An open letter to a high school best friend as the world changes on us both

Hey girl,

College is just beginning, and you’re onto great things. You’re intelligent and full of potential, and I can’t wait to see the way you’ll change the world. You know I love you to Pluto and back (cuz the moon just isn’t far enough), and I think you’re a bad-ass, strong, incredible young woman with more strength and drive than any one human should ever be able to possess. You’re beyond ready to take on college and kick some butt. But when you’re out there growing and learning and becoming a “totally different person” with your new friends, please don’t forget the caring, beautiful soul you already are.

College is an amazing time to discover what (and maybe even who) makes your heart flutter. You’ll learn about friendships and your passions and compromising, along with anatomy and chemistry and researching cures to cancer. You’ll become more independent, have more freedom, and be able to make a lot of choices on your own. I know you’re more than capable of making the right ones.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. You’ll screw up. Maybe a lot.

But you’ll make it right, as much as possible, and I’ll always be here when you need to scream or cry or figure it all out without judgment. I’m not ever leaving you, no matter how many miles separate us.

While you’re on this incredible journey, I hope you’ll remember to pay attention to where you’re going and who you’re becoming along the way. You’ve chosen a challenging career path and a challenging school, and I wouldn’t expect any less of someone destined for greatness like you are. However, you need to be sure that you’re not just doing well but you’re doing good for the people who matter. You need to be sure that at the end of the day, you know that you like who you are and how you treat your fellow humans. Your attitude and your humanity each minute and each day will matter more than any single test score or drinking game or college boyfriend ever could.

Don’t just be brilliant, shine a brilliant light for the people in darkness. Don’t just be fun, bring joy to everything you do – especially the thankless, boring work. I know you don’t want the lecture, so I’ll be brief but remember that you need to be able to wake up each day and do the work that will keep you on track to becoming the very best doctor you can be. There are lives that you have the potential to save – don’t throw that away for one awesome night. You deserve better than that, and so do the countless people who will need you in the future. They deserve someone who loves deeply, cares genuinely and listens without judgement. They deserve someone knowledgeable and intelligent who will fight for them, when they need that warrior most. And you deserve to be that person. I know you want it, and I know you can do it. Don’t lose sight of that dream. And be yourself. It’s always enough.

When you’re overwhelmed with the newness of college life or that 2am decision you wish you could take back, give me a call. I’ll be there. In the meantime, do me a favor and don’t forget to shoot me a text every once in awhile, okay? You know I worry like you’re my baby girl, and I miss you infinitely. Take care of yourself, darling. We all need you. Don’t forget how loved you are.

Hugs (even though I know you hate them),

A high school best friend

Everything Anew (20 min quick write) 

The universe knew what it was doing when I was baptized as an infant at St. Jude’s Parish, the patron saint of lost causes. And it was no accident that I grew up with a convert running youth ministry and a former ER nurse and single mom coordinating religious education. There were no mistakes when my priest would tell me how he changed his entire life when he decided to serve the Lord, turning from a cutthroat business career. My deacon still worked for the IRS when he wasn’t leading prison ministry or praying with parishioners, and that was no error either. There are no accidents in God’s house. 

I learned so many beautiful things from these people, with complicated and sometimes broken pasts. Their lives weren’t wrapped in white ribbon and sitting in store windows, and that was okay. They taught me what love is and that it doesn’t have much to do with a box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers. They showed me that hearts are fragile and people are made to be loved – by their God and each other. They proved to me that sometimes you have to sacrifice what you know to find out what’s true. (Including that the lyrics were apparently “in excelsis deo” not “in eggshells three days old,” but that my joy was the truest thing.)

