Wednesday, February 11, 2015

You just never know...Be kind anyway

This quote always grabs me. Sometimes you don't know what those that pass in and out of our lives are going through. It's not always easy to be kind. This is truest in our momentary glances of strangers who throw us a wind of something negative. Those short but jarring moments make us want to fire back with the same. I always try hard to resist. Sometimes it's darn-right hard and I walk away with tears.

I'm human, it's natural to feel threatened and react. Yet, my hope is always that I never change my own nature to someone I am not...and maybe just maybe kindness wins.

Most times we fail to discover what it is that makes someone unkind to us.
These momentary nasty moments make us write that stranger off. Feel contempt.

About a month ago, I had an encounter at the blood lab that literally almost set my blood to boiling. Working with my incredible endocrinologist, I have been struggling with my thyroid levels for over a year trying to get a handle on them. Over the last two months we have been moving to blood tests every two weeks to monitor my sometimes precarious situation.
This is pretty much me every time.

The picture above pretty much illustrates how I used to face every single blood draw I ever had.Over the years, anxiety has been a constant for me during these 'simple' tests until I started finding comfort in one person and one lab.

There is only one blood lab I will go to- it's Wilmot's outpatient blood lab.

With damaged veins from years of treatment, it's the only place I trust. It's the only place where I don't have to endure painful and frustrating attempts to be drawn. There has been one girl at the lab who always gets it right. Over the last 2 years she's gotten me every time- one attempt, over in no time, no pain.

If I am not able to reach the blood lab on my lunch hour I race to get there before it closes at 5pm. One such time six weeks ago I was running down the hall looking at the Wilmot hall clock. Friday. 4:52PM. Almost quitting time.

Oh shit.

I knew my favorite phlebotomist would be packing up her things but if I made it in time she'd squeeze me in. I ran faster. Breathless, I swung open the door only to find a new face in the white lab coat. I started to feel my heart race as I signed in.

She was just shutting down her computer when I signed in. She huffed out loud and begrudgingly checked my ID. Under her breath she murmured about getting out on time on a Friday.

I apologized but began to explain I couldn't find time in the week before and this was my only window. "No, that's fine" she said unconvincingly, but as she watched me tap my left hand her eyes began to widen in fear.

"Oh dear, you're a hard stick too, right?" She reached into the cabinet to hand me a plastic hot pack.

I put it on my hand feeling the humiliation rise inside of me.

I guess I'm pretty much every phlebotomist's worst nightmare at the 5 o'clock whistle.
I felt tears forming. Already anxious and fearful about this new person drawing the I felt like I should turn tail and run out.

For some reason, I didn't. I needed these results and here I was.

Deep breath. She drew me, and to my surprise it was quick, painless and she used the same talent as I'd known with Jeanie.

I was tempted to go out of there in the huff she had greeted me with.
I decided to do something different.

"Thank you for taking me. I know it's hard on a Friday," I said with my head turned away from her- averting my eyes for fear of the glances of annoyance she had greeted me with.

"Sure," she said back in a perfunctory tone.

But one more thing. As I headed out, I turned back and looked at her and tried to smile at her - hopefully it was somewhat convincing."Thank you for drawing me without pain. It's never easy for me with a lot other blood techs...and you did it well."

I closed the door before I had a return comment. The whole ten minutes had been a lot to take in.

It's not always easy to be kind.

Sometimes cruel and impatient encounters by strangers or even those you know, can leave you easily led into dishing out the same. But I never want anyone to change how I am. It doesn't always turn out that way. But every once in a while I can persevere in keeping my calm.

Never have I been more proud of doing this than yesterday.
This time I was early to the lab...4:30PM to be exact.
Sure enough there was the same woman who had huffed and puffed before.

As she was drawing me this time, I looked at my last name on the tube. It was my married name...even though I had given her my maiden name (sure that insurance records had still not been corrected).

In astonishment, I talked with her about the whole process being a maze for me - making sure my married name was corrected. I made a natural assumption-  asking her about if she ever had any of these difficulties with married name changing...

Her face fell. The steel facade immediately fell away.

"I haven't been as lucky..."

