When I was at Mount Mary College studying and learning and growing and climbing Mount Everest-like peaks of educational heights, I met some truly interesting and influential people. I’ve always wanted to write a series of blogs honoring them, and the gifts that they gave me. I will, someday.
Today, though, I started thinking about one particular gal who I met and became friends with on that leg of the journey. I met Jen (her name’s common enough, so I’m not changing it – names have power & I prefer to use real ones whenever possible…) in one of our mutual English classes. We had a LOT in common, and hit it off fast and famously.
Speedy chats before and after class quickly segued into the two of us perched into the wee hours on the wooden Adirondack chairs, weathered and worn smooth with age and use, tucked beneath the sheltering eaves of a hidden nook near the back of the college.
We laughed until our faces hurt and our sides ached. We mused and pondered and what-if-ed our lives. We solved the world’s problems, and railed against its injustices.
We formed a sisterhood. In the long shadow of an edifice built for permanency, we transformed for flight. The chill of fall gave way to winter’s bite, and winter relaxed its iron fist and softened into the sultriness of spring. We sat, young and strong and foolhardy, full of our own beauty and importance and invulnerability, and dreamt and talked and worried and ranted.
And Jen graduated, and fell into doing what new graduates do – wonder if they’ve made the right choices, look for gainful employ, and rediscover reading for pleasure. And I continued to run up that hill and take classes and bury my nose in books, while the ashes of my failing marriage swirled around me. And days bled into weeks and weeks into months, and I missed the sister I’d discovered.
One day, I went out to the mailbox, and there, hidden amongst the dross of bills and residential mailers was a sparkling gem – a letter from Jen. She wrote to tell me that she was leaving, shaking the dust from her boots and the Wisconsin chill from her bones, to go to film school in California. Because of me, because of what I’d said to her.
I sat at my kitchen table, the epicenter of my volatile life, and held that note before me for a long time – an unlooked for beam of light in an otherwise gray day. And I thought, “But, what did I say?”
To this day, I have no idea what it was that I said in the long, continuing conversation of that friendship that lit a fire in her belly and whetted both her longing and resolve for fulfillment. I remember wishing that day, that someone would say something like that to me – something that would eat at my complacency and vault me into action. Eventually, many someones did – eventually, I was able to tell myself the right things in the right moments, too, spurring me to action.
The power of that experience stayed with me. I remain in awe of it – that something I didn’t even clearly remember saying could burrow into another person’s mind, effecting changes I could never have foreseen.
And it makes me wonder how many intrepid souls set out to sea, or crossed mountain ranges, or slayed dragons – literally or figuratively – because someone, somewhere, said something to them. Something that captured their imagination, something that seized them, that caught hold of them and wouldn’t shake loose.
And it made me realize how powerfully we affect one another without ever being aware of it. It made me realize the power of the ideas we share, the power of longing and passion to infect the human heart with desire.
I wonder about her now and again, whether she went on to glory in California, or disaster. I wonder if she’d recognize me now – a phoenix risen many times over from the ashes of the life I light ablaze and burn to cinders around me.
And I’m grateful to her – because while something I said sent her haring off in search of her destiny – something she said taught me a lesson: We are each more important than we can ever know, and that while our legacies are often unseen, intangible, and unheralded, they change the landscape, raze mountains, and alter the course of rivers – with only a word spoken gently into the ear ripe to hear it.