Open Letter to a Lost Friend: #SpreadLight

Yesterday I received a message from a former colleague that reminded me: #SpreadLight now.

“I didn’t know if you knew about Carmen. She passed away Friday.”

“What?”

The light you bring

Carmen was both a mentor and a colleague. When I was writing my Master’s thesis, she gave me one of the most pivotal nudges of my life.

“Apply to the UT doctoral program.”

The next fall semester, I was learning my way around Austin and Batts Hall. I lived in Austin for six years, formed lifelong friendships, married, bought my first house, gave birth to my first child.

When I returned to Louisiana, back to the city I had left six years prior, Carmen reached out again.

“Come teach with us.”

For four years, I did and they were some of the most rewarding years of my teaching career.

After I left the classroom to freelance from home, Carmen and I were in touch less and less. Over the next twenty five years, I sent Christmas cards, and we had the occasional call. In 2019, after a long spell of not communicating, I met up with Carmen and two other dear colleagues for lunch.

“We should do this more often!”

With a history of years between visits and calls, I wasn’t alarmed that we didn’t meet up for lunch again right away. We should have.

My first thought when I read “Carmen passed away” was Covid. But it wasn’t. Carmen fell ill about a year after I last saw her. My second thought was, did she get my card?

#SpreadLight

This year I started my #SpreadLight campaign, postcard missives to let people in my life know what they have meant to me. Some cards arrive as expected, some never do. A few cards arrive damaged, torn in half even. Other cards arrive months after being sent. I’ve heard back from recipients, and some tell me how impeccable the timing of the card is.

“I really needed this today.”

I’d like to take credit, but I can’t. I’m not in charge of the timing. Once I surrender my tiny missives of light, the timing and journey depend on forces outside of my control.

I sent Carmen a card. Based on what my colleague told me, I’m pretty sure I was too late.

“She has been seriously ill since last fall… I visited her a couple of times but she didn’t recognize me.”

I was late, and also, maybe not too late. Maybe someone along the card’s journey turned it over and read the light. Maybe one of the someones who read it also knew Carmen, had experienced the light she brings.

Shine on

I don’t know exactly what I wrote, but it would have gone something like this.

“Thanks for the light you bring. You probably don’t realize how deeply impacted my life. I’m grateful for your friendship, for your guidance, for the strength and leadership you modeled for me.”Thanks for the light you bring

Anyone tempted by the metaphorical quip Her light went out would be wrong.

Carmen’s light shines on. In the lives of thousands of colleagues and students, in the lives of the battered and imprisoned women she sat with, in my little life.

I’m sad that she suffered, sad we didn’t have another lunch or phone call. But I am grateful to have stood in a Carmen’s light. Today, I honor her in the way I know best: through words of remembrance and gratitude.

Thanks, Carmen, for the light you bring. Shine on.

©Pennie Nichols 2021 All Rights Reserved

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