Chanelle and I sit at the kitchen table after dinner. The dishes have been cleared away and the family has scattered every which way. She holds scissors and carefully navigates the blades around the paper she is holding in her hand. She is quiet by nature, taking in the scenery more than commenting on it. When she talks, I listen.
She pauses her snipping for a moment and points across the street, I’m going to live there after college, she tells me.
I smile at her, remembering years ago when I told her in passing that I would be more than happy to have her live across the street from us when she grows up. The visual is lovely. Chanelle. A spouse, perhaps? Grandchildren? It sounds like a dream. Yet, in the moment, as I sit in the quiet, illuminated kitchen and watch my 12-year old snip-snip-snip at the paper in her hand, I feel something different.
This week, I find a question in my inbox: Imagine yourself graduating high school. You’re standing in your cap and gown, smiling for pictures, the whole world ahead of you. Knowing everything you know now, if you could go back to that person and give her some advice, what would you say?
In my minds eye I see the 17 year old girl I was on graduation day. I can still see her racing home after graduation, blonde curls bouncing with every step as she changes out of the red gown and tosses the tassel aside. I see her greeting those who had come to celebrate with her. Even today, the rush of the day stays with me–going from my own party to the parties of my friends. The whirlwind that was graduation.
The whirlwind that, I now understand, is life.
Hours after the gown was thrown aside and the CONGRATULATIONS! are eaten from the cakes, I see the girl of 17 walk through the door, returning home from friends graduation parties. Darkness has fallen, the excitement has died down, the the house is quiet. I greet the 17 year old who is me and take her gently by the arm and guide her back out the door she just walked through. I invite her to sit next to me on the front porch and for several moments, we simply sit. I let the silence surround us and the cool June air brush our skin until the chaotic hum inside her mind quiets. I wait until only the soft music of crickets fills the air. I look up and take in the stars and hope that her gaze follows mine. I want her to see the stars–to really see them. In that moment, I invite her to see her smallness against the vast sky.
Sitting beside her, I know all the fear that fills her mind. The unknowns ahead are paralyzing. Leaving home, college life, figuring out who she is, where she belongs, what she’s supposed to do. She fears being swallowed up by the emotion of it all, so she chooses, instead, to float on the surface, not understanding that the answer is to dive deeper.
After a few moments in silence, sitting under the stars with the music of the crickets filling the air, I break the silence. I turn to the 17 year old girl and I look her in the eye.
The days ahead of you are filled with unknowns. I know you are scared. You are so scared. That’s okay. It is okay to be scared. In fact, you are going to be scared a lot. You will face things that you are certain you won’t make it through. Situations you think are bigger than you. They aren’t. You are stronger than you think you are. You are so much stronger than you think.
Your whole life, you will face unknowns. You will meet new people and go into new places and you will feel uncertain and uncomfortable. You will look around and feel that everyone else knows something you don’t. You will assume they have something you don’t. You will feel as though you’ve missed a memo, you missed a class, you didn’t learn something you should have, you will feel they know what you don’t. You will doubt yourself, you will question. These feelings will make you want to cower. To become smaller. To step back.
Don’t do it.
It’s okay to be scared.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable.
Don’t wait for the fear and discomfort to go away. Instead, take them with you. Leave some space in your bag. Stick them in your pocket. Make a little room in your heart. Become comfortable with the fear. Make friends with it. The fear isn’t your enemy. It’s not a cosmic sign that you’ve turned the wrong way. In fact, the fear might be pointing you exactly where you need to go. Acknowledge the fear and discomfort. See it for what it is–a feeling. Let it journey beside you, but don’t let it stop you. Invite it with you. Bring it with you as you cross borders you think you can’t. As you step into the unknown, hands trembling, invite it along. And when you think you can’t do something because fear is whispering–whisper back–watch me.
In my mind’s eye, I see the 17-year old girl I once was, listening, but still so uncertain. On graduation night, the borders not yet crossed, she can’t wrap her mind around these things. They are only words. I continue anyway.
At times, you will wonder, am I the only one? Why does it seem so easy for everyone else. Life. Why does everyone else seem to have it all figured out?
Feel it, but don’t let it stop you. We are all just figuring it out. From the youngest of us to the oldest. We are all doing the best we can. Make the mistakes, take the wrong turns, learn the lessons hidden in the heartaches and failures. Don’t be afraid when people laugh. In fact, learn to laugh at yourself. There isn’t a right path or a wrong one. There is only the path you choose. Whatever path that might be, it’s yours.
In my minds eye, I no longer see the 17 year old girl I once was, but I see the 17-year old girl Chanelle will become. I am overwhelmed with the speed of it. All I want to teach her in these short years.
One last thing: don’t rush. You have everything you need for the exact place you are in. Be exactly where you are. This will be very hard. The world rushes by in a whirlwind, but you don’t have to follow. You get to pick your pace. Where you are is just fine. And when fear and discomfort creep in, because they will, take a moment to look up. Notice to the stars. Notice the way the sun stretches her rays in the morning. Inching, ever so slowly, illuminating the world in the right time. Notice the breath in your lungs. The beating of your heart. Notice the sway of the trees and the sounds of the rustling leaves. When the world rushes, notice these things–let the earth ground you. The sunlight, the shadows, the twinkling stars. Let them remind you of your smallness. Let them remind you that, no matter what you do, to live this life is a gift.
I look across the kitchen table as Chanelle snips, snips, snips away at her paper. She pauses and points across the street, “I’m going to live there after college.”, she tells me.
I smile at her, you know I think that would be wonderful, I tell her, but you don’t have to decide that now. There is a big world out there, Chanelle, you can go anywhere and do anything. Whether you are across the street or across the country, we will be cheering you on any path you take.
I’m talking to her.
I’m talking to me.