Absence makes the heart grow fonder. This statement has never been truer than with my daughter Carol Linn. Actually, absence was absolutely necessary for the salvation of our relationship. Before she moved to the other side of the country, I knew there were wonderful things about her; however, they were clouded by the rebellious teenager that challenged our relationship every breathing moment. I loved the woman she was becoming, but struggled with the child she still was. We needed distance. We needed clarity.
For me, it has finally come, but I’m not sure if Carol Linn has clarity yet. Does she know and understand how much I love her? If she doesn’t, I have confidence that someday she will. Why? Because she is who I was at 18. She is the child who fulfilled my mother’s curse: “I hope you have a daughter just like you someday, so you know how I feel.” I do understand now. I just hope it doesn’t take another 20 years for Carol Linn to love and appreciate me the way I love and appreciate my mother now.
First, I want to apologize to my mother. I’m sorry for the pain I caused her as a teenager. However, I also want to thank her for the blessing she thought was a curse. Carol Linn is and has been a blessing since the day she was born. I prayed that she would be a girl; I was blessed when I held her in my arms for the first time. She was perfect in every way: She had a full head of black hair, perfect eyebrows, big brown eyes, and beautiful fingers and toes.
As she grew, she proved to be a mischievous child, always getting into and out of precarious situations. When Carol Linn was a year and a half she would climb out of her crib after I put her down for a nap and get stuck on the changing table. She would call for me to come rescue her. She seemed to know what she wanted but didn’t know what to do when she got there. She had such confidence in herself, even at this age.
She also had courage. After we said goodnight to the girls, Carol Linn would crawl out of bed, crawl into the playroom to get a toy, and crawl back into her bed, like a little ninja, without us ever knowing or hearing her in the adjoining room. In the morning she would have a bed filled with Barbies.
I think it was this self-confidence and courage that allowed her to verbalize her anger. She was four years old the first time she told me she hated me. I had sent her to her room as a punishment for something. She wrote “I hat Mom” on the wall with a permanent marker. After we made up she crossed out “hat” and put “luv” instead. As funny as that story is it didn’t prepare me for the number of times I heard it over the last 14 years. I didn’t believe that she meant it, but she was pretty convincing.
I know I made a lot of mistakes as her mother. That could be what led her to be indifferent towards me as her parent; she didn’t seem to need me in her life. I wanted her to depend on me, but she never did.
I got so caught up in her disobedience that I forgot the ultimate goal as a mother was to raise an independent woman. Carol Linn was independent already. Instead of realizing that, I battled with her; we despised each other. We hurt each other in ways that made it difficult to find our way back to each other. In February I naïvely thought I would gladly say goodbye to her the day we brought her to the airport. Instead, I cried uncontrollably the whole time.
I didn’t want to lose my child; I just wanted the pain and deceit to end. When she left, the pain and deceit did vanish. None of the past year mattered anymore. But it was too late because I lost my child anyway.
Now, she has the freedom to choose her own destiny; freedom to live her own life, far away from me. She needed distance, so she could test her wings. As much as it still hurts to have lost my precious little girl, it needed to happen. I had to make room for a new relationship.
Carol Linn has been living with her sister Nicole for two months now, and I can truly say I love the woman she has become. I tried so hard to make her become someone she wasn’t that I missed out on the amazing person she already was. I wanted her to be me now, not the me I was at 18. I made so many mistakes at that age; I wanted her to learn from my experiences. Life doesn’t work that way though. She had to choose her own path, her own way, on her own terms, exactly how I did it.
With distance and time I think I have gleaned an understanding of Carol Linn’s frustrations. I tended to point out the differences between her and Nicole. I know how that felt. I could never measure up to my older brother. It made me angry. I’m sorry I did that to her.
All the time I spent being frustrated with Carol Linn stopped me from acknowledging her wonderful qualities: She is kind to people, and she forgives often, but protects her heart. She lends a hand to anyone who asks, even if it’s someone who has hurt her before. She loves to read and write. Carol Linn has always been a very private person, which used to bother me. The truth is I admire Carol Linn for her ability to keep a secret, to keep her private life private. I was just bothered that I wasn’t part of her private life. She has an innate ability to see the beauty around her and to frame it through her camera. I am so impressed with her pictures.
Her sense of humor is amazing. She catches on to things quicker than I ever do. She has great taste in music and movies as well.
I am blessed by Carol Linn because she has taught me to let go of the things and people I have no control over, including the past. I wish I could take back those angry words, but even Carol Linn would say, “Don’t have regrets, Mom. It will be okay. It’s in the past. Move forward.”
She has taught me the true meaning of love. It’s easy to love someone who treats me well. But how do I love someone who challenges me and despises my opinions?
I just love her. That’s all. I love her because she is Carol Linn, that same perfect human being I gave birth to. She doesn’t have to agree with me, think I’m the best mother ever, or believe that I made the right choices for my life. I just have to love her, love the woman she is.
My grandfather was the kindest, most self-assured man I have ever met. He loved his children and grandchildren unconditionally. The strongest memory I have of Dedo Gus is of him holding his grandbabies to his cheek, while rocking and cooing them in his arms.
Dedo Gus also loved his wife unconditionally. His relationship with my grandmother was the only healthy marriage example I have had in my life. I can still see them holding hands in their family room: Dedo Gus sitting in his chair and Baba Vicky lying down on the couch next to him; their hands clasped while watching TV. That image was a constant occurrence, engraved in my memory from the time I was a little girl until I was a wife and mother. They had an everlasting love.
It is amazing that their love lasted for 67 years. There were many who thought they should never have married. However, Kosta Kordovich was always a man confident in his own convictions. He was born May 25, 1911 in Bukovo, a small village outside Bitola, Macedonia. When he was a young man in his teens, he left for an incredible, yet scary opportunity with his father: They sailed for America, hoping to grasp a piece of the Dream. They lived in Rochester, New York for many years, working odd jobs. Kosta eventually built a profitable restaurant business. When he was 27 years old, Kosta went back to Bukovo to find a wife with whom to enjoy the profits of his hard work.
