Today I have a story for you all, a story that began on the pages of a book, and ended with a love letter, with many love letters.
My story begins on February 13th, 2012. I had just finished reading the book, 13 Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. For those of you who are not familiar with the novel, it revolves around the life and death of a young girl, Hannah. Hannah was in high school, and she took her own life. Before she commits suicide, she makes arrangements to have thirteen tapes sent to thirteen different people, explaining the reasons why she took her own life.
I cannot actually think of this book without tears coming to my eyes.
Everyone needs to read it.
This is a novel that has stayed with me, a novel that will stay with me, it is something that is burned in my brain, my heart, my soul. Some may ask me why I have such passion for a YA book, and truthfully I cannot answer that in one sentence…
…perhaps it is because I am a teacher,
…perhaps it is because I am a sister…
…perhaps it is because I am a daughter…
…perhaps it is because I am a friend…
…perhaps it is because I have known the darkness of depression…
…perhaps it is because I hope to someday be a mother…
…perhaps it is because I am someones love…
…perhaps it is because I have loved someone…
WHATEVER it is, the reasons that I love this book are multi faceted. One of the biggest reasons of them all, is that it got me thinking. It got me thinking about all the sadness in this world, the children who have nobody to turn to, nobody to talk to, nobody that listens. I see students like that everyday. They’re my kids, my students. I worry about them all the time. I take their problems home with me, I can’t help it. I care.
But what about the kids who don’t have people who care?
In addition to writing, teaching, directing, performing…I write. This is not news. And I’ve met some wonderful people in my blogging adventures. I kid you not, the night I finished Hannah’s story, the story of 13 Reasons Why, I came across another girl named Hannah, and her story had a much better ending.
Hannah Brencher is the founder of The World Needs More Love Letters. The World Needs More Love Letters started in October of 2010, on the four train in New York City. Hannah, a new NYC resident, was feeling rather lost, rather jumbled, and alone amongst the hustle and bustle of the big apple. Her loneliness was mirrored in her fellow passengers on the 4 train, and so, she began to write letters to cheer people up. She left them on the subways, in libraries, and all around NYC. Brencher says that it healed her, and I have no doubt that it brought a smile to the hundreds of people who have received the letters of this truly remarkable organization.
Last night, I came home from school, the gym, work, and I just wanted to go to bed. But I signed into the various social media accounts associated with The Write Teacher, and I saw that an emergency love letter request was sent out from the magnificent folk at The World Needs More Love Letters, and I answered the call, droopy eyes and all. Why? Because there was someone who was hurting, who was sad, and who needed a little sunshine in their life. It just goes to show how we are all connected, because of my advocacy of The World Needs More Love Letters, and other writings, I came across another writer last night, who is a love letter writer even if she doesn’t know it, my dear friend, Pauline Hawkins. Her student, Jenny, committed suicide, a tragedy for the entire student body, faculty, friends, and all of those who loved Jenny. In her memory, Pauline wrote a letter to Jenny, and it’s truly beautiful.
Dear Jubilant Jenny,
It’s okay that you’re having an off day today. We all have them. Sometimes everything just feels like it’s going in the wrong direction. But it’s only one day. Tomorrow will be better. You may have another bad day, but that’s what life is. We have our ups and our downs, but you can choose to do something about those days.
You can choose to let people in. Choose people who will really listen to you and who you can trust, like your parents, your siblings, a teacher, or a friend. Tell them how you are feeling so they can walk with you through the dark places and hold your hand when you’re scared. You don’t need to be alone.
You can choose to write about your feelings. You can acknowledge your pain, but don’t stay there. Put more emphasis on the good things in your life. Count your blessings! It’s cliché, I know, but I do it every day. Trust me, it helps. Write about your family, your friends, and your accomplishments. Who has influenced you? Who makes you smile? Think about all the people who have touched your life in a positive way, and remind yourself how blessed you are to be alive.
Then write about all the people whom you influence. Your presence is felt everywhere you go. How would those people feel if you were no longer around? If for one second you think it won’t affect them, think about how you would feel if any of those people were suddenly gone. That’s how all of us will feel. Your absence will hurt. Your smile will be missed. Your friends will be lost without you. Your teachers will feel like failures. Your siblings will be missing part of themselves. Your parents’ hearts will be broken. Convince yourself through your writing that you matter. You have to be your own best friend and remind yourself that your presence in this world is necessary to every life that you have come in contact with.
