It was intended to be nothing more than a simple, quick trip into the basement to swap out the HVAC filter, but what actually transpired was more than I ever could have bargained for. A basement filled to the brim with boxes, hidden treasures and neglected junk all the same, in seconds, I changed the filter, but noticed a large manila envelope sitting atop of an abandoned, weathered series of plastic drawers. Having been down the basement numerous times over the past couple months, I was perplexed I hadn’t noticed the manila envelope, previously, but made my way over to investigate.
My expectations for its inside contents was negligible; I didn’t anticipate finding anything of significance until I turned over the envelope and saw the address imprinted on the front. My name, but an address not to my home, but to a place a short distance away, crossing state lines, that housed an abundance of memories, both good and bad, but in any case, tumultuous and fraught with many emotions, all around. Time seemed to stop just then as I opened the envelope, reading each piece and feeling transported back in time to the year 2008, as a 20-year-old at a crossroads in my life. Had I chosen another path, my life would have divulged in a very different, potentially detrimental path; many of us I suppose could say this about our lives, generally speaking.
That year in particular, 2008, was a year I often shudder when thinking about. It was a period of time in my life when I didn’t know how I’d make it through, or if I ever would. Much of the time, I felt ill-equipped to traverse through life, feeling despondent and weak, both emotionally and physically. The place where I landed, though it didn’t seem like it at the time, was a place of healing and a place to pause. It seems almost shocking to associate healing with that time, but in any case, that is, ultimately what it turned out to be. Some may say, to heal means to be left with no scars or permanent pains, but it isn’t true. To heal, does not mean every part is better, but it means that we come out of whatever situation or moment in time we are in, with the knowledge, wisdom and ability to continue on and see ourselves and our lives in a different light.
Circling back to the contents within the envelope I stumbled upon, it was filled to the brim with letters, photos, drawings and memories housing a sea of recollections. It reminded me of who I was or used to be; it reminded me of how far I’ve come, even though my life and emotions often seem or feel stagnant. It reminded me that sometimes, albeit often, rather, the way we see ourselves or feel inside, is not how others see us or experience our personality. The people I met during that time, some male, but many female, were individuals like me, who needed a place to heal and a place to realize all they were and were capable of. Upon stumbling upon the envelope, I wondered if I’d ever told of them how much of a difference or impact they had on my life; maybe I didn’t even realize it back then. In any case, each of them, every single one of them, made a mark on my life; a permanent, welcome tattoo, whose images and words I can travel back to, anytime I need a reminder of my place and my significance in this world and what I am capable of.
It’s funny how sometimes we find the things unexpectedly we didn’t even know we were looking for. The 13-year-old manila envelope, housing a sea of recollections and reminders appeared at the time I needed it most. That weekday afternoon, I crouched down in the darkened, cool basement and as I took in the words and images within the envelope, I received a dose of the figurative “medicine” no one could ever prescribe me; the treatment of the pause, the reflections and the wisdom that everything we truly need is always within us; we simply sometimes need a gentle reminder.
Each morning, a short time after awakening, the aroma of coffee greets me as I seat myself at the kitchen table, taking my time to read through the headlines and stories throughout the local newspaper. The feel and scent of the paper is comforting as I listen to the TODAY show in the background, the familiar voices of the news anchors a reassuring accompaniment. The pitter-patter of my dog, Daisy’s feet tapping across the kitchen floor as she settles herself into her favorite spot, indulging in a short snooze as her breakfast digests.
When my reading is completed, I make my way into the living room to my laptop, setting myself up to tap away for the morning, comfortable and at ease in my t-shirt, yoga pants, ponytail and worn, well-loved socks. There is joy to be found in the simple, routine tasks of the day, reassuring and comfortable in their own right, calming and trustworthy. Sometimes I crave more motion, change and excitement, but much of the time, the calm and simple is just fine.
Here is a reminder today that life does not have to be overly-exhilarating, packed with activity or commotion to be beautiful. Let’s pause and enjoy the simple sides in life, because sometimes the simplest things prove to be sweetest.