He never had any doubts that he would marry someone from Bukovo. He knew that his future wife would have to be kind and genuine. He also knew that real love would be essential: He didn’t want a woman who would marry him just for his money. He wanted a woman who would love him for him. It’s no wonder that when he saw Velika, the oldest girl of a humble family, a girl who held her head high and smiled at everyone she talked to, a girl who smiled at him, but didn’t vie for his attention like every other girl in the village, that Kosta pursued her.
Kosta Kordovich and Velika Popovski were married on November 13, 1938. Shortly after they were married, Velika became pregnant. In August of 1939, Kosta was told he had to leave Bukovo without Velika because of the turmoil in Europe. WWII was imminent. Kosta had earned his American citizenship, and if he did not leave the country at that time, he would lose it. Kosta left on September 3, 1939, without being able to see the birth of his daughter.
Kosta made it back to America safely, but longed for his family. He didn’t know how long it would take for them to join him, but he knew, even after only ten months with Velika, that she was the woman he wanted. He worked hard, bought a house, and wrote to her every day. He knew the war would slow down the mail, but not hearing from her all those years was as difficult for him as it was for her. Six years after the war started, his letters finally reached Velika. She immediately wrote him back. For the next six years Kosta sent clothes, medicine, and non-perishable food items to his wife and daughter in Bukovo. When their visas were finally approved he bought tickets for them.
My mother recalls holding my grandmother’s hand for dear life as they approached her father. She was a shy, twelve-year old who was scared to meet him for the first time. She held on to her mother’s hand even while her mother and father embraced. He then looked down with tears already in his eyes as he gazed at his daughter for the first time.
Dedo Gus cried every time we talked about the day they were reunited. He was so tender-hearted, especially about the beautiful things in his life.
The most beautiful thing in his life was my grandmother. He always cried about his love for her. From the day they were reunited, he never wanted to be separated from her again. That created some difficult moments in their marriage: Baba Vicky wanted to travel and see the world; Dedo Gus wanted to sit in his chair, watch his TV, and sleep in his bed. My grandmother would beg him to go somewhere, anywhere with her, but he would refuse. For years my grandmother would be angry with him about that fact.
Until one day, when my Uncle Nick was stationed in Germany, Dedo Gus finally told Baba Vicky to go visit him. He saw how miserable she was about not being able to visit her son; Dedo’s own misery took a back seat. He cried when he said goodbye. He cried every day she was gone. He cried when she returned–but he never told her she couldn’t go somewhere without him again. He loved her too much not to let her fulfill her heart’s desire.
He also loved Baba Vicky’s personality. Anything she said would make him chuckle. Even when she was angry and yelling at him over something, he would laugh and say, “Pile. Crce. Te sakam. Te sakam.” Little dove. My heart. I love you. I love you. If she were really angry, she might yell at him some more; but usually, she would hug him and kiss him, and all would be forgotten.
I always felt safe and happy at their house.
Their house was always filled with laughter as well. One of the funniest memories I have of Dedo was when he recorded a country music special by Anne Murray. They didn’t have video recordings or TIVO back then. All he had was an audio cassette player. The show started, he pressed record and sat back to enjoy the music; however, it wasn’t what he expected, so he got up to turn the TV off just as Anne Murray was saying, “Ah. Just like old times–” and then, clearly and in English, the recording captured my grandfather saying, “Oh, fuck you!” I had no idea he knew that English word. My Uncle Nick played that recording over and over again in their kitchen. My grandfather was laughing so hard he was crying. He begged Nick not to play it again, but of course Nick did. I can’t remember how many times we listened to that tape, but I do remember laughing with Dedo until my sides hurt.
My grandparents lived a long, happy life together. I’m convinced it’s because of my grandfather. He loved my grandmother and let her be who she was. He didn’t try to change her; he just loved her. He never stopped her from making herself happy. He was the only man I have ever known who acted like that; I haven’t encountered another man like him since.
In February of 2005, my grandfather was slowly dying. Sadly, my grandmother was in the midst of dementia, and she didn’t understand what was happening. Dedo knew he didn’t have much time; he was so sad to leave Baba and worried about what would happen to her when he was gone.
I had just given birth to Ian in January. As soon as I could, I booked a flight for the two of us to be with Dedo Gus in his last days. I wanted him to meet his great-grandchild, to hold Ian to his cheek and whisper his blessings over my child–but I got there a day too late. He went from being lucid one day, to mostly unconscious the next. I held Dedo’s hand and put Ian’s tiny hand in Dedo’s and introduced them. He died a few days later on February 22, 2005 in his sleep in my mother’s house, where he had lived for a number of years.
It was difficult to watch my grandmother living the initial shock of his death over and over again. She kept looking for him, wanting to sit by him, to hold his hand–but he was no longer there. She was so lost and lonely without him. Shortly after my grandfather died, my grandmother’s dementia took her memories, which was a blessing–she no longer yearned for the love of her life.
I’m so blessed to have witnessed their love. I’m blessed to have known such a steadfast man. At times he appeared stubborn, but my grandfather was just a man who knew what he wanted from the time he was a young man until the day he died. Our world would be better with more men like him. I am blessed to be able to say that Kosta Kordovich was my darling Dedo.
“Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices.” ~ Emerson
I’m not sure if this problem has been around forever, if I’m just getting old (“kids these days”), or if parents are not teaching their children how to behave in public, but common courtesy has disappeared. Every once and a while I will encounter well-mannered youngsters, which will produce genuine praise from me, but mostly I run into rude, ambivalent teenagers and, sometimes, older people who should know better.
Then, the thought occurred to me: Maybe they don’t know better. Maybe someone needs to teach these bad-mannered adolescents some common courtesy. I feel like I should take out my dentures (if I had them), and lick my sunken lips right now. But seriously, who wouldn’t want to live in a world where people follow basic, social rules?
My frustration with this problem left me with two choices: Either complain about the degradation of society and become cynical, or write about the common-courtesy behaviors that are missing and hope the word spreads to the teenagers and parents who need the lessons. Please feel free to offer suggestions for the rules, or add your own common-courtesy lesson in the comment section.
