To a high school senior:
I teach high school seniors and have for 15 of my 18 years, so even though I might not teach you, in particular, I feel like I know a thing or two about this time in your life, or at least I thought I knew. This group of seniors is different, going through things I never did myself and never watched one of my past groups of seniors go through. So maybe I don’t know anything, after all.
Maybe this is what you want the well-meaning people in your life to say to you: We’re sorry. We must be honest with you. We don’t know how you feel but we will sit with you in this, hold your hand—literally or figuratively. We will create space for you to cry, even if it’s virtually on our classroom zoom calls or as a parent on the sofa over a cup of hot chocolate. I will help you enjoy this time, even if it’s not as you planned.
I might not know how you feel but I do know that life isn’t going as you planned for it to go: you planned prom outfits, graduation caps and gowns, hugs and parties. Instead, you’re getting the four walls of your house, FaceTime calls, and the quiet passage of time that was supposed to be the rush of high school days that seemed never-ending and spent with friends. I’m sure you feel like things you always knew are no longer the way they seemed, life upended, the life you counted on, changed.
Joseph Campbell once wrote, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” This might seem like it doesn’t apply to you now because you’ve been robbed of this life you planned and all the celebrations that come with it, but I hope you can see that there is life waiting for you, right here, right now. Right now, you are living a life that is only yours to live. Yes, it looks different than you planned for it to look. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to grieve. But when you dry your eyes, I hope you can notice the beauty all around you, this life unfolding differently than you imagined but just as beautiful, if only in a changed way. So, here’s what I hope you for you:
I hope you talk with your mom over a cup of tea and really look in her face and maybe for the first time in quite a long time, you study her, and you see the joy she has just at being with you, whether you are her only, her firstborn, one of her middle children, or her baby, and that you memorize that look forever and know that the love she has for you is free for the taking--no conditions, no strings.
I hope you walk in the woods behind your house or around the block in your city (with your mask on) and you notice how beautiful the dogwoods are when they bloom or the way the daffodils bloom even if it snows. Maybe you never paid attention to them in the rush of the spring that school time usually brings, but I hope you see them now, as they are, and relish in the way nature continues to bloom even during this time. You can do that, too, even if it seems impossible.
I hope you bake an old family recipe with your dad, watching how carefully he studies the penmanship of his own grandmother and that you treasure that recipe card and savor the cake that comes out of the oven 45 minutes later, somehow representing the history of your family -- the trials they endured turning into chocolate cake -- remembering that if they went through some hard things, you can do. You are a part of this legacy, this family. You will gather strength from them now.
I hope you build blanket forts with your siblings—younger or older—and I hope those forts take up your bedroom and the hallway. I hope you sit in them all day with snacks and pillows and books. I hope you know that this time you’d never have otherwise, you suddenly have now and someday, you’ll look back and wish you could sit in a fort all day long, the worries of your life temporarily forgotten under the covers.
This might not be the life you’ve planned, but there is beauty unfolding in what remains, even if it’s hard, even if it’s not fair, even if it’s just so different from what you imagined.
Know this: you are loved and we--your teachers, your parents, your family and friends-- believe in you so very much and know that you will change the world from the way it changed you.
*If you liked this encouragement, you might like Kara's new book, EVERYWHERE HOLY: Seeing Beauty, Remembering Your Identity, and Finding God Right Where You Are, available now everywhere books are sold. Please visit the book's website, www.everywhereholy.com or Kara on www.karalawler.com Or, please join Kara's conversation tribe on Facebook.