshman year we spent long hours over creative art projects and she read to us, not just picture books like I do now at storytime, but whole chapter books, stories of people lost and found. I was in her small group and she prayed and prayed and prayed over us. She taught us all through our tenth grade year about the age of exploration and the promise of the new world  while her hair fell out from chemo. (She announced that it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but that it was “not Alice’s fault.”) And senior year she listened patiently in Apologetics as we haltingly expressed our fears and hopes about the strange caverns in our souls. We talked one day about the things we were absolutely sure of. She said that the one thing she knew beyond any doubt, even at her most lost, was that God is. God is and He is and He is. So that was, for me, a place to begin.

Yes, she was a champion. I look back now with a much fuller picture, but I see that even then she was always fighting for something. Fighting for justice, fighting for our innocence, fighting for our hope, fighting to lead us to understanding, fighting for us to comprehend beauty and joy. Most of all though, I think she fought for wisdom. Ours, but also her own. She was constantly searching to know what was good and true, because what was good and true was all that was worth living for. Proverbs 4:7: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” She fought to know and serve her God better, and we watched with ringside seats.

So I am writing this because I know I do not say thank you enough and I think people get tired and they forget. They forget that God uses their obedience to him in ways both large and small.

So know this, Leslie: I owe more than I can express to your steadfast teaching, and as the layers of my old stubbornness wear away I have only learned more. But the web spreads much wider than that. For years you’ve championed Wisdom daily at the front of your classroom, for hundreds of kids, and because of you she has made triumphant inroads into those hundreds of hearts. You’ve left tracks, friend. I see them.

Without a Place

Last month, I read an essay by a woman named Jennifer Trafton, and in it she described “the feeling of being the Picassoesque face in every crowd…You would like me, surely, if only my left ear were not hanging crookedly off the end of my tongue.” The essay made me cry.

I was raised by parents who were academics and who were Christians. They had PhDs from the University of Chicago and now taught British literature at a state university, and every Sunday morning we brought along hymnals and sang “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” on the way to church in the minivan. In a world where the evangelical mind was a scandal, and universities were ever busier building ivory towers of Babel, they, and therefore we, were impossibilities. Yet there we sat after dinner each night, reading aloud everything from Corrie Ten Boom to Thackeray to Yeats to the Psalms.

And so I was always acutely aware I was like no one around me. From the time I was about six I understood that I was my own little untethered island, floating through the strange seas of the wide world. My friends listened to Adventures in Odyssey and went to the beach every summer and spring and watched the Disney Channel and had things like Gushers and individually packaged Pringles in their snacks. I read multiple books a day and swung on a swing my dad had made and took long walks when my mom kicked me out of the house for reading too much and ate home-grown dried tomatoes off the racks of my mother’s dehydrator. Through sticky North Carolina summers, we went without air conditioning and lived with windows open to the breeze, and in winter we heated our house with a wood stove. Once, while standing in my kitchen, a friend who had been to my house dozens of times told me that it seemed strange that my family owned something so modern and practical as a microwave.

I felt displaced. I was made of some other metal than all those around me, softer, with an odd sheen, and I knew the differences went far beyond my family. I remember as a child spending afternoons wandering round and round my backyard looking for a place that could be only mine, that felt just right. I climbed trees and I crawled under bushes and no place fit. I was the wrong shape for all of them. Later when I first began to write stories in earnest, I always stuck consciously to fairy tales. I felt so unsure of and baffled by the world around me, that I didn’t think I could muster it onto the page. I did not belong to it, and it did not belong to me.

I don’t think a day has gone by when I have not felt too small or too large, too old or too young, too much or too little. I was loved and am loved, and I have never once doubted that, but in every group, I feel like the token, though I’m never sure what I’m meant to be a token of–the one who reads and dreams and cries and digs her heels in? The one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other girl?

When I was young I resisted my differences: I wished my parents had named me Sarah, like everybody else, and when the other fifth grade girls chatted about their manicures and asked me if I was going to get one too, I said ‘maybe,’ knowing as I said it that it was a lie. But by the time I hit middle school, I had decided to make peace with my awkwardly glinting differences, to learn to love them. I began to cling to them, in fact, sometimes at the cost of relationships with other people. I was shy and stubborn and defensive. (I am still shy and stubborn and defensive, but sometimes I am a little better at hiding it.) I cowered beneath the banner of myself. In fact, there were seasons and places in my life when, for my own comfort, I consistently translated “I am different than you” into “I am better than you.” I thought that superiority would ward off loneliness and fear. (It didn’t. It just made me bitter.)

