Dear Little Dude and Tank,

I turned 18 in August of 2001, about a week before I eagerly packed up my belongings and moved into my very first dorm room at the University of Florida.

Little did I know that my freshman year would be marked by several tragedies.

Less than a month later, I would sit with my friends – new and old – and watch in horror as airplanes hit the twin towers in New York City.

Six months after that, I would stand with some of those same friends as we helped lay my roommate to rest.

Life, it seemed, was further from fair than I could ever have imagined.

I got angry when my parents tried to push me at grief counselors.

I wanted to transfer to a school closer to home, move back in with my parents, and find solace in the safe world I’d grown up in.

My parents knew better. They knew that we need to walk through our troubles, not run from them, so my father made a deal with me: Finish what I started, and I could transfer for my sophomore year, if it was still what I wanted.

During the second half of my freshman year, I began growing from these tragedies in ways I didn’t even realize at the time. I found ways to turn sorrow into hope, and began honoring my late friend’s memory by taking advantage of everything college had to offer, as I’d watched her doing.

By the time summer rolled around, as eager as I was to see my old friends, I had also put down enough roots that I was looking forward to sophomore year.

Life had changed. There was no going back. But the other side was looking full of promise.

And so, when you come to me some day looking for answers, or looking for an easy out, I will do my best to help you walk through your tragedies too.

The dark moments in our life shape us in ways we can’t imagine. But like anything tempered under extreme forces, we often emerge stronger, sharper, and ready for wherever life takes us.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay