Finding Faith: A Letter to Jamie Sullivan

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Dear Jamie,

I was 13 when I first saw A Walk to Remember on a snowy Sunday afternoon with my two best friends. Life isn’t easy for a 13-year-old girl. I was caught between desperately wanting to be “cool” and knowing in my gut that I could never really fit in with the “cool” kids. I was starting to ask the big questions about myself, my future, and my faith. Needless to say, you came into my life exactly when I needed you the most.

You were the rare breed of teenage character who genuinely didn’t care what other people thought of them. When you told Landon that, you didn’t say it to impress him or to make yourself look cool or better than your peers. Popularity simply wasn’t something that made you lose sleep at night like it is for so many teenagers—myself included at the time. Of course, you had bigger things to worry about (that pesky “dying of cancer” thing), but there was more to your place in “self-exile territory” than that.

When it comes to your character, Jamie, everything is a matter of faith. And you had enough faith in yourself and your principles to know that you were living the right life for you—regardless of what other people thought of it. The impact that had on 13-year-old me was immediate and intense. You weren’t naïve; you knew people made fun of your modesty, your interest in astronomy, and your religious beliefs. But you also knew something it would have taken me a lot longer to learn without your example: What mattered wasn’t what other people said; it was what you believed. So thank you for showing me that the coolest thing you can be is yourself—even if other people make fun of you for it or don’t understand it at the time.

Thank you also for showing me that there’s a difference between not giving credence to the cruel words of others and letting people walk all over you. Your ability to stand up for yourself is an incredibly underrated part of your character. Whether it was telling Dean God couldn’t look for a new sweater for you because he was busy looking for his brain or confronting Landon when he wanted to be “secret friends,” you picked your battles wisely and stood up for yourself when the situation warranted it. You even defended your relationship and the choices you made regarding it in the face of your father’s skepticism—not in the whiny way so often shown in movies and on television, but with maturity and honesty. You showed me how to gracefully and confidently navigate a world that won’t always understand me or my choices, and I’m so grateful for the example you set.

You also showed me how to gracefully navigate the toughest times in life. You were given a raw deal, Jamie: losing your mother and then being diagnosed with a fatal disease. But only once in the entire film did we see you mention anything about being angry with God for the hand you were dealt. You saw suffering as a path that would open you to compassion; you saw it as a reason to be kinder to others instead of colder. Even when things were at their worst, you never fell back on cynicism or a defeatist attitude. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to truly appreciate your sense of hope and desire to find and spread happiness even when you were facing hard times.

Your sense of hope was deeply rooted in your faith, and that faith and the way you expressed it continue to inspire me over a decade after I was first introduced to your story. At 13 years old, spirituality was a concept I was just starting to explore. Faith was for religion class at my Catholic school, Sunday Mass, and prayers before bed. My understanding of God was formal and impersonal. But then you talked to Landon about how you can feel a higher power in the moments when you feel wonder, beauty, joy, and love—and it was like the pieces finally fell into place in my heart. You taught me to look for God’s presence in the joyful and awestruck feelings I experience when I see the ocean, drive through the mountains, or hold the hand of someone I love. And I’ve been doing that ever since, which has given me a more personal relationship with my faith than I think I ever could have developed without that moment in your story.

One of the things I’ve always appreciated about you is that you were a preacher’s daughter, but you weren’t preachy. You showed me how to live my faith in a way that focused on light and love rather than fire and brimstone. Thank you for showing me what Christianity should be—inclusive rather than exclusive, a belief system based in love and not in judgment.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to learn that not everyone is going to understand my religious beliefs and the ways they’re reflected in my life. It’s not always cool to be the girl who goes to church, but you taught me that it doesn’t matter if other people get it. What matters is I get something out of it. And it doesn’t have to be the same thing my parents get out of it. You and your father didn’t always see eye-to-eye when it came to what you felt God wanted you to do and be. But in the end, you taught me that the most important thing is to believe that God wants us to be happy. In a world where not every pastor or religion teacher preaches this kind of understanding of God, I’m so grateful for that lesson, because it has made me a happier person who’s probably filled with a lot less guilt than your average Catholic.

