War is over (if you want it)

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The battle has been bloody and we’ve lost limbs.

Okay, no. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. The battle has been bloody though— the battle that has somehow consumed my life for the last few months. It’s ongoing still so maybe I hesitate to write this but I am a girl who wears a tattoo on her wrist to remind her of victory so I wanted to come to this space and this page and not be afraid to type out the word: Victory. Victory for this day.

The battle has been bloody in the sense that I am having to shed the weight of things carried for days that became months and months that morphed into years. Insecurity. Pain. Worry. Fear. Fear— that’s the big one. Fear is the costar for most of our days.

We write a lot about punching fear in the face but we never seem to be honest enough with the times when fear throws us into the wrestling ring and batters us good with jabs and right hooks. We say those sorts of fears are the ones that don’t get said out loud.

Fears like:

I am afraid to be unwanted.

I am afraid to not be seen.

I am afraid that I am just a face in the crowd.

I am afraid to sit with my morning coffee, touch my hand against the windowsill, and realize I don’t matter. No one will miss me when I am gone.

That was the haunting part about New York that I haven’t yet found in any other city: the feeling— the knowing— that people are here and gone so quickly. In the shuffles of commuters. In the seas of people who come and go and live and die and love and fight and cry and surrender a thousand times a day on any given subway track.

I never felt so nameless, so faceless, than in that big city.

I know you’re out there.

I know you’re there because you thrust your heartbreak into my inbox.

My mama used to collect sea glass with my daddy when they were first dating. They filled vases and lamps with all the tumbled shards of blue and green glass. And I think to myself, “That’s what I do with the pain I come across. I fill vases and lamps with it. I try hard not to forget it. It is a constant reminder to me: we aren’t alone.” Your pain is like sea glass to me. I’d collect it all if I could. 

I know you’re out there laying awake at night. Whispering mistakes into the night. I know that when the phone screen doesn’t light up in the way you hoped it would, you’re a bit devastated. You wanted so badly to hear from him tonight.

I know you scroll and scroll and scroll aimlessly through Instagram, looking at the pieces of other people’s lives for peace and solace and community. I know it doesn’t fill you. I know you wished you filled your bedroom with prayers at night as you fell asleep, not the faces of people you don’t speak to beyond a wave in the hallway or an occasional text message.

I know you wonder how to even pray sometimes. Because God is so big. His to-do list must be massive. And you? You think you’re just a fleck who let him down. You think you’re the one who wrecked the party- the one who should be benched in the middle of the game. I don’t even know that God could ever be let down but we sure like to put big words in his mouth.

I know you wonder if anyone sees you. In a room full of people, you still shift from foot to foot and wonder if you’re enough for the crowd you are standing inside of. You cry but no one sees it. You fumble and wonder if joy is real. You’ve hurt yourself— in ways you won’t admit. You think of giving up sometimes. You swear you never will but the thought still exists like a spin cycle in your mind on days when no one seems to pick you.

I know you’re out there. I see you.

This comes from a girl who used to talk endlessly and endlessly about her love for strangers. She loved the idea of being a stranger. The kind of girl who walks around like mystery and makes people whisper and say, “She’s the sort of girl who boys with guitars write songs about.”

I used to love that idea until I didn’t love it anymore. Because that girl in the songs— the mysterious one in the coffee shops— never has a name. She is always nameless. She is always, somehow forgotten when the lights shut off, the machines are unplugged from the walls, and the doors close at night.

I want to have a name. There, I said it:  I want to have a name.

Not a big name. Not a proud name. Just a name that gets tucked in the prayers of a few and the phone calls of fewer. I just want a name that becomes a treasure to one. A couple. A few.

The battle has been bloody, I say out loud this morning.

My palms are fixed upward to the ceiling. My eyes are on the “WAR IS OVER” poster clinging to our living room wall. And I close my eyes. I breathe deeper. I ask Him, “What have we been fighting for?”

Because that’s all I want to know: What have we been fighting for?

I wait. I breathe. I hush out voices that are my own.

“We have not been fighting,” I hear the whisper huddle close to me. “I’ve been fighting for you. For a long, long time, I’ve been fighting for you. You haven’t seen it. With fists clenched and eyes set on hopelessness, you haven’t seen me fighting for you all this time.

You fight to hold on to old things. I beg you to open your eyes and see the new things. The good things. That you aren’t sitting inside of a nameless story.

You have a name. You have a name.

This is the fight to show you I love you. I love you, though you don’t love yourself so much. I choose you, though you don’t choose yourself always. I pick you, even when you can’t wrap your mind around being picked by anything or anyone.

I will fight and claw and knock and show up until you see it: You are not just a face in the crowd.

You’ve never been just a face in the crowd.”

Occupy new space.

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“Andy Jacobs,” I muttered beneath my breath as my hands curled up into fists at my sides.

I was standing in the center of what was once my living room, surrounded by black trash bags and packed boxes. I was wearing a bright yellow dress that made my mama tell me, “You’ve never looked more beautiful than this moment.” 

It was the only thing I could think to say when my roommate poked her head out from the refrigerator and asked me if I wanted to keep the kettle. Otherwise, she would throw it out. Just a few days earlier, this had been our apartment. It’d been home to us. Memories were taped up on the doors. The ceremony was over. I had ten minutes to gather the rest of my stuff. My mother told me my relatives were waiting to celebrate my graduation nearly 45-minutes away. I told her I needed more time for goodbyes. She told me I had ten minutes. I balled the cap and gown up into a brown Trader Joe’s bag. And all I could think to murmur in that moment was the name of my eighth grade boyfriend: Andy Jacobs.