I could feel in every fiber of my being where she was.

I had been there.

"Well, you know I just got married this summer...and I'm no spring chicken."

Suddenly, with only the two of us in this blood lab she began to tell me about and the challenges of facing her 40th birthday alone.

"I don't need a man in my life..but I just always thought it would happen," she said

"Been there, girl..." I said.
I almost gulped as I realized I was addressing her comfortably, like a friend.


"How did it happen for you?"

"I changed my way of thinking..."

She leaned in and her eyes widened.

As I proceeded to tell her about how I'd almost given up after cancer on finding a life mate...because so many guys who looked for 'that perfect girl' that I didn't fit their definition of their 'safe bet'.

I told her I had previously followed the same old approach...picked the safe paths in life...walked the roads I'd always taken - in dating, in shutting out opportunities that were outside of my comfort zone.

I told her I started believing in what might be...if I just tried something different. I was different...and that is okay.

I told her if I just believed in possibility a little more...who knows? Nothing to lose, right?

You never know if you don't try, right?

Her eyes began to sparkle.

I told her about my husband and how we both took a chance on something that others had warned us was 'challenging'- long distance, different careers.

We closed the rule book- and we tried it out together.

"That kind of gives me hope," she said.

As I left the blood lab yesterday the woman I had almost wrote off was smiling.
And with the sincerest smile she thanked me. No joke, she told me it was her last day.
She had been unhappy for a while and she was being transferred.

"I'm sorry I won't get to draw you again," she said.

"Me too. I hope we cross paths again."

Miracles happen every day, friends. They happen when we work hard enough to get out of our gut reactions and think about a stranger who crosses our path.

Never forget. Be kind - every one you meet is truly walking a life we can't know on first glance. Sometimes the face we present to the world has been placed their because of hurt and disappointment. 

Sometimes it takes just one moment, one stranger to change your day...


Sunday, January 18, 2015

6 years later the Z-Man still lives in my heart

The most influential people in your life. 
Quick, think ...who are they? 
  • After they leave this earth - do they realize what this whole thing called life is all about and share it with you later on?
Yes...and sometimes (if you're really lucky) they share that message while still here on earth.Yet, we miss that message far too often. 

I guess I became drawn to Mitch Albom's 'The Five People You Meet in Heaven' (read it and reread it and even own the movie) because of this very universal wondering.

Sometimes it does not require a close encounter with the afterlife or actually crossing over to receive a heavenly message. If we open our eyes and stop our own 'personal rat races' for long enough to be truly touched by someone's life - even a stranger - 
something miraculous can happen. 

Yet, most of us can be on our own track - hustling, bustling and miss a life that is supposed to intersect with ours. If our routines and obsessions abound and we dismiss this person, I believe we miss what we are supposed to learn THEN - in that moment.

My moment began in October of 2007. I had been trying to, on my off hours from work, chase down every young adult cancer survivor I could find in Rochester to bring them together. It bugged me that any of them out there were like me - feeling terribly alone and I just felt like we could be one big party together.

I didn't really say it out loud, but I was looking for cancer survivors who had put their disease behind them and were moving on. I was not intending to find someone who would never put it behind them but live with great passion and joy, even as it robbed him over and over.

It was this search that brought me to Zach. 
October 2008

HERE is the first blog I wrote about our first encounter

October 29, 2007 - This weekend I met someone really amazing. His name is Zachary DeRidder.
Zach competed in several triathalons, 5K Races and rode 100 miles on his bike this summer.

  • Do I find this amazing because these kind of athletic endeavors are uncommon? Yes.
  • Am I slightly in awe of that kind of athletic ambition? That's a given.
When I tell you that Zach competed in these feats of strength and endurance all while undergoing treatment for cancer, you might sit back in awe yourself. He has a rare form of liver cancer called fibro lamellar variant liver cancer.

It's started from a random email from someone I've been 'hassling' to join our building group of young adult survivors who thought Zach would be a better candidate than he. I followed it up with an email to Zach, one that was never returned. Something in my gut told me there was something besides ordinary procrastination that led to this unanswered email.

 So I did what we do these days- I googled. I found a website, read through it and found an email from someone connected to this young man's story. I casually sent an email to his friend, Michael.

Apparently Zach had other things to attend the fight of his life. I would have expected no more than a vague summary when I got an email back from Michael. Strangers don't really need to know the whole story, right? Certainly, I never expected Michael to invite me to go to the hospital to meet Zach.
So that's just what I did. 

Zach, his friend Michael and I chatted from chairs in the lobby of his hopsital floor. Through pain he's still smiling and he still has hope that he will be back on his bike.
He has called this floor home for more than a month. I watched him waved down a passing doctor and openly chat with her about the next steps in his treatment. He joked and pointed longingly at the candy bars in the vending machine. He's fighting with everything he has...and hasn't forgotten his passion or what he sees for himself beyond the walls of the hospital. His dreams are just beginning to take shape and ZHope, or, the foundation that his friends set up to honor him is just getting off the ground.

Talking to Zach, you get the idea that he sees this cancer as just a road block. With an attitude and a vision like his you'd never think he was facing incredible odds just in his own survival.
While talking to him about the group I was forming and he got an incredible light in his eyes. He started talking about activities we should do in our group when he is well.
Could we go camping as a know stuff like that? he asked.
He seemed amazed that other young adult cancer survivors were uniting in such a way. You see Zach hasn't had access to a computer for a while and hadn't really been looking for others. As a matter of fact, months ago while he could have searched the internet for support for young adults with cancer, he was way too like a machine. He was too busy defying the odds. He still is. Tomorrow's plans are still there.


That was more than seven years ago.
Yes,we indeed took a picture that fall day in a hospital lobby in 2007. I didn't have my camera but it was on Zach's camera. Truthfully, I remember feeling sad because I would never see the picture. I still never have seen that picture.
I thought surely Zach would die before we'd get to snap another moment together. I had never seen someone that thin and ravaged. I had never seen someone so young and so close to death. Most people never have and there's a reason. In the final stages of life most people hunker down and stay in the safe huddle of those they love. Inviting anyone knew into that life circle is not the typical priority of a dying person. Zach defied that rule with an understanding that was both youthful and wise beyond his then 23 years.

The reality is, as fate would have it, we had many pictures together after that first. I treasure them. Zach DeRidder became a part of my life and even in death he's still a part of my life.

Zach DeRidder died 416 days after that first meeting - long enough to etch his way into my heart. If Mitch Albom's fictional account of momentous life intersection plays out like it does in his book, Zach is one of those big 5 I will see when my time ends.

Six years ago today Zach left this earth. I was in Long Island visiting my best friend for the Martin Luther King Day weekend. I remember taking the call in the spare bedroom where I was staying - blotting my face of tears, trying to collect myself enough to go back and join her. I knew then that I would never forget him.

I know years later I will still recall my friendship with Zach as one of the most influential parts of my human life. 

He taught me to seize meaningful opportunities no matter what others caution you against. Caution sometimes keeps you from living. It keeps you safe but many times it imprisons you in ways you later regret. Zach made that message clear to me. He looked me in the eye and told it to me straight. His message was direct and unabashed. He needed to say it to me and he didn't tread lightly. He told me I lived too safe and played by too many rules.

No regrets for Zach - he didn't have time.

Zach, I am married now and in some ways my life has changed wildly. Some of them I owe to you. I lived in a safe zone...and it was your advice that allowed me to take chances.

Because of this, I'll probably be forever thanking you because you saw the fear and hesitation I lived with - I was so different from you in that way.
Thank you Zach for helping me grow.

Six years ago today a really special person left us...and I know we will meet again when I'm done here. I miss you Z-Man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Century Ago

I woke up today with a sad glint of recollection. Today, December 10th would have been my grandma's 100th birthday. It occurs to me that since her death in 2010, so much has happened that we haven't gotten to share with her.

It's funny how the passage of time can escape us until a commemorative date like today appears. I miss her on so many days - particularly on those she would have told me how proud she was of me and how much she loved me with a hug and perhaps a tear or two. 

