Monday, August 29, 2011

For my kitty, Tootsie....

"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~ Anatole France

One day when I was 5 years old, I came home from kindergarten class to find my mother extremely excited to show me a surprise. Could it be a toy? Could it be candy? No, it was much better than any toy or piece of candy I ever had or would ever have in the future. On that wonderful, magical day, I received my best friend and biggest love of my life: my kitty, Tootsie.

Over the next 18 years, Tootsie became one of the only constants in my life. She was there when I lost my first tooth, and watched me hide it under my pillow in hopes that the tooth fairy would visit. She was there to comfort me when my so-called friends didn’t invite me to a birthday party. She was there for me to share my joy and excitement after receiving my acceptance to college. She was there during my first true heartbreak, reminding me that despite what I felt then, I am loved, and always will be loved.

It is because of her constant love and support for me over those wonderful 18 years, that I felt compelled to show her the same love and compassion in the end. There comes a time in every relationship between owner and pet where you have to ask yourself, “Am I making her suffer because I’m selfish?” It was probably the hardest question I ever had to ask myself, and more significantly, the hardest and most difficult answer I ever determined. Ultimately, I needed to be there for my kitty like she was there for me my whole life.

It has been over a month since Tootsie passed, and there hasn’t been a day where she has not peaked into my mind. Just this morning , I was looking through my clothes to find something to wear, and I came across a black shirt with a bit of her fur attached. Never has a moment been so bittersweet. She may not be sitting at the bottom of my bed anymore, but Tootsie is forever sitting in my heart and memories.
When I think of Tootsie, I see a little ball of fur, cuddled so tightly in peace on a blanket. When I think of Tootsie, I feel fluffy, soft fur against my face as I take a nap on my bed. When I think of Tootsie, I hear a light purr reminding me how easily I can love something so small, and feel that same amount of love in return. When I think of Tootsie, I smell home.

It is because of these memories that Tootsie remains alive as a testament to the power of a pet’s love. While writing this has helped me in the process of coping, I also hope that this article forces those of you with pets to truly appreciate the little bundles of love in your lives. For those of you who experienced such loss already, may my memories of Tootsie also awaken your fond memories of your loved ones. May their little paws forever be imprinted on our hearts…

I love you, Tootsie. Forever and always.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reflection on Hairspray: The Musical

“You can try to stop the paradise we’re dreaming of, but you cannot stop the rhythm of two hearts in love to stay….you can’t stop the beat.”

So as of November 27, 2010, I officially wrapped up my last performance of Hairspray: The Musical. For those of you who didn’t know, I was cast as Penny in the Viviana Theater’s production of this intense, hilarious, and heartwarming musical. Ever since I saw the movie (made famous with stars such as John Travolta, Queen Latifah and Zach Efron), I knew that it would be a dream come true to be a part of this musical one day.

What I didn’t know was that I would walk away from this experience with much more than just memories of fun dances to catchy songs. I would walk away with the satisfaction that I was part of something that promoted equality, peace, and love for all while illustrating the stupidity and nonsense that results from ignorance.

I guess you could say I entered this experience similar to the lead character; I was an “outsider” coming into a theater company where mostly everyone in the cast new one another. I had to put myself out there, and at times, prove to others that I wanted this dream as much as the next cast member. Fortunately, walls were broken down and I ultimately became a member of the community that I now consider my family. If this dream was achieved, why can’t others?

From an overweight teen’s desire to dance on an “American Bandstand” type television show to an African American mother’s desire to find equality in the world, Hairspray emphasizes the fact that no dream is to big. No dream is impossible. And at the end of the day, we are all human beings, with an equal chance to achieve our dreams.

