I recently asked people to send me their stories. That was it. That was the only requirement. I didn’t need a name or a location or an email address. I asked people to share as little or as much as they’d like either via email or through my contact form. I simply wanted to hear about you. About your lives and the lives of the people you love.
The narratives I received are all breathtaking and beautiful and heartbreaking and real. People opened up to me in ways I was not expecting. I read through these stories and I laughed and I cried and at that moment something wholly changed in me. I needed to write to the people living these stories. I wanted to be a big booming voice of love and encouragement and hope and kinship and camaraderie. I used to think, “Who am I to do this for people? I’m a big nobody.” But you know what, you guys? I’m not. I may not be a great big somebody, but I’m a person and I have a voice, so I’m going to use it. I’m going to pour my heart all over this series (which I’ve dubbed Letters To A Stranger) as long as you’ll let me. As long as there is someone out there willing to share a piece of their life with me, I will sit here and write back.
With that said, I just recently received this note and couldn’t stop thinking about this dear girl. So here is the first Letter To A Stranger.
“I saw your post about your letter writing and I have a story for you. It’s my best friend’s niece. She recently turned 18 and is graduating from high school. She’s dealing with so many emotions right now. Her mom passed away when she was 8 and her father is one of those selfish deadbeats that only thinks of himself. My best friend is her legal guardian, and has taken her into her family. With graduation coming up, moving to college, and big life changes, she has all of these overwhelming emotions about her mom’s death. She recently told me that all this time she sort of just assumed her mom would come back, but now she finally realizes that she’s not coming back. Ever. So I want you to write to her. I want her to have a letter of advice and support and to know that although she feels alone in this – and scared of what her future life will be like – that she is strong enough for this journey. She is loved beyond measure and there are only great things in her future if she just believes that she is worthy.”
I’m writing you this letter because there are people in your life who care about you. Truly. Deeply. Wildly. And they know that you’re at a precarious point in your adolescence in which you’re standing on the edge of your infinity working up the courage to jump into that giant, endless, daunting chasm.
Right now is one of those times in your life where it feels difficult to breathe. Your chest is tight and anxious and you try to take a deep breath, to really fill your lungs up big, but you sputter. Cough. You just can’t do it. So you take little sips of air, as often as you can, and try to pretend you’re okay. You’re ready for this. You’re not afraid. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to pretend, darling. You don’t have to put on a brave face. This fear you’re feeling, this sour-taste-in-the-back-of-your-throat terror that bubbles up when you think about what lies ahead of you is normal. It means you’re alive. More importantly, it means you give a shit about what comes next. And that’s a pretty big accomplishment, sweet pea.
The thing about standing on the edge of that chasm called life, though, is that we rely on our tethers for courage. Our friends. Our family. Our parents. And, well, you’re missing a key part of that equation, Jumper, which makes what you’re about to do infinitely more scary and difficult and impossible-seeming. I wish more than anything that your father wasn’t an asshole. I wish I could make him care about the things he should care about (i.e. you), but I can’t. So instead I’m going to beg you with all that is in me to let go of the expectations you hold for your father and realize he’s probably not ever going to be the guy you want him to be (but you don’t need him to be those things. If you did, you wouldn’t have made it this far already). So you have to work like hell to let go, dear girl. It’s going to feel like you’re drowning. It’s going to take everything you have to keep fighting against the urge to give up, but you’re going to be lighter afterward. In the unique and beautiful way that letting go of people and our unfulfilled and unattainable expectations of them lightens us. I can tell you that it’s not going to be easy – there are likely going to be some claw marks as you release your grip on your belief that it’s possible to have a perfect – or even healthy – relationship with your dad – but I can promise you that it’s going to be worth it.
And to make matters even more complicated, your mom isn’t with you anymore. For that, dear girl, I am fiercely sorry. I wish that the words on this page could stand in for your sweet mother, or that somehow they could bring her back. But we both know that’s a profound impossibility. I can’t bring her back and I can’t take away the ache of her absence. But I can offer you this: love endures when it moves like waves. Embrace the sea that is made up of every single droplet of memory you have of your beautiful mother. The way she smelled and the sound of her sweet voice. The way her eyes would sparkle when you told her something that was dreadfully exciting or wondrous or miraculous to you at the time. The way her cooking tasted or smelled, the way she’d tickle or hug or read to you, and the sound of her laughter. You need to fold these things into your soul like a map and let them guide you as you journey into the vastness of your future.
The void that your mom left when she died isn’t ever going to disappear, sweet pea. Some days the hollowness you feel will lessen and you may forget it’s there. Other days it’s going to burn and scream and hurt like a motherfucker. Those are the days when you open up your glove box and take out that map. The days when you close your eyes and trace the creases and folds and remember every single thing that you can about your mom. The memories so sweet and so aching that you laugh and you cry and you get MAD. Grief isn’t this perfect thing that we dissect and then dismiss. Grief is your battle scar. Your war wound. You wear it like a tattoo or a badge of courage. It doesn’t go away, so don’t expect it to. But it’s not there to destroy you either. Grief is the reminder that you loved your mom, darling. That you really, truly, wonderfully, wholly, irrevocably loved her. And that she loved you, too. And it’s that thing that reminds you that you’re always going to miss her. You’re always going to be a little pissed off that she’s not living this adventure by your side, and no matter how deeply and wholly and freely and wildly you love yourself or others, your heart is always going to be a little bit broken.
But you are not broken. Not even one little bit.
You’re brave and you’re beautiful and you’re poised to embark on the greatest adventure of your life; It’s called Your Life. So take a deep breath and nudge your toes closer to the edge of that canyon. Think of all the people in your life who love you, spread your arms out wide, and jump. Leap. Dive. We’re all waiting at the bottom to catch you.
I’ve got this feeling you won’t need us to, though. Something tells me that you’re about to find your wings.
You’re about to discover what it feels like to fly.
beautiful. you are amazing sweet friend. i could hear you telling this young woman to fly, be brave and jump!
and you are so right…. grief is a battle scar and the fact that scar exists proves that you are moving through it, some days breath by breath, but the important thing is that you are moving and you are alive!
i love you beyond measure
OH MY!!! I knew there was a reason i felt drawn to you!! YOU are such an incredibly giving and SOULFUL! You are the angel here on earth to help others see their value thru your amazing eyes and heart!!! YOU ROCK!!!
this is absolutely beautiful! about a year ago I did a similar project called “send my love” where I sent handwritten letters to people through their loved ones writing in and honestly, it was one of the best, most fulfilling projects to date. Keep up the inspiring work!!! :)
THIS Athena is one of the many reasons why I love you so very much., literally from the second I met you. You are so talented in so many ways. You’re so…. Athena. Rock on my beautiful friend!!!!! Keep doing what you do! (p.s. this made ne cry!)
My GOD. You have a gift. I am so lucky to call you my friend. Gulp. Ok, wiping away tears. I love you, sister!