Tag Archives: Happiness

Why I Love Working With Dying Children.

2 Dec

I read an article recently by a woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children. Throughout the article, the author regularly mentioned how a certain little boy’s death would one day prevent her from ever returning to work. That little boy became another little girl who became yet another child. They all faced something we don’t talk enough about: death. Eventually, the author mentioned how this work contains so much sadness and fragility, and yet it is also the work she could never dream of walking away from.

Ever since August of 2013, I have been interning with Arts For Life, a NC-based non-profit organization focused on teaching art to children and families battling serious illnesses and disabilities. Specifically, I work with two populations of children: children undergoing treatment for cancer and other blood disorders and children undergoing physical, occupational, or speech therapy. I began this internship for a variety of reasons. However, the main one was due to my previous hospital experiences. As a child, I had to undergo three intense surgeries, which later included intense physical therapy, and I spent all this time in the hospital. During this time, the one bright spot in all the days of physical pain, tears, and uncertainty was the weekly craft nights. For one hour every week, I got to focus on making an art project rather than dwelling on how much pain I was in, which exercises I needed to do, or an upcoming surgery. Having a chance to put all my energy into something completely outside of myself helped to decrease some of my anxiety. Some of those nights, I dare say I might have even been happy. Due to my enjoyable experiences with art projects in the hospital, I knew I wanted to provide these same opportunities for other kids in the hospital.

Ever since I started teaching art projects to kids in the hospital, I have loved every minute of it. I love seeing the regular kids every week who have finally gotten used to me and will come up and just start talking. I love watching the kids burst with creativity, coming up with an alternative project I hadn’t even considered. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they finish their project and run to show their parents. I love finding new ways to teach the children. However, more than anything, I love being able to take in all the different lessons they’ve ended up teaching me without even knowing it.

They have taught me the true meaning of strength. They have taught me what it means to not let an illness define you. They’ve taught me how “art” and “perfect” are rarely in the same sentence, and that’s perfectly okay. More than anything, they’ve taught me the importance of noticing the small things. One little girl I know is battling cancer, and yet she is one of the happiest little girls I know. She smiles, she laughs, and she plays. Most importantly, she does one thing I believe we often forget. She notices every moment: every smile, every time of laughter, every speck of blue sky. She absorbs every single piece of life, soaking it all in. I try more and more each day to live like her, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Numerous friends have asked me how I am able to be around kids who are dying. And you know what my response is? “How could I not?” These kids need me. They need the chance to be able to fully express themselves. They need a positive person in their lives who can bring something good into their hospital experience. They need someone who cares. A few years ago, I never imagined that person could be me, and yet, here I am.

I have yet to lose one of the children I teach. The more I read the article written by the woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children, the more I’ve begun to understand that we all deal with death in our own way. How I react to losing a child I teach may not be the same way one of the child’s nurses might react. That being said, the important thing to remember is even if I lose I child I teach, there are still tons of other children who need me. Though one day may feel quiet as I mourn the loss of a particular child I cared for, there will be more children coming to clinic the following day, and I need to be the best I can be for them. Being sad around them isn’t my job. If I’m sad, they’ll get sad. That’s why positivity is so important.

Teaching art to children with serious illnesses and disabilities is not easy, but it is the first thing I’ve ever done that’s given me a deep sense of purpose. Seeing the smile on a little boy’s face means I was part of his happiness. Having a little girl cling to my leg begging me not to leave warms my heart more than she will ever know. I just hope one day these children will know how much they have changed my life.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.-Plato

The end of the world from a fiction perspective.

19 Dec

I just finished reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, and the basic focus of the novel, the concept of climate change, connects well with the possible end of the world on Friday, according to the Mayans. Here is the synopsis of the novel, according to GoodReads.com:

“Flight Behavior” transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman’s narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel’s inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

“Flight Behavior” takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world.

Though Flight Behavior wasn’t one of my favorites by Kingsolver and I often felt like I was trudging through most of the novel, it did provide a fictional account of climate change as well as the possible end of the world. Personally, I do not believe the world is going to end on Friday. I know there are many people who either strongly believe the world will end on Friday, strongly don’t or are simply torn on the subject. In my personal opinion, I just don’t feel there is enough concrete evidence to support the end of the world. Yes, people have tried making connections by stretching the importance of certain events, but in my opinion, all of the sporadic events possibly connected to the prospect of the world ending on Friday just don’t add up to a solid reason.

Despite not believing the world is going to end on Friday, Flight Behavior got me thinking about what I would do if I knew the world was going to end within a matter of days, or even hours. My two necessities would be to tell my friends and family how much I love them, and then I’d spend my last few hours of existence sitting at a scenic overlook along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Though I doubt too many people would be able to fully understand the desire to be alone right before the end of existence, I love the mountains and the Blue Ridge Parkway in a way that’s truly hard to describe. I just know that when I am sitting at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I am the happiest I have ever been. The mountains have always been my favorite kind of landscape, and when I have the chance to simply sit and enjoy their beauty, nothing can beat that feeling of true contentment that I feel. In those moments, it’s as if all the troubles of the world melt away, and the only thing that matters is the natural beauty that is right in front of me. In my restorative yoga class, we talk a lot about striving to reach inner peace, which is also related to the Buddhist philosophy. Through meditation exercises in my restorative yoga class, I’ve gotten glimpses of that “inner peace.” And truthfully, if the world was going to end within a matter of days, I’d be perched at an overlook along the Parkway allowing the natural beauty of the mountains to help me find the pure happiness that I know resides somewhere within each one of us.