A defining moment in the show for me was when we performed “I Know Where I’ve Been.” This poignant, emotional ballad epitomized the theme of the play: the struggles and the risks that are taken make the achievement even more rewarding. While the musical is set in the 1960s, the song is still relevant today. There is still so much prejudice and hate in this world. Ignorant people attempt to choose the destinies and lives of others, often leading to fatal ends. I’m so disgusted and horrified by the recent deaths in the young homosexual community, and I could go on for days about the topic, but instead, I’m going to leave a message of hope that I learned from Hairspray.

While it may look like an endless battle now, there is a light at the end of the darkness. Each struggle builds strength for the next, and one day, you will have enough to conquer those that stand in your path.

As Hairspray notes, “There's a road / We've been travelin' / Lost so many on the way / But the riches will be plenty / Worth the price, the price we had to pay.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If You Really Knew Me...

I’m sure that by now, most of you have heard of MTV’s new show “If You Really Knew Me,” and if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and tune in sometime. Basically, the show documents leaders of Challenge Day as they travel to different high schools to fulfill their mission of promoting “love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression.” In other words, specially trained individuals go to high schools across the nation in the attempt to illustrate how students do not have to feel alone with their troubles. In fact, by sharing your feelings and admitting your fears and concerns with others, you can actually find comfort, sometimes in the arms of a complete stranger. You may even learn something about diversity and how to treat others.

Why am I writing about this television show? Well, I guess I’m speaking from experience on how this type of workshop can help heal wounds that go much deeper than one realizes. While I have not participated in an actual Challenge Day, I’ve been a UC Ambassador for the past three years of my life, and much of what we do as Ambassadors reflects the Challenge Day mission. In these past three years, I dived into myself to discover what makes me tick as a human, and what I’ve been allowing to hinder me from reaching my full potential. In a nutshell, I started to pull back the layers to discover who I really am. The problem is that I have not truly allowed others to see that real “me” yet. This is where the television show comes in. I firmly believe that it is necessary to share your true self with others in order to find success in life.

My blog is my first step into sharing the real me with others. I’m starting to think that this individual blog is my next step because I’m going to share more personal issues in order to emphasize how important I find this concept. There are a lot of skeptics of the television show, and a lot of people who feel that sharing personal issues with others in high school is stupid and pointless. Some people insist that high school simply is not that hard and people should suck up and realize there is more to life than who is popular and who is not. Yes, there is more to life than popularity, but have these people ever wondered how the “trivial” negative comments people say to others affects one’s self-esteem for years? Not so trivial now, is it?

To stress my point, I’m going to finish the following statement as if I was still in high school.

“If you really knew me, you would know that I was called fat, heavy, dorky, etc. throughout my high school career, to the point where I thought I was not worth anyone’s attention. One guy even referred to me as “Moo,” in reference to a cow. Some of my ‘friends’ stopped inviting me to certain parties because I was not as pretty as them, and boys didn’t flock to me as much as them. I had other girls try to hand me down boys that they were not interested in, thinking they were doing me a favor by giving me their unwanted suitors.”

If you really knew me, you would know that while these comments and situations occurred during middle school and high school, the effects lasted with me through most of college. Eventually, I stopped socializing with those that made me feel that way and started to take pride in the determined, motivated individual I am today. How did I begin to find happiness with who I am? Through the Ambassador Program and its mission to bring love and connection among those who share similar feelings. After the recent breakup, some of those ugly, negative feelings started to creep back into my life, making me feel alone, but I just keep reminding myself that there are lots of others who feel the same way, and by connecting and sharing my feelings with them, I suddenly don’t feel so alone.

So for those of you who make fun of MTV’s “If You Really Knew Me,” and can’t understand how high school can be so difficult for people, count yourself lucky that you did not have any problems, although, I find that VERY difficult to believe. Maybe it wasn’t things that people said to you, but what you said to others? Ever feel like you owe someone an apology? Ever feel like you regret making that joke at the expense of someone else’s self-esteem? Looking back, there are some apologies that I can think of that I need to make…

It’s never too late to fix a wrong. It’s never too late to share the real YOU with others.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How Do You Define A True Friend?

“I get by with a little help from my friends.” Familiar words that bring different meanings for everyone. For some, it reminds them of the first time they heard the Beatles rocking out to the timeless tune. For others, it reminds them of that also timeless television show, The Wonder Years. For me, it is much simpler than that. For me, the words remind me of my friends, and the countless ways they seem to pull me up when I’m down.

To say that this past month of July was terrible would be a lie. To say that his past month of July was enjoyable would also be a lie. So I’m going to just stick with this: I hope August brings better memories for me than July. From a death in the family to my first true breakup, I experienced some intense lows this past month. Yet, when I look back to my favorite rare, but happy moments in July, I realize that I had the best memories with my friends. In the midst of the constant tears and expressionless looks, my friends were able to force a smile and a laugh out of me. More importantly, they showed me that every storm eventually ends. And after every storm, comes a rainbow.

I could go on and on with the little details about how my friends helped me through this difficult time, but that’s not my style. Instead, I would like to take the significant lessons I learned from my friends, and share them with you, my blogger friends.

The most important lesson I learned about friendship in this past month is that a true friend doesn’t necessarily need to give advice all of the time. A true friend can just listen and be the shoulder to cry or vent on. I can’t tell you how many times I called my friends over this past month, and I would ramble on and on about my woes. The best part? They let me ramble. They did not interrupt. They did not try to talk me out of my path of reason. They simply listened. By the end of each conversation, I released whatever negative emotions I had on my chest, and I felt like a new person. A happier person.

I also learned that a true friend never allows you to feel alone. Whether it be a simple text during the day that says “Thinking of you today, love” or a Facebook post that has a Text From Last Night, true friends drop little notes into your life that remind you of the good company you keep. True friends surround you with love, comfort and support to show you that there is a light at the end of the dark tunnel. And in that light, you will find them waiting with open arms.
On the same note, while a true friend never lets you feel alone, he/she also gives you the freedom and necessary space to develop as a strong, independent individual. The best way to overcome a crisis is to overcome it on your own. You will find hidden strengths and positive traits about yourself that you’ve never seen before. You will feel like a whole new person. A true friend helps you discover this new person inside you by forcing you to look within yourself. When you say “not possible,” a true friend says “why not?” They push you to become the bigger and better person that they knew was within you all along.

So what do I hope you get out of this? I hope you get a better understanding about the impact a friend can have on an individual. Personally, I know I would have survived the month of July. I mean, people do move on from struggles. Nevertheless, I learned that I’m much stronger than I could ever have imagined. And honestly, it feels amazing knowing I learned that with just a little help from my friends.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Senior FinalThought for the Grizzly Newspaper

With graduation peeking around the corner, I cannot help but reflect upon the past four years here at Ursinus, and how I ended up being the person I am, in the place I am, today. With that in mind, I feel that it is my necessary duty to thank those persons who helped me grow into this strong, understanding, independent woman; a woman who is prepared to take on the real world. To whom do I owe this preparation? Well, I’d have to say my Ursinus friend. But, the Ursinus friend is not just a single person. My Ursinus friend is the professor who pushed me to be the best student possible, the roommate who showed me what it means to be humble, and last but not least, the fellow UC Ambassador who brought out the real Helen Ann. Are these specific people? Absolutely not. My Ursinus friend represents each and every person who falls into these categories and changed my life for the better over these past four years. As I explain my experiences with these lovely, admirable people, I would like you to ponder over how these people may also have influenced you thus far in your own life.

Without you, the Ursinus professor, I am not sure if I would be as driven and motivated to succeed in all aspects of my life. You continued to guide me and open countless doors of opportunities. Your endless pushing and challenging forced me to perform to the best of my capabilities, past my wildest expectations. You showed me that there are people out there, besides my parents, who truly believe that I can succeed. When my writing started to slack and illustrated less than my maximum potential, you, my Ursinus friend, sat me down and slapped me across the face with a wake-up call; slacking and not striving for my best was not going to get me anywhere. You uncovered a wealth of potential in me that I couldn’t find. I will no longer scramble in the dark, trying to find a path of success. Your candle of compassion and guidance will always lead the way.