I thought of her the day I got married and imagined how much she would have loved her grandson-in-law. I thought of her the day my sister's beautiful baby girl Rachel Valerie was born, knowing how much she would have loved having her name in my niece's middle name. I know she would have marveled and sighed at the advances made in medicine in Rachel's time. She had always mourned for her own premature baby girl who today would have surely survived.

There was no question, my grandma came of age in a time of incredible hardship. She was the first of her parents' five children to be born in the United States. At four years old she lost her dad and the family had to work to keep the family farm learn to survive without him. Through it all she taught us all so much about love compassion, family, service and loyalty.

Grandma, I miss you and remember you today with so much love in my heart.

Those of you reading this: if you are lucky enough to have a grandparent who is living, I have some advice.

- See your life as a way of celebrating your grandparents. The pride they experience in their grandchildren means more than you might ever know.

- Remember to spend time hearing stories. Someday those stories will be worth more than you can even imagine.

- Savor those little moments. In the grand scheme of life, those little moments are big. If we don't slow down enough, we miss them. It's often the very young or the very old that truly understand this philosophy.

Happy 100th Birthday to my Grandma, Godlieve Valerie Duxbury. You are never forgotten.

Monday, October 20, 2014

They said it goes by in a does!

Let's face it...when I started this blog more than 7 years ago I never thought I would be entering a blog post about my wedding day. (I write this almost 2 months later...sorry for the happened.)

When I started blogging back then it was as a cynical single girl who couldn't say she'd been jaded by love by any means, but she couldn't have said she'd been knocked over by its force in the way that songs seem to speak of. No one had entered my life in a way that made me shed that cynical layer... that is, until I met Patrick. 

On August 22nd I married the man who changed my life and the day passed by in a flash. At least, in hindsight it seems that's how fast the day way went by. I was definitely forewarned by many brides who knew the drill. For a day you spend so much time planning, it sure has a way of flying by when it finally arrives. 

I will never forget how blessed I felt on that day. Happy tears and so many memories with so many wonderful family and friends who joined us. 

Something old- The handkerchief I carried was trimmed with lace my great grandmother (a lacemaker in Belgium) made.
 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Something new- I felt blessed in so many ways that day, but especially with regard to something fresh and new. My flowers were a gift from a family friend, Dawn who is an incredibly talented florist. When she heard I was cutting corners in my flowers and planning with a small budget she told me that she wanted to give me a special gift -my flowers. It's a gift I can't begin to ever thank her adequately enough for.

Something borrowed- I am lucky to have many friends with great taste. I borrowed my veil from my friend Jennifer. As it so happens, Jennifer is also the friend who introduced me to Patrick. It saved me some serious cash and it matched really well with my dress- lace trim and all!

Something blue- This was my wedding gift from Patrick, a blue topaz necklace. Not bad, for a girl who before her engagement ring still saw Claire's Accessories in the mall as her go-to jewelry stop!
 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
I was so excited when I opened the necklace and put it on for the first time. Actually, the gift was not a surprise...and neither was the watch I gave Patrick. Truth be told, I had to tell Patrick a couple times to put his gift back in the box until he wore it on our wedding day.

 Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

All my ladies got ready at my sister's house...Do not be fooled- we were only this put-together for all of 15 minutes before leaving for the church!
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
And I couldn't forget a picture with my favorite girl, Lucy...the dog who got me through my second bout with cancer.

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

 My dad has been asking me for weeks to write this blog- to describe what I was feeling that day. He's of course one of my blog's most devoted readers. 
When I look back on this picture I can't help but think of what I felt in that moment. I could only try to absorb what my parents were feeling as we readied for that day- my dad particularly. As my dad linked my arm, I could feel somehow that this long walk (yet all-too quick) down the aisle was as surreal as any moment I'd known before. Yet, at the same time I felt complete clarity with all of the emotions that had been swirling up until that point. All the nerves I had been running around with all day settled.
All that time worrying and scurrying shifted into a clearer vision. I looked down at the pews ahead filled with some of the most important people in my life and the end of them was the man about to become my husband.

I can't say that I'd ever been sure I would experience this moment until I was there, in my own skin. Looking out and realizing that this day was really here, I couldn't help but squeeze my dad's arm and smile at him.

