November 23, 2010

Lessons & Reflections

Dear Mom,

It’s easy to reflect on all I lost when you passed away, but I rarely consider what I have gained. It’s hard to admit that I, even in the smallest way, benefitted from your death, but here it is, in writing, and I can’t take it back.

Your death caused me to gain perspective. I’ve acquired this on so many levels: in friendships, relationships, life, and loss. In honor of this recent revelation and my upcoming December birthday, I have compiled a list of 23 Life Lessons to Learn Before Your 23rd Birthday (is it a coincidence that it's also November 23rd and there are 23 days until my 23rd birthday?! This better be a good omen!)... Enjoy!

23 Life Lessons to Learn Before Your 23rd Birthday

23. Don’t be afraid to let go of a friendship that has clearly expired. Right or wrong, I would always fight it out and hold on for dear life. I have learned that it’s okay to move on from the friendships that are no longer benefiting either party involved.

22. Not every friend needs to be the forever kind. All our relationships with boyfriends or girlfriends fail except for the one we marry, so why do we expect friendships to be so different?

21. Live by the phrase, “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, but with a slight alteration. Do treat others the way you want to be treated, but don’t expect them to return the favor. Chances are the person you let cut in front of you in the grocery store is that same speed demon that will hop in her car and cut you off in the parking lot. Don't take it personally.

20. Only welcome people into your life that continuously make you want to be a better you. I thought I was a fairly nice person, that is, before I met John and his heart of absolute gold. He was going to school about an hour away when we first started dating a few years ago, so I didn’t see him as often as I would’ve liked. He came up to visit one weekend, and on our way home from lunch we saw that someone I knew had a flat tire just outside my house. He immediately wanted to go help her while I pouted and said, “But you’re only here for the day, and who cares, she’s not even nice to me anyway.” He responded, “Well, wouldn’t you want someone to help you?”

19. Be genuine. I can’t even count how many times I have written “Love you!” to friends that I am not even that close with. If you tell everyone you love them, then the words lose meaning. Save it for the people who truly deserve your love. And when you say it, mean it (Thanks AS).

18. Focus on quality over quantity. Again, the more popular you aim to be, the least genuine your relationships are. Not everyone is going to enjoy your company, and instead of trying to change that, focus your energy on the ones who love you already without needing convincing.

17. If your body is telling you something, listen to it. There is only one thing worse than hearing your mom say, “If only I would have gone to the doctor’s sooner when I could tell there was something wrong… then everything would be different,” and that’s knowing she is right.

16. Don’t snoop. If a cell phone, e-mail account, or Facebook inbox does not belong to you, then don’t look through it. If you do, it reveals more about the kind of person you are-- not him. Don’t be nosey. Get a hobby.

15. If your boyfriend tells you, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you”... RUN!

14. If you repeatedly catch the same boyfriend flexing alone in the mirror in his tighty whiteys... RUN FASTER!

13. Don’t be na├»ve. Just because you are a trustworthy, confidential person, doesn’t mean everyone you air your dirty laundry to is also. If you can find one or two people you can trust, consider yourself lucky.

12. Certain people will talk about you sometimes. Save yourself the shock and heartache and accept, early on, that some people are just plain immature. It doesn’t make it right, but again, that’s what makes the paragraph above so critical.

11. Don’t rely so heavily on first impressions. People change completely once you actually get to know them.

10. Just because someone isn’t here anymore, doesn’t mean you have to act like he or she never existed. It’s difficult to talk about someone you lost, but do it anyway. You’ll feel better. People are probably too nervous to mention that person because they’re afraid you’ll have a mental breakdown at the sound of her name. Show them they’re wrong. And if you do happen to cry, that’s okay too. Grieving isn’t a week long, it is lifelong.

9. Stop comparing yourself to your significant other’s exes. They broke up for a reason, and you will too if you keep it up.

8. Distance changes friendships, but it doesn’t need to end them. A little effort goes a long way.

7. Be yourself. A friend once relied on me so heavily to help her think of what to write in text messages to a guy she liked, that eventually, I had to remind her that in doing so he was going to end up liking ME instead of her.

