Older and wiser

Not sure what I’m going to write about… I have two thoughts swirling in my head, a post of randomness (because that is my forte) and a post about a letter I found this weekend while cleaning out a cupboard. Well, one letter in particular, because I also found a series of letters I wrote to God while I was in high school… oh the drama. Those letters made me laugh but have also got me wondering about what things I focus on now that don’t really matter. Per se.

In lieu of randomness, I’m going to talk about the letter. Ironically it was dated February 18, 1999 – 13 years ago from the day I read it. My junior year of college I was a resident assistant (RA) in one of the on-campus dorms. It was quite a year. The bulk of my dorm friends from freshman and sophomore years moved across campus to on-campus apartments while I moved to a different dorm to “be in charge” of another floor of freshman and sophomore girls. It was hard to not feel like I was missing out on what was going on with my friends but exciting to know I was having such a different experience, albeit a super intense one. Anyone who has been a part of an RA staff can sort of understand the intensity of the experience. You become very close to your staff because there is a small handful of you who are in the same boat in the dorm, set apart from everyone else because in theory, you are there to enforce the rules. The RA helps to set the tone for the floor and is at times there to be a wiser, slightly older shoulder to lean on (which is rather important to have when you are an 18- and 19-year old girl). I have always liked being a leader and my husband will tell you I can’t join things without getting fully involved; he often wonders why I can’t just go to something but instead end up on a committee or helping out in some way, we are very different in that manner. Being a doer is in my DNA. I thrive when I’m involved and draw energy from it, and honestly a sense of worth from being a part of things (not sure if that is good or bad, or just the way it is).

It made sense that I wanted to be an RA and that I ended up getting picked during the interview process because I was a good pick and I think I’m a fairly good interviewer when I’m on my game (ironically, I just started a small group with a woman who was a resident director [RD] at the time and was part of the team who interviewed me for the job; all these years later and we end up being friends). Despite the rightness for the task, I was always a little stressed during that year about whether or not I was doing a good job and whether or not the girls on my floor liked me – I might be an extrovert but I’m not without my insecurities. Shortly after the start of the second semester the dorm residents were given a survey to fill out about their RAs, and our bosses, the RDs, wrote us letters to give us with the survey results. I’d imagine the purpose of this exercise was to help us course correct if we were off-kilter and to give us a boost midway through the year if we were feeling burnt out. I remember opening the letter with a little fear but mostly excitement, because like anyone, I like reading objective things about myself and I really like reading thoughtful letters and I had a feeling this would be both of those things.

Here are a few things she said:

  • [Your floor] sees you  as someone who is ready and willing to listen; accessible and easy and fun to talk to and someone who is very caring.
  • [I had mentioned to her that I sometimes felt frustrated that people didn’t follow up with me when I had mentioned something was bothering me.] It’s sometimes hard to separate out the things that you would like a response to from the things that you just have a desire to share. But I want you to not just Feel but sincerely Be heard.
  • My staff said I was compassionate and understanding, and a valuable and trustworthy friend. And one of the biggest encouragers and a great example to them. [It is still humbling to read those words and know that those people who I loved dearly felt the same way about me. It also makes me happy to think that I’m at least connected via Facebook with all of those people I was on staff with and am still good, current friends with some of them because there are not really words to describe how special they were to me at that stage in my life.]

Re-reading this letter over the weekend still brings up many of the same feelings in response. It was heart warming to read the kind words from the girls on my floor and my co-staff. The same insecurities rose to the surface looking at the results of the tests, still judging myself and thinking what I could be doing better, despite the positive results, I knew I wasn’t the best RA ever. (Nor was I the most militant since I never wrote a single person up the entire year.) But really it is just so nice to reflect back on the person I was and know that these are still things I value and like about myself now, though I do find it harder to be an encourager to others since gaining my three boys who need the bulk of my encouragement.

And my goodness does it make me laugh to read a line she wrote about someone else on staff saying “rounds are never quiet when you’re with Michelle” because I still talk, a lot, and Liam has inherited this gene. Poor kid, I completely understand how seemingly impossible it is to leave things unsaid and to always feel like you have something to contribute to the conversation. And I’m completely aware this isn’t always a welcome thing. I hope that Liam will also be gifted with enough empathy that he learns when to fight the urge to talk and just listen when someone comes to him needing a listening ear and shoulder to lean on. I’m still learning and battling the desire to open my mouth. One thing this blog has given me is an outlet for all those words, allowing me to be more quiet when I’m with people because I’ve put my words in this space (and thank you for reading them).

But what a gift that letter was to me then and I feel like it was a gift to me again to find it. It was such an encouragement to me at the time and I feel like God wanted me to be reminded of its contents because I can’t say I recalled a thing about that letter in at least 10 years. Seldom in life do we get a heartfelt letter that makes us feel truly known and heard; one that gives us a glimpse at who we were and helps us see it’s still who we are.

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4 responses to “Older and wiser

  1. that is really lovely…..so happy you got to have a day brightener like that. and i think you talk the perfect amount! 🙂

  2. as one of the girls who lived on your floor, i can honestly say you were an excellent RA. 🙂

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