Even amidst all of the craziness of Yale, I still think back to that night two years ago sitting around the campfire at 3:00 a.m. with the other counselors. We were working at a summer debate camp and quickly grew from acquaintances to close friends. Drowsy and mesmerized by the fire before us, we talked until we lost track of time. The summer air hung heavily as crickets chirped happily in the darkness. Suddenly, my friend threw her marshmallow skewer into the Iowan night sky, twinkling with stars. “We all should say ‘I love you’ more,” she exclaimed. I assure you that even late-night summer camp epiphanies hold true at Yale.
Ironically, I failed to keep in touch with this friend — to keep that same warmth and closeness we once had. I let distance and time erode a valuable friendship.
I don’t know if my friend remembers that moment around the campfire, but I think about it often. There are people in our lives who we meet for only brief periods of time, but with whom we make lasting connections. These people come from all different areas in our lives: welcoming neighbors, friends from school who moved away, teachers who saw more in us than we ever saw. These people may have impacted us in different ways. Maybe we talked about our grandmas or our weird theories about the world. Maybe we told each other our fears or insecurities. Maybe there was a tornado, and we all decided to bundle up together and share memories of our childhoods. But life goes on: we move away or they do, we start a new school, they start a job in a different state — and without intending to, we stop sharing with each other how much we care.
In any case, there are plenty of people who I no longer see but who have made an impact in my life. I especially began to feel this once I came home from college for my first break. I realized that no matter where I go in the world, I will always have some of the people who are important to me living somewhere else, and consequently, not a direct part of my life.
I think we do a good job telling the people we see frequently that we love them. To our close friends, our families, our partners, we always express how we feel about them. But what about the people who may have been in your life in the past, even for a brief period of time? What about these people, whom you connect with just as deeply? We’re often afraid of uncertainty or vulnerability, afraid to tell people how we feel if we don’t know exactly how they feel. But we shouldn’t be afraid. People may not remember that you valued their words or actions, but they love to know that you appreciate them.
We should be willing to tell these people we are still grateful for them and feel like they have made a difference. It’s often this warm feeling that propels people to do similar actions in the future and improve others’ lives, too.
At the end of that debate camp, a few of my campers gave me a letter. It was three pages long and single-spaced, with a fourth page of photographs from the last two weeks. After I read it, I burst into tears. Each of these kids had written a section on all the little things I had done for them: talking to them about the pressure they felt, asking if they felt included, making mac and cheese with them and teaching them how to meditate.
At the end, they wrote, “You helped us as debaters, but even more importantly, as people!” Two years later, I still get messages from these kids, writing how I had an impact on their lives. They reminded me of the power and responsibility that we all have in changing other people’s lives. Even on a small scale, I could influence people deeply. I brought those letters to college, and now they’re sitting on my desk, a reminder of my ability to help others.
I’m not saying you should go around telling your acquaintances or that person from Bulldog Days that you’re grateful for them. Sometimes, we tell people we don’t actually know that well that we love them. The phrase “ily” is a perfect example of how we use “love” to describe a generic, meaningless feeling. But love is a very powerful word.
If you reflect, however, you may realize there are important people who have improved your life in ongoing ways. And once you realize who you may be underappreciating, who you may have failed to contact since two years ago, show those people some love. Maybe, you can even pick up where you left off.
RABHYA MEHROTRA is a sophomore in Morse College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .