Letter to Jenny

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,

Pauline Hawkins

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?

Letters

Video: Eppic is a former student of mine. My Journalism students and I submitted a clip for his video “Consider This Goodbye”

Along Came a Spider…

Our 70 degree weather this week has prompted Ian to dig through storage bins for his outdoor toys. Yesterday afternoon, Ian came rushing into the house, “Mom! Come quick!” He was panicked.

“What’s up, Bud?”

“There’s a spider in the blue bin. Come see!”

“Oh, no. That’s Daddy’s department.” I wasn’t in the mood to scream.

“But it’s huge , Mom!”

“Huge? How huge?” I was positive I wasn’t going out to the garage now.

Ian spread his arms to the width of his body.

I gasped. “Are you kidding? An even better reason for Daddy to kill it.”

“I think it’s already dead, though. It’s not moving.” His eyebrows furrowed.

Dave walked in and said, “Let’s go look at it.”

Ian looked at me with big, round eyes. Tears started to puddle in his eyes. “No. I’m scared.”

Dave shrugged his shoulders, “If you can’t show me where it is, then I’m not going out there.”

“Dad, please don’t make me.” He really looked terrified.

“I’ll be with you. Don’t be afraid,” Dave gently encouraged him.

Ian looked at me, still unsure. “Go ahead. Daddy won’t let anything hurt you.”

This is what Ian saw in the bin:

I heard Dave say, “You goof.”

Ian’s fear subsided, “Oh. I thought it was a spider.”

Ian’s dead spider was really this:

We laughed for quite some time. Ian now carries his spider-monkey with him. He sheepishly smiles every time he asks, “Do you remember when I thought this was a dead spider?”

“Yes, Bud.” I smile. I will never forget it.

The Voice Battles, Week 3: Memorable Moments and Quotes

As the battle rounds continue, I’m beginning to understand the painful process each coach has to go through. At first, I was a little confused at the pairings for the battles; but now, I can see that the coaches are in a no-win situation. They have these great singers that are all worthy of attention, yet the coaches have to let half of their team go. I don’t envy them. My heart breaks every time someone is sent home, and I don’t even know the contestants/artists. The coaches have spent time with these people, encouraged them, helped them, wanted the best for them…it would be equivalent to me having to kick 15 students out of my classroom because the other 15 have more potential. I tear up just thinking about doing that.

This is a brilliant, yet agonizing process. The viewers who criticize the coaches and/or contestants need to give everyone on The Voice encouragement, not condemnation. Take the higher road.

Round 1

Team Adam: Pip vs. Nathan Parrett “You Know I’m No Good”

Pip and Nathan have great voices. Pip has more confidence on stage from his various experiences with musical theater. Nathan recognizes that difference: “I would have rather battled anybody else.” Pip is a natural; all four chairs turned around for him, and only Adam turned around for Nathan.

Pip is 19, but he has an old soul; his voice and song choices come from generations past. He also has an interesting style (he wears bow ties:), which makes Pip endearing and memorable.

Nathan was a former competitive swimmer and has sadness etched on his face. He explains: “When my father found out that I’m gay, he took it pretty hard. I haven’t spoken to my father in a few years.” I know how it feels to be disconnected from a father; I can identify with the rejection and pain he feels.

Adam seems to favor Pip from the outset: “Pip is amazing. I love Pip. He hasn’t had a sour note.”

Nathan recognizes that he is the “underdog” and takes on the challenge: “I absolutely have a lot to prove to everyone and Adam.”

Nathan’s rehearsals prove he is a strong singer, and Adam encourages him: “Nathan, you are so much better than your audition. Your audition was not good.”

Nathan: “My audition was awful. The adrenaline definitely got the best of me.”

Adam: “That’s what prevents a lot of great singers from doing it, but it’s not going to prevent you from doing it.” This is what I love about Adam as a coach. He gets what the artists are going through. He gives them solid advice and the courage to move in the right direction.

Robin Thicke also encourages Nathan: “Stand there and be fearless. You’ve got nothing else to lose, so lose it right here.” This is solid advice for anyone pursuing his or her dreams. If we are not willing to put it all on the line, we don’t want it bad enough. Fear will win over desire every time otherwise.

Adam has definitely made a connection with Nathan: “I’m trying to instill confidence in him, because he has nothing to feel insecure about. To me, your biggest demon to tackle is going to be getting yourself to be confident about what you do. You have every right to be, because you got a great voice.” His compassionate coaching style is what produces results.

Pip’s and Nathan’s performance was incredible! It didn’t feel like a battle. They complimented each other well. I cannot choose a winner. Poor Adam!

Blake tries to help Adam out by picking a winner: “Pip’s the guy that can do everything. I lean towards Pip on this one.”

But then Cee Lo adds to the difficulty: “I think Nathan stole it.”

Adam picked Pip, but it was a hard decision for him. Ultimately I have to agree with Adam. Pip is more ready to fight for the title. Nathan is amazing, but he still needs some work with stage presence and confidence.

