The culminating achievement of my high school career was not a title, a position, or an award. It was not a scholarship or a university acceptance letter. It was a single line in my yearbook. No name accompanies those small, unassuming letters, which form three simple words: “thanks for caring.”
There have been countless occasions throughout high school that would have been easier had I just not cared. I could have skipped the entire Holocaust unit in Dowdle’s Socratic class and saved myself the daily nausea. I could have avoided befriending the exchange students every year so I wouldn’t have to deal with the sadness when they leave. I could have refused to join the HOPE Squad to keep the heaviness from my heart. I could have turned down the offer to help start MPA Cares and spared my soul the ache that comes with awareness. None of these “could have”s are “should have”s. In each situation, I got hurt – but what I gained from these experiences was worth the cost.
Out in the “real world,” people will advise you to not get emotionally invested. They say attachment clouds your judgment and causes you to make rash decisions. Many view caring deeply as unprofessional, even weak. I say the opposite. Caring takes courage and strength. You can tell so much about a person’s character by what they care about, how they show their love, and the lengths they’re willing to go for it.
Sometimes it’s tempting to numb yourself from feeling. You naturally want to protect yourself from the pain that comes with caring, but when you do this, the shields you put up block out the good things too. Let yourself feel. It requires you to open yourself up to the possibility of loss and learn to accept your own vulnerability to pain. Recognize the beauty in that vulnerability. Find the meaning in sacrifice and the value in experiencing heartache over something you’re passionate about.
Care about your life. Care about school, your hobbies, and the world you live in. Care about yourself – your needs and your dreams, your deepest desires. Care about other people – your family and friends, of course, as well as the ones you interact with each day. Care about your teachers, the kids in your classes, the faces you pass by in the hallway. Let people know how much you love them. Care fiercely and unashamedly. Let the tears (and the hugs) come freely when they need to come. Never apologize for feeling deeply.
You will have times when you feel like you care too much. You’ll make cookies for birthdays, leave nice notes in lockers, do service after service, and get nothing in return. You’ll feel foolish for efforts gone unnoticed and unappreciated, or even misunderstood. It will seem like you’re always the one who does more, feels more, loves more. You’ll lie exhausted on your bed, gazing up at your ceiling with salt dried on your cheeks, wondering why you still try. When you reach this point, I beg you: don’t give up. Don’t stop serving. Don’t stop loving. You will find reasons to keep going along the way – moments that make it all worth it:
When someone you care deeply about comes to you with his hands trembling, voice shaking, and opens up to you the innermost parts of his heart, trusting completely that you will pour your love into the cracks.
When you sit on the floor of a bathroom stall, wedged between a toilet bowl and your best friend. She lies, broken by the deeds of another, on the cold white tiles. Your hands, wet with her tears, smooth strands of hair back from her face and you hope that maybe a few of your words will coax the air back into her shuddering lungs.
When you read that single line on a page in your yearbook, and at last you feel a glimmer of light, a hope that it wasn’t all in vain. All those conversations you started, all those hugs you gave, all those letters you wrote. All the tears you shed over another person’s sorrow. The homework you didn’t do because you chose to spend the time with a loved one instead. The nights you stayed up on the phone so your friend could hear your laugh and forget their own pain. You regret none of it, because you find your long sought-after peace in those three words: “thanks for caring.”
Eliza Crofts just graduated from Maeser Preparatory Academy and is heading to BYU in the fall to major in Studio Art. She currently works at a greenhouse and is teaching art classes for her fourth year. She loves listening to good music, writing poetry, hanging out with plants and animals, and cooking vegan ethnic food.