Winter 2018: “Less Stuff, More Heart” Powerful Voice Winner Jake Hill

Read Jake’s essay, “Kayla,” about the experience of unexpected loss and learning to trust the journey.

Jake Hill, an eleventh-grade student of Krystle Lindsey at Berryville High School in Berryville, Arkansas, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Less Stuff, More Heart: 5 Gifts On a New Dad’s Christmas List,” by Christopher Zumski Finke. 

Writing Prompt: Imagine you’re about to celebrate a special holiday, milestone, or birthday.  If you could ask for any non-material gift, what would you ask for? What would make this gift so special to you?


On the night of June 13th, I tell my best friend goodnight, just like I have a million times before. All is normal, and I am eager to go to sleep so I can wake up before her like I always do—as well as greet her with a chipper good morning like I always do. Kayla Brooke Dotson has been my best friend since we met in the summer of 2013 because our sisters played on the same softball team. I had always wanted to be more than friends, and many times we talked about giving it a try, but since we were young, without driver’s licenses, and lived almost an hour a part, we never got the chance to be something more. Kayla and I could always talk to each other. We looked to one another for advice and support on all sorts of issues. 

We often stayed up half the night talking about our days and how much we missed each other; however, on this particular night, Kayla said she wasn’t feeling well and that she wanted to sleep it off. I didn’t think too much of this because it was just a little cold, right? Wrong. When Kayla was ten years old, she had a heart transplant. For seven years, all had been well and the heart and her body were accepting each other perfectly. In fact, two days prior to this night, she called me because she was ecstatic that she wouldn’t have to have any procedures this year; her last checkup showed that everything was in tip-top shape. Little did I know that as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep that night would be the last time Kayla and I would speak. At 12:05 a.m., Kayla got up to get a drink of water. When she got to the sink, she had a seizure and fell. Kayla was airlifted to Fayetteville, and two hours and twenty-five minutes later the doctor called the time of death: 2:30 a.m. 

If I could have one gift that was non-materialistic, like the ones mentioned in Christopher Zumski Finke’s “Less Stuff, More Heart: 5 Gifts On a New Dad’s Christmas List,” I wouldn’t be selfish. I wouldn’t ask to have Kayla back. No, too many people have been touched by the words of wisdom she left behind in one of her personal diaries: her 27 life lessons. My favorite was number 13, “Trust in the journey, even when you don’t understand.” I wouldn’t reverse all the good that has come from Kayla’s passing. I wouldn’t deny a whole town the one thing they needed to finally come together as a community. I wouldn’t condemn her back to this earth where there was pain, suffering, and constant worry that her heart would be rejected by her body. 

No, I would not ask for that. The one thing I would ask for is a chance to say goodbye, if only for a few minutes to see Kayla again, and give her a chance to assure me that she is okay and that I no longer need to worry about her. If I was greedy, I would ask for one more day with her. I’m sure she would have plenty to tell me about her adventures in heaven because she would always talk my ear off. Just to see her smiling face for a short moment would be enough to give my heart and mind the closure it needs. 

Sadly, this wish is only hypothetical. Instead I am stuck here wondering what could have been. What if I hadn’t let her go to sleep so easily that night? What kind of future with her did I miss out on? These are questions I won’t know the answer to until I die and get the chance to see her again. For now, I will just listen to Kayla and trust the journey, even though I will not always understand it.

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