There aren't many moments like that so you have to just pray it will all stay locked in memory forever.

So many memories to lock into my mental scapbook. I'm thankful that there we have some incredible images to help keep those memories. Here are just a few of the wonderful pictures captured by the amazing team of Steve and Mick at Preferred Photography. We just loved having them with us every step of the way!
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography
Photo by Steve Craddock - Preferred Photography

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lawn seat culture

This past weekend Patrick and I attempted to check an item off our bucket list- seeing Dave Matthews live. Let's just say it was a time we will remember likely for the rest of our lives - and not in a good way. Let me explain. 

Saving for our wedding, we didn't have the money to shell out for the 'good seats' so we selected a pair of lawn seats which weren't cheap mind you. I've taken the lawn plenty a time and though view might be less than perfect it's always been enjoyable and great just to hear the music.

Our experience Saturday night at Saratoga Performing Arts Center was beyond horrible. What we suffered through began with a striking omen. The second we opened our car door into a parkling lot full of pre-gamers we heard the quote that summed up the fanbase we saw. 

"Everything I do is to the extreme," shouted a flexing muscle boy to the left of our car. 

Along the 1/2 mile walk to the venue we saw a collection of drunken people strewn girl sat on the ground gazing up at cops assessing her condition. "Oh yeah, I'm okay now," she said unconvincingly. She was not in the minority. Several people staggered in stupor. 

The concert was an hour away from start time and most of the crowd entering seemed totally unprepared to tie their own shoes- let alone sit through a concert. We got there with plenty of time to select a spot on the hill to put our blanket on. We were sure that once the music started all would be well and this tangled cluster of frat house wannabes would settle down to enjoy what they came to see. Dave Matthews. Surely this pre-gaming would give way to allow the real show to be heard. Wrong.

After waiting a half hour for the music Dave at last took the stage. Having no opener, this was the show... the main act. Yet, the supposed fans wouldn't shut up enough to hear it.
I barely heard anything from the band we came to see. 

All around us the "fans" talked to each other as if they weren't even at a concert- because they weren't. The lawn was a thick throng of people so disconnected from what was happening they appeared misplaced in space and time. 

Who pays actual money to go to a concert and ignore the artist? And this wasn't one random couple that others had to shush.This was everyone around us. All we heard was crowd murmur. Patrick and I could barely hear the strains of the song we would later find out online was Bartender.   
That's exactly the role Dave Matthews was least to this lawn crowd. 
They had come only to drink, not to listen. But their bartender should have cut them off and closed out the tab.

If there was anyone there actually there to hear the music they were drowned out by those who had downed a six pack pre-game and had become more interested in becoming a part of the show, the one we had not paid to see.

Everywhere we looked fans were talking amongst themselves during the first song...hooping and hollering out of turn. Then the second song. Were they unaware the concert had actually begun? By the second song the crowd chatter had become even worse. By the third song we were at a level of despair that needed correction. We picked up our blanket and walked away.

In one last attempt to find a place to hear the concert we moved ourselves entirely away from the center of the lawn and found a nice quiet spot by a tree. We spread out our blanket again, hopeful. It wasn't even ten minutes before Patrick stood up in disgust. Unbeknownst to me a woman had crouched down, dropped trow and begun to urinate right on the side of the tree I was leaning against. We immediately packed up and left.

Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that people drink at concerts. I've been to many. I've seen the crowd enjoy the show from their cheap seats. I've heard the music fill a grassy hill and settle over the crowd who was tuned in and loving it. This was not that experience. I've just never seen such a disorderly mess of people who seemed to be completely disengaged from the entertainment and incapable of behaving like rationale human beings.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

A feisty patient

Dear Little Rachel,

Some day when you are older I am going to tell you how brave your mama is. I am going to tell you how strong I've had to see her be when she didn't think it was in her. I know so clearly that you are her daughter because 'feisty' is just what you are. In all of nature's unfairness - to be given the hand you were dealt before your tiny little lungs drew breath - you somehow found a way to be here with us. And that I know is not a universal quirk - it is a solid and steady indomitable will...just like your mama. 