Around the time I was seventeen or eighteen, though, I gradually began to get a little better at friendship. I started to actually listen, and wait, and wade slowly through the waters of the people around me. And I found, over the course of months and years, that many people who to me had seemed as if they fit so well, were actually covering their own strangely shaped hearts with their hands, and covertly glancing at the world around them with incredulity. I began to carry a quietly blossoming sense of awe as I encountered others. I wasn’t the oddity. We all were.

I know now that the misfit feeling comes from different sources and is more tangible for some than others. For some it’s characterized by real, crushing sorrow or sin which has marked them like Cain, for others by differences in race or culture or ability or interest or by unhappy and broken families and relationships. For many of us though, it’s just a vague feeling that one is some complex and malfunctioning prototype abandoned in a warehouse full of unlike objects.

None of this seems joyful or purposeful and yet I remain awed. I’m not certain why. Perhaps it is because I know our loneliness has the potential to teach us compassion and kindness. Perhaps it is because I know we were not abandoned in the warehouse after all, and that God has a plan for all us billions of impossibilities. Or perhaps it is because I know that God came to seek and save the lost and call little Zacchaeus out of the tree where he clung. I am overwhelmed by the largeness and the strangeness of such original Love.

seated-woman-in-garden

The Fixed Land Receding

Writing is getting harder than ever. I hate that.

I can find the time, and sometimes I can even find the ideas, but there’s a paralysis that creeps up my arms and into my throat when I try to paste words together into thoughts, and it’s getting more and more difficult to fight through it. Like I said, I hate that.

Lately I have been praying that foolish, wonderful prayer for God to teach me fear and trembling. I remember in the prayer room at Grove City, both in the communal journal and on the butcher paper on the walls, our precious overabundance of English majors used to write out John Donne’s sonnet in earnest to their Lord: “Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend…” Sometimes I smile and shiver when I think of all the ways He must be answering those prayers. Then I think of my own prayers and immediately want to pull my knees tight to my chest. Fear and trembling…

Of course, my life is pretty stable, I am returning for a second year of teaching at Caldwell, with almost exactly the same load I had last year, and I am living with my best friend of 14 years in an apartment less than a mile from the house where I grew up. I have never been an adventurer.

And along with getting ready for school, I’ve been watching a lot of Friends. It’s been fun. I’ve been thinking, though. It’s a show that’s supposed to be this iconic look at what it’s like to be in your twenties, how you need something to center yourself on, how you need (wait for it) your friends. Because it’s at this point in our lives that many of us realize that we are finally out there, in the big old world that’s been so criticized and lionized to us. And what and how are we going to do from here?

Perhaps the first thing everyone my age has noticed is that friendships are harder now. I have many friends but I have to work and work to love them and to hear them. I have to set up phone dates and answer texts. Even for the friends here in town, we have to constantly invite one another into our lives, add seeing one another to our to-do list, make the time even when we don’t have it.

When we do get together, we catch up. And I will tell you a dreadful secret: I am sick of catching up. I love these people, and I want very much to know how they’re doing, but at some point I’d like the conversation to progress into something more. (I first realized we were really and truly grown-ups when people my own age started politely asking how my family was.) I’d like to actually participate in living with one another, instead of just getting the recap highlights reel.

We talk about our jobs, our attempts to find them, and our attempts to find the work of our own hands in them. I will say, it’s been a peculiar joy to me to see so many friends light up: This is it! This is hard and this is good. Or even, This job is not what I meant at all, at all. But now I think I know where I’m headed, and once I get out of here, I think I even know how to get there.

I often walk away from these conversations thinking about teaching and high school. When I first got up in front of a class last fall, I was startled at how familiar these kids seemed to me. Their laughter and their shrugs, their bitterness and innocence showed me myself at sixteen and myself at twenty-two. But I was somehow simultaneously shocked to find that there was also a great chasm between us. I am stunned by the minute and large ways you change and grow as you enter the long corridors of your twenties. This is the age when the sounds in your head at last quiet down, when, for better or for worse, you can finally hear yourself think.

And so here each of us twenty-somethings sits… Lonely is not the right word, although it’s a very real possibility for many of us. Solitary is better. Alone with our souls and the Lover of our souls. Other people still matter, oh how they matter, but they don’t have the power over us that they used to. We are discovering that we “hang always upon the cross of ourselves.” “The mind has cliffs of fall,” and we have begun to peer down over them to learn the depths and the heights. There are tall, bright waves crashing at the bottom.

In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis’s science fiction retelling of the Fall, the one command the green lady must obey is to never spend the night on the “fixed land.” When she goes to sleep she must lie down on one of the floating islands in the seas of her world, and trust God that she will wake up in a place where he still cares for her, even if it’s quite different than any place she imagined or knows.

I am twenty-three, I have clambered onto a floating island, and the fixed land is receding in the distance. I am calling out for it as I watch it go. I am afraid. I know: this is not safe, but it is good.

On Listening

Recently I have been remembering that January can be hard. For a month that supposed is about beginnings, it feels awfully in between.

For the past several New Year’s Eves I have stayed in with my family, (by past several, of course, I mean every single one of my life,) but this year I went to the Avett Brothers’ concert in Raleigh. We sat way up in the nosebleeds in the PNC arena, about level with the balloons hoisted up in nets, ready to be dropped at the stroke of 2015. Karen and I propped our feet up and watched. I was delighted to remember what it is to be an observer, someone with the luxury of seeing and hearing and thinking to oneself. I rediscovered the occasional joy I find in listening.

Sometimes I am a good listener and sometimes I am not. Sometimes I am listened to and sometimes I am not. Listening, of course is more than just waiting politely while somebody talks, trying to digest what they say so that the next thing out of your mouth sounds relevant. Truly good listening involves care not just for our own words, but for the speaker’s: what did they mean by what they said, and what did they mean us to hear? Is there truth in this, or if there are lies, where are they coming from, and why?

I decided the other day that there are times in our lives (say through our twenties or so) when we should not be allowed to speak quite as much: we girls especially. When a friend is glad or sad we have such a tendency to try to paste over our obligations of affection to them by saying that we love them or that we’re so very, very happy, and then doing nothing more. When we do not know how to care for people, we claim that our care is floating around in the feelings in the air, and then we move along. We try to convince them of our love instead of actually loving.

Listening can teach us out of that, I think. If we listen well and constantly, we might learn so much: pain, patience, loyalty, sorrow, joy, the mutability of the human heart, and its simultaneous mysterious eternity. At long last, listening might teach how to manifest that love we only feel or the love we outright lack. I suspect that, at times, listening is the manifestation of love.

So the beginning of the new year for me was an exercise in attentiveness and remembering how to do it. I came to a new place in my old boots with old friends, and at midnight the balloons and confetti rained down on those below and for the rest of the concert I could hear latex popping in the quiet between songs. The little pear-shaped old man on the next row down bobbed his head to the music, as he had all night, and I only sang along when I knew the words. My best friend informed me that “auld lang syne” meant “times long past,” and I decided I’d rather not forget them.

A Couple Things I Miss

I am home sick from work because my head feels like an over-inflated balloon, so clearly now is the time to write. There are many good things about teaching, (and I hereby pledge to write to you about them in a couple weeks, just in time for Thanksgiving,) but oh, how I miss writing.

The problem is not that I don’t have the time to write. I’ve never believed that as an excuse, anyway. I always managed to write when I was a student, both in high school and college. If there is time to breathe, there is time to write.

The problem, I think, is that I haven’t yet learned how to let teaching act as a catalyst for writing. Writing is never really born out of itself, you know. You see something or read something or hear something, E.B. Browning writes of the “gold and purple” of her husband’s heart or Don Draper takes his kids back to see his childhood home, and suddenly a wonderfully itchy little ball begins to form in your midsection, and you’re off. It’s that little outside idea which ignites the whole wonderful Rube Goldberg process of getting words onto paper. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn how, as a teacher, to pick up on those little hints to kick-start the machine, and right now my life has time for precious few other sources of inspiration.

I come home, want to write, and review my options: I could begin work on a fourth draft of novel #1, but really I should wait for an agent to help me do that. Right? Right. That’s what they tell me. Well, to attract that agent I should get a few stories published in reputable magazines. This means I should I actually write a few stories. But the only idea I currently have is for a little Flannery O’Connor knock-off, which would probably turn out to be pretty useless. I could work on organizing chapters and scenes for novel #2…But does my room really need that clutter of scribbly index cards when novel #1 still requires so much ripping apart and pasting back together? So I come sidling back to my blog for the first time in almost a month. Hello. I’m rusty with my words, but I’m making an effort.

There is something else I miss. Besides the writing. Something more basic and more valuable. A couple weeks ago I was talking to one of my best friends from college and she mentioned that she might have a family wedding down in my area next fall, and would come and see me. “Jacks, really? Please come.” I said, “I would cry.” I meant it as a joke, I really did, but then there were tears on my cheeks. I miss my friends. I have good ones.