I know at times you feel like you don’t really have friends; that they are just people you know. But that’s not true. People can get wrapped up in their own problems sometimes; it’s not because they don’t care about you. You have to let people know you need someone to listen to you. That’s how we build relationships: We share with and listen to each other. Suffering in silence isolates us. When you are depressed you need to feel the presence of other people. Let them hear your pain. You cannot pretend to be jubilant to protect others from your pain. If you keep it to yourself, we will be angry with you for not telling us, so we could help you, and we don’t want to be angry with you, Jenny. We want to love you. We want to help you.
Or, you may feel that no one will understand you, so you intentionally keep your distance. High school can be hard. Everyone is trying to fit in, to find a place to belong. You are not alone with those feelings. We have all felt that way at some time in our lives. I felt that way when I was in high school. Sometimes I still feel that way. It does get easier when you get older. You’ll find people who have similar interests, and, believe it or not, most people mature rather nicely.
It can also be hard dealing with the indifference in others, or the joy some people feel at others’ pain. There will always be mean people in the world. But you have choices there as well. You can ignore them, be nice to them, or stand up for yourself and others; then, you can hope they eventually get a clue. More likely than not, those mean people need a friend, just like you do. You turn your loneliness inward and think of hurting yourself; they turn their loneliness outward and try to hurt others. Everyone needs love and compassion. You can help by being an instrument of healing to others because you will understand their pain.
That’s what I want to be, an instrument of healing. I understand your pain because I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with depression all my life. I know that whatever you are going through, you can get through it and things will get better, because it did for me. Even difficult and painful things won’t always be difficult and painful. You’ll get through it and be stronger the next time. You also need to be your own best friend and take care of and treat yourself the way you wish or want other people to take care of and treat you. It took me a long time to learn that, but it has made all my relationships better, including the one with myself.
When you start questioning your self-worth, when it’s easier to believe that you don’t matter instead of believing that you are amazing, remember you are important because you are a living, breathing person on this earth. End of story. You don’t have to do anything special to be important. You just have to be you.
How do I know this to be true? Because I doubted my self-worth constantly and still battle with it sometimes. I think it comes from being raised by an abusive, alcoholic father. It got in my head that if my own father couldn’t love me, I must be unlovable. I know now that my dad had his own demons he had to deal with, and it had nothing to do with me being unlovable. But as a child, I couldn’t understand that.
Now, I have so much to offer the people and children in my life because I experienced that pain. I turned it around and made it work for me, not against me. I can tell when my students need someone to talk to because I’ve been there. I can usually see and feel their pain.
Right now, I hope you think I’m strong. I want you to respect me for how I’ve overcome all of my obstacles to become the successful person I am. I want you to see how amazing I am, because that’s my point. You can be, too! Trust me, please! I felt how you feel when I was in high school. It got better in college. And it continues to get better all the time. I truly like myself now. I love who I’ve become. I love what I’ve accomplished with my life. I love how I have helped people with their education and their spiritual and mental wellbeing.
The fact that you always want to help me and others feel better tells me you have that strength and desire inside of you to help others, but first you have to stick it out. You will only cause a tremendous amount of pain if you don’t.
The end of your life will be a tragedy. You have so much to live for!
Thank you, Jenny, for talking to me about your depression. I’m ALWAYS here for you! Never forget that! By letting me help you with your pain, you allow me to heal my own pain. It makes me feel that my past has helped your future. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for reaching out to me. You are more than your depression, Jenny. You are a kind, intelligent person who has so much to offer the world, just because you are you.
So, please, Jenny, my dear student, child, friend, family member, stranger, do not end the beautiful life you have been blessed with. There is no one else in this world like you! You will rob the world of the necessity of you. No one can replace you!
Your loving teacher, friend, family member, stranger,
If there were more love letters, perhaps high school would be a little bit more bearable. If there were more people in this world like Hannah Brencher, the world would be a better place. If there were more people like Hannah Brencher, perhaps there would be no more stories like that of Hannah Baker or dear sweet Jenny.
Go, pick up a pen and a piece of paper today. You won’t be sorry, that’s a promise.