Save me for a rainy day.

The forecast reads "rain."

Lots of it.

More to come.

So much rain they're interrupting regularly scheduled programming to analyze it.

It's been raining for ten trillion years here in Atlanta and the weatherman keeps talking as if it will be pouring buckets forever. Who's building the ark? Who's gathering the animals?

The rain today made me think of something I wrote when I was 22 years old. It was at the start of creating More Love Letters. I wrote a letter to whoever was reading, 8 years ago, and I told people to save it for a rainy day. The metaphorical kind.

I've learned a lot in 8 years and so I figured I'd rewrite that letter with what I know now but I would give the same instructions: if these words speak to you, print them out. Fold them up. Put them somewhere safe like a drawer or a wallet. Write on the outside of the paper, "Save me for a rainy day." May this note be a reminder to you when the dark feels endless. May this note comfort and keep you when it feels like the rain is never going to cease:

 

Save Me for a Rainy Day

The rain will end. Eventually.

Right now it feels like buckets. It feels like darkness. It feels like that time when the stars weren't visible and the trees were hovering and it's okay to think to yourself, "Am I ever coming out of these woods?"

The rain will end, stop, cease, quit it-- all the things. It's only a matter of time.

Gosh, do you hate when people talk about time as if it heals all the wounds? Time is the one thing you can't speed up or manipulate. You can't expedite it or erase it. In a place where food is delivered in under 45 minutes and you could Prime that product and have it here tomorrow, I know what it is like to wish time worked on a tighter schedule. I know what it is like to think, "I need time to speed up. I need this pain to go away. I need this darkness to cease."

You're going to make it. You're going to make it through. 

I don't like to be the kind of person who says "there's a purpose for everything" because there is too much senseless evil on this planet to say that so quickly. But I've seen my fair share of purpose induced by pain. I've seen the good that comes from the bad. I've been through enough patches of wood to say that sometimes the woods makes you stronger. They show you what you're made of. They push you outside of yourself or they help you discover new layers of yourself.

Whatever you're going through right now-- it's hard. I won't belittle that or make it seem smaller than it really is. I've learned never to predict the storms for someone else. We all get storms and those storms look different. I can't say when the rain will stop or how bad it will get. No need to be a weatherman in this world that needs people with umbrellas to rise and say, "I'll stand here as long as you need me."

I used to wish God would be less of a God and more of a weatherman. Less omniscient, more predictable.  I wished he'd be the kind of guy to say to me, "The storm will end around 2. Just hold tight and wear your rainboots, kid."

Instead, I learned to stop asking "when" and "how long" for matters of darkness and discomfort. Now I ask a harder question. I ask, "What do you need me to see right now? What can I learn from this? Teach me how to move through this storm gracefully and come out better than before."

God isn't being silent. He's not being cold and impersonal by not giving you a sneak peek into the final scene of this fight. He knows more than you could possibly believe about this storm. He knows every wound and every hit you'll take as you charge through the rain. He knows how radiant you'll look when it's time to look back. He knows and I know he's good for it. Hold tight. Keep saying your scrappy prayers. He's got you.

You might get hit. You might be pelted. Battle scars aren't weakness-- they're proof you fought through hell and back. 

You might get hit. You might be pelted. Battle scars aren't weakness-- they're proof you fought through hell and back.

It won't be like this forever. The rain will stop. It's okay if you need a second to camp out or stop for rest. It's okay if you're tired or you don't have the strength to fight like you did yesterday. Don't score your weak days just wake up and give what you can.

Honesty hour: I used to think I didn't have the strength to get through my hardest days. I remember wanting to curl in a ball and surrender. But I remember how sick I became of hearing fear speak on my behalf. I had to stop allowing fear to hold my phone, to type my messages and script my battle cries.

Fear was never made to be the narrator of my story. It doesn't have the right voice. It doesn't have the right pitch or tone. That's the day I became so strong, the day I heard fear belting loudly in my ears and I talked back. I found my voice and I finally said, "Just because I hear you doesn't mean I need to listen to you or respect you. You don't get to own me. I'm freer than you think."

You're freer than you think. You're mightier than you know. You've got all this strength inside of you that hasn't even been tapped into yet. It's waiting there in the deep of you.

Tap in. Tap in. Tap in.

tying you closer than most,

hb.

Digging for gold in the valley.

I'm a frequent pray-er of the "take it away" prayer even though I know it rarely works. When I walked through depression in 2014, I was clogging up God's voicemail with "take it away" prayers. At some point, I wised up to what God was doing. I could almost hear him saying, "Can you please stand up for five seconds? Just five seconds. I want to release you but you have to get up and walk through it with me." The valley does not mean you're on lockdown, it means your growth is precious to God. 

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Kicking fear off the platform.

I'm learning it is one thing to know your weakness and another thing to project your weakness out of fear that you don't add up. At the end of each day, I am not my anxiety. I am not my depression. I don't need to walk out onto a stage and let everyone know I am nervous. Anxiety is something I face but it's on me if I use it as a crutch or I choose to limit what God is already doing when I give it undue credit. 

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I will walk with you through the woods.

January is a month that hoards memories for me. I can hardly look at the word "January" scrawled thick across the banner of a new calendar and not remember all that happened in this month three years ago. It's all still with me.

I remember the plane rides back and forth between Atlanta and Connecticut. I remember the multiple doctors, all with their differing opinions about treatment moving forward. I remember the hotel rooms, sitting on the phone for hours with friends because I didn't want to be alone. I remember the drowsiness of sleeping pills and the feel of the carpet against my cheek as I got down on the floor once again and begged God for a shred of hope, one small poke of light through the thick fog of depression.

Depression is never an easy topic to write about but I know it's necessary. Today, as I was reading in Isaiah, I noticed the words: I have been anointed to bring good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners of darkness. 

There are prisoners of darkness. This is an accurate description of how depression feels. Sometimes you feel like you are in this small, stone box. You're stuck at the bottom of it. There's no light pouring through the cracks. You can't find a window or a door and you're gasping for breath, pounding on the sides of that box in the hopes that someone would just hear you and let you go free. You're stuck. It's scary.

...

I get emails all the time from people asking me to write about how, just how, to walk with someone through the woods. Through the pain of depression. Through a dark valley of an unseen illness that steals sleep and daily ambition.

I'm writing now but with great hesitancy. Mental illness is such a tender topic and it's important to just come out and say it: there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Each individual is different. Each experience with mental illness is unique. I don't possess all the answers. Not even close. I am simply one person who deals with depression and it would be wise to gather the stories of others to make this narrative more complete. So here's the little prayer I said beneath my breath as I wrote this: God, help me to be wise when writing about such a tough topic. Give me grace in the areas where I get it wrong. Highlight & amplify the places where I speak your truth the loudest. 

I'd so appreciate your grace on this topic too!

...

You are not a lifeboat. The signs of depression may be pretty straightforward. However, figuring out how to respond to those signs is a different beast. You love this person. You naturally want to make it better for the one who is stuck in a thick fog. The first thing to remember: your presence is appreciated and essential but you can't heal a person of their illness. That's not your role.

Don't get frustrated by this. You have many other roles you can take on. You can make the tea. You can let them crumble into your arms and hold them why they cry. You can listen. You can learn.

More importantly, depression is a heavy thing. It can feel burdensome. Depression, itself, is the burden. The person who is suffering is just the host of the burden. Burdens, however, are not meant to be shouldered alone. Be mindful of your limits. Don't try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Be mindful of your limits. Don't try to hold this all on your shoulders. It is possible to be crushed under the weight of trying to show up for someone you love. 

Stay surrounded by a support system if you can. Be plugged in and be in communication with the other friends or family members who are walking alongside this person. Sometimes it takes a small village and hey, sometimes you may need to pull over on the side of the road and take a pit stop. That's okay. I say this because it's easy to start a journey with people but it's harder to finish it. Take care of your health. Lean hard into your people as someone with depression leans into you. Exercise boundaries. Be aware of how you're feeling as you offer another support.

 

...