 But most importantly, I learned what it means to be made new. Strong Catholics are experts at beginnings. So many of them have turned from another life and the rest have felt the power of Penance and Reconciliation. Catholicism is unique in that we have an amazing opportunity to tell another human, a representative of God, that we aren’t perfect and hear that it’s okay. For me, that’s what I remember on New Year’s. When the world comes alive with millions of resolutions and gym commercials, I remember my home at St. Jude’s with the misfits and the broken being made new every day. I remember that a clock strike isn’t going to change my life (I am not Cinderella.) but that my choices every day could. Mostly, I just remember that I’m human and I’ll still be human tomorrow and the day after that. I remember to celebrate, because new beginnings are always a beautiful thing, but that it’s okay to not be able to change my life overnight. It’s okay to sing the wrong words joyfully or to refuse midnight kisses. There is no shame in a complicated past or an uncertain future. There’s no shame in being human. 

My kind priest died a year ago now, but I know his story and his wisdom are still as true as ever. There will be countless opportunities to start fresh and change. All is not lost if midnight doesn’t feel how you think it should. But if you still feel a little lost during the season of bright and shiny newness? That’s what communities are for. Whether that’s a parish who will push you or a group like TWLOHA and their gorgeous campaign, Welcome to Midnight, there are always people who will sit with you while the sun rises. 

Cheers to new beginnings, whenever they may come. 

Revelations 21:5

An open letter to the little ones on Instagram

Dear young girl on Instagram,
I know you think you’ve grown up so much. I know the photos of you from last year seem barely recognizable to the 5 inch taller, more mature person you are today. And it’s true. But, sweetie, there’s still growing to do. You don’t need to be all grown up yet. You don’t need to be like the teenagers on TV – you will never need to be like the teenagers on TV. You don’t need to be anything but a person who tries to be brave and kind and love herself and others. That’s really enough of a burden, don’t you think? And dear God, you don’t need to tweet that or add it as a quote under your selfie. Please, no.

When I see your posts, I worry. I scroll through drinks being had  and kisses being shared, but yours makes me stop. You’re barely out of elementary school, lamenting the single life. Beautiful, you don’t need a guy. You will never need a guy. You might want a boyfriend, and that’s okay, but you’re still learning so much about yourself and who you are and what you value – put that first. Your body and heart are both changing, I think, and you need to let them grow. Get comfortable doing cartwheels and handstands with your longer legs first, and maybe then you can send your heart tumbling.

And another thing. The makeup. No one expects you to wear makeup yet. Your classmates are all self-conscious and paying very little attention to your bare skin anyway. For the most part, they just don’t care. (That includes the guys. They probably don’t know what mascara is anyway.) I get it if you want a little foundation in high school, but wait for now. Women spend thousands in the cosmetic industry, please don’t start it yet. You need to be happy with the eyelashes and rosy cheeks that you have before you go and try to make them better. They’re fine and young and they make you you. Let them be.

And remember when I said to focus on being brave and kind and loving? That includes online. You don’t need to say Jill is “the best friend ever and the only friend I need in my life” after your fight with Jane. You don’t need to post about stellar pool parties that other girls weren’t invited to. You just don’t. Hearts are so fragile and you guys are still young. I know you don’t want to hear it, but I’m right. Keep in mind that you never know how someone will read something. They can make it sound jealous or angry or mean, and it will be your words that will be blamed. Don’t give them anything to be hurt by. Be kind.

Finally, sweetie, don’t apologize for what makes you smile. If you choose to share a picture, there’s a reason it’s important enough to you to put up there. Don’t apologize for posting twice in a day or qualifying it with #nofilter. Let it speak for itself. Add your caption, free of apologies or self-deprecation and let it be. I worry when little ones apologize for taking up space on a news feed, because women are always apologizing for taking up space in the world and trying to be small and inconspicuous. They try not to get in the way or interrupt a man or bother him with their problems, and I don’t want that story to be yours. I hope you want something better for yourself, too.

Good luck out there. Be kind, make good choices and ask for help when you need it. There’s still more growing and learning to do for all of us.

