Dear Sister,

…are you scared yet?

I know you are. I know your ribcage strains to hold a swell of churning nerves, that you have regrets you’re trying to ignore, that you’ve been belly-laughing all week, and it could be just minutes until your next good, grateful cry.

It’s a funny thing about life, the way it drags, full of quiet fatigue, until we suddenly drop off the edge of all we know. Sometimes we see the cliff coming — but we’re never ready, anyway, for the present to fall so irrevocably into the past.

Here are the facts: you’ve been walking a road called “college” for a number of years. Much of that time, it’s felt like treading water, pumping your strength into what felt like mere survival. Life lay in so many unimpressive pieces: shoddy papers, poorly brewed coffee, near-friendships, and hours cramming words into your whimpering, exhausted brain.

Yeah, those days were long. The winters were the worst, weren’t they? There seemed to be no shore to speak of, and neither any sun — just slate sky and the numbing scrape of cold sidewalk under feet. We have no one but ourselves, in those moments, no one to promise us a pay off, to tell us there’s meaning in the monotony, some resolution waiting just on the other side of our exasperation.

What is it that keeps us moving, on those days?

Do you want to know what I think? I think those are some of the most heroic moments most of us ever live.

What feat of faith it is, to hold ourselves upright in the dark, to draw ourselves together inside the sheath of faded winter skin. These days wear grooves in us, don’t they, and yet somehow we keep on walking in the wind. The farther we move from childhood, the weaker the guarantees, and honestly, this world is arbitrary in a thousand ways each day. To take just one step beyond our beds is, in the face of it all, a profoundly strange or faith-filled thing.

It’s springtime now, and in this month of celebrations, we hear words like “achievement” “completion” and “dreams.” I like this — it is, in its own partial way, fully true of this moment. You’ve finished, accomplished something — where you stand now is a scrap of time and space you only earned after years of dreaming.

Yet we both know how easy it is to lose those dreams along the way, how quickly they fly from us after a string of sleepless nights or one too many disappointments. There are days we’d rather die than admit to what we dream of — so unworthy we feel, and so foolish.

On those days, isn’t it strange, how our eyes play tricks on us? Suddenly, all we can see is what’s bright, contained, and comfortable in the lives of those around us. Beside us stride lovers and intact families, all of them dripping with some maddening air of certainty. And us, alone, hobbling on misshapen legs, our guts strapped to our outsides, throbbing with the lightest breeze or glance. We are raw, off-script, and unaccompanied, a little sick at the sudden absurdity of our trying. We look in the mirror and ridicule what we see. “Who do you think you are, anyway?”

We can’t deny those days. They will come again, those swells of secret, raging emptiness, the gnawing for some easier road.

Have you stopped to marvel at this: that you kept going?

How is it, that so many of us keep walking, crossing these winters?

We’ll never know completely, but it has something to do with the way the earth is faithful to spin even under frozen feet (I’d call this grace). It has even more to do, though, with some unquenchable thing that burns between your bones (I have seen its flicker, its spark).

So, graduation. Here we come, suddenly, at last, to a turning chapter, the kind we can see.

I’m not much older or wiser than you, sweet sister. I hope you won’t mind, though, if I speak to you a little more about what I’ve learned, just a hop-skip down the road from you.

You’re aware that the world can be cruel — this is not news to anyone who’s come farther than fifth grade. Yet we each hold a small slip of this universe inside us, and in this place, we hold sway. It is in our scrap of consciousness where our most profound battles are won or lost, and, my love, I invite you to think about the ecosystem of your mind.

Who do you think you are?

This question matters, dear, so much.

There’s a lot of angry, greedy gravity loose on this planet, and a hundred chances to call ourselves worthless each day. The world is full of shrewd and fickle deal-makers, hungry hearts clawing each other, mining with violence in search of self-peace.

If there’s a way to avoid this fact, I don’t know it. What I do know is this: we can choose to be spoken for. We can hold a greater truth, practice preemptive peace — we can fiercely dare to believe in our belovedness, to accept a brave and beautiful name. Before, beyond, and in-spite-of circumstance, we can hold kind words against our chest until they become a part of us.

This comes back to those grey winter moments, and those hours of aloneness when the doubts crawl in. Believe me, they don’t dissipate with time — they are always at our heels, shadow-like, relentless. So simple and sinister, arms-length, eager to explain us to ourselves.

For all the talk of kindness, integrity — how often are we told that we owe these virtues to ourselves? But, my sweet sister, it all begins there. The skin you stand in is all you’ll have, some days, and if you don’t learn how to water those roots you’ll find winter hard to weather.

I believe this — you’ve heard me repeat it — that the Voice worth listening to is the one that’s hardest to believe. The One that says gentle, bold things about you, the One that gives and doesn’t take, but makes you generous all same.

I think it matters, really matters, whether we believe this Voice, or another — we are always listening to someone, stitching together some script to follow across our hours, and from these implicit words rises our reality.

The next few years are bound to be full of awkward gaps, and chances to fill up on the doubt and worry that hangs like thick, low fruit over us.

Say no.

It’s hard, so very difficult, to resist the parrot-talk that fills our atmosphere, to refuse the tired old fear that writes so many scripts, that freezes so many dreams.

But do it, anyway.

Volume is not truth, and hope, if old-fashioned, is not obsolete.

Remember the winters you’ve already tread. Think of all the impossibilities you’ve lived, how what crushed you on some cold yesterday is now nothing but the faintest scar. Stand in awe of all that’s stacked inside you, and how many answers you have yet to seek. Be audaciously grateful. Stand in your own defense with the same ferocity you’ve guarded others. Name your questions, your fears, and your power — and honor them. Carve into the noise, make a place for silence, and treat it as sacred. Dare to listen. You are precious, radiant, richly laden with irreplaceable and beautiful things — hear those words, and pull them close. Be ridiculous enough to ignore the rest.

This is easier said than done, and don’t expect to see any brilliant example in me — but I stand by it all. We become what we practice, and we practice what we believe, so again I ask you, who do you think you are?

I’ll practice your lines with you, as long as you like. Until you know them by heart.
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