Please welcome today’s guest writer, Heather Tills. Heather graduated in 2013 with majors in English and writing alongside a secondary education endorsement. She went on to teach ESL and coach cross country and track at the high school level in Denver, Colorado. This upcoming fall she plans to begin her masters degree in TESL/TEFL at Colorado State University where she will also work as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, teaching undergraduate composition courses.

I miss the sense of home I had growing up. In my adult life, I’ve felt it momentarily with the lighting of candles, night walks on deserted paths, losing myself in a crowd, but only in relationship has it ever lasted.

Not long ago, I was hit by the culmination of a period of loneliness. Though I had missed the security of community for years at that point, events brought about the greatest sense of emptiness I had ever felt. Many of my friendships began to seem distanced and pointless. I lost interest in building those relationships, and yet I could not bear to be alone.

This state of being compelled me to write letters to people I felt grateful to have in my life. They were short and simple, ripped from a wallet-sized moleskin and stamped with a dancing bear above the words “don’t open until Christmas.” A brief explanation of the purpose of the letters was followed by a list of a few specific things I appreciated about the person. Each took only a few minutes and I never expected any response.

As Christmas passed a few people thanked me for my kind words, usually over text. I received no grand gestures or revelations. A small part of me was disappointed, but the letters had fulfilled their purpose in reminding me of all the good folks that had impacted me. I felt a greater sense of community as I remembered little moments in which I felt loved by those people.

After a few weeks, I began receiving phone calls at odd hours of the day. Many of them were from people whose letters were the hardest to write because our relationship had grown less significant over time. A few people even thanked me in person, clapping me on the shoulder as they looked into my eyes and gave me a hardy “thanks.” The emotion in their voices surprised me because the letters were written to change me, not them.

In the time since, I have been given many messages from people I had not written: former students, housemates, friends from college. These were, in their own ways, letters of appreciation written to me. They followed a similar format, an explanation followed by an expression of gratitude. I began noticing the discrete ways my students reach out to me daily, and I did my best to truly feel and appreciate those acts of love.

Time has still passed slowly. It is often still hard for me to be alone. But, in those moments spurred on by love, a portion of that weight of loneliness was taken from me. With each exchange of gratitude, I feel more at home in this place.

Soon I will be moving on to grad school, abandoning this vague sense of home I’ve crafted, and I can only hope that there is a reason for building those relationships in the first place. I will take with me pieces of every interaction I’ve had. They have taught me, little by little, how to be good to people and how to let people reciprocate that goodness.

Regardless of my personal need for these relationships, though, I’ve begun to feel a greater sense of responsibility after having been witness to people’s thirst for loving interactions. I cannot help but think that we owe each other those small expressions of gratitude and that through them we are able, in small but meaningful ways, to break down these barriers of shame, insecurity, fear, and loneliness that build up so easily in this life.

Some relationships serve a temporary purpose and are meant to end and make room for each individual to grow. But on rare occasions, two souls connect in a way that makes friends more like family. I have been blessed with many more of those friendships than I could have ever expected, and each one makes me believe that this world is a grand and beautiful phenomenon.

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