Pip backstage: “I’m excited to go to the live shows, but it’s awful to have to see him go, too, you know?” Pip validates the brilliant, yet agonizing process of The Voice.

After the battle, Adam hugs Nathan: “I’m so proud of you buddy. Don’t stop. You can’t stop. Promise me?” Adam is so genuine and caring. He has a tough job to do, but he does it with benevolence.

Round 2

Team Cee Lo: Erin Martin vs. The Shields Brothers “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

These artists’ styles definitely clash. Erin is quiet and unique and beautiful; the Shields Brothers are loud and old school rock ‘n roll in sound and looks.

Erin is a strong presence: “I want to be sure I’m presented in the best possible way and loud isn’t necessarily better.” I like that she isn’t afraid to be assertive with her preference. She knows what works with her style, and she asks for what she needs.

Babyface works with the Shields Brothers. He states: “The first run through was challenging. I thought, Wayne’s World.”

Cee Lo helps them to showcase their voices: “Show some vulnerability.”

One of the brothers asks, “Vulnerability?”

The piano player chimes in, “Chicks love vulnerability!” I love that he said that! He was speaking their language. The brothers were ready to try it after that.

Babyface noticed the improvement: “They quickly found their vulnerable point and pulled it together, and I heard their voices. And I was impressed. I started forgetting about Wayne’s World.” They did sound great and are great guys. They were fun to watch.

Ne-Yo worked with Erin. He felt she didn’t understand the lyrics: “The emotional element of this song—I don’t believe you. I need to believe what you’re singing.”

Cee Lo added to Ne-Yo’s comments: “I think you are trying to be attractive, but you’re not trying to be sexy.”

Erin didn’t understand the nuances: “My confidence was completely shaken. I didn’t understand what they were trying to say. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that somebody didn’t think that I was not sexy.” Even though the double negative made her comment confusing, she was obviously still convinced that her beauty equates with sexiness.

Ne-Yo explains further: “Looking at you is the easy part. I see you, okay? You’re cute. What else you got? Because there’s a lot of cute in the world.” I have more respect for Ne-Yo with every episode.

Before the battle, the Brothers reflect on the awesomeness of this experience: “We come from a tiny farm in Virginia and to be out here in LA, living this, like, rock-n-roll dream, is just incredible for us.”

Erin is more competitive: “I’m 100% confident I’m going to win this battle. The Shields Brothers are like, Punk Rock. Power is not talent. It’s just loud.”

After the battle, Adam sums it up: “That was so weird!” It really was. He liked the Shields Brothers better because they were like a garage band doing their thing and having fun. I agree with him for the same reasons.

Blake comments on Erin’s outfit: “Erin, I’m so glad you wore that. I’m married now and girls wearing outfits like that is all I have left.” He picked Erin, but it seems as if it was based on what she wore, not on her performance.

Christina had a surprising reaction: “I [bleep] loved it! I thought that was entertainment.”

Cee Lo’s summary of the battle made sense. He felt it was strange and brilliant. He thought the Shields Brothers were a one trick pony, but that Erin had potential to do great things in other areas. He picked Erin. I have to say, my husband turned the DVR off after that; he was angry. I had to make him turn it back on. I can see where Cee Lo is coming from, but I liked the Shields Brothers better.

Round 3

Team Christina: Ashley De La Rosa vs. Jonathas “No Air”

Ashley is 17 years old and a philanthropist: “I have two passions in life, music and charity. I do a lot of food drives and clothing drives because it’s important to build awareness of what’s going on in the world. The Voice will hopefully give me the opportunity to put both of my passions together.” It is incredible to see a teenager with such conviction and compassion.

Jonathas is a father and immigrated to America when he was young: “I don’t want to let my kids down. This would be the American Dream, and it would just kind of give me the satisfaction that, you know, my mom didn’t bring me to America for nothing.”

Jewel worked with Ashley: “If she can get on stage and just let herself shine, she’s going to be really compelling and really hard to beat.” Ashley definitely has everything it takes to make it in the music industry.

Ashley reflects on the opportunity The Voice has given her: “I am in no way taking this for granted. This is honestly the best thing that’s ever happened to me, so I’m just ready to give it my all and to really work for it, and I’m not going down without a fight.”

All three of the other judges picked Ashley and so did Christina. That was a tough decision, but I think it was the right one. Both are talented, but I think Ashley can go far in the competition.

Round 4

Team Blake: Alex vs. Jermaine Paul “Get Outta My Dreams, Get into My Car”

Jermaine was a backup vocalist for Alicia Keyes and his daughter suggested that he try out for The Voice. It’s hard to imagine that someone as talented as Jermaine would not be front and center from the beginning; another beautiful reason The Voice is a great venue for talented artists.

Alyx expresses the conviction that all should aspire to obtain: “I was born to be a performer. This is exactly what I’m supposed to do.” If we all sought out our purpose and worked to achieve it, no matter how many times we fail, we would have a happier world.

