Your Friends Make Your World

Join me for a frappucino at Starbucks sometime; you’ll notice I do something strange with my straw wrappers.  After unwrapping the straw, I tie the crinkly paper wrapper into a knot and pull it until it breaks. Two of my dear friends from home taught me years ago that if the paper breaks perfectly so that the knot comes undone, then someone is thinking about you. If there is a knot in either side, well, then you are out of luck.

One of our yearly summer adventures

Now, I am not a particularly superstitious person, but I always follow this one little gesture through, although its not about whether or not someone is thinking of me (however, I will confess that I sometimes giggle at the broken knot if I’ve been thinking of someone, hoping that they are thinking of me too).  Each time the paper breaks, I feel like I am back with the three friends who always follow this trick, no matter where we are at the present moment.  In pulling that straw wrapper tight, I am transported back to when we were 16 and 17, meeting at Friendly’s for ice cream dates to stress over finals and AP exams, prom dresses and college applications. I can picture Jen’s scrunched up face as she concentrates on thinking of one of us in order to make the knot break (with minimal effectiveness), or remember the random restaurants from our yearly beach trips where all four of us have tied our straw wrappers at the same time to see who the lucky lady would be.

As the years have passed and life has grown all the more complicated,  reunions with these girls become tougher and more difficult to plan, so this single, mechanical action is like a reunion in memory, lasting just a few seconds, but bringing a small smile nonetheless.  One is currently completing an internship hundreds of miles away in Washington DC, another is seriously contemplating a move to New York City to pursue her dream writing career, and the last returned from Alabama last month from Basic Training in the Air Force and will be leaving to begin her study at medical school in less than a week, a step she has been planning go take since the days of those Friendly’s ice cream dates.

At Maura’s graduation from BU this past May.

I miss them all terribly but no matter where life takes us, I know we will always be there for each other to share joy and sorrow. I recently got a job as a teacher, a dream I have consistently pursued since I was about 15 years old.  I wanted nothing more than to call a customary Panera date with these three to tell them all in person. These inspiring and talented young women have encouraged me every step of the way, and emit sincere “awwws” when I tell them a teaching story. I can always count on them to show true interest in my passions, just as I do for them. But we couldn’t all be together to share the big news, so I settled on a phone call ( as this was too big for a simple text!).  Tiff squealed with delight when I called her as she was making her way along the 9 hour trip back home from DC, while I received an ecstatic voicemail from Jen that night after a day of training in return for the one I left her about how I couldn’t wait to tell her the news until we were able to catch each other on the phone.  I’ve known all three of these women since we were in elementary school and after these years of our friendship, I recognized this moment as the step into adulthood.  We’re all college grads now, pursuing our dreams and passions, but I know that no matter where life takes us, we will always have each other.

The next few years are sure to be a bit tumultuous as all of my friends and I settle into careers and post-grad education, but I’ve accepted it. Distance doesn’t mean the friendships are any different, even if we are unable to be there in the way we previously have been for each other through literal physical presence.  But we’re still there.

In the days since graduation, I put a magnet on the large mirror in my bedroom that once found its place on the refrigerator of my senior year apartment.  It reads as follows: “Wherever you are, it is your friends who make your world (William James).”  So whether they are interning in DC, teaching in Kansas City or Connecticut, still living life as an undergrad in Worcester, completing a year of service in New Orleans, starting grad school in Providence or Pittsburgh, laying the foundations of their careers in the Boston area, or following a dream in New York, my world will always consist of my beautiful, supportive, one-of a-kind, gift-from-God friends.


Lessons from an Old Man to a Young Friend

The romantic inside of me grew about 10 sizes today. She’s been looking a little lean lately, since there hasn’t been much to feed her. Stories of bruised and broken hearts tend to wear away at her, diminishing her smile and sucking the rosiness from her cheeks. But today, she grew.

This is my second summer as an intern at a private museum, its contents owned by an elderly but still prominent local businessman with a true passion for American history that rivals my own. He seems to have done everything and met everyone, including starting his own nation-wide business, speaking to the United States Senate, building a hospital in Vietnam, opening a branch of his business in China, and orchestrating a million dollar fundraiser for a local food pantry. He is a bit demanding and it can be a challenge to fully follow his ideas, but over time he has come to call me his “lovely young friend,” even telling me once last summer that he regards me like a granddaughter. I thoroughly enjoy the one-on-one conversations that take place as he combs through the museum with me in tow, in search of a new project.  These encounters are rare, but I have come to crave the entertaining anecdotes and the irreplaceable wisdom that accompany them.  Today, as we came across an over-sized porfolio documenting his accomplishments with the hospital in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he asked me, “Would you say that I’ve had an interesting life?”

“Absolutely!!” I exclaimed. By my age, this man had served in the Korean War and was on the path to starting his own business. “I feel like I learn something new and interesting about you every day!”

We began to walk back toward his office. “Well,” he said pensively, putting his hand on my shoulder. At this point, I expected to hear the secrets to great success and prepared myself to take copious mental notes. “I couldn’t have done it without a wonderful wife.”

“From everything I’ve heard, she sounds like a wonderful woman,” I said with a smile as my heart began to melt.

