Dear Dad, Remember when I was little and you took me to the big playground in Nashville? Since my brothers were 14 or so years older than me and my sister hadn’t yet hit the scene, you must've understood the wishfulness on my face as I watched the kids play. Little groups and gaggles sharing secrets and inventing games.

That day, Pop, when I was all of about 4 years old, you gave me one of the best gifts a dad ever gave a kid. You bent down next to me and you asked me if I wanted to play with the other children. I told you that I did, with all the lost-cause bashfulness of an ambiverted kid on the outside.

"I'll tell you a secret.” you said.  

"Those kids over there? They want to be friends with you, but they're a little bit afraid to talk to somebody they don't know. So, even though you’re a little bit afraid, too, if you be brave and talk to them, they won’t be afraid anymore and you’ll probably end up friends."

With a winning smile, you finished "You see, the secret is that somebody always has to be brave first.”

I must have gaped at you, wide eyed and unmoving, because you had to spell it out for me.

“Go and say ‘hello, my name is Amanda. I’m 4 years old. What’s your name?’ and see if you don’t become friends” 

Now, Dad, my whole life I've had an internal war. I call myself an "ambivert".  Loving relationship and connection, but desperately internal at the same time. It’s the plague of the artist. And I think I’m what they call a “highly sensitive”, so intensely tuned in to people that sometimes its hard to be around them for long periods of time. I have a very distinct memory of listening to you, as you pointed to the children in question, and feeling my heart crumple like paper inside of a fist,  like all I really wanted was just to run home and cry. To do anything other than march up to those strange children, despite my longing.

You saw my resistance, and you fearlessly tossed me into the deep end, knowing, like dads do, that it was still just the kiddie pool.

"Amanda, I want you to do what I asked you to do. Just tell them what I told you”, you persisted.

With that, you dried my eyes, smiled encouragingly and sent me over, the edges of my bowl-cut sitting high on my giant ears, all brown loafers and pink bibs, to meet my first "self-made" friends.

Do you know, Dad, that it worked? It has always worked, no one has ever told me no. Not at first, anyway. Even the script still works, although by and large I don't lead with my age anymore. You forever altered the course of how I perceived approaching people. You removed the fear of it, just like that. And I wonder, how'd you know to do that, that day? How'd you know to ignore my trepidation? How'd you know they'd like me?

Anyway, Pop, that one lesson... it's paved a lot of roads for me. And I just wanted to say; thanks for teaching me how to make friends. That gift has defended me from loneliness, fear, self-doubt and missed opportunities, and I thought you should know it. What you said was true, and in fact, with everything in life, not just making friends. The secret is that somebody always has to be brave first. 

Dear Current Hometown, I freely admit; you aren't my first hometown. It's more than likely that you won't be my last. I've liked a lot of things about a lot of places, but you are genuinely one of my very favorites. You won a spot on my permanent map. When I put pins in the places I think of as home, I won't put pins in all the places I've lived, just all the places I’ve loved, and you'll be of them

Dear Professor,  Just wanted to remind you that in Winter, you're my Summer. My great season of joy.