These Nights Never Go As Planned

vie immobile | via Tumblr

vie immobile | via Tumblr

The night starts in a burst of excitement. Your heart beats in a way it hasn’t in so so long, reminding you that all these years spent on a dream refuse to slip into the past in vain. What about all those nights, you wonder, when it seemed like things were going to go differently, like you weren’t just trying to convince yourself that it would play out in one way, but that another wanted it that way, too.

But still, you know you’ve nearly reached the point where you’ve  grown tired of wishing and hoping and just want something new to come along and excite you. The narrative of several years has exhausted you, the characters familiar, comfortable, and seemingly easy to understand, yet nearly worn out. Haven’t we been here? You wonder. Didn’t I let this other one go? Another part of you churns with anxiety to move on and forget.  It can hurt to hope, and you’ve been hurt before. Telltale signs turned into misconceptions. Encouragement from others into comfort that they were wrong. Are you willing to go there again? Are you wiling to risk so much pain?

And so, it begins to dawn on you, in a place where the lights are soft and the music is low, that this one thing you once thought you wanted so much is just not meant to be. Finally, it seems, you are coming to terms with months and months of evidence that the past is the past. Signs rush all around you, but another part of your soul desperately tries to ignore them, believing that your desire is enough, your wish is enough.

So the night continues. Stories are told, eyes locked, whispers exchanged. Your mind sways between the one side to which your instinct directs you and the other side to which your desire pulls you.

And with such questions swimming in your head, the night ends in a blur with an impenetrable confusion come morning. What you thought would solve it all has only confused you more. You wonder if it was worth it, or if your blind, impulsive wish can ever be anything more.

Maybe the confusion is clarity. Maybe the tension between instinct and desire can be reconciled.
Or maybe it is time to let it all go.

Oh, how these nights never go as planned.

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The Loss of [Wo]man’s Best Friend

I will start this post by offering only this caution: If you are not a dog lover, you will probably not be able to understand what follows. It may be best if you do not read on.

***

I have never loved anything as much as I loved my dog.

A week ago, my family and I made a decision that I have been praying for over a year and a half we wouldn’t have to: to euthanize our beloved collie, Teddy.  In October 2011, Teddy experienced a collapse that was linked to a heart condition, and in February 2012, he went into heart failure. At that time, we were told he would likely only live an additional three to six months, and understandably, we were devastated. However, at subsequent check-ups with his cardiologist at the incredible Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, his heart condition continuously did not worsen.  We were overjoyed with each positive report, but sadly, Teddy seemed to have developed a neurological condition that affected his ability to walk. When this condition suddenly worsened over the weekend to such a point that he could not stand, much less walk, leaving the only option of performing an MRI for which the sedation may kill him due to his heart or to catheterize him at home, we knew it was time.

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Sleeping next to my bed

An empty darkness now hangs in the house, a kind of impenetrable silence that is almost deafening.  We promptly disposed of his bed, food, toys, etc, but his infamous tumbleweeds of fur still lurk in corners and under chairs. The backyard seems to no longer have a purpose, as it was Teddy’s domain. My tiny bedroom looks so much bigger without his bed on the floor next to my own, and gone are the days of him crying at 6 am to be fed.  But as sad as I am, I try to remind myself that we were lucky enough to experience so much more time with him than even the best doctors in the region thought we would.  And as weird as it may sound, a part of me just had a feeling that this was going to happen this summer, that time was running out, that we couldn’t be that lucky for that long. Two days before he died, I woke up to let him out and he was having a particularly hard time walking. After falling several times, I just sat down with him on the front lawn and started crying.  He seemed to not be trying any more, and there was a certain emptiness in his gaze.  As bad as some of his weak spells had been, never before did I get an overwhelming sense that the end really was near.  But as that day wore on, he seemed to get a little bit better, making it appear as though I had overreacted, but that strange sense still hung around me. Thus, when my brother texted me on Monday to tell me they were taking Teddy to the vet, I was not that surprised and feared that this would be the last of such trips.  Nevertheless, the decision to put him down was the most awful experience of my life and I really do feel that my life will never quite be the same.

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My brother and me with Teddy, Easter 2013

Some may wonder why the loss of a dog is so painful, and as odd as it may sound, Teddy was more than just a dog to me; he was truly a friend who through his every move taught me so much about how to best live life. We got Teddy when I was in sixth grade. Since Day 1, he taught me about responsibility and how to have fun in the purest senses. From those same early days, Teddy showed that his health would always prove problematic, for he developed epilepsy before he was even a year old. The seizures were seldom frequent, usually occurring once every six to eight weeks due to certain triggers.  They were difficult to watch, as his body tensed and convulsed and he held his breath, and they even made me cry, for I so loved this dog that it killed me to see him in such discomfort. While some may have euthanized him then, my family and I knew that it was a condition we could manage with a little more caution and control of his environment, and he had several stretches of six month periods or longer without any seizures. Managing that condition required such a patience and love that has never been required of me before.

Having had him for nearly half of my life, Teddy was one constant source of comfort through some truly difficult periods.  I cannot tell you how many tears of mine the fluffy white fur around his neck held, as I would usually curl up next to him and bury my face in his fur when something bad sent me into such a state. He would usually sit and let me hug him or pet him until I calmed down.  Sometimes, if I cried by myself, he would come up to me and either lick the tears off my cheeks or just lean against me.  Other times, he brought a toy to me in an attempt to distract me and get at least a small smile to spread across my face.  Teddy added so much joy to my life, as we ventured on walks in the neighborhood and played in the backyard.  He always greeted me with so much joy when the bus dropped me off around the corner in middle and high school and when I returned from being away at college.  Teddy was a master of just being a silly dog who through wanting all the attention I had always brought some amount of joy to my days.  Road trips down to Long Beach Island, NJ meant it was just him and I chilling in the back seat of my mother’s Santa Fe for five hours, when on the way there he was an excited ball of energy and on the way back he usually snuggled up against my side as we both snoozed, exhausted from the fun in the sand.  It was this constant companionship, even in the toughest of times, that taught me what true love and loyalty is.

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Teddy and Kassy

I suspect that my family and I will grieve for a long, long time. But I consider myself to be one of the luckiest individuals in the world to have been blessed with a dog that served as a best friend for nearly twelve years of my life.  So much of my life and the life of my family centered around being dog owners, and to suddenly have that stripped away is causing a bit of an identity crisis.  In the days since, people keep telling me that they know how much I loved him and how much he meant to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a more meaningful compliment.  To have it be widely known how much love I had for one creature speaks volumes, and if that is a trait that people easily equate with me, then I could not be more honored, and it makes me rest a little easier knowing that Teddy must have known how much I loved him, too.  Sitting here, sadness overwhelms me, but while the end was not peaceful like they say it’s supposed to be, the deepest parts of my soul tell me it was time to let him go.

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Rest in Peace, Teddy. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend.
August 24, 2001 – June 24, 2013

What I Wish I Could Tell “My Girls”

If it’s one emotion I continuously feel while teaching, it’s that I do not miss high school. Not. One. Bit.

Why would I ever want to return to a time when I was painfully self-conscious, quiet, dependent, and stressed about the future?  I look back at pictures and scoff at how atrocious my fashion sense was, how my naturally curly hair was just a total frizz ball, and how strained my smile tended to be. I had a lot going on in high school, and where school was ultimately the place where I discovered my true passion, uncovered my talents, and made irreplaceable friends, it was nevertheless a place where I wasn’t really comfortable to just be myself.