“It’s all her…without her, none of this would have been possible.”

We walked in silence and then he addressed his secretary, customarily signaling the end to our conversation. I returned to my desk, tears forming in my eyes over such a beautiful testimony of true, everlasting adoration for one’s spouse. From all accounts that I’ve heard, she has never failed to stand by him, through genuine trials and his grand successes, and he clearly gushes over her when she comes up in conversation.

Throughout this internship, I’ve learned so much about American history. It’s a history major’s dream after all, to be paid to conduct historical research and write about it on a daily basis. Watching my boss’s business, I’ve learned the importance of networking and utilizing one’s connections. But today I came to realize that I’ve learned a lot more from watching the man behind it all, removed from the business and the museum. For you are never too successful, too old, too powerful, or too well-connected to not owe your success to those who support you. You are never above showing your gratitude for them. You must pursue your passions in every way possible, no matter how lofty such a goal may be. And you must always, always give back to the community who produced you and molded you into the person you are today. While the little romantic within me grew today, so did the woman she hides behind in really appreciating these lessons.

Stopped on the Pike for POTUS

Last Monday night, June 25.  I’m driving home from the first meeting of my second grad class, a colloquium on American Slavery. It’s only Monday and I’m already exhausted, thinking of the lesson plan I have to send in in less than 24 hours in order to be done with my first grad class that finished the week before.  As I descend the ramp to get on the Pike, feeling home free and dreaming of my bed, I see the cars in front of me stop, with what looks to be a police officer dressed in a neon vest waving his arms over his head to get us to all stop.  I’m only about 10 cars back from the end of the ramp, thinking, “Really? I was SO close…if only I had left a minute or two earlier I might be on my way home, nothing but the open road in front of me for my 40 minute commute!”  Well good thing I wasn’t, because I was about to witness something that would make me feel like the adult equivalent to a Justin Bieber fan.

I notice the car in front of me turn it’s engine off and I think, “What does he know that I don’t?”  My mind races through the possible horror movie scenarios…maybe there is a crazed gunman on the highway, or structural issues with the overpass I was just about to drive under.  A well-dressed Indian man steps out of the white Honda in front of me and looks back and forth.  I glance in my rear-view mirror and see a younger professional woman at the side of her car, looking perplexed.  I step out of my little black coupe and ask the man in front of me if he can see anything.  He shakes his head.  At this point, there is a clear line of cars behind us.  Some horns honk from far back – clearly, they have no idea we have been stopped by the police.   I get back in my car and wonder if it’s worth shutting the engine off – we clearly aren’t going anywhere soon.  Without internet on my phone, or the patience to scour radio stations for traffic reports, I call my mom at home and ask her to look up reports online.  Then, I see a stream of blue flashing lights.  “Must be some really bad accident,” I somewhat mechanically think as I explain where exactly I am to my mother. And then it registers that there have been at least 5 motorcycle cops who have zoomed by.  Then more, and more.  Several people have exited their cars at this point to look over the edge of our on-ramp. I follow suit.  I hear the word “president” to my right and look to see a balding man and his son, who looks about 7, walk away from their big, black pick-up truck.  Both wear Red Sox shirts – the embodiment of New England men, yet a contrast to the Indian man who is also at the edge of the ramp with his wife.  I reach the edge and look down over the short wall, still on the phone with my mother who has just suggested that maybe someone important is in the area upon hearing about the multitude of motorcycle cops.  I look directly below me and see an SUV, then a limo.  The limo seems familiar.  Two flags flap in the wind of the highway – an American flag and the flag bearing the seal of the President of the United States.

Hold up.

The President?!

That’s when I recall a tweet I saw earlier in the day about Preesident Obama being in Massachusetts.


I squeal like a little girl to my mother, almost incapable of making words.  The Indian man in front of me is beaming. “Can you believe it?” he exclaims. “Obama is here!”

Now I have been relatively indifferent on President Obama’s term as president. There are stories I hear that make me approve of him, and then the next day I hear a story that makes me sigh with disappointment.  But in that moment of feeling starstruck at the LIMO of the President, I realized something: as an American, I will always have respect for the sovereign head of state.  Obama was elected by the will of a free people, and for that, I must respect him.  We all should.  Millions in the world dream of such a right to elect anyone in their nation, nevermind the head of it.  And so many of us throw away this right through general voter apathy and a lack of civic spiritedness.  But why?

As I got back in my car once the complete motorcade passed by, I was struck by something else.  What a beautiful scene of America I had just taken part in. The middle class father with his young son, the boy undoubtedly making a memory he’ll never forget as he and his father watched the President drive by.  The Indian man and his wife, his accent revealing that he is not originally from this country, but his school-boy excitement mirroring my own nonetheless.  The woman behind me, most likely a young professional, whose silent curiosity reminded me of my own.  And me, a recent college grad and newly licensed  teacher, and thus heavily invested in any and all laws pertaining to education.  In one instant, despite never having met each other and clearly all very different from each other, we were united on an on-ramp in curiosity and awe as the President of our nation drove by.  And I was leaving a HISTORY class on AMERICAN SLAVERY as the nation’s first black president drove by me. How is THAT for a beautiful irony?