6. Friends should always come before boyfriends or girlfriends for the first two decades of your life, but eventually, you have to allow yourself to change your priorities when the right person comes along. I blame the nimrod that once said, “Boys come and go, but friends are forever!” for brainwashing me and making this transition so difficult. It took me a very long time to realize that it was my friends that were coming and going while one boy was the constant. I am lucky that he was so patient with me while my brain ever so slowly made this connection.

5. Now, with that being said, this by no means implies to put all your eggs in one basket and to rely solely on this one person. That is what I would call relationship suicide. Putting my boyfriend first, for me, means something like not ditching out on our plans because my friends decide to get together last minute. But remember, it’s still so important to have friends and spend time with them often. It’s all about balance.

4. Life can be short. Don’t waste a minute letting someone be a part of it that doesn’t deserve to be. Friends don’t put you down, make you feel badly about yourself, or refuse to work things out when you two are going through a rough patch. They just don’t. And if they do, it’s time to let them go (and refer to lessons 23 & 22!). Although you love them, you need to love yourself more.

3. “Consider the source.” That’s what my co-worker told me when someone said something that hurt my feelings. Some people are ruthless and don’t think twice about what they say... and neither should you.

2. Not everyone has the same perspective as you. I feel bad because I get short and frustrated with my friends sometimes. I have to remember that they haven’t been through what I have been through, so they don’t know what I know. And they are lucky for that. Often times I wonder if my little outbursts of irritation stem from pure jealousy. I used to joke that I was a 40-year-old trapped in a young girl’s body because of my high level of emotional maturity at such an early age. I know that deep down I am in many ways envious of my friends’ untarnished hearts.

1. Forgive. Maybe not initially, but eventually. Forgive your friend who didn’t come to your mom’s funeral after you had argued a few days before; forgive God for taking the person you love from you long before you were ready; forgive yourself for letting that anger linger longer than it should have. There is no better feeling than waking up with a clean slate and an open heart.

Here's to another year of lessons and learning!

Love,
Sami

November 18, 2010

TOOT TOOT!

Dear Mom,

This post title is the result of me tooting my own horn. Twice.

Toot toot!

Make that four times.

Aside from all that makes this time of year hard for me, I just have to share what's making it a bit easier this time around. I'm actually quite surprised I haven't mentioned it yet because it's a pretty big deal (toot toot!).

During my final semester of college last spring, my broadcast journalism professor encouraged the class to enter online video contests (and by encouraged, I obviously mean she made them mandatory homework assignments that we dreaded doing), and, like the good little student I am, I did my homework.

The video assignment for the Pulitzer Center's 'Project: Report' contest was to document a day in the life of someone the world should know about. John had heard about an 82-year-old woman from Naples, Maine who sewed pillows for injured American soldiers in Iraqi hospitals. After many dead ends, I finally got Alice Fogg's contact information from a nice man at the National Guard. I called her immediately, and she invited me to her house the very next day.

I drove 6 hours round-trip to spend the afternoon at her home, which she has lived in for 60+ years. She welcomed me with open arms and a warm embrace, hours of wisdom and personal stories, and an invitation to stay for dinner before making the trek back to college. I kindly declined so I could get back before it got dark. She called her daughter to tell her she made a new friend and felt so blessed to have met me. She fed me chocolate chip cookies to fill me up for the drive home, and we spoke briefly about you passing away. She made sure to hand me some pamphlets about God that she thought would be helpful and gave me the two pillows she had made during my visit. A part of me felt bad taking them because it was two less soldiers that would be comforted, but it would have been worse to see the look of disappointment on her face. I mean, I had already declined her dinner invitation! So I took the pillows.

I created and submitted my video just before the deadline the next day. It was the first video I created that I actually felt proud to show my peers. They loved it and felt I had a real shot at being one of the 10 contest winners. I wouldn't hear the results for a few weeks, so I waited patiently.

Spring break rolled around, and all my friends left for Jamaica. Now, when I say all my friends, I am being completely serious. Over a dozen of my college girlfriends were on a plane to the Caribbean, while I was in my car driving two hours through snow and sleet to go home for two weeks. I instantly regretted my decision to save money.

