a letter to michael, one year ago.
by Michael King
Let’s start with where I am: I’m at a Starbucks, the one on McGalliard. I’m sitting with a hot chocolate, but it’s all white chocolate. Don’t worry –– you’re still allergic to chocolate at the dawn of 2017. (It’s too sweet, but it’s warm, and that’s worth something.) Robbie’s here, too. You’ll meet him later.
I’m sitting on a bench, my laptop on a circular table with the aforementioned beverage. You’ll write here several times over the year ahead. You’ll bring company here and read. You’ll write a letter, some time later, your stomach turning and your eyes leaking tears. You’ll dig things up here; you’ll let them go. And, on a cold night with friends, you’ll come here to write more.
Right now, I’m sitting next to a man and a woman. She is reading over the paper, her eyes darting busily over each section of the paper. The man with her brought no such pastime. His hands are stretched out over his knees, the spaces between his fingers giving the impression he’s not quite relaxed. While she looks over the paper, he watches her with something like admiration. He speaks occasionally –– I put headphones in and turned up some acoustic music to buffer this –– but I can’t help but notice he seems hopeful. I wonder about them. Does she know he waits for her attention? What is love, if not growing older and reading a lover’s newspaper upside down over coffee?
There I go again. Where are you right now? It’s hard to remember the way the world was a year ago. You might be at a bar in Charleston, Illinois, smiling and trying not to appear tired. You might be in your apartment, looking over the syllabus you built with Dani and wondering if you’ll make magic together. Wherever you are, you’ve got high hopes for 2016. This will be the year of moving bravely forward, you’ve decided already. If 2015 taught you to rebuild, 2016 will show you what happens when you sprint.
Well, I’m not telling you. You’ve got a bad habit of finding things out for yourself, and it wouldn’t be bravery if there wasn’t a risk things wouldn’t come together the way you’re hoping they will.
All I can tell you is that I’m here.
Looking around, imagining my day-to-day world through your eyes, I can tell you that a lot of things are the same. Your absolutes remain; you believe in love and in bravery, and you do your best to live them as much as you talk about them. You write, when you can, and you still have a lot of feelings. You aren’t always sure what you’re doing with your life, but watching your students grow is enough evidence for you to keep moving forward. You still run, most mornings and many nights, and you still drink more coffee than you should.
You’ll discover the wedge salad this year, and that’ll really be something.
I’m sorry. I’m imagining you reading this, skimming over all of this to find the answers you’re wondering about, and I’m telling you about wedge salads. You want to find out if everything you’re chasing is still around. I can’t give you answers to that; you won’t find them here.
But you won’t regret anything. That I can tell you. You won’t regret an ounce of love you’ll give, a minute of effort, a footstep of bravery. None of it. You’ll have to find that out yourself, as we’ve discussed, but it’ll be validating, finding out that your convictions are true.
The man and the woman beside me are leaving, by the way. They’re putting on coats. He’s asking where she’s headed, and it’s somewhere other than where he’s headed. Maybe they’re old friends, not an aging pair of lovers. Maybe they’re not sure. Are we ever? (I hope so.)
You’re not done digging, a year from now. Not everything you’ll dig for over the next year will give you treasure. Over the next year, you’ll feel love and pain and inspiration and despair and loss and hope. This is, after all, the experience of being alive. You get it all. But I’m still ready to dig, maybe moreso. Perhaps with more wisdom, more courage, more conviction.
Where will we be a year from now? Well, you’ll be here. Sitting in a Starbucks and making meaning of things. Looking at the floor, picking up the broken pieces and fashioning yourself into someone better –– someone braver, stronger, more honest than before.
But me? Well, it’s hard to know. I’d like to think I’ll be proud of the life I’ve chosen to live, that I’ll look back on the year (the one now just ahead of me) for evidence of courage, love, and sincerity, and I’ll see the fruits of my efforts.
But there are answers I cannot have right now. There are trails I’ll have to run, no promise of anything at the end, in the hopes that my hustle will not be in vain. I’ll dig and run and write and love and try anew. If anything, these are the absolutes I’ve found in the time since I stood where you’re standing.
Don’t be disheartened by the uncertainty. That feeling, the tug within you over whether or not you’re taking the right steps, is perhaps the most vibrant human thread. It is a question that exists within all of us, in years past and years ahead, and beckons us to move.
So move. Do so in the most honest, most loving direction you can. Be kind to yourself. Be brave. I promise I’ll do the same.