dear hilary: make an invitation

Dear Hilary,

I’m here. I made it to college and somehow surviving on my own. I love these people and the opportunities I get and almost everything this place has to offer—but this week especially, I’ve been so afraid. Of everything. I’m afraid that there will be no one to catch me, that I’m destined for life as an outcast. I have people here who care, but they have their own lives and somewhere they belong. They have their own friendships, and even my roommate knows so many more people than I do, I just don’t know how to ask for help—but I want it, but I’m so afraid of being in the way.There are so many deep friendships here, and it’s beautiful to watch, and I don’t want to be jealous, but maybe I am. And maybe I’m starting to wonder ifI’m not worth knowing that deeply, that I’m destined to be on the outskirts. I just don’t see where I fit here. I’m too scared to do much of anything.

Love,
Freshman

Dear Freshman,

I almost transferred my first semester of college. Between the chaos of having chosen a major and suddenly wanting to switch it, living with a stranger, moving from my small, tight-knit circle of friends in high school to this bigger pond where people seemed to know each other after three minutes during the Orientation games or the day trip into Boston, I didn’t think I could make it. I walked around with my old high school backpack, sat in my classes or in the dining hall, and imagined what it would be like to start over. Or better yet, to stop starting over. To spend the rest of my time in a familiar place with familiar people.

I want so achingly ready to be done. And so I hear that same worry and frustration in your letter, and I want to tell you, the way that I seem to write in most of these letters, that it is not wrong to ache with the transition into college. It is not wrong to be unsure of yourself in a new place and unsure of the people who are with you. These feelings belong to you, and they are part of you, and they are part of the story of you in college. It is okay to let them exist in their loud, clattering selves for a little while.

What kept me at the school I eventually grew to love was a woman with a piece of zucchini bread. Yes, that simple. That seemingly small. She called one of those first few weeks in and told me that her mom had sent her zucchini bread in a care package, that she couldn’t possibly eat it all herself, so what did I think about coming over and having tea?

I remember thinking at the time it was the first planned thing I had had in college so far. An RD and her zucchini bread in her apartment on a Friday afternoon. It sounds so simple. It sounds like it wouldn’t be very much compared with the friendships that seem to multiply every night, that make the lounge loud and impossible to study in, that crowd the dining hall and the library and the walkways on your way to class.

But I think it’s more powerful than that.

Belonging is not measured by the number of people at your table at dinner, and by what you think your roommate is doing, or how well they fit in, or if it seems like your whole first year seminar is throwing parties on the weekends. My guess is, honestly, that most of them feel the same way. It’ll show differently in each of us, but I promise that they are also wondering about how to belong and if they will fit and whether anyone is really willing to get to know them beyond the customary exchanges of “hi” and “how are you” (to which your response has to be “good”, though I have no idea why we came up with that). They wonder if you’ll see them, just as you wonder if they will.

So you want to know what you can do, to bridge these gaps, to feel less afraid. Bake zucchini bread. Invite someone from a class to eat it with you. Invite your roommate to go to the grocery store with you because you’d like the company and it’s a chance to get off-campus. Invite these people who right now seem to have it together into a space that you make, a space that you’re creating in and among everything that is new and overwhelming.

There are more rarely moments when we “see how we fit” and more often moments when we help others fit into something new with us. You are already brave enough to ask these questions out loud to me. So I know you are brave enough to google a recipe for something that you love and bake it and bring others in to share it with you.

That first invitation will be more meaningful than you know.

Love,
hilary

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