In no particular order, here are some common-courtesy rules that are lacking in our society:
If you are waiting for an elevator, it is common courtesy to let people off the elevator before you get on. Pushing your way through as soon as the doors open is rude. Trust me; you will have enough time to get on before the doors close. If you happen to make this mistake, apologize, take a step back, and put your hand across the door, holding it open for the people exiting. They will immediately forgive your insolence and appreciate your courtesy.
Leave It How You Found It
If you are looking for a nice place to sit and enjoy your food, book, lesson, or coffee, you would much rather sit at a clean, orderly table/desk than a dirty one. True? Therefore, after you enjoy a meal, read a book, sit in class, or drink a cup of coffee, pick up your possessions, throw away your trash, clean off the table, and push your chair in. Leave your surroundings the way you found them. Simple, yet rarely seen. It is not another person’s job to clean up after your inconsiderate behavior.
Wait Your Turn, Just Like Everyone Else
If you need to ask a question, order food, go to the bathroom, or whatever your perceived emergency is, and there is a line, wait your turn. It is no one else’s fault but yours if you forgot something or waited until the last minute to go to the bathroom. You do not have the right to cut in front of someone because of your error in judgment.
You Have a Job; Smile.
Whoever you are, wherever you work, be thankful that you have a job. I don’t care if you are working for a fast-food industry or a fortune-500 company; you applied for and got that job. Do it with a smile on your face, and make sure it’s not a creepy one. Okay, a constant smile may not be feasible, but when you greet your customers, a smile is definitely appropriate. Be courteous to those who frequent your place of employment; it is because of them that you have a job. If you are not polite, it will ultimately lead, one way or another, to your unemployment.
Make Choices, Not Judgments
I know you have been taught to make certain choices in your life. You have either followed your parents’ advice or rebelled against them. Either way, they are choices you are making with your life. Good for you; you are living the life you want to live. Let other people make the same choices for their lives. Just because someone looks different, acts different, dresses different, or talks differently from you, it does not give you the right to judge him or her for it. Leave that person alone. You don’t want people to laugh, judge, or berate you for your choices. Don’t treat others that way. “Honor the untold story” as my niece at eight years old said. If she got it at eight, I’m sure all of you can understand that and apply it to your life, whatever your age may be.
At Least Say Excuse Me Before You Push Your Way Through
The culprits of this behavior notoriously can be found at amusement parks and shopping malls. I have three questions for these inconsiderate, impatient individuals: Where on earth are you going? Who do you think you are? and How dare you push strangers out of your way? The solution is simple: Slow down your pace, walk around people, or at least say “excuse me” before you push your way through.
Say Please and Thank You
As simple as it seems, it is rare to hear a please or thank you from people. Why is this one hard? I don’t understand. And, if you can manage those words at appropriate times, try it with a smile, please 🙂
Do Not Interrupt People I’m not perfect at this, by any means, but at least I know when I’ve accidently interrupted someone and apologize for it. Is it lack of awareness, selfishness, indifference, or an inflated perception of importance that makes people interrupt a conversation or lecture or story? Please wait for an appropriate time to share your thoughts. I don’t care if you have had the exact experience that someone else is talking about; do not interrupt his or her story to say so. Pay attention to the ebb and flow of a conversation; it will tell you when you can add your thoughts. If you never get to contribute to the discussion or you forget what you were going to say, oh well. Life will go on, and people won’t think you’re ridiculous for your inconsiderate interruption.
What used to go over Ian’s head at four-years-old is resonating with him at seven. We worked very hard at protecting him from the negative talk that surrounds Cancer during his treatments (Heart of a Hero), and we’ve still never said Cancer and death in the same sentence all these years later. We call it “C” when there is something negative associated with it. Our dog has been ill and the vet said she may have Cancer, so later we said, “If it is C, we may have to put her down.” If a family member dies of C, Ian is not going to make the connection. . . . But this kind of protection of Ian is coming to an end. Sadly, it is Ian that is forcing us into a new phase.
I think it started with his last visit to his oncologist. The doctor was so overwhelmed with Ian’s miraculous health, that he said something along the lines of how amazing it is that Ian “survived or overcame Cancer.” Since then, Ian has asked people, “Did you know I had Cancer?” or “Can you believe I survived Cancer?” I’m not sure how much he understands about his questions, but he knows he’s getting some intense responses that he enjoys. Adults will usually have appropriate responses. If they know, they smile and say “Yes, I did. That’s great that you survived that, Ian.” If they don’t know, they say, “Really?” and then ask me about it later.
But children are having a different response. They haven’t been protected from the devastation that Cancer can lead to, so their responses are unguarded and a bit more alarming for me. While Ian’s friend was over playing Wii, Ian asked him, “Did you know I survived Cancer?” His friend responded with, “Yeah, dude. That’s great, because my grandpa and aunt died from Cancer.” It came out of his mouth before I could stop him. I wanted to tell him to go home. Of course I didn’t. He didn’t know that we don’t put those words together in one sentence. I felt like that little boy had punctured Ian’s plastic bubble. I don’t want Ian to be disillusioned; I just wanted him to be older and better suited to deal with it, I guess.
Ian told me this morning that a boy in his class picked on him yesterday because of his Cancer. I asked him to explain. It started with Ian asking his teacher if she knew he had Cancer. She said she did know that. Then two girls asked him about it, and he told them he had a tumor in his head. One of the little girls covered her mouth. He said, “She acted like she was scared, Mommy.” I had to stifle a sob. Then a boy said, “You had Cancer? You’re dumb.” Ian told me using a mocking voice. As far as a dis goes, that was rather lame, but in Ian’s world, it hurt and confused him. The questions started forming in my mind. What do I do? Do I contact his teacher? What would possess a boy to tease Ian about that?
The one question I verbalized was directed at Ian: “What did you do about that, bud?”
Ian just looked at me and responded, “I didn’t punch him, even though I wanted to. I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to work.”
“That’s good, buddy. Yeah. Don’t ever punch someone for that.” I chuckled. “You did the right thing by ignoring him.”