Lately, I’ve had a few conversations with students that remind me just how difficult point in life can be. Students stressed over completing schoolwork and holding down a part-time job mix in with girls who fear what boys will think of their eating habits during a recent “Mix-it-Up” day where they were told to sit with new people during lunch in an effort to increase diversity awareness.  It’s moments like these when I wish that I could sit all my girls down and have a heart-to-heart about the bright light on the horizon where it is so much easier to be yourself, but that lesson is one that will surely come with maturity and experience.  For now, I’ll have to try to integrate the following points into my everyday interactions with them.

1) There will be a day when you aren’t self-conscious (or at least THAT self-conscious) around guys.

You’ll let them see you without makeup and tell them your darkest secrets.  They will be your best friends, and they will break your heart, but eating in front of them, my dears, will no longer be a concern.

2) Do not define yourselves through the perceptions of others

People are cruel.  They may talk behind your back or forget to call you or text you and not even realize what that does to your bruised and broken heart. But those actions are in no way a reflection of you – they are merely a reflection of another.  Yes, they can be an indication of what you may want to work on in the future, but no one is defined by their flaws.  Work on them, but cultivate your strengths as well – those are your gifts and it is an injustice not to use them.

3) Pursue your passions

Parents put unbelievable amounts of pressure on their children.  I’m sure many of them feel it is for the child’s benefit, but when that comes at the expense of them not exploring their interests, it does a huge disservice to them and their personal growth.  Find a way to explore something new – if nothing else, you will learn more about yourself in the process.  You being  a woman does not mean you can’t enter a field that tends to be more male-dominated.  You may have to work harder to make your mark, but the important thing is that whatever you do with your life makes you happy.

4) Find a mentor or two…or twenty

The opportunity for mentors can be difficult to find when you are younger.  But the more you have, the more you will learn what to do and what not to do.  I have so many teaching mentors, mentors for student leadership, and mentors in my major, as well as for everything in between.  Each has given me an example to follow as I become who I want to be.

5) Everything works out in the end

Fact: Life is one giant unknown.  You’ll sit and watch the successes of your friends and wonder why that can’t happen the same way for you.  But everything, EVERYTHING, works out in the end.  What seems like a perfect fit may pass you over, and you settle for what you believe is second-rate, but as the days, months, and years pass by, it becomes ever clearer to see that you are right where you belong.

 

Patience is a Virtue (and a virtue won’t hurt you)

Patience.  Lord knows I feel like I don’t have a whole lot of it lately.  I’m anxious for the next few months to go by so I can finally say I’ve survived my first-year of teaching (which, as my mentor likes to remind me, I only have to go through once).  I’m anxious to finish up my two grad classes so I can have a whole two months off, the longest break I will have had from academics in three years.  But what’s been on my mind most lately is how desperately impatient I am to become the teacher I’ve always wanted to be.  The kind of teacher who makes you realize that you have talents you have been too down-on-yourself to recognize. The kind of teacher who inspires you with her passion, who gives you experiences in the classroom that change what you want to do in the future. 

I want to be the kind of teacher who made ME want to be a teacher.

I’ve been so upset lately realizing that I don’t believe that any of my students share my same love for history. And it makes me feel like a failure. Now, granted, I don’t have any quantitative evidence those of us in education are so fond of analyzing, but it’s just a sense that I have.  Some seem to be interested, at least, but I feel like in failing to inspire them, I have failed all those teachers who have inspired me. Like the fifth grade teacher with a penchant for leopard print dresses who made me actually interested in science for a time, or the junior year history teacher who I always thought back to as I studied educational theories and instructional methods in college.  And then there was the high school band teacher who revealed the beauty of classical music and working as a team, and the thesis advisor who revealed the beauty of Shakespeare’s plays to me. 

But I have to remind myself that just because these educators made such an impact in my life doesn’t mean that they had the same effect on all the others who sat in those classes with me. Or that they were able to accomplish it all in their first year of teaching.  It takes time and practice. And patience. Lots of patience. Because with each failure comes a little lesson of what to do better next time. 

