dear hilary: you are held

Dear Hilary,

I finished high school today. And on one hand, I’m relieved to get my life back and start my summer and move on to whatever God has in story for me, but on the other…I just can’t believe it’s actually OVER. And there’s still so many questions, so little closure with the people I’ve grown to love. One minute I was part of their lives, and now I’m not, with little or no time to say goodbye. What’s going to happen to them? And why can’t I be there to see it?
Love, Wanting More Time
Dear Wanting More Time,

I had this flash of an image of you when I read your letter in my inbox last week. I could see you, hands open, a crowd of people in one, all shouting and laughing and crying and jumping on top of each other the way people do at graduations, and in your other hand, the summer, the next things, which look mostly like a huge blanket of fog overflowing between your fingers. There you were, in my mind, holding these two unruly things, this tangle of people and this bank of fog, and you are trying to hold them out in front of you.

It strikes me that you cannot hold onto either of them.

The people are a wonder, aren’t they? I remember at graduation last year this moment with some of my fellow graduates, after we’d marched in and out, taking this picture where we tried to jump in the air at the same time. The picture came out with us all in various stages of contortion, mid-air or landing on the ground with a thump. But the expression on our faces is the same – some kind of uncontrollable delight. Delight in one another. In the day. In the selves we didn’t even know yet we would become in the next year. I have that picture in my office, all of us laughing and delighting together. About January of this year, I looked at it in the middle of typing notes for a project, and felt my throat tighten, my eyes begin to tremble, tears just peeking out from beneath my eyelids. I don’t see those people every day anymore. I don’t even know what all of them are doing, where they ended up, if they got into that grad school or took that job or moved across the country or the world. 

I couldn’t hold them. Not in the snapshot from last May. Not in my hands in the quiet nights before we all grew up and outward. I tried to, I really did. Looking at that picture in January was a reminder of how much I had longed to hold on tight and build deep, everlasting bridges, and invite everyone to live on the porch of my heart forever with glasses of lemonade and sweet tea. But the thing about rising, dear one, is that we must keep rising. That’s Sugar. We have to keep going, out past the point of holding onto each other just as we are. Out past the knowledge of what we all do and what we all dream and who we love and when and why. We have to journey into the fog you’re weighing in your other hand.

I’m a big fan of this idea of rising, of journeying onward, even into the fog that seems to murky and dark. Mine has been, this first year out of college – but it teaches you to walk on your knees, to crawl, slow and steady, to learn the feel of decisions and love and the path in front of you, brick by brick and bird by bird. I think that’s where you and the wondrous people you love begin. Together. You get on your hands and knees. Release yourself and release your friends from the idea that you can hold this life: be held by it, instead.

You’ll find the fog not so terrifying when you’re a bit lower to the ground. You’ll feel the path with your fingers, and you’ll find that there are hearts and hands searching next to yours. These will become your community, will journey with you, for a time, for a lifetime, for something in between. They may not always be the people you have loved and lived next to until now; likely, some will depart for different journeys, paths branching out again and again, and you, though you love them, will have a path branching a different way. You ask me for an explanation about why you can’t see it, but there isn’t one of the kind you want. I’d give you an answer if I had one, but I suspect that what you want more than that answer is a way forward.

So: though it is murky, though it is some days dark and damp, though it is not clear, you are held by this life. So are those wondrous people. No more holding on now, dear one. It’s time to begin.



dear hilary: gather the threads

Dear Hilary,

All I ever see is the clock ticking. Time is always running out. There’s never enough time to do it all. When this season ends, a new one will begin but what about when that one comes to an end? Why do all good and beautiful things come to an end? I’m so scared on missing out on things and losing those who are precious to me.

Hilary, how do I live alive in the moment when all I can think about is how quickly the end is approaching? How do I deal with the clock that keeps ticking, and a heart that desires to live so fully, experience so much, and spend time with so many people? My heart feels ready to explode.


Dear About to Graduate,

Why do all good and beautiful things come to an end? I feel you on the edge of your seat with this question, maybe tapping a pencil on your desk, wondering, worried that the answer might be something trite like, “because that’s the way things go,” or “that’s life,” or even, “it will all be okay.” I want to steer clear of those words, not because they are untrue (actually, I think they’re terribly true), but because sometimes it helps to hear it sounding in different words. I want to tell you a story.

I was sitting in a kayak in the middle of a French river. My friend and I were in floppy sunhats, my skin already a solid pink, our arm muscles so tired we couldn’t even admit to ourselves that we didn’t really know how to “feather” or “J-stroke” back to the group. It was early afternoon, just after lunch, and the group was eagerly paddling ahead while we floundered. It was summer, and in the south of France there is a sweetness to the air itself, a dull humming from all the things coming alive: lavender and bees and olives. We were in search of the Pont du Gard somewhere down the river, further into the afternoon. We were in search of ourselves, as soon-to-be seniors, in search of love at 17, in search of everything. I can almost taste that day, our laughter pealing out over the water to annoy a stray duck and a solo Frenchman, convinced that we had arrived at the beginning and this was, and must be, a kind of forever. We floated under the ancient Roman aqueduct singing a madrigal we had learned four years before – “All Ye Who Music,” All ye who music love, and would its pleasures prove, O come to us, who cease not daily to warble gaily…

As the days in France, and later that summer, meandered by me, I began to panic. It was senior year, I whispered, the end of high school. The end of the daily relationships, the walks to and from the Barn, the end of singing “Wade in the Water” and “I’ll Fly Away” in voice lessons, the end of whispers and note passing and French. I stayed busy so I wouldn’t see the end coming. I convinced myself it would be fine. Or that I wouldn’t miss things. Or that time wasn’t really moving at all.

But, dear heart, time was moving. And I moved with it. And you, where you are, have moved with it too. We cannot hide in our feathers or in our schedules. We cannot convince ourselves that absence is a word without meaning or the life, so rich in front of us, is not going to change. We are not given permission to do that.

I want to tell you that my story in France, which I type as if I am still in the kayak in the south of France, it was six years ago. All of its richness has entered the wider tapestry of my story and now, when I plucked the thread to show you, it brings with it a thousand others. Stories I didn’t know about until four years ago, one year ago, Sunday afternoon. It’s bound to the things that haven’t happened yet in my life – just as your threads from high school, the people you love, the things you love, all that feels most alive in you – they are bound to your future. I promise you do not lose the things you love, and the good and beautiful things that go through the first ending now have a life beyond it.

Gather the threads, sweet pea. Run your fingers through these stories of high school, of deep friendship, of strange awkward school dances and movies you didn’t need to spend the money to see in theaters and essays and languages and family summers. Hold them in your hands, feel their weight and length. Write them down, or tell them on the phone late at night. Or relive them with your dearest friends.

They have a life beyond this first ending.

They live among the thousand threads of your one beautiful story.