Since my abrupt return home from college and relative social isolation, I have oscillated between moments of overwhelming sorrow—and, I’ll admit, a good bit of self-pity—to profound loneliness, to laughter while playing charades with my family, to utter boredom which I usually while away by watching endless videos and memes on my phone. After my eyes began to literally hurt from staring at my phone so much—thanks to the iPhone’s latest features, I now have the great privilege of knowing just how much my screen time is up since self-quarantine began, which is a percentage too embarrassing to report, by the way—I decided to dust off some old diaries and treat myself to, well, myself. As it turns out, my new outlet of entertainment has also served as a source of much-needed and quite unexpected encouragement and wisdom in a difficult time.

Unsurprisingly, many of my journal entries were cringe-worthy to say the least. There was the March 2006 second-grade school-bus melodrama beginning with the memorable and jarring line, “I’m on the stupid bus.” And then came the countless unnecessarily detailed accounts of unrequited love and other middle school woes. Amidst such entries, I stumbled upon one which is typical of the other ridiculously dramatized stories, but which reminded me of a truth I didn’t know I needed.

The entry comes from August 2011, when I was frenziedly writing about my “life-changing” occurrence at an American Idol concert in four different colored pens. At the time, I was totally obsessed with Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, the winner and runner-up of Season 10 of American Idol. During one of their songs at the concert, my friends and I were “jumping up and down and waving” at Lauren from far up in the nose-bleeds. By some miracle of God—at least that is how I interpreted it—Lauren saw us and jumped up and down, waving at us in imitation back. If you don’t believe me, refer to minute 2:37-2:41 at this YouTube link, which I of course provided in my journal entry:

Yep, those 4 seconds constituted my “life-changing” occurrence. That’s it. What you just watched was pretty much the fruition of my middle school dreams and “prayers”—upon reading this I stopped for a moment to thank God for all the absurd prayers he has put up with from me—so play it back and soak it all in if you need to. Despite all its silliness, this entry reminded me of a song I used to love by Lauren Alaina called “The Middle.” I now find the song a little cheesy—especially after I read another diary entry about that time I was late to science class because I was suppressing tears listening to this song in the computer lab. But even in some of its perhaps unoriginal wisdom, it is full of sadness, nostalgia, and hope. Going through “old letters” of a loved one who has passed, Alaina sings: “I hear your voice in every word / You told me to remember… The beginning and the end mean so little / What matters most is what’s in the middle.”

Lauren Alaina is certainly not the first to say this, but I needed the reminder desperately this week. No, I don’t think I’m anywhere near the end of my life, but, like so many other students graduating this spring, the last few weeks of my college experience were pulled out suddenly and unexpectedly from under me. This has left me standing on shaky ground and wading through emotions of anger and sadness. And, worst of all, guilt. Guilt because I have struggled to feel like I “ended” my time in college well. I didn’t have the privilege to know that things would be my last or to nicely wrap up that formative chapter of my life. I didn’t say all I wanted to say to people or do all the things I wanted to do. My college experience is rapidly screeching to a halt, and there are no balloons and confetti in sight to greet me or thousands of other high school and college seniors at the finish line. The irony that one of the most intensely social times of my life is ending quietly, without fuss and celebration, in literal isolation, is not lost on me.

The more I’ve been reflecting and re-listening to Alaina’s song, however, the more I’m learning to be satisfied by “the middle.” There is no denying that celebrations and ceremonies at the end of college and other memorable life events are extremely special. I—and all the other graduating students—have lost something we can’t get back, even if graduation is ultimately rescheduled. Stripped of that special “end,” we are left with just the “middle”: the many memories and moments between the beginning and what we had expected would be the end.

And so, in my most recent journal entry, I reflected on my, unbeknownst to me at the time, “last” moments in college, and I have found that I have actually been filled with more gratitude than anger. It seems to me that these “last” meetings, classes, coffee dates, and parties are granted a greater degree of authenticity by virtue of the fact that we did not know they would be our last. We acted as we would on any other normal day in “the middle,” because we didn’t know it was actually the end. Instead of teary-eyed speeches, champagne, and graduation parties, I am left with the often un-glitzy memories that are actually far more representative of my everyday college experience: provocative and sometimes boring class discussions, living with 15 girls in a beat up (but well-loved) yellow house, stressful nights up late studying, fun nights up late dancing, and everything in between.

I am still sad. It is okay to be sad. Let us not forget that the shortest verse of the Bible is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). I don’t know what celebrations you’re missing or what your loss looks like in this season, but I know that you have your share, too. They may be much greater than mine. I am certainly not suggesting we have to smile through the pain and search in vain for a silver lining. But I do know that God cares and is weeping with us. My sorrow has not dissipated and may not for a long time, but alongside the sorrow, God is slowly, gracefully clearing room in my heart for gratitude and a different kind of celebration: the celebration of the everyday and the ordinary—because it is precisely these memories I have been left with as my college chapter closes.

Featured image: Damiano Lingauri on Unsplash