Every year in February, I write a note to my friend / mentor / adopted-big-sister / arguably the most important person in my life to commemorate the day we met. Then, in September, I write her another note to mark the anniversary of our “Starbucks nights,” those evenings when we get together and spend an hour (or two or four) talking about faith and life.
I’m a sentimental sap. Though I try my best to hide it, I almost always fail. Places and dates are just too important to me. This ability to remember is helpful when it comes to mailing birthday cards on time, but less so when I wake up wanting to text someone, “A year ago today you hugged me for the first time and I felt so loved and accepted.”
Shelby!! my anxiety screams when something like this happens (aka every day). You can’t do that!! You’ll freak them out!!
And it’s true. If I indulged every commemorative impulse that passed through my brain, I wouldn’t have any friends. But as weird as it is to think of March 31st as the day you spontaneously hugged me, I don’t want to stop remembering it that way. I don’t want to lose my ability to pin certain moments to certain days, to mark milestones not by the milestones themselves, but by the moments of joy and celebration that surround them, making them what they are.
March 31st, 2016, wasn’t just the night I geeked out over someone’s hug; it was also the night of the Jo Cleveland awards, aka, the night I read my best writing in front of my dearest friends. I felt loved, celebrated, and impossibly on top of the world. It was a good evening — “good” in the biblical sense. I felt created. But winning wasn’t what made it special, wasn’t what crowned March 31st as perhaps the best night of my life. What made it memorable were the in betweens, the small moments, the flashes of friendship and love that stand out whenever I remember that evening. March 31st is the night I owned Jo Cleveland, yes, but it is also the night Hannah and Anna-Marie ditched homework to help calm my nerves and the night I mangled a Southern accent and the night we huddled for a group hug around Dr. E’s car, knocked foreheads, and started laughing.
This tendency to trademark moments over milestones has added richness to my days. April 15th, 2016, isn’t the day I presented senior sym, it’s the day my Memphis mentor met my Searcy mentors and I watched my worlds collide. April 28th isn’t the day of senior tea and celebration, but of coffee on MO’s porch with my feet in the chair, real hugs, and elbow touches. May 7th isn’t graduation, it’s giggling outside the science building and holding back our laughter when Dr. B made faces at us during convocation and trying not to cry when Dr. Q hugged me and I realized all over again how much I would miss these people.
Maybe it’s silly to wake up wanting to tell someone, “a year ago today I submitted my last paper of undergrad,” but what I really want to say — what I can’t say, because my words don’t work out loud the way they do on paper — is that a year ago today, I submitted my last paper of undergrad, my best one, for my best professor, and when its pages left my hands, I cried because I thought that this marked The End. I thought that I would graduate and leave campus and fall out of touch, and pretty soon I’d be nothing more than a name on a plaque in a corner of an office, and that would be the end of that. But you know what? It’s been a year now, and we still keep in touch. We write letters. We text. I call her when I need advice. April 26th, 2016, wasn’t The End, just like May 7th, 2016, wasn’t The End, and with each day that passes, The End stays out of sight. And I have never been more grateful to lose sight of the horizon.
So if I seem overly sentimental these days, please just give me grace. My time with the English department defined me in the best of ways. I found my voice and made my friends and felt fully at home in my skin. As the one-year anniversary of my college graduation approaches, I’m feeling a little lost, a little panicky, a little unworthy of people’s love. I don’t quite know what I want to do with my life. I’m not where I thought I would be. But I am learning. I am loving. I am figuring myself out.
And mostly, I am Shelby: big-hearted, messy, and a sentimental sap.