Some day when you are older I will tell you how I watched your mama stay calm and peaceful for you as you turned from perky pink to clamshell grey, to a most horrible oyster blue in her arms. Your mama listened calmly to Lisa, the nurse as she talked her through how to coax your body back and nudge you back into the breath your brain and body are too young to get control of yet. There was palpable fear in the room and tears were streaming down your mama's face but she was focused on keeping herself calm to let you know you would be okay. 

Some day I hope I can tell you that your Mama and Daddy are two of the bravest parents I know...Here it is - only day 22 on earth- they have already had to dig down deep into their hearts and souls for you. Long before you made your entrance they had to summon up some courage that knew no carved-out path before them. When the rest of the world told them you should not or could not be here - they believed in miracles. But little Rachel it is you who are showing them the way. I watched you endure these moments yesterday- in one long untaken breath - a whisper of agony for us all in the room. Agony for your mom and I - and even for your very wise nurse Lisa - who told me as we sat in the chairs together talking side by side that she has hard moments in her job like these. It touches her soul to watch this bewildering terror of moms who see their children fight for these breaths.

 I watched all of this that happened with you and saw you show US all how to breathe calm again. How, you say?...You made us laugh when we needed to take that breath of exhale again.Ten minutes after you stunned us to tears and pindrop silence, you stretched out like a pin-up girl in your crib and smiled. And minutes after your next terrifying 'event' you blew a giant bubble. I was able to take a picture...and I will show you. And oh, yeah your feeding tube upgrade - that was all you - 'removed by patient.' Feisty indeed.

Yes, little Rachel you are tough and some day I am going to tell you when you can really understand. Some day I am going to tell you how as scary as that was for me today, to see you and your mama endure these unfathomable showed me how to be even braver than I thought I could be. And as we sat together quiet in that chair - just you and I- and a lot of beeping noises, I felt my heart grow too. 

I love you, my niece, little Rachel and you don't know this, but you remind me of someone I know and love very much. She's the person who held my hand when I needed it so many times. So I wanted to hold hers today. And yours, little Rachel.

You are your mother's daughter.

Love Auntie Leah

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A 'good journey' of promise

There is nothing to put age on you like returning to the former stomping grounds of your college campus...and at last, realize you can no longer pass - even by a longshot- for an undergrad student. Trust me, I tried yesterday- sneaking back to my old dorm. 
Now I am an officially seen as a card-carrying alum- might as well face it. With all affection and reverence, of course.

Yesterday as I gave the keynote speech at the 2014 Woman of Promise awards, I realized how far I have come since the time I sat as a petrified freshman in that same auditorium in which I was now taking the podium. 

I looked up in the audience and saw "Denny", the professor who changed my life- forcing me to stop, plow forward and believe a four year college education was not only doable, but within my reach. He had pulled my transcript for our first meeting scratched his chin and said "18 credit hours...18 credit hours," he repeated. "18 credit hours of college level work in high school...That's impressive." 

 For a young woman whose 'then-life' had been filled with nothing but chronic illness and high school teachers who graded and returned my assignments with little other than casual obligation, someone who had been written me off as the 'sick-kid' or the school phobic, this was a pivotal and monumental idea. Someone could be impressed by me?
The kid who was perhaps doomed to a life of scrambling just to strive for mediocrity and normalcy. How could I ever impress anyone? 

I was happily and joyously wrong.

Whether Denny's exact four words were "I-believe-in-you" or was the clear and solid message to an 18-year-old who had spent all but brief flashes of her high school career between being bed-ridden or wandering through a constant fog of cognitive dysfunction from an illness no-one really could demystify.

I kept looking at him, remembering where I was then...and how long it took me to get from there (knees knocking in a freshman 101 class) to delivering a keynote before the journalism school. 

I told the crowd of students that those four words changed my world. They did. 