Be a truth-teller. Much of depression is like hearing a soundtrack of lies blasting loudly in the background of everything you try to do yet being helpless to find the knob that turns the volume down. We need people to reach in and say, "Hey, I see you. I know the things you are believing right now but here's some truth to sustain you."

Remind that person of who they are. Remind them that they are not an illness or a failure. Depression is not a weakness. Remind the person you love that they are a fighter and that they, too, will come out of the woods. 

It might be tempting to say, "Snap out of it. Get yourself together and just move forward." You have to remember that the person battling this mental illness wants to believe the same things as you. They've tried to snap out of it. They are likely trying as hard as they possibly can so coercion to "get over it" won't work. Be kind and graceful.

Sometimes it won't seem to make any sense. And that's okay, too. Depression is a hard thing to understand and the best thing you can say sometimes is, "Hey, we both don't fully get this but what is more important is getting through this."

 

...

You're okay. These are my two favorite words in the English language. I use them constantly to remind others of how strong and brave they are. This is a big one: help is sometimes necessary and there doesn't need to be a glowing orb of stigma around getting it. Doctors exist for a reason. Medicine exists with a purpose. Not everyone needs medicine but it's okay if the door gets flung open.

It's one of the most powerful things in the world to remind a person who is fighting through the dark: you're okay. You're okay and if you need me to, I will go to the doctor's office with you. I will hold your hand. I will help you pick up the medicine and take that first pill.

Again, treatment is not a one-size-fits-all thing. I reached a point in my own journey where medicine was the only option to recovery and I still remember the friend who dropped me off at the doctor's office. I remember her bringing me back to her place, tucking me in on the couch, and going to Target to pick up that first prescription for me.

It's tempting to want to think you are crazy for having to take pills to make your brain better but that's the last thing you are. You are not crazy. You are not a lost cause. I had to remind myself that each small pill was a step towards recovery. It didn't mean I would take the pills forever. It simply meant that, in this moment, there was a little extra assistance and that was perfectly okay.

Another thing you might have to say: you're okay. And it's okay if you need to go somewhere like a hospital. It's okay if you need more help.

It was two weeks into my medicine that my community and I made the decision to go to the emergency room. I wouldn't have gone if people hadn't surrounded me and said, "It's perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don't be afraid. Don't believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair."

"It's perfectly okay to go where there is help. Don't be afraid. Don't believe the lie that you are broken beyond repair."

Thoughts of suicide are a reality for some of those battling mental illness. It is imperative that we ask the hard questions and we follow-up with help options: Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about hurting other people? These are not silly questions and they need to be asked sometimes even if it feels uncomfortable.

 

...

Little victories. I owe so much of my recovery to a small band of women who surrounded me and refused to let me be alone. There were days where I just wanted to be left alone. They would invite me over. They would call and ask me to join them for errands. This is huge. Really huge. It would be easy enough to sit with a person experiencing depression and let them talk all day about their worries and fears. This won't always be helpful though. Instead, plan something active. Propose going for a walk or doing a yoga class together. Ask them to join you on a trip to Target. These activities help a person get out of their own head and enter into the world. The depression will likely scream, "No! Just stay home. Just stay alone!" but it's okay to be a little insistent. Even if you don't feel it, your presence is a breath of fresh air to someone who is worn down by the prison in their brain.

There were days where all I wanted to do was run myself in circles around lies I couldn't piece together. I wanted answers but that's the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

I wanted answers but that's the thing about depression: it wants you to obsess over things you cannot change and it wants you to be helpless to move forward.

One of my girlfriends, Chrisy, stopped me in the middle of obsessing one morning. She said, "Okay, we are not going to wallow in this anymore. I want you to get up and I want you to do something." She instructed me to go to Target and buy a pack of thank-you notes. She told me to write a thank-you note to any person who'd been with me in this dark pit. She asked me to write down every tiny thing I did from now until the end of the day, in monotonous fashion: Went to Target. Wrote thank-you notes. Took a shower. Met with Heather. 

Little victories are one of the best things you can point a person towards when they are in a pit. Little victories, stacking upon one another, help a person climb out of themselves and see the world once again. Depression is an illness that wants you to focus inward but action steps propel you forward. This is also a great chance to encourage self-care. It's easy to neglect things like bathing, working out, or eating right when you are depressed. Just the thought of a shower can seem so overwhelming but breaking the self-care into baby steps, little victories to be met, helps a person feel empowered and capable of trying again the next day.

Help the person in your life count the little victories, no matter how small. Write them down or track them in a phone. Rejoice with them. Celebrate the smallness. Grab their hand and assure them, "Little victory upon little victory, I will walk with you through the woods."

 

I would love to read your words and thoughts on this topic in the comment section below. The comments section is often a bright light for others, all on its own. I invite you to contribute- your words are appreciated in this space. 

Single for the season.

I spent the last hour googling "single during the holiday season" and clicking in and out of articles. The stories were pretty much all the same. How to survive the holiday season. Things to do when you're single. The articles start the same way, with cheesy puns about adding extra fa-la-la-la into your season. The slew of articles is really pretty pathetic for how weighty this feeling of "singleness" can be when December rolls around.

So you're here. And you're reading this. And maybe you're the single one.

Valentine's Day is one day on the calendar but, for some reason, the holiday season feels like two long months of social awareness for the single people in the room.

And maybe Hallmark Movies don't make it any better because all these fiercely handsome men and seemingly perfect women keep colliding into one another in the old haunts of their hometowns while you're just shoving more cookies into your mouth and ordering pizza from UberEats.

Scoot over on the couch, pass me a cookie, and let's do this thing. 

 

...

First things first, you're fine. If I had a quarter for every person who tried to tell me to be jolly about my singleness then I wouldn't be writing anymore. I would likely be retiring and celebrating my newfound wealth on a beach in Mexico.

Reminder #1: Don't cut the person who tells you this. 

Reminder #2: you don't have to be jolly. It doesn't have to be a thing.

People mean well when they say this sort of stuff. But if the awkwardness were to be stripped from every "single at the holidays" conversation then I would just come out and tell you this: Hey, it's absolutely okay if you're hurting. You can be disappointed. You are allowed to want to shove couples frolicking together at the mall. Your rage is welcome here.

It's okay to think it should be your turn by now. No one is going to hate you if you turn off the notifications this Christmas Eve. If seeing pictures of rings at Christmas is going to make you go ballistic then let's take a step back and go from there.

You are allowed to grieve for what you don't yet have. Singleness sometimes looks like mini skirts and cocktails. Sometimes singleness feels like grief and longing we haven't learned to manage yet. We need to have better conversations about singleness. It's okay to be single and yet waiting to not be. Just because you're waiting doesn't mean life hits the pause button. There's a difference.

 

...

Your singleness is not a scorecard. It doesn't have the permission to rate you or degrade you. You are not defined by a ring-less left hand. I'm married now so maybe you think I don't get to say these things anymore but I've been taking notes. I took notes throughout my singleness and now I am taking notes throughout the marriage and I can tell you one thing that never changes, no matter how your marital status may shift: a person never fills the holes only God, himself, was made to occupy.

In some ways, I believe God made the holes on purpose. Chiseled them deep. Dug them wide. Gave us a spirit to want, so badly, to fill those holes with something of value and worth. When we see the holes, we realize we are in need of something. We are in need of something better than this mediocre world. I think we were created with a need to taste heaven, even in the smallest doses.

 

...

There was a time when I thought a guy would change that. I thought the right combination of blue eyes and 5'8 stature would fix me. I found myself craving all the attention I could get. I found myself wanting to be wanted. I thrived off of desire. It didn't matter to me if I wasn't planning longterm with the man, I just wanted someone to see me, call me beautiful, and hold the door open.

Wanting isn't wrong. Where I went wrong was picking any man, any guy off Tinder, to make me feel valuable. I could never stand in front of an imperfect man and ask him to give me worth. Your value, dear, will never come from someone sitting across the table from you. A person can accentuate your value. A person can call you to a higher confidence in yourself. A person can call out your greatness and make you feel beautiful. But a person cannot hand you all the validation you so desperately want.

