Like most everything in my life these days, Heavy and Light was complicated. Secrets keep you sick, but I have them anyway. Some friends are privy to what’s really going on in my life and others aren’t, and it can make the simplest of things a stressful affair. I ended up inviting a few friends, but driving up to Los Angeles on a Wednesday night was a bit daunting. After all, we are young adults now and a good nights sleep means a lot more to us now than it did a couple years ago in college. I knew this was important and I had to be there, so I set off on my own.
I didn’t know what to expect. I was tired already, and there’s something about going to a concert alone which brings ones’ loneliness into clarity. When I finally made it to the House of Blues, I decided to do my best to leave hangups at the door and just enjoy the show. It wasn’t long before I saw Jamie talking to a couple people. Now, I’ve met him before, several times spanning New York City to Orange County (long story, pretty random, for another day). But come on now - this is Jamie. He meets thousands of people a year, right? With this in mind, I wasn’t expecting Jamie to recognize me, cut his conversation short, and wade over to greet me. Even amidst the rush of one of their biggest shows so far, he carved out several minutes in that crowd to ask me how I’d been since we’d worked together months ago at the Surf Open. Even such a small gesture meant a lot to me.
And then the music came. LA traffic made me miss Noah Gundersen (which was like a punch in the kidneys, but I’ll catch him back in LA in March if I can). But Now, Now, a band I’d never heard of, blew me away. Christina Perri’s honesty with the crowd was genuine in a way I would never have expected, and you simply had to be there to experience when Jon Foreman had us all sing “Dare You to Move” completely unmiked.
As I sit here, weeks later, listening to Gundersen’s “The Ocean”, I can’t help but think about where To Write Love on Her Arms is going. It has been five years since I first heard Jamie speak about them at Anberlin’s “Cities” tour. And it has been two years since the TWLOHA wristband - now worn and faded - first slipped onto my right arm, to be worn every day since. Life is hard for most people most of the time, and my life is no exception. Thinking about Heavy and Light, thinking about my wristband, thinking about the love so many show for the organization, gives me the ability to push for better days ahead.
Because my life is a story, and I’m a sucker for happy endings.
To Write Love on Her Arms: Behind The Scenes: On Thanksgiving: What I Feel vs What I Know. -
True words, Jamie. Thanks for sharing them.
i feel sad more than i feel happy.
i feel stuck more than i feel free.
i feel defeated more than i feel accomplished.
i feel i should have found love by now.
i think about it every single day.
i confuse girls with God.
Because it seems easier to know a girl than a God.
Seems easier to…
That show was so incredibly good and I don’t even know why. All I know is I feel sad and wish it were never canceled.
All these stupid useless thoughts. Ugh. Such a pain. Fine I guess I’ll write about them. You’ve been warned.
My turn? Oh, let’s see. I can hardly believe I’ve been in California a year. At first I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything in that time. Then I stop and think and realize I’ve:
-Moved across the country.
-Impressed my bosses at my new job and been put into positions of significant (and oft boring) responsibility as we build a spaceship.
-Trained hard and gotten exponentially better at parkour.
-Moved into my own apartment. Built by hand major furniture such as my dining room table and full-sized bedframe.
-Started mentoring high schoolers.
-Started writing about politics.
So I guess for a year, I haven’t done too bad. Still, my age weighs on me. It really is strange to not be in college any more. I find myself nostalgic, which is ridiculous considering how hard I had to work when I was there, and that I have the free time to say, sit in a coffee shop writing about politics and feelings on a Tuesday night. I think I’m more nostalgic for my youth than anything - or anyone - that was at uni. I know how it is. We can only be children so long (and yes, we were children even in college). Eventually we have to stop being prepped to be the “world’s future leaders” and go out into the world and be those future leaders. Knowing that, though, doesn’t make the transition any stranger.
So many people seem to be on the fast track, their dreams merging with reality at a steady pace as each day flits by. And yet I find myself still mucking about in the dark, searching for a lightswitch to illuminate my path through life. Why is it so hard to figure out one’s purpose? Where’s the manual, the synopsis, the back cover of the book?
Oh well. At least I’ve got health insurance.
I really have kept myself far away from all my friends for some time now. Ever since I moved away I cut off all contact in a desperate bid to pull myself together on the other side of the country. I realized something today, though.
I really miss them.
So for better or worse, back on Gchat. I wish I had everything figured out but I still don’t, even after this year of exile. I wish I had made peace with myself. I’m made progress but have a long way to go. Even if I’m not all the way there, time to start bringing people back into my life.
I’ve just got to find a way to live again.
I spent three days volunteering with To Write Love on Her Arms at the Surf Open in Huntington Beach, California. I exchanged stories, sold t-shirts, and made countless fleeting yet powerful connections with people I’d pass on the streets and never think twice about. I was dusty and often tired, but thrilled to be a part of the organization I’d cared about for so long.
There were a lot of memorable moments from that weekend, but buried within that last line is the biggest truth I discovered while volunteering. There are many of us out there who hold a special place in our hearts for TWLOHA. Some of us read a vision statement that inspired us to live our lives in a completely different way. And for others, those of us who were trapped in dark places, TWLOHA may have saved our lives. And unfortunately It can be frustrating to not be able to give back to an organization that means so much to us. So many of us wish we could work or intern for them. Hell, many of us might do their laundry if it meant we were a part of the To Write Love on Her Arms team. But life is busy - classes to attend, jobs to work, bills to pay - and leaving it all to work for a nonprofit just isn’t a possibility for most of us. I found myself wearing my wristband every day, but every so often, as I sat at my desk in my corporate job, wistfully wondering if I should have tried harder to be a part of TWLOHA.
And for the first few people who came up to the tent and asked me what To Write Love on Her Arms was about, I still approached spreading their message with the mentality of an outsider. I told them what TWLOHA did. What “they” were all about. But it was awkward and clunky and didn’t make sense, so after a couple tries, I dropped the “they” and picked up a “we”.
It rolled off the tongue like magic. “We work to raise awareness about depression, addiction, and self injury, and let people know they’re not alone in those struggles. We want people to know that hope is real.” As more and more people streamed to the TWLOHA tent, I realized something. Something simple, yet something powerful.
You don’t have to work for TWLOHA to be a part of them. You don’t have to be on their payroll, fly to Florida to intern, or even volunteer like I was. You don’t even have to buy a shirt. All you have to do is spread the vision, and spread the message. Hug a friend and ask them how they’re doing - how they’re really doing. Have the patience to really listen when they open up to you. Invite that kid that sits alone over to your lunch table. If you believe in the vision that hope, community, and healing can replace depression, loneliness, and pain, and you work to spread that belief to others, then you are a part of TWLOHA.
I had a great time telling people about our vision during the weekend I spent volunteering for TWLOHA, but it wasn’t until the day after that I felt like I earned the right to say “we” and not “they”. A friend sent me a text saying she wasn’t doing too well. Later that evening, over pizza, we talked about her struggles with her family and figuring out her path through life. I gave her a Fears vs. Dreams wristband I’d picked up at the Surf Open, embossed with the words, “I am living a story. I will not give up.” After I left, she sent me a text thanking me for the wristband and, more importantly, for being a true friend.
TWLOHA is not a staff or a story or a spiffy website. It is the people who share a vision, who bring words on a webpage to life and make them real. We are TWLOHA. And we have a world to spread a message to.
Third and final day volunteering for TWLOHA at the Surf Open in Huntington Beach. Crazy times.
Volunteering for TWLOHA at the US Surf Open in Huntington Beach with Jamie Torkowski and the rest of the crew. So worth ditching work.