No. 365: Michelle.

It was announced at my school that this year’s theme for the year is gratitude. And as I step back into my role as a teacher at an incredible school, I need to thank the person who makes so much of it possible: my lower school division head, Michelle.

I was offered my position at school in May of 2013, and I accepted a few days later. I jumped in to meeting Michelle on a day in August to review my thoughts for the year regarding where the religion curriculum could go. With shaky hands, I read for her my themes for the year and my practices I wanted to put into place. As I read each idea, she said an enthusiastic “yes.” She told me to do it, and to let her know if I needed help or support. I was probably in and out in the span of 30 minutes.

Let me clarify: this was my first year as a teacher. I went right from undergraduate into graduate school. And yet Michelle had complete trust that I could take my ideas and put them into practice. She gave me creative license to make the drama and religion curricula my own, and always made herself known as a resource.

Michelle is a tremendous leader for many reasons, and her trust and support of my teaching and person are a huge part of that. But the other is her own belief in the power of encouragement, open communication in leadership, and making time to recognize blessings. She takes the time to send emails of thanks for the smallest thing. They are always authentic, concise, and meaningful. We are asked to pick up our contracts each year in person to get a hug of thanks. At the end of the year, Michelle has also given us letters addressing what we have done well for the year. There is nothing more encouraging than reading a beautiful, heartfelt letter in the chaos that is June.

Michelle is a mentor whose guidance I appreciate, a leader whose candid conversation is invaluable, and a friend whom I value greatly.

To all the Michelles of the world, happy September!

No. 364: Claire.

Let me take a moment to tell you about another friendship that was built during that fated Milk and Cookies party. (I’m telling you, I don’t think a single other event in my life has yielded so many gifts.) This friend is Claire. Now, I can’t recall if Claire was there that evening – my predictions say yes – but even if she weren’t, I met Claire through the friendships forged with other Cookie Partygoers, especially her roommate, Morgan. Morgan and I hit it off, and soon the three of us were having “soirees” in their single room, which almost always had an element of wine, cheese, and Newsies. In fact, it was Claire who introduced me to Newsies, which is one of the many reasons that I am forever indebted to her.

Claire and I are similar in some very obvious ways: we both majored in theatre at Drew and are now theatre teachers. We have the same love of chocolate and eating on a routine schedule (to avoid being “hangry.”) But Claire and I are different in some extremely important was as well. She has the beautiful gift of being able to go from “big picture” perspective to zooming in on a detail about a personal issue or the subject at hand in a conversation. Claire always voices her questions without hesitation; never in a berating or obnoxiously, but carefully weighing out all perspectives before considering her own opinion.

She also has a gift for working with student populations with seemingly unsurmountable challenges: no budget, kids who don’t show up to school, not sharing a culture with her students. The same seeking of perspectives and hunger for learning make Claire a wonderful teacher: she is constantly pushing herself to grow, to try something new.

All of this is not even touching on the fact that Claire is a wonderful friend: the kind that sends you a birthday card that arrives the day before your birthday (not on time, not late, EARLY). She takes time to share with the people in her life that she misses them, and that she’s thinking of them, if the business of everyday prevents a larger phone catch up.

Simply put: Claire is one of the many reasons I have to be extremely grateful. Love love!

No. 363: Marge.

I should explain my relationship to my “home” Wawa first. My dad has gone there at least once a day for the past 30 years – sometimes twice if my mom wakes up later, so he can get her a hot coffee. (Isn’t that adorable?) I digress. When there was a missing piece of hardware in the counter, my dad took his tool kit over there to fix it himself. He wod carry me in there barefoot in my pajamas when I was younger to get a tastykake before bed. Needless to say, we are close to that location. 

Marge works at this Wawa. She had been mentioned at my house before, though she started there after I moved away for school. When I went in this morning to grab a coffee, I introduced myself. She clarified which Steve I was speaking of by adding “and your mom is beautiful, right?” I smiled and responded that she is. (What a way to be known, mom!)

Marge rung me up and told me I look like my dad when I laughed. She wished me well on my way, and she started my day off on a lovely note.

The funny thing? She didn’t just make my day- but by passing that story along to my parents, it made theirs as well. 

Kindness is contagious – let’s take a message from Marge and pass it around. 

No. 362: Helen.

In taking a browse back in my posts, I realized there were several people in my life who, because of their implicit involvement in my life, have so far gone unmentioned. This is something I am almost embarrassed about and now seeking to correct.