 

The Great Romance of Andy Jacobs and I ended quickly with a swift and merciless breakup.

It was a sudden sting. I lied about that breakup for several years and told all my friends we both decided it was over. I was just that young and embarrassed by it. In actuality, I was over-the-moon during the days when I had a “someone.” The cool ones had a “someone.” And I was legitimately thrilled to check my AIM profile every hour or so to see my name sitting there in his status box. I checked that thang nearly every day just to see my name. And it was always there. Until one day it wasn’t. He’d made his status “Single and loving it” before he even broke up with me. He was eager to tell the world I was gone. When he called me on the phone to tell me it was over that night, my fingers tangled and shaking in the curly cords of the rotary phone, I whispered back, “I know.” Because I already knew. It was over. I proceeded to write super dramatic poetry in my diary. There would be no Hannah Jacobs. Ever.

But here I was again— surrounded by black trash bags and expired memories and the remnants of my college life packed up into cardboard boxes. College was breaking up with me. We were really over. The letting go was so quick, as if it was ready to release me all along. And I was surrounded by people who I knew probably understood but I still felt like no one understood. That’s what happens when you go through something that thousands upon millions of others have gone through before— you still find a way to convince yourself that you’re the only one.

 

People will tell you the first year after college is the hardest one.

It’s not the case for everyone but I’ve witnessed it to be a true statement for most. Makes sense, though. For the last few years, you’ve built up this solid sense of belonging. You’ve taken classes. You’ve invested in a campus. You’ve had those nights— you know the ones. And then life changes and shifts and the whole thing ends. It feels very unnatural.

And the weirder of the weird things— it goes on without you. Other people enter in as you push out. It’s like watching your ex fall in love with someone new. You knew you couldn’t stay there forever but it still stings to witness all that newness curl in around someone else for the very first time. You still see people enjoying what you once had and you start whispering things you know will never be true, “I could stay. I could really stay. I could live in the past of this thing. I could occupy this space forever.” 

Turns out, you can’t. Your life is not a Throwback Thursday. For lack of a prettier way to say this– It completely nonsensical to live in the space when things were better & brighter & sweeter than this. There is no backspace button. Very little of the time are we granted the redo. It was meant to be this way. We never got promised journeys with no turbulence. We never were told, “Well, you’ll always cry happy tears. And you’ll always feel like you belong. And you’ll always have the answers.” The tears will be ugly. The outcast feelings will be real. You’ll never have the answers. The answers are never the point. 

You’ll have a lot of downs. You’ll feel a bit like the shoes don’t fit on your feet anymore. You’ll ask all the bigger questions you never bothered to mouth when your friends were there, and the fridge was stocked with wine coolers, and the biggest thing on your brain was a term paper. When the moments are good, you never stop and ask: What is the point of my life? Where am I going? Where do I belong? How, oh, how do I do something that matters in this big world?

It’s like any breakup— you either live in the past of old sweaters and best nights and questions you can’t possibly answer or you refuse to be defined by a relationship you outgrew.

 

I met up with a new friend just the other night at a pretty little placed called Dr Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party.

She and I, we’d never met before. I’ve just come to accept that some of the best friendships— the kinds of friend who send you poetry in traffic jams— are usually an instant sort of thing. You both come into it with enough resolution to say, “This is where I’ve been. This is how I’ve felt. This is what I am looking for. I’ve got no interest in friendships that won’t be real to me.”

And we sat among stacks of books in a city I call “new,” pursing cups of tea between our hands and talking about the moment when you know it is time to go and breathe. The moment when you know, it’s time to leave.

“I had to leave,” she told me. “I had to leave and let go because it wasn’t my space anymore. Someone else would come in and they would do an even better job than me. And I would have to go and occupy new space.”

Occupy new space. That’s the sort of thing they should say when a diploma gets passed. When someone leaves a city they’ve loved with their whole body. Instead of good luck. Instead of, “it will never be this way again.” Someone should get up real close to you and say, “You must go out there and occupy new space. Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment. Choose ready.” 

 

Choose ready.

Occupy new space. Embrace the awkward momentum of something new. Get your feet wet. Don’t worry so much about looking like you have it all together— you’re more put together than you can probably see or notice. Be good to people. The real world is all about those real people. And no, there’s never a reason not to serve. Press into life with gusto and other Italian nouns. Commit to what is around you. Be grateful.

When people try to tell you that college will be the best four years of your life, politely decline that misconception. College should never be the best four years of your life— that’s a disservice to a future you’re called to make bright and purposeful. When people tell you that you can’t make a difference, politely tell them no. They’re wrong. Don’t listen. And here’s the moral behind every one of those conversations you have: not everyone will be your cheerleader. Not everyone will understand. Let people think you are crazy. Crazy is a good thing. Wild hearts are necessary. The world needs wild hearts. Stay thick with wanting to change the world, that will be your golden ticket one day.

Own it. Go all in. Lay it all on the line. In the end, there is no other option than this. You either occupy the space you’re in or you don’t. You either went out there and did it with all you had or you didn’t. Either way, the choice was yours the whole time.

You must go out there and occupy new space.