There are some things in life that no matter how much we long for, pray, work towards and imagine that may forever escape us. Sometimes, it leads to feelings of defeat, frustration, anger, sadness, or maybe even a mixture and assortment of all of these aforementioned sentiments. Then there are times when the drive, fire, momentum and passion within us cannot be dimmed or extinguished and so we continue trying; we continue pursuing because there is something innate within us propelling us towards whatever we aspire to.
This morning, I sat in my living room, tapping away at my laptop until suddenly I heard a familiar, pleasant voice resonating in the kitchen. Through the TV within the kitchen, one of my favorite journalists I’ve watched and followed for years, NBC News’ Philadelphia, PA-born and raised, Kristen Welker, was bravely detailing her journey of infertility. Though not personally relevant at the current time, her story was intriguing and enlightening in itself. Typically presenting with a confident, brave and professional face, sharing in her own journey, Kristen was vulnerable, open, raw and transparent about her years-long struggles she and her husband faced. Unbeknownst to the majority of onlookers, during her many occasions of reporting, detailing and even moderating the October 2020 Presidential Debate, she was battling her own emotional and personal journey. In between takes she detailed, she would often attend doctor’s appointments, typically resulting in heartbreak and one disappointment after another. Collapsing on her sofa in tears, wondering what was “wrong with her body,” she ceased to allow her struggles to keep her down, no matter how easy it would have been (Link to article/story: https://www.today.com/parents/kristen-welker-expecting-first-baby-surrogate-t215562)
Instead of succumbing to her own struggles, she chose another path, summoning the assistance of a surrogate. In a few short weeks or months, Kristen and her husband, John, will become parents to a baby girl, the product of their love, motivation, strength and courage. Today, Kristen bravely shared her journey, recalling the many instances where her colleagues, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie each shared their own journeys to motherhood, both transpiring at later points throughout their lives. Challenging conventional times and pathways to motherhood, I watched from the comfort of my sofa, taken by how much passion and love radiated through the screen. There is something to be said for those who confidently pursue the fire that ignites in one’s heart; the people who cease to allow themselves to fall victim to their self-defeating thoughts and struggles.
Success, triumph and achieving goals and dreams is not, nor ever dependent upon a timeline, age or pathway. Your life, my life, all of our lives, are strictly that, our own. No one can ever walk our journeys for us; sure they can hold our hand, encourage us, be a guiding light, but in the end, the journey and walk is the one we choose and define ourselves.
Today, I’m grateful for having the opportunity to take in Kristen’s story, as it serves as a reminder that no matter how far away our dreams and goals may feel at times, what and who is for us, will never pass us by, no matter how long it may take.
Sending love, support and acknowledgment to all of those out there on their journeys. Keep on, keeping on.
What we visibly see in others is not always true. Perfectly-coiffed hair, polished shoes and sleek attire is not indicative of how someone feels inside, or even sees in themselves. So many judge on appearances, outward expressions and clothing, deeming someone as happy solely because of the smile on their face or the styles they wear, without realizing the layers of emotions and perhaps even sadness within them. It is easy to assume or convince oneself that others “have it better.” In saying this, it is because regrettably, I am guilty of it, too. So many can feign a smile, feign a verbal, “I’m okay,” but sometimes, it takes making a safe place to let someone know it’s okay to struggle, it’s okay to need help, albeit a helping hand, listening ear, or both.
It took a lot for me to be okay with letting go of a lot of what I felt “I had to do.” Letting go of the need to force myself into shoes that made my legs feel numb, or unstable. Letting go of the need to apply those extra layers of makeup, which only proved to fade shortly after applying. Letting go of the need to adorn myself with layers of jewelry, when maybe I only wanted to wear one piece or none at all. It took a lot for me to finally honor what I often needed; letting go of how I thought I should be in favor of honoring how I felt. We can put on a brave face and attempt to anesthetize ourselves through hiding or putting on a figurative “costume,” or look ourselves in the mirror and know that shield or hide the natural you, is to rob others of experiencing all you have inside. Those gifts could be what others, or even ourselves need most.
Remember, we all are filled with torrents of emotions never seen on the clothes we wear and not always able to be seen on our faces or even in our voices. To me, there is always room to make a safe place for someone else, including ourselves.