With love,

When it rains in the cemetery

I’m living the cliché of cliches.
I’m headed down to my grandfather’s today to celebrate – can I say celebrate? – the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, and it’s pouring rain. Sarah Kay wrote that “Rain will wash everything away if you let it,” but it’s also the largest offender of thematic overuse and that’s what I’m concentrating on as we weave through grey cities and cars that seem to be equally monochromatic. My bright teal dress is the only color, and I can feel eyes gravitate towards our strange procession. It’s clearly implied that I don’t belong here. We’re outsiders in a small town, and I don’t have my grandmother’s protective hand to promise I’m exactly where I should be. I know we’ll be lost within minutes.

This time last year I was waking up from Relay for Life after walking a marathon distance. I was looking around, sore but grateful, and smiling out my window before limping down the stairs. My house was silent and tense and everyone was a slightly different color than usual but I ignored it. My mom was in the kitchen asking me if she could get me anything and how I slept. She was too cheery. I knew something had happened but I turned from it and promised myself I was misinterpreting. I thought of the luminaria I had placed on the track for my fighter – the same luminaria that stood as a memorial this year. I sat down on the couch and tried to casually piece together a different answer. I asked what was going on. She told me the truth. I wasn’t ready for it. You can never be ready for it. Don’t believe anyway that tells you saying goodbye makes it easy. There’s always more you wish you’d said.


Jean's Luminaria guiding us for its second year

I’ve been told I’m a professional at grief. I never get angry and I rarely cry until I’m alone and there’s no one left to comfort. Let me just tell you, that title sucks. You’re not born knowing you have that skill and I’m not even sure you’re born possessing it. It comes from losing best friends and grandparents and parental figures and being very accustomed to feeling lost. My father is a big fan of teaching us skills by forcing us to do them. I learned to grieve like I learned to ski; I was pushed down the mountain and had to fight to stay standing. It’s a lonely, scary task, but you have no choice but to keep going. You’re not even sure you know how to stop.

I lost my voice for a long time this year, and I hate to come back with sad news and sob stories, but I think I have something to say now. This week in the Supreme Court we learned that love wins, but we also learned that sometimes it needs to be fought for. Embraces at tomb stones and hands held at bedsides are fights that I swear are being won. I’ve watched so many bodies crumble this year. I’ve seen so many souls tire and hearts shatter, but I promise you love is still winning as long as people keep showing up to fight. But please, please when it’s hard and wet and scary don’t forget to show up.

I watched birds with my grandfather earlier today. He traced their path to and from the birdhouse with his eyes and words and said to me “Yanno they help eachother. They’re always feeding eachother. It’s nice to see that even birds have love of some sort.” They keep showing up. 

Airports see more sincere kisses than wedding halls.
The walls of hospitals have heard more prayers than the walls of churches.”

*quick write, may be edited later*

Back to the State House Halls

His grey eyes darted around the conference room full of representatives as he walked to the table at the head of the room. “I’m glad you’re finally having me,” he muttered to his shoes.

I watched him place his dusty brief case and belongings on the table and fix his strange mustache. It drooped to the base of his mouth in a way that would have been comical had I any reason to believe it was intentional. He was slim and breakable and seemed to be held together by a fine line of glue or maybe a final string that he prayed would never be cut. He introduced himself as Representative Brown* and hurdled into his concerns with the divorce system and the various horrors he had been through, regarding feeling ignored and deprived of information. His story continued for ten minutes before the Chair gently reminded him that he was there to introduce a bill and she didn’t see how his experience connected to its description. He sighed and assured her he just needed to continue a bit and he’d get there. He never did get there.

Thirty minutes after his entrance, several committee members had attempted to channel his focus, only to receive frustrated replies that “no, no, no it’s okay with the system we have” confirming he had no interest in the context of his bill. When he was eventually thanked for his time and asked to allow others to speak, he walked off with dejected murmurs that “I’m sorry I couldn’t say everything I wanted to…thanks for what?”

