The first letter I ever wrote to hb began with a tragic love story.
It showcased the words, “Maybe my role in his life is just to let him know that love doesn’t always knock on your door with a handful of conditions.” All about not asking someone to choose me and my nobility in not writing about him, it was a sad bit of unhealthy garbage wrapped in pretty language. If we’re being honest, it perpetuated the myth that settling is a great idea.
Four months later we sat across from one another at an oversized conference table which dwarfed our tiny frames as we told our stories and ugly cried while I tried to interview her. We’re writers who love story and people in a borderline obsessive manner, so the fact that we’re given to strong emotion shouldn’t surprise anyone.
I tucked my legs under me as she began to talk about her book. This was a year ago, so she had three days to give it one last look before handing the final product to her editor. She was having a hard time letting go. “I like to be in control of things and I’m not in control of this,” she said, “All I know is I told my truth and I put everything out there. I have to let it go and be alright with it.”
Hannah Brencher has become known for her beautifully deep pieces about life and love and at the time I wondered what could be so difficult about letting this piece of her story out into the world. “It’s a long hike to get to where I am today. Most people don’t have to go back and sit with that person and find a way to craft pretty words for a part of your life that you’re not proud of. I was not proud of the character I was, but it was all part of the transformation process. It was important to be able to buy a one way ticket for that character to say, ‘you can go and you don’t have to come back but I have to do the work so that I can leave you behind.”
I nodded my head and pointed out that people don’t always get to see that occur in the books and posts and articles we write. Sometimes we conveniently leave that out of the process and they end up believing they’re the only one who deals with those moments.
“YES!” hb is effusive and it makes you feel seen in conversation, “A writer’s job is to stay behind while everyone else moves forward and to find the words that let people nod their head and say ‘me too.’ And that is hard work.”
Again I agreed with her and added my two cents, “yes, and I think that is the greatest gift we can give our reader — a “me too” moment.”
She began to tell me about her move to Atlanta.
She left behind a relationship that wasn’t the right fit to find a community she could call home. “I came to Atlanta with the assumption that I was leaving that relationship and God was going to give me a new relationship here. Like I’m going to come to Atlanta and God is going to give me the man I’ll fall in love with. A few weeks ago, God was just like, “I have other things for you to deal with here. You have to be stripped and refined so that you can be ready to meet that person.” That’s hard because I wanted to come right in and meet that person.”
Her words tumble over themselves and as I reach to check my recording device she asks me if she’s word vomiting too much. “Absolutely not,” I tell her. “This is perfect.” I know where she’s at. I have had these feelings. She continues.
“It’s different when you’re married and have kids because you feel like there is never enough you can give to your business. I’m single and I can give as much as I want to my business. But I deal with that loneliness every day of not meeting that person who wants to be my cheerleader and wants to talk to me and wants to pick me up from the airport and that’s a feeling I have to push aside because it can wreck everything else. I’m sure anyone who is single knows that feeling like “is there even anyone out there for me? Would I even know how to treat them if they came along? What do I need to know so I’m ready when they show up?”
Because a relationship is it’s own beast. You have to pour into it and you have to be invested.
I’m terrified of that, because I think I’ve listened to the lie too long in my head that I will always put work over another person. I’m realizing the rewiring which has to happen in your mind. Coming to Atlanta, I forced myself to go out on dates and go out for coffee with friends. As an introvert it was hard, but I want that person to walk into my life. I don’t want them to walk into my life and then me think ‘here’s a laundry list of all the things I want to be and do and have in check’ and have to work on that while they’re in my life. I’m here and I’m alone and I’m alone for a reason so I’m just continuing to wade through it and check it off the list. I want to be healthy and balanced and check it off the list, so when they show up it won’t be hard.”
“I think I’m realizing I need to be with somebody who doesn’t want me to play small.”
At this point I may have had to pause in the conversation to do a little dance on top of the table. There are moments in time when words are spoken that your spirit agrees with so hard I think it sings in unison with the other person’s heart. This was one of those moments.
