Shift 22: A Letter


I’ve been thinking a lot about an assignment we received in English. It’s part of our epistolary literature unit.

We’re supposed to write a letter to someone who’s dead–or as my teacher says, “Someone who’s passed over.”


It’s funny to me to think of it as “passing over.” It’s like they were passed over for something. “No, sorry. You can’t keep on living. You’ve been passed over. Time’s up!”

But I know Ms. Twilson means “passed over to the other side.” I guess if she’s having us write to dead people, she must believe they’re still over there, somewhere. Otherwise, we’d be writing to empty space–to the space the person used to occupy.


I don’t mind thinking of it that way, actually–as writing to the space that person used to occupy.

Most of my classmates are writing to famous dead people. One of them’s writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. Another is writing to Abraham Lincoln. They’re writing for advice. How do we keep social activism alive at a time when the country feels divided? That’s what they’re asking.

I don’t know a lot about history, but I’m guessing that the country was really divided during Lincoln’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eras, too. I bet they’d say, “Find bravery inside of you. Don’t give up. Speak out.”


I was thinking of writing to John Muir. I wanted to tell him that the mountains he loved are still here. They’re protected. He was so worried about destruction of the wilderness. I bet the space he occupied would smile to know that the land he loved is still wild.


But if I wrote to his empty space, I’d have to tell him about global climate change, too. And I’d be so depressed. His space would drip with sadness, too. If somebody does indeed “pass over,” then they’ll know what’s happening here, I guess. And if it’s just space. Well, the space would care, too, I would imagine.

I don’t know. It’s kind of a silly exercise.


But I think I’ll write to Gran. That doesn’t feel silly. I don’t think of her as having “passed over,” but I do think of her as still being. I mean, she died. Yeah, I was there. If she hadn’t died, I wouldn’t be in this situation. I’d still be living with her.

But I don’t feel that she’s gone. She can’t have “passed over” because I still feel her here.

I talk to her, sometimes. Sometimes, I feel her, like I feel a warm hug inside. And I know that’s her.

Still, I bet she would like a letter from me.


Dear Gran,

It’s been almost two years since I heard your laugh.

I bet you’re wondering what’s up with me.

I am OK.


I didn’t have to go live with Uncle Scott. Don’t worry.

I had some tough times at first. But I made it.

I made some really good friends. Yuki’s been my friend for almost the whole time. And Deon is pretty much my guardian angel.

This whole time, I’ve learned things you always used to tell me, like how strong I am. Like how to take care. Like how something good can come from something bad.

I’m still running track. I’m not the super star anymore. But that’s OK. I’m getting stronger, and my times are dropping.

I go by a different name now, so it’s just as well that I’m not drawing attention through track.

One of my mentors here, Aadhya, says that I should start thinking about college. I know you would back her up on that.

I’m not ready to think about college. If I do that, I have to go by my real name. And I’m not ready to do that.

I’m still Jazz Deon. I think you’d like that name.

But I promise you, Gran, next year, I’ll start thinking about the future, and I’ll figure out something, OK? You don’t have to worry. I’ve learned that, too, from you and from all of this.

We don’t have to worry, because somehow, some way, we’ll manage, with help from friends, strangers, and the universe.

Love from your granddaughter,



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