In the midst of stuffing my face while sprawled out in front of the big screen in my PJs and tousled hair, I received an e-mail. I was one of the top 20 potential finalists for the contest, and they needed my address and phone number in case I was chosen as a semi-finalist in the next few days. All I could think was, "If I would have gone on that trip, I would be missing out on this potential opportunity." Everything happens for a reason. I slowly closed my laptop, placed it beside me, and did a happy dance for the next 35 seconds before calling practically everyone listed in my phone.

The next afternoon, I got a phone call from a man named Donte. Donte quickly became my new favorite human after he told me I was officially chosen as one of the 10 semi-finalists. I was beyond excited! He interviewed me quickly for an online story and press release, and then the doorbell rang. I looked out the window and saw a UPS truck. My exact words may have been something like, "HO-LY-CRAP."

I have never gone down our stairs faster, and I'm 99% sure the delivery man was completely terrified by my eagerness and abnormally exaggerated smile. He unloaded multiple heavy boxes into my arms that were already weak and shaking from excitement. I quickly thanked him and parked myself on the floor like a kid on Christmas morning.

Inside the first box was the new Sony HD video camera. I was speechless. Inside the other box was the newest laptop available from Sony. I started crying. Could something this wonderful truly be happening to me? For the past two months I had been using a laptop that would only work if I forcefully held the charger into the back of it with one hand and typed with the other. I was a college student; I couldn't afford a new one. I had no idea how I was going to get through the next three months of school. Suddenly, the answer literally showed up at my doorstep. I couldn't remember the last time I cried happy tears. It was the greatest feeling.

As I mentioned, this win qualified me as a semi-finalist. There was more work to be done in order to be a grand-prize winner. I had to create another video documenting a story or issue that was unreported on by the media. Once submitted, I would need to solicit votes from the public to determine my fate in the contest. I was definitely up for the challenge!

I couldn't wait to tell my classmates. They had always been so supportive. I e-mailed my professor right away, and upon my arrival back to school I was bombarded by media outlets. I'm about to toot my own horn a few dozen times, so prepare yourself: I was featured on multiple news channels, in half a dozen newspapers, on a radio station, and in my sorority's national magazine. I was photographed for our campus alumni magazine and the 2010 brochure mailed out to potential incoming students. I even got a phone call from my friend in New Hampshire that one of the pictures was used in the new University of Maine commercial (I saw this after while watching TV with my roommates a few months ago!). I was so overwhelmed that I almost didn't even have time to actually create my second video! I forced myself to come back to reality and buckle down.

I spent weeks debating a topic. I was beyond stressed. It got to the point where I thought I was going to run out of time, when out of nowhere, the kind of idea I had been waiting for (the one that makes you say, 'yes! That's the one!') finally came to me. I had never seen a Deaf person on the news. I had been taking American Sign Language classes on campus for the past two semesters, and I had spent months learning about the hardships my teacher faced as a Deaf woman. I e-mailed her that night and had an interview set-up for the end of the week. John's friend's brother was hard of hearing, and he agreed to participate too. And just like that, everything fell into place.

After weeks of soliciting votes from the public for my second round video through the media, social networks, etc., the 5 finalists were announced. I, coincidentally, was out to dinner with my sign language class and a few Deaf people. I took a peek at my phone and saw that I had a missed call from the Washington D.C. area. I excused myself and ran to the lobby. All I remember hearing is, "Congratulations, Samantha!" in that voice mail before screeching in the waiting area of the restaurant.

I had just won a $10,000 international traveling grant to create a short documentary anywhere in the world.

I returned to the table, unable to share my news with anyone because I didn't know exactly how to sign all that. Oh, the irony.

Next thing I knew I was graduating from college and driving straight home after the ceremony to hop on a flight to Washington D.C. the following morning. I met the other 4 winners (I am the only woman to have ever won the Project: Report contest), and we were welcomed by a fancy dinner and reception at the National Press Club. If you would have ever told me that executives from National Geographic, Google, Youtube, Sony, The Washington Post, etc. would be gathering at an event to honor ME, I would have called you a fool!

