Back in January 2011, Neil’s science teacher asked each of his freshman students to write a letter to themselves, to be delivered upon college graduation. Little did Neil know he would not live to read the letter he’d written. In May 2018, Mr. Rath contacted us, told us about the letter and asked if we would like to have it. At first, he had hesitated doing so, fearing the letter might contain something we might find painful, but on balance he thought we should make the decision about whether or not to read it. The following Sunday, Mother’s Day, Dean carefully slit open the envelope and handed it to me. I read it aloud:
“By the time I read this I better be a billionaire mechanic top class with a chauffeur and lots of nice stuff. JKJK. But seriously. It better be better than where I am right now though, cause where I am now is seems to be no friends, only Starcraft 2, Chess, in the fall soccer and whatever else I decide to do. My niche which is apparently the main thing I am supposed to be writing about, according to Mr. Rath, is small. I don’t have much of a niche at school. I go I learn take notes take tests, move from group to group, talk from person to person without any real close friends. Sept Andrew, but you probably don’t even remember him where you are somewhere in the future, Plus he changed schools to Hendricken so we can’t hang much anymore. My niche at home is fairly small. I help with yard work; raking, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, picking up sticks, minny stuff nothing big. I just sit around playing Starcraft 2 all day. Which is probably going to cost me a bit, but hopefully it doesn’t cost you wherever you are. Hopefully you actually got a girlfriend and a group of friends you hang with on Friday nights. People call you regularly and chat. I know I don’t have it as bad as many others, but it would be nice to have friends to hang with after school that aren’t complete morons. I hope whenever you open this letter you find it of interest and not a peculiar annoyance, because if you found this to be an annoyance that would kinda be sad to me. It would mean you’d fallen farther into a slump than you are now. Well enough of this riff raff. You probably gunna think you were crazy back when you was me.
I had to pause to wipe away my tears every time the text blurred before my eyes. We were aware Neil’s first semester of high school was a tough one, between soccer team hazing and disappointing friendships. When Neil chose to confide in us about his social challenges, he did so because he needed us to listen, yet refrain from becoming directly involved, and we learned to respect that.
Dear Me. Ironically, the opening words are suggestive of an exclamation expressing surprise or distress, as in “Dear Me, how do I answer this question?” Describing one’s niche can be an intimidating writing assignment for a young person. A niche is a position, role, career or activity that suits somebody’s talents, personality and interests. How many kids struggle to figure out where they belong… how they fit in among their peers or how they find their special place in the world?
Daunting as this may seem, questioning one’s niche is a tremendously valuable exercise in and of itself, because quite simply, it provokes deep thought. I sensed that, for Neil, this particular question sparked an urgent search for answers… Eventually, Neil’s niche became “friendship.”
If you were to write a letter to yourself, what would you write?