I'm a sucker for letters. Handwritten ones, typed ones, emailed ones, long ones written on college-ruled paper, short ones scribbled inside greeting cards, it makes no difference to me.
Once my boss scrawled "Thanks for doing a great job!" on a post-it note and
stuck it to my paycheck. It came at just the right time, affirming that my decision - to follow the thing I loved at the possible risk to the thing that paid the bills - was the right one. For months I kept it stuck to my doorjamb, where it blessed me as I left and greeted me upon my return, and then the tack began to wear off, I feared losing it, and I put it away, safe, to rediscover another day. (I still have it.) And months later, after I broke down and admitted that I felt constantly like I was in over my head (and I was), he wrote me an email in which he said, basically, "You did the right thing. Keep going." It was permission to be flawed, permission to be still growing, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Right before graduating college, one of the professors I respected the most wrote me a letter (and I think, perhaps, that if anyone knows the power of words, and what a precious gift they are, it would be him). He said, among other things, "You refuse to pigeonhole the subject into some comfortable niche, or to render it abstract, not connected to you. You refuse to participate in the convenience of willed ignorance... it makes you a good person."
I wept, reading those words. It was May, and I was recovering from my latest bout with depression. I was tired of never feeling good enough, of feeling fundamentally flawed, and I was haunted by the fear that I wasn't a good person who struggled with a disease, but that I was essentially a diseased person who occasionally had glimpses of goodness. But he was someone I deeply respected, and his words had authority. I could trust his words. He named me, in a powerful way, and I clung to those words like a drowning person. I printed the email, and eventually tucked it away where I knew I would someday find it again.
The last time I found it, I was packing my things, getting ready to move out, having learned the agonizing, precious truth that humans will often kick you to the curb to save face, and that God never will. Everything had changed in the last six months, and everything in the next six was completely uncertain. I found the two sheets of paper, folded, in the bottom of a drawer, sat cross-legged on the floor, beside the boxes and bins, and began to read. And I sobbed again, crying until I was breathless, because they had returned at just the right time, speaking into my life once again.
My coaches left this week; I knew this, mentally, but it was still a jolt to wake up one day and realize that it was the last day I would see them, some until next fall, but several probably never again. I spent the triplets' naptime with a stack of thank-you notes and a pen, writing out everyone's name on a crisp envelope, and trying, in some way, to condense my gratitude into a few brief sentences. To let them know that I see them, their strengths, their growth, the things that make them good coaches and good people. To say, in a nutshell, you have value.
"Thank you for your everlasting patience (even with the difficult kids)!" "Thank you for your positive attitude - it always brightens my day!" "Thank you for making sure that each student feels important. That's a gift that not many people have, and you've blessed so many kids with it!" "Thanks for being so dependable - I always know I can count on you to jump in and do whatever needs to be done and I appreciate it!"
And to my seniors: "I hope life brings you good things." "Be blessed in your future endeavors." "I will miss you so much!"
I hope someday, in an unexpected moment, they run across these turquoise cards again, and read the words inside. I hope they're what they need to hear. That they feel loved, appreciated. That they remember the kids that they taught, and know that they had an impact on their lives each time they got in the water. I hope the words return at the right time.
The words we give each other are guideposts, signs we leave to point the way. They name us; they affirm us. They cast light into our lives when sometimes, there has only been darkness. They are gifts, precious gifts, that cost nothing and everything to give.