One day, she’ll call me from a street corner downtown. She’ll press her fingertips against that storefront glass and that white dress will reflect in her hazel eyes. And she’ll cry as she tells me because she, she is the kind of girl you love forever.
One day, he’ll call me feet red and raw, ballet shoes folded in his bag. He’ll wipe the beads of sweat sticking to his forehead as he tells me that finally, finally it’s his time to shine.
We’ll be sitting at the breakfast table on Christmas morning when she leans over, quietly whispering that she’s found a place to tuck herself in. That she’s already picked out paint chips for the wall colors and she’s having couches imported from North Carolina and “want to come see it? Want to come see it someday?” Yes, I’ll say yes.
He’ll be standing on the sidelines, suit freshly pressed, headset over his ears. He’ll send me a text message because that’s his way. He’ll tell me that he has tickets to next week’s game, tickets at Will Call, and he wants me to come. I’ll come.
I’ll sit in the stands while he beams up at us, beads in a row of necklace string crowds, all of us strangers together in this little ceremony of goodbye. We’ll whisk him off to college & hope people fall in love with his heart & his smile the way we do every time he pulls us close. We’ll pray he never forgets to end a call with “I love you.”
She’ll call from the back office, trays of food shattering across the wood paneled floor in the background. She’ll pause only a second before she turns back to me, focused, heart set on leaving. “Leaving,” she’ll say. “I’m finally leaving.” She’ll tell me about the phone call, the role, the way they dreamed of only her sliding across the set and slipping on this story for size. And I’ll wish her luck. I’ll wish her home sometimes, but mostly, I’ll wish her luck.
They once upon a time were diapers at the foot of their bed, thick hooded sweatshirts and elastic pants and now they’re not.
They’re in high school & college. Some are graduating in May. And since I’ve hopscotched around the East Coast enough to know that growing up is a mess, I have words for them.
Find someone who steadies you when you’re stressed about the rent check, your electric bill, the things you did wrong at work, the credit card payment you swore you scheduled but really, believe me, didn’t.
Hold them close & treat them right & tell them over & over that you are thankful & appreciative & lucky & blessed. You will need them, and you won’t ever know when.
Make decisions to carry you through today & tomorrow & next month, but know that six months from now could look a lot less like you expected. Don’t let your upsets keep you from finding something better.
Work hard. Work when you have to but even when you don’t. Be responsive. Be attentive. Be respectful. Be the kind of employee who does what’s right – not what looks good. Be lazy on Sunday when the football game comes on but on Monday morning, be ready.
Chin up & smile. You are a learner. In everything you do, you’ll learn. Over & over you’ll think that life is about messing up & making the same mistakes but one day you’ll wake up and stop making them. One day you’ll appreciate all the criticism because you grew.
Learn how to dress appropriately. There are outfits for Friday night & outfits for Casual Friday & outfits for important meetings & outfits for every other day. Be conservative. Pay attention. Learn to accessorize.
Stretch yourself. Throw a dart at your target and promise yourself you won’t let fear or anxiety or lack of resources or lack of knowledge stop you. Do things that frighten you because you’ll land somewhere new & better.
When you’re unhappy, change something. Your hair. Your outlook. Your routine. Find a place in your heart for new people. Find a place in your schedule for old friends. Find the root of your unhappiness & crush it.
Be a mentor. Teach people. Help people. Figure out what fulfills you and run like the wind toward it.
Give & give & give. Give your time & your knowledge & your heart & your love & your resources. Give people the kind of friendship that makes them feel grateful. Focus on the relationships & the efforts that make your heart soar. It’s time.
“Stop holding memories and postcards and thank-you notes and text messages and start holding hands, running across the street before the orange DON’T WALK signal. Start boiling water for hot cocoa and sitting on a familiar sofa with familiar faces and cups with dancing tuxedo penguins warming my palms.”
“We all need someone to challenge us. In the cold, dark December days, we need light. In the hot, bright August afternoons, we need air. In the crisp, cool March mornings, we need sunlight. In the fierce September sunsets, we need warmth.”
“But that doesn’t happen. I am learning that doesn’t happen. When people care & bring you into their lives, you can’t skip around the dusty parts, the cracks and fault lines. You get it all. He got it all.”
“But they loved me once. We once swapped stories in my kitchen with the light dimmed over the table. We once dished ice cream into bowls or screamed at football games or danced on the bay window in my family room. We knew each other then. And so they get a Christmas card.”
“If we were brave souls, things would be different. We’d tell our loved ones that we really freaking love them, that the world gets loud and they keep the chaos from engulfing us whole. We’d tell them that daily. We’d whisper it and yell it and twirl around in the pasta aisle at Wegmans and say, “Yes, let’s make spaghetti and meatballs. Let’s make garlic bread with fresh garlic. Let’s grate our own cheese. Let’s stop worrying about the pounds on the scale and the weight on our hips and just be. Just freaking be.”
“It’s like the world is singing a song and the printer ran out of ink and so you are the only kid in the chorus risers who didn’t get a copy of the lyrics. And for what feels like a reason all separate and unrelated to how tall you stand, shoulders back, hands by your side, smile in your pocket.”
“I’d like to think that time is a thing to be won, a thing to be held, a thing to be saved. But it’s not. It’s a thing to be lost, under the sofa cushions and beneath the bed and behind the clothes dryer. It’s a thing to be wasted, sleeping into the afternoon and staying with people who don’t care about us, and standing stuck in ruts because it’s scarier to jump.”
“It wasn’t until months later, when autumn peaked its head out from under the covers of our grief, that we learned the truth: The leaves turned deep shades of red, just like the fire of her hair and her fight. We belly-laughed hard into the cold winter, trying not to find meaning in the way those leaves fell one by one to the ground, shedding like her white radiated hair just before she died.”
