emails with bill


The kneading of the beet-stained dough is completely unrelated to the words in between. Nonetheless, I made some really fairytale-like scones and felt compelled to share the evidence. Despite the overwhelming pretty in the baking process here, this post is mostly about Bill.


I’ve recently made a new friend. His name is Bill. He is a retired newspaper man, most likely in his 80’s, and very into baseball. 

I met Bill on the train. For the majority of the two hour ride, we sat beside each other: I did a crossword puzzle and he read the sports section of the newspaper. Towards the end of the journey, I turned to ask for his help with one of the clues. The question involved baseball, and gathering from my previous observation, I thought there was a good chance he’d know the answer. 

And he did. We spent the remainder of the trip talking. The conversation went beyond the talk of the weather outside; it was enjoyable enough so as to prompt me to write my email address in the margin of his newspaper. I know what you might be thinking, but no, this is not a love story. In that moment right before my stop, I had the choice to forget about this kind man forever, or continue the conversation. And I thought, why not?

Bill doesn’t have a computer, but once a week he goes to the library, and once I week I receive an email. In the first email, Bill asked me what I want to do when I grow up. 

That’s funny, Bill. I haven’t a clue.


But as I began to write in response to his email, I found myself answering the question in a way that I had never been able to articulate before. Not to my parents or my best friends. It suddenly became so easy to talk about my fears and aspirations. Who was just a stranger to me a week ago had become my most trusted confidant.


To Bill I wrote:

I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I know what I am passionate about, and I would love to create a career out of these passions. I think they all fall under the same umbrella of finding a way to become more connected, more aware of our choices as humans. In a time when we are so connected through technology, we could not be more disconnected from each other, from nature, from our own bodies. I want to be a part of fostering a community of respect where people listen to each other. I love talking with people, however small the conversation, but in a real and not superficial way. Perhaps this is what led me to ask you for crossword help—a choice I’m so glad I made. 

So to answer your question, I think what I want to do exists more as a feeling or attitude that I want to spread. I haven’t a clue really what that will look like in terms of an actual job. A number of times I thought I knew, but have always been wrong. I’m realizing that I’m wrong a lot, and that’s what’s so wonderful about life. Now I stop trying to be right all the time. 

While at times I feel like a bit of a failure for how I’ve spent my time since graduating, I remind myself everything this period has given me. I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned the ineffectiveness of worrying. I’ve learned that happiness doesn’t come from a job or moving across the country (it really does only come from inside). I’ve learned that the people we fill our lives with are what matter most. Without them, we’re lost. I’m grateful that it didn’t take any sort of near-death experience or an abrupt loss of a loved one to realize this point—just a bit of reflection to know how incredibly lucky I am to have such beautiful people in my life. I’ve learned to trust the greater being that exists (whatever that is to you). This is hard at times, but necessary. I’ve learned to stop being so scared about life, taking things less seriously—because what’s the point of living if you’re not having fun? 

I’ve always been particular in my decision making process, from ice cream sundae toppings to career choices. I’m grateful for my parents who have allowed me to follow this less traditional path. As I’m known to be a hard-working overachiever, I often wonder if they’re confused as to how I ended up still living at home, still reliant on them in ways. I certainly wish it wasn’t this way, but I know from past mistakes (but not really mistakes), that when I rush things out of fear, forcing pieces to fit together that aren’t meant to fit, things don’t go very well. So I’m trying to be patient, content with (grateful for!) everything happening right now. 

We stress so much about reaching these extraordinary moments in our lives—the things we think will bring us success and joy. In this scramble to achieve wonders, we miss the somewhat boring filler of our lives: the ordinary. But this is the good stuff. It’s in the ordinary that everything happens. 

I thank these ordinary moments for Bill, and I thank Bill for giving me the opportunity to answer my own questions.

Kelsey Gleason