Whether you feel it or not, this ending is very much your ready-or-not moment.

Choose ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to say goodbye.

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Sometimes I write things with the clearest picture in my mind of who I am writing them for. It’s like I can see you. You, with the red lipstick that you just got confident enough to start wearing. You, the one who doesn’t really understand the unique thing that people see you to be. I can see you sitting there. Reading me. And I search the ground, sort of like an Easter egg hunt, for the things I think you’d want to read.

And then sometimes I write something just so that I can go back and read it. Maybe once. Maybe twice. I write the words for myself, pretending that someone else is writing them for me. I do this strategically. I do this so that I don’t have to feel like the one who is alone– her hands full of unanswered questions– in the middle of something I don’t fully understand.

 

Goodbye is one of those things.

One of those things I don’t fully understand yet. I’m no good at it. I’d rather not go there. I’d find it better to beeline the whole entire thing. I don’t want to miss people. I don’t want to know they are growing in my absence.

That’s the secret pain of goodbye: people still have the permission to grow into their own skin without you. And that feels very strange. And I’m tempted to just say, “No, you can’t. Please. Just don’t. Just stay as you are.” But that’s selfish. You don’t get to keep people, selfishly, just so you don’t have to be so fearful they’ll find a way to live without you.

The only thing I know for certain about this whole “goodbye” thing? You have to say it sometimes. You have to get real brave, and bite your bottom lip, and let people go sometimes. Fully, fully. Even when you don’t feel ready.

 

They always make the point of goodbye seem so romantic on the television.

Someone is always waiting by the terminal. Someone is always asking you to stay, hurdling suitcases so that they can clutch your face. I used watch Dawson’s Creek and imagine I’d get to have all the long, grueling departures one day, just like Joey Potter. I thought that would be the real golden duck of adulthood– when people found it terribly hard to release me.

It isn’t. And Joey Potter should have just been honest and told us all the truth, “Goodbyes suck. And there’s no eloquent way to say that. There is no poetic way to talk about ugly crying on someone’s nice shirt. There is nothing in the moment that makes walking away seem reasonable. It’s just hard.” And you awkwardly just sort of hope that someone will tell you not to go. Because maybe you would listen to them. Maybe a big white poster board with the letters “STAY” written in black Sharpie would convince you to do just that. Just stay. For little while longer.

Because goodbye is hard. Goodbye is the starting point you don’t see because the finish line is so piled high with tears and last words and fears that this– this thing you have right here– will never be the same. Don’t fear that. Don’t fear that because it’s already true. It won’t ever be the same. It could be over. It could be final. But it could be better than the two of you could ever predict. That could happen too.

And yes, it feels like something in the room is dead or dying or about to die. And the scary thing about that? That’s already true too.

Something is dying. We can’t even ignore it. It sounds so morbid but goodbye is really just admitting that something is dying. You two came together– for a month or for a year or for five of those years– and you built something. You breathed your whole little life into that thing. Your secrets. Your fears. Your laughter. All into that thing. That friendship thing, that “I’ve never really met someone like you” sort of thing. And then, out of nowhere, it feels like something comes along and lobs the whole thing into pieces. That’s what a goodbye will do.

Goodbye is the fear– temporary and real– that we’ve carried for years up until that one word– short & stout– made it all tip over and all pour out: I am afraid to leave. I am afraid to change. Can you just keep me here? Can we never move? I’m afraid you will forget me. I’m afraid I’ll be forgotten in a room full of people who always seem to be remembered.

When I stood at the door to say goodbye, I muddied up the whole thing.

I let the fear speak louder than the genuine thing inside of me that knew goodbye was the only road to take.

“I hate goodbyes,” I told her. “I’m sorry. I’m just so bad at them. I wish they didn’t exist. I want to be like an octupus who has 8 arms and can just hold onto everything always. I wish I could just go in the night.” It was all my fears and insecurities that I would never have it this good again, all mounted and stored up inside of that word.

She stopped me. “It’s goodbye,” she said. “And then you get over it.”

That’s all she said before she pulled me in for a hug. And then she let me go. And everything about her gesture of letting me go so quickly– nearly like a band-aid you rip off and pretend there is no sting– seemed to hum the truth:

You, I believe in you. That is why I am so quick to let you go. Trust me, trust me, the human thing inside of me wants to keep you right here. Right where I can see your eyes and I can hold your hand. But even if you can’t see it, I can see it and I can ignore it no longer: you are ready. It is time. If I held you back, I’d be the one doing a disservice to the parts of this world that so deserve the blessing of “you” for a little while.

So cry your tears. And say your last words. And when you are emptied out, let me go. Please let me go. Don’t live in your memories, making tents and tiny houses out of the way we used to be. Something really wonderful awaits you. I need you to step inside of it.  Say goodbye because something new is about to start right here.

And me? Well I’ll carry the thought of you doing just fine. I’ll carry the thought of you meeting new people, and holding new pairs of hands, and clutching people closer than you ever clutched me. I’ll remember that when you came to me it was a blessing. A temporary blessing that we’ll one day see if we can make permanent. But for now, it’s you and all the little lives you’ve got to go out there and touch.

You’re ready. That’s why I’m letting you go. And everyone else? Everyone else who gets you for this next little “I’ll see you everyday” sort of while? They win. I don’t feel like much of a winner in this moment, but them? They absolutely win.

Though they never touch.

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Her away message went up first.

He quickly followed suit. Ten minutes later, two consecutive door slams came bustling from the computer speakers. He signed off. She signed off right after. Slam. Slam.

She’d typed the words “It’s over” to me and I knew that she and him had just been huddled up in their own corners of their bedrooms, crying and breaking things off in the most delicate of ways possible. Her fingers maybe curled and anxious, tangled in the wires of the rotary phone. Tears strewn all over this portable, hoping his mother wouldn’t pick up on the other line and hear him pleading for the girl to take him back. Please. Rethink it. Baby. I love you. Baby? Baby?

These were the rhythmic motions of a high school breakup before the days of text messaging, cell phone plans, driver’s licenses that let you hurl yourself into the car and drive across town just to stand outside the basement door and wait for the other one to prop it open and let you in. You could hold each other for 10 minutes and say nothing at all and try to convince your heart– your 17-year-old heart– that it would never need to let this one go.

One day I’ll get to tell my children that there used to be legitimate sounds of a front door slamming when someone would sign off the Internet for the night. One day, their mouths might halt wide open to learn that you used to have to listen to the dial up sound on the computer, never fully knowing if you’d get online that night because of too many busy signals. The most glorious word you could hear in those days was “Welcome.” You were on. You were online.

One day I’ll tell them that away messages used to read like Facebook statuses and that on the day my best friend’s heart got mashed up and served like applesauce, I waited for her to list “single” in her AOL profile before scanning the internet for Kelly Clarkson lyrics. I’ll tell them I took those lyrics, copy and pasted them into a word document, and dyed them all sorts of funky colors before printing them out. I sat there– before this tiny tin box– and I decoupaged the lyrics of that ballad all over it. Long, skinny strips of lyrics making that tin box seem not so naked anymore:

I’ll spread my wings / And I’ll learn how to fly / Though it’s not easy to tell you goodbye
I gotta take a risk / Take a chance / Make a change / And breakaway

 

I used to think those little lines of pop girl wisdom were all the words she’d ever need to read.

I thought breaking away was just that– taking a chance, making a change, and learning how fly. If you’d told me it was more than that, my 15-year-old heart would have never been able to take it.

I didn’t know that ties didn’t cut without making a mess. I didn’t know that breakups are quite literal– in the sense that sometimes you feel everything inside of you crunching and breaking. I didn’t know the lines of that song, the one that won’t stop flooding the airwaves, was really probably true, “Only know you love her when you let her go… and you let her go.”

One day I’ll tell my children that the sound of a real door slamming will hurt them more. The slamming of a door that isn’t automated or a sound effect that tells you when your buddies have signed off for the night. I’ll tell them I first heard that car door slam when I was 19 years old. Facebook was a new thing. Away messages were starting to become the “passé” thing.

I knew that I loved him. I suddenly knew that loving someone isn’t always enough. For a moment I prayed the door might never slam. And then I prayed for the resolve to know the truth: there was no other way.

It was after I reversed my car down the steep driveway, after I was driving away, that I noticed the two yellow lines on the roadside for the first time. I could see them before me. I could see them in the rearview mirror. They didn’t touch. They were going in the same direction but they didn’t touch.

I parked my 1999 green CRV on the side of an abandoned road because I didn’t want to go home and fall asleep without good night messages. It was two in the morning. And, as dumb as it seems when it’s not playing out before you in a scene from the Notebook, I laid in the road and got bits of concrete stuck in my hair. And the moment didn’t feel romantic. And no one laid down beside me and held my hand.

I sat up eventually, tucked my legs into criss-cross position and laid my hand down on the road. My hand fit right between those two yellows lines painted on the roadside. My hand was like a bridge to those two, bright yellows lines that were parallel, parallel, parallel.

 

Honestly, I felt like a loser in that moment.

I’d just gotten my heart-broken. I’d just made the first not-so-clean break. And all I could think to do was lay down in the middle of a road I knew no cars would come down and just be still. Just be still in knowing that I made the right choice.  Just be still in knowing that even though I made the right decision, it didn’t mean my insides would not stay yelling, Come back. Please come back. I can fix this. I promise I can be better.

I felt like a loser. But it would take that. It would take being the loser to find everything else. It would take losing to find that we were made to be losers. We were made to lose: friends, lovers, ourselves. Not always, but sometimes. It’s a natural process in life. It hurts like hell but it happens just as quickly as strange little reptiles shed their skin and cocoons get broken and we stop clinging to “what might have been.”

It takes losing to find out you couldn’t fix it. Find out that you aren’t some supreme fixer upper who sits in the clouds and restores the world with happiness. It’s not your job to make someone better. A relationship– love, or whatever you call it– isn’t a reason to play doctor to the person you kiss long and slowly at night. A relationship isn’t laying there, curled up in your corner of the bed, hoping you can change them. We, humans, we change on our own. Life changes us. Whispers change us. But only when we are ready. And only then.

It takes losing to find out you that mythical characters like Hansel and Gretel were actually quite smart. They were strategic. Diesel, little German children. They left breadcrumbs scattered all around the woods. And while it seems like nothing, it probably meant everything when it came time to trace their way back to a place called home.

