Blurs of orange and red mix in front of my eyes—a painting that’s lost its direction. Fall is in full bloom, crisp and cold, familiar. Just like the memories, it’s stirring around inside my brain.
The train rumbles and shakes, and I find myself fixated on the trees in the distance. And for a moment, I feel time morphing with the colors. I sense the past and the present bleeding into each other in the very way I try so desperately to avoid.
I haven’t taken this train ride in seven years.
When I last boarded this train, running back and forth to New York City from this quaint little college town, I was 21 years old. At that point, I was eagerly taking the trip all the time.
Life had been gentle with me.
Gentle enough that I still possessed an immeasurable amount of optimism.
I pause for a moment to picture it.
I’d bumble onto the platform with a patterned backpack over my shoulders and ratty sneakers on my feet. I’d breathe in deep, finding the fresh air and independence invigorating in my lungs. I believed my pull to the city was palpable. Something tangible and sticky that I could squeeze in my hands. I thought the city lights promised more than the blur of trees I’d pass on the way. I’d guzzle coffee from this sparkly travel mug I adored, look out the window, and imagine all the moments to come.
I was genuine and naive, excited and optimistic, filled with the kind of hope that can only come from youth.
For a moment, I can feel it again. A spark in my chest. A warmth. A whisper.
Before the lessons of my early and mid-twenties.
Before the city held more than just amazing opportunities, but also some of the darkest moments of my life. When it was less complicated for me.
Before I knew what it felt like to be cast aside by dozens of friendships I thought were real up until the exact second I learned they were not.
Before I understood what it meant to experience true shame, loss, and rejection. Exhaustion. Betrayal. Loneliness.
Before those experiences hardened me.
Even so, I can still feel it—that hope.
It’s quieter now, smarter and softer. But it’s still there.
Because watching the blur of colors, I feel the waking of fall.
Something about the change all around ignites reflection, calls into your soul and asks you to stop ignoring your feelings.
Listen to yourself, it says.
How you feel still matters.
Just like it did when you were young.
I welcomed my deepest feelings so openly those days.
I’d watch these tracks fly by, scribbling in a journal and thinking of ideas for new stories.
I’d lay it all out on the table—my fears, my hopes, my dreams, my insecurities, my heartbreak.
I didn’t fear it would consume me. I didn’t fear it would discredit me. I didn’t fear feeling at all.
I envy that more than anything, the reckless vulnerability.
I was too young to care if I was too old.
Too old to care so much.
Too old to dream so big.
Too old to write so openly.
Too old to feel the way I did.
On tougher days like today, I fear I’ve felt too much for too long, and now I’m spent.
I wonder if I’ve dealt out every ounce of valid emotion I was allowed to have.
I wonder if I gave too much to books that never got published and words I never said. In drafts and unnamed documents, in notebooks wilting on the shelf. To people that walked away or I had to walk away from.
I wonder if what’s left of me is still worthy.
I wonder if it’s still okay to care so much, aspire so greatly, and invest myself so deeply in my relationships and my work.
I know it.
I know it even when I don’t know it.
I know that how I feel and who I am still matters.
Who you are and how you feel still matters, too.
Even in the darkness, there is light, and even in hopelessness, there is hope.
A spark of red then yellow and orange.
Even if the color is not as bright and glittery as it shined seven years ago. Even if it’s now mixed with shades of gray and dark corners and smoothed over edges.
It’s not lessened, it’s evolved.
I’m stronger now.
So are you.
And braver—not blindly, but in a way that intimately knows the risk and moves forward anyway.
That’s growing up.
Getting older doesn’t make your feelings any less valid. It doesn’t make them stale or useless or out of place.
It makes them real.
The train has now descended into the darkness. I can see the lights of the Philadelphia skyline fading behind me, reminding me of yet another chapter opened and closed. Feelings of friendship and freedom, sadness and sweetness, brokenness and discovery. And every one of those feelings mattered.
They mattered then, and they matter now, as more pieces of that chapter continue to close.
It’s okay to mourn.
It’s okay to be frustrated and pissed and confused.
It’s okay to be relieved and heartbroken at the same time.
It’s okay to cling recklessly to your dreams and also every fear they send directly into your soul.
It’s okay to feel all of it.
Now, then, and forever.
Whatever you’re going through in this moment, it still matters too.
You still matter.
Nothing takes that from you, not a person, not a place, not even time itself.
The pieces of our past make us who we are now.
So do the pieces of our present.
Feel all of them.
Feel them without shame.
Because feeling is brave. It’s the bravest thing we can do in this life.
The bright colors and the shades of gray.
Falling leaves. Hot cups of coffee. Crisp air. Rainy streets.
Big books. Warm blankets. Cozy sweaters. Quiet whispers. Crackling fire.
Tears on your cheeks. A song in your head that you play on repeat.
A feeling in your chest that grounds you and pushes you forward in one motion.
Let it in.
It matters, and so do you.
In case you needed a reminder.
Because I did on this long, lonely train ride into my past.
In falling leaves and falling tears, we find something more.
And that will always matter.