I don’t just mean the girls I went through college with. I mean my sister in Tennessee and my Karen in Madrid. I mean so many of you. Friendship is a wonderfully incomprehensible thing. One can pick up friends in the strangest and most sudden ways, lose them states away, and then find them again years later like the missing right half of your favorite pair of socks. How did this happen? I wonder sometimes. How do you and I find so much to say to one another? And why is it that we would rather be silent together than apart?

Lewis, who I rather think knew a lot about friendship, wrote this:

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”

This idea that God meant us for one anothers’ lives, to stretch and grow and comfort each other in our own certain ways brings me a particular quiet delight. He knew our friendships would extend over miles and months, that our worries and prayers for one another would form fine threads connecting us from here to there to the next place, elongating till their length could wrap round the whole world. Those continuing threads of affection are what He intended. I am so thankful.

Oh, look… Somehow my God has given me a small, but perceptible, path from discontent to gratitude. How good it is to miss things. How near to nostalgia lies joy.

Things I’ve Learned in College

Do not listen to anybody who tries to tell you which are the best years of your life. Just go ahead and live.

People have layers. And they’re really funny and often wonderful. Be patient and you’ll see.

Take people up on their hospitality.

Sometimes there are good reasons to change your mind about other people and about yourself. This phenomena is more commonly known as admitting you were wrong.

Eat chocolate with your Earl Grey.

Spend a long time over meals, especially with friends.

Do not automatically believe what people say about you just because they know you well, or even because they love you well. Listen to them, but remember that they might be wrong. The only ultimate authority for your identity is Christ.

Smile at people on the sidewalk.

You are not owed forgiveness. It is a gift.

Tell good stories.

Don’t overcook your broccoli.

Make friends in class.

Listen with your mouth shut.

Do not compare or quantify pain. That’s the coward’s way. Find a hand to hold, look it in the eye, and walk through it. It may be long, but keep going.

Don’t be afraid to go ahead and grow up. Grown-ups can be happy too.

Try not to ask for extensions on papers.

Say hard things in person, but speak slowly when you do.

Sometimes everything will feel distant and unreal. Do not live by that feeling, but instead remember that home is not here and that there are other pilgrims alongside you on the way.

Write thank you notes.

When somebody wants to be your friend, take them up on it.

Make soup. You can freeze it forever.

When a friend confides in you, treasure that, especially when it is something hard.

Sometimes you will still be shy. And, so long as you are not rude, that’s just fine.

You will fail. You will not be the person you know you ought to be. And that’s okay, not because everybody fails, but because there is One who didn’t.

Be kind. THIS IS SOMETHING YOU CAN DO. NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE OR WHERE YOU ARE. YOU CAN DO THIS AND IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

And most importantly, perhaps, the things I’ve been taught by others:

“Do the next thing.”

“Say what you mean.”

“Determine to love people.”

“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

“Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough. He is enough. Jesus is enough.”

Suspension

Until recently I was so ready to go. I kept saying “I’m so ready.” “Graduation is so soon.” But now it’s hit. Yesterday in 20th century (last Friday of classes, last day of dressing-up-just-because) Messer mentioned in his typical Messer fashion how for the last few days we were just going to quietly spend some time with Gilead, the last novel on our list. He also said it was to be a gift for the graduating seniors. For most of us that two o’clock hour this Wednesday will be our very last class.

So like I said, it’s hit, it’s come. It feels as if someone has run a thread through my little heart and is holding it gently over some little canyon. When my heart becomes too heavy, I think the thread might break. I suppose my best bet is to figure how to live with a heart suspended in the breeze like that, a heart that feels every little motion, every change in the weather. I will not mind when the thread breaks, but I’ll keep my eyes wide open till it does.

Tonight Laura and I’ll go to Greek Sing, and I’ll sit and watch and I’ll love it as wholeheartedly and inexplicably as I always I have. I’ll write my last little paper on writing as vocation. I’ll give my honors presentation and go to Dr. Brown’s house for dinner and make food for our last Quad party. I’ll pay attention to the way familiar feet descend stairs, to which stones are missing on the bridge and to where the rain puddles on either end of it. I’ll pay attention to the deep, deep green of the grass here that I’ve never gotten over and never will, to the way we crouch to check our little mailboxes, and to the way the sun (when it comes) draws us all outside, hungry, as if light is the stickiest, sweetest thing. I’ll pay attention to the silence in the chapel at midday, to the ready laughter of a room of full of English majors, and to the slow way we all move in line, waiting for communion come Sunday night.

I’ll hug people and I’ll write things down, and then the thread will break with the weight of it all and I’ll go home.