When I was not learning from you in class, my Ursinus friend, I was learning from you in my dorm room. For the first time in my life, I woke and went to sleep with someone else in the room. I spent every free minute in between classes with a complete stranger. Yet, as I began to adjust my habits to cooperate with my roommate’s, I realized my own individual flaws. I appreciate your seemingly polite, indirect way of humbling me. Because of you, I now recognize that despite my previous conceptions of myself, I am, believe it or not, imperfect. Along with pointing out my imperfections comes my newfound consideration for the needs of others. As much as you helped me grow, Ursinus friend, I find myself wanting to help you achieve happiness in return. Instead of going to bed when I’m finished my work, I feel the urge to stay up and support you while you struggle to complete that 10 page paper at 3am. Why? Well, when my Ursinus friend is happy, I am happy. It’s as simple as that. Even though the face of my Ursinus roommate has changed over these past four years, I consider each and every one of you my Ursinus friend.

Of course, I cannot forget the Ursinus friend who changed my life the most within these past few years: the Ursinus College Ambassador. From the first time I ever saw this group, with their royal blue polo’s and star pins, I knew that they had to be a part of my life. While I have always enjoyed leadership programs, I never quite experienced something so life-changing, so eye-opening, and as soul-searching as the Ambassador program. Putting all of the rewarding community service and volunteer work aside, the UC Ambassador made me dive into myself, discover the real me, and taught me how to accept and embrace that person. I can honestly say that I owe most of my leadership, social, and life skills to this special Ursinus friend. A UC Ambassador simply defines what it means to be a friend and change agent. This individual opened his/her heart to me, allowing me to feel what it means to be unconditionally loved. When I cried and exposed my deepest, darkest moments of my life, you did not judge, you did not even comment. Instead, you listened as you offered your shoulder for me to lean on. These are the true moments of friendship that will forever be remembered. These are the moments that define why I love and cherish my Ursinus friend.

On May 15, 2010, you, my Ursinus friend, will watch as I walk on to the stage in my cap and gown, accept the piece of paper that I earned with every part of my being, marking the commencement of my journey into the next chapter of my life. I would not have finished this past chapter without you. I would not be the strong, considerate, independent woman standing on that stage without the love and never-ending support from my Ursinus friend. Whether you were the professor who pushed me towards success, the roommate who kept me humble, the Ambassador who helped me discover the person I truly am, you changed me just by being my friend. This is my tribute to you. This is my sincere thank you.

We all have individual stories, experiences and moments that define our lives. My story is not complete. In fact, my story is just taking flight. Either way, as the song “For Good” from the musical Wicked suggests, “whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine, by being my friend.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

It’s a question that undoubtedly every person is asked at least once in their lifetime. When we are kids, the answer is simple: a superhero, a princess, etc. As we get a little older, the question takes on a new significance. We no longer answer what our hearts tell us to say, but rather, we ponder of what seems more appropriate and realistic to say. As a result, we end up answering with terms such as lawyers, doctors and teachers. Then, just when we get comfortable with the socially acceptable answers, we graduate college, and that simple question takes on a whole new meaning. Our answers are no longer just words and a hypothetical idea. Our answers must now be put into effect and ultimately become a reality.
The problem? How do we become our answers? Or better yet, how many of us actually want to be what we utilized as an answer for the past four years?

On May 15, 2010, Ursinus College finally forced me to leave and told me I had to join the real world. After that monumental yet earth-shattering day, I became a new member of the “unemployed college graduates” club. While I promote joining clubs and making new friends, I certainly do not wish anyone to have to stay in this club for too long. The countless days of searching through job site after job site can become, well, mentally exhausting. To this day, I cannot tell you the exact number of resumes and cover letters I had to edit and revise in order to “re-invent” myself for that particular job. As I became the perfect Administrative Assistant, Editor, Proofreader, or Human Resource Assistant, I could not help but think back to that ever-important question: What do I want to be when I grow up?