The Spirit kept moving and Hannah kept speaking, “Someone who doesn’t want my only purpose in life to be their wife and to give them children, which are beautiful things but I’ve had to work on this dream, which I love more than anything, for the last four years of my life. Meeting someone who will say, “that’s very much a part of you and I want to see that grow and you grow and I want you to challenge me and spur me on,” that doesn’t look like a lot of relationships that I had back home. Really I just want someone who will make me feel at home and make me feel understood for the craziness this life is. I’m not going to apologize for it anymore. I’m going to make it a new kind of normal.”
And with that she took a deep breath in.
I wanted to stand and applaud, but instead I said these ten words. I have said them to her a few times since. I will say them to her again. “You are the great love of someone’s life, Hannah Brencher.” You hear her make a few noises and a slight sniffle on the recording. I continued, “There’s no doubt about that. There’s no hoping about it. It’s just true when you have all that passion and desire inside of you. It looks different from what so many other people have because it is different from what so many other people have. Some people don’t desire a great love, so they won’t look for it. But some people do, so they will have it. It will be epic.”
Five months later I send her an email and remind her of that with these words, “God is not a tease. He created your heart as it is, exactly like it is on purpose. And He created one who will match it with his passion and fierceness and strong faith. One who will call you deeper into Him, who will teach you how to love Him better, who will make you more brave. You are someone’s great love. When he walks through the door unexpectedly, I know your heart will be ready. I have not even one doubt.”
That day, back in last October, she tells me that it is easy to play small. That sometimes she thinks she can do something really simple. She believes that she can settle too; like my first email to her about the broken man who couldn’t choose me. And then she tells me about a fierce friend who lays down some truth to her. “Hannah,” the friend tells her, “you are not a basic b*tch. You are not a Hot Pocket who can just microwave up some relationship real quick. You are a homemade pizza and you have more cooking to do. Go back to Atlanta and get your booty back in that oven.”
“You don’t have some basic sort of love story.”
I have been learning the same thing. Maybe I’ve been learning it so long I’m re-learning it. “I always thought that time was my enemy, hb.” She makes noises of agreement as I continue, “I always thought if it doesn’t happen now, it never will. It’s going to be this big dramatic tragedy and we’ll never be together. You feel that way but what matters is this moment right now. Instead of pushing things and manipulating the crap out of situations, just allow the moment to unfold. In pursuing your love story, be present.”
She is leaning over the table towards me, pondering this thought. This time her words are slower, “just remembering it’s not all on me. If I think it’s all on me, I’m sorely mistaken. It’s going to be someone who will fight for me. That’s something that hasn’t been common in any of the love stories I’ve been a part of. I’ve never been the one who’s been fought for. That’s when I’ll know it’s the right thing when he’s constant.”
I know this feeling. I’ve always been the fighter too.
“YES,” her words echo back off the wood walls again, “I fight for everyone and everything. And it’s been a wake-up call to realize not everyone is interested. I will claw to get to you. I get a lot of emails from readers because I write about caring too much. I think what happens is we all start out that way and then we realize not everyone feels that way. It is then we put our walls up. I’ve reached this point where I’m not going to change who I am and how I operate just because everyone tells me it doesn’t make sense. I’m willing to get my heart broken and mangled for other people because this thing is short and quick and done and I want to say I did it right.”
I’m shaking my head and the words are out of my mouth before I realize it, “Yes. And you want to say you made the impact you wanted to make. Even if it leaves you bloodied and bruised and shattered on the floor, at least you’re not some perfect plastic thing standing in the corner who never took one step.”
Hers are too, “You got to show up for people. It’s the only thing that matters in this life.”
hb’s words aren’t just words. The next evening our crew visiting Atlanta headed out for dinner and then on a little adventure. I had decided to get my tattoo after ten years of planning and several months of holding the design in my hands. As I lay on the table, the needle getting ready to go into my arm, all my friends stood outside in the lobby looking a little nervous. “Someone better get in here and hold my hand and let me tell them a story. This thing is getting ready to burn words into me. Forever.” Everyone else looked up at the ceiling, but hb hurriedly made her way to my side. She grabbed my hand and said, “I’m here, tell me your story.” And I did. While the ink went in, the pain came out. And not so much longer later my heart was lighter.
Becoming is a process. It’s leaving the past behind and letting the future stay in tomorrow. That first letter I wrote to her ended with these words, “I am learning to be in this moment. To be okay in it. To find delight in it. The good, the bad, the everything. That’s enough.” Started at the bottom, hb. I think we’re finally here.