Dear Rachel

dearrachel

You were the first book character that I ever remember making me cry. It’s hard to find a higher honor than that. I don’t even know how many years it’s been since then, but your story will continue to stick with me for the rest of my life.

The Animorphs. You, your friends, all dragged into a war no one, especially not unprepared kids, should have had to fight. But someone had to, and it could only be you guys. For supposed children’s books, the stories were pretty dark.

I picked one of your books to read first, at an old Scholastic Book Fair. #17, The Underground. At the time, I figured I could catch up on the previous ones at the library. Serial storytelling was a lot different those days, haha. But what struck me was the dissonance of the cover, which I would later realize was the very dissonance in you yourself. There was this pink trim, lots of pink and purple and feminine colors. And a beautiful blonde girl…. Hideously transforming into a monster, a bat. To go fight aliens. At the time, that was unheard of to me. The idea that a heroine could be pretty and girly and also threatening and scary. Feminism wasn’t something we talked about at our house. Girls were either pretty princesses or rough tomboys, nothing in between. But you were all of the above, and more.

A gymnast and a shopaholic, with super model looks and the clothes to match. A warrior soaked in blood, living for the adrenaline of battle and watching her enemies fall, enjoying it maybe a little too much. At the time, I didn’t realize how important that was in a female character. I was a kid. Life had given me such a narrow view of what woman could be, and you shattered all those stereotypes and built a new world of options.

I know sometimes you were afraid you might be a monster. But I want you to know that I’ve seen every thought you have, every decision you made in this war. And the Ellimist is right- you were brave, you were strong, you were good. And reading your story helped push me to be those things myself. You were the first real literary role model I had, more than any of the other Animorphs, even more than Cassie, who you and I both know really would have been the more obvious choice.

There was a lot of darkness in you, darkness that defined you. You weren’t perfect. At times, you weren’t even a “hero”, not in the traditional sense, but even that was an act of love on your part. You were the bad guy when needed, to spare the innocence of others. You sacrificed not just your life, but your soul, so that the people you loved could survive. A martyr, but not a saint. And when you died, I wept.

You matter, so much, to the little girl I was then and the woman I am now, and I hope to love with half the strength you did.

 

Love always,

A Friend

 

 

Rachel is from the book series Animorphs by K.A. Applegate

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Dear Peter Pan,

dearpeterpan

When I was a kid, (well, even a little as a teenager), I waited by my window for you at night. I would sneak out onto the little roof that covered our front door, sit on the cold rubbery shingles and pull my knees to my chest. And then I would wish, pray, as hard as I could that you would come.

I knew exactly what I’d do when you finally showed up- cover myself in pixie dust, faith, and trust. Thinking up wonderful, happy thoughts wouldn’t be necessary. The utter joy of the moment would have me floating almost before magic touched me. I would have followed you in an instant, second star and straight on til morning, if it took a hundred, hundred mornings. I would fly and I would dance and sing. I’d splash with the mermaids, fight pirates, and leap from treetop to cloud to back down in the sea, riding the wind like a rollercoaster.

I can never decide if I’m grateful or bitter that you never came and took me away to Neverland all those years ago. Who would I be now, if you had?

Would I have remembered it all? Or would the sudden realization that I would one day never go back have haunted me until I drove it from my memories. It’s the old “better to have loved and lost then to have never loved” thing that people throw around. And I’m not sure I believe that.

I still believe in fairies. I still believe in magic. I still believe in innocence and childhood. I still believe in you. And I think, maybe, I like being able to believe in something I’ve never seen, especially now as I grow older. That’s a sort of skill that I want to hold on for the rest of my life. There is so much good in the world that can’t be seen, and I want to be able to believe in that too. Watching the stars and seeing other worlds in them helps this world make more sense.

But Peter, even knowing all that, I’m still a little angry. Magic is precious and special, and I would have loved every second I spent experiencing it. There’s no way to know who I might be today if you had brought me to Neverland. I might even be worse off… but there’s a small fluttering part of my soul buried deep in my heart, a part that would give anything to find out.

It would just be something, knowing for a Fact how magnificently big the world is. I suppose that’s the point though. We don’t always get to know the shape of universe, so we just try and believe the best of it.

I believe in Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust. I’m just musing on the “faith” part of it all. So far, trying to figure it out has been an awfully big adventure.

 

Love always,

A Believer

 

 

Peter Pan is from from the novel and play by J.M. Barrie

Dear Aang,

Dearaang

Wow, a lot of these letters have been kind of downers lately, huh? I mean, they weren’t written to you, so you wouldn’t know. But really, yeah. Kind of a glum series I’ve got going on here.

That’s why I’m writing to you now. Because to me, you represent joy, even in the darkest of circumstances. And not the fake kind, always putting on a smile for other’s sake, pretending everything is going to be okay when you know it’s not. You had those moments, same as anyone else, sure. Far fewer moments than me though. Because you found a way to experience life and joy and light and freedom, when the world tried it’s hardest to take that away from you.

Some of that is an airbender thing, I know. Living life in the moment, staying away from material attachment, focusing on what is rather than what might be or what was. Most of the credit, however, rests with you. Aang, you have this lightness to you, both in the sense of air and of shining bright. You make people smile. Laugh. You bring hope. Not because you’re the Avatar, but because you’re you.

Thank you. I’ve always been able to count on you for that, but it’s even more than just enjoying your show and your story. You’ve helped me look at the world, but more importantly, myself, in different ways. With forgiveness. With kindness. With hope. With joy.

That doesn’t mean I have to be okay all the time. It’s not weak to feel things, or to hurt or grieve or need help from others. Things are bad sometimes, yeah. But there are so many good things too, and I want to go out and find them. I want to go on adventures. Find the freedom to see the world, but also to enjoy the little moments right here where I am, right now. There are dogs to pet. There is music to listen to. There are stars to gaze at. There is peace to be found. And when I struggle to remember that, I think of you.

So really, only one thing that remains to be said-

Will you go penguin sledding with me?

Love,

A Friend

 

 

Aang is from the television series Avatar: the Last Airbender

Dear Liesel

dearliesel

It is the middle of the night, and I can’t sleep- so I am reading your book. Not in the dark corner of a basement, struggling near a flickering candle or dim bulb, as bombs drop above me; but comfortable, in a bed with a dog and a lamp.

The first time I read it, I drank it in like water in a desert. These days, I have trouble with the words. It’s been a long time since they’ve come easily to me, through my own fault and through the fault of no one but the universe. My bones ache, and my thoughts are thick, sometimes. Finding the words requires wading through a fog, and I’ve lost the desperation for them that I once had.

Did you ever write again after they pulled you from the rubble of Himmel Street, or did the words drift away from you, like the ash billowing up and away in the heat of the fire?

People say that tragedy makes for good art, but I’m not sure that I believe that. They all want believe that suffering can create beauty, because it makes it a little more bearable. No one ever talks about the times when the sky opens up, dropping bombs that blow the words right out of you. Do we need to have both tragedy and joy to find meaning? Is it just a lie we tell ourselves to make sure we keep going? Would your papa’s accordion have sounded just as beautiful if the world around heaven street wasn’t going to hell? I don’t know.

Hell, I don’t know much of anything, and I especially don’t know how to say it. There are just nights like this, where I feel empty of words and full of words all at the same time and can’t seem to find a damn thing to do about it. I read and I write and I feel better but none of it makes any damn sense because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that everything is a contradiction.

You need suffering to feel joy. But you also don’t. The world is both more or less beautiful because a Jewish fist fighter starved in a concentration camp and a boy with hair the color of lemons saved a book from a river. We need the words. The words are worthless. It’s all a pile of shit and I don’t know how anyone can hope to describe why or how that is, but I’m glad for poetry and music all the same.

God, I want to go to sleep. I don’t ever want to sleep again.

Some nights, I feel like the words were stolen from me, and I want to shout up at the sky in all its colors at the unfairness of the universe. So tonight, please, help me steal just a few back.

Sincerely,

An Admirer

 

 

 

Liesel Memminger is from the novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Dear Winry Rockbell

dearwinry

I’ve always admired you so much. I even started piercing my ears to look like yours. Which is sort of silly, but I think you’ll understand? You pierced yours because you admired Riza Hawkeye, right? It’s a way of emulating someone’s good personality traits in a physical action. It helps you remember, but somehow, I think it helps you change too. And I want to be more like you. I need to borrow some of your patience, if that’s okay.

See, you were always good at knowing exactly which things you were capable of fighting, of changing, and which things you would just have to be patient and allow happen in their own time. That’s why you were so good at being there for Ed and Al. You didn’t try to take their problems onto you. You didn’t try to fix them, because you knew you couldn’t. You knew that wasn’t your place. And you were patient enough to be okay with that, even when it was hard to watch from a distance.

I need to remember that for myself. Life is really frustrating, especially when it feels like there’s nothing I can do to change the world. Or fix someone else’s problems. Or fix myself. That’s just how life is sometimes. We do what we can, and we have to be patient for the rest. Most importantly, we find ways to make what we do while we’re waiting matter. You couldn’t go out and save the world. You couldn’t give Ed and Al their bodies back. But you gave them a place to come home to. A smile and a leg to lean on. You went out and helped people, individuals, in the little ways that keep the world spinning in the face of catastrophe.

