This is an open letter of equal parts reverence and bewilderment to a few people I have recently encountered.
To the girl in my literature class last semester who did not hesitate to raise her hand and raise her voice: you scare me. You sat in the front of the classroom. I sat in the back. We both had opinions, but only you expressed them loudly and cleverly.
Full disclosure: I rolled my eyes at you at least once a day. With my high school definition of "coolness" deeply ingrained, I confided to the person next to me that I hadn't even done the reading the night before and had instead gone on a Netflix binge of "Parks and Rec," looking for confirmation of my laziness.
You could probably take my notions of "cool" and write a thousand-page dissertation.
You say out loud what I keep inside for fear of being wrong. You are wrong – frequently. But your wrong answers are declared just as confidently as your right ones. I wanted you to be quieter, less sure of yourself. But I also wanted to be you. I wanted to be able to speak fluidly about the dystopian society in Franz Kafka's "The Trial" or the Transcendental Idealism of Immanuel Kant.
To the man who occupies the front pew every Sunday, come rain or shine: your faith unnerves me. You sing with all of your voice and raise your hands when the feeling compels you – and during each service, the feeling unfailingly does. If I started to raise my hands, I'd feel too vulnerable, too conscious of the eyes of those around me.
I often glance over at you, my half-open lips only singing "hallelujah" softly. You sing like there's really someone to sing to. You feel some deep connection to a God I only know from the pages of a holy book.
You have something I don't. You know something I wish I did.
To my outlandishly theatrical friend: I cringe when you scream "Singing in the Rain" at the top of your lungs in the street, but I wish I could shed the inhibitions that hold me back from doing the same.
To the buff guy on the treadmill next to me: your massive containers of whey protein powder make me scoff, but you out-run me every morning by at least a mile.
To you dreamers, weirdos and loose cannons: teach me how to let go. Teach me to stop cringing and scoffing and hiding behind my preconceived notions of what is socially acceptable. Those who don't look over their shoulder to see what people think are those living honestly.
I want to be bold. I don't want to settle for unfulfilled silence and let personal inhibitions control the person I become. What that guy in the gym and that man in church have that I don't is the courage to misstep and fail. I fear sounding wrong, looking silly and being judged by the societal jury I've imagined in my head.
But by never speaking up, I'll never learn what my voice sounds like.
It's better to make one girl in the back of your literature class uncomfortable than to forgo expressing yourself fully. It's better to raise your hands and believe in something than to dwell in silent hope.
In the end, this has become a letter to myself.
To my future, uninhibited self: don't look around. The next time your favorite song comes on, dance and make sure someone is watching.
Be the "know-it-all." Be the weirdo.
Hayley Brundige is a freshman in political science. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.