Miranda astutely comments on what is missing in Alyx’s performance: “I’m not sure she’s ever had fun and cut loose. She doesn’t seem like that person that could actually give up all control and just own being a jackass, and sometimes that’s what you have to do, as a performer.” I hope Alyx takes Miranda’s advice.

Kelly works with Jermaine. After his first rehearsal with her, she exclaims, “Oh my God. That was amazing. I mean, like, I really hope you win it. But if you don’t, please come sing with me on tour.” What a grand compliment for him! But of course, he wants to open for her, not be a backup singer any longer.

Jermaine truly was brilliant during the battle, and I don’t think Alyx let loose. Her voice is great, but she didn’t seem to be having fun.

Adam summed it up: “Jermaine, you took this song and kicked its ass!”

Blake picked Jermaine. I agree. Christina commented on how she loves Jermaine and is jealous that Blake has him.

Round 5

Team Adam: Angel Taylor vs. Katrina Parker “Bleeding Love”

Angel has an amazing talent, but she is another artist who has pain etched on her face. I am immediately drawn to those people. I think Adam and Robin saw it as well. Robin said, “Angel has one of the best chances to win the whole thing, I think. All she has to do is say, ‘I’m ready to be the best right now. This is my moment and I’m going to shine.’” The confidence issue will make or break a person’s dreams.

Alanis worked with Katrina. Katrina was not able to sing for a number of years because of an illness. Now that she can sing again, Katrina is ready to make the most of this opportunity. Alanis sensed a slight hesitation though: “Katrina is really smart and very funny, and for her it’s just realizing that the boat that she’s in is safe. It has no holes in it, and just paddle away, my friend.” Katrina truly has a beautiful, interesting voice. She must worry that at any moment her voice could disappear. Alanis gave her solid advice.

Both their performances were great, but Angel was a little nervous. Katrina was consistent and sounded better.

Blake, without hesitation, stated, “Katrina flat out won.”

Adam was torn. He prefaced his choice with, “I love you both, by the way, and I hope you don’t hate me after I do this. . . . I have to go with Katrina.” He made a difficult decision, but the right one.

Angel, very sweetly, parted with, “Adam has become a friend, and I obviously love him to death, and I appreciate the time we spent together, so thank you so much.”

Round 6

Team Blake: Gwen Sebastian vs. Erin Willett “We Belong”

Erin has an incredible voice and started this process with her number one fan, her dad: “The Voice gives my dad a chance to see me live my dream.” Chuck Willett has Stage IV Cancer.

Blake knows that this pairing will be difficult: “They’re both very dramatic, very emotional performers.”

Gwen is a country singer with a lot of style and character. She has put off having a family in order to pursue her singing dream. To make this battle even more difficult, Gwen reveals the conundrum she is in: “I’m trying not to look at the Battle Round as a battle, because Erin and I have become close in such a short period of time. I want the audience to feel like they’re coming to a show and not to a battle.” I love when people can put a positive spin on difficult situations.

Miranda notices the strength in Gwen’s character as well: “It’s really cool that you are thoughtful of the other person on stage.”

No matter what, Gwen is pushing forward: “I’ve sacrificed a lot. I’ve worked really hard…and right now, I’m not ready to give up my dream. I’m just not ready to do that.”

The part of the show that has been alluded to from the beginning is Erin’s plight: “I got a phone call from my mom, letting me know my dad’s not really doing that well. . . The nurses gave him 24 hours. I’m trying to be as present as I can right now and trying to focus as much as I can.” Why does this happen so often? Exactly the moment when our dream is ours for the taking, a tragedy forces an unimaginable choice. Erin chooses to stay, knowing her dad wanted her to. Real love will always encourage us to follow our purpose in life.

Blake encourages Erin’s decision: “You deserve this opportunity so much.”

Erin tearfully proclaims, “I want to make him proud. I know he’s proud of me anyway, but the fact that I have this opportunity, I know he wouldn’t want me to give it up. I’m doing this for him. I want him to hear his daughter’s voice.” I choked up with the symbolic truth of it all.

All the judges loved both performances, but they all favored Erin.

Gwen’s charm shines through after the battle when she states, “I couldn’t have lost to a better person.” I hope a music producer picks her up. She is an amazing talent and an even more amazing person.

Sadly, the final segment showed a clip with Erin and her dad, with the words “In Memory of Chuck Willett.”

Following our dreams is never an easy road.

The Voice Battles, Week 2: Inspiration for All

Not only does The Voice help people pursue their dreams, but it also presents artists with incredible stories. I enjoy watching the process for the talent and for the inspiration. I want to thank all the artists for persevering through their trials and becoming role models for people who are struggling and thinking of giving up. All of you, whether you make it to the next round or not, have inspired me to continue pursuing my own dreams. Thank you!

Round 1

Team Christina: Geoff McBride vs. Sera Hill “Chain of Fools”

Geoff is 51 and is living out a dream for his kids. Geoff’s father was a singer and died when he was six. I can’t imagine how painful that was, especially since his dad was Geoff’s hero. I’m glad he is able to take that tragedy in his life and make it a positive experience for his children. Geoff says he wants to be a hero to his own children. He has succeeded, in my eyes, just for the mere fact that he is 51 and still fighting for his dream. Never giving up is a great lesson for his children.

Sera feels blessed to work with Christina and Jewel. She looks at them as role models because of what they’ve accomplished with their lives. Sera hopes to achieve the heights as a woman that these women have achieved. Before The Voice she worked as a hotel receptionist. Sera inspired Christina to get out of her chair and sing with Sera. It was endearing to see her try to sing with one of her idols.

The battle was incredible because both singers were wonderful. In my opinion, Sera won, but Geoff was a fierce competitor.

One of my favorite comments came from Blake when he said that they both clearly sang the “crap out of the song.” I love him.

Christina had a tough decision. She went with her gut and picked Sera.

After the decision, Geoff revealed that his mother and brother were in the crowd, and it was the first time in 51 years they were in the audience to see him perform. Even the losers of the competition are winners. I love that!

Round 2

Team Blake: Charlotte Sometimes vs. Lex Land (two of the coolest names I have ever heard). “Pumped Up Kicks”

The rehearsals had some awkward moments because the two artists are complete opposites: Charlotte is loud and Lex is quiet. What’s interesting about that is it didn’t make me like either one less. Their performance wasn’t great because of the stylistic polarity, but it did have moments of greatness.

Miranda Lambert really liked Lex. She said, “There’s a mystery to you that makes me want to know more about you.” I love that the show embraces every type of performer. With Lex’s introverted personality (at least on stage) I don’t know if she would have had this chance on any other performance-type show.

Charlotte said she wanted to destroy Lex: “I want to win, and I want her to lose.” Coming from anyone else, it would have sounded nasty, but Charlotte is boisterous, and that was just one of her animated comments.

Lex is sweet. She knows she struggles with inhibition: “I don’t want to let another opportunity pass me by because I wasn’t assertive enough.” I think it’s amazing that she is able to pursue her dreams with those fears plaguing her.

I think Charlotte won the battle, but Lex was definitely cool and interesting. The determining factor was Charlotte’s comfort on the stage.

Blake said about Charlotte: “Charlotte gets up there and you can’t take your eyes off of her. That’s what it takes to make a star.” He picked Charlotte.

Lex’s final comment earned my respect: “I’m definitely going to walk away with my head high.”

Round 3

Team Cee Lo: Sarah Golden vs. Juliet Simms “Stay with Me”

This pairing was hard for me to watch because Sarah has a great voice, but she was at a disadvantage right from the beginning. Juliet is beautiful and has the rocker’s voice, which is perfect for a Rod Stewart song. Sarah says over and over again that she is excited to be herself, but that self didn’t have a chance in this battle. I didn’t think it was fair, but I know that the teams have to be whittled down.

I think Juliet won the battle. Sarah is really good though. Cee Lo agreed with me and picked Juliet. I feel bad for Sarah. She had that look like she was used to the disappointment even though she was excited she had the opportunity to be on The Voice.

Round 4

Team Adam: Whitney Myer vs. Kim Yarbrough “No More Drama”

Adam had a hard time with his decision to pair these two in battle: “They’re both powerful singers. I feel like they have to beat each other in order to win.” As a coach, he had to make a difficult decision, but he’s probably right.

During the rehearsals, Whitney looked a bit intimidated by Kim. She sought encouragement from Adam. His position: “Whitney wants to know all the secrets in the How to be Successful handbook. Sadly, that does not exist. But there are a lot of things that you can be told that will help you along.” I like that he’s real with his team.

Kim seemed to really understand the lyrics of the song: “Everybody has some kind of cross to bear in their life, and I feel like I can relate to several different types of problems. It’s such a dramatic song. I think I can use that to my advantage.”

It was hard to pick between the two. Whitney was young and fresh, but Kim had amazing vocals. Adam picked Kim, and I will have to agree with him. I’m still shocked though because he seemed to promise Whitney a long future on the show with the blind auditions with his comment “I feel like you could win this whole thing.”

Kim was ecstatic: “I’m living my dream right now.” That’s why I love this show!

However, the show is difficult when it shows the heartbreak. Whitney attempted to stay positive: “I’m really glad for Kim. She deserves it. She’s worked really hard.” She barely got the words out before she started crying. I choked up as well.

Round 5

Team Christina: Lee Koch vs. Lindsey Pavao “Heart-Shaped Box”

Lee reminds me of Glen Hansard from the movie Once. What I love about Lee is that he did not know the song so he was not good during the rehearsals, but then he was amazing during the performance. Lindsey was amazing from the beginning. I really like her tone and style.

I think Lindsey won, but I like Lee too.

Cee Lo thought Lee looked like Jesus in certain lighting. Lee blessed him. That was a very funny interaction. I love people who have a quick, funny responses.

Adam added to the humor: “Cee Lo found Jesus today. I did not, but I did find an incredibly kind of delightfully creepy performance. I really like it. It was really odd, but in a great way.” Adam felt that Lee’s voice had an otherworldly quality to it, which makes it unique.

Christina picked Lindsey, once again a good choice, but a hard one.

Blake reminded me a little bit of my grandfather with his confused response: “I feel so stupid. I don’t know that song. . . . I would’ve picked “Monster Mash” if I was going for creepy.” Funny, in an old-timer country kind of way. Oh, Blake;)

Round 6

Team Cee Lo: Jamar Rogers vs. Jamie Lono “I Want to Know What Love Is”

This by far was the most difficult battle to watch. Jamar is such a talented inspiration, and Jamie is the sweetest man. When Cee Lo announced the pairing, Jamar said, “My heart just dropped. That’s my boy.” They became good friends, and now they have to battle against each other.

Jamie has these red glasses that make him look so cute, yet vulnerable at the same time. His Johnny Cash rendition is the best cover I’ve ever heard.

Jamar is HIV positive from drug abuse and has straightened out his life. Both are great guys. Who do I cheer for?

Jamie is in awe of Jamar: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like Jamar. He’s an unbelievable vocalist.”

Cee Lo makes a profound statement during rehearsals: “Whoever gets to his moment of clarity first will be the winner.” We can apply that to any competitive situation.

Jamie’s voice cracked a few times. He said, “My biggest struggle when I was growing up was just believing in myself, and this song pretty much sums that up.” I just want to wrap my arms around him and tell him everything is going to be okay.

Jamar was excited to work with his coaches: “I never thought that I would get to sing a duet with Cee Lo. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world….I love Jamie but I’m about to sing my ass off.” I think Jamar just showed that moment of clarity.

Jamie wore the cutest sweater for the performance. He is so innocent and sweet. Before his performance, Jamie said, “I need to pull it together and show the world the beauty inside my soul.” Take it from me, Jamie. You did!

Before Jamar walked on stage, he said, “I represent a comeback from the shadows…and achievement and promise.” Jamar has a look that I can only describe as strengthened humility. I am in awe over what he has overcome.

Their performance was great, but Jamar was the hands-down winner of the battle. I felt that Jamie complimented Jamar’s voice and wished they entered as a duet.

While Adam was praising Jamar, Jamie had a defeated look. I started tearing up. Adam had strong praise for Jamar: “I feel like an idiot.” He stated, for not turning around when Jamar sang for the blind auditions.

Blake praised Jamie, which made me love Blake even more: “Jamie, I love your vibe.” Jamie had such a great smile with the praise! I was grateful Blake recognized Jamie’s need at that moment.

Cee Lo was in a tough position: “Jamie, I want to give you the confidence. I want you to be reassured that I’m with you and I’m in your corner. . . . Jamar, I know your story. It’s a story of redemption. . . . I admire your perseverance. It’s powerful…” He picked Jamar, and I wanted to cry for Jamie.

Jamie thanked Cee Lo for picking him to be on Cee Lo’s team: “Your coaching did not go in vain, and I’ll take it to heart every single day of my life….(Backstage) Of course I’d like to go on, but, I mean, I feel like there’s a reason for me being here, and maybe that was to let Jamar win . . . (starts crying) I mean, he’s an awesome person.” And so are you, Jamie!

Backstage, Jamar is crying with joy, but I think also with a heavy heart for his friend, Jamie: “I just want to say that I am living proof that there is just no pit too deep that you can’t climb out of. And you don’t have to lay down and die. You can decide to live. You can decide to get better. You can decide to do better. And I just—I got to prove that today.”

Intense. Beautiful. Inspiring. I love The Voice.

#1 Groundhog Day

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.

Groundhog DayBy 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.

The Voice Battles, Week 1: Keeping the Dream Alive

Reality TV can get a bad rap, that’s why I think we should call talent shows something different, like Competition TV or Dream Makers TV. The Voice, American Idol, X Factor, and America’s Got Talent have nothing in common with shows like The Bachelor, Jersey Shore, and Teen Mom. Both types of shows have real people, but that’s where the similarities end. I will admit to watching seasons of The Bachelor every now and then, and I have seen episodes of Teen Mom, but I am embarrassed by that fact. Those shows highlight what’s wrong with the world; however, I am never embarrassed to admit that I watch TV that helps people achieve their dreams. My favorite show by far is The Voice. Like other competitions, there is a prize at the end; the winner of The Voice gets a contract with Universal Republic Records.

Why is The Voice better than those other competitions? It is truly about working with people who have a dream of becoming a recording artist. All contestants are following a passion that has been burning inside of them since they were little. This is the only competition that makes sure the contestants are worthy before they get on the show. The other shows have too many people who just want to get on TV, and they do ridiculous things to guarantee it. I get really sick of that kind of behavior; shock-value behavior perpetuates more shock-value behavior. No wonder we have a society that undervalues education, morals, and character when all one has to do is act stupid to become famous. The other talent shows also make fun of people. I hate that even more. I’m sad for the William-Hung type contestants who think they are really talented, but in reality society is laughing at them. The Voice is the only show that honors and respects everyone’s talent, whether the judges turn their chairs around or not.

The Blind Auditions are also unusual in this era. People are judged purely on their voices, not the surface-level visual appeal that has destroyed the music industry in certain respects. Some of our greatest singers would never have made it in the industry if they were judged by appearance rather than their voices. Imagine the world without Barbra Streisand, Lyle Lovett, and Freddie Mercury. Fans grew to love these talented artists, regardless of their physical features, and later embraced these characteristics that made them unique. That’s why The Voice is an awesome show. Contestants who are beautiful in appearance also like that their voices turn the chairs around, not their looks. With so many people getting hurt, overlooked, or prejudged because of looks, it’s a wonder the world pays so much attention to it. Thankfully the producers of The Voice figured it out.

The Battle Rounds are hard, because so many people are eliminated each show. Some are amazing artists already, but their time on the show ends. I realize that in any competition there will be winners and losers, but it’s so hard to see talented people lose. My hope is that producers in the industry watch the show, and the people who are eliminated get opportunities to continue pursuing their dreams.

I have to admit, Adam Levine is the reason I started watching the show. I know it sounds hypocritical to say that I wanted to gaze adoringly at this incredibly gorgeous man, since I just admonished the world for being too appearance orientated. But in my defense, I loved Maroon 5’s music before I knew what Adam looked like. His looks were just an added benefit. Also, through watching the show, I’ve come to admire his character, as well. I also enjoy watching the interactions among the other judges.

Recap and Opinions of The Voice “The Battles Begin” Aired March 5, 2012

First Battle: Team Adam. Adam picked Tony Lucca to go against Chris Cauley; they had to sing “Beautiful Day” by U2. Tony Lucca is the former Mickey Mouse Club member, and Chris Cauley is from Atlanta. During The Blind Auditions, they showed that great clip of Chris singing with his grandmother. Alanis Morissette and Robin Thicke were the guest celebrity coaches for Team Adam.

While they are practicing, I can’t help but wonder why Adam put those two against each other. They are both so good. Both singers could be in the final, but now, one of them has to leave the show in the first round.

Chris felt a little intimidated by going against Tony Lucca because of Tony’s past. He tried to stay positive and said, “At the end of the day we have to be great performers.”

Both were awesome, but I felt that Chris was better. Blake agreed with me. He felt Chris’s pitch was consistent.

Christina and Cee Lo both thought Tony did better, however, with Cee Lo saying that Tony is “the total package.”

Finally, Adam said that “Chris is theatrical” and that “Tony blows me away.” He said, “I didn’t think it was going to be this close.”

In the end, Adam picked Tony. I’m not sure I agree with that choice, but then again, I’m not in the music industry.

Chris Cauley is a great guy. His final comment shows that he is a man of character. He said he was a fan of Adam’s music but that now, he’s “a fan of [Adam’s] as a man, which is more important.” I agree.

Second Battle: Team Blake. Blake picked Adley to go against Raelynn; they had to sing “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty. Adley has rock influences, and she is new to the music dream; she has only been singing for 10 months. Raelynn, on the other hand, has been trying to break-in to the country music industry for some time, even though she is only 17. Blake says that this will be a good battle because they are “both completely different” performers. Miranda Lambert and Kelly Clarkson are the celebrity guest coaches.

Raelynn was so excited when she saw Miranda Lambert; she hugged her and said “You’re real!” It might have been an embarrassing moment for her, except that she is so darn cute about it, it makes it an endearing interchange. Miranda and Raelynn blended beautifully together during rehearsal, and Blake said that the two of them were “Kindred spirits.” I wonder if Blake sees a duet with his wife and protégé in the future. Raelynn said she hopes she wins this battle because “This is my dream. I don’t want to go back to the farm.”

Adley works with Kelly Clarkson. What I didn’t expect was how beautiful Adley and Blake sounded together. For a brief moment their voices created a beautiful duet, with Adley’s deep tone complimenting Blake’s. Adley’s spunk and determination was summed up when she said, “I’m not going to quit until the last note.”

During the battle it was a little awkward since their voices were so different. Raelynn has a unique sound that is definitely country; Adley’s voice is clear and strong, and could work with any genre of music. It was nice to see the two girls hug at the end of the song. The competition did not affect their sense of decency and mutual respect.

I felt that Adley won the battle. Christina and Cee Lo agreed with me.

Adam, however, said he liked Raelynn better because she was “more unique.”

Blake chose Raelynn, which I was a little surprised about, but I’m sure he sees her as a future country star.

Adley showed class when she said to Blake, “I look up to you, and I hope I made you proud tonight.”

Third Battle: Team Christina. Christina chose Chris Mann to battle against Monique; they had to sing “The Power of Love” by Celine Dion. Chris is the artist who was classically trained; Monique has a powerful voice but she doesn’t have the training that Chris has. The celebrity guest coaches are Lionel Ritchie and Jewel.

Chris works with Lionel Ritchie. Chris is worried because he’s a perfectionist and Monique sings with passion.

Monique works with Jewel. Christina tells Monique to “use the emotion and the love you feel and put it back in the song.”

It was a little bit of an awkward performance because their styles were so different, but I think Chris was a bit robotic, whereas Monique sang her heart out. Blake agreed with me.

Cee Lo and Adam said that Chris won the battle.

Christina picked Chris; again, not who I would have picked.

Monique said that Christina’s help was “priceless.”

Fourth Battle: Team Cee Lo. Cee Lo chose Cheesa to battle Angie Johnson with the song “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. Cheesa is a Honolulu native; their move to Los Angeles hurt their finances so the family moved into the garage and opened up an elderly care facility in their house. Angie is a staff sergeant that became a YouTube sensation. The celebrity guest coaches are Baby Face and Ne-Yo.

The girls seemed to be a little catty about each other. I don’t like to see that. It’s not The Bachelor.

Cheesa works with Baby Face. He gives her good advice on holding her notes.

Angie works with Ne-Yo. He said that Angie had “depth and levels to her voice.”

Both gave strong performances, but I liked Angie better. Blake and Christina agreed with me.

Adam would have picked Cheesa.

Cee Lo chose Cheesa. I haven’t agreed with a judge yet.

Angie said, “This experience was a fairy tale for me.”

Fifth Battle: Team Blake. Blake chose Jordis Unga and Brian Fuente to sing “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette. Jordis has an edge to her and has tried everything to break into the music industry; Brian has been in a band, but is trying to breakout into a solo career.

Brain works with Kelly Clarkson. She said, “When you’re not hesitant you’re a freakin’ killer.”

Jordis works with Miranda Lambert. Miranda told her that she auditioned as Jordis, so she shouldn’t worry about Brian. Jordis seems to be overwhelmed with the competition. She said, “I have no backup plan” if she doesn’t make it on this show.

Blake says, “Let me be the bad guy.”

Jordis had more emotion and strength in her voice, but Brian was interesting and fun to watch. I liked Jordis better. Christina and Adam agreed with me.

Cee Lo would have picked Brian.

Blake chose Jordis, the only one I agreed with so far.

Sixth Battle: Team Christina. Christina chose Anthony Evans to battle Jesse Campbell; they will sing “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys. Anthony is a pastor’s son who is “feeling the pressure to be something because [his] dad is something.” Jesse is a single dad who was homeless and living out of his car for a while.

Jesse understands Christina’s motive. He said, “You can’t have two similar styles representing the team. Someone has to go.” He summed up what the judges seemed to be doing with their battle pairings.

Jesse works with Lionel Richie. Lionel Richie tells him that a lot of people make mistakes by trying to outdo, “Don’t try to outdo…Don’t run past you.”

Anthony works with Jewel. She told him, “Don’t let a single note come out that you don’t mean.”

I was surprised at how good Anthony was. He seemed so timid during the blind auditions, but his voice was commanding.

The most amazing performance I’ve seen on any show. It was electric! They should be a duet instead of solo artists. I don’t know if either one of them will have the charisma they had together.

Since I have to choose one, I pick Jesse only because his story is more moving, but both voices were amazing.

Cee Lo said, “I was blown away.” He didn’t choose either artist.

Adam said, “The sheer level of talent is mind blowing.” He picks Jesse.

Blake said, “This whole thing was so good it’s ridiculous.” He picks Jesse as well.

Christina had a hard time choosing, but ends up picking Jesse.

Anthony said afterwards, “I did all that I could. I don’t have regrets. That to me feels like winning on the inside.”

Jesse said, “I feel infinite possibilities are ahead…Now it’s just time to fly.”

I am sad that two great artists’ time was cut short on the show. I would have loved to see more of Chris Cauley and Anthony Evans. They could have gone far but Adam and Christina set themselves up to make painful decisions. If anything, the nature of this type of show means that talented people will have to be eliminated. I hope that all of the eliminated artists continue to fight for and someday achieve their singing dreams.

 

Blessing #9: Memories of the Matriarch

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.

Blessings

Jump, Bubby. Jump.

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?”

“No–”

“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.”

Life After Cancer Blog

 

Miracles Never Cease

This past week Ian had a checkup with his oncologist. We already knew his February MRI came back clear. We don’t sleep much until we get the results, so the doctor called us as soon as he received the scans. Every time Ian has an MRI we worry that it will reveal something abnormal. I doubt we will ever be comfortable with Ian’s checkups, but a clear MRI scan is cause for celebration. What we didn’t anticipate at his checkup is Ian’s doctor’s shock and enthusiasm over the results.

It has now been two years since the completion of Ian’s Cancer treatments. It snuck up on us. This anniversary marks a significant decrease in the likelihood that the Cancer will come back. The doctor was amazed. Because of the rarity of Ian’s tumor (no child has ever had this type of Cancer before), he never would have predicted this outcome. He kept asking, “Are you sure there are no problems or concerns with Ian’s health?” Our resounding answer: None!

This is nothing short of a miracle. For those of you who have been reading about our struggle from the beginning, do you remember when I asked all of you to pray for Ian not to have the consequences the professionals told us were bound to happen? If Ian had to be one in a hundred-million to have this Cancerous brain tumor, then could he be that one in a hundred-million not to have brain damage or learning disabilities? Could he not be confined to a wheelchair? These consequences were normal for a child with any kind of brain tumor, not to mention a rare, Cancerous one. Could he please just be a normal boy after every difficult treatment he had to endure? Ian has confounded the odds.

The doctor was expecting Ian to have at least some developmental issues. Immediately following Ian’s treatments, it was difficult to determine if Ian’s brain had suffered. He was only four when he was diagnosed, but now, at seven, we can measure his mental, physical, and intellectual growth. How does he compare? Ian is reading and passing his math and spelling tests, keeping up with his classmates. Not only can he run and jump, but he is excelling at hockey. In five short months Ian learned to skate forwards and backwards, and he is now scoring goals. He just joined a club hockey team and is able to keep up with the children that have been skating for a year or more.

The other consequence that we have to watch out for is the damage the radiation treatments may have done to his body. His pituitary gland and other vital organs may have been affected. It isn’t until children reach puberty that doctors know for sure if anything has been damaged. It will be another waiting game for those long-term results, but the recent blood tests show no damage whatsoever at this time!

Our prayers have been answered. Ian is one in a hundred million!

Life After Cancer Blog

The Alchemist: Introduction and #1 Personal Calling

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist

An alchemist is a person who changes a common substance into a substance of great value.

I knew before opening the book, I was going to love what was inside.

As a matter of fact, after I read the introduction, I knew The Alchemist was a book I needed to slowly digest, not devour, like the three-day, no-showering ingestion of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows. The Alchemist, as simple an allegory as Plato’s “Parable of the Cave,” is filled with meaningful quotes that I could have easily overlooked, if it weren’t for the author’s introduction to his book.

#1 Personal Calling

These words caught my attention:

we all need to be aware of our personal calling. What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing; it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream. (v-vi)

I read that on Christmas Day, 2011. The Alchemist was a Christmas gift from my daughter Nicole, and the timing couldn’t have been better. I was dealing with some devastating things in my life. I felt like everything I had hoped for with the New Year had just turned to dust in my hands. I was trying to hold my emotions intact because I didn’t want to ruin the holidays for my children.

And then I read those words. My eyes filled with tears. I looked around the room to see if my family saw my emotions. I was safe. I read them again. I don’t believe in coincidences, only God-incidences. He had my attention.

I already knew what my “personal calling” was. I have been called to be a teacher; I have no doubts there. All jobs and experiences throughout my life have put me in teaching positions. I started babysitting at ten (The world has changed, hasn’t it?). In all of my restaurant jobs, I became a trainer. In college, before I started my education classes, I worked in the tutoring lab. It was something that came naturally. Now, as a high school English teacher, I know I am fulfilling my personal calling. Teaching fills me with joy; my students rejuvenate me. I’m passionate about making a difference in children’s lives, and they reward me by telling me that I have changed them for the better. I could never stop being a teacher.

But something has been missing. While teaching is my passion, writing is my dream.

Some of my earliest memories are of writing stories, poems, lyrics (with ridiculous melodies)—and loving how it felt when someone connected with my words (on those rare occasions that I would share them). As an adult I have written novels, plays, scripts, and poems, some of which I have shared with others, some no one else has ever seen. I love writing, but I’ve kept it as a dream, too afraid to make it a reality.

While holding The Alchemist in my hands that Christmas morning, that’s what made my heart ache. I was just about to make writing a reality. The New Year was supposed to begin with my new travel blog; my husband, son, and I were going to take our dream baseball trip during the summer of 2012. We would be on the road for 32 days, visiting all 30 baseball stadiums, and ending with the home-run derby and the all-star game: 32 games in 32 days. That’s how 32in32.com was created. But that dream ended as I watched what I thought was my reality melt away. I can’t go into what happened without hurting people I love, but trust me, it’s painful.

I read Coelho’s words again. The last sentence struck a chord: “However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.” It echoed in my head as I started to question why my dream had to end. That question was then replaced with, “Why are you giving up? Don’t be a coward.” It suddenly became clear: Making my dream a reality could not be contingent upon my circumstances. My circumstance was just an excuse to give up on my dream, again. Coelho’s words made me see that. I would not give up. I refused to be a coward another second longer. With The Alchemist to guide me, I promised myself I would find a way to make being a writer my reality.

The Alchemist Posts