I would learn eventually-- after a series of bad dates-- that another person could never complete me. We were made to complement but not complete someone else. That's too big of a role and our backs would break trying.

 

...

I'm not going to jettison a list of 5 activities you can do while being single this season because, honestly, reading a list like that when I was single would have depressed me. I was single out enough already. I didn't want to be singled out by stigmas too.

So here's all I'll say: wallow if you want. Cry if you need to. No one is going to stop you. The greatest freedom I ever claimed from the most wonderful time of the year was the ability to say, "It's okay if I don't feel wonderful. I'm still here and that's what matters."

Your purpose isn't on pause just because you're single this year. You could be single your whole life, and still, this world would need something from you. It would tap its worldly foot and look at its worldly watch and wonder, "Is that person still waiting for the relationship to come? There was so much we could have done in the meantime."

The world still needs you to pick up the phone and do your thing. Not an inch of your passion need be drained away based on a relationship status. There are still cards to write out and people to encourage. There are still shelters in need of extra volunteers and people who feel so heartbroken they aren't sure if they will be able to handle the season this year.

Whether you see it or not, you're like this tiny gold thread that's bobbing and weaving through the stories of other people. You might not be in every story but, if you keep your eyes wide open this year, then you won't miss the ones that need your touch. Your golden thread.

 

...

Eyes wide open. No matter what. Whether you are single or married, dating or engaged, we all need a reminder to have eyes wide open this time of year. The season will go by fast. I'm probably the 12th person to say that to you this year. But I think back to the reason why I celebrate Christmas. I tell myself, don't miss the point. Don't miss the point of this.

I've lived too long at this point-- seen too many things-- to believe in coincidences and accidents. I know there is purpose here. I know God is at work. But I also know that every conversation I avoided could have taught me something and every event I go to has the power to change me. That's what happens when you step out into the world and you look around-- you start to change. You morph. You become someone new. And maybe, just maybe, that "someone new" is the person you were meant to be when you meet the "someone new" who ends of wanting to partner with you. You never know. I know it took a lot of fights, battles, friendships, and moves to get me to the place where I met Lane and felt ready to love him with all the selfish and unselfish parts of me. I had to let the world change me before I could change the way I loved someone else.

We get this one chance. It's this one, rare chance to be living, breathing creatures for a little while on this planet. And as we go, we get this chance to love people until it breaks our hearts and we go mad for one another. We get to scour the planet for treasure. We get to make bucket lists. We get the chance to commune. We get to define the purpose and make plans. There is a massive list of "get to"s that we get to do and we waste so much of that time on feeling like we are incomplete. Feeling inadequate. Feeling underqualified.

This is it for me. This is it for you. We might not get this season again so we should try to shake the fear off our shoulders and get busy with love. Fear wants to keep us isolated. Love wants to keep us busy.

Tis' the season of joy. And maybe you won't feel it the whole way through. Maybe it will only come in quick spurts. But calm your little, worried heart and keep on the lookout for peace and light. Repeat this truth beneath your breath as you go:

you're not missing any piece of you. 

you're not missing any piece of you. 

you're not missing any piece of you. 

 

And that's how you grow up.

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I’m growing up a lot these days. It’s painful, weird and kind of beautiful.

I used to think growing up was just a matter of paying your bills on time and figuring out how to properly clean a bathroom. These days, that’s just the tip of it. Within learning how to cook and clean, I’m slowly learning that growing up is the realization that other people hang in the balance of your own life. Growing up is the process of taking the world’s spotlight off of you. It’s the process of seeing people. It’s putting your selfishness on the back-burner to make sure someone else feels like they can conquer something today.

I’m not implying that you are selfish. However, if you are anything like me then you want to be constantly improving. You want people to like you. You want to be seen as humble and good. Somewhere in the search to be seen in the right light we forget to place our best energy on the people around us. We sacrifice our energy to build shrines of imperfection for ourselves. We live in these little self-made sanctuaries where we could always get better, do more, care more, and live more. These buildings with the pews we build for ourselves are where we sit and kneel and stand and pray that we will get our way. We worship improvement, not God.

Instead of always polishing our hearts, we should learn to give them away. Instead of needing to be perfect before stepping outside, we should understand that this whole life is a process. You’re never going to be perfect. It is not a destination. Perfection is a paper town-- it sits on a map but you can never actually get there. And it might actually be really sad if you somehow did become perfect—if you found that land and pitched a tent-- because there’d be no more need to grow and change and learn the hard stuff.

I’m not an expert at this. I am nowhere near an example. But the more I am invested in the process, the more I am finding fulfillment in daily life. It’s easy to become deflated when we feel like our daily lives are supposed to deliver us into a constant state of fireworks and celebration. It’s dangerous to think our kale, and our planners, and our meetings should thrill us. We will always be let down if life is always about us. On the adverse— it’s really easy to log onto Facebook, notice that 7 people announced their engagement during the workday, and feel belittled and small for the things we don’t feel like we’ve accomplished. We swing back and forth on this pendulum. Back and forth between “I really should be heralded for my accomplishments” and “I don’t really like myself at all.”

If you spend your days looking at the highlight reel of other people, you will never see your life as anything more than ordinary and plain.

Life is not a constant state of fireworks though. Usually it’s the opposite. We wake up late. We sit on the horn when we shouldn’t. We stick closer to our phones than new people at dinner parties. We prove ourselves to be unruly, hangry, irritated and worrisome more often than not. Somehow— in a world that does not meet our expectations— we must learn to live and love and breathe and keep going. We must learn to train our hearts to engage in the process of “becoming” rather than fall in love with the idea of finished products.

I wrote last week about the friend of mine who is on mile 3. He is the one who wanted to give up on dating a girl because she kept breaking all the plans and making up excuses. The fact that he wanted to give up on the girl was perfectly fine. Every single one of us coached him into doing it the right way though: be honest. Be forward. Finish the story right.

When we don’t finish the story right, we walk around acting like we are entitled to making up the ending. That ending rarely is a shout for victory or a lesson learned. It’s usually a fearful little ending that results in us feeling small, battered, and wounded. We carry that ending into new relationships. We expect another person to scale the walls of that ending we wrote for ourselves— too high for another person to get over.

This weekend he ended it right. He asked the girl to be honest with him. In turn, she was honest with him. She told him she liked him, that he was a great guy, and that she just didn’t think she could invest what he wanted into the relationship.

“I’m so proud that you kept going,” I told him. “How do you feel?”

“I just asked myself, ‘did you do everything you could’ve done?’ and, perhaps for the first time in my life, I could honestly answer yes to that question.”

He hadn’t played the game the culture tries to make us play. He hadn’t copped out of the story too early. He hadn’t constructed a grey area for she and him to dance around inside of much longer than necessary.

He devoted himself to the process of dating her with the reality present that she might not want him just how he wanted her. He did it anyway. He showed up to live the harder and better story that comes when we realize other people need us to grow out of the games we used to like to play.

“And that’s how you grow up,” I said back to him.

That’s how we all grow up.

When waiting.

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When I used to live in New York City, there would be days when I would meet up with my friend Libby in the middle of Grand Central Station at the end of our workday.

We would climb the stairs up to overlook the grand foyer, right where the Apple Store now sits, and we would not say much for a little while. We would just look down at all the people rushing to get home. We’d point out all the ones who were waiting for something. Specifically a someone.

“That one,” she’d point out to me. “Him.”

“He’s waiting on her,” I’d connect the dots, finding the girl in the red tights from across the way who would soon be running up to him to pull him in closer.

We’d point them out from a distance. One by one. A guy and a girl meeting up after a longer day.

I don’t know how many times we did that. How many times we sat and we talked about our days with one another while we watched other people waiting. Regardless, it is still one of my favorite things about Grand Central-- it’s a reminder of how there is something terribly romantic and awful about waiting. And the two feelings seem to exist at the same time.

I didn’t date much while I lived there.