I remember how impatient I was to start teaching. My first day of observations in the fall of 2010 was filled with nerves as I got up at what is an ungodly hour for college students. I wore a dress and heels and practiced how I would introduce myself to a teacher I had only emailed a handful of times.  Several weeks in, I delivered my first lesson to a room full of painfully quiet high school freshman, a review on different religions that they had been studying. As much as my voice quaked and my hands shook, I loved it. I drank in every moment, reassured with a rush of giddy excitement that I was actually pursuing the right career for me, and lamented the fact that there would be no education classes for me take the following semester, thereby putting these experiences on hold.  

So what I was once impatient to begin I am now impatient to end, at least for a time.  So I must remember my inspiration, remember my passion, and remember my purpose, and remain patient that slowly but surely I will become the teacher I want to be.

Memory Box

memorybox

I bought a box.

And in it I placed letters-to-self, name-tags from various functions, cards from home, and pamphlets from everything from the annual Mass of the Holy Spirit to programs from my friends’ presentations at their English major colloquium.  I believe that this relatively small collection will sum up four years of my life when I go through it with my future children, or maybe in a few years with a glass of wine in my hand.  I’m ashamed to admit that for months, three shopping bags have sat in the corner of my bedroom, mostly untouched since May 12th, waiting for me to comb through them and decide what is vital to my memories of the best period of my life thus far.  Sure, I shifted these from place to place on my bedroom floor, and one used to hide in the back of my closet as it contained items from the beginning of college, but more or less I have ignored them because I feared the wave of emotions that would accompany the process of going through each little piece of my life.

But in the past few days, the mess finally got to me. I opened the bags and sorted it all.

And amazingly, I survived.

I got a little choked up while sorting through the bags, like when I read a Candlelight prayer reflection I wrote at the end of my sophomore year about saying goodbye to two dear friends who would be graduating that spring.  But mostly I laughed and marveled at the growth and major accomplishments that each item represented.   Some brought images of people that hadn’t entered my mind in a long time, memories of a time when the real world seemed like a generation away.  And others brought up moments that feel like they just happened yesterday – has it really been nearly 8 months since I shared an apartment with five of the most hilarious, fun-loving, and supportive people I have ever met??  But naturally, a few items came to represent bigger moments or especially fun memories, and those are the ones I’d like to share:

1. Glowstick

Contrary to first impressions in listing this as one of my favorite items, I am by no means, and never have been, in the habit of going to raves.  No, this little formerly glowing green glowstick came from my first college party down in “the Valley” – the center of all the action at AC (especially to underclassmen) – that I went to with a friend during freshman year.  We felt SO cool, chatting with the older senior boys that we knew and sipping minimal amounts of jungle juice (“Isn’t that the stuff everyone always warns you about??” we said to each other), and when we told our other friends about our adventure the next day, I think we definitely had way too much pride in our newly discovered rule-breaking ways.

2. Notes

Personal favorite from one of my dearest friends and senior year roommate, written during sophomore year on a sticky note I found on my door after I woke up: “Briotch! I was here and you were sleeping. ❤ A”.  I’m fairly certain that it’s notes like these that will continue to make me laugh no matter how old I am when I crack this box open.

3. Official Letters

Acceptances to the Campus Ministry Core Team.  Notification of my roommate group’s approval to live in the LLC. Official notice of being a recipient of the Crown and Shield Award.  These letters marked very significant parts of my undergraduate experience.  But I also kept the rejection letters, too.  Because who doesn’t need to be humbled every now and then and reminded that you can’t get it all, but that in no way makes you a failure.  Everything happens for a reason, so those rejection letters provide memories of the opportunities that came about even though I didn’t get what I at one point wanted so terribly.

