It probably won’t come as too much of a surprise that I am better at writing my words than I am speaking them. That’s not to say I’m not outspoken, not impassioned, or afraid to speak my mind—on the contrary, that’s one thing I’ve been good at since a young age. But lately, gathering up my thoughts in an articulate way has been harder than it was before. The pull of this summer—and this year in general—has left little time to do much more than catch my breath in between. Yet, there is so much that needs to be said.
I have a friend beginning a new chapter of her life today. A chapter that involves a first move, a new school, a new state, new people, and the overwhelming and exciting prospect that is undergraduate school. We saw each other before the weekend, on a Friday when in another town, another state away, a group gathered with torches and spewed hate-filled vitriol as we listened to live music and ate too much food. They looked a lot like the college students I remember from undergrad—they probably look a lot like what my friend will see in college as well. I’ve had the chance since that night to realize what a different world her experience will take place in, even from my own just five years ago. We couldn’t have known it was happening at that moment. We were filled up on food and music and gin (ginger ale for one of us, anyway) with an awkward pang occupying the space between us. It was an unspoken thing that was coming on Tuesday. We acknowledged it, but didn’t breathe too much life into it. It was still four days away, after all.
But four days comes and goes so quickly. Much like the four months between May and September seem to slip like sand through fingers. Summer has waned, and she and I both approach changes on the horizon with excitement and nerves. Her words today reminded me of that. Excitement should be at the root of all change, no matter how daunting or how scary.
I wish I had said more before leaving that dinner, but, four days was enough time, wasn’t it? I guess not. I’ll do my best to say the words now. In three years this young handler has changed me for the better in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I remember feeling nervous before she came to my first class, unsure that I would be able to convince her to stay in this sport—a sport I knew she had loved, but one that hadn’t been loving her back lately. I worried that I would project onto her and not find ways to help her reignite her passion again. But so simply, in her graceful way, she committed. Every week (even if oftentimes late) she was there. Willing, determined, and motivated. She kept me on my toes, challenged my thinking, and continuously made me better. Maybe she didn’t know it then, but I hope she does now.
I came close to giving up on this sport years ago. When the dream I had set seemed too impossible to achieve. I am so thankful to have had that person—those people—at the time who pushed me to continue despite the failures, the setbacks, and the pain. I owe so much to so many, in ways I could never truly repay. So this was a chance to do it in a small way, to mentor, to coach. And yet, here I am again, owing so much to this amazingly talented person. (I’m okay with always being indebted, I’ve realized—no one’s keeping score).
So, Tessa, thank you. For helping me realize my full potential. For being an ear when I needed to bend it with worry, with anxiety, with frustration. For your patience as we discussed handling techniques and especially when we disagreed on them. For your endless faith in me and trust in this process. Truly, I wouldn’t be here without you.
My plan was to offer up a few small pieces of advice as you take this next adventure, though I’m not sure you’ll need them. I know you’ve heard you’re wise beyond your years more than you probably cared to, but it’s true. Still, I’ll do my best. (For the record, these things apply to more than just college).
Change is scary—adjustment takes time: don’t worry if it takes time to feel comfortable again.
Find your voice early. Speak up, speak out. Make friends, but don’t feel obligated to agree with everything new people say in order to make it happen. You will find your tribe in this new place. Join a group; take advantage of the time when no one yet knows one another. Someday some of these people may be dancing the night away at your wedding.
Go where there is free food. (This is one of those things that applies to every part of life).
Breathe. This time moves more quickly than you could ever expect. Try your best to slow time down, even in the most stressful periods. Feel out every moment, experience it.
Write. Write as often as you can. Mostly because we will live vicariously through you, but also because it’s a way to make the above piece of advice work. You’ll feel drained with work and papers and exams, but carve out some time for yourself and reflection.
Dye your hair, pierce something, get a tattoo, try a new style. (Joking, sort of). Use this space as a chance to get to know yourself better. Sometimes that means taking a risk (like a nose piercing? Are we the same person?) and knowing it’s okay if it doesn’t work out.
Know that you’re going to college in a tenuous time for this country. Take root your beliefs and stand up for what you hold true. Be bold and unflinching in your convictions, but don’t forget to listen too.
Love. Simply that.
As we’ve said to one another so often before: you’ve got this. I’m so excited for you and what these next years hold for you. I’ll be down on family weekends to visit because, let’s face it, we’re family now. I’ll hold down the fort at home and make sure Jodi continues working on blind crosses even if she’s late to class. I’m here to listen to anything and everything you need—as long as you promise to still talk me off the ledge from 350 miles away (which, by the way, is only 5 hours from me. Road trips will be necessary).
Seize every day, my friend, and don’t forget to be a force of nature.