Not that year. I cried too often and figured therapy was a better option than dating ever could be. I kind of tortured myself thinking. “I’m too broken to be date-able.” And while I don’t think dating is the key to not being a train wreck (one must be willing to pull themselves out from a wreckage), I also think we are too hard on ourselves sometimes. Life is really short. We can be super dramatic. Perhaps sometimes we are supposed to wear the red lip stick, go out, and meet the cute boy. So I signed up for a dating site. One of those free ones where people seem to sit on the Emoji button a little too much. And I went out with an extremely sweet bagpipe player who also played rugby (I still don’t know if there is a better combination than that). He had the kindest eyes and his texts made me feel seen. He didn’t ever know my heart was already broken and trying to put itself back together daily.

But I remember there were a few times when we would meet up after work in the middle of Grand Central. Him and I-- by the big clock. I have to be honest-- I haven’t really found the feeling that is better than the one that comes from knowing someone is waiting for you. Wanting you. Hoping you’ll show.

It’s a waiting game.

A lot of us are waiting. For answers. For people to love us. For someone to change. A lot of us are waiting on love. It’s like we grew up into a world that promised us one day we would get love- our missing piece of the puzzle. And I guess I still want to believe in that. I want to believe that hope isn’t just something that got me through high school, and got me through college, and pushed me to stay optimistic. And while I no longer believe that there is just one person in the world for us, I still want to believe he’s out there.  (Hey you-- I still think you’re out there.)

So we get a lot of choices. And sometimes those choices look like waiting. Sometimes those choices look like being wild. Spontaneous. Deciding to step forward and into the woods-- facing our fears and deciding not to talk of them any longer. Life isn’t a waiting room and yet so many of us are waiting. We can’t help it.

And I guess we could either feel gutted or hopeful. Gutted or hopeful. There are the two options. We could either trace people in Grand Central that are getting what we want or we could see the truth: the ones who have that “one thing” are probably often waiting for something else. We won’t always know what that is. We are all waiting on secret things that we neglect to write in our diaries at night.

Maybe it's for the fog to lift. Maybe it's for someone to finally leave us. A lot of us are waiting on disaster. I am not certain why but too many of us are waiting for God to give up. Like he's gonna turn around, see our crying face, and finally whisper, "Enough. I am through."

But maybe, just maybe, the opposite could happen in our waiting. A miracle might come. A blessing might show up. Maybe God is gonna be the one who scoops us up--  as if he saw us helpless and doe-eyed in Grand Central that whole time-- and finally tell us the words we need to hear, "Little one, the waiting is over. The waiting is over.

Come on, we're moving. It's gonna be so good."

 

You know, even in those times where I knew no one was going to meet me by the clock, I had someone right beside me who asked me about my day. She would meet me in the middle of any day when everything felt like it was falling apart. When I stopped seeing myself and the good in who I was as a human being. She’d be there-- whether I was crushed in spirit or ready for another round of resilience. And together we could pluck the people from the crowd who were waiting, just like us.

We wait. That’s certain. We wait for things.

But we never are waiting alone.

Please proceed to step out of the woods.

large You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

My god, you have no idea how badly I want to believe in those words. I want to say them on repeat. I want to grab people in public places and just shake them real good while those words shoot out of my mouth like promises I know I can keep.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

I wrote them in my palm. I kept opening and closing up my hand just so I could see those words, suck them in, believing for longer than a second that the words are true. They’re written in ink. I never want to stop reading them. I keep thinking they’ll act like a cloak that hangs over my shoulders and keeps me protected from the doubt and the insecurity that try to come crawling beneath my door at night.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat. 

A friend of mine sent me a text the other day. She told me she’d had a dream about me. In thedream she saw me standing in the middle of a dark alleyway. I was hesitant. I was scared. I was unable to put one foot in front of the other. I could see the light that was waiting for me just outside the alleyway-- so much light just waiting for me-- but I couldn’t step out. And she told me, after she had that dream, that I needed to step out. Whatever was holding me back, I had to let it go. Whatever fears were burrowing themselves into my spirit, I had to find a way to let them go. She found me out. She found me out in that dream and she was telling me straight: you need to stop holding yourself back. The pity party must cease and you must de-invite everyone to your darkest parts. You need to stop thinking you have never deserved good things for your life. 

 

Just typing those words-- you need to stop thinking you have never deserved good things for your life-- makes me feel like I am the one punching my own self in the stomach. Again. Again. Again. But they’re true. They’re true on Monday mornings. They’re true on Wednesday afternoons and Friday nights and weekends that are packed with plans. We all, at some point or another, live with the lie that we don’t deserve good things. And it makes us hostile little creatures who don’t know to love things with our whole bodies.

You are more than the things you tell yourself on repeat.

Someone needs to read that today. Just that. Maybe it’s you. Someone needs to know they are not the lies they've told themselves.

You aren’t the sob story. You’re not the victim. You’re not the one who always gets left behind. You're not forgotten. You're not second-string. You're needed. Can't you just accept that? You are needed. 

 

 

This world needs you. It’s scary, crazy-broken and it needs you. And let me be clear-- it needs all of you. And that means you must be willing to backburner your own insecurities so that you can become who this world so desperately needs right now. It needs the strongest version of you. The kindest version. The most refined version who is willing to go through the woods and out of the woods to ensure that someone else, someday, will be able to come out of the woods too. 

We all want to be out of the woods-- have we forgotten that we were supposed to help one another find the way out

The world needs all of you-- in your bravest skin. Please don't let the doubt that's falling on your shoulders keep you from your purpose. Maybe it’s been a while... maybe it’s been a while since someone came up to you and told you that you count. That you matter. That you play a role. We all play a role. And the point of this lifetime is not to look at other people and wonder why they got what you wanted.

The point of this lifetime isn’t to belittle yourself. It’s not to wait for the day when you feel worthy and good enough. It’s not to mark some date on a calendar when you’ll be a better version of yourself or a time when you think you’ll actually be able to look in the mirror without wishing someone else would stare back.

No offense, and not to be harsh, but we all need to step up and set expiration dates for ourselves. Expiration dates for the fear. For the doubt. For the lies we tell ourselves to convince ourselves that someone else is always going to have it better than us.

You’re here. You are here right now. And do you know how much that matters? Do you know how much that counts? Please-- for the love of lovelier things-- do not fling away your life and feed it to the lions in your head that tell you you don’t add up. You do. And the sooner you tell yourself that-- whether you believe the words or not-- the sooner you will find the backburner for yourself. And the sooner you find the backburner for yourself, the sooner you’ll understand what this life is really all about: helping others come out of the woods. The stories you tell yourself-- they’re lies. Lies meant to keep you in one place. Never moving. Never making the impact you said you wanted to. Those lies don’t have an expiration date... That should terrify you.

No one is going to change a thing for you if you don’t do it first.

If we were an alphabet then thre'd be mssing ltters by now.

large

“Life’s gotten so crazy.”

That’s what we say to one another. When it comes to passing by. When we haven’t seen each other in a while. When the text messages have piled. When we collide in aisle 7 and we think to search the shelves of canned food for all the time we’ve lost.

“Life’s gotten so crazy, we really need to catch up soon.”

That’s the stake we drive into the ground, like the building of a white, picket fence that separates You from Me and Us from feelings that fit like sun dresses just yesterday when we weren't so afraid of what Forever could feel like on the fingertips.

It’s an excuse. It’s a white flag on a battle field full of To Do Lists that never stop firing their cannons and calendars overflowing with the things we vow to be important for the moment. I’ll just be the honest one: It’s been far too long since I’ve seen your name circled beside a cup of tea I’ve doodled in the box reserved for Sunday afternoons. Those Sunday afternoons used to belong to you, my dear.

“Life’s gotten so crazy. I’ve missed you so much. We really should talk more soon. We really need to catch up soon.”