Do I really want to be these positions? I can tell you that Human Resource was my answer for the past two years. However, if I was on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and Regis asked me “Is that your final answer,” would I say yes?

This is where my frustration hits its peak. At the age of 22, I feel that we have the right to not completely know what we want to be. In a nutshell, my peers and I have yet to truly experience the real world, yet alone the professional workforce. Before you go ahead and question a new graduate about their future, try asking them what they are interested in instead. Chances are, they have a degree in a field of interest, but have no idea what they want to do with it yet. Who knows? You may even be able to help them figure that answer out.

Of course, I cannot speak on this issue without addressing the few lucky souls who know exactly what they want to do in life. These individuals received the education necessary to achieve their dream, to become the answer they’ve been giving for years. My hope for these special people is that they stick to what their hearts tell them to do and to not let others break their dreams. You want to be whatever you want to be for a reason. And you will succeed. No certification test, no professor, no CEO can ever tell you otherwise.

As for me, I’ve landed my first job working for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. Is this the Human Resource answer that I gave two years ago? Absolutely not. Am I willing to give it a shot to see if it’s something I could become interested in? Positively. A part of me envies the children who answer with big eyes and even bigger hearts. While they may give answers that seem ridiculous to us, they have yet to have anyone influence their possibilities. Their answers are endless.

So you ask me, “Helen Ann, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Well, I don’t know what I want to be. I will explore my endless possibilities. And I’m ok with that.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Changed my Life, What about Yours?

As an avid reader and passionate English major, you would think that I would have read Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower prior to my senior year of college. Unfortunately, I have to admit it took me this long to finally sit down and dive into what has now become one of my favorite books of all time. When I say this book changed my life, I honestly mean that it opened up doors in my heart and soul that I thought were shut forever. Chbosky’s words are not just read; they take a life of their own and actually speak to the readers, guiding them on their own self-discovery. By commenting on specific quotes from the book that I found extremely profound, I will illustrate the significance of this book’s impact on my view of the world and myself as a human being.

One of the most important quotes in my opinion is when Bill asserts, “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve.” While this is in reference to Charlie’s sister’s abusive relationship with her boyfriend, this quote put love and relationships into perspective for me. Prior to this book, I found myself in relationships that consisted of me dealing with unnecessary drama and negativity simply because I felt that I couldn’t do any better. However, this quote opened my eyes and heart to new possibilities. I was accepting a relationship that I thought was the love I deserved, but the truth is that I deserve more. I found more. I found more bliss and comfort in a man who truly does give me what I deserve, and I could not be any happier.

Another quote that hit home for me was when Sam says to Charlie, “It’s great that you can listen and be a shoulder to someone, but what about when someone doesn’t need a shoulder. What if they need the arms or something like that? You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.” One of my major flaws is my sensitivity and strong urge to put the happiness of others before mine. Yes, it’s great that I want to help others be happy, but sometimes you have to find satisfaction and happiness within yourself in order to find it within others. This quote also showed me that I can’t just sit back and wait for good things to happen in life; I have to get out there and make them happen.

Finally, the most significant quote for me, but also the most popular out of the book, is when Charlie recognizes a brief moment of complete ecstasy and says, “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” I honestly can’t devise a better phrase to sum up that amazing feeling of genuine joy, acceptance, and comfort you find in those rare, brilliant moments with your friends. As graduation quickly approaches, I remember times in which I felt that infinity, and I let out a sigh. I let out a sigh of accomplishment because if I can recall at least one of those precious moments, my life is, well, pretty great.

While these are only a few memorable quotes from the book, I have to confess again that the book as a whole did more for me in 213 pages than others have done for me my whole life. For that, I am eternally grateful towards Stephen Chbosky.