Concert band practice at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, ended as usual on Friday evening at 5:30. It was November 11, 2005, two days before my 22nd birthday. I walked across campus thinking about dinner in the college cafeteria. Friday night meant cream cheese crab rangoons. I was starving. I would meet my roommate in our dorm room, and together we would trek up the hill to the college cafeteria for dinner like we had done every other Friday for the past four years.
I walked into the room, dropped my flute on the grungy yellow couch. She was sitting at her desk. She was very still. Her expression – was she hiding something?
Then I noticed a small bottle on my desk, capped with a cork. Inside it, a note.
I remembered the conversation well – how, months ago, on a spring afternoon with my boyfriend in Indiana, I had told him how I had always dreamed of receiving a message in a bottle. Yes, I was one of those girls. I was a sap.
Now, here it was. A message in a bottle. For me.
I think I uttered a few incomprehensible syllables. I don’t remember. But I do remember my roommate’s stone face, the words she said while trying so hard not to crack a smile: “You need to change, for dinner. And you are not eating dinner with me tonight.”
A million questions, then. Where was he? How did he get here? He went to school at Purdue in Northern Indiana, 500 miles away. Change clothes? What in the world would I wear?
The questions came out in shrieks, a stuttering of repeated sentences.
She remained a rock. First, you get out of your jeans. Then, we look in your closet …
I think she got me dressed. I think she chose some jewelry for me, and I think she uncorked the bottle and took out the note, reminding me I had to read it before I saw him.
I hope this essay somehow adequately communicates the power of love, and the power of believing in someone you love. I knew before the day of my proposal that Bryan believed in me. But seeing the words he hand-wrote on thick cardstock, seeing him kneel beneath the glow of the chapel lights and the cross that stretched toward heaven, reinforced that belief. And not once since that day I said “yes” have I ever questioned his commitment, nor his love for or his faith in me.
Today is Valentine’s Day. Yes, it is sappy and it is commercial, and for some it can be downright painful. But remember this: Love begins with you. You are the only person you can control, and a life full of love is a heck of a lot better than a life without it.
I don’t know whose quote this is, but it is my daily motto: “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”
Who is on your heart today? If anything was possible, what message would you send?
PS – To read my interview with The Louisburg Herald (my community newspaper) about my publishing in Chicken Soup for the Soul books, click here.