“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place. Like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”
-Azar Nafisi, “Reading Lolita in Tehran”
Today feels like hot coffee and Frank Sinatra’s cover of the song Moon River. Something like laying on the floor after the long-awaited party ends, deep into the night, softly weeping at the end of something and the inevitable beginning that follows. How something that you’ve anticipated for years stops in a whisper, everyone having already gone their separate ways weeks before, and no proper goodbye. In a hurried mess, we come undone knowing that there are people that we will not get to hug again. People we did not get to tell that they mean the most to us. Much of my time at Ball State has felt like this. Goodbyes that I wasn’t ready to say. Goodbyes I hadn’t prepared for; there’s no amount of time that we’ll get to spend with one another that will feel like enough. No amount of hugs or time spent working through our collective hurting that will help us heal ourselves. I say this through tears in my eyes: there are people reading this that I’ve already said goodbye to. People that meant so much to me without a word from me telling them so. People that aren’t reading this, too, who may have scrolled past it on their screen, never knowing how much of my heart they’ve impacted. What I mean to say is this: I will never be able to tell everyone how much they mean to me. Some folks are already gone. That’s a grief I’ve carried for years. And now, I’ll carry this one.
Perhaps this is the year of stutter steps all the way home and alternate endings we’ve long been writing. The one where everything is cut short. The one where many of you will have already turned the page before I was ready. One where we were never on the same page to begin with, but each day was another chance to find our way, and perhaps we might’ve indeed found our way. The one where everything stopped working, everything ceased to matter, the bulletin boards and door decs, the knocking on doors, the family dinners, time spent with one another in small ways, laughing all the while.
The one where we had routines and schedules, all upended, and meetings that would have shown us the progress we might’ve been making. The one where we were going to tell each other just how much others meant to each of us, where we wouldn’t have to guess anymore.
We can write so many alternate endings to mirror all the things we wished would have happened in March and April of 2020. Yes, you got an A on that test you studied hours for. Yes, yes, you got that text back that gave you closure. You bought the dog you always wanted, her name is Mitzi because you’ve always loved that name. Yes, you read several books for fun, all of them making you feel something again. You gave a phenomenal performance at that show you worked hard rehearsing for. You started that journal you had always talked about, and you’re finally starting to feel everything in your life. You found love. So much love.
The point is, my friends, no matter the ending, we were always going to spend this time feeling things that we hadn’t expected. We were going to surprise ourselves. Perhaps that’s what this whole year has been. Constant surprise at all that you’ve become, even with mistakes sprinkled in, and the courage you never thought you had in you. I couldn’t have imagined all the transformation that happened in each of you. That feels like something to be proud of, doesn’t it?
I’m honored to have played a small part in this chapter of your life. Even if you were determined to turn several pages ahead, I hope you took the time to go back after all of this and remember everything that mattered. I hope you gave yourself a chance to show up, to be present with each other and yourselves, to feel it all. I hope you know you can always look up at the sky—the same sky we all share—and feel, even if only for one small moment, that we are connected more than we think.
I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but one thing I do know is that I’m in your corner with every step. And that’s truly what it’s going to be: a step at a time. There will be heartbreak and mountains of joy, confusion and hurting, love lost and found, healing and growth. There will be moments you’ll never forget, no matter how often you try to push them out of your brain, and people, too, that you’ll never forget. There will be moments that carve out a space in your heart that you never knew you needed. Spaces you will create for others when they need it most. Spaces that can only happen when you show up.
Thank you for making this year one that I will not soon forget. I can’t wait to see you through it all; standing at the finish line with open arms, helping you find your home, wherever that may be.