Day 118 – Twelve years and a day

Twelve years and one day ago, everything I owned had been thrown in boxes to save it from the rainwater that flooded my Yonkers apartment. My waterlogged furniture had been hauled out to the curb for the garbage men to collect. And Stevie and I drove out to Long Island for our own private wedding in Pastor Schenkel’s office, before heading to the Candlelight Inn to celebrate with hot wings and beer.

In some ways, that chaos seems to have set the tone for our lives together. I can’t say there’s ever been a dull moment since. Ups. Downs. Twists. Turns. Moments when all we could really do was just hold onto each other and wait for the hits to stop coming (life has a way of throwing some real sucker punches, you know). And in the midst of it all, there have been a whole lot of really beautiful moments too.

And you know what? I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Twelve years and a day of marriage, and this August we’re coming up on 21 years since we first met. I tell ya, it’s getting harder and harder to remember what my life was like without Stevie Romano in it. And I think that’s pretty awesome.

Can’t wait to see where we go from here.

Day 78 – Character

If you only pay attention to the screaming headlines–you know, the ones that claim our world is overrun with scandal and lies and cheating and horror and greed–you probably walk around with a pretty grim view of this planet and the people walking around on it. I’m not denying that stuff exists. Of course it does. We humans are perfectly imperfect, and we don’t always care about each other the way we should or make the best choices.

But if you take a moment to avert your eyes from the sensational click-bait headlines and turn down the noise, you just might get a glimpse of the big beautiful world we’re all living in just trying to do our best and grab onto a little happiness along the way.

Call me naive, but I’m of the opinion that people are generally good. Deep down, I think we all just want to feel safe and loved. I think we all just want to find our purpose. But I also think we sometimes get lost along the way. We focus too much on ourselves, on climbing some social or professional ladder, on establishing ourselves at the top of the food chain, even if it means clawing someone else out of our way.

I’ve been posting a lot about the floods taking place here in Nebraska the past few days, and if you haven’t taken the time to read any of the stories, I hope you’ll take a moment to do so now. The devastation will tear your heart right out of your chest–the suffering, the pain, the loss. But the stories of people coming together, of communities rallying, of quiet heroes stepping in to lift up their neighbors and their fellow humans–those stories will make you whole again.

Character is the choices you make when nobody’s looking. Character is reaching out to help someone who needs it and expecting nothing in return. Character is loving and respecting other humans because they’re human, and not thinking twice about their race or religion or socioeconomic status or whether they voted red or blue.

Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you.

Humans are capable of horrible things. It’s true. I’ve seen it up close with my own eyes. Hell, I’ve been on the receiving end of it. But humans are capable of extraordinary things too. And if you look around and pay attention, I think you’ll probably notice that there’s a whole lot more of the good stuff happening. And the best thing about that is, you can choose what you want to pay forward.

Get out there and spread some love and light.

Day 54 – Love and learning

So this story ran in the New York Times in January: Students Learn From People They Love

I don’t believe it’s just coincidence that this story ran just two days after one of my favorite humans in the world (my mentor and former English Professor Dr. Mandana Nakhai) was honored for her service and her unparalleled dedication as an educator and administrator at Concordia College – New York. I like to think the universe has a way of connecting things like that.

I bookmarked this article. Printed it. And I’ve probably read it at least a half dozen times in the past month. I like the way it makes me think about all of the amazing teachers I’ve had in my life, the way it brings back the memories of what it felt like to sit in their classrooms.

The best teachers don’t charge ahead and clear the path for you, and they don’t take a seat on the sideline and lost sight of you when you stray. The best teachers are the ones who take the journey with you and walk the path alongside you. They are the ones who take the time to explain the unfamiliar road signs and delight in the fact that they get to continue learning something new along the way. And when you come upon a door that leads to a brand new opportunity, the best teachers will squeeze your hands and smile and remind you that you have everything you need to unlock the door and walk on through.

When I think back to all the moments and the choices and the people who got me where I am today, there is no denying that it was the emotional connection that really made all the difference. I couldn’t have learned unless I felt safe and supported in the classroom. I wouldn’t have gone onto college without the elementary and middle and high school teachers that went above and beyond just trying to teach me math equations or analyze the themes in Shakespeare’s plays. And I wouldn’t have graduated from college, gone onto get a Master’s, or pursued a career in higher education if it weren’t for the faculty and staff who invested in me, challenged me, and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone that I sometimes have a hard time remembering what it feels like to be truly scared of anything.

And while I am so thankful for all the the things they taught me in the classroom, that’s really not even half of the story. I had teachers who helped me earn scholarships, who steered me toward opportunities to participate in prestigious writing programs, who helped me get published. I had teachers who helped me navigate volatile relationships, who pushed me get into therapy, who sat with me in the hospital until they knew that I was okay. I had teachers who helped me craft my first resume and cover letter, who invited me to dine in my very first Michelin-rated restaurant, who took me to my very first art museum and Broadway show. I had teachers who helped me piece together my first professional wardrobe and who (to this day) remain some of my greatest mentors and confidants and friends.

So, if you ask me what really makes the difference in a child’s education, you’re probably not going to hear me talk about the tests or the textbooks or the state-of-the-art facilities. Instead, I’m going to talk about the connections they can make with teachers, because from that love comes learning. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?

Day 19 – The family that you make

There was a time in my life when I avoided people, relationships of just about any kind. I’m an introvert by nature, but this was different. I didn’t trust people, and I was filled with so much self-loathing and self-doubt that I believed it was easier to just keep everyone at arm’s distance than to risk getting close and getting hurt.

During my years in therapy, one of the biggest challenges was for me to trust people, to let them in, because I had trouble matching up what other people saw in me with what I saw in myself. I had to spend a lot of time building up my own self-image, learn to love myself and let other people love me. One of the results was that I started to view relationships and human connection differently.

Letting people in. Trusting them. Connecting. Building relationships. Loving other humans. These things can be hard, but they are so worth it. They’re vital. They’re the reason we’re all bumping around on this blue-green planet in the first place. And the really beautiful thing that happens when you connect with other people is that just being in their presence, hearing their voices, spending an evening together sharing a meal sparks immeasurable joy.

Family is not bound by blood. Family is the people you choose to surround yourself with, the people you love and invest your time in. Stevie and I have loved ones spread all over the country–from New York to Arizona to Colorado and Washington state–and we do what we can to connect. We don’t do as much as we would like to, or have nearly enough time with all the people who mean the world to us. But sometimes there are moments like tonight, when we get a chance to spend an evening with some really beautiful souls. My home was full of love tonight, and my heart is too.

Friday

The kids are in bed. I’ve got some Empyrean Carpe Brewem Peanut Butter Porter (which is officially my new favorite beer), a Gilmore Girls binge happening on the TV, and I’m about to get some writing done. The only thing that could make this Friday night better is if Stevie were home, but let’s face it, I made him sit through Gilmore Girls once, I doubt he’d indulge a second marathon. I mean, he loves me, but even our friends-for-five-years-before-dating, married-twice, we-have-a-no-return-to-the-dating-pool-clause relationship must have its limits, and that might just be it.

Nine Years and Nine Months

Nine years ago there was a massive rainstorm, a flooded apartment, a frenzied move, and an impromptu wedding in Pastor Schenkel’s office on Long Island. Stevie wore shorts and his blue flame Converse. I wore jeans and my flowered Doc Martens. We celebrated at the Candlelight Inn with hot wings and beer.