Though Denny wasn't the only voice at St. Bonaventure who told me I could do it...his was the most constant. He was my advisor. His voice was a stern but loving echo in that time, one fraught with fear and frequent trips home to recover from pneumonia or bugs I picked up at school and I couldn't fight off like the 'average', 'normal' and 'healthy' kids who took for granted their God-given immune systems and happily washed the weekend down with shots... simply exercising a rite of passage. I didn't have the ability to exercise the freedoms of casual abandon because I was fighting to keep my grasp on as close to normal of a college experience as possible. Denny knew if I was out of class it was not because I was recovering from a hangover. He knew my story. He knew I would always get my work done...or die trying.

The woman for whom this Woman of Promise award is named, Dr. Mary Hamilton, also held a number of my fondest memories at St. Bonaventure. During my senior year Dr. Hamilton was my senior capstone advisor- in the dark ages when the 'hottest technology' for storing large filed documents existed on giant drives you could barely fit in your backpack - and that last semester of school I lost my entire senior capstone project. I had already completed most of it when the drive malfunctioned and warped the entire document, rendering it utterly useless.

My project was a 40 page retrospective yearbook on the history of the Francis E. Kelley Oxford program of which I had just returned from as a student that previous summer. I had all but one of my articles in hard copy so that was easily retyped but the design work and the hours in the lab and designing and finagling were gone. Scanned pictures- gone. Hours of work and design - lost. 

Dr Hamilton was my advisor for this project and she encouraged me as I rebuilt the document. Doing everything but sleeping in the yearbook office using its high-end software program- the one I could not afford to purchase for my dorm computer. I began to wish I had taken the research paper route instead. That project went through numerous and careful revisions, but when I put that finished yearbook on Dr. Hamilton's desk- she smiled from ear to ear. 

These are the people you never forget. These were my rainbows in the clouds. 

When you remember the people in your life who made you better, you remember not their words, but how they made you feel. And those feelings are transformative. 
They can help you wade through the thick waters of disappointment or disillusionment when someone knocks you down. Perhaps like many of us, I've had my fair share of those who have played this other unfortunate role in my life. Yet, coming back to campus and having a few of these special heroes embrace me was like a warm blanket wrapped tightly around my shoulders.

I had the good fortune to help present the Dr. Mary Hamilton Woman of Promise award (alongside Dr. Hamilton) to a very special young woman named Makeda Loney. Remember that name because she is going to do incredible things- I know this.

As she climbed the stairs to the stage I couldn't help but hug her before even going in for a handshake. I had read her story and in between the lines of her biography I sorted out the story of someone who much like me had challenges to overcome when she first stepped on campus. No doubt, she fought through them in a way that led her to be wholly worthy of being honored yesterday. 

"Are you nervous," I asked. 
"YES", Makeda answered back without hesitation.

As she visibly fought through the nerves of preparing her acceptance speech my whole life came full-circle with the sound of Patrick's voice. My fiance who had been quietly smiling and playing the supportive role all day interjected with a smile.

"Makeda, can I give you some advice?," he said
"Yes," Makeda answered.
"When you are talking up there...when you are speaking and you see our just have to know that everyone in that audience is on your side."

This journalism major is also steps away from being a theater minor. Patrick, an actor was just the person to give these words of advice. 

I smiled with pride. Full circle indeed. Here was my husband to be, the man who had successfully conquered his own childhood fears of stage fright, giving this special young lady some words of encouragement. 

This is why life is good. This is why you should never give up. We all have moments where we doubt ourselves and our abilities...we all have moments where someone else judges us unfairly and steals our joy. Yet, we have to keep on keepin' on and looking for those rainbows in the clouds along the way. When we find them- we have to work extra hard to make those 'I-believe-in-you' voices louder louder than those voices that discouraged us.

Yet, when we are able to take that power and give it back to someone else...then we have become aware of the fullness of our humanity. It is the power of life. It is the power of love. It is the power of promise.
With Makeda, truly a woman of promise
I told Makeda in my speech that there are 3 things to keep in mind about being a woman of promise. Perspective, perseverance and purpose. 

Perspective- to see where she started, and where she is now.
Perseverance- to see how she can keep going in tough times.
Purpose- to know who she is fully and know what drives her.

Those are things we can all remember when we believe in our own promise. Life will never ever be easy - but it sure will be worth it.