So I’m going to just keep living and doing what I can. You’ve shown me that that will be enough.

Thanks,

Your friend

 

 

Winry Rockbell is from the manga and anime series Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa

Dear Chihiro

dearchihiro

Watching your journey has always brought me peace. I don’t know why that is, precisely, but I appreciate it. Spirited Away has become something like a lullaby for me, on the nights when the pain was at its worst.

I suppose I should explain that last part. For many years now, I’ve dealt with a wide range of medical problems, autoimmune and chronic pain disorders that have been very debilitating. They won’t kill me, but there’s no cure either. My body is weak. It makes me feel weak, even though it’s not my fault that I have these problems.

But watching your journey, to become Sen, and then to become Chihiro again, helps me find a new kind of strength within myself. Because you show me a different kind of strength, one that isn’t in most stories. You aren’t some fantastical warrior hero, who succeeds by fighting monsters or destroying evil. You overcame by being kind. And by remembering who others were- and who they had the potential to be- you save people.

Maybe we all stay the same, deep down, while still growing up and out and into other things. You remembered who you were. You remembered Haku and your parents. People who were all different, yet the same

I am different now, and will never be the kind of strong that most people think of. But there is strength in living the life I was given. There is strength in kindness. There is strength in simply doing what the world requires of me. And there is incredible strength in loving others. I suppose that what brings me peace as I watch your film. Knowing that I can be strong in ways I never thought of before all this happened to me, that I can be different and the same all at once.

Peace is something I need more than ever these days. Thank you, Chihiro, for helping me find it.

Love always,

A friend

 

 

 

Chihiro is from the film Spirited Away written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Dear Vicky Austin,

dearvickyaustin

It’s been a long time. I’ve missed you, in a multitude of small ways. Your words were always there for me when I was a teenager. It was always your book I picked up when nothing made sense and my world felt simultaneously too vast and too insignificant.

Vicky, I know you’re often just as lost and confused as I am, but you do have a gift for listening and saying the right thing, even if you don’t always realize what you’re doing. And I feel like this is something you’ll understand, because you feel it sometimes too- I am so very replete with me. I know a lot of people feel that way. And for many good reasons, I’ve been focusing so much on myself on purpose. I’ve ignored my own needs and wants for so long that now I know everyone has to be a bit selfish sometimes. Taking care of my own needs first isn’t nearly as selfish as I used to think it was. It’s just that I feel out of balance. I feel like I’m starting to focus on the wrong things. It’s part of why I’ve been writing these letters to you and everyone else. I keep hoping to find my way back to a balance. I want to feel less “replete with me”.

When I started rereading the book again, my first reaction was to be scornful of your naivety. And that frightens me, a little, because I would have never felt that way in the past. But as I kept reading… I realize now how easy it is to mistake naivety for hope.

The world is full of horrors, red in tooth and claw. Little girls die pointlessly on the floor of overcrowded emergency rooms. Cops shoot kids because of the color of their skin. Dolphins are stillborn. Good people die doing the right thing. We all die without fully understanding any of it.

The world is full of hope, deep and dazzling darkness. Swallows learn to fly. Piano concerts in the grass on a warm summer night. Strangers go out of the way to help someone they’ll never see again. People wake up from comas. People fall in love. We all live without ever fully understanding any of it.

I don’t believe in God anymore, Vicky, not for a long time now. I don’t think I ever want to again, to be honest. But I do like reading about your faith, and the ways you struggle with it, because I am struggling with faith. It’s just not faith in God. What I’m trying to find is my faith in humanity, faith in goodness. I want to have faith that even in all the vastness of the universe, in the face of unrelenting rush of time and death and black holes, who we are and what we do matters.

I’m starting to relearn that it is not naivety to see every element of existence and still believe in goodness. There is courage in choosing joy and hope while fighting back against overwhelming evil and injustice. It matters who we are and what we do, even in the infinite. Being sick the way I have been, the depression, the physical pain and disabilities, looking around at the horrors of the world, it’s all made me lose sight of that. The darkness was not dazzling, but consuming. I know it’s not possible to optimistic all the time. The world doesn’t work like that, and neither do people. I am going to have bad days, weeks, months, still, no matter what I try mentally and physically. But when I can, on the days, weeks, months when I’m able, I want to start believing in joy and hope again.

Vicky, you always help me remember that there is a ring of endless light inside all of us, giving us hope. We’re not always able to see it. Being replete with me leaves little space for it, but I’m going to try to find my light again, even if I have no idea how to start.

Love always,

Your friend

 

 

Vicky Austin is from the novel A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle