среда, 28 августа 2013 г.

My Guilty Ace

By Peter Richmond
Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course — the distance between your ears.
~Bobby Jones
The 5th hole at Hotchkiss — a lovely, hilly, tough course that winds its way through the campus of the prep school of the same name — looks as if it should be the easiest par 3 in the history of the game: 140 yards, sloping straight downhill. The huge green, fronted by a thin strand of sand, beckons like some enormous, comfortable throw rug. From the tee-box it seems as if you could spray your shot anywhere and this green would still gather the ball in. My friends all routinely birdie the 5th.
I, on the other hand, routinely mess it up. The 5th has me psyched. A short iron shot off a tee ought to be the easiest shot in golf, right? Not for me. Of course, for me, no shot is easy. If I had a handicap, it'd probably be in the high twenties, so it's not as if I've mastered any part of the game. I took it up seven years ago, at the age of forty-eight, and my backswing still looks like some flickering, spasmodic image you'd have seen on a wind-up nickelodeon machine in 1905. All of which makes what happened on that afternoon two summers ago all the more bizarre.
I was playing by myself, as I often like to do, because playing alone lessens the pressure. It had been raining on and off for a couple of days, and a fine mist creased a steady drizzle as I hiked up the hill toward the 5th tee-box. I'd played the first four holes decently, and had a legitimate chance to break 50 for the nine (always my ultimate goal). For some reason I'd decided to keep score that day, which I seldom do.
I teed the ball a little higher than usual, to ensure I'd get it in the air and have a chance at bogey to keep my good round going. I swung my 7-iron. When I looked up, I saw the ball describing an abnormally high parabola through the gray sky. My shot was not only straight, but seemed to have the right distance as well. Could I land close enough for a legitimate birdie putt?
I watched the ball descend through the mist until I lost sight of it against a backdrop of trees. Then I heard the distant but delightfully unmistakable sound of a golf ball plonking onto a green. My eye caught the ball, just briefly. It looked to have hit just a few feet behind the cup. Then I lost it again. Then, a fraction of second later, I heard a loud "clank."
A clank? Like a ball hitting a flagstick? That can't be bad, I thought. If it hit the flagstick, on a slow green, how far away could it have bounded? On the other hand, I thought, what if...? But the thought of an ace seemed absurd. I've amassed maybe one birdie a year since I took the game up. No way could I have just made a hole-in-one.
But the closer I got to the green, the more excited I grew. I could see no ball. But as I neared the hole, my heart sank. There was no sign of white.
But wait! The cup was full of murky brown water, and there, bobbing just beneath its surface, was my ball. I felt nothing but shock.
I quickly looked around to see if I'd had any witnesses. Not a soul. I fixed my ball's plug mark about six feet behind the hole. I took my scorecard out of my back pocket and, with hands trembling, scrawled a "1."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Golf Book
And then I went on to shoot 25-over the last four holes. I was a mental mess. Instead of doing a two-step down the fairways, I was slogging, hitting desultory shots, laden with guilt. As much as I love the game of golf, I am supremely terrible at it, and my fluky ace had left me feeling the way a kid who's stolen a candy bar from the drugstore can't enjoy the taste of it. After all, if my ball hadn't hit the flag, it probably would have spun back another thirty feet. This ace had involved a whole lot of luck. I hadn't really earned it.
Back home, I tacked my scorecard to the bulletin board. But I couldn't look at it. I was not worthy. And over the next few months, the guilt just worsened — especially when I played with a friend, a few weeks later, a very good lifelong golfer, a very sweet guy. When I mentioned my ace when we reached the 5th his face clouded over. "I never got one," he said. I felt terrible.
So I decided to stop mentioning my ace, except to my philosophical Irish golfing buddy Michael, an even-headed native of County Clare, who, having served as my psychotherapeutic sounding board ever since I'd told him about my guilt-ridden hole-in-one, finally set my head on straight one day.
"Look, the whole stupid game is luck," he said, after sinking an improbably long putt. "If you hit a drive into a tree and it bounces back into the fairway, you don't question that, right? If a great drive finds its way into the sand, you don't question that, right? The golf gods give, the golf gods taketh away. And aces? Show me a single ace that didn't need some luck, at some point. You shot a hole-in-one. The golf gods were smiling on you that day. Enjoy it."
He was right, of course. I now allow myself to glance at my tacked-up scorecard, and savor that amazing little pencil-scrawled "1." Now I'm fine to tell the story of my ace in mixed company (guys who've gotten one, guys who haven't). Maybe it was supernatural. Maybe the golf gods, watching me hack and duff my way through round after round, knowing I'll probably never break 95 in my life, decided to give me one moment to savor. Or maybe it was pure, blind luck.
Either way, I am finally at peace with my ace. Hey, any way you figure it, it was a hell of a shot. And it'll always be mine.
 

Lawn Chair Living

By James C. Magruder
Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty, not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
~Charles Dickens
Burn out. It happens to everyone — even writers. Thirteen years ago, I was a freelance executive speechwriter and advertising copywriter and my busy season ran from January to April. In that four-month period, I would write twelve to fourteen hours a day, six days a week to hit my deadlines for ads, brochures, speeches, newsletters, magazine articles, and annual reports. By the first week of May, I was comatose. My energy level was zero, my creativity was shot and my brain was mush.
That's when Gregg Levoy delivered just what the doctor ordered, a cup of Chicken Soup for the Writer's Soul, in his story entitled, "Power Lounging." In it, Levoy describes his extended sabbatical designed to revive his spirit, and he leaves us with a vital message not just for writers, but for any profession: rest brings restoration.
Levoy reminded me that I need to rest more and he inspired me by the ways in which he found rest and renewal in ordinary things and in simple pleasures. In his words: "I succumbed to the lazy lure of a spring afternoon spent in my own backyard, watching the shadows of clouds bend in the folds of the hills, the hawks and vultures sweep into view on long, slow arcs, the tomcats stalk birds in the low branches of the fig. And for a brief spell I was released from being pinned to the ground by the gravity of my endeavors.
"Over the next three months, as the days flicked by like white lines on the freeway, I took great long walks by the sea and in the forests, lost myself in epic novels, wrote poetry again, traveled, and stopped postponing jury duty. I went surfing, joined a men's group, got to know my friends better..."
His article not only motivated me, it changed me. I not only learned how to optimize rest and relaxation, I took it a step further. I inserted pauses into my routine to better appreciate the most meaningful moments of life. Some pauses were only a few minutes long, others hours, some days. I call it "Lawn Chair Living." Here is how it works for me.
Several years ago, I inserted a long pause into my day by grabbing a lawn chair and heading to the beach. I planted myself under a shade tree overlooking a bay. I was there for one reason. From the comfort of the lawn chair and the beauty of the idyllic setting, I was mentally preparing myself for another major transition in my life.
In the next few weeks, my father, a widower of forty years, would be moved into an assisted living center because Alzheimer's was robbing him of his memory. Soon, I would lose daily contact with one of the most significant people in my life.
What troubled me though was that the chaotic pace of my life could easily cause me to overlook the implications of this life change. Thus, from a lawn chair, I would pause, refocus, and quietly reflect on my changing role as a son.
As the gulls circled overhead and sailboats glided across the bay, I asked myself if I was the son I could have been. Should I have been more helpful forty years ago as he struggled to raise six children alone following my mother's premature death from cancer? What could I, as an eleven-year-old, have done to support him more? Did he know how much I emulated him as a child? Did I say the things I should have said before Alzheimer's systematically fragmented his memory? Did I ever tell him what he taught me about commitment in marriage?
As I sat in that lawn chair and surveyed my father's life, I realized when my mother died, a piece of my father died too. Perhaps that's why he never gave himself permission to marry again.
I remember preparing for my wedding fifteen years after my mother's death. I noticed my father never lectured me on the importance of commitment. He never pointed to himself as an example to follow, although I've never seen a better one. He just quietly lived a life committed to his children and their mother's memory, and his life spoke volumes.
Shortly after I was married I stopped by to visit him. As we chatted about my job, I slid my wedding ring off my finger.
"What did you just do?" he asked abruptly.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition
Surprised, I said, "Nothing. I just slid my wedding ring off my finger."
"Why did you do that?" he pressed.
"What do you mean, Dad?"
"Do you take your wedding ring off often?"
"No. Why?"
Then I realized my father was about to take me to a sacred place — his heart.
"I told your mother at our wedding that when she placed the ring on my finger, it would never pass the end of my finger again as long as she lived," he said quietly, looking down at his hands.
I knew the rest of the story. Seven years after my mother died, a jeweler had to cut his wedding ring off his finger because it was so tight it affected his circulation. For twenty-five years his wedding ring had never passed the end of his finger.
As I looked out at the horizon, I realized today was like many days I've spent in a lawn chair over the years. The locations have changed but the mission has remained the same. Pause and reflect. By inserting pauses into my life and taking time to reflect, the events of my life have paraded before my eyes again, providing a second chance to appreciate them fully.
By pausing in a lawn chair, I wrestled through the decisions to have my then four-year-old son undergo three surgeries. From a lawn chair, I made the decision to leave corporate America and become a freelance writer so I could be home more and watch my children grow up. From a lawn chair, I helped my sons sort through their college choices. And from a lawn chair, I planned the best way to move my father out of his home of forty years and into an assisted living center.
Today, I believe that a simple lawn chair, placed in a beautiful setting, has become a sacred place for me. A place to recall my past. A place to pause. And a place to reflect on the things that matter most in life.
And to think, it all began with some friendly advice from Gregg Levoy and a hot cup of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
 

Power Lounging

By Gregg Levoy
Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.
~Ovid
I used to think of Sisyphus as the patron saint of workaholics, one of whom I provisionally consider myself to be, though more out of economic necessity than compulsion. That is, freelance writing is a heavy stone, and demands a steady labor to keep it rolling.
Lately, though, I feel I've been overlooking the true instruction of Sisyphus's life, which is that each time his great grindstone rolls to the bottom of the mountain, he is granted a rest while he walks back down to retrieve it. Though he must work for all time, according to the myth, he does not work all the time.
Nor, I decided recently, should I.
Having completed a book that took me fifteen months of twelve-hour days, I suddenly hit a wall I had never hit as a working man and a freelance writer — burnout. The thought of doing another day's work on anything even remotely related to the machinations of career-building, income-producing or generally "getting ahead" was nearly enough to buckle me at the knees. As it was, in the waning days of the book project, I pulled myself up to my desk each morning as if to a chin-up bar.
After such an intemperance of work, no trip seemed too extravagant or protracted, no binge too vulgar, no amount of goofing off too unreasonable.
So I decided to take a break. In fact, I decided to extend the spirit of Sabbath to outlandish proportions — by taking four months off, living off savings and for a brief period here in the middle of my work life, seeing what it would feel like to simply not work, to make time for the kind of creative idleness that an acquaintance of mine calls "power lounging." For someone who had just finished a book about how to survive as a freelancer, taking a break of such duration seemed contrary to my own advice, but I simply had to do it.
Toward the end of the book project, in fact, I discovered that writers have their own patron saint, Saint Francis de Sales, who exhorts his flock to practice "simplicity, simplicity, simplicity." And I felt that when the disparity between my work ethic and my desire for simplicity and balance grows too large, as it had during that year spent writing the book, then I begin to feel like a man with one foot on the dock and other foot on a boat that is slowly drifting out to sea.
What I needed was what people so obliquely refer to as space, a distance from what was pressing in on me, a penetrating quiet inside. And I needed to hold that silence up to my ears, like an empty shell, and listen to the roar of my own life. I needed time to reacquaint myself with some non-work modes of expression, to open myself to some of the things that gave me joy as a child, to savor the benediction of play, to read a novel again — and to await further instructions.
And I wanted time, unencumbered by economic concerns, to experiment with my writing — a luxury I rarely grant myself when on the treadmill of earning a living — and by doing so to make out what direction my writing wanted to take next, and where I was willing to be led.
When I told a colleague what I planned to do now that the book was done, he asked, "What are you, rich?"
"No," I replied. "Desperate."
The first phase of my vocational celibacy was marked by the postpartum depression that followed the delivery of the book. A big project, to say nothing of a lifetime of working, generates a tremendous momentum that doesn't end just because the work ends. It's a bit like a head-on collision. The car stops, but the passenger doesn't.
This seemed to set the tone for my entire sabbatical: a delicious and bewildering freedom marked by a maddening restlessness that routinely propelled me back into my office as if in a trance, despite my policy statements to the contrary. There I would sit for sometimes hours, twisting slowly back and forth on my chair and pulling anxiously at my lower lip, listening to the blathering traffic of noises in my head, while my legs vibrated like tuning forks.
"This is what it must be like when men retire," my partner Robin declared after a morning of watching me pace around the house aimlessly, opening the refrigerator half a dozen times.
The pull of work, the rhythm of the nine-to-five world, exerts a force that is nearly tidal in its irresistibility. Cut off from it, I felt adrift. This was exacerbated by being in a profession in which there is such a thin, porous line between life and work. Simply to be a writer is to always be at work. Vacations turn into assignments, lunches with friends become interviews. I study movies instead of just enjoying them, and my office is at home. As a writer, to be is to do, and without a clear sense of where one leaves off and the other begins, it is almost impossible to punch out.
Thus, unconsciously and instinctively, I began reestablishing order, ebb and flow, routine. Before I knew it, I had managed to fill half my time with busyness that looked suspiciously like business: sending manuscripts out to magazines, doing market research, feeling behind, worrying about what would happen when the four months were up. I felt as though I were cheating on a fast, or taking my briefcase with me on vacation.
What I began to realize with crackling clarity is that I come from a long line of doers, starting with a workaholic family that hardwired me to excel, to stay on top of things, to expect that hard work and material wealth would put me in line to receive the key to the cosmic washroom. On his deathbed, my grandfather asked my mother what day it was. "Tuesday," she said.
"Pay the gardener," he instructed her.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition
His obituary was like most others, betraying the compulsive preoccupation with work, and helping me to understand why I had such a devil of a time not working. Obituaries are little more than posthumous résumés, lists of accomplishments: books authored, titles held, military ranks attained, degrees earned. They are summary statements of our lives, testaments to what we hold in esteem, and there are no hallelujahs for idleness, for time spent with family, for afternoons given over to long, dreamy walks.
Droning away in the boiler room of the culture is a juggernaut of a machine, one that heaves out a message strong enough to pump cement through my veins: Work! Value adheres to what I produce, so I'm constantly doing. And when I'm busy doing, I don't have to be busy feeling — feeling that maybe I'm burned out, that I need a change, or that my work, which normally offers me a sense of control over my life, has instead made my life feel like a parody of being in control, like I'm frantically trying to shovel coal into a furnace that's burning it up faster and faster.
About a month into my leave of absence from writing, I had a dream that was to prove pivotal. A Zen monk gave me a large block of wood to sand down to nothing. As I neared the end, and began to look forward to the project's completion, the monk came back and took my sandpaper away, telling me to use only my fingernails. The point, he said, was the process, not the goal. Every life ends the same way, I understood him to be implying — the hero always dies — so why be in such a hurry to get to the finish line.
With that dream, something shifted inside me, and I became determined to not only take the full time off, but to use it well — to return the free to freelancing. Although it was a tremendous discipline to not be disciplined and goal-oriented, to stop looking for work, to stop feeling like I was wasting time (when really it is time that is wasting me), I slowly began immersing myself in the kind of activities I had originally intended for my sabbatical.
The day after the dream, I succumbed to the lazy lure of a spring afternoon spent in my own backyard, watching the shadows of clouds bend in the folds of the hills, the hawks and vultures sweep into view on long, slow arcs, the tomcats stalk birds in the low branches of the fig. And for a brief spell I was released from being pinned to the ground by the gravity of my endeavors.
Over the next three months, as the days flicked by like white lines on the freeway, I took great long walks by the sea and in the forests, lost myself in epic novels, wrote poetry again, traveled, and stopped postponing jury duty. I went surfing, joined a men's group, got to know my friends better, and even did my exercises with greater observance, not so grimly and perfunctorily. I felt expansive and that life was full of possibilities.
I not only discovered that I can stop work for months at a time and my life doesn't crumble, but that having my nose to the grindstone, my ear to the ground, and my shoulder to the wheel is, for long periods of time, not the most comfortable position. Sometimes lying in the bathtub is.
As my time off drew to a close, and I prepared to reenter the world of work, to start writing in earnest again, I felt as I usually do at the end of vacations: not ready to come back, but renewed nonetheless. And though I saw that I'm not quite the master of my fate that I claim to be, I also realized that my life utterly belongs to me, and that it is meant to be savored and not just worked at.
 
 

Mewsic Critic

By Janet Ramsdell Rockey
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.
~Ernest Hemingway
My tuxedo cat, Squeakette, greeted me with her usual meow and happy dance around her food bowl when I came home from choir practice one night. I gave my snuggle-puss twenty minutes of undivided attention. We played catch with her favorite mouse until she tired of it and curled up into a black-and-white ball on the sofa.
"Good," I said to myself. "Now I can practice unhindered."
My singing voice fell woefully short of Juilliard standards. Studying opera for two years in the music department at a community college gave me enough confidence to join the church choir.
"The only times you don't have to practice," my voice instructor had said, "are days you don't breathe." According to her standard, I hadn't drawn a breath in more than four years.
"Not quite ready for the Met, am I?" I said to Brian the choir director at my first rehearsal.
"You'll be fine." He offered a wistful smile and placed me in the soprano section, close to the altos. Perhaps I wavered between the two octaves.
Six weeks before Christmas, Brian handed out sheet music to the John Rutter piece he selected for our cantata. As the holiday drew closer, he gave us cassette tapes of the orchestra to practice on our own.
Now Squeakette snoozed peacefully on the sofa behind me. I popped the cassette into the tape player and sat cross-legged in the middle of the living room floor, breaking another opera-teacher rule. Sheet music in front of me, I followed the melody with my index finger. When the music reached the soprano part, I took a deep breath and stretched my torso upward, remembering at least one point my voice professor taught me — go high and come down on the note.
I sang the Latin words in my best soprano voice, "Gloria in excelsis, Deo."
Squeakette sprang out of her nap and rushed at me, meowing.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!
"Not now, Squeakette. I have to practice." I petted her and continued singing.
She climbed across my legs and, pressed one front paw on my chest, covering my mouth with the other. Her ears went flat, and her eyes turned to amber slits. She scowled her harlequin-mask face. I didn't know cats could frown.
"Are you trying to tell me something, Squeakette?"
I rewound the tape. This time when I attempted to hit the high note, Squeakette bit my elbow. Not a bite that broke the skin, but more of a warning nibble. She stood on her hind legs and put both paws over my mouth.
I stopped the tape and stretched out, patting the floor next to me.
She snuggled in and rested her head on my shoulder.
A newspaper headline flashed in my mind: OPERA SINGER'S CAREER RUINED BY CAT'S PAWS. I chuckled at the thought. Stroking her silky black fur, I said, "Do I tell Brian I can't practice at home because my cat bites me when I sing?"
If cats could speak, she would've answered, "Don't give up the day job, Mom." Instead she purred and kneaded under my arm, her eyes no longer slits. I didn't know cats could smile.
Everyone's a critic, but none quite as honest as my Squeakette.
 

A Painful Journey

By Anna Koopman
Little children, headache; big children, heartache.
~Italian Proverb
I was sitting on the studio floor carefully piecing together tiny photos for my son's final elementary school yearbook when Jenny arrived home from school. This was the day the eighth graders studying French had waited for throughout their middle school years. A rite of passage, if you will. The day their trip was finalized, roommates confirmed and trip agendas distributed. The kids would be traveling from Connecticut to Quebec to experience a little bit of French culture. And along the way, who knows what adventures they would encounter?
I was waiting to hear the door slam and her feet run up the two flights of stairs to my studio, breathlessly relaying the news and presenting every detail of the much anticipated trip: when they were leaving, what they would bring, what they would see. But all I heard was her quiet footsteps from the living room to her bedroom.
"Hi Jenny, how was the big day?" I shouted down the hall. "You girls must be so excited that the trip is almost here!"
After a few minutes Jenny appeared in the doorway with a sweet-sad expression on her face. "I'm rooming with a girl named Latoya."
"What?"
"Latoya."
"Who is that?"
"I don't know."
"Wait a minute. I thought you were allowed to pick your roommates. What about Alex? Maria?"
A few seconds passed.
"They picked someone else to be in their room."
For some reason I wasn't processing what she was saying. "I don't understand, pumpkin. I thought you girls have been planning this for years."
No response.
"They picked someone from their new group of friends."
"What new friends? I thought this was already decided? Did they say why?"
No response.
"Should I call their moms and see what's up?"
"No," she said. "It's okay."
"No it's not. You guys have been talking about this trip since elementary school. What's up? I know you haven't been seeing the girls as much lately, but..."
"It's okay really," Jenny interjected.
And then she said something that stopped me in my tracks.
"Maybe if I go with someone who doesn't know me she will like me for who I am."
Those words cut through me. What I knew in my heart finally reached my brain. "But honey, these girls are supposed to be your friends."
"It's okay Mama, really." And off she went to her room.
For the next few days I thought and thought over the last year. The girls who had befriended her throughout her childhood, who had slept over, who had been in her Girl Scout troop and vacationed with us, had denied Jenny their company lately. Not inviting her to parties, not returning calls, embarrassing her in public. My heart cried for her as she always made excuses for them. I couldn't get my head around it.
A truly sweet, giving girl, Jenny had always looked out for the underdog — for the girl who was sad because she had lost her dog, for the boy whose parents denied him attention, for the girl whose mom passed away. She constantly was helping others. The whole thing didn't make sense.
That weekend I was at a baseball game when I saw Maria's mom, Barb, who was also a friend of mine. I went over to her. "Barb, can I ask you something?" She looked at me with huge Bambi eyes that surprisingly were filling with tears.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood
"I wanted to ask if everything was okay between Maria and Jenny."
Before I could get another word in, she started to cry.
"I am so sorry, Anna. I am so embarrassed. I just didn't know what to do."
"What are you talking about, Barb?"
"The girls. The party in seventh grade."
"What party?"
"At Alex's house. "
I was totally lost. And then she explained.
A popular girl named Trish invited a mixture of old elementary school friends and new middle school girls to a party at Alex's house. Anyone invited felt honored. And even though Jenny was best friends with Maria and Alex, she was not invited. The girls held a vote and decided not to talk to Jenny. Trish had dictated that no one was to return Jenny's calls or invite her to the movies or parties. Jenny was like the plague and as such, if any girl were to be seen with her, she would catch the same disease.
Unbelievable. I would never have believed it if this mom, a friend, hadn't heard it from the mother who hosted the party.
"I am so sorry. Even though Maria hasn't been outright mean, she has stood by and has done nothing to defend Jenny lately. She just let the girls act that way. I know that is just as bad. I just didn't know what to do."
Thinking back, Maria had been nice to Jenny, but kept her distance in public. Working on projects at our house they giggled like close friends, but out in the world there was a distinct line. Evidently study alliances were permitted because school demanded it.
Even more unbelievable to me was that a grown woman, a friend no less, could stand by and do nothing. Maybe by being a friend to me and advising me of the situation, we might have learned something that would have helped the girls adapt.
"I am so embarrassed for how Maria acted, Anna."
"Please don't be embarrassed for your daughter," I replied. "Maria is a good girl. You should be embarrassed for yourself."
The years have passed. In many ways it was harder for me to get past the hurt so Jenny could move on. And move on she did. Jenny has grown up to be the most caring, understanding adult. As painful as those years were for her, she came out of them a strong, confident woman who has chosen a career in which she can help young people grow self-esteem and confidence.
 

Freshman Orientation

By Lauren Nevins
Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them.
~Brendan Francis
"At this time, we ask that parents and students separate into two groups for the remainder of the day. Parents and students will be reunited at the conclusion of the campus tour."
Flocks of incoming freshmen happily abandon their parents upon hearing this announcement. I am less than thrilled at the prospect of starting college, let alone leaving my mother's side to tour the campus with the rest of the wide-eyed incoming freshmen.
"Okay Laur, I'll see you in a few hours, and remember, this is going to be a great experience for you!" Mom says, her big brown eyes alive with enthusiasm. I am amazed by my mother's resilience, considering what my family and I have been through during the past four years.
My mother disappears into a sea of overzealous parents who look as if they have ransacked the campus bookstore; many of the parents, to the embarrassment of their teenagers, are proudly sporting university attire with slogans like, "I'm a Sunny Brook University Dad."
We follow our senior tour guide. The other incoming students chatter and make casual introductions. I drag behind. How could I have believed I was ready for this? After all, it has only been a few months since I was discharged from the hospital. I am feeling better for the first time in years... but college?
My brooding is interrupted by a peppy voice. "Hi, I'm Jennifer."
The voice is attached to a freckle-faced blond girl dressed in what can only be described as hippy-like sports attire. For some strange reason, I like her immediately.
"I'm Lauren," I reply.
"Commuting or dorming?"
I fumble for my words, still caught up in my own thoughts. I would dorm, but I have spent the last four years overcoming a major depressive disorder that nearly claimed my life. I am still readjusting to living back home, in a place where I can come and go without asking for a "pass" or for a staff member to unlock the door to let me outside. I'm not quite sure I'm ready for this right now.
"I, uh, I don't know yet. My parents think I should dorm, but I don't really want to," I say in my most confident voice.
"You should definitely dorm! I'm going to, and I think it will be a lot of fun!"
I can't decide if Jennifer's enthusiasm is annoying or refreshing, but I decide to give her the benefit of the doubt. Before I can utter my less than enthusiastic reply, the tour guide announces that it is time to create our schedules.
We crowd into the Student Activity Center, or as the true, full-blown university students call it, the Sac, a nickname that immediately reminds me of the warm, safe bed at home I wish I were nestled in. We are ushered towards stiff, metal-backed chairs that hungrily await our freshman flesh. Three seniors hand out course bulletins as thick as textbooks, and slap registration forms down on the tables in front of us. All around me, papers crinkle and pencils scribble furiously. These sounds blare like an alarm clock, screaming "Wake up, Lauren!" Students seem to be moving through the process at rapid speed and I have not even opened my course catalog.
Focus, I tell myself. You can do this. Just read through the catalog and find the courses you like and a schedule that works. No big deal.
Intro to Psychology A or B, Foundations of Biology 2, Calculus, Geology 101, English, History, sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,6,7... the list goes on, and on, and on.
I begin to panic. How am I supposed to know what to do? I'm just relearning how to live in the real world again, and they want me to make a schedule?!
Other freshmen are handing in their materials, grinning as they rush out to meet their parents.
I cannot breathe, anxiety is coursing through my veins, and my head is pounding.
In moments, I am sobbing.
Other students abandon their tasks to stare at me, making me wish that the earth would open up and swallow me whole. One of the seniors in charge walks over to my table.
"What's the matter?" she asks gruffly.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles
"I... I can't do this!" I cry.
"All you have to do is make your schedule, just like everybody else," she says, clearly annoyed.
I cry harder. Then, a warm hand on my shoulder... Jennifer.
"Everything is alright," she tells the senior. "I'll help her."
The insensitive upperclassman walks away, and I feel the weight of the dozens of staring eyes lift. The other students quickly lose interest in the spectacle I've created and I can breathe again.
"What's wrong, sweetie?" Jennifer asks.
I am touched by this near stranger's concern. She hardly knows me, but seems to genuinely care.
Jennifer's kindness gives way to new tears. If crying were a major, I would have earned my doctorate in it by now.
"It is just too much; it is just too overwhelming," I say. "I... I have depression and I take medication."
Why did I say that? She probably thinks I am a freak now. But Jennifer puts her arm around me and her words reach out and wrap warmly around my soul.
"I know all about that sort of thing," she says. "My mother has depression. Besides, I think it's pretty normal to feel overwhelmed right now."
And with these words, just like that, the stigma of my mental illness is lifted for a moment and I am just a normal teenage girl with real fears about this exciting but frightening new adventure called "College."
The room is nearly empty now, and I still have no schedule. The pages before me are watermarked with tears.
Jennifer reaches out and gently places her hand on my arm. "Okay, so you said earlier you wanted to be a Psych major, right?"
And with that, this girl who was a stranger to me before this day guides me through the process, step-by-step, until I have everything in place and my schedule is complete. I am amazed at how much more clearly I can see now that the veil of anxiety and tears has lifted. "See," Jennifer tells me softly, "you knew exactly what to do — you just needed to believe in yourself."
That was the beginning of what would blossom into a powerful friendship. With a hug goodbye and a promise to keep in touch, we left Freshman Orientation with much more than our schedules. As I went to meet my mother, I decided that I would give living on campus a try... after all, I had come this far, and with a little help from a new friend, I had been reminded of the strength that existed in me. Four years later, as I graduated from the university with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude, I looked back on Freshman Orientation, on all of my fears and insecurities, and smiled.
 

With a Song and a Prayer

By Jennifer Quasha
Stress should be a powerful driving force, not an obstacle.
~Bill Phillips
One morning, back when my daughter Gigi was two and my only child, I was doing dishes in a cloud of self-pity and exhaustion, while thinking about what it takes to be a Great Mom. I had no close friends in town, since we had just moved recently, and I was lonely.
I was in dreamland about this new life until one of those thoughts, seemingly out of nowhere, zapped through my fog.
Gigi's preschool parent-teacher conference. It was today. It was this morning. It was in twenty minutes.
I looked at my watch and then the clock on the wall, hoping one of them was wrong. I had two thoughts: I am never going to get there. I have to get there.
The facts weren't good. Gigi wasn't allowed to be at the conference, and I had no babysitter.
I called my mom who lived nearby. No answer.
I called my best friend from high school who lived twenty minutes away. After her machine answered I hung up. She lived too far away.
I stared out my window, desperate for an answer.
I was still in the getting-to-know-you phase with the other preschool moms. And I didn't know our neighbors.
As my eyes focused, I saw Mister Song, the kind Vietnamese man who mowed our lawn who we also knew through church. The same church where Gigi's preschool was.
"Mr. Song!" I yelled over the leaf blower. He looked up, saw me and turned off the machine.
"Yes, Mrs. Jennifer," he replied.
"Mr. Song, would you do me a favor?"
"Yes, Mrs. Jennifer."
"Can you come with me for the next little while and sit in my car with Gigi?"
I rambled an explanation that must have made me seem like I was an alien that had dropped suddenly onto Mr. Song's planet.
Moments later Mr. Song, Gigi and I were buckled into the car.
I screeched to a stop in our church parking lot with a minute to spare.
I handed Gigi a bag of Goldfish and a board book, and looked at Mr. Song.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood
"Mr. Song. Gigi." I spoke to them like soldiers. Like I had some control over what was about to transpire. "I will be back in twenty minutes."
Gigi looked at Mr. Song, then back at me, her face calm but confused. I looked back at Mr. Song, who nodded. I said officially, "Thank you, Mr. Song."
Within two minutes I was sitting quietly and calmly across from Gigi's two preschool teachers who had been co-teaching at this preschool for over twenty-two years. They were similar to an old married couple, speaking for each other, interrupting, and feeding off of each other, but in a wonderful loving way.
Over the next twenty minutes, they told me how well adjusted and happy Gigi was. That Gigi was a lovely girl, she had many friends, and that she was a pleasure to have in the classroom.
All I could think about was how they didn't know that Gigi was outside in our car with Mr. Song. How on earth was it possible that she was well adjusted? It was clear to anyone who really knew that I was not capable of this motherhood gig.
After our allotted time was over, I shook their hands, said, "Thank you. Thank you so much for taking care of my daughter so well."
Then I ran back to the car.
It was like time had stood still. Mr. Song and Gigi were in their same seats, facing the same way, except the goldfish were gone and Mr. Song had a huge grin across his face.
"How'd it go, Mr. Song?" I asked, completely and utterly relieved at the sight.
"Just fine, Mrs. Jennifer."
I looked at Gigi. She was smiling too.
"Mr. Song, thank you so much. Thank you so, so much."
Once back home I unbuckled Gigi and took her out of the car.
Mr. Song got out of the car and strapped back on his leaf-blowing machine again.
"Thanks again, Mr. Song," I said.
I shut the door to the house and wondered just how other moms pull off this Motherhood job.
 

Women Are Persons!

By Frances Wright
It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.... Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.
~Susan B. Anthony
Judge Emily Murphy was frustrated. Her last petition had been no more successful than all the others she had sent over the past ten years. It was 1927, and Canadian women were still defined by British common law, which astonishingly stated: "Women are persons in matters of pains and penalties, but not in matters of rights and privileges."
Emily was not at all happy about the outrageous indignity of being told she was "not a person." She had set her sights on becoming Canada's first female senator, but because women were not "persons," no woman was eligible! Emily was determined to change things.
And so it was that between 1921 and 1927, over 500,000 people, men and women, had signed letters and petitions requesting that Judge Murphy be appointed to the Canadian Senate. For most of them, it wasn't about becoming a senator. Like her, they were upset and offended that women were not considered to be persons. Amazingly, despite all her efforts, two prime ministers had still said "no!" But Emily refused to take "no" for an answer and kept up her relentless pressure. Then one day, after ten years of lobbying, she happened upon a new strategy.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Woman to WomanHer brother had discovered a legal clause stating that any five citizens acting as a unit could appeal to the Supreme Court to clarify a point in the constitution. So in late 1927, she invited Henrietta Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung to her Edmonton home. All four of these prominent Alberta women had been active in fighting for women's rights, and all of them were determined that by the end of their efforts, Canada would recognize them and all women as "persons."
That day, the five women signed Emily's petition, and with great hopes and expectations they sent their appeal. Then they sat back and waited. Several months later, Judge Murphy excitedly opened the telegram that arrived from the Supreme Court of Canada.
But her hopes were dashed. "No," read the reply from the learned justices, "Women are not eligible to be summoned to the Senate. Women are not 'persons.'"
Emily and her colleagues were devastated. First two prime ministers, and now the highest court in Canada had formally ruled against them, and they feared they had done irreparable damage to their cause. However, further research revealed one more option. The absolute final court for Canada in those days was still the Privy Council of Great Britain — it could be appealed there. But they were not hopeful. They would have to persuade the Canadian government to appeal the decision, and the rights of women in England were far behind those so far gained in Canada.
Holding her breath, Emily wrote to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, asked for his support, and urged him to appeal this matter to the Privy Council. To her great elation, he responded with his full support, and that of his government, and in addition they would pay for the cost of the appeal!
With their hopes back up, the five women wondered, Should they go to England? Should they write articles for the newspapers? Contact their friends there? No, they were advised, only the merit of the case would be heard. Just wait.
Finally, in October 1929, the five British Lords made their historic decision. When Emily and her friends learned that the new definition of the word "persons" would from that day forward always include both men and women, they were overjoyed! They had won!
As the word spread, women around the world celebrated. The five friends were gratified to know that because of their efforts, every woman in the British Empire would now be recognized as a "person," with all the same rights and privileges as men.
[Editors' Note: On October 18, 2000, a memorial celebrating the Famous 5 and their tremendous accomplishments was unveiled, and our five heroes became the first Canadian women in history to be honoured on Parliament Hill. The monument depicts an imaginary moment when the women received the news of their victory. A joyous Emily stands beside an empty chair and beckons visitors to join the celebration. Today, many come and visit so they can sit in Emily's chair and thank the Famous 5 for what they did. And everyone who does makes a pledge to do their best to participate in the building of a better Canada!
 

The Blessing Sheet

By Terri Tiffany
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
~Melody Beattie
The recession hit early in Florida — some newspapers called our state Ground Zero. My husband, Curt, lost his executive job in construction in August of 2007. Somehow we had deluded ourselves that he would make it through the next round of cuts, but when he called me and whispered, "I'm gone," I knew our dream had ended.
A year later, I couldn't believe how much our lives had changed. We no longer threw whatever we wanted into the grocery cart. I used coupons to buy toilet paper. New clothes were something I fingered on the sales rack when I convinced myself that window shopping could be fun — but it never was. Getting the mail was the highlight of our day along with watching Jeopardy! at seven and Wheel of Fortune afterward.
"I don't know how long we can hold out unless one of us makes some money." My husband tipped his head back and let out another long sigh. I echoed it in my own head. I hadn't worked outside the home in years. After sending his résumé out for hundreds of jobs with no luck, we decided Curt should open his own business and take whatever work he could find.
"I'll start sending mine out tomorrow. I'll get something," I assured him. But I had already scanned the job postings for positions with my experience. They were as limited as the construction field he left.
"When we get down to $10,000, we'll put the house on the market."
"We can't move back north — there's nothing for you there anymore." I was sick of this conversation. Each day hung on us like the weights at the gym we used to attend. I fled the room and hugged my knees to my chest in my bedroom chair. Life was as ugly as the smears on our windows. How much longer could we hold up without eventually hating each other or the world?
I grabbed the phone when it rang beside me and answered on the first ring.
"It's Kelly. Are you doing alright today? You don't sound so good." I smiled as I heard the voice of my best friend from back home. She'd sent card after card hoping to encourage our lagging spirits.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings
"I keep thinking about what might happen to us." I shared my fears about foreclosure and bankruptcy and ending up on the streets homeless. Before long I was blubbering into the phone like a newborn baby. "I just want to give up."
I heard her sharp intake of breath. "Do this. Take a blank sheet of paper and post it on your refrigerator. I want you to write down at least one thing each day that is good. I don't care if it is as insignificant as you ate three meals — put it down. You need to focus on the positive, because good things are still happening, you just can't see them now."
I didn't understand how a piece of paper would help. I knew Curt wouldn't write anything down and it would all be on me. "I'll give it a try," I promised.
The next day I twirled the pen in my hand as I stood in front of my refrigerator. I'd told Curt about Kelly's idea and he'd only nodded. But I had to start somewhere. NO BILLS TODAY, I wrote. When I pulled my hand away, I felt an unfamiliar sensation — one I hadn't felt in a long time — gratitude. I smiled.
The next day, I added two more blessings to my list — we walked for half an hour and my back didn't hurt. When I got a card in the mail, I posted about it too. Before long, my list filled two pages. But I knew Kelly was onto something the day my husband reminded me to write down some good news.
The other day, six months later, I cleaned off the top of my refrigerator and discovered the blessing sheets I'd tossed there after my husband had found temporary work. Last week he was laid off again. I read through my scribbled list, then reached for a clean sheet of paper. I couldn't wait to fill the sheets again.

Unforgettable Cookies

By Stephanie Davenport
The mothers of little boys work son-up to son-down.
~Author Unknown
My eleven-year-old athlete, Kyle, slowly walked into the kitchen, scratching like a monkey. "I think I have poison ivy, Mom," he said with his head hanging low. It was miserable enough to be covered from head to toe in pink itchy blisters in mid-July, but what made it even worse was that his traveling basketball team was in their peak of summer activity with one of their largest tournaments just a day away. There wasn't much I could say. His sad face made it obvious that he was already aware that it would be impossible for him to play in the tournament that Saturday.
To some, not being able to play in a recreational basketball tournament might not be a big deal, but for Kyle, basketball is his life. Since he's been coordinated enough to dribble, he's been in love with the sport. He plays nearly year round, participating in school teams, traveling teams and a random tournament here and there.
So, what's a mom to do? My instructions to take an anti-itch oatmeal bath and then follow up with cotton balls and calamine lotion didn't seem to be cutting it. Then I had an idea. "Why don't I make some cookies?" There's nothing like some of Mom's homemade treats when you're having a bad day.
I grabbed my apron and my favorite cookie recipe book and began to hunt for just the right cookie. Nothing really grabbed me. I decided instead to try a new recipe and dedicate it to Kyle's poison ivy.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love
When the cookies came out of the oven, I put some on one of Kyle's favorite childhood plates. I took them to the living room where he was sprawled watching television and declared, "Kyle's Poison Ivy Cookies," as I presented them to him. "I crossed out the name of the recipe in the cookbook and wrote in 'Kyle's Poison Ivy Cookies' with today's date and a short paragraph about you being covered with poison ivy." His wide grin made me feel great.
Renaming cookie recipes has now become a tradition in our family. Whenever there's a need, we bake some cookies and write our memories in the same cookbook. We have "I'm Bored Cookies," our own rendition of Snickerdoodles, and "Celebrate Winter Break Cookies," a twist on the average sugar cookie. Whatever the occasion, we name a new cookie and we never fail to read through all the old ones too, reliving the memories we've baked up in years past.

суббота, 24 августа 2013 г.