The following day, the five of us met at the Pulitzer Center and discussed the details of international travel and potential story ideas. That night, the videos we previously made (which had each accumulated over 200,000 views after being on the homepage of Youtube for a day!) were shown to the public at George Washington University. We went up on stage to accept our plaques and give quick speeches before heading out to another reception to mingle. It was humbling to meet so many aspiring (and professional) journalists who were inspired and impressed by our work and talent. It was a unique experience to have people come up to me saying, "I like how you did this" or asking "What made you do that?". I experienced the most exciting thing to ever happen to me, and yet all I wanted to do was call you to tell you about it all. Bittersweet doesn't even begin to describe the feelings I had... although my guess is you were there with me every step of the way.

My international trip plans were finalized just a few weeks ago. Any guesses on where I'm headed?! I'll fill you soon!

The moral of this story: Do your homework, kiddos! You never know... one assignment could instantly change your life.

TOOT TOOT!

All my love,
Sami

November 15, 2010

Inspiring an Inspiration

Dear Mom,

Today I hopped on to this nice little meeting place of ours and found a very pleasant surprise! No, I didn't receive an e-mail from you or anything (perhaps heaven's outgoing internet connection is down?!), but this still made me smile pretty big.

I logged on this morning to see that I inspired one of my blog friends to write some letters of her own. I'm ecstatic when I hear how special my writing and the idea behind it are, but it's another feeling completely to actually see that I am encouraging someone to open her heart and let her emotions pour right out through her fingertips. She titled it 'Letters of Release (Thanks to Sami)', however, it is me who is truly thankful.

Carly is 21 years old and has stage IV ovarian cancer like you did. She is living my biggest fear, yet does it with poise, strength, love, and faith. She is the true inspiration. I feel fortunate for this chance to get to know her, honored to read her thoughts, and excited to follow her journey towards her next cancer free day.

People often underestimate how their words can completely change someone's day, the way they feel about themselves, or their outlook in life. Carly is definitely not one of those people! She recently wrote me the sweetest message that I immediately printed out to reread a million times over. Here are some pieces of it:

I absolutely love your idea for blogging and the way in which you do it. It is so real, and every time I read it, it makes me happy to know that someone else is opening up and giving themselves a chance to feel their way through the roughest part of this. It's tough to write sometimes, but you have hit the nail on the head-- you connect yourself to what matters while still being able to move forward and grow through each experience. Your blog is especially inspiring to me. :-)

I'm so happy that you enjoy reading my blog. I worry sometimes that I've lost a little bit of my zeal or sunshine in my recent posts, but according to you, the beauty is still there. Thank you so much for your kind words. It's wonderful to know someone my age reads it and understands it... and what's more appreciates it. I'm a very lucky girl.

I have to say that after that, I'm feeling pretty lucky too.

Love,
Sami

November 14, 2010

I Probably Wouldn't Be This Way

Dear Mom,

I heard this song on the radio and thought of you. That is all for today. Miss you.

Love,
Sami

--------------------------------------------------------------------

You oughta see the way these people look at me
When they see me around here talking to this stone.
Everybody thinks I've lost my mind,
But I just take it day by day...

I probably wouldn't be this way;
I probably wouldn't hurt so bad.
I never pictured every minute without you in it,
Oh, you left so fast.

Sometimes I see you standing there;
Sometimes I feel an angel's touch.
Sometimes I feel that I'm so lucky
To have had the chance to love this much.

God gave me a moment's grace
'Cause if I'd never seen your face,
I probably wouldn't be this way...
-LeAnn Rimes

November 10, 2010

Friends, Fun, and Foliage

Dear Mom,

Before this year, I never really took the time to notice how beautiful the fall season is here in Maine. I mean, I have lived here my whole life, but I feel like I am truly experiencing it for the first time. Since John and I both work full time now, we've been making sure to do something fun during our weekends off to enjoy the outdoors.

In October we headed north on a roadtrip one afternoon to Almanac Mountain:



We walked out onto "The Ledges" that overlook several connecting lakes. It was a sunny, beautiful day and the colors of the foliage were just icing on the cake!



Note: Unless you have a truck or jeep-- avoid driving up this mountain! John's poor car found that out the hard way (but she still came out in tip top shape!). We ended up having to pull over and walk part of the way to save ourselves from a flat tire and having to hitch hike home, but all in all, it was a wonderful day.