4. 22nd Birthday Cards

In a word, hilarious. My 22nd was probably my favorite birthday EVER.  Even better than my 21st. My roommates and I had a huge party, for which they decorated the apartment like crazy, my best friend from home came for the festivities, and it just so happened to be Alumni Weekend, so some of my favorite ex-seniors were in Worcester to join in on the celebration.  These cards reminded me of so much laughter and friendship from people who I sadly don’t get to see all that often any more.  I had a BLAST – I wore a new sparkly dress and danced my little heart out while running all over and trying to see all my favorites.  And those cards reminded me of all the friends that had surrounded me on that day, which was the exact opposite of the kind of birthday I had this year, on which I worked and went to class and felt like I had hurriedly answered birthday texts all day on my sparse downtime.  And since this year’s birthday felt so lonely, it warmed my heart to be reminded of all those who had surrounded me with love and fun just a year before, and just because they weren’t there this year doesn’t mean their love still isn’t present in my life.

5. Senior Week Bracelet

Neon yellow-green. Black font. The ticket to all fun and games of the week right before graduation.  Cutting off that bracelet just prior to Baccalaureate Mass that Friday was definitely the end of an era, however short that era actually was.  And that’s all I think I’m going to say about that….

6. Retreat materials

Without a doubt, these will always bring tears and the realization of how far I have actually come in faith and in being myself.  Everything from homemade place-mats to talks I gave to journals responding to the experiences I had while on retreat help to paint a picture of who I was and who I became in four short years, and how my faith brought me along that journey.  And no matter what life brings me, I know these items will always fill me with START LOVE.

***

I suspect the box will stay shut for a time; however, I know full well that I’ll dig it out and review so many happy times and periods of growth.  But I also know that I will very likely have to buy more boxes in the future to fit all the other memories that are sure to be made in the years ahead.

Bidding Adieu to 2012

(www.flipandstyle.com)

When I was younger, I liked to journal around the end of the year and do my own personal “Year in Review.”  Those seeking secrets can comb through the various journals to find what notable events happened in my life in February 2006, for example, or at any point during my senior year in high school.  I lost enthusiasm for the tradition a few years back though, but since this is my first New Year’s with a blog, I figure what better way than to revive that habit here?

2012.  For years, the idea of this year inhabited a far-off corner of my mind as the year in the future during which I would graduate college, and as such, it seemed so distant.  But a year ago at this point in time, the clock struck midnight and suddenly reality sunk in that many cherished parts of my life would come to an end.  But I don’t think I had any concept of all that would begin, either.  For in one year’s time, while I did see the endings in the form of the accomplishment of some major goals, including earning a Bachelor’s degree and completing an undergraduate thesis, I embarked on several new and exciting moments, too.

The first is the teaching career I have longed dreamed of.  I went to the wedding of a friend from high school a few weeks ago where I was reunited with a few old friends and acquaintances from high school.  Those I had lost touch with expressed a similar sentiment to me: “You’re teaching!!! That’s what you always wanted to do!!”  And there was something so refreshing and inspiring in that.  It’s so easy to become bogged down in the everyday stress of my first-year of teaching, and to have a reminder of that long-held dream was warmly welcomed to give me the refreshment I needed to get me through the second half of this long but fruitful year.

I also started graduate school.  While I openly admit I am not the student I once was, which I suspect is the case with anyone who pursues a degree while working full-time, it sometimes gives me chills to think how in a relatively short period of time I will be one step further along in my career.  Whenever I am on campus for class, I often overhear conversations of undergraduates and marvel at how that was me not too long ago – it seems so distant and yet it is not at all.

But I have also begun adulthood more fully this year, a less tangible beginning than a career or an education, but all the more important in many ways.  Here I am, juggling work and school and responsibilities and friendships with people scattered literally all over the country, as life often spreads those closest to you at varying geographic distances.  In many ways, it is so incredibly scary to think how much more adulthood will bring within the coming years: more bills, more duties at work, my own place to live, relationships, maybe even a family.  And as scary as it is, it so incredibly exciting.  There is so much unknown that is waiting to be discovered, and while, with every unknown, there are sure to be challenges and disappointments, I also know from experience that some of the most beautiful blessings come from the unknown as well.