The encounter was poignant and terrible and oddly sacred in its rawness. The gentleman had an incredible story. I haven’t discovered it all yet (I hope to have more for you eventually), but there is no doubt in my mind that he has had astounding, heart wrenching experiences that deserve and need to be acknowledged. As frustrating as it was, I loved the way he insisted there was a point he had to get to. It was a story that needed to not only be told, but to be truly listened to. Isn’t that the most beautiful idea? I’m obsessed with stories and the feeling that they need to be heard. My fingers itch not only in libraries but on busy streets and outside broken store fronts. On internship days, I soak in the delight of having the sole job of listening and understanding and occasionally discussing what I believe to be true. My representatives allow me to watch in silence and observe from hundreds of perspectives.

The committee was incredible in their attempts to find its relevancy and did their jobs beautifully, but it was their conversations in the hallways and their kindness that impressed me the most. I discovered truly brilliant people never assume to know anything but constantly check their priorities. They gently ask each other if maybe sometimes we need to stop looking at the bigger picture to appreciate the finer details? Maybe there’s some relevancy there. They dedicate their lives to spending more time listening than speaking and to appreciating each individual for the compilation of experiences that make them unique.

I’m still working on grasping some of the cases I’ve heard over the past week – dealing with framings, horrendous accusations and abuse – and I really don’t feel qualified to offer my input on them at this point. The details are fuzzy and painful, but they’ll become sharper and more approachable. There’s so much I’d like to say, but I’m going to do some more research before I make judgments. In the meantime, I’d like to share a quote from a testimony. I can’t confirm the veracity of a lot of what he said, but I think there’s something true and very scary here.
“I walked in thinking if I tell the truth justice goes with that.”
“An attorney said to me, ‘welcome to my world where the best liar wins.'”
*name changed for privacy

(PS This was a classic, unedited quick write. I apologize for any errors.)

Dear 2014

Dear 2014,

When I first met you last January, I had everything under control. I’d reorganized my room, painted my nails, made new goals (that I promptly forgot), and done all the stupid little things that made me feel like a person who knew what she was doing.

But, inevitably, that couldn’t last.

There were days when I wasn’t sure I’d survive to see you out. There was mourning and health concerns and questionable decisions. There were big trips and equally big disappointments. But here I am. In the end, maybe we both won or we both lost, but all I know is that on January 1st you will be a memory – a crazy, stressful, painful, messy, beautiful memory – and I will walk on. Maybe I won’t be the same as I was when I met you, but I’m okay with that.

As much as you drove me crazy, 2014, you were also the year of unconventional beauty. I had amazing opportunities and I poured my heart into them. I danced thousands of miles from my home town – and, yeah, sure it wasn’t on a fancy stage and maybe there was a creepy, drunk, old Asian man filming me, but it was a moment I’d dreamed about and finally got to live. It was beautiful in its own way. It was also the year I danced in barn aisles with cancer patients and laughed until my sides hurt, which might have been even better. I learned what it means to suffer beautifully and the “art” of loss, neither of which feel very pretty. But thanks to you, 2014, I found an amazing community online who laughed with me and commiserated on the challenges of terrible teachers and life in general. They got me through it. I connected with people I hadn’t talked to for years or had never met at all. I found support from the strangest places and learned not to place too much reliance in others. I questioned myself a lot. Like a lot. I mean, I cleaned out everything I’ve ever written from the blog, and I’m just kind of praying to eventually come up with something better. (Don’t feel too smug, 2014. It will come. You haven’t defeated me.) But in the end, I got to the right track. I’m making things up as I go and loving the music it makes. I’m relearning how to breathe and rediscovering myself at the same time. I’m finding out that I have strength I never knew about, but that sometimes it’s okay to be weak, too. Sprinters, walkers, crawlers – they all make it to the finish line eventually.

Thanks for all the good and letting me grow through the bad.

Sayonara , 2014,

“And this too shall pass.”
“A new year is on the way and the possibilities are endless.”