Another weekend, we went down to Brunswick to attend our friends' wedding. Bobby & Angela put together one heck of a great wedding, and we had a blast. We had no idea that some of our friends were actually friends with the groom too, so that was a very pleasant surprise. We ate great food, had lots of wine, danced all night, and still managed to take the bride and groom out to a bar afterward (oh yes, wedding dress and all!). The best wedding I have gone to, by far!



We also drove down to visit Dad a few weekends ago. John really wanted to go to the beach while we were in town, which didn't appeal to me whatsoever because it was pretty cold out, but I caved since he didn't grow up right near the coast like I did. I am glad he thought of taking a trip out there. I've never seen the waves around here get so huge (although they may not look too big in the pictures)!



I love this next picture-- I look completely foolish, but I'm so genuinely happy in it that I don't even care!



And here's John. I assume you approve, I mean, just look at him! How could you not?!



And it actually snowed on Halloween this year. Enough so that my little neighbors made a snowman before they went trick-or-treating!



Now that all the leaves are making their way to the ground and the days are getting shorter, it's clear that winter is just around the corner. People are already complaining about the cold weather (although no one is stopping them from moving away...), but I won't be joining in. I am actually excited to see what fun things John and I will get ourselves into. Bring on the snow, mittens, the winter coat you bought me, ice scrapers, hot chocolate, and yes, even those freshly shaved legs that get prickly the second you step foot outside the door. I'm ready!

Love,
Sami

November 4, 2010

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Dear Mom,

As much as I love writing this blog, sometimes I wonder if it is doing more harm than good. It makes me think about you a lot more often, which is great, but along with that comes some very terrible memories of the years you were sick. I'm crying a lot more lately than I have in the past year or so. It might be because three years ago during this time I was watching you slowly start to die, and maybe I would be emotional right now regardless of if I had started writing or not.

One of my continuous setbacks from October to December is thinking back to what we were doing on any given day at a particular time in 2007. In October, I was being told I had to live a life without you; in November, I was frantically trying to imagine how I could possibly do that; and in December, I was suddenly forced to figure it out. These months are still so hard on me.

So I need to make a change. What I am going to try to do this year is exactly what I think you would want me to do: focus on the positive. I can't let those final three months control my life and how I remember you. Rather than thinking back to what we were doing and how we were feeling on November 4, 2007, I'm going to push myself to recall happier times from years prior.

Let's go back to 1997. Today, I was 9, and we were probably at Diane's house getting me and Brittany ready to perform during halftime at the high school football game with our All-Star cheering team. This was the only time I actually got to wear make-up, so it was a pretty big deal, as you can imagine. You always insisted on curling my bangs, and curl them you did- right into the skin on my forehead. Nine times out of 10 I cheered with a burn mark on my head, but the show must go on! You were always in the front row, cheering me on, and never missed a game. I was one lucky little girl.

Although there are still a lot of difficult moments left to write about, there's no rush. My future posts this month will be more positive; I owe it to you-- and myself.

I love you,
Sami

November 1, 2010

Another Tragic Loss

Dear Mom,

Today Tom’s friend lost his mom in a car accident when she swerved to avoid hitting an animal. If there was ever a day I felt lucky to have been given a fair warning that you would pass away, today is that day. I can’t imagine what it feels like to wake up to that news, completely blindsided. All day I couldn’t stop picturing what he might be doing at that moment to try to cope or how helpless his girlfriend feels knowing there’s nothing she can say to lessen his heartache. Everything I have felt for the past three years is exactly what he is just beginning to feel today. Life is so unfair.

Why is it that murderers can live to be 100 years old in jail wasting our tax dollars, yet we lose the people who just want to be around to continue loving their children and the ones who can’t even bear to run over a porcupine? I know God enjoys the company of precious angels like you, but can you nonchalantly mention in conversation that it’s making life a little bit difficult down here for the rest of us?

I'll never understand why some of us have to say goodbye to our mothers when our lives are practically just beginning... but what I do know is that... I really, really miss you today.

Love,
Sami