I will always have nostalgia for the year that was 2012, a year that started with living amongst some of the greatest friends in the world with whom I made happy memories on a constant basis and that ended amidst newness and transition. But here’s to 2013, a year that will hopefully bring many more beginnings and exciting and memorable moments in life with friends and family.

Friends, Faith, and Fortune

I survived Term 1 of my first year of teaching. 1 down, 3 to go – it’s the little things, you know?

And it’s been a tough one.  Overall, it is fabulous, but everything they say about the first year being super difficult and filled with self-doubt and feeling like you’re barely keeping your head above water is 100 percent true.   At one meeting for the first-year teachers at my school, we got a handout entitled “Phases of First-Year Teaching” and it basically went through the roller-coaster of emotion first year teachers tend to experience.  Well let me tell you, I skipped pretty quickly to “disillusionment” – a few weeks ahead of the curve (but maybe that’s typical of my overachiever style…).

Naturally, through the craziness of it all, I’ve been forced to reflect on friendship.  After making the switch from living in the same building or apartment as many of my best friends to moving back home and spending lots of time on my own, it’s been a very, very lonely time, which seems like a ridiculous statement when you take into consideration that I am in the presence of a room full of people all day, every day.  But I miss being with those who really know me.  Know when I’m not really ok even when I say I am, and who can give me the best hug in the world when all I want to do is cry.  Know me enough to celebrate with me over each little success and improvement.  I feel like I’m wandering around and still trying to feel like I fit into this place just a bit more snugly.  Adjustment takes time, I know, but sometimes I just want to fast-forward through this year and just have more experience under my belt and stop feeling like the needy and unknowledgeable first-year teacher.  And so I long so much more for my friends.  Some of the people who had consistently been there for other times of struggle in my life were not – one seems to have chosen not to be there, and another had her own big burdens to carry.  Life gets in the way and makes regular check-ins sometimes close to impossible.  But others have been there and listened and reassured and guided and prayed.

Yes, faith, too, has been my friend during these times.  I pray for peace and reassurance.  I’m in the process of saying a 9-week novena for one friend, and I consistently pray for others.  I stop by one of the campus chapels after my grad class and sit and reflect in one of the rare instances of peace and quiet I can seem to find these days.  No matter how lonely it may feel, I have my faith to bring me light.

But when people ask how faith is possible even when there is suffering, I find it hard to give an articulate answer.  “Why do some people experience no pain, while others do?” and “How can you justify tragedy?” one asked.  Somehow, my mantra of “Everything Happens for a Reason” seems insensitive in cases like these.  But then I remember that everything does happen for a reason.  Pain makes you who you are, tragedy prepares you for the future, challenges make the next round easy.  Love and friendship and happy memories are the rewards.

This year is hard for a reason – to make the next one easier.  I miss my friends for a reason – to realize who is really there and who I may need to reevaluate.  I’m lonely for a reason – to enjoy and cherish the time I do spend with my loves so much more.  And it will get easier, but it will take time.  So I’ll just have to be patient.

Respectivism

     It’s late on a weekend night.  Sitting curled up in our living room, my roommate and one of my oldest college friends and I are having one of our typical life chats.  Suddenly, she asks me, “Are you a feminist?”
     “UGH, no…actually, I don’t really know.”
     A few weeks later, at the senior Political Science Banquet, my thesis advisor and the man I consider to be my biggest mentor from college makes a similar remark “Well of course you think that, you’re a feminist.”
     My initial response in both of these instances was shock mixed with incredulity.  Me, a feminist?!  Why does that feel like such a dirty word to have branded upon my reputation?  But then I really started to think about.  Now, I’m no bra-burning woman who refuses to shave her legs (ew). But I do believe that women all too often fall victim to what men want them to do, losing sight of their values and individuality in the process.  I believe that any romantic relationship between a man and a woman should be an equal partnership, not a mismatched pairing of domineering patriarch and helpless maiden.  But at the same time, I expect men to respect women – to be a little chivalrous and open a door, offer to carry something heavy, or give up a seat on the T.