That’s what I told you yesterday as I clutched my foaming latte and headed for the door. That’s what I told you instead of the truth. The truth that I am beginning to misplace the pitch in your voice. The truth that if we were an alphabet then there’d be letters missing by now. Rnning amuck, with less than prfect syllbles, I’d stll try to tll you I’ve mssed you. That I am terribly terrified of the day when I wake up to find I’ve misplaced your laughter and all the sweet things you used to say to me when either life wasn’t so crazy or we simply didn’t care to notice.

It was yesterday, as I walked away from your table to get to a meeting I thought needed me more than you, that I stopped at a red light and let the thought of your face flood my memory. I thought sweet tea. A bowl of peanuts by our side. Kittens dancing in the yard. You and I when the air was ripe enough for secrets and honesty.  And I clutched my breath and told myself, when was the last time I told you that I loved you? And I meant it more than just a hurried, frazzled 3-word statement? When was the last time I told you that you’ve made this whole thing better? That I keep you safe in memory and I think of you more than my calendar will permit me to admit.

We’re living in a God Forbid world, my dear.

God forbid, God forbid, something should happen. In a park. In a movie theater. In a school. At a race. And I wouldn’t see you any longer. And you’d never pluck my face out of a crowd again. And one of us would spend some kind of eternity wishing we’d said more, did more, tried more to hold all the pieces together even when life got so crazy.

I don’t want to wait for my Twitter feed to coax me to turn on the news and see all the people crying over yet another tragedy. I don’t want to let it get that far-- to fill my bones with fear that someone has hurt you, or wronged you, or taken you away from me-- to call you on the phone and crawl into your voice mail with the whispers I’ve carried with me since yesterday:

Hey you.

I hope you’ll get this message. I hope you’ll pick up soon and tell me straight that it was some kind of mistake. That you are doing just fine. That I’ve nothing to fear.

Call me back and pull me in with your laughter. I can’t go a lifetime thinking the world might rob me of that sound forever. Call me back and say anything.

Just call me back. Please call me back.

I’ll stay here. I’ll stay here just clutching my phone. I’ll wait for you, don’t worry. I’ve not go nowhere to go. Really. Just waiting for you to arrive at my door and tell me it was confusion. Confusion, yes. Chaos, yes. A tragedy, yes. But that you got out so safely. And you thought of me... and your mother... and your brother... and your friends the whole way through.

That when the cell service went down you were searching for ways to let me know that it was all a mistake. And that you loved me too. And that we were going to forget about life tomorrow and just lay in bed all day.

Come back, please. Come back to me and I promise to lay with my head against your chest and ask you no questions.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Does it even make sense to say that now? I’ll try calling you back. Again & again & again. I’ll get good at pretending that I ain’t just calling to hear your voice tell me that you aren’t here right now, that you’ll call back soon, as soon as you get this message.

I’m waiting. I’m waiting. Get the message. Did you get the message?

Call me back and say anything.

Just call me back.

Please call me back.

I can leave the light on.

And don’t you know that you are everywhere? You are in the trees. In the leftover slices of pizza that you should’ve ate in the middle of the night. In the side of the bed that makes me want to stay filthy forever if it means I’ll never have to lose your scent on the sheets.

Read More

Coming home to your shoes.

Your shoes are by the door and I know I’ve done it again.

Only a lone pair of sneakers this time, it can’t be so bad. The last time this happened I unlocked the door and pushed it in to find hiking boots, dress shoes, sandals and a pair of slippers. All Size 11. Craterly & Mammoth to my Size 7 feet.

“I’m sorry,” I yell into the dark apartment. “I know why you’re here.”

“Do you really? And are you really sorry? I guess those are the questions on my mind,” you respond from the kitchen—a small space of pots & pans tucked tight and out of sight to the left of the apartment.

“I didn’t mean to bring you up…”

“But you did.” I wait for you to come into view. Wait to see your tousled hair. Your black ankle socks. Your casual, boyish attire.  “I’m worried because you did.” You don’t show.

“But…”

“Go ahead, explain it to me.”

“Alex was having a hard time. I brought you up. I told her about us. Our story.”

“Babe, how many times do I have to tell you that…”

“ I know, I know. We don’t have a story… or at least not one that I need to keep telling over & over & over again.” I walk past the kitchen, throwing my coat on the sofa and heading for the bathroom.

I play with the sink knobs. The water gushes out quickly. Soon enough, the hear pours out, collapsing and cloaking my tired hands.

“I only say it for your good. You know that, right?” Stop whispering, please stop whispering to me.

The tears stay pent inside the crooks of my eyelids where the gold shimmer faded nearly two hours ago. Not looking up. Not letting my eyes drift back to the sneakers at the door of the apartment.

“I only ever say it for your good because you and I both know that...”

“That I’ve got to move on. That I’m wasting time. That every time I bring your name into a coffee date then I am only hurting myself,” I steady my hands. I try to keep them from shaking.

You stay talking. On & On & On. As if you were the damn genius who invented conversation. And it does no good because I cannot see you and I cannot feel you the way I used to.

I abandon the towel and the light switch. I stay in the dark and crawl my way to the floor where the sofa’s legs kiss carpet and crook me into cushioned safety.

“You don’t get it… it’s not this hard for you,” I say into the darkness. “You are the not the one who has to live without me. I am the one who does that, every single day. In the best and only way that I know how.

And don’t you know that you are everywhere? You are in the trees. In the leftover slices of pizza that you should’ve ate in the middle of the night. In the side of the bed that makes me want to stay filthy forever if it means I’ll never have to lose your scent on the sheets. You don’t have to go through any of that…I do. I do. And I know, I know that every time I bring you up in conversation that I am going to come home to your shoes & nothing else, just the memory of you that doesn’t hold me right.”

I don’t hear you anymore. Nothing but the clicking of the clock all the way in the bedroom.

My hands are wet and down on the floor beside me. Clawing in the darkness at what I know is a shade of maroon that you picked out back when Carpet mattered & Salad mattered & Sunday Football mattered.

I put my head down on the floor and imagined what you’d do next. I know if you were here right now you’d pull me into your lap and you’d change my mind. You always did that. And not because I always seemed to melt into a pile of bones when I your arms wrapped me in, but because you were just one of those people who could explain the world for me. You plugged in lamps where I could not find light. You strung Christmas lights in the darkest of places throughout your whole fight. And so you say I’ve got to be stronger because you refused to leave me sitting in the dark. But it feels like dark. It feels like dark without you.

“Sometimes I hate you,” I whisper through clenched teeth. You know I am lying, right? “I hate that you left me here to do this without you. I hate that I couldn’t fix you. I hate that I’ve become some town tragedy where people treat me like a fogged up window that they can look through, apologize for the loss, watch me sway back & forth a bit and then head back to their own lit home. That I feel pathetic without you. That so much of this doesn’t matter without you.

I hate that I couldn’t go with you. That you left me standing here with all these secrets & things we told one another when the rest of the world fell asleep, things I was supposed to whisper back on a day when I wore white just for you. And now I’ve got to let it all go… I don’t want to let you go…. I don’t know how… I don’t want to learn.

I cry. For your arms. For a blanket you’d place over me. For the hairs on my head I know you’d stroke. For the tears you’d wipe. The things you’d say. For the thought of you, up in the clouds, hanging your head over an image of me rendered Helpless & Heartbroken.

“Come home… Just come home again…I cant feel you anymore…” Your shoes are already by the door. I can leave the light on. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Strangers Spinning & Harder Things

"This won't be the hardest thing you've ever had to do," he yells to a room full of shaking knees and fast-beating hearts.

To a room full of pumpers. Sitters. Standers. Pedaling, Pedaling to cross the finish line we've traced out in our heads.

"And if this is the hardest thing you've ever had to do-- well then, good for you. But I can promise that there is going to be plenty harder in life."

We're revving. Breathing heavy. Wanting to scream. Sweating. High on adrenaline. Junkies.

"Much harder than this moment."

Pushing. Pouring. Thighs collapsing. One pedal swing away from bursting free. Whatever free means to each of us. Strangers spinning. Spinning strangers.

"So take it and give it everything."