For Better or For Worst

By BJ Jensen

Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.
~Anonymous
"Listen."
"Listen to what?" asked my mildly interested husband, Doug. We sat side-by-side reading in front of the oscillating fan.
"That strange sound."
"What sound?"
"That sound."
"What is it that you hear, BJ?"
"Nothing." I could tell he seriously doubted my sanity.
"What do you mean nothing? What are you talking about?"
"The sound of silence."
Doug let out a sigh of relief that it wasn't some burglar I'd heard outside the window. "Better bottle it while you can. It seems like most things in life change."
Enjoying the peace and quiet once our two beloved and rowdy sons, Jeff and Jay, headed towards their own adventures in higher education, we just went about appreciating this new season of marriage. The silence wasn't something I dwelled on since I had, from the beginning, embraced the fact that children are on loan to us from God. We were only meant to do the best we could to raise them and then release them to fly independently. Up until now, our busy lives hadn't afforded us the opportunity to leisurely kick back and take advantage of any soothing sounds of silence.
But that wasn't the worst part.
Through life's transitions, we suddenly inherited our younger son Jay's two rather large and demanding housedogs. The older was a detached and continually whining Siberian husky named Cabo. The younger was a rambunctious and rascally chocolate Lab, Kirby. They double-dog-dared our jealous 115-pound white German Shepherd, Angel, to share her modest postage stamp-sized backyard domain. Yard clean-up was a constant challenge.
But that wasn't the worst part.
After a reasonable amount of time, we adjusted to our bulging house of continual fur-shedding creatures. And then, a few years after he was graduated and settled into the work force, our elder son, Jeff, contemplated the idea of studying for a master's degree. He inquired about the possibility of moving back home. In order to accomplish his career goal in a year and a half, Jeff reasoned, "I'll need to quit my job to return to school full time."
But that wasn't the worst part.
Jeff owned two robust indoor Labrador Retrievers. "Of course Kayla and Racer would accompany me," he added a bit apologetically. "And would you find it in your heart to welcome Monica, too?"
His steady girlfriend from out of town selflessly decided to get a job to support Jeff through school. And, oh, did I mention they were also expecting?
In a daydreaming moment, I tried to imagine the creative chaos this proposed living arrangement would produce. Our treasured sounds of silence would become only a memory because of a menagerie including four adults, one miniature human being with needy expectations (making her will known at all hours), and five energetic dogs we endearingly labeled, The Bumpus Hounds. All ten of us would be vying for personal space in a modest living area.
But that wasn't the worst part.
My amiable husband offered a workable solution: "We'd love to help you out. In order for us to do that, your sleeping arrangements would need to be different under our roof, and rules would need to be established that we all agree to, before you could move in. And we'll all have to take turns feeding, walking and cleaning up after the Bumpus Hounds."
I chimed in with my usual optimistic Pollyanna point of view, "It could actually be a wonderful experience for all of us."
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters
And that it was.
Co-habiting turned into many blessings in disguise. The new living arrangement afforded all of us a chance to get to know each other on a deeper level. Jeff was no longer the innocent, wet-behind-the-ears kid we sent off to the University of California San Diego. Somewhere along life's time-line, he had transformed into an intelligent, multi-layered adult with thoughts, clever ideas, and a wisdom and expertise beyond his years. What a privilege to re-acquaint ourselves and bond with our adult son.
We were also grateful for the chance to embrace our shy future daughter-in-love in an up-close and personal way. Without this unexpected serendipity, it might have taken us many more years to form such a comfortable relationship with her.
Jeff's boomerang return also afforded us the unforgettable time of helping to care for our precious first grandchild. I can still see in my mind's eye, sweet innocent little Nicole lying in her tiny white lace-draped bassinette in the middle of our living room. As this helpless gift from God slept peacefully, snuggled sweetly in her pink blankie, a constant struggle ensued between the five Bumpus Hounds aggressively contending for the honor of standing watch over her crib.
But that wasn't the worst part.
Eventually, Cabo and Kirby found other homes. The newly-graduated Jeff with his bride Monica, daughter Nicole, and mellowed Kayla and Racer moved into their own nest. Things in ours once again returned to a long-forgotten normal.
"Listen." I whispered one cool, crisp fall evening as we sat side by side reading by the hearth in front a dancing fire.
"Listen to what?" Doug abstractly answered.
"That's a strange sound."
"What sound?"
"That sound."
"What is it that you hearing?"
"Nothing."
"Ah yes," Doug validated, "Once again it's that sound of silence."
And that was the worst part.

Crashdown

By Chloe Scott

Someone to tell it to is one of the fundamental needs of human beings.
~Miles Franklin
"She's like a Disney character," a friend joked one time at our regular cafeteria lunch table. "It's as though she's fallen out of the pages of a fairytale and doesn't have a clue about the real world!" Surrounded by my friends in the security of my small private school, I would giggle and wrinkle my nose. I was always a bubbly, energetic person, the type some people just roll their eyes at, annoyed that anyone could be that perky. A dancer, student council member and International Baccalaureate student, I was on top of the world. At least, that's what it seemed like from the outside.
After two years of commuting from a small town to a private school in the city, my family moved to be closer to dad's office and the school. While it was sad to leave the town I had grown up in, I was thrilled to be living in the same area as my friends and only a fifteen-minute drive from my school, a place where I not only took classes, but spent tons of time after school participating in extracurricular activities and tutoring. My family moved the first week of September while I was away at a camp with my schoolmates as a way to kick off the new school year. I just knew it — junior year was going to be my year.
My world started to crumble when Mom started to feel sick. Two and a half years before, she had been diagnosed with a rare and complicated disease called Systemic Mastocytosis. The disease resulted in her having too many mast cells that had formed a large tumor on her ovaries. After her operation, she had recovered, and while the disease is incurable, it is livable. She continued to be an active member of the community and manage her regular busy-mom schedule. After the move, however, things weren't right. Her doctors ran a number of tests, and because her disease was so rare, her results were sent to the famous Mayo Clinic. We waited and waited, not really knowing what we were waiting for.
A week and a half before Christmas, Mom got the results back. She picked my youngest sister and me up from school. After initial small talk, she began explaining what the doctor had said. "So, it's not cancer, right Mom?" asked Ryleigh rhetorically. When silence hit the air and tears started rolling down her face, we knew. Mom had cancer.
"It's like we're in a movie," Ryleigh whispered, as the two of us collapsed onto her bed. We were in hiding from our other sister, Devyn, who didn't know yet. It was all too strange being around her — both frustrating and refreshing at the same time. Before long, we were sitting formally in our living room, hearing the news officially as well as the details. It was leukemia and had been caught very late, meaning it had spread throughout her body.
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk High School
I didn't know what to do. Suddenly, the plans I had made that weekend, the conversations I had had that day, the biology test I was supposed to be studying for lost all importance. I went out that night, and when I came home I ran straight to my room, threw on my pajamas, sunk into the covers and sobbed. Mom came in and snuggled me like I was a little girl, saying, "I promise I'm not going anywhere."
The next day was a Saturday, and I composed myself enough to call a classmate I had worked on a school project with and who was supposed to be coming over for dinner that night. I had not planned to tell him why I was canceling, but when he asked me how I was, I started to half laugh, half cry. "Actually, I'm not so good," I told him. "I just found out my mom has cancer." All of a sudden, he was no longer just someone I went to school with. He was a friend. We met for waffles the next day, talking about cars, film, school, and occasionally the cancer. Sometimes we just sat in a peaceful silence that only true friends can appreciate. I don't remember every detail of that day, but I will always remember the true kindness and friendship he exhibited.
This has not been the year I planned. In many ways, it has been the worst year of my life. I hit some pretty low lows, including developing an eating disorder as an attempt to control my emotions. But the waffle day stands out in my mind as one of the saddest and greatest days of my life. It was the day I created the best support team I could have ever wished for. "It's when you first find out, that's the hardest," my friend had advised me gently. He was in many ways right, and in other ways wrong. There are some days that are harder than others, and other days where the glass is half-full again. Cancer introduces all sorts of scary thoughts: Will my mom be there to see my sisters graduate? Will she be there when I get married? Will she and Dad grow old together? Someone once said that the only certainty in cancer is the uncertainty. While I fight the uncertainties, I know I am not fighting them alone. I have my family, I have my friends, I have teachers who are there for me. Most importantly, I have my mom. And no matter what happens, I will always have her with me.