“Keep your joy in your pocket and your boy in your heart. Keep your heart in your hands and your hands on your hips and your hips ready to bump someone out of your life if they start trash talking the people you love.”
“But we grow up, and we become question marks at the end of someone else’s thickly scripted sentences. We become the commas that beg the Knowers and Truth Speakers to keep going, just trust us, just a little farther into the possibility that what I am is good and right and more than okay.”
“You’ll learn to apologize in diner booths and desolate parking lots. You’ll learn to look him in the eyes and say you are so very sorry. That being scared made you do terrible things. You’ll learn that hearts break because people die in car accidents, or move away, or leave for college, or graduate college, or stop answering your calls, and not all of those will be romantic losses. Not every crack will be a lost love story.”
“And so I can only hope they find happiness in moments instead of years, in hours and minutes instead of months, in the kindness of strangers who hold doors and wave you to make that left turn when you can’t quite see whether it’s safe. The crossed-off to-do list. The clean house. The freshly laundered sheets. The shoveled sidewalk.”
“Change was the tornado that flattened Joplin, Missouri and the earthquakes that leveled Japan and the hurricanes that washed away Louisiana and the planes that penetrated the Twin Towers and cancer that eroded my grandmother’s lungs. Change was the acceptance letter, but it was also the stuffed backseat and my best friends crying hard in my parents’ driveway at 7 a.m. It was the sinking feeling in my stomach.”
“Because, for a while, we were removed from the heartache that soon overtook us. We had already seen + felt too much, but we were trying so hard to be balloons overlooking the pain of the world for as long as we could float on.”
“Someday he’s going to hug the cotton of your sweatpants like the skimpiest summer sundress Target ever clearanced. He’s going to steady himself in the way you dance, barefeet on the kitchen floor, to the sound of corn being popped on the stove.”
“There is a triumph in being so acutely aware of the pain in this world, even when we squint at it from waiting room television screens, but pressing forward with the promise of fixing, cleaning, restoring + rewriting the future, the life, that waits for us the next time we take a step back.”
“When we’re 16 or 24, life feels like it’s spinning onward faster than we have time to process it. We read a book in two days and learn the way cancer feels like a ball and chain around our ankle. We wait for a school bus to load up with kids at the corner and watch a young girl bounding down the street, her mom running behind her with her backpack in tow, and we remember why love is the thing with wings.”
“That’s the thing I love most about their family: the busyness of working one or two jobs, full-time and then some, raking together money to buy cars and pay tuition and bills, to provide for the people they love so fiercely, all the while finding time for this monthly meeting of food and laughter.”
“What they don’t tell you about eating disorders is that when they happen, it feels like the worst kind of tug-of-war win. Your friends and family and health care providers stand at one end of the rope, pulling it taut toward them while you wrestle with what little energy you have to stay firmly planted far far away.”
“We are in a relationship with the things we say and do and imprint on the hearts of others—strangers and friends alike. And it is beautiful. And it is terrifying. And it has nothing to do with this new thing called “social media” and everything to do with being a human being who lives and breathes and walks outside and looks at someone else and speaks to someone else and tries to find the right words for someone else.”
“I had gone to the gym and slow-jogged a pathetic sixteen minutes and eighteen seconds before giving up. I had worn mid-shin socks with mesh shorts like some sort of preteen girl version of a lax bro and I was pretty much the least likely person to get asked on a date at that community clubhouse.”
Four years ago, when I started this blog, I knew the moment would come when I’d have to write him out of these pages for good. Since then, I’ve been holding tight to nostalgic Decembers, cramming the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas with the memory of a red Jeep overturned and bashed in on the side of a winding ice-covered road.
I’ve thought about him a lot over the last 10 years. He has been the person against which I measure myself. He raised me. He pushed me. He set fire to my heart in the moments when simmering down seemed easier.
We all need someone to challenge us. In the cold, dark December days, we need light. In the hot, bright August afternoons, we need air. In the crisp, cool March mornings, we need sunlight. In the fierce September sunsets, we need warmth.
He was that for me. He was a lesson, a push, a shove toward growing up.
“Be here,” he said. “Don’t be at school, or at home, or at work. Be here when you’re here.” Focus is a gift. Search for it. Strive for it. There will be moments when all you want is to turn off the voices in your head. Find the quiet & peace & steady yourself in this moment.
effort trumps time
There will be days for fooling around. There will be days for working hard. It’s not about how many hours you spend with someone — it’s about listening, about caring, about making every single second matter more than the last.
The biggest difference between the people who succeed and the ones who fail is practice. You can never afford not to practice your craft, your skills, your manners, your patience. All of it.
This world will kick you when you’re down. You’ll lose hope. You’ll forget why you bothered trying something so impossible. Heart is the thing that gets you up at 4 am. Heart is motivation & reassurance bundled neatly and topped with a bow. Treasure it.
know your team
When the day ends & you say goodbye, it’ll be the small things that resonate: the way you always asked about their weekends, the Christmas cards sent to their houses, the genuine care for them in times of need. Those will be the moments people measure you by.
everyone has potential
Everyone can be your next best friend, your next big sale, your next greatest asset. Don’t write someone off. Don’t let them write themselves off. Believe is a strong driver of production. If you let someone believe they are nothing, you will destroy them.
leave a legacy
The minute you say something to someone, it stays with them or floats away. Be the kind of person whose words matter, whose actions are intentional, whose footprints are forever branded along someone else’s shoreline. Leave a legacy of love.
be a light
We have enough darkness — in us & around us. Be a light. Be hope. Be the biggest cheerleader and the strongest advocate. Keep a dose of positivity in your back pocket for the moment someone needs you. Someone, somewhere, will always need you. Be their light.