It's that moment. That moment of pure, real, truth: I want to quit this. I want to quit this so bad. I don't want to pedal.  I don't want to move. It hurts. It hurts. It hurts.

And suddenly you are remembering those Harder Things in life. The Hardest Things We've Ever Had To Do. And you cannot help shift your hazels from seat to seat--wondering, wondering, "What did it look like for you?"

When that Hardest Thing came... did you crawl? Did you cry? Did you curl into a ball?

Did you stumble? Did you shake? And tell me, did you ache?

You don't know a single person in that spin class. You've never laughed together. Nor shared a drink. And maybe because it is always about the going.

Moving. Hurling into the gym. Throwing down a water bottle as a place holder. Changing. Quickly. Wiping the lipstick off your face. Pulling your hair into a bun. Quickly, quickly. Before saddling onto the bike and spinning. Faster. Faster. Going somewhere but you don't know where. Away. Away. Where no one can ask you, "Have you had the exit strategy planned all along?"

Panting. Panting. As he tells you to get up & up & down then up. It burns. Your legs tremble as if they are the forefathers of Overload.

And yet your mind keeps racing back to chocolate cake.

And the Hardest Things that we've crawled out from all around the room.

Raspberry filling.

Maybe there is more in common with the Spinning Strangers than you think.

The way your mother ordered it from the big glass holder of desserts. She knew your heart was broken. She knew it was one of the Harder Days. The Harder Nights. The Harder Things.

You keep thinking back to the Hardest Things. Pedal, pedal. The Hardest Things You've Had to Do. Sprint, sprint. The Car Doors You've Had to Slam. Up. Down. Up. Down. The Last Words You've Had to Speak.

And you mean to say, to tell me, that others have felt it too? Others strapped tight into pedals with neon spandex peeking out from beneath track shorts. They've had their Harder Things too?

And all this... well, all of this time you thought you'd made a mistake. To break the heart. To shut the door. To fall apart. Those mistakes sat in piles like the old subscriptions of Vogue that flopped over one another on the floor by the bed.

"Twas' you, twas' you," the Hardest Thing tried to convince you. "Twas' all your fault for the broken heart."

When really... really... perhaps the biggest mistake was thinking you were alone when all of it crumbled. When the Hardest Thing Came to Stay Beneath your Chunky Sweater. Came to Try To Tell You, "Sister, You Aint Strong Enough." And a HA HA HA. The Hardest Thing trying to spit laugh in your face.

Maybe that was the mistake. The Aloneness You Thought Existed. That was the mistake.

It was never the breaking of the heart, the shutting of the door, nor the falling apart, so much as it was the foolish small thinking you carried when you thought you were Alone in all of it.

Darling, there were mothers. Sisters. Friends. Girls waiting with car keys in hands to rush you to a coffee shop. Ready to wash away your pain with sweet laughter and Michael Buble.

And didn't they pull you back together? Didn't you learn it would all be ok?

Harder things, yes, I'll assure you right now that there's bound to be Harder Things than this. Bigger Climbs. More Miley Cyrus jargon about mountains and uphill battles.

But don't forget to look around. When you've got that Quitting Feeling all up in your chest. Look all around you. Be it strangers spinning or best friends with car keys already outstretched, you are not so alone as you think you are.

In the speeding, the going, the getting, the moving, the pulsing, the paining like the window panes of car doors you once clutched all your courage just to shut, there.. are.. others.. who have been there before.

Others... who refuse to let you do it alone. Others... who will stand by the finish lines you've marked in your head. Others... who are ready to say straight into the faces of the Hardest Things, "Do your worst. But I'm not leaving her side."

Year of the RELENTLESS

Nate- We both were never fans of the New Year, we’ve had that in common all along. Nothing worse than a row of taken treadmills on January 1 when no one bothered to use them the day before. Last year, I stopped making resolutions and decided to stick with one word. One word to carry into each New Year. A word to live by. Last year, the word was serendipity. It fit. It worked. I had to search for it though. This year, I didn’t need to search. You sang the word into my heart and you sang it so loud: RELENTLESS.

Here’s to you & 2012, year of the RELENTLESS. We miss you.

-Hannah

I should have called you the first time I ever saw the word typed— RELENTLESS—the caps of the letters sitting bolder than any of the other print on the page.

I should have called you and told you how very silly it was for you to place a period beside that word. At the end of that story. As if you were ending a sentence. As if you were unaware that we all found beginnings the day you found that word and pushed it into the light for each of us.

You know, I grew up with the belief that the most worthwhile of people don’t spend time making legacies for themselves. They simply speak intentional sentences, let their actions tidal wave over those same intentional sentences and then walk away, leaving a crowd of people to whisper in their absence.

We whispered.

The first time you ever wrote the word RELENTLESS, we whispered, “It fits. It fits.”

It fit you. At the time I thought it fit only you. Only him.

Like a leather jacket off the coat rack of someone who had let the wind of the open road crash into it for years, the word fit you in all the right places. It hung perfectly in the shoulders. The sleeves were just right. It zippered you in a way that if words carried roadmaps and flashlights, compasses and a GPS just to find us then RELENTLESS looked for you all along.

RELENTLESS passed by a thousand other travelers to find the boy with the selfless spirit and a look of fire in his eyes.

...

The boy with the selfless spirit and a look of fire in his eyes gathered up all his strength to show the Ones Who Prayed that He Might Stay how to push a word into life. Into a New Day. A New Year. A New Moment Where the Sun Hits Our Eyes and Reminds Us We Are All Fighters.

The boy with the selfless spirit and the look of fire in his eyes suited up to the show the world his word.

RELENTLESS.  

To Rally

to Help the Weaker.

To Extend

One’s Self Beyond Measure.

To Learn

from a Life that Aches to Be Our Classroom.

To Expect

Great Things, Out of Our Selves and Others.

To Never

Accept Failure, what a weak little way of life that’d be.

To Tirelessly Travel

Towards the Change We Wish to See, keeping our eyes hungry for it, our mouths thirsting for it.

To Love

beyond all else, to Love like the oxygen is falling out of the room.

To Eliminate Fear

When He Shows Up at the Window.

To Stretch

to Breaking Points and laugh when we see how our bones have grown.

To Search

For the Most Selfless Place Where Our Deepest Hunger Meets a Deep Need, a place that the world often forgets to talk about enough.

...

I should have called you the day you placed a period beside that story of yours. And it would have been nice to hear your laughter when you told me that this was really my job.

My job to add the comma, my job to add the dash.

And the job of your father. The job of your best friend. The job of the ones who sat with wads of Big Chew in their mouths beside you in the heat stroke of July at the fields by the middle school.

That it was all of our jobs to be find a way to be RELENTLESS within in a world that holds your legacy while we remember what it was to have your hands for a little while.

And that same world, her with a broken heart swelled so bad it pushes waves into the Pacific, she needs the fighters. The RELENTLESS ones who won’t perch up in the mirror and say, “Me. Me. Me.” She needs the ones who are willing to break the mirror to find what the boy with the selfless spirit and the fire in his eyes knew all along.

What he left behind on the day when October learned to twist its torso and mourn.

That if we wish to be worthwhile we must like the feeling of being in pieces. We must be ready to split & split & split, to be picked up and carried by the ones who need the hope, by the ones who are doubting their very own being.

By the ones who need a story of a hero.

The Story of a Boy with a Selfless Spirit and a Fire in His Eyes.

A RELENTLESS Story.

And that’s the kind of story you want us all to have, not at the stroke of midnight tomorrow but right here. Right now.

And I can hear you laughing from your spot in the trees, you already trust us not to place the period down.

After all, who places a period at the end of a story that’s only just beginning?

“Thousand Moments:
I still remember the day the world took you back & there was never time to thank you for the thousand scattered moments you left behind to watch us while we slept.”
― Brian Andreas

The Never I've Never Really Known

“It’s that right there.”

I looked up to see a man pointing at the coffee mug before me. A Trickle of Agave Nectar Slipping from the Ceramic.

“Excuse me?” I responded.