Today, Ian taught me a lesson. Cancer is his reality, but it’s in his past now. Instead of standing in front of him, I will stand next to Ian, while he decides how he will fight the aftermath battles. Ian was strong enough to beat Cancer; he can beat this battle as well. I can’t keep him in a plastic bubble forever, nor do I want to.
I have a guest writer for this post, my son Ian. He loved that I wrote about his spider-scare, so he wanted to write a story himself. He chose to write about his first sleepover, which is perfect since I was going to write about it anyway. Waiting for the right moment to let go of Ian for a night has been hard on me, and harder on him. He’s been asking to have a “real” sleepover for a few years now. He slept over in his buddy Reece’s hotel room in Vegas while his sister Carol Linn babysat them, but that’s not the same thing, I’ve been told.
I guess I’ve been waiting because I wanted to make sure he was ready. I didn’t want him to be all excited about a sleepover, but then call me crying to pick him up. I didn’t want him to be embarrassed or to feel like a failure. And truth be told, I wanted to make sure I was ready. It was only three years ago that he was in a hospital bed after his brain surgery, and he was holding on to me for dear life. I couldn’t rollover in that small bed without him screaming for me not to leave him. In the years since, I’ve only NOT put him to bed a dozen times. Unless it’s impossible, I try to get home by bedtime. I enjoy that time with him, and he with me.
This past weekend all the essentials were perfect: a good family, Ian’s maturity, and my readiness. And now, here is Ian’s story, mostly typed by him with a little help from me.
This is Ian. I am seven years old, and I just had my first sleepover with my friend Jake. I felt a little nervous about whether I was going to cry “Mommy!” or not when I was going to go to bed. I felt scared that I was going to have bad dreams. I didn’t know what his house was going to look like, if he was going to have a bunk bed…but he didn’t.
I had to pack my pajamas, bathing suit (for swimming the next day), my goggles, Wii Wipeout (Jake told me to), a nunchuk, and my spider-monkey (I love him!). I was excited to get to Jake’s house. I gave my mom a kiss goodbye, and we started to play. We played Wipeout first, then play dough. Sometimes we didn’t get along: I wanted to play something, and he wanted to play something else, but most of the time it was fun.
When it was time to go to bed, I called my mom. I said, “Hi Mom. I just wanted to say goodnight.”
“Are you ok?”
“Yes. I’m ok.”
“Good. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Then we decided that we should sleep in a tent, and when it was in the middle of the night, I woke up Jake to sleep in his bed. I didn’t feel comfortable in the tent because it was really hot.
Then I couldn’t find my spider-monkey. I awoke Jake to get my spider-monkey out of the bathroom. Then I finally could sleep.
When we woke up, we had breakfast and then started to play Wipeout again. I was so happy I made it through my first sleepover.
January 17, 2012 will forever be branded on my heart with joy and sorrow. My precious son celebrated his 7th birthday that day; it was a day that we didn’t know if he’d be alive to celebrate. In the midst of our joyous celebration, I got the phone call that a beloved student took her own life; all I could do was scream in my shock and sorrow. Jenny was my student for three years. She was the last child of four siblings I had taught. I love Jenny and her family; she had become part of my own.
Yet, I never saw her pain. How could I have missed it? Every day I look at my students for signs of depression, and I never saw it in Jenny. She was the child who would scan the room before I did to see who needed a hug or a word of encouragement. Truthfully, Jenny got to them before I did. I never worried about Jenny. She even called herself Jubilant Jenny in our Journalism name game. Now, I see, I should have been worried. I should worry about all of my students, especially now. Jenny’s closest friends are still suffering, but in silence now. They think everyone has forgotten her, but no one has. We’re just not talking about it.
I’m ending the silence. I want my students to know I am suffering. I can’t understand why a straight-A student, a varsity soccer player, a girl on track for the Air Force Academy would feel her life was not worth living. Why didn’t she talk to me or anyone about her pain and her fears?
If Jenny would have blessed me with sharing her pain, this is what I would have said to her.
Dear Jubilant Jenny,
It’s okay that you’re having an off day today. We all have them. Sometimes everything just feels like it’s going in the wrong direction. But it’s only one day. Tomorrow will be better. You may have another bad day, but that’s what life is. We have our ups and our downs, but you can choose to do something about those days.
You can choose to let people in. Choose people who will really listen to you; people you can trust, like your parents, your siblings, a teacher, or a friend. Tell them how you are feeling so they can walk with you through the dark places and hold your hand when you’re scared. You don’t need to be alone.
You can choose to write about your feelings. You can acknowledge your pain, but don’t stay there. Put more emphasis on the good things in your life. Count your blessings! It’s cliché, I know, but I do it every day. Trust me, it helps. Write about your family, your friends, and your accomplishments. Who has influenced you? Who makes you smile? Think about all the people who have touched your life in a positive way, and remind yourself how blessed you are to be alive.
Then write about all the people you influence. Your presence is felt everywhere you go. How would those people feel if you were no longer around? If for one second you think it won’t affect them, think about how you would feel if any of those people were suddenly gone. That’s how all of us will feel. Your absence will hurt. Your smile will be missed. Your friends will be lost without you. Your teachers will feel like failures. Your siblings will be missing part of themselves. Your parents’ hearts will be broken. Convince yourself through your writing that you matter. You have to be your own best friend and remind yourself that your presence in this world is necessary to every life that you have come in contact with.
I know at times you feel like you don’t really have friends; that they are just people you know. But that’s not true. People can get wrapped up in their own problems sometimes; it’s not because they don’t care about you. You have to let people know you need someone to listen to you. That’s how we build relationships: We share with and listen to each other. Suffering in silence isolates us. When you are depressed you need to feel the presence of other people. Let them hear your pain. You cannot pretend to be jubilant to protect others from your pain. If you keep it to yourself, we will be angry with you for not telling us, so we could help you, and we don’t want to be angry with you, Jenny. We want to love you. We want to help you.
Or, you may feel that no one will understand you, so you intentionally keep your distance. High school can be hard. Everyone is trying to fit in, to find a place to belong. You are not alone with those feelings. We have all felt that way at some time in our lives. I felt that way when I was in high school. Sometimes I still feel that way. It does get easier when you get older. You’ll find people who have similar interests, and, believe it or not, most people mature rather nicely.
