In thinking about where to even begin to begin the first steps of a new journey, I’m taking some comfort in knowing that what is new and strange to me has been glaringly obvious for years to those who know me best. Case in point: the letter excerpted below, written to me upon my graduation from high school by my senior British Literature teacher.

Dear Marissa,

I guess that lovers of literature feel ourselves members of such a dwindling minority that we rejoice whenever we come across a member of the club. We are all the more pleased when that member is under thirty.

I know I could have challenged you much more, but I was only able to give you a hint of that immense intellectual–and spiritual–satisfaction that comes through sustained wrestling with things of the mind. That immersion in some difficulty, some thought, though it may leave us feeling spent, somehow rejuvenates and revitalizes the mind.

Choose your teachers carefully and, if possible, take classes from those who will truly challenge you. Such courses can be exasperatingly difficult, but these are the courses we remember with such affection because they stretched our minds and changed our thinking. Such stretching exercises are never easy, and never without some pain. But they are the courses most alive.

To live small, safely, comfortably, or to embrace exasperatingly difficult and painful paths that are also gloriously, exhilaratingly alive? I’m beginning to truly believe I don’t really have much of a choice.

I’m also beginning to believe that it’s 2am and I’m tired and lapsing into a kind of ridiculousness I’ll laugh at later. So, to sleep I go, thanking Dr. Fust for knowing almost a decade ago what I needed to hear today, and the rest of you who know me too well for reminding me who I am.