He went on. “I’m still relearning how I take my coffee after 28 years of not needing to remember it.”

It was then that I realized: he was tying into the book cupped between my hands. Thoughts on Grief. A wadded 400-pages of excavated sadness. You know, just casual morning reading that leaves me light-hearted and ready to banter with interns all day.

If you want to know the truth: I’m sitting in too tiny Westport cafes these days, wearing black tights and black sweaters (because you can’t read tragic books when wearing yellow sundresses and polka-dotted wellies) while swallowing spoons full of sugar and realizing that nothing, nothing, makes grief go down easier. It don’t slide down yo’ throat like medicine, so back off Mary Poppins.

I’m writing a book. My character needs to know grief. Not because she wants to know grief but because in her 25th year she really has no choice. Grief pummels her in the way that Sallie Mae pummels all undergraduates. I wince having to put her through it and so I am learning all that I can about grief before 9am so I can heal her when I get back to my computer at 9pm.

But back to the man who stood before me… Here, I’ll rewind and tell you his words again because I think we may have lost the moment.

“.ti rebmemer ot gnideen ton fo sraey 82 retfa eeffoc ym ekat I woh gninraeler llits m’I”

“I’m still relearning how I take my coffee after 28 years of not needing to remember it.”

You can swallow words and paragraphs all day, especially when they are about paperwork and marketing, but a sentence like that should probably leave you as road kill. Just the mere picture of that man standing at his kitchen counter, relearning the steps of making coffee, is enough. Saying upward, “Marilyn, did I like it with milk or cream? Was I a two-sugar kind of guy?”

You pick the sound effect that followed in after his reply, as his words came to tear me down like the barbarians of biblical times. Was it: a) SLAM b)WHOOSH c) BOOM d) CRUSSHHHH.

None of the above.  None Of The Above.

His words fell down on me in a calm way. Like the first snow that waits in the wings for the streetlights to come on. In a way that made me realize, I can find someone in this lifetime who will let me help them make their coffee. What a beautiful blessing that might be, to have the intricacies of yourself get lost in details that another keeps. To have a partner in this life who carries your love for agave nectar and half & half deep in their suit pockets and brown leather bags.

In a way that made me wonder, what would it be like to have that ripped away?

I pictured him standing there by the kitchen counter, waiting for her car to roll into the driveway. Waiting for the day he’d get all tangled up in Christmas lights for her again because she wanted them on the roof the day after Thanksgiving. Waiting for the day when Never became real. And it hit him with a thud, “you’ve got to carry this word, buddy.”

Learn to carry Never as if it were a watering jug. Like the first time your momma showed you how to carry a baby and the Blaring Fragility of It All.

Sucked dry as juice from crazy straws and left holding this word Never. In place of a voice he adored hearing. In place of name he loved seeing on the caller ID.

And it makes you wonder if one day soon he’ll start screaming at the very word, “Please, Never! Please! Let me lob off the N from your EVER and place a FOR there instead. Let me unscrew the N from your EVER and latch YDAY onto the end of you.” Because I need some kind FOREVER today. I need some kind of EVERYDAY with her. More than I ever needed a Never."

But then maybe he’d sit, and cry a bit… get silent. Real Silent. Saying to the Little Word, furled up in a ball at his feet, “Never, you are such a pretty little word. Makes me wish you stood for something else. That your name meant flower. Or your name meant, “specks of fallen gold on window panes” instead of “yes, that’s right, I won’t see her any longer.”

Sitting, petting Never as it curled up around his ankles.

That man, he walked away from with all the Never in his arms and left me  there, in a too tiny Westport café, holding a scrap from his paper snowflake, one he had been cutting ever since the day he lost her.

I watched him get into his car and pull away. I'm wondering now when Never will stop howling and crying in the night. When he’ll roll over and not see Never sitting next to him in bed. When Never won’t share a space on the couch or the passenger seat of his SUV.

I might Never know when Never will leave his arms. Sometimes we can Never know those kinds of things.

Never, you are such a pretty little word. Too bad you can’t mean something else, like “specks of fallen gold on window panes.”

Goldilocks, Gretel & Goliath: Thoughts on Grief and Turtlenecks

I know too many people who are hurting these days. They are grappling with God and why he takes some of us away, hides someone we love like a stray sock in the hamper. Today,  if you are a) hurting b) missing someone c) keeping Grief in the guest room of your house d) thinking today might be better if someone particular were sitting beside you, someone you wish hadn’t taken all your best secrets with them up to Heaven, if you are any of the above, well I wrote this for you and a woman named Kim.

These days I’m finding my way around grief.

I’ve got seven books on grief just flopping all over my bedside table because I want to learn it so badly, and still, I am stuck with this comparing of grief to a turtleneck shoved under a pristine tutu.

Though it was nearly 20 years ago, I can recall quite perfectly the invincible feeling that overwhelmed me as I sashayed around my elementary school during my first Halloween parade, hair slicked back into a knobby bun with 99 cent gel, a classical pancake of pouf fluffing out around me in Degas fashion.

And then my mother went and ruined my life. She slaughtered my ballerina status with a heinous white turtleneck that she insisted on jamming beneath my leotard, going all maternal on me and caring about my health while all I wanted to do was prance around the night in my Little Pink Tights, without a jacket or a thermal.

Tinkerbelle never got pneumoniaaaaaaaaa, mooommmmmmmmmmm. Roooooaaaarrrrrrr. I acted out my tantrum right there, in case you couldn’t tell.

Seriously though, turtlenecks beneath a leotard are no good. They make Jasmine look silly. They make ninjas look like wimpy fools. I want nothing that they have to name after a leathery, slow sea creature on my body.

They are, I imagine, how grief must feel on the chest. Uncomfortable. Lumpy. Hot. Bothering. A pain to adjust to. Sometimes strangling. Unwelcome. And you swear, everyone is focusing on the turtleneck and how unnatural it looks. The grief and how decrepit it makes you feel to the outside world.

I received an email from a woman named Kim the other day who told me first that I had changed her life. Immediately I wanted to respond and tell her there was a mistake, a typo in her email:

Dear Kim, I change shoes. I change coffee flavors. I am learning to change tires. I will change diapers, one day. But I don’t change lives. Love, Hannah.

Kim wrote that her mother passed away in January, just days after being diagnosed with lung cancer (one day soon I will write a letter to cancer, and it won’t be lovely by any means). Suddenly, holidays took on a new meaning for Kim, parts of her hollowed out.

Grief, the mighty Goliath that he is, forced himself into rooms to sit beside Kim, like a Ginormous Goldilocks sitting in Too Tiny Chairs. I am beginning to see that no matter how much of life we get “good at,” we never get good at letting Grief in as a house guest.

He’s too big. He’s too messy. He breaks plate. He’s terribly loud. He lets the cat out and it doesn’t come back. He breaks the washer and then the dryer.

It’s as if I can see him rumbling and barreling through all of Kim’s rooms, snorkeling food and knocking over fine china. Reckless, so reckless, with the memories of her mother.

Before releasing every ounce of love I could slam into the keyboard for Kim, I sat, considered how much I really do like my “a” key and my “?” key and decided to keep reading before breaking the keyboard over brokenness.

She told me that when the sympathy cards rolled in she felt this overwhelming need to thank others for their condolences. So she bought a box of cards and a pretty sheet of stamps… they sat there. Untouched.

And then she bought another box. Again. Unwritten Upon.

And then she bought another box, this time with smaller cards. Less intimidating, right? Still… untouched.

You know, I cannot quite put myself into Kim’s shoes. I don’t know grief like this, I don't know the reality where the maker of my favorite grilled cheeses and macaroni necklaces no longer calls me to see how my day is going.

The thought makes me want to look up say, "God, you's a crazy fool... you really think we can take all this?" All This Anguish. All This Turbulence. Tell me God, why did you think I could go without a Him and a Her and a She in this place?