It can also be hard dealing with the indifference in others, or the joy some people feel at others’ pain. There will always be mean people in the world. But you have choices there as well. You can ignore them, be nice to them, or stand up for yourself and others; then, you can hope they eventually get a clue. More likely than not, those mean people need a friend, just like you do. You turn your loneliness inward and think of hurting yourself; they turn their loneliness outward and try to hurt others. Everyone needs love and compassion. You can help by being an instrument of healing to others because you will understand their pain.
That’s what I want to be, an instrument of healing. I understand your pain because I’ve been there. I’ve struggled with depression all my life. I know that whatever you are going through, you can get through it and things will get better, because it did for me. Even difficult and painful things won’t always be difficult and painful. You’ll get through it and be stronger the next time. You also need to be your own best friend and take care of and treat yourself the way you wish or want other people to take care of and treat you. It took me a long time to learn that, but it has made all my relationships better, including the one with myself.
When you start questioning your self-worth, when it’s easier to believe that you don’t matter instead of believing that you are amazing, remember you are important because you are a living, breathing person on this earth. End of story. You don’t have to do anything special beyond that. You matter because you are you.
How do I know this to be true? Because I doubted my self-worth constantly and still battle with it sometimes. I think it comes from being raised by an abusive, alcoholic father. It got in my head that if my own father couldn’t love me, I must be unlovable. I know now that my dad had his own demons he had to deal with, and it had nothing to do with me being unlovable. But as a child, I couldn’t understand that.
Now, I have so much to offer the people and children in my life because I experienced that pain. I turned it around and made it work for me, not against me. I can tell when my students need someone to talk to because I’ve been there. I can usually see and feel their pain.
Right now, I hope you think I’m strong. I want you to respect me for how I’ve overcome all of my obstacles to become the successful person I am. I want you to see how amazing I am, because that’s my point. You can be, too! Trust me, please! I felt how you feel when I was in high school. It got better in college. And it continues to get better all the time. I love who I’ve become. I love what I’ve accomplished with my life. I love how I have helped people with their education and their spiritual and mental wellbeing.
The fact that you always want to help me and others feel better tells me you have that strength and desire inside of you to help others, but first you have to stick it out. You will only cause a tremendous amount of pain if you don’t.
The end of your life will be a tragedy. You have so much to live for!
Thank you, Jenny, for talking to me about your depression. I’m ALWAYS here for you! Never forget that! By letting me help you with your pain, you allow me to heal my own pain. It makes me feel that my past has helped your future. Thank you for trusting me. Thank you for reaching out to me. You are more than your depression, Jenny. You are a kind, intelligent person who has so much to offer the world, just because you are you.
So, please, Jenny, my dear student, child, friend, family member, stranger, do not end the beautiful life you have been blessed with. There is no one else in this world like you! You will rob the world of the necessity of you. No one can replace you!
Your loving teacher, friend, family member, stranger,
Unfortunately, it is too late for Jenny. I hope it’s not too late for someone else who happens to read this letter. I don’t want to lose another child, friend, family member, or stranger to the pain of hopelessness. Who else is struggling in silence and putting on a jubilant face to mask the pain?
I’m always excited when I find another person who truly gets Groundhog Day; similarly, I am annoyed when someone doesn’t understand the pure genius of it. Groundhog Day should only have two reactions: “Best inspirational movie ever made!” Or “I love that movie; it was hysterical.” Nothing less than that is acceptable in my eyes. Unfortunately, I get lukewarm reactions, or the question: “Really? Groundhog Day?” So, when I find someone who believes it is akin to a 12-step group for life, I feel like I have made a soul-connection with a kindred spirit.
I know. There are other outstanding, award-winning, inspirational movies that have greater acclaim than Groundhog Day; movies like Braveheart, Dead Poet Society, and Good Will Hunting are serious movies, about serious topics, delivered with intensity about characteristics we all want to emulate. Those movies are a few of my favorites, but they don’t beat Groundhog Day. How can I justify that? Simple: It is everything I stand for and want to teach my children and students about life, all bundled up in a hilarious 90 minute comedy. How can a comedy accomplish such a feat? That’s exactly my point.
Everything from the brilliant writing to the spot-on acting to the visionary directing creates the greatest life-lesson I have ever learned: I will metaphorically live the same day over and over again if I don’t find a way to positively contribute to society.
As Phil Connors illustrates so perfectly, we will never improve our lives by being selfish and manipulating people. That choice will contribute to the same-shit-different-day scenario. We can only improve our lives by improving ourselves in such a way that we help others, which then improves us as well as the quality of the lives around us.
What other movie has been able to accomplish that?
If you are still not convinced, let me take you through the plot structure of the movie, addressing the life-changing lessons as they occur.
The movie opens with Phil Connors, an egotistical weather man, reporting the weather. He believes he is a much bigger star than he actually is. He can’t stand that he has to drive to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania from Pittsburg to cover the Groundhog Day celebration . . . again. He is rude to his colleagues; no one seems to like Phil, but they tolerate him. The new producer, Rita, is a kind-hearted woman who Phil slightly smiles at, but sarcastically claims, “She’s fun, but not my kind of fun.” Phil presents the idea that he’s too good for Rita. But in reality, Phil knows that a man like him could never get a woman like Rita; she is too kind and self-confident to fall for his lies.
As Phil, Rita, and Larry (the cameraman) are driving to Punxsutawney, Phil reveals that he is afraid that “Somebody is going to see [him] interviewing a groundhog and think [he doesn’t] have a future,” which, by the way, is a beautiful, ironic foreshadowing to what is about to happen: His interview with the groundhog is his only future for a very long time.
Phil, once again, displays his arrogance at the hotel; he objects to the lodgings because they were not up to Phil’s standards. Larry calls him a “Prima Donna.” Rita tells Phil she booked him at a lovely bed & breakfast. Phil is shocked but happily replies,
“You know, I think this is one of the traits of a really good producer. Keep the talent happy.”
