Arm in Arm

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They walked past me with quiet smiles, arm in arm with coffee cups in their free hands. All on a chilly winter’s morning like any other school day.

One of my duties at school is to man a post outside for intake duty, every other day.  My presence is supposed to deter students coming from the bus drop-off point from taking a short cut to one of the buildings that, if they did take it, would bring them in the path of the numerous cars of parents who drive their little scholars to school.  I see a significant number of my own students at this time, most still with sleep in their eyes and bulging backpacks.  One of the last buses to come brings the arrival of two of my 10th graders, quiet but sweet girls who are very clearly close friends.  They always share sincere smiles as they walk by, sometimes asking questions that pertain to class, but mostly just exchanging an early morning greeting.

Something struck me about them the other day though.  They’re different, somehow a bit more removed from the foolishness that I often observe as a middle/high school teacher and that yet, I can relate to. There’s an element of sincerity between them.  With arms interlocked, it dawned on me how they were just being present with each other. At 7:45 on a Friday morning. Enjoying a moment with a friend.

Seeing them the other day made me think of all the friends with whom I have had moments like that. Late night chats in a residence hall lounge. Night time conversations with a roommate while the lights are off and we’re both in our beds. Walks through Boston with a childhood best friend back from the bar, spilling our hearts out over concerns for the future.  Tear-filled sessions in the Chapel. Impromptu dance parties. There are some whom have fallen out of my life and others of whom I have stayed strongly connected with, but who are now “scattered to the four winds” across the country.  Even though life has changed beyond anyone’s imagination in a matter of years, the friends remain.  How simple yet complicated life was just a few years ago. How much was to be learned and experienced.  How much we would be there for each other and how much remains for us to be at each others’ sides for.  The same kind of scene I observed between these two girls could have been said of me at a similar time:  “They walked  arm-in-arm through the halls of the sprawling high school. Giggling over inside jokes and stressing over what was to come.”  Years later, one could observe, “They walked arm-in-arm across campus, planning coffee dates and shopping trips.” And the words will continue to apply in the future, at weddings and baby showers, graduations and housewarmings, and just ordinary visits with those dearest to us whom life transports to new places near and far.

cait

Childhood best friends

…they walk arm-in-arm, sharing a moment with a friend.

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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.

The First Days

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

These words were first uttered to me by the man I will always refer to as my mentor teacher, the one most responsible for me ever wanting to be a history teacher in the first place.  As I confessed nervousness and disbelief that student teaching was actually beginning, he said these somewhat cliche yet nonetheless true words.  I was embarking on the journey to becoming a licensed history teacher, a goal that I had been pursuing for years.

But this week really felt like it was the beginning of the rest of my life.  As I created syllabi, reviewed class lists, came up with desk arrangements, and bought over a hundred dollars worth of desk supplies at Staples, I realized that life was only just beginning.  For the past few months I had been so focused on how sad I was to graduate and leave a school that had meant so much to me, that had become a home, and had made me into a person I am proud to say that I love.  But in starting teaching this week, I realized that I’m going to be ok.  I will always have my friends from college and memories to last a lifetime.  But I’ll make more friends and more memories that will become just as cherished.  I will start to cultivate young minds and try my hardest to inspire at the very least a respect, if not a love, for the study of history.  I vow to let no student of mine leave my classroom and one day make a college writing tutor think, “How sad! They clearly never learned how to write.”  There is so much to do, and in a way, I am excited that I’m only just beginning.

So yes, these are the first days of the rest of my life.  It’s all about the baby steps – maybe my syllabus could have been clearer, so I’ll make it so next year.  That seating arrangement didn’t work like I thought it would, so I’ll move a few people.  It is all sure to be a learning process, but I’m ready.  Bring it.

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.

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.