They say “There’s a first time for everything,” but what about a second or third time? Perhaps the common saying only acknowledges the first occurrence because it’s the first, which makes it special. If it happens more than once, it’s not special anymore. It’s something you’ve gotten used to. It’s no longer a rarity, which deters from how special it is.
But that’s not always the case.
I’ve already met Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms and New York Times bestselling author of If You Feel Too Much. It was June 8, 2015 in Naperville, Illinois. My twin sister Ashley and our friend Sofie went to Hollywood Palms to watch the To Write Love on Her Arms movie, to get our copies of If You Feel Too Much signed, and to briefly meet him.
June 8, 2015 was a great day. It was fun to spend time with my friends, to watch a good movie, and to meet an awesome person like Jamie. Meeting Jamie the first time was memorable, and I wrote a blog post all about it as I normally do with special moments and events in my life.
Not to take away from meeting Jamie in Naperville, but it wasn’t as exceptional or unforgettable as the second time I met Jamie.
I met Jamie for the second time last Thursday, November 3. That date’s been in my head for months. I’ve known I was going to meet Jamie again for months.
In fact, I remember the second I found out.
I’m not a big fan of phone calls. As an introvert, I prefer to text and don’t care much for phone calls. Basically the only people I call are my mom and dad because they’re not too tech savvy. So when my best friend Carly texted me on a random June day and said to call her, I was definitely intrigued.
Never had any of my friends asked me to call them with a single exception of when my friend in California needed to vent and felt like calling was the right choice. So I called Carly, and she told me Jamie would be visiting our school, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, because his book was chosen for the One Book One Campus program. So Jamie would be coming to campus to give a lecture and do a book signing.
Ashley, Carly, and I were immediately ecstatic and freaked out over the phone despite the fact that all three of us had already met Jamie just one year prior.
Back then, I didn’t know meeting Jamie again would be such an unforgettable experience. I just knew I was excited because Jamie’s an awesome person and I see no reason why anyone who was ever in his presence wouldn’t want to meet him again.
The funny thing is that I wasn’t super excited about meeting Jamie again. I was excited and was looking forward to it, but I honestly didn’t feel too excited. I wasn’t counting down the days until he came or couldn’t sleep because I was so thrilled to meet him again. I didn’t even jump out of bed the day of the event. The elation didn’t hit me until I was sitting in the center of the Illini Union rooms, just a few feet away from Jamie.
His lecture began with a video about TWLOHA, and then he finally came up on stage with a spotlight on him. He was in the democratic election mood and decided the audience should vote on how the lights should be.
Should it be dark except for a spotlight on Jamie? Should the lighting stay as is with the lights on throughout the room and a brighter light shining on Jamie? Should it be bright in the front and dark in the back?
Right away, Jamie brought humor and fun into the event, which says a lot about Jamie.
If you didn’t already know, TWLOHA is a non-profit organization that aims to raise awareness for mental health issues and help others seek the help they need. Jamie’s dealt with mental health issues of his own, which he shares in his book.
Since the lecture was for the book, it was expected that the event would have a more serious tone. But the way Jamie spoke and talked to the audience showed that it didn’t have to be a super serious event. People probably think talking about mental health is so serious, but by having a fun little vote about what to do with the lights showed that this didn’t have to be so heavy. It showed that even if you do struggle with mental health issues, there can still be a fun and light aspect in your life.
The mood was also lightened when Jamie demonstrated his confusion with where he was exactly. The University of Illinois is located in two cities, but he wasn’t sure if it was two cities or one with a hyphenated name. He interacted with us concerning this, and we all got a good laugh from it.
(See the tweet below.)
.@jamietworkowski: Where do you live?
Audience: *mixed answers of Champaign! Urbana!*
— Amanda Wijangco (@amanda_carmela) November 4, 2016
But of course, the lecture did include reading chapters from his book and stories and background relating to those chapters. He read the author’s note, Visit to Butler University, Meet Dree, There is Still Some Time, and Note to Self (Be Still).
Normally, Jamie doesn’t read Visit to Butler University, but he thought it was appropriate since it was the day right after the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. In the chapter about visiting Butler, Jamie shares what it was like to be at Butler when its men’s basketball team made the Final Four a few years ago.