“Did he actually call himself the talent?” (Larry)
Like most people, Phil wants other people to believe he is important; for a brief moment he thinks he has succeeded, until Larry knocks Phil off the self-created pedestal.
The next day Phil wakes up to Sonny & Cher’s classic song “I Got You Babe.” He mocks the DJs, double-talks the kind guest, and passive-aggressively insults the elderly owner of the bed & breakfast: “Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chit chat?” When she asks about his checking out, Phil responds, “Chance of departure today, 100%.” Phil does not bother to hide his contempt for the town or its people.
The rest of the day doesn’t go much better. He ignores a homeless man; he refuses to engage with Ned Ryerson. He does a horrible job reporting on the groundhog. The high-lights of the day for the viewers are when Karma seems to get its revenge on Phil: He steps into an icy puddle; they try to leave Punxsutawney only to return because of the storm Phil said would not happen; he tries to take a hot shower, but there is only cold water. We chuckle because Phil gets what he deserves, a horrible day in Punxsutawney.
The exposition to Phil’s character is perfect. He is arrogant, rude, and cynical, and no matter how hard he tries to get respect, no one takes Phil seriously. As viewers, we don’t like him, nor should we. He is the guy we all love to hate and laugh at when he gets hit with the Karma stick. We don’t let ourselves see that Phil is merely covering up his insecurities with sarcasm and aloofness.
The rising action begins the next day when Phil starts the time loop; it should be February 3, but the day begins exactly the same as the previous day: The same song plays; he runs into the same kind guest; the owner asks the same questions. Phil starts to wonder if everyone is crazy or if he is having déjà vu. He tells the owner, “I’d say the chance of departure is 80%, 75-80.” When he questions Rita about the date, Rita thinks he’s drunk. Phil says, “Drunk’s more fun.”
When he tries to get an emergency line, they tell him to try tomorrow. He questions them, “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today.” I don’t know why, but that line makes me laugh really hard every time.
He realizes that he repeated February 2, but no one else experienced the time loop. He breaks a pencil and puts it by the radio. The next day, 6 am hits and the song plays again: “Then put your little hand in mine, ’cause there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb. Babe. I got you babe.” The pencil has returned to its unbroken state.
Phil now realizes the time loop is not a fluke. I love the sequences that follow this realization because I think we would all be tempted to follow in Phil’s footsteps, or at least daydream about how reckless we would be if we were presented with the same situation.
This time loop serves as the inciting action that activates Phil’s hedonistic choices, beautifully displayed in the diner while he eats donuts, drinks coffee out of the carafe, and smokes cigarettes. He decides he is “a god. Not the God…[he] doesn’t think.” His arrogance perpetuates this perception. He indulges in all pleasures because “If there were no tomorrow, there’d be no consequences. We could do whatever we wanted.”
After a number of superficial conquests, Phil sets his sights on Rita. He works hard to discover all of her likes and dislikes in order to manipulate Rita’s affection. It ends bitterly unsatisfactory when Rita slaps his face over and over again finally to exclaim, “I could never love anyone like you, Phil, because you’ll never love anyone but yourself.” To this, Phil responds with his first truthful statement in the movie: “That’s not true. I don’t even like myself.” It is at this moment that we finally understand Phil; his arrogance, his manipulation, his lies were all a cover-up for an insecure man who was merely trying to find something outside of himself that would make him feel valuable.
Failing to acquire Rita’s love, which would mean he was lovable, sends Phil into a suicidal tailspin: “I’ll give you a winter prediction. It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be gray. And it’s going to last you for the rest of your life.” His depression is palpable. Phil decides to kill himself and the groundhog, believing it will end the time loop. He says goodbye to Rita: “I’ve come to the end of me, Rita. There’s no way out now.” This begins the difficult suicide scenes. His utter desolation painfully displays across the screen. We think Phil will be a tragic hero; however, it is a false climax and resolution. Phil wakes up every morning at 6 am to the same song.
Watching him commit suicide over and over again shifts our emotional attachment to Phil. We no longer hate him; we now feel sorry for his despondency and want him to find a way to heal his pain.
He finally reaches out to Rita with the truth: “I wake up every day right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Sadly, Phil reveals that he has become only a shell of a man: “It doesn’t make any difference. I’ve killed myself so many times, I don’t even exist anymore.” His truthfulness, even though Rita doesn’t believe him, strikes a chord with Rita and us. She decides to spend the day and night with Phil to see what happens. Close to midnight, she states a simple truth that proves to be the true turning point of the story for Phil: “Well, sometimes I wish I had a thousand lifetimes. I don’t know Phil. Maybe it’s not a curse. It just depends on how you look at it.” He responds with humor, “Gosh you’re an upbeat lady.” But it resonates. Is life really about how a person chooses to look at it?
Phil finally has the courage to tell Rita how he feels about her, albeit while she is sleeping:
“What I wanted to say was, I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone that’s nicer to people than you are. The first time I saw you something happened to me. I never told you, but…I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.”
There is nothing more moving than a man who admits he needs and wants to become a better person. We can all identify in some respect to the emptiness of the pleasure principle or the despondency of the same-shit-different-day futility. We all want to leave the emptiness behind, but how? The beauty of this movie is that it answers that question. We watch Phil become that better man–not by having someone fix him, but by making choices to fix and improve himself.
At 6 am, Phil wakes up alone again, but his awakening to a new life is obvious as soon as he opens his eyes. We see it acted out when he hands over all his money to the homeless man. Later that night, Phil sees him again, but struggling to walk. Phil brings him to the hospital where the old man dies. He demands to see his charts to know the cause of death. The nurse replies, “Sometimes people just die.” Phil says, “Not today.” My heart breaks as Phil’s compassion overflows for this man. He attempts to save the old man’s life in every conceivable way, but he fails each time. Instead of giving up, Phil puts his compassionate energy into making a positive difference with the people he can help.
The futility of life becomes a distant memory for Phil and us. I always ask myself at this point, who can I help today? How can I make a difference in someone’s life? When a movie helps us examine our own lives, it is a powerful inspirational tool, not just entertainment.