Now talk about a woman who demands respect! (nps.gov)

So I guess I’m not really a feminist. I’m a respectivist. No, it’s not a real word, but it should be. The world should have men respecting women for their ability to keep a family together.  Women respecting men for being natural protectors.  Women respecting women for making whatever decision feels right: to stay at home to raise a family or to pursue the high-powered career they have always dreamed of, or anything in between.  Men respecting men for supporting their wives, sisters, mothers, cousins, friends, colleagues, or rivals in making that very decision.

     I think part of people seeing me as a feminist has to do with my desire to enter the ranks of intellectuals, but there is some difficulty with this (beyond the practical challenge of having the time and money to get a Ph.D.): female intellectuals are scarce.  Ok, maybe there is a slight exagerration in that, but when you look at my twin fields of history and poltiical science, there simply is not comparable scholarship done by women.  In my personal experience, history tends to be a bit more gender-balanced (although I am currently one of two female history faculty members among seven men), but political science is a very male-dominated area. And, sadly, I gave into these pressures of not feeling smart enough or qualified enough because I was a women in a male-dominated field. I doubted my abilities and my potential to add to the conversation, and instead often chose silence in class rather than participation.
     Call me a masochist or confused, but I ultimately decided to complete my senior honors thesis in the political science department.  There was one professor who during my junior year motivated me to make my own mark and remove myself from the sidelines of the discussion and instead become a leader in the discussion.  This professor agreed to become my advisor for the project, and through it all I finally came to acknowledge and respect my contributions to the field.
     So by the end of my studies, maybe I did have a bit of a “girl-power” attitude in my approach to certain aspects of my life. But I had come to learn through experience that I was capable of anything, regardless of whether or not I was in the majority.
     Maybe I am a feminist, but to me that term means a woman who demands nothing less than respect, who is empowered enough to chase down her dreams, and who, at the end of the day, knows that the biggest obstacle she has to overcome is the voice in the back of her head that is anything but encouraging.  So baby, you can stamp that title ALL over me – I can take it.

Someone Else

You saw him today. 

Yes, no matter how much time passes by, he is the one who makes a smile spread across your face the second you are reunited.  The one who still makes your heart skip a beat when his name flashes on your phone. The one who gives you butterflies when he compliments you. The one that, no matter how many years pass or how much you grow, will always have a little piece of your heart.

Yes, you thought you were better, thought you had finally put this all behind you.  You’ve grown and changed, but those feelings rushed in the second you thought it was safe to open the door to peek at them.  So that feeling returned and brought you back to when anything was possible. 

But for one reason or another, it is not meant to be, at least not now, but maybe not ever.  As perfect as it may seem in the moment, it isn’t.  Maybe you aren’t laughing as hard as you could, maybe there is a false sense of trust, or maybe, just maybe, you were meant for someone else.

Yes, someone, maybe far away or maybe close by, but not him.  No, not him. You must let go and move on and give him to someone else.  Someone who needs him more than you. 

And you need someone else more, too. You may not see it now, but honey, it is God’s honest truth.  The two of you will fit perfectly, one piece to join the other, and you’ll forget what happened in the days before you fit together.  

But for now, you’ll let the beats skip and the butterflies fly. Smiles brighten and fade, but somehow, as you drive away, it all makes you feel empty. Cold, and empty, and wanting more while wanting less.

Yet one day you will feel full. Yes, I promise, one day you will be full.

Remembering Inspiration

I’m terrified.

There, I admitted it.  The day is finally here when I stop talking about wanting to be a teacher and actually become one. And it has me shaking in my boots.

And I’ve kind of been a mess the past few weeks.  I’ve had unexpected moments where I’ve asked myself if I can really do this.  Even after an amazing practicum experience, the nerves had settled in and reached the places I didn’t think they could.

