I’ll confess. Sometimes I inwardly cringe when I hear the question (especially when it comes from complete strangers who email or hand me their work) that, as an English teacher and writer, I’ve been asked thousands of times: “Would you like to read what I’ve written?”
“Of course,” I normally answer, regardless of whether I really have extra time.
The standard reply I gave my 17-year-old nephew, however, was 100 percent sincere. I’d never seen his writing. I was curious. Best of all, since he lived several states away and wasn’t my student, I could set aside my red pen and simply enjoy his work with no obligation to critique, grade, or give feedback.
Without expectation, I nestled into a quilt and opened his St. Joseph High School college-writing class binder. I began to read, awed and delighted by the content, craft mastery, and word choices on the typed pages. An hour in, however, I paused. Tears fell. This can’t be, I thought. It happened six years ago. I’m reading too much into this.
The next day I asked; Jonathan confirmed my suspicions. He’d written the poem about his oldest cousin, my oldest daughter. Jonathan's powerfully transparent words, emailed during his drive home to Michigan, deserve to be heard:
“Every time I visit South Carolina, in the midst of all the family and good food and fun, I think of Jenna and how much better it would be with her here.
I have so many great memories of games, plays, and conversations about books that I had with Jenna. She always spoke to me like I wasn't just a silly elementary kid. Love and respect defined who she was.
She was the best cousin and friend I could ever imagine. So, it was really hard to write the poem “Funeral Flowers.” I wrote it by myself in silence. Although I cried as I finished it, I was happy because it communicates the ache I feel.
I think we all share a longing for the way things used to be—a longing that will someday make our joy incomprehensible when Jesus makes all things right. But for now, I hope other people know that, in their pain, they’re not alone.”
Please stay. Hope remains.