It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.Is it bad that I don't remember if I read that book? Charles Dickens, I believe. Pretty sure I didn't. It's how I'm feeling today, on this day of gratitude, Thanksgiving 2018.
I am sitting in my living room while my cleanly shaven son (thank goodness!) sat down to do the ton of work he was assigned over Thanksgiving (not nice, professors!) and my husband makes us lunch...he's whipping together leftovers for a nice meal, as he is always prone to do.
My son's cat, Arthur, a crazy, relentless Bengal, is trying to get a taste of everything on the counter. And I just took an awesome yoga class, showered, and feel cozy in my long sleeve "Trust Me, You're Lovely" t-shirt, jeans, and wrapped in a cushy blanket that was a birthday present from a great friend. I checked my Apple Watch and it's 79˚ outside...I guess I don't need the crackling of a fireplace, though Alexa would do that for me when she understands what I'm saying. Which is about half the time.
I'm so grateful, as I glance over at AJ, working hard and seeing how it paid off. This year, he was accepted into the Medical Honors Program at UF, which means to say...HE'S IN MEDICAL SCHOOL! And what makes me so happy is that it's made HIM so happy. To see his relief, after a toiling sophomore year of applications and workload has brought me so much joy. I am so unbelievably proud of him. I'm blessed to call him my son.
It's a good life. I cannot complain. I've been lucky in many ways. Even though life has had its ups and downs in my "short" 50 years, there's one thing that I have felt my whole life: unconditional love. Whether from my husband and son or my grandparents, sister, endless aunts and uncles and cousins, in-laws, and best friends, it's one thing that has held true in my life - and I think that's what has helped me get through tough times like when I was young and lost both parents and a grandparent within 18 months. Love can't fill the hole in my heart, but it can make it smaller.
Maybe this is why I normally look at life as having my glass half full. My students often say I am "always happy." My friends, upon hearing the tragedy of my early life say, "How are you so 'normal'?" (Hah, do they really know me??) To me, it's from knowing I always had someone there who had my back. Even when life threw curveballs, there was always a multitude of people I could count on. And when I discovered that there were people I couldn't count on, which would crush me, I would eventually realize that I have others that I sometimes lost sight of--others that were there for me no matter what. And that's what has kept me going.
2018 Needs. To. Go. I'm reminded of Bon Qui Qui from Mad TV as I write that. It also reminds me of Jenna, my former student turned friend who always quotes this with me. Needs. To. Go. Three deaths and three cancer diagnoses - and there is still a month left in the year.
The beginning of the year was brutal. I lost my best friend Debbie in April when ALS left her with only a mind and a laser attached to her glasses where she could point to letters on a board. And yet, she was still so damn funny. She just knew what to say. The woman was brilliant. And a mom to so many of us. I used to get upset when she wouldn't get back to me before she got sick, but I realize now how many people in this world depended on her...she couldn't give that much of herself to anyone beyond her family. And yet, she gave me so much. I'm confident I could now act in any play where I am a character that needs to cry on cue. Thinking of her brings me to tears in an instant. I still find it difficult to talk to anyone about her without choking up. A text from her mom can bring me to tears - the thought of her being without her daughter kills me. And the thought that I don't know what I can do for her kids, other than letting them know I'm thinking of them, is hard. Her mother texted me recently: "You two were inseparable from the moment you met." It's true. We always had each other. She had my back, and when people weren't treating me right, she stood up for me. When she died, I did feel like half of me died, too. I honestly can't even write about it anymore at this moment. It's just unbearable.
2018 also brought the sudden death of an aunt. Although she had been divorced from my uncle for quite some time, we messaged each other occasionally and caught up on Facebook often. She was competitive, like me, and she laughed a lot, like me. Even though she was my aunt, we were only a few years apart and we got along very well. It was sad to know that days after I got my nails polished to look like hers (which I saw from a Facebook post), she was gone. Just like that.
And a few weeks ago, my stepfather died. I was not close with him, but I did live with him for about six years, and he was the father of my sister. Going to his funeral conjured up a lot of memories that I shoved in the back of my mind. Memories like the loss of my mother. My sister keeps finding gems in the house, like a paper where my mother wrote that she was proud of me and that I was 18 years old and studying to be a teacher. I hadn't seen anything with her handwriting in 30 years. It has always been easier for me to not think about those who have died as the pain is too difficult for me to bear. So seeing a lot of things from my mother as well as seeing my sister, devastated at being an orphan, made this last month so sad.
2018 was a year where three- yes three! people in my world were diagnosed with cancer. I helped one through chemo twice, which, while helping my friend, also allowed me to be the daughter I never was for my mother. Thankfully, hers was stage 1, and she seems to now be doing great. The second is all the way across the country, and I can't really help her with her stage 4 cancer, other than letting her know I'm thinking about her and her family. It was shocking to see this funny, vibrant friend who loves to wear clown noses and make others laugh, lay debilitated in bed. And the third is a new diagnosis...someone very close to me, and I don't want to say the relationship as it's not quite public. But I'm beyond crushed, defeated, and overwhelmed.
These negatives outweigh the positives this year. I have my sad moments, and they tend to manifest themselves after a couple of glasses of wine. But what I have discovered is that finding a way to make my students shine has been the turnaround that I needed this year in my life. I just got back from a taking 5 students to TED-Ed Weekend in NYC. I think for me, what was so exciting was to see students connecting with other students from around the world. In hearing their talks, they see that they are not that different from each other. In a world where there is so much hate and divisiveness, I see hope in our future. These students are realizing that although we are each uniquely different humans, we all have common threads that bind us to each other. And to give students this platform where they can spread their individual ideas worth sharing can be life-changing. Not just for them, but also for me. To witness the evolution of students having nothing on paper to delivering a rich and deep talk has been one of the most rewarding parts of my job - and perhaps my entire career. To watch them shine on the stage when many of them never thought they could do it - and to see their peers, parents, and teachers congratulate them on such an accomplishment - it gives me chills when I think about it. Each student has something that they created that is their very own - no one else has their unique story. And yet everyone can relate to their story in their own way. And this brings us all closer as humans - when we can relate to someone else's ideas and make it our own.
To see the chain reaction of events: from my text to a former student's parent in Aruba, asking her if she wanted to speak at our event, to then seeing her knock it out of the park on the big stage in NYC - yes, that is almost unbearable as well - emotions-wise that is...but this time, in a good way. Here and now, my heart is full.
None of us know how much time we have in this world. And I'm realizing that making someone else's life brighter is all that's all it takes to put me in a good mood. And thankfully, I get that through the job I love: teaching. I remember always wanting to be a teacher, and after my first five years of teaching in New Jersey, I remember thinking: I'm done. I'm not cut out for this. I suck. My principal told me otherwise. My vice-principal got down on one knee and sang to me at the last faculty meeting before I moved to Florida. They saw my potential when I did not. Who knew that answering one little newspaper ad in the Palm Beach Post would bring me to a school that I've worked at now for almost half my life. And who also knew that my background in curating and running shows as the President of a random club in high school called "Sights and Sounds" would have helped me develop this passion to get my students to do TED talks. Although I absolutely love teaching math by both getting students excited about it and by showing some that they CAN do math when they thought they couldn't their whole lives, my world has been opened with TED-Ed.
I'm a Libra, and I see a balance here. The harder life is, the harder I'll work to find something rewarding. It's my way, and it only works with the support of family, good friends, and good colleagues. I pray that I do for them what they all do for me.
Happy Thanksgiving. If you've made it this far, thanks for giving me this venue to reflect on this year. I hope you have a wonderful time with those who give you unconditional love.