He isn’t a Butler Bulldogs fan or a Chicago Cubs fan, but reading that part of his book explained why it was special to be around that excitement at Butler in 2011 and in Illinois the day after the Cubs won the World Series.
“We didn’t know anyone who was attending or had previously attended Butler. In short, we had no connection to these people or this place outside of this surprising moment. And yet, we were swept up in the whole thing. . . . As we made our way downstairs to start the event, i wondered why exactly we were smiling. Officially, none of this had anything to do with us and yet we could not stop smiling.
i wondered about association. Was it just that we felt close to something special? That idea felt true, and yet i wondered there might be more. . . .”
Hearing Jamie’s words and just listening to him speak and tell us stories reminded me of how he has a special way with words and with people. Like myself, Jamie is an introvert, but he seems to speak in front of large groups of people with such ease. And his words are so well-written while his message easily comes across. Often it’s poetic.
So listening to Jamie’s lecture ― whether it was him reading his book, making us laugh, or just telling related stories ― made me feel different emotion: joy, sadness, empathy. It made me feel too much.
But what pushed it over the top (in a good way!) was the book signing and meet and greet that followed.
While everyone was meeting Jamie and getting their books signed, Ashley, Carly, and I joined the rest of the TWLOHA UChapter members at our school since we had a table at the book signing so we could provide more info on Jamie’s organization and share what we do on campus. Quite a few people stopped by, including interested potential new members, one of our member’s mom, and a few non-college aged adults.
But the highlight of being at our club’s table was when members of the Illinois State UChapter stopped by and conversed with us. Although we only spoke for less than 10 minutes, we quickly bonded over our love for Jamie, the organization, and how we had similarities running the club.
We shared some laughs and instantly connected with each other, and it felt like we’d been friends for a little while, not like we’d just met. That’s a special feeling, realizing an instant, authentic connection.
One of the ISU members suggested that we should link up and hang out together sometime. We all agreed. It’s amazing how easily you can establish a connection with someone.
We all know it’s easy when you’re 5 years old because kids are so carefree, but as we get older, it becomes harder. We, unfortunately, become more judgmental, realize that people aren’t always going to be good for us.
Therefore, being able to bond with the ladies from ISU so quickly was awesome. I never thought one person who started a non-profit organization could make that happen.
And that’s not even the icing on top of the cake.
After everyone in line got to meet Jamie and have their book signed, it was our turn. All of the U of I UChapter members made a little line to meet Jamie. I was second to last because I had five books for him to sign.
|I feel like this picture makes the handshake look like it was awkward, but it really wasn’t.|
When it was my turn, I smiled, shook his hand, and introduced myself. Then we proceeded to the table where he was signing books. I told him I had five, four of which were for my friends.
As he signed mine, I told him how I’d already met him in Naperville last year and how I’m the person who’s been tweeting him asking for pink TWLOHA shirts. Then I pulled four books out of an orange Illini Union Bookstore bag so he could sign the copies for my friends.
Attached to each book was a small orange Post-It with the person’s name on it. He said everyone’s name out loud as he signed the books with a bit of a musical tone in his voice.
Jamie signed one for U of I’s former UChapter president Marisa, who’s currently abroad in Spain. I told him there was a card inside that book for him. We moved on to Sofie’s, who was at the Naperville signing with us. Ashley was behind me and shouted that Sofie was wearing her Kyle Korver shirt at the signing but didn’t know if that would help him remember her. Jamie almost signed the title page of Sofie’s book, but I told him to sign the page for the Kuorver chapter because Sofie’s a big Kyle fan.
Next was Dana’s. He asked, “Who’s Dana?” I didn’t realize I kept telling him specifics about these friends of mine who I was getting books for, so it was a little humorous when he asked. I told him she’s my other friend who wanted to go to the Napervillle stop but couldn’t. I added that Dana’s also a Kyle Korver fan. Jamie responded with, “He’s a very likable person.” I agreed.
Last, but not least, was Alexis’s copy. Again, he asked: “Who’s Alexis?”
“She’s my friend from high school,” I said.