The last time loop sequence shows how Phil takes advantage of the newly realized gift of time he has received. He learns to play the piano, to ice-sculpt, and to speak French. His new purpose and vision of life is presented in his coverage of the groundhog ceremony: “Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life….I couldn’t imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.”
Although Rita is still the woman he loves, he sees his place in the community as his greater purpose. She asks him, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?” He responds with “I’d love to. Can I have a rain check? I have some errands I have to run.” What should have been the attainment of his goal, Rita seeking his company, is only a benefit to his new life. Phil, asking for a rain check, shows he now has respect for himself and his purpose in life. Phil doesn’t need approval from anyone else; he, and he alone, completed himself.
Of all his “errands” my favorite is when he catches the little boy falling out of a tree. Phil hurts his back and the child runs away: “What do you say, you little brat? You have never thanked me! I’ll see you tomorrow.” This one errand shows Phil’s growth the most. The fact that he would do it all again for a child who is ungrateful shows his character shift from selfish arrogance to self-fulfillment: His reward is in the act itself, not in the praise.
By the end of the day Phil has helped just about everyone in the community. He has won Rita’s love because he is now a good man who believes in himself. We know the transformation is complete, the climax of the story, when he accepts his life as it is, with or without the time loop: “No matter what happens tomorrow or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now.” True happiness comes from unconditional acceptance of the path we are on and sharing that acceptance with others.
Unbelievably, the next morning the song plays again: “I got you babe.” But this time, Rita’s hand turns off the radio. Phil is in shock: “Something is different.” Rita wonders, “Good or bad?” Phil responds, “Anything different is good. But this could be real good.” He realizes that the time loop has ended. He has finally figured out how to move forward: “Do you know what today is? Today is tomorrow. It happened. You’re here.” We anticipate that Phil’s resolution will fill his days with happiness.
His final comment is my favorite: “It was the end of a very long day. Is there anything I can do for you today?” After a lifetime of wanting other people to do things for him, he realizes that doing things for other people brings meaning to his life. We know he will continue to live his life that way because now he wants to take care of Rita’s needs.
In our current world of entitlement and self-gratification, we need Groundhog Day now more than ever. In the words of Danny Rubin, the brilliant mind behind the script, the best lesson of the movie is this:
The absolutely worst day of Phil’s life took place under the exact same conditions as the absolutely best day of Phil’s life. The best day and the worst day were the same day. In fact, a whole universe of experiences proved to be possible on this single day. The only difference was Phil himself, what he noticed, how he interpreted his surroundings, and what he chose to do.
This is an extremely empowering message. It suggests that, like Phil, we need not be the victims of our own lives, and that the power to change our fate, to change our experience of a single day, rests within ourselves. No matter what cycle we are stuck inside, the power to escape is already present within us. . . .
The world changed because Phil changed. That means that the difference to us between a bad day and a good day may not be the day, but may be the way we approach the day. (How To Write Groundhog Day)
I hope I have helped you understand why Groundhog Day is my favorite movie. May it empower you to approach each day from this point on with a sense of joy and purpose.
Baba Vicky was the strongest, sweetest, smartest person I have ever met. I would tell her often, but she was too humble to accept my praise. Her reply: “I try my best . . . but how can you say that? I have broken English…I can’t read or write … I’m dumb . . .” and she would shake her head. I would tell her, “Baba, don’t ever say that! What you know about life, about people could fill a book. I have learned so much from you.” She would chuckle, and then grab my hand and give it a squeeze. She always had the softest hands. “You make me feel good,” she would say. “You make me feel good, too,” I would say back. After a brief moment of silence, we would fall back into our conversation.
She always gave me the best advice. When I talked to her about someone who has hurt me, she would tell me: “If you want to be forgiven for the mistakes you’ve made, you have to learn to forgive others. We all need forgiveness at some point in our lives.” I’ve tried to honor that advice, but it’s sometimes harder than it sounds.
When I told her I hoped to have a marriage like hers and Dedo Gus’s someday, she would tell me: If you want to have a good marriage, love him the way you want to be loved, and do what makes you happy. That’s how he will learn how to love you and make you happy. She had so much wisdom.
Her wisdom had humble beginnings. Velika Popovski (Kordovich) was born on March 12, 1921 to a couple in Bukovo, a small village outside Bitola, Macedonia. She was one of eleven children, but only five of the eleven survived to adulthood. They had a small plot of land with a few animals. Baba Vicky worked hard all her life: She took care of her siblings, worked the land during planting and harvesting seasons, and cooked and cleaned for her family. Wherever she was needed she did her job well. She completed a 4th grade education because that’s all that was available to girls in the village.
Her life changed, she would tell me with a smile on her face, the day Kosta Kordovich (Dedo Gus) came back from America. Everyone knew he was looking for a wife to take to America with him. Baba Vicky didn’t bother trying to get his attention like all the other eligible girls. She felt she was too plain and too poor to get the wealthy Kosta’s attention. That may have been what grabbed his attention in the first place, but Dedo Gus said, “I know quality when I see it.”
After just a few days, Kosta knew that Velika was the woman he wanted to marry. His family was very upset. They felt that she was too plain and too poor for their son, especially when he had his pick of any girl he wanted. He refused to listen to their complaints, and Baba Vicky and Dedo Gus were married on November 13, 1938. Baba Vicky moved out of her parent’s home and moved in with Dedo Gus and his family. She knew they didn’t approve of her, but Baba Vicky was comforted in knowing that Dedo Gus loved her. His love helped her to hold her head high.
Shortly after they were married, Baba Vicky became pregnant. She earned the respect of her new family by working hard and not complaining. In August of 1939, Dedo Gus was told he had to leave Bukovo without Baba Vicky because of the turmoil in Europe. Her paperwork wasn’t ready, and WWII was imminent. Dedo Gus had earned his American citizenship, and if he did not leave the country at that time, he would lose it.
