Sitting on a plastic chair on the corner of main street, observing. I see three people—who I imagine attend the local high school—round the corner. I watch them for a moment, taking in their bold outfits and hairstyles. Then, I nudge my partner. “Look at these teenage style icons.”
He agrees. There’s a routine ease to it. They seem fully comfortable in their skin and clothing. I lean over again, “It’s like effortlessly cool.” For a moment, we talk about how awkward we’ve concluded we were at that age.
I think about this for a while and I decide I want to write a letter to my teenage self—things I wish I knew or wish I said or wish I did. And then I look to my left and see my partner. I think there’s only one thing I want to tell my teenage self.
If you’re at a big high school, there’s no way you can know everyone, let alone form deep connections with everyone. But say hello anyway. Even if they’re only a friend for every 6th period math class your sophomore year. Even if you don’t keep in touch beyond that and don’t end up in each other’s weddings and having reunions into your 70s. Say hello anyway. I promise that 6th period math class will be better because of them.
It might feel like there’s some sort of social hierarchy in your school. And that can feel slimy and not very welcoming. But here’s a little secret… sometimes the "cool kids" feel awkward, self conscious, and weird too. There’s no such thing as someone being “too cool, too smart, too funny, too athletic, too whatever” for you. But you won’t know that until you give them a chance.
Because it could give you a forever friend, a life changing memory, an incredible love story. And worse case? Well, then things are exactly as they were before you said hello. You might get a little color on your cheeks. You might feel a little silly or shy. You might wonder why you stepped out of your comfort zone at all. But that’ll fade. And someday, it’ll be nothing more than a funny “remember when?”
There’s perhaps no word that more fully opens the world up to you. A hello builds relationships. A hello heals broken hearts. A hello starts an adventure. A hello shatters judgments and stereotypes. And yes, sometimes a hello leads to a goodbye. But even then, there’s a lot of stuff in between that is still worth experiencing—good, bad, and ugly.
I snap back to the moment. Street corner. Plastic chairs. Partner.
27-years-old, like me. A teenager at that same school, like me. And, perhaps most importantly, someone I wouldn’t have the immense privilege of loving if I hadn’t learned—some ten years later—how to say hello.