It takes losing to find out that sometimes things just don’t work. There’s no rhyme or reason beyond that. Someone– somewhere out there– once sat at a drawing board and decided that on every little roadway they would paint two, bright yellow lines. And they’d have to keep coming back to refresh those lines with new paint. But the color would always be yellow. And those lines, they would go a lot of places. They would certainly weave and bob and push into a lot of new places. But they would never touch. They would never cross paths. And maybe there was no reason at all for that beyond that just being the way things go sometimes.

It takes losing to find that maybe we’ll never know the reason why those two yellow lines never touch, but does it really even matter? I guess making them overlap and become one isn’t nearly as important as the truth: though they never touch, the two always seem to get to exactly where they need to be.

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Since some Mondays are worse than Sallie Mae, I created a little breakfast club/secret society to help kick Mondays off right. You are reading me right. Every Monday. Me. You. We roll out via email and your morning brew. I promise to meet you with only the good stuff. Highly recommended for movers, shakers, and original gangsters. No rules. You feeling me, boo?

click here to join the wait list for the Monday Morning Breakfast Club Email

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Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 10.39.19 AMfacebook. twitter. instagram. email.

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Don’t bring anything more into the web.

With permission, I have posted the email below.

Hi,

I think your blog entered my life at the most perfect moment. You see, I am 25, and this past January, me and my boyfriend of 8 years broke up. I thought it would be the best thing for us, after being together since we were 16, and have only dated each other. Now that I am in the dating world, I am absolutely miserable. I miss my best friend, my boyfriend, my other half. But now he has moved on to a new girlfriend. It is absolutely heartbreaking. I have good days and I have bad days.

I am now afraid of being alone forever. I am afraid no one will love me the way he did, or look at me the way he did, or treat me the way he did. And yeah everyone says… You are young Gabby, you have plenty of time. But I am still scared and I cant help it. There is this guy in my life, he is the most up and down, hot and cold man I’ve ever met. I think the challenge of him makes me put up with it. But in reality, I need to realize he will NEVER make me his girlfriend, rather he will just keep me around until I smarten up and realize I’m worth so much more, and I deserve someone who wants me to be their girlfriend.

Now I know you are not a therapist or a counselor, but do you have any articles that help with either of my situations? Any articles that will help me realize my worth and that I shouldn’t settle for someone who treats me like an option? Or any articles that will help me realize I’m young and there is a big world out there and I wont be alone forever?

Thanks for listening,

G
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Dearest G,

Have you ever been on the “missed connections” section of Craigslist?

It’s a virtual message board, almost like one those bulletin boards for all the “missing persons,”  for all the people who see someone– in a coffee shop, a dive bar, the grocery store, wherever– and they wished they had more courage to say hello.

Hi. Sup. Nice to meet you.

All those simple, one syllable words that suddenly get blocked from your lungs when you see a stranger from across the way whose blue eyes look like coming home.

It’s a booming collection of people who missed out and they are grabbing for another chance. I saw a “missed connection” the other day from a boy who posted a picture of a note left on his lap while he was sleeping in one of the libraries of NYU, nearly two years ago. The note said something like “Hello sleepy boy, I wonder what you are dreaming of. –The girl who sat across from you on the couch.” For two years he could not shake the girl who left him the note while he was dozing on piles of textbooks.

He’s just one of the millions of us who stay wondering about a person we’ve never met or known or shared so much as a coffee with.   A site like “missed connections” works because a) we’re human. b) we crave connection. c) there is something dually haunting and beautiful about the idea what might have been. The “what if”s. The “maybe”s and the “perhaps,one day”s.

You can stand straight in the pits of missed connections, dear. No one will ever tell you to get gone or keep moving. Half of us don’t know how to get our feet unstuck from the muds of it either. But life is not a slew a “what might have been” moments. Life is exactly what you made happen. Life is what you did when you showed. Life is the choices you made. Life is the redemption you gained. Life, more than anything, is action steps. The times when you swallowed your fear and you said hello to the girl in the bright red cap reading Walt Whitman poetry.

It’s not thinking about leaving. It’s not wondering if you’ll ever meet someone again. It’s whether or not there are actually shoes on your feet. It’s whether or not you actually walk towards the door, twist the handle, and go.

I’m going to share a story with you.

I’ve never written it down before. I’ve shared it maybe only three or four times. But I am gonna need you to believe in crazy things– like God speaking to his little children– for you to tag along.

I dated a boy in the sliver of space between graduating from college and moving to New York City. He was wonderful. Really. I should have been happy. Even at the start though, I wanted to go free.

At the same time I was trying to get down low to the ground with my faith. I was really trying to figure out this God character. I got a book out from the library. It had a black cover. I thought it would teach me a thing or two about Faith. Grace. That stuff.

Turns out, the book was really a construction worker disguised as a book. It showed up to dig in the trenches of my heart. It was there to chisel me good. I could feel my insides stirring every time I picked the book up. I honestly never knew that God could stir you in a way where you feel it physically. But there was demolition underway. Bright, yellow caution tape up all around me.

One day while nannying, I was reading the book among a battlefield of Nerf guns and blond bowl cuts with tan torsos flying through the backyard when I looked up to see a spider spinning a web in the corner of the kitchen window. I was captivated. Enamored. I could not explain it. For reasons I may never fully understand, I would have watched that spider spin its web all day.

It was the first spider of dozens, G. Dozens that I would see in the next few days. One after the other after the other. Make no mistake, those spiders had to be a sign. They started showing up everywhere. The front yard. The kitchen table. The window sills. My dreams. Spiderman toys. Plastic spiders. Everywhere I turned.