Dedo Gus left on September 3, 1939, and Baba Vicky gave birth to Ana, my mother, on September 4, 1939. Baba Vicky and her mother-in-law comforted each other and my great-grandmother depended on and loved Baba Vicky as if she had been her own daughter. The two women formed a strong bond. Baba Vicky was heartbroken that her husband had to leave her, but it did not break her. She stayed strong for her daughter. As time went on her in-laws looked to Baba Vicky for strength and guidance.
Six years had passed without a word from Dedo Gus. Everyone told Baba Vicky that Dedo Gus had forgotten about her and probably found another woman in America. She refused to believe the rumors. She refused to leave his family. After years of waiting and never giving up hope, she finally received all the letters he had sent her over that six-year period. Dedo Gus was alive and well, and waiting for her to join him in America. It took another six years for the paperwork to come through. In the meantime, Dedo Gus sent goods from America to his wife and daughter. They went from being pitied to envied in a few short months.
They eventually received visas and gained passage to America in 1951. Baba Vicky was excited to see her husband, and happy that her daughter would finally meet her father; but she was also scared. Twelve years was a long time. What if he had changed? What if he didn’t love her anymore? She also was not naïve enough to think he had been faithful to their marriage that whole time. She had no idea how she was going to face what awaited her in America, so she faced it head on, putting everything that happened in the past where it belonged.
I am blessed to have Baba Vicky as the matriarch of my family. Her story illustrates her strength and courage and how she became the woman I came to know and love. I am blessed that she shared her stories with me. I am blessed by the advice she gave me that still rings true today. But more than that, I am blessed by the way she lived her life. The lessons I learned from watching her reveal deeper truths than even her wonderful advice. These are the prominent memories of my beloved matriarch:
She put love in every meal she made. That’s what made it taste so good.
She always did her best job. She had pride in her abilities, so it didn’t matter what anyone else thought of her, which made everyone love her more.
She made everyone feel important.
She laughed at herself often; she knew life was too short to take herself too seriously.
She smiled every chance she could, bringing joy to those around her.
When she loved someone, she held his or her hand for as long as she could.
My grandmother, Baba Vicky, was an amazing woman. I miss her so much. She died a little over three years ago, but her mind left her a few years before that. During the last few years of her life, she didn’t remember much. She could recall things from her youth, but she didn’t remember who I was most of the time. I like to believe that during those last moments of her life, as we stood around her bed, God gave her back her memories, so she could see how much we all loved her. I placed my hand in her soft, frail hand, and even in her weakened state, I felt a tiny squeeze before she took her last breath.
I love you, Baba! I miss you. Thank you for the courageous decisions you made throughout your life that led you here, to America. Thank you for blessing me with your beautiful soul.
Ian is a tough little boy. He runs fast, jumps high, and falls hard. If he cries, it’s because he really got hurt. His Cancer battle has made him stronger than I could have imagined, no thanks to me. My husband deserves all the credit for this one.
After Ian’s diagnosis, he needed to have a medi-port surgically placed in his chest. The port is a round device that stayed under his skin and connected to a major vein; it provided easy access to his blood stream for blood work and infusions during radiation and chemotherapy. The surgeon told us to keep Ian still and quiet for the rest of the day. He was groggy when he woke up, so I didn’t think it would be too difficult to keep him quiet. Ian had other plans. By the time we put on his seat belt, Ian asked if he could jump on the trampoline when we got home. I said, “Absolutely not!” Dave said, “We’ll see.” I promptly glared at my husband.
When we got home, Ian asked, “Can I jump, Mom?”
“If you want to, Bubby.” Dave cut me off. I was furious. Didn’t he hear what the doctor said? How could he be so careless? I hissed as much in his face.
Dave stood his ground and firmly told me, “If my son wants to jump on the trampoline, he’s going to jump on the trampoline. Don’t you think he’d tell us if he felt sick or weak?”
It made sense, but I wasn’t ready to concede. “Fine. But don’t expect me to watch.”
“That’s fine. I’ll be out there with him.” He went out back with Ian while I stayed in the house and cried. I didn’t want Ian to get hurt. He had so much pain in his life already. How could my husband put Ian in more danger? Didn’t he realize that Ian’s life was so precarious right now? Didn’t he realize that the doctors couldn’t guarantee that Ian would see his fifth birthday?
And then it hit me. Dave realized it before I did. Dave wasn’t going to let Ian miss out on any experiences Ian was physically capable of doing. If his son wanted to jump, he was going to jump. How would I feel if someday Ian could no longer jump? How much pain would I feel if I denied Ian a chance to experience the weightless joy he felt on the trampoline?
I heard Ian squeal with joy as he said, “Watch me, Daddy!”
Dave’s response: “Jump, Bubby. Jump.”
I finally understood. I vowed to let Ian judge his own limitations from that point on.
It has been hard not to smother him with a mommy blanket, but I’ve kept my promise. Whatever sport or athletic activity Ian wants to try, we let him. It was hard watching kids throw Ian to the ground during jiu jitsu, but he laughed it off and would give it back. Once I did request that the coaches organize the players during hockey warm-ups because the other team was skating in the wrong direction, and Ian was knocked to the ground three times before the game had started. (I then imagined myself slapping the crap out of the man who told me Ian had to grow up sometime.) My instincts are to protect him, but Ian is tough. He shakes off most falls. I know it’s serious when he cries, and he rarely does that.
That is until yesterday. At his hockey game, Ian fell hard. He was lying on the ground, not moving. He was crying, loudly. The coaches turned off the game clock and had all the players take a knee. I have never seen them do that before. I ran to the rink wall and tried to figure out if I could jump it to be by Ian’s side. He was so far away from me. I couldn’t see if there was blood or a dangling leg. I imagined the worst. My husband walked over and stood by me; he rubbed my back while I tried to hold back the tears. Dave was calm, which calmed me down. After what seemed like an hour (probably more like two minutes), Ian stood up. Everyone clapped for him. I was holding my arms open, expecting him to skate to his mommy so I could comfort him. Ian shook his head and then skated to his position. I wanted to say “No. He’s hurt. Make him come to me!” But then I looked at my husband. Dave nodded his head in pride and approval. I conceded instantly. My heart sang out, “Skate, Bubby. Skate.”