And yet, yet, I’ve seem Him, that same Crazy Fool of a God, weave some of the most astounding healing processes out of Loss.  As if he’s whispering messages to the sun and the trees and air like games of Telephone, “Tell my Little One down there that I care. I. Care. So. Much. And I won’t leave her like this. Slumped Over. Tired. Sucked Dry. Gosh, it’s killing me… but she’ll be lifted soon.”

And He uses you. And He uses me. To Get One Another to That Point of Lifting.

Kim found MoreLoveLetters.com last week, which means she found me and that is where our emailing began. She told me that recently she felt ready to let go of all the stationery, all the boxes of cardstock that no longer served a purpose now, months after the passing. And so, she plans to write love letters and leave them in memory of her mother, a woman who would have loved the project and swallowed it whole.

And here I am, unexpectedly somewhere in the middle of Kim’s encounter with the Goldilockish Grief. And suddenly we’ve got this great purpose, this Great Plan, to turn Goldilockish Grief into Gretel Grief.

A chance to sprinkle the grief like breadcrumbs to help another home. Pouring the grief into letters that another might find. Sewing and stitching the grief into pages meant for people like you to read. Telling that grief that he can stay here or there, but he cannot stay in our houses any longer.

Isn't that what they would want, sitting up there in the trees of Heaven? To look down and see us sowing something miraculous just for them? I can see them now, all the ones we've loved and lost, Too Soon & Too Quickly, singing down to us like the Whos of Whoville:

"It's quick. And it's short. And it won't promise you much. So be on your way. Be on your way today. Don't stay crying for me, I'm not afraid any longer. Don't stay sad for me, that's never what I taught you. Use me. Use the tears you have for me and sow those tears into something bigger. Something that would make me smile and tell you that I am proud. And then, and then, come back to me--after a long, long day-- and tell me every inch of it."

I guess I wouldn't need a God if I knew how to be strong when the radio comes on.

She let me go.

Turned up the volume of the stereo when she saw the first traces of salt begin scraping down my cheeks.

She asked no questions.

She already knew: Some Wednesdays are made for bowing down to the Waterworks. Welling up. Washing outward.

Some Wednesdays were made for all the “W” Words Welding together to Whisper in your ear the Very Verbs to obey that day: Whimper. Wail. Wallow. Welp.

Some Wednesdays were made for Washing Away like the stains in silk blouses the moment you hear Adele, her alto voice bellowing through the radio. She's practically Warning you with each strike of a chord, “The next chorus will get those eye sockets of yours good.”

I cried for a solid 3 minutes and 46 seconds yesterday. It may have been longer. May have been shorter. Led by Lyrics to a Desperate Point of needing to let it all out, screaming at the sadness, "You can't stay here no more."

The Whole time I stared directly ahead of me at the Windshield Wipers sloshing. Back & Forth. Back & Forth.

And I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thinking about the pain or the memories that will become of all this in the next few weeks, I was simply Wondering why something as small as a few Words can be so capable of pinning my spirit to the ground like the three-time Winner in the championship Wrestling match, collapsing me into a sobbing mess. Why, oh why, cant I just Hold It All Together? God, please. I need to be strong today.

I guess I wouldn't need a God if I knew how to be strong when the radio comes on and pain folds out into my lap like a Geisha's fan.

You and I, We wouldn’t need much of anything. No friends to Whisper full with our secrets. No mystery "Somebody" to explore over coffee dates and Walks in the Park. None of that. None of that “human stuff” if we could Live this Strange Thing on our own.

So I take the fact that I can fall & fold over a few lines of a song--"I'd go hungry, I'd go black and blue. I'd go crawling down the avenue"-- as a sign that I am Helpless. Hopeless. In need of a hero on a daily basis. Without that, I’ll make it about 5 steps out the door before I spill my coffee, forget my computer in the back seat of the car, take the wrong train or miss the shuttle. I’ll last fifteen minutes, one tragic turn of events, one bout of bad news before I admit it: I am nothing by myself. Nothing without conversation. Without prayer. Without knowing that when I cry, really bawl my eyes out, I am not alone.

So tell me that you ache too. I need to know you are searching. I have to, have to, have to believe that the second I fall and stumble and find difficulty in understanding this World and How She Operates that you’ll be coming around the corner, and you’ll be shuffling me to a place where we can turn our heads upward. And you’ll tell me in so many syllables, or no words at all, that you’ve been here before. And that Human Hands are Worthless if not knit by Something Bigger that sees us hurting and weakened by the shortness of this life. 

And that there is no route but that it gets easier. Eventually. Eventually. And if it doesn’t get easier that the grip of your hand will only get tighter. Only Get Tighter When I Start to Slip.

I have to know that at the end of the day, in a Life that won’t ever promise you a Tomorrow like it gave you a Yesterday, that at least I won’t have to cry alone. That Windshield Wipers can Swing & Swing. The rain can fall down and blur the headlights. But that you’ll just sit beside me. Turn up the stereo. Ask no questions for that 3 minutes and 46 seconds.  Just Let Me Wash It All Away.

Kaleidoscope Lifetimes: 9/11. We Remember.

I spent precisely 73 minutes, curled up on the tile floor of the New York Library-Bronx Branch, crying yesterday. Book Propped In Front Of Me. Knees Folded. Pages Playing Tear Catchers.

I half expected a librarian to approach me, befuddled by my sinking the library with Titanic-like tears. Ok, maybe not Titanical Tears. But certainly rowboat tears.

"Excuse me, are you alright?" She would've asked. Clearly feeling awkward upon the sight of me.

"Oh, yes... Don't worry," I would've replied. "I do this all the time, no need to be alarmed. I always plant myself in the nonfiction section when I am having a bad day."

I wish I were kidding but we all have quirky ways to remedy our bad days. I am just more open to admitting mine. Something about the nonfiction section of a library holds me at hard times. The Shelves Quake as I envelope myself in stories that are not my own. Stories that remind me the word "Alone" can disintegrate with two steps in nearly any direction. We are not alone. We are not the only ones having tough days. We are striving so hard to be Individuals that we lose track of Sameness. Sameness Matters. Oh yes, it does.

I cried for a silent waltz between Individuality and Sameness bound up together in a hardcover. 1,901 portraits.1,901 Individuals Who Lost their Lives in September 11, 2001.

Mothers. Husbands. Teachers. Students. Fathers. Brokers. Aunts. Business Men. Fiances. Waiters.

All Different Lives. One Common Ending.

A day when Two planes Took To the air. Took down Two Towers. Took Too many.

If our lives look more like a waiting room than a kaleidoscope today then we are doing something wrong. If we are hoping life will begin someday soon then we are wasting time. If we are allowing words inflated with Doubt, Negativity, Hatred and Defeat take the reins in our vocabulary then we need a new dictionary.

Because 2,996 lives never found tomorrow after September 11, 2001. Over 200,000 lives lost the chance for a better life when the Earth Quaked in Haiti this past year. More than 4,000 soldiers gave up any form of a future to fight a war in Iraq. Why? So that we could have the future. Planted in our Hands.

We need only stare at a cover of the New York Times to slap our own wrists with reality: We have been given a gift. Gifts are never required. Nor guaranteed.

A volume full of single stories, each one begging to burst from beneath their byline, reminds me of the great nobility of everyday existence. In riding the 4 Train to work daily, where Doug Jason Irgang met his future bride-to-be after seeing her daily on the commute to work, reading her paper. They were set to be married in December 2001. In the pots of rice and beans cooked by Jorge Velazquez every Saturday for the homeless and hungry of Manhattan. In the spaces between the breaths of Janet Alonso as she called her husband to tell him That The Office Was Filling With Smoke. That She Could Not Breathe. That She Loved Him.

And then the Buildings Broke.

I am reminded on an every day basis that it will never matter which titles we held or the amount of money that our bank accounts digested. The fibers of our existence are counted then accounted for in the hands that we hold. The well intentions we wish. The prayers we send Upward. The compassion we sent Outward. The love we welcome Inward.

I hold a thousand secrets and I cannot share them all. But here's one. Lean in closer. Open your ears: The only promising promise exists in this very moment and what we make of it. Ready. Set. Go.