by: Lindsay Popper
Note: What I Haven’t Learned Yet is an open column, part anti-advice, part open air confessional. We leave how and what is written completely up to the writers. Lindsay here has taken the usual list form and expanded it into letters. Hell yes and snaps for opening the box.
Dear pastor at the church I went to the morning my front bike brake was broken and I was running late for my usual worship service on account of my best friend’s inability to hide when she’s on the verge of tears,
I wasn’t expecting to cry. I wasn’t expecting to hear exactly what I needed to hear.
I was expecting some organ music, some friendly strangers, some hymns that I maybe recognized and a chance to get in out of the cold. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t even really listening to your sermon, so it caught me off guard when you asked everyone to stand up and find another person. I was acutely aware of the bike grease smeared on all my fingers when a kind-eyed woman my sister’s age took both my hands into her own and said to me, as you had told her to, “You are God’s beloved child. You make God happy.”
It was awkward, sure, and a little forced: this person had never seen me before, and didn’t even shake my hand during the passing of the peace, but as I looked back at her, I knew that she meant it, and I knew, whether or not she meant it, that it was the truth. And so, I said it back to her, and I turned on my heels and found another person who I had never seen before, and I wrapped both my grease-smeared hands around his and I told him he was loved, and he told me I was loved, and then we both sat back in our pews and as the ushers fumbled with the offering baskets I realized I was crying.
I am a crier: I cry when I am tired and when I am overwhelmed and when I am watching “16 and Pregnant” and when someone tells me they had a baby and when someone says during the prayer request time at church that their cat has leukemia, but what makes me cry the most is when I realize that people love me.
And so, there I was, sitting in your church, crying and thinking about how I should know that I am loved: that it shouldn’t be some surprise, that it shouldn’t catch me off guard, and the fact that it does just made me tear up more. And so, Pastor, I just wanted you to know why it was that I scooted out of the sanctuary so quickly that day.
Sorry, and thank you,
Dear father from a college tour four years ago,
Would you believe that I kept that button you gave me? I gave tours because I was good at it, and because I was in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains, and because at a school of 800 people I needed some strangers in my life, and because it gave me a chance to fall in love every single day, and because, every now and then, something really wonderful happened.
You said you had a whole bag of them when you pressed that “I am loved” button into my hand at the end of the tour, and I don’t know if your child ended up coming to my college but I put that button in the little Altoids box where I keep all my small and precious things and I carried it with me all these years.
There are a lot of things I’ve learned in life: that Vaseline on a toilet flapper can make the tank stop running, that gravy starts with equal parts fat and flour, that if you show up at the Trader Joe’s dumpster at just the right time of night you can get more cut flowers than you would ever know what to do with. But what I haven’t learned yet—what hasn’t really found its way down into my bones—is the message on that 3 cent button you gave me four years ago.
Last week, needing a reminder, I lifted it out of the Altoids box and pinned it to my messenger bag, and within two days the top of it had fallen off and all that was left was the safety pin.
It’s in a gutter somewhere in Boston, and someone may have found it, or they may not have, but either way I’m here, still trying to learn what it was trying to tell me.
Amazed at what sticks with me, and at what falls off in these Boston winters,
Dear men shoveling snow this morning, and old woman writing letters in the coffee shop, and basement janitor and 4-year-olds learning the back float and woman next door eating strawberries over the sink and boy that chews too loudly in the quiet basement lunchroom,
You are loved.
It is so easy to say that to you, and it is so easy to see through your skin and your sinew and your breastbone and see something hard and bright inside of you.
What is hard is hearing it myself.
You are loved. You are loved. You are loved.
Maybe, if you keep repeating this to yourself, you’ll learn it. Maybe it’ll sink in. Maybe someday.
Dear friendwho didn’t expect to be crying across the table from me that night any more than I expected to be hearing about your deepest fears,
I know about building walls. I know about hiding all the dark and tender parts of ourselves. I want to stop making bricks. I want to stop mixing this mortar. I want to believe that if I laid myself bare—admitted all the things I’m ashamed of, showed all my failings and all my hateful thoughts and all my fears—someone still could look at me and say, “yeah, I love you.”
I want to believe this for myself, and I want to believe this for every person on the Green Line trains, and every person in the supermarkets, and every person that has a heart that keeps beating whether or not they ever stop to wonder at their 60,000 miles of blood vessels. And I want to believe this for you.
That night, there were so many things that I wanted to say to you, but this time last year I was sleeping on a beach in Florida and when we waded out into the Gulf the water around our ankles glowed green with bioluminescense and I hear that every now and then the Aurora Borealis is so bright that you can even see red in it but I wouldn’t know. What I mean is, there are some lights that you have to see for yourself to believe.
I’m looking too.
I think you’ll get this someday.
I think you’re closer than you were before.
I think, brick by little brick, these walls are coming down.
And I think that sugar snap peas grow by sending out tendrils into thin air, and when they find something solid they cling on to it, and they climb. They get bigger, and stronger, they climb up toward the light, they send out blossoms and those blossoms become fruit that will feed someone, and there’s almost nothing anyone can do to make them grow except set out a trellis for them to lean on.
What I’m trying to say is that you’re getting there. You will hear that you are loved in a million different languages every day this year: in buttons and in postcards and in the flecks of mica in the sidewalk. You will hear it in English. You will hear it in Hebrew. You will hear it in sign language. You will hear it spelled out in organic corn-syrup-free candy canes left in your locker and in dumpstered sweet rolls left out for you on the counter. And all of these things will be like the strings you staked in the ground and tied around the pecan tree’s branches the day you pressed the pea seeds at its base, and you will grab hold of them, and you will gradually start to learn what it is you haven’t learned yet, and you will grow, and at the end of it all, there will be sugar snap peas.
You will learn this,