A year younger than my own mom, at the age of 66, a woman by the name of Kati Kariko resides a short distance from me, in a town by the name of Jenkintown. A native of Hungary, she arrived in the United States in her 20’s, determined to achieve her dream of becoming a scientist. Her career has never been an easy one, having never achieved a permanent position in any of the roles she’s worked in. Determined and passionate in her own right, she ceased to allow the words of others to deter her from achieving her goals and aspirations.
This past Saturday, as I sat within a chair in my local Rite Aid pharmacy, pacing myself for the slight sting I felt as the vaccine entered my arm, it was she, Kati Kariko and a man (who lost his own father to the Coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic) who stood in front of my mom and I as we waited for my mom to receive her own vaccine the month prior, who I thought of and reflected on. Receiving that vaccine, as so many have, the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA Coronavirus vaccine, is receiving the product of Kariko’s dream and determination. So many may be unaware as I was prior to catching a vaccine special on TV several months ago as the vaccines began rolling out, but the leading mastermind behind these live-saving and changing vaccines is in fact Kati Kariko, a woman who in partnership with Dr. Drew Weissman, worked tirelessly to test, rework and prove the evidence of mRNA and how it could significantly improve the lives of so many.
Throughout her entire career, she encountered naysayer after naysayer, each of them publicly believing her dedication and passion in the realm of mRNA to be nothing short of ridiculous. Though so many dismissed her, or encouraged her to abandon her research, Kariko pressed on, never ceasing her efforts, but instead dedicating more and more of time within the lab, believing she was onto something monumental. In fact, her entire career centered around mRNA, as she believed it could be the answer and building blocks of vaccines and other pivotal findings.
With that being said, she traveled from lab to lab throughout her career, relying on other scientists to give her a chance and keep her afloat, never earning the three figure salaries many others have. For Kariko, it’s never been about fame or fortune, but rather helping others and achieving a tool and solution to help those sidelined by illness or disease. Proud she was to work in her small “bench,” she refers to as the spot in her lab where she works, she is humble, calm and calculated in her thoughts and research. Intrigued by her words and presence, I first learned of her and saw her interviewed on the aforementioned vaccine special.
Though I hadn’t forgotten about her, I was thoroughly reminded of her a couple weeks ago as I settled into my bed one evening. Perusing social media, a poignant article captured my attention, one offered by The New York Times, detailing Kati Kariko’s biography and how her findings and fierce dedication came to be what they are today (link to article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/08/health/coronavirus-mrna-kariko.html). So many shunned her, deeming her ideas about mRNA to be “unorthodox,” out-of-the-box and questionable. Still, she persisted; still she pressed on, writing for grant after grant, demanding to be heard and demanding to be seen.
Evenings, weekends, holidays, all of them often spent within her lab, as she worked and worked, determined to make her findings clear and measurable, determined to help and determined to heal. Had she listened to the others, the people telling her she was “crazy,” or that she was out of touch, so many of us may be devoid of opportunity, health – both physically and emotionally and kept distanced for significant portions of time.
She began working alongside a cardiologist in 1989, Dr. Barnathan and it was the two of them in partnership, who discovered the dramatic significance of mRNA and the many ways in which it could be a potentially life-saving finding.
Still, she faced another set of challenges, desperate for funding and hopeful of another scientist taking her on, as she was once again left to fend for herself. In the months to come, alongside Dr. Weissman, another doctor with dreams of helping others and eradicating disease, they embarked on a journey, which leads us to the present time and where we are today.
Though together they experienced dramatic results, many very poignant, they received little attention, were continually dismissed and yet, they pressed on, demanding to speak to whomever they could. Finally, two companies – Moderna and BioNTech started listening.
Sometimes I wonder, what if Kati Kariko and Dr. Weissman had accepted those no’s? What if the last time they’d been told, “No, let it go, it won’t work,” they listened? Today, millions of us have received vaccines because two people ceased to give up, or forfeit their research and goals. They believed in themselves; they believed in their thoughts and ideas and dreams. They persisted and though their success certainly did not happen overnight, much of the time, the most meaningful and poignant successes are those achieved when opening the last door, after many denials. Sometimes, the lightbulb does not turn on until we’ve tried so many other ways.