I went home that first night, put my palms down on the kitchen table and faced my mother: “I am going insane. Legitimately insane. Spiders. Are. Everywhere.”

We spent the night Googling spiders. Coming up with their origins. Trying to figure out the root of them. Wondering what they could actually mean. Looking in the Bible. Were there spiders in the Bible?

Tell me I’m not crazy, tell me I’m not crazy, I whimpered into the night as I tried to fall asleep. I woke up the next morning to find three spiders spinning a web of fresh silk over the coffee pot on the stove.

 
The spider signs grew bigger and bigger and bigger. Every time I saw another one I could feel everything inside of me saying, “Let the boy go. Let the boy go.” I didn’t want to let him go. I wanted to be loved. I wanted to win. I wanted to somehow, someway, be worthy of being the center of someone’s universe. But still the whisper roared, Let. The. Boy. Go.

I closed the book. Hid it away. The signs stopped. The spiders ceased. The voices stopped. The stirring in my stomach fell away.

 
Weeks later, it ended. I left. It ended over something as stupid as the color “yellow.” You could call it “bound to happen all along” but I just call it “yellow,” even to this day. I said goodbye. I wiped the tears from my eyes. I got in my car. I felt freedom on my chest. I drove to the ocean. I sat in the sand by myself and I reopened the book right where I had closed it.

Two pages later, I stumbled into a story about a woman walking in the woods. A spider web appeared. And she stopped to watch that spider spin. She could have watched that spider spin its web all day. And then she heard from God,

“I am spinning. You are not. Let me go ahead of you. Stop trying to drag your own mess into my intricate picture. Don’t bring anything more into the web.”

It had been there the whole time. Just two pages away from me. But I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t see it. Not until I was ready to stop dragging around my own mess.

You have to go this alone. The voice inside me stirred again. This is not a matter of geography or what you can or cannot pack into a suitcase, this is a matter of who you’ve always wanted to be.

Don’t. bring. anything. more. into. the. web.

G, this is not a matter of geography or what you can or cannot pack into a suitcase. This is a matter of who you’ve always wanted to be. You’ve answered all your own questions right in your email. As Cheryl Strayed has written dozens of times, “You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Be brave enough to break your own heart.” You’ve got to trust all the words you’ve already written.

I’ll close by saying this,

I hope you leave. I genuinely, genuinely hope you walk towards the door today, or tomorrow, or the next day. Not because I wish to see you alone. Not because I think you need to be alone. Just because it would break my heart seven months past September to know you are out there, never fully knowing the weight of your worth or stepping into the person you’ve always wanted to be, because someone on the other side of that relationship was too stupid to see that you’re a light. And that lights don’t belong under blankets. Lights belong on trees. Lights belong on hills. Lights belong in all the little places where people can see them and they cannot say anything more than, “There is a light. There she is, there she is.” You might never know the micro tears– the hundreds & hundreds of them– that will form on the inside of you just by staying there.

Lights belong where people can see them, G.

Don’t bring anything more into the web.

hb.

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for G. Please post a comment of blessing, a lesson, a mini love letter. Whatever you please. She is reading and I know she would appreciate it too.

 

Blessings & the barren places: What I know of letting go.

With permission, I have posted the email below.

Dear Hannah, 

I just discovered your blog like a week ago, I couldn’t even tell you how it happened, but I definitely needed it. You probably get a million of these emails all the time, but I am writing you because I am just in the worst place right now. I feel like I have the world’s hugest broken heart, and I’m constantly fighting it, day after day. 

My love story, if it were still intact, was truly a fairy tale. In short, I reconnected with my best friend from middle school over the internet, we quickly became best friends again, 6 months later decided to date, had our first kiss 2 months later on a New Year’s vacation, and eventually he decided to quit his job to move and be with me in the town where I am currently finishing graduate school. He got here, he struggled to find a job, realized that he still had a lot of self-searching and passion finding to do, and he left this town, and left me.

Rationally, I understood it all. It’s been about 2 months now, and I’ve always understood his reasons. But he never said that he didn’t love me, and he still hasn’t said that, but there is NO WAY that he is coming back right now, and perhaps not ever. You said in one of your more recent posts that when you had your first heartbreak you tried so hard to fix things and bring him back, and in a lot of ways I feel like that is where I am right now. And I AM becoming more embarrassed of myself as time goes on. But it is so so incredibly hard to let go. Especially because he truly was my very best friend, long before we started dating. Anyway, you don’t need to write me my own letter or anything, but I feel like you have to have written something that explains how you let go. And if you could somehow help me, I would really appreciate it. Because I am just a horrible wreck right now.

With gratitude,

K

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Dearest K–

Words fail.

As I get deeper and deeper into the trenches of what it means to be a writer, I realize more regularly that words fail. They’re never going to be what I truly want them to be. I can’t morph them and make them into tables and chairs. I can’t turn my words into a plane ticket to fly across the states and just sit down beside you. If I had my way, my words would be a canopy. A canopy of white silk, or something very pretty like that. And we could sit for hours & hours & hours together. And I wouldn’t talk if you didn’t want me to. I don’t have all the answers anyway. But we could just sit there. And you would not have to feel so alone.

