Anyone who’s ever had a heartbreak knows the cry, the aching kind that gnaws at your insides and steals the air from your lungs. No matter how many raw wails you elicit the softball-size lump in your throat and the bitter sting in your chest refuse to let up.
I laid in the teeny twin bed of my dorm room, the walls seeming more constraining than usual, insides quaking, nearly screaming into my pillow. My roommate tried to comfort me. It was no help. I remained lifeless in my bed for a while. I didn’t want to even fathom moving or eating or talking with my friends or picking up the dresses, skirts and various other party attire that lay scattered across my floor, physical evidence of my internal mess.
After some time, I garnered the strength to pull myself out of my cocoon of pink paisley covers, their happiness making a mockery of my pain. Even once that first onslaught of anguish subsided and I was forced to go through the motions of everyday life again, I didn’t feel whole yet. I spent a lot of time walking around campus with my headphones in and my thoughts tuned out to a wide array of emotions.
You may have seen me. I was that crazy emotional wreck sitting on the steps of some science lab (the first sign that I, a communications major, was utterly lost in every possible way), knees to my chest, tears streaming down my face, hands shrunk into the sleeves of my black North Face jacket. Sometimes I got bogged down in memories. I kept going back to “better” times, just a couple months earlier when this place was warm and inviting and no one here had hurt me yet. Other times I felt numb. I would unbutton my jacket just to feel the bitter central Pennsylvania wind whip against my skin.
And then I wrote a thank you note to the very person who broke my heart, a thank you for making me so happy, even if just for a little while, and for teaching me, by example, about the type of person I hope to be someday. When I was younger, my mom forced me to write handwritten thank you notes for every birthday gift I received. I would begrudgingly sit at my kitchen table for hours, thinking of so many things I would rather do than thank an aunt I saw twice a year for an itchy sweater I would never wear. As often happens when you grow up, I now realize how right my mom was about the value of saying thank you in writing. A text or email won’t do. You have to feel the curls of the cursive, see the ink bleed through the paper.
Now, I take every opportunity I can to write these types of notes. I’ve written them to people who have inspired me, to people who have made me want to be a better person, even to people who have hurt me. Sometimes all those characteristics even apply to the same person. I never want to think back on my life and wish I had told someone how much they meant to me or how much they taught me. I wish I had the guts to share these sentiments in person, but spoken word often fails me.
The recipient of the aforementioned letter called my thank you note a gift. And with that, I was able to let go of the bitterness that had been weighing me down and life started to come back into perspective. However, I owe the greatest thanks to my mom for teaching me about the power of writing from a young age. She always reminds me how often we forget to appreciate the lessons each person in our lives teaches us. It’s easy to tell the people we love, the people who are closest to us, but it’s harder to let go of bitterness and say thank you to people who have caused us pain.
As another year comes to a close, take time to think about these people in your life. Take time to say thank you, in writing if you can. I promise you won’t regret it. It may even bring some clarity to your own life. Something both poignant and frightening about writing is its permanence. A heartfelt letter might be kept forever. If you choose to use your words for good, the recipient might find your thank you years later, at a time when they need encouragement, and maybe it’ll inspire them to do the same to someone else.
To me, this is the intrinsic beauty in writing. This is why I hope to make a career of this craft someday, so that I can use the power of the written word to make the world a bit happier of a place. Even if it’s just by brightening one person’s day or telling someone how wonderful they are. So I’d like to say one final thank you to that friend who broke my heart and helped me fall in love with writing again.