Your faith and your choices when it came to your body were deeply connected in a way that was shown as worthy of respect and not a sign of repression that needed to be “fixed.” Growing up, that meant a lot to me. Your choice not to be “seducible” was your own, and it never stopped you from loving Landon and being as physically intimate as you were comfortable with. It’s a rare thing for a piece of media to present a Christian virgin teenage girl (who liked science and was in drama club) as someone who didn’t need to change in order to be worthy of a “cool” boy’s love. But I will always be thankful for the fact that you didn’t have to change one thing about you—from your sweaters and your passion for science to your spirituality and your choices about physical intimacy—to get the guy. You were written to be admirable and lovable because you built telescopes and talked openly about your faith—not despite those things. And you were written to be warm and physically affectionate even though you were choosing not to be sexually active, which flies in the face of every stereotypical virgin presented to us by the media.

You influenced my life in ways both big and small. Because of you, I started writing a bucket list and keeping a notebook full of favorite quotes—both of which I still have over 10 years later. Because of you, I learned to be nice without being a pushover. Because of you, I discovered that the coolest people are the ones who live with conviction and kindness. And because of you, I started really thinking about what it means to have faith—not just in God but also in other people and in myself.

Your story taught me that I can be happy, fall in love, and inspire others just by being myself and living a life that’s true to my principles. There are no words to express how much that’s meant to me over the years, but I’ll settle on the two that come closest: Thank you.

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9 thoughts on “Finding Faith: A Letter to Jamie Sullivan

  1. Beautiful. I really wish I had something deep and insightful to add. (I’d even take mildly pithy.) However, I think you took all the good words and thoughts. 🙂

    So, YES! to your post, Katie.

  2. I really enjoyed this letter Katie. I am not a religious person myself, despite my Catholic upbringing (or maybe partly because of it) but that did not stop me from appreciating and respecting Jamie as a character for all the reasons you mentioned. Ive only seen this movie once my freshman year of college when me and my college roommates watched it in the dorm and had the hardest collective cry I have ever experienced in my life. The next day we all had to go to class with red swollen eyes. I don’t tend to cry while watching movies or TV very often but this one got to me.

    I like what you had to say about how Jamie wasn’t “preachy”. In this movie that message is obviously tied to religion, but if I have learned anything from being on Tumblr these past few years, its that people love to preach about EVERYTHING. It doesnt matter if its about God, or if so and so is “problematic”, its essentially the same thing. Its screaming at others that you are right and others are wrong, and they should feel guilty for not thinking the same way as you. “You showed me how to live my faith in a way that focused on light and love rather than fire and brimstone. Thank you for showing me what Christianity should be—inclusive rather than exclusive, a belief system based in love and not in judgment.” I think its fair to say you bring that same mentality to this website, and if Jamie was the one who helped you do that, well then I have to thank her too!

    • Thanks, Shauna! I completely agree with what you said about people being preachy about everything—people love to make other people feel like they’re horrible human beings for not believing what they believe, whether it’s a religious belief or even just an opinion on a fictional character. That’s why I’ve always admired people (and characters) who just live out what they believe and don’t try to talk down to others who feel/believe differently. The fact that you see that in any small way in the way I run NGN means the world to me.

  3. This has always been one of my very favorite movies, and thank you for saying so beautifully what makes Jamie such a wonderful character. I have never thought closely about the ways in which her faith is shown and not made light of, and I appreciate the thought you put into this exploration of her. You’re so right in pointing out that the depiction of Jamie as a religious virgin goes against almost all other depictions in the media, and I never realized how much I appreciated that depiction until now. As someone who is very religious myself, I now have an even greater respect for the character of Jamie and the ways she can show how to be a religious woman who remains true to herself and her faith while also loving and having incredibly powerful relationships. This is my favorite of your letters so far, and I can’t wait to read more and more closely examine some of my favorite female characters through your letters!

    • Thank you so much! It means a lot to me to see someone else connect with Jamie the way I do. It makes me feel less alone. And I think that’s the whole point of this project, so thank you for reminding me of why I started this journey in the first place.

      • The media isn’t always kind to people of faith (or women of faith) and tends to default to stereotypes in their depictions. It’s unfortunate that this seems to apply to real life as well in Hollywood. (I’m thinking of Mayim Bialik’s comments about how it’s not “trendy” to be religious in Hollywood and the flak she endured for talking about her faith.) It’s nice to see those reminders that you can stand by your convictions in a loving way.

  4. Pingback: Live Your Dream: A Letter to Rapunzel | Nerdy Girl Notes

  5. Pingback: Don’t Stop Believing: A Letter to Rachel Berry | Nerdy Girl Notes

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