The truth is, you aren’t alone. It’s hard to swallow that. It’s hard to admit that. Because last night you fell asleep remembering someone who is like a ghost to all the parts of you. And that will make a person feel very lonely. Very lonely and very alone. But count me as one of the people, one of the people who just said a prayer for you. And I drove around my neighborhood breathing in your story and listening to music I think you would like. And then think about all people who will read this letter next. They’re with you too. We all are. When you showed in my inbox, I whispered to you, “Babycakes, you are so far from alone. Let’s tackle today together.”

I am not coming to you as a writer.

I’m not coming to you as an expert or some advice columnist. I’m simply coming to you as a girl who once heard her first “I love you” on a Christmas night and it sounded like a cross between Elvis and angels. A girl who once thought she could give someone a yellow sweater– a dumb little yellow sweater– so that she could call him up from time to time and ask if he was still taking care of that sweater. She thought that maybe there was a way to tie herself to people like him forever. That’s who is writing this letter. I’ve turned the page over to her.

People will tell you in tandem and in chorus: Let him go. Let him go. Let him go.

You don’t have to.

That’s the best wisdom I have: You don’t have to let him go. You don’t have to let him go until you are the ready one.

For the longest time it hurt me to do anything but hold on. And maybe that’s silly, and maybe some would call that weak, but I am human and I won’t pretend like I could do much of anything else at that time. He was my best friend. He was my safer spot. He was every bit of “I want to put you inside of box and keep you there forever and believe we will never need to change. That’s where I want you to stay.” When they told me to let him go, I wasn’t ready.

I did all the basics. I got rid of his Facebook. I deleted his number. I got rid of his clothing. But if someone tries to tell you those are the ways to let someone go, don’t listen. It’s not true. That’s just the introductory steps within an instruction book that doesn’t exist. The real work is how you’re gonna learn to sew a song out of all the broken music notes inside of you.

I kept the memories of him tucked in my oversized pockets. I turned on “our song” just to cry and feel something. I wrote him letters from time to time, though I never sent them. I carried thoughts of him with me. To coffee shops. To libraries. To meetings and walks home at night. Every part of me was an anthem of not being ready to let him go and there was some sort of strange freedom in realizing I didn’t have to. I could hold on. I could hold on. And eventually, eventually, my fists would grow tired from all the clenching and I would let it go.

It would happen naturally. It would happen melodically. And though I could never control all the left hand turns I wanted him to take when he went right & right & right, loving him– and learning how to unlove him in a way that made me saner– was in my control.

At the crux of that breakup that ripped through me with the strength of an Alabama Roll Tide, I trudged through the mess of me with Elizabeth Glibert by side. As she traveled through the lands of Bali & India & Italy, I traveled with her and I swallowed parts of her wisdom like Kinder Bueno. Her memoir kept me stitched like a sweater quickly gaining holes that needed constant patching. And at one point she wrote this. And it changed the game for me. Read it carefully, my friend. This is a game changer.

“But I love him.”

“So love him.”

“But I miss him.”

“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you’ll be really alone, and Liz Gilbert is scared to death of what will happen if she’s really alone. But here’s what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with the doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go.”

There it is. There it is. Part one: the sending off. Part two: more love than you ever dreamed.

When I loved him, when I really loved him with my whole frame and being, I wanted the world for him. I wanted laughter. I wanted joy. I wanted success. I wanted everything he wanted since he was a little boy. A heartbreak. Two people changing. Life throwing around unfavorable circumstances– these should never be the things that make us stop wanting goodness for someone we once loved with our whole body. That’s maybe childish. That’s maybe the first step in loss but not the final landing point. Who wins in that case? No one. No one.

You need to reach the point in your steps, and your conversations, and your everyday everything’s where you are ready to wish him light and love and then let him go. Not bitterness. Not hurt. Not questions. Not a quest for closure. It probably won’t be a final thing. It will probably be an everyday, every time he comes to your mind, kind of thing. It might still hurt. It might still sting.

But when he pops in, say hello. Wish him well. Say a prayer. Ask for blessings to go straight to him. Then let it go, let it, let it go.

You could keep him there forever.

You really could. They make movies out of those kinds of stories. The “ones who got away.” But your fists clenching rocks of what-used-to-be eventually defeats the purpose of two hands that were created to throw blessings in barren places.

Stop looking at the world and look down at your own two hands. People will tell you how to drown your tears in chocolate ice cream. They will tell you how to get bitter and seek revenge. They will tell you how to get smaller and smaller and burn the belongings of another to ashes to make you feel like you have “let them go.” But no one spills out the secretest secret of them all: To let things go, really let them go, open up your hands and bless others by the fistful.

You get decide if you want to be the empty cup that needs refilling or the full pitcher that overflows into all the other cups. That’s on you, babycakes.

But I know there is something, wadded & beautiful & glittering inside of you, that would give anything to kick down doors to let other people in. And I think you should go with that. Go with that dream of yours to be a blessing. To help someone. To open up your eyes to how God would use you in the moment. I don’t know about you, but I believe in a God who lets us use our tears to harvest. He lets us use our pain to make a feast for someone else. Don’t wait for the sadness to clear to be the blessing you’ve always wanted to be. I’m afraid you’ll miss out. I’m afraid you will miss out.

When I finally learned to open up my hands, it was all there waiting for me. And I thought of that boy– the one I have filled with too much light and love for his little lungs to handle– and I pictured him smiling. Because he had a great smile. And I stopped regretting how we broke. Because look at me now. I’m standing. Look at me now. I’m more stretched, and brilliant, and whole than I ever was before. And because of him, my hands throw blessings in barren places.

Open up your hands, babycakes. They were made to do the same.

hb.

 

I would appreciate if we could keep the conversation going for K. Please post a comment of blessing, a lesson, a mini love letter. Whatever you please. She is reading and I know she would appreciate it too.

Fishing lines of loneliness & a decent chance to walk away.

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I can still remember how you didn’t say anything for a while.

I could tell, without even holding them, that your palms were sweating. I kept looking forward, tapping my fingers against the steering wheel until you finally spoke.

“I don’t want to become one of your life lessons,” you said. “I don’t want you to turn me into that.” 

Still, to this day, those are the hardest words I’ve ever had to hear someone tell me. It was hard to hear that request come off the lips of someone who didn’t fit into my life any longer. We didn’t have a future together. We’d already given up and yet we were still meeting in secret places. And we were using one another to avoid reality and the pain that would come with giving up and moving on. There would be loneliness when we let go of one another, we both knew that, and neither of us wanted to face that.

It was the first time I realized that people genuinely want space in our lives.

People genuinely crave simple and true relationships in a world full of overly complicated and very fragile things. They want perfect worlds where everything fits. They want no one to get hurt or scathed. And when the world doesn’t work that way, and the stories don’t unfurl their wings with perfect happy endings, then people get desperate to hold onto things they no longer value like they used to. And they find a way to keep a person tied close. And they check in every once in a while. And they bring that person up in conversations. And they sit hollowed out, with a cup of coffee between their hands, when they have nothing left to share but a sad, little ending with not nearly enough closure.

That. Is. How. Our. World. Works. Today. And I ain’t afraid to say it. I ain’t afraid to admit that a lot of people, including me, walk around fearful and relentless not to let another person slip through their fingers. The world turned out to be harder than we all expected and we’d rather keep close the people that fit our spirits no longer, safe in our sights, than to let them go off and find the healing and freedom they can only get apart from us.

I’ve started calling them the “fishing lines of loneliness.”

The ways we bait one another into communication because we are all so afraid of what would really happen if the screen shut off and we had to face ourselves. Alone. Single. Separate from the wreckage of relationships we should have said goodbye to yesterday.

The fishing lines of loneliness come out on a Thursday night or a late Friday evening when the world gets quiet. You can’t handle scrolling through the Facebook streams any longer and you feel this loneliness in your core that is hard to give words to. It makes you feel unworthy. You feel all alone. You struggle with guilt. You pound your fists against the sides of you and say things like, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you be productive right now? Why aren’t you out enjoying life?” And, just like a little black book you can pull from your side pocket, your iPhone reveals a slew of numbers you can text to make that loneliness disappear for a while.

They’re old flames. They’re friendships that never had any boundaries to them. They’re people you’ve strung along without ever having to define anything. They’re past relationships–broken and battered– that never needed another stir of the pot.     

You send a few texts. And then you wait for the fish to catch on and the conversations to begin.

 “Hi! How are you?”
    “I’m good. How have you been?”
    “Great! I’ve missed you…”

There’s a tone of sobriety and sadness in the conversations, as if you both know you aren’t going back to where you once were but you are trying to salvage something all the same.

I’ve brought this up to about a dozen women in the last week and every single one has raised up their hands and said, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I know exactly who those people on my list are.”

And no one feels particularly guilty about these fishing lines of loneliness if it makes the hollow feeling inside fade for a bit. And so we carry on conversations we really don’t need, and we hash out memories that don’t have a place in our lives anymore, and we cling to anything that makes us feel special, and wanted, and worthy for the moment, even if it’s two-dimensional and someone else’s feelings get played with for a while. We hurt one another because we know how to. It’s not that we ever wanted to, but we certainly know how to.

In a perfect world, we could stay here forever.

Our relationships would never break. We’d always have a sense of home in our hearts. We’d never need to reach inside our pockets to remedy our loneliness with tapping on a screen to someone who fits us no longer.

In a perfect world, we’d never have to question why someone was in our lives, over & over again, until it reached a point of letting them go when we know they don’t belong. Not for the sake of being a lesson learned. Or the latest blog material. But mainly because people deserve to be let go when they no longer serve a purpose in our lives.    They deserve to know it. They deserve the decent chance to walk away.

We are powerful things and we often don’t give ourselves enough credit for that. We can break a heart, cut a person out, retrace every feeling ever given to someone else with just a few jumbled words. That’s way more weight than we expected to shoulder. Eventually we need to accept that some conversations will never take us anywhere. Some interactions will hinder us more than help us. Some people will keep us rooted in the past so much that we forget we even cared to look to the future. Still, it is so hard to say goodbye because we want to convince ourselves that we can hold onto every human being that we cross paths with. Like it would never hurt us. Like it would never break us to keep all those hearts hostage.

In a perfect world, we could stay here forever.

In a perfect world, you’d be far more to me than a lesson learned. A chapter closed off. A book ending. A number deleted. A beginning rising that doesn’t hold your name in the dedication section. I’m sorry I kept you all this time. Safe in a heart that gripped crumbs for too many years. I’m learning not to tangle you in any longer. Not to weave you into conversations that never were fit for your name.

You and I both know that our wings are waiting in separate corners of this earth.

This is me, giving you the decent chance to walk away.