And then he was done signing all of the books I brought. I hoped it wasn’t too much of a struggle or inconvenience for him. It didn’t seem like it as he sounded pretty pleased as he signed them.
Then he asked if I wanted a picture. I said, “Of course!”
So we took a picture (or four or five). When the Illini Union employee was done taking photos on my phone, Ashley struggled to take one on my Fujifilm Instax camera. I told her to take off her hat, because it was probably making it hard to see through the viewfinder.
As we waited, Jamie tapped my shoulder, probably unsure of whether we were done posing for photos. I smiled more, finding his uncertainty (and possibly impatience) humorous.
Ashley finally took the photo, and a bright flash went off. Then I thanked Jamie. But then he asked if the photo was okay.
“I think I was a deer in the headlights,” he said of the flash from the Instax. But the photo turned out fine!
Finally, it was time for Jamie to open the gift basket our UChapter got him. We got Jamie a bunch of his favorite foods (Fruit by the Foot, Keebler Fudge Stripe cookies, a bag of mini Starburst, and Sour Patch Kids), a Portillo’s gift card (a Chicago must!), and a Nike University of Illinois T-shirt that looked like a cool soccer jerser (he’s a soccer fan).
As he opened the basket, Jamie looked so elated and excited about each and every item.
“These are my favorite!” he said when he pulled out the cookies.
“Two times bigger?!” he exclaimed after seeing the Sour Patch Kids.
When he got to the T-shirt, Ashley wasn’t sure if it was big enough, so Jamie put it up to his chest and said, “I can be a large. Maybe I just won’t dry it.” We all had shared a laugh at that.
After opening the gift basket from all of us, Jamie opened his gift from Ashley. She got him an all black Chicago Bulls snapback because she’s a big Bulls fan and remembered from If You Feel Too Much that Jamie got an all black New York Yankees hat even though he’s not big on baseball.
It was wrapped in bright green tissue paper, so it was pretty obvious what it was, and Jamie let us know.
“I think it’s a hat!” he jokingly exclaimed as he pulled it out of the bag.
I was glad Jamie kept us laughing as he was enjoying his presents. It was very gratifying to see him smile and enjoy the presents we got him because it’s always great to see genuine joy from people, especially from those who’ve had an impact on your life.
After all, if it weren’t for Jamie and TWLOHA, I wouldn’t know any of the awesome people in the UIUC UChapter. So it was definitely wonderful to be able to give back to Jamie for all he does.
Now that all of the remaining UChapter members got their books signed and took a photo with him, we took a big group photo together. The Illini Union employees were all huddled around each other as one of them took the photo and all went “Awww!” as we posed for it.
“That’s so cute!” one of them remarked. We smiled and laughed in response.
Afterwards Jamie said, “Apparently it’s a cute picture.” I’d have to agree.
Unfortunately, it was time to go because the Union employees needed to clean up from the event. So we said goodbye to Jamie and thanked him for all he does. What was surprising was how Jamie thanked us for everything we do.
It caught us off guard a bit because Jamie’s the one who’s done all this powerful and moving stuff, starting an organization, helping people seek the help they need, inspiring others. We at the UChapter just see ourselves as a small extension of spreading TWLOHA’s mission. We just educate people a bit on mental health issues. But Jamie made us feel like we’re much more important. It was humbling of him to thank us, adding to his humility and great character he’d shown all night and in his book. It gave us another reason to love and admire him.
So we all returned to our UChapter table and cleaned up. Ashley, Carly, and I took longer than everyone else for some reason, but we’re glad we did.
As we were about to leave, we heard Jamie say “You have to accept this gift.” When we turned around, there was Jamie with a napkin and three cookies in hand. They were the cookies that were sitting on the table he was at signing books.
“You can re-gift them, but you have to take them.” he said.
The three of us smiled and gladly accepted Jamie’s cookies. First of all, we love cookies, so why would we turn down perfectly good cookies? Second, Jamie was giving us cookies. We were special.
So we walked out of the room and split the cookies up, blabbering about how Jamie gave us cookies and how’d they be the best cookies ever because of it. It was a sweet way to end the day. (Pun intended.)