Bubble-Popping (For the Grads).

I first wrote this a couple of years ago for my friends in the midst of the finals/graduation haze. Class of 2016, this is for you.

These have been the craziest days, bustling and brilliant and brace-yourself days that feel normal and yet... not. 

You've got one foot in the bubble and one foot in the real world, and those two feet are running you pretty ragged lately, more than ever, because on top of all the seminar papers there's a party, there's a dinner, there's a ceremony, or simply one last coffee date.

It's got this weird, inverted feeling of freshman orientation all over again, all the events and special attention. Except this time you're not standing in an awkward clump dropping your name, hometown, hall, potential major for the five hundredth time and trying to recall everyone else's. Friendship's gotta start somewhere, and I guess it comes from those introductory moments, but even more it comes from living together, side by side, struggle by struggle, and learning the magic of shared experience and growth. You've done that together. And during your final days of cramming and writing, during your in-between days on the beach, you realize - yet again - that you have made yourself a family.

From my perspective, there's no clean way to do this, to graduate from college. No matter how you feel about it, there will be something messy, whether it's your half-packed room, how much you have to drink, how you say goodbye to someone, or how many tears you shed. In fact, I feel slightly hypocritical even writing about it, because I don't know what your experience will be. Nobody can hand you a syllabus for these next weeks and months, even years. And that's the scariest part, and the best. 

Don't feel like you have to be everywhere at once. Okay, it's hard not to rush as excitement and nostalgia build and more people arrive and in a slam-packed parking lot with a dance floor and a truck full of beer, well, what else are you going to do besides rush around and find folks? It's full of fun and memory: the history you have created for yourself is right in front of you, in these shiny happy sad giddy tipsy gorgeous faces.

But in the midst of that, let yourself breathe. Let yourself be where you need to be. And if you're not sure where that is, then let yourself be where you are. Rest. In the few moments of quiet, look around. Go to your favorite tree on campus, a favorite place, even for just a minute. In the midst of the pealing bells and the chattering throngs, look around. Hug your advisor. Thank the dining staff and physical plant workers. Handle your family groupies with as much grace as you can - even if that means explaining to them that you need to go be with your friends for a little while. Help your apartment mates clean out the fridge (this I missed, and still feel a tad guilty). Inwardly bless what made your place your place - the tea kettle, the couch, the beer pong table, the porch. As you pack, yell to each other back and forth from your rooms. Blast some tunes and sing. Tell old stories and jokes and laugh. Stay up late and keep your door open for goodbyes. Cry. 

And here's what I really want to tell you, here's what you'll figure out as the days fly and you fly with them to whatever's next on your path:

It is the end of college, but it is a far cry from being the end of who and what you gained here. That's a big part of why we go to college in the first place, isn't it? To let it change us and grow us, to be open to what it gives us, lessons and loves in and out of the classroom - and to hold those close no matter how far we go from the red brick and green grass. It is the end of living together side by side (for the most part), but not the end of living together struggle by struggle. That, at least, I can say with certainty. These friends that you're hugging goodbye? There will be countless reunions, distance be damned. The bubble will burst, but the friendships will not. Even better - they will open up into the wide, wide world. They will take twists and turns that you never imagined. There will be phone calls and texts and visits and adventures and dance parties (welcome to the Wedding Years) and life, big life, to share together.

You have embraced so much and so many in the last four years. Celebrate it. Be proud of it. And know that it's only the beginning.

Peace be behind you, within you and before you as you go.

The Friday Five: It's the experiences, and the little things.

My husband is the hardest to shop for. (From what I hear, this is fairly common among husbands.) He tends to buy himself what he needs, and wants very little. But I recall a conversation we had early in our relationship where we agreed that we'd always go for the gift of an experience over a material thing. That may be we why we've seen five of the world's top guitarists in five years, and why when I put together a photo collage of five summers at the beach, we're wearing the same bathing suits, hats and sunglasses.

I say all of this because looking back over this past week, it is experiences that have stood out the most for me. This is probably the case most weeks, but for some reason it's extra clear as March 2016 kicks off.

This lovely was a birthday gift from my in-laws - it hangs on the bulletin board in my office.

This lovely was a birthday gift from my in-laws - it hangs on the bulletin board in my office.

So, friends, what has saved your life this week? Taken you out of a bad mood, lessened your stress load, made you smile or laugh - even for a moment? Here are some of mine:

1. Adventure planning! Sean and I are taking our second trip out to the Pacific Northwest, and over the weekend we scheduled some new and exciting stops.

2. A fun and fruitful coffee date with a new friend this week. It's hard to beat chai and conversation about writing, photography and storytelling.

3. Women's group on Wednesday night was especially good - lovely people, rich conversation, laughter, and two sweet babies for us to fawn over.

#4, AKA: When you grown kids crash your Wednesday night

#4, AKA: When you grown kids crash your Wednesday night

4. After group, I stopped over to see my parents for a few minutes, and my brother was already there, so we got to spend a little time as our original quartet (plus the dog). This doesn't happen as often any more (for good reasons), and so is extra meaningful when it does.

5. Voting on Super Tuesday - I always consider it such a privilege. And in these days when I achingly miss Jon Stewart, I felt hugely grateful for John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" episode on the Republican frontrunner, whom I will not call by name except to say #makedonalddrumpfagain. It's worth watching if you haven't seen it, and even my Republican friends will tell you that (because they posted it before I did!).

Of course, the little things matter too - sometimes, it's the little things that make days bearable. With that...

Honorable mentions: Stephen and Golden State's epic OT finish, Singing "For the Beauty of the Earth" in worship, watching Fuller House (yeah, I know), finally reading Wild (wow!), burrito night at our house, lemon zinger tea, watching the "Leap Day" episode of 30 Rock (because Leap Day), working out every day even for just 15 minutes, sleeping more soundly (maybe because of those work outs?), and a delish peanut butter chocolate chip cookie delivered at work right when I needed it today.

I dare you: Take five minutes or less and list your Friday Five!


Five years ago tonight, some guy and I hung out in a bar booth until about midnight and I didn't stop smiling for the whole thirty miles home. To celebrate, here's a little excerpt from my (definitely still needs lots of revising so don't judge too much) memoir manuscript.

Sean and I drove the half-mile from his house to Davidson’s athletics center where his office was located, along with the basketball arena. On any given winter Saturday night, this place would be hopping in the lead-up to a Wildcat basketball game, the hum of voices mixing with the buzz of brass from the pep band and the squeak of shoes on the court. If I could, I would have bottled the smell of those nights: rubber, chlorine, polished wood, popcorn, a warm and heady mixture that spoke safety to my bones.

Since I couldn’t bottle it, I kept coming back. Davidson basketball games, though not technically a world religion, came as close to Glenn Church in North Carolina as I could get. There was something about the tiny, closely packed arena filled with faces and memories that grew more familiar with each passing year. “When the ball drops, this is church,” a friend wrote of it once, and he became a pastor, so he should know. As a student, a basketball game was my favorite place to be. When I stayed nearby after graduation, I realized this was a part of Davidson where I would always feel welcome.

Today, in late July, the athletics center lobby was dark and empty. We let ourselves in by a side door with Sean’s massive set of keys, and I savored the silence, so different from those winter nights, though I could still feel the remnants of buzz and brass pulsing in my ears.

He and I had met right outside his office after one of those basketball games in my first year out of school, about three weeks before he walked into the town bar and sat down in my booth. I was part of the stream of people about to burst into the chilled February air when a friend pulled me out of line. “Claire, do you know Sean Lennox?”

I knew that I had heard his name before, and I recognized his face, but had never put the two together. This was a common occurrence on such a small campus, where everybody seemed to have heard of everyone else. He grasped my hand firmly with a broad smile. I don’t recall him speaking at all.

“Hi, nice to meet you!” I said with a blithe smile. Then I left.

Three years and six months later, Sean unlocked the blue door in the corner of the lobby, squeezed between a refrigerator and a drink machine. The lights revealed two desks belonging to Sean and his boss. The white walls were covered with posters from old sports seasons. The floor was strewn with countless boxes of brochures, media guides, and expired tickets. Every part of this room was familiar to me, from the physical remnants to the memories. 

We had talked briefly in this office two days after our unexpected long evening at the bar. The building was beginning to amp up for a game. I slipped in through the blue door to say hello, and Sean smiled that up-to-his-eyes smile that I hadn’t been able to forget.

“Want some King Cake?” he asked me, gesturing to a colorful box. His aunt sent one from New Orleans every year for Mardi Gras, he explained, and it was always a hit with his coworkers. I chewed the sugary clumps of glaze and tried to carry on a smart conversation. “What are you doing before the game?” he asked as I wiped my sticky fingers on my jeans.

“Going to see my friend for a little while; she’s a sophomore,” I said. 

“Cool. And what are you doing aft–…” Just as my heart began to flutter, his slow solid voice trailed off and his eyes flickered to someone behind me. “Hi, can I help you?”

He returned to his game day duties and I backed out of the office, beaming.

Two of our friends had offered their gifts of calligraphy and drawing to make our wedding invitations one-of-a-kind. In Sean’s office, we took the final versions, printed on cream-colored paper, and began cutting and gluing each one to red cardstock as a backing. At one end of the table, he measured and cut, while I pasted and pressed at the other.

Except for the office lights, the athletics center was dark and cool and silent in the way that only a small college campus can be in the summertime, like a secret. I loved being able to still hold parts of this place, to have chances to exist within it in new ways, thanks to Sean. Both of us were quiet as we cut and glued the words to our shared future in this space that knew both of us.

The only interruption today came in the form of Doodle. Doodle, an older townsperson, helped oversee and maintain the facilities no matter the season. If you were any kind of regular at the athletics center, you quickly came to know Doodle and his floppy white mustache. Today he shuffled in with his vacuum cleaner, nodded and smiled at Sean, greeted me with a slightly premature “Hey, Mrs. Lennox,” and shuffled out again.  

Doodle would be here on frosty Tuesday mornings in college when I arrived outside of this building at 6:30 a.m. and joined the line to pick up game tickets. We weren’t allowed to wait inside (Doodle would crack the door open to take a furtive look at us, then close it again) so I’d bundle up and plop down on the cold concrete, often with an English paper draft to edit. In the days when the legend of my classmate Stephen Curry had begun to build, the line would snake around the edge of the building and down towards the fraternity houses. Senior year, after Steph had left for the NBA, the number of early risers dropped considerably. I could have picked up a ticket much later, but couldn’t shake the habit of being one of the first in line.

Thankfully, I had a friend who was just as devoted. She would meet me outside with her pink Snuggie in tow. We would each plunge an arm into the fleece, our breaths slapping the air with white steam as we talked. We tended to land smack in the middle of a group of football frat guys who made it their goal to always be at the front of the line.

At 7:00 a.m., the director of ticketing would appear and prop the door open. The football players whooped and stampeded inside. We stuffed the Snuggie into a backpack and scurried into the thick warm air. We slogged over to the folding table that had been set up on the dingy carpet where bleary-eyed athletics department staff members sat in front of piles of tickets.

“Endzone, please,” I’d say automatically as I approached the ticket table. The man in the baseball cap picked one up from the pile on the left and handed it to me. I folded it once and tucked it into my right pocket.

When I thought about moments like that – of which there had been how many? –

I wanted to freeze it, walk around the table, bend down and look into the bleary, early morning eyes of the man in the baseball cap. What would I have seen there – any sign that a future husband awaited me? If he had looked at me, what would he have seen? How had our eyes, our hearts, the way we looked at each other, shifted and transformed over these years to arrive at this new moment that I wanted to freeze? The moment in which the same man, wearing no baseball cap and much more alert vision, on a sweaty Saturday afternoon in July, carefully trimmed the edges of our wedding invitations.