To all my mentors, past and present.

9 Dec

After reading Arianna’s post on role models, I was inspired to write my own post regarding the numerous mentors I have had throughout my life thus far. Despite the fact that the mentors who are in my life right now are currently the most important to me, I know the mentors of my past also helped me during times in my life when I needed guidance.

Though I do not doubt that my strength and my drive for independence were two very important factors that got me where I am today, I know without a shadow of a doubt that the many mentors I’ve had throughout my life provided me with a level of support that not only acted as a cushion when I was feeling low, but also propelled me forward and taught me to reach for all the possibilities that were awaiting me. Even though I am naturally one of those people who makes sure to tell the people I care about how much they mean to me on a regular basis, I also believe that you can never say “I appreciate you” too many times. It’s a simple three word phrase, but it has the ability to hold an amount of emotion I can’t even begin to describe.

“In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

There is something really special about taking note of the people in your life who have shaped you. Though I definitely know that my parents fall into that category, I’m referring to those people who shaped me without being asked. Those people who, though it was never asked of them, established connections with me because they hoped to influence my life in a positive way. Even though the concept itself seems like a no-brainer, I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today with the mentors from my past and present. Each one of them has provided me with support, encouragement, love, advice, and best of all…their time. I don’t know what it is about establishing connections with people who want nothing more than to learn from you, while also hoping to positively influence you…but it has brought me more happiness than I can even begin to describe.

In simple terms, I thrive off of connections with other people. In some situations, those connections don’t lead to a positive result, but in the best circumstances, I have gained not only a friend, but someone who I am able to appreciate and learn from. I believe that my need and love of having general connections with others is very much related to my desire to work in the helping profession as a counselor. Since I have had mentors within my own life who have impacted me in ways I never could have imagined, I want the chance to impact others in the same way. I want to know that in some small way, I helped someone. Whether it’s helping them to realize that they are worthy of the love that others are showing them or helping them to see that the traumatic event from their childhood doesn’t define the person they are today, I want to be there through it all. I want the chance to help them discover who they truly are, even if that means uncovering things about themselves they’ve kept hidden for so long for fear of being ridiculed.

Therefore, to all my mentors, past and present (Mike, Tucky, Chuck, Dr. Cox, Mr. Richard, Miss Mary, Miss Marie, Mrs. Trish, Dr. Cahill and Mrs. Walker)…I appreciate each and every one of you. You each have helped me to realize something different, but equally important, about myself, which has helped me to continue to discover who I truly am. You’ve each supported me when I’ve been down, and have continued to support me through my successes. You’ve shown me what it means to be selfless because I know that none of you felt obligated to be a positive influence my life. You chose to fill that role on your own accord, which means more to me than you will ever know. In all actuality, there are not enough words in the English language to express how much I appreciate each and every one of you. If it means saying “I appreciate you” every day for as long as I live, then that’s exactly what I will do.

Can you smell the cinnamon?

21 Nov

There’s nothing quite like baking pumpkin pie with the best dad in the world. 🙂 I hope all of you enjoy your yummy food tomorrow. Though Thanksgiving is traditionally a day that we spend being thankful for what we have, I think it’s also important to realize that each one of us should take a small amount of time to ourselves. Whether it means taking a walk in the woods or reading for about 20 minutes, we all need a break from people sometimes in order to appreciate the moment, and to just be. 

The top 5 Jodi Picoult quotes to help you change your life.

17 Nov

I absolutely love Jodi Picoult. She’s one of my favorite authors, which is most likely because I love how all her books make me think. I’ve always loved the way Jodi Picoult writes, and she is one of those writers that somehow knows the words that I feel without me having to utter a single word. I’ve never understood it, but it’s a concept that I’ve come across with other writers as well (John Green, Lucy Grealy). Though Jodi Picoult’s words haven’t necessarily changed me, they have helped me realize the aspects of my life that I hope to change.

1. “Maybe who we are isn’t so much about what we do, but rather what we’re capable of when we least expect it.” – from My Sister’s Keeper

This quote, though it’s simple, gives me hope. It is a reminder that yes, we will all make mistakes, but those mistakes shouldn’t be what others constantly focus on. Instead, we should remember the moments that we were strong, courageous, and brave. For instance, people have always told me how strong I am for what I have been through. However, I never know how to respond. I was strong because I had to be. There was no other choice. This quote helps me to see that strength that is within me, even though there are countless times in which I’d prefer to not always have to be the strong one and simply let someone take care of me.