So when I found myself down the road from the cemetary where he is buried a few weeks ago, I knew I had to pay my respects and remind myself of the man who still inspires me to do this.  The last time I visited, it was a cold and crisp winter’s day, light snowflakes floating from the sky.  I took the drive out there after having just met what was to become one of my first classes for student teaching, one of the first groups I was to be responsible for, and I knew I needed to visit to remind myself of why I ever wanted to do this in the first place.

Let me explain…

Dennis Wrenn. Teacher. Musician. Life-changer.  For four years I sat as one of  hundreds to walk through the doors of his band room.  I am far from a gifted musician, but music has breathed inspiration and love into my life, and Mr. Wrenn was a part of that.  Beyond instilling within all of his students a love of music, he also showed what it means to be a teacher.  He never stopped believing in his students, and took the time to get to know them, even when during any given class period there could be over one hundred students in front of him, all with varying levels of interest.  Some were there because they hoped to pursue careers in music one day, others because they were cultivating a hobby, and the last group because their parents wanted them to be in band.  But regardless of why they were there, I don’t think a single student could have left a year of rehearsals with Mr. Wrenn and not feel cared for.

When I was a junior in a high school, I took a pretty big risk for me and volunteered to play second piccolo for one song.  While flute, which I had been playing for six years at that point, and piccolo have the same fingerings, it’s a challenge.  You have to focus the air flow a certain way and it’s hard to create a pure sound. But someone needed to do it, and no one else volunteered, so I figured I would.  In hindsight, it really wasn’t all that terrifying, but to the timid 17-year-old who was full of self-doubt who I was at the time, it was a surprise that I would ever take such a risk. By the time the concert rolled around, I was so nervous.  I didn’t want to mess up (it’s hard to not hear a piccolo after all), and I was afraid I would fall off the stage when I changed seats from the second row of flutes to the first row.  But at each rehearsal, Mr. Wrenn never lost faith in me.  He encouraged me and rejoiced at every improvement, never betraying any sense of doubt or regret that he had let me fill the role.  That faith continued until the night of the concert, and when it was all over, he congratulated me on a job well-done.  I confessed how nervous I had been, but Mr. Wrenn just brushed it off, giving me the impression that he had known I could do it all along and that he had never doubted me.

Mr. Wrenn passed away very unexpectedly while on tour with the high school jazz band in Greece when I was in my freshman year of college.  I will never forget the shock and sense of loss I felt when I heard the news from a friend who called me. I had been walking down a path with a friend and practically collapsed on the ground in horror, unsure of how to react.  Mr. Wrenn wasn’t just a teacher to those who knew him, he was a mentor, a friend, and a father-figure, so his loss was the worst emotional pain I had felt at that point in my life.  A facebook group was created where over two thousand mourners came together to share over two decades worth of stories of a teacher who made a difference in their lives.  Countless people shared stories of how this man had seemed to remember every detail about them that they had ever shared with Mr. Wrenn, even though, as the size of the group proved, he had thousands of acquaintances.  All expressed extreme grief over the loss of a man who in one way or another had changed their lives, inspiring them to take a risk and pursue their dreams.

So when I gazed at his grave a few weeks ago, focusing on my insecruties about teaching, it dawned on me: Mr. Wrenn wouldn’t have let me doubt myself for one instant.  I can almost hear the way he would have brushed off any remnant of self-doubt and how he would have encouraged me to the very end.  And if he would have believed in me, then I have to, too.  And with that realization I experienced a renewed purpose of why I do want to teach.  I want to touch the lives of students like this man did for so many others.  I want to give them the courage to take risks and try something new.  I want to share a passion with those with whom I work, fellow teachers and students alike.  So in the days when I don’t think I can do it anymore, I will remind myself of these goals and do all that I can make Mr. Wrenn proud.

Two of my high school friends and I with Mr. Wrenn at our Senior Year POPS Night, June 2008.