Jenna showed up in May.
May of last year.
She shoved out her hand in front of me and told me she wanted to help me in any way I needed her. I was new to Georgia. My furniture was barely assembled. I was learning in the daily that IKEA is just another same for Satan.
I was settling into a new office space and beginning to ask those questions. You know the kind of questions I’m writing about: What am I doing here? Why did I move? Why does this feel so strange and uncomfortable?
And then there was Jenna. Immediately, she was a light. She was only 19. She was the kind of person who’d stood on the earth for a quick & short time but her spirit was decades old. Her spirit had lived and died and breathed and broken several times before it met me in Cabbagetown of Atlanta.
I’m the type of person who does not know how to ask for help easily.
Maybe you’ve caught onto that. I’d rather be self-sufficient. I’d rather not flinch and say I need people. But when she asked if she could help I told her about my email. My inbox.
“There’s about 800 emails that stacked up over the last few months of book writing,” I confessed. “Click into a few and you’ll understand why I haven’t been able to get to each one yet.”
Truth told: emails are my favorite. People think it is letters but I really love the sort of emails where someone spills their heart and guts all over the white space and then clicks “send.”
So Jenna and I sat down one afternoon, side by side on the island countertop in my office. And we started clicking and reading. Clicking and reading. Some names I knew. Some names I’d never seen before.
We came across this one story that will never cease to be my favorite.
The story that changed the way I looked at humans and heartbreak altogether.
The story was from a girl who’d been going through all the grit and turmoil it takes to find that the person you love with your whole body just isn’t for you anymore. They’d been so in love. And now it was time to let go.
She wrote to me that she’d asked her boyfriend, that same boy, if they could please just have one more day. Just one more day where they acted like nothing was wrong, like nothing had broken.
He agreed. Somehow he agreed.
The day went well, she wrote. The day went well up until they had a picnic in the park. And in that park she lay her head into his lap and cried.
I bit back the tears as I read. I’d sat in that position before: the position you sit in when you realize something is over. Not for tomorrow. Not for the next day. But for all the days you’re ever gonna get on this sweet, green earth.
She just cried and cried.
It was in church that next morning that she saw the boy again. He looked like a mess. He was wearing the same grey button down he’d worn the day before. She could see her tear stains in the grey shirt.
It was in the moment, in the packed-out church, that she wanted to stand and scream, “Do you see those tears? Those tears in his fabric? They are mine. That boy- he’s mine.”
But then she realized what we all are forced to realize at one point or another: people are not things. People are not things and we cannot keep them.
Jenna and I sat there just staring at the screen.
We didn’t move. We didn’t know what to say. We could not keep ourselves from banging our fists on the table and yelling out, “People are just so cool. They have no idea how cool they are.”
You see, that was just one story.
Out of dozens. Hundreds. That had piled up over the months of writing. Heartbreak. Letting go. Finding God. Losing hope. Recovering that hope, resuscitating it with all a person had. A lot of times we didn’t know who they were, or what life had dealt them, but we were reading and hoping for them all the same.
We started scribbling lines down.
I started typing them out and lining the lines up on white sheets of paper on a concrete wall.
“She hadn’t forgotten him, she has just chosen to continue her life with the people that love her.”
“I think there’s a time in everyone’s life where they find themselves hysterically crying in a parking lot — my time was today.”
“We played checkers with the scars in our hearts like one of us had to win.”
I was afraid to let the words out of my sight. Afraid that if I stepped away from the poetry, the people would fade. The feelings would go. Every line was making me feel so much more human than I’d felt in a long while. I don’t know if you’ve ever had that feeling before: the one where you suddenly feel so alive and right that you’re forced to ask yourself, “how long was I dead for? How long was I burnt out and tired and unable to see the good in humanity?
The emails have kept coming.
They’ve only come stronger and harder in the days that followed. And we decided we just could not keep the words to ourselves. We needed to share them. We needed to find a common space for all these words that were making us suck in deep and whisper, “Me too.” Yes, me too.
So that is why If You Find This Email now exists. It’s a tribute to strangers and their mystery. It’s a tribute to cities & states we’ll never visit. It’s a tribute to the things that are harder to say. The things that tie us closer together.
It’s for everyone. Anyone who needs the reminder, “You are not alone. Really, you aren’t.”
I hope you look around today.
At your own life. At the lives around you.
I think we can get so caught up in what we are doing and why we need to be somewhere in ten minutes that we forget why we’re even here, why we even get dressed and walk outside each day.
It isn’t to fulfill a to-do list. It isn’t to a live a life that is better than someone else’s.
We’re here to make it easier for one another. We’re here to huddle close. We’re here to speak for one another when the words just can’t be found.
We need a reminder sometimes. A reminder that we are fragile. Joined. Resilient. Losing. Winning. We’re all looking for home. We’re letting go. We’re wondering where we fit in the world. We’re trying.
We’re hoping. All just hoping that tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, it will get a little easier and maybe be a little bit more beautiful.