2.“Sometimes to get what you want the most, you have to do what you want the least.” – from My Sister’s Keeper 

For me, this quote relates to the concept of writing my memoir vs what I what to achieve through writing my memoir. I want acceptance in myself, but more than that, I want other kids with disabilities and other kids who also go through horrendous surgeries to know they are not alone. However, to get to the point where I can help other kids like me, I have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted: I have to relive the memories of my childhood so that I can write them down. Though it’s a painful process and sometimes I’m not entirely sure why I keep on writing, I think of the kids that are lying in hospital beds feeling scared and more alone than a widow on Christmas. It’s because of those kids that I keep on trudging through, because once upon a time, I was one of them, and I spent so much time wanting for someone who could understand. And that person never came. So I want to be that person for other kids. I have to be, because feeling like no one understands when you’re going through the most intense physical pain of your life…that’s the worst feeling there is.

3. “You can’t look back – you just have to put the past behind you, and find something better in your future.” – from Salem Falls

This quote has definitely been the kick in the pants when I’ve needed it. I’m naturally one of those people who focuses on the words “what if.” However, reading this quote always helps me to reminder that I just need to look ahead rather than always focusing on what might have been, because keeping my eyes glued to the rear view mirror isn’t going to do me much good. Instead, I need to look ahead and realize that the people who are in my past are there because the things that I’ll find in my future will be so much better.

4. “You might have to lose control before you could find out what you’d been missing.” – from Nineteen Minutes

This quote is similar to saying “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom to realize what you had.” It’s all about perspective. Sometimes, all we need is a shift in perspective, a chance to look at a situation in a different way in order to focus on what’s really important. I definitely know there have been times where I have lost sight of what’s truly important because I’ve allowed myself to get too bogged down by the petty things that won’t mean much in the long run. By changing my perspective and realizing that focusing on the important things are what really matters, I learn more from the situation, and I’m able to be happier.

5. “Just because fate had thrown another obstacle in my way didn’t mean I had to give up my dreams.” – from Harvesting the Heart

Dreams are a special thing. They give us a purpose, a direction to move towards. I am one of the fortunate people who knows the feeling of being able to live my dream: writing about my own life in order to help other kids who have been through something similar. However, I know that for many people, dreams reside in the distance. They are present, but they are regarded as things that don’t always deserve the right amount of attention because there’s not enough time or money or space. Living a dream isn’t supposed to be easy. You’ve got to work for it, every day. But the feeling you get when you realize you’re living it…when it’s staring you in the face and giving you more joy and purpose than you ever thought possible…that’s a feeling that borders on miraculous.

Monday’s inspiration.

12 Nov

Life in general was cruel and offered only different types of voids and chaos. The only way to tolerate it, to have any hope of escaping it, I reasoned, was to know my own strength, to defy life by surviving it. -from Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Why we need more memoirists.

10 Nov

In the right hands, a memoir is the flecks of gold panned out of a great, muddy river. A memoir is those flecks melted down into a shapable liquid that can be molded and hammered into a single bright band to be worn on a finger, something you could point to and say, “This? Oh, this is my life.” Everyone has a muddy river, but very few have the vision, patience, and talent to turn it into something so beautiful. That is why the writer matters, so that we can not only learn from her experience but find a way to shape our own. -Ann Patchett, afterword of Autobiography of a Face

Though I do love everything about this quote from the afterword of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, the last line of the quote is what really speaks to me. Since I am in the process of writing my own memoir, over the past few months I’ve vowed to read more memoirs to gain a greater understanding of the genre I’m trying to be a part of. Spending more time reading memoirs rather than fiction, I’ve begun to realize what’s so appealing about them. Memoirs tell the stories of people…they dive deep into the love, pain, fear, excitement, love, and joy that has filled each and every one of those stories. People love reading about people. That’s a fact. However, more than that, I think memoirs allow readers to find pieces of themselves in the memoirist, even though the understanding behind those pieces may feel unclear. Either way, those pieces, however different, provide connection…a sense of belonging that was otherwise lacking.

It may seem obvious that the desire for more memoirists in our society is strong. However, though that may be true, the fact of the matter is that writing about one’s own life isn’t easy. It’s hard. Really, really hard. It’s the process of stripping away every mask that you’ve hidden behind for much of your life. It’s what happens when you force your true self out into the harsh light of day, continually resisting the urge to look away in shame. In my opinion, writing a memoir shows vulnerability. It shows courage, strength, and every emotion that we experience throughout our lives. Through vulnerability, it shows authenticity in its rarest form, and that in itself is truly miraculous.

Through reading Lucy Grealy’s memoir, Autobiography of a Face, I’ve started to understand just what memoirists can offer. Other than providing us with the obvious pieces that connect to form a complete, living, breathing life, memoirists give us the opportunity to embrace our own vulnerabilities rather than shrinking behind them. They allow us to come face to face with the contentment that results from being able to face your past, scars and all, head on. They give us the chance to find our true selves, no matter how frightening or foreign that part of us may be. They present us with the opportunity to love ourselves, which in turn allows others to love us just as much, if not more.