One of these people is Helen. A member of Club Quad, I have technically known Helen the longest since we did community theater together in high school. We had scenes with each other in Cabaret, were rival gang members in West Side Story, and she played the coyingly sweet Patti Simcox to my Pink Lady in Grease. We hung out in the same circle of friends, but were never really close.

Jump ahead a few years to my freshman year at Drew, at that same Milk and Cookies party where I met Ginny. Imagine Helen’s surprise when a blonde, college version of me shows up at her school- it was just random enough to make sense. 

From there on out, I got to know Helen better than I did when we were in high school. Between her sweet beat boxing skills (which earned her Best Vocal Percussionist at Regionals of ICCAs), killer sense of comedic timing, and healthy dose of pragmatism, I soon realized how lucky I was to have another three years to get to know Helen better. 

Helen is that friend you text because she calls it like it is. Helen will also commiserate with you when you’re having a tough day, or respond to a ridiculous video of you with her own video response of her laughter. It’s infectious and always in earnest. 

Helen, thank you for being a friend (or as Kimmy Schmidt would put it, “crank you for being a crank!”) Here’s to many more years, where ever they may lead!

No. 361: Belle.

Yes, this is a thank you letter to a fictitious Disney Princess.

Beauty and the Beast was the first movie I ever saw in theaters. I don’t remember being in the theater, or the movie watching itself, but if my memory serves me correctly, we were having hardwood floors put in our house and I wouldn’t be allowed to walk on them.

So my parents took me out of the house. From that moment, Belle became a kindred spirit. She captured the same sense of adventure I felt as a young girl and the same awkward out of place presence as a preteen. My mom used to tell me I walked around the house “with a dreamy far off look and a nose stuck in a book.” It became the first show I ever saw on Broadway, and the story became mesmerizing  in a totally new way.

What I love about Belle is that she is brave. She is courageous and daring and smart. She does not simply allow herself to be in the right place at the right time- she seeks the place where she is needed and meant to be. Belle’s heart is expansive and her capacity for selflessness is immense- but don’t let that fool you. She is in afraid to stand up in what she believes in.

I don’t know if I wanted so much to be a princess when I grew up, but I still very much hope to be Belle.

No. 360: Sharon.

I went to yoga this evening, which is no surprise to anyone who knows my weekly routine. The evening’s theme was gentleness and its relationship to strength: when do we associate force with strength? When is gentleness the stronger choice? It gave me a lot to ponder, especially as our teacher quoted Thich Nhat Hanh: “walk on the ground as if you were kissing the Earth with your feet.” I focused on gentleness throughout my practice, and how I could use it in each pose.

As I rolled up my mat, the woman to my left spoke to me: “Thank you for letting me practice with you,” she said. “You are so graceful! When ever I didn’t know what to do I looked at you. You should be a teacher.” She introduced herself as Sharon, and we both wished each other well.

I was floored. Here was a stranger, kind enough and brave enough to share with me her experience. I was so grateful for her kind words; the compliment, yes, but mostly that she shared it with me so candidly.

That’s the thing about compliments: they are most meaningful when shared. Yet how many times have I restrained myself from telling someone how lovely they looked or how polite their children were for fear of being “weird”? I have been Sharon many, many times; yet I have rarely voiced that gratitude for someone practicing alongside me.

Thank you, Sharon, new friend, for expressing your beautiful compliment to me. It will live with me for a long time to come. 

No. 359: Ginny.

Friends are the people who believe in us. Best friends are the people who believe in us when we don’t believe in ourselves. They lend us their strength when we lack it and they push us to be the best version of ourselves. 

Ginny is one of those friends. Case in point: she emailed WMMR to share my post with them. Why? Because she felt my writing was worthwhile and she figured I most likely hadn’t sent it myself. (She was correct- I hadn’t the courage.)

I met Ginny after she returned from her semester abroad in London. There was the Milk and Cookies party when I think I said hello, but later we had been cast together in that spring’s musical, and started to get to know each other more. I remember thinking she was so funny: so off the cuff and not trying hard, which as a freshman I yearned to emulate. Little did I know that she would see me through that freshman year, provide me with a calm and fun retreat from my quad sophomore year, and remain my friend past her own graduation and my move to New York. 

To this day, I admire Ginny for her courage, her honesty and integrity. If we were in a 1920s talkie, I imagine someone would tell her “you’ve got moxie, kid!” And they would be precisely right. She is an artist who takes risks, a friend who never strays, and a writer of unmatched candor and creativity. 

I am so grateful for Ginny, and couldn’t be more proud to call her my friend.