“Keep speaking up,” this is something I listened to former CNN afternoon show anchor Brooke Baldwin firmly state on her final show just last week. As I watched her, she repeated, “Keep speaking up,” several times, as an ode and word of encouragement to the so many individuals watching her. Her words particularly stood out to me and reminded me of Kati Kariko, a woman and scientist who easily COULD have stopped speaking up and forfeited her research AND if she had, so many of us and the world would be in much different and quite likely, grave places.
It is easy to allow or let the words of others, our superiors, bosses, families, friends, people whose opinions mean the world to us, influence our actions and thoughts, but what is most important is staying true to what we believe and feel. For Kati Kariko, she had a fire in her heart she could not extinguish until it was properly treated, until she achieved what she set out to do. It was not fame, nor fortune, nor recognition, but rather to be heard and for her talents to be utilized and put into action so the lives of so many could be saved.
As the quote states, “Sometimes it is the last key in the bunch that opens the lock,” or, more appropriately in this case, is the figurative medicine all of us need.
Several days ago, while laying in my bed, just shy of 11pm, I once again became a stationary time traveler. Read a new book, with every page turned, I was reminded of my past, in particular, my very early 20’s as a college student. It was a tumultuous time to say the least, one that was riddled with much indecision, fear, pain and anguish. There were many times, as I’ve often previously noted, where I wanted to give up, forfeit my goals and dreams and settle for wherever life would take me, even if it meant standing still.
Leafing through the pages, it felt real, experiencing those certain moments from my past, often becoming so distracted to where the pages of the book barely seemed tangible in my hands. At times, I became consumed with emotions, chastising myself for missed chances, opportunities and for putting myself through what I did at the time. The ruminating lingered, as I started to assess what I could have or should have done differently. Though as I convinced myself to focus on the book instead of my own rampant thoughts and analyses, I thought back to something someone told me or reminded me of nearly a year ago. My past is part of my story, a roadmap of all I’ve been through, both good and bad. Punishing, criticizing, or ridiculing myself won’t change those past events or times, no matter how hard I push or pick it apart. The past can be a scar, like one on our arms, legs, or body in general, but then again, not all scars are bad. Scars, to me, are almost like protection, protecting us from permanent damage or pain, in a way. The scars prove we’re still here, bigger and stronger than whatever tried to destroy us.
The past is a scar that we can all heal from, if we make the choice to do so. Sometimes, it may not feel like a choice, but our thoughts are not always facts; those things we tell ourselves when we feel down, picking ourselves apart – much of the time, they are not true. Though our pasts will always be there, we can look to them as pages we’ve turned, some good, some bad, but equally worthy of recognizing. We can look back and choose to be at peace; choose to look ahead instead of behind, not abandoning the past completely, rather acknowledging its existence, but not allowing it to define who we are, or who are meant to be.
The future and even the present may sometimes feel distanced or out of sight, but as an infamous quote says, “It is often the last key we try that opens the door.” Keep trying those metaphorical keys of life until you find the one that works best for you.
To-do lists, checklists, internal lists, a never-ending dialogue of ruminations all circulating about things/tasks that need to be accomplished, things that should have been done but haven’t been; all of it a swirling torrent and hurricane of thoughts. It’s a common occurrence so many of us experience, much of the time on a routine basis, if not, every day. It can be easy to let those thoughts overtake and destroy or impact self-esteem, placing all of our self-worth on whether or not those tasks have been completed, or started.
Sometimes, I think about those to-do lists, the tasks I have yet to complete, the goals I have yet to accomplish, the choices I have yet to make and it can eat away at me. Then, on the contrary, I think to myself of the other to-do list, the one that lists taking care of myself, the one that lists taking a break when I need it, or taking a break because it is important for my mental and physical wellbeing and often times, THAT particular checklist takes precedence.
Those other tasks – the ones filled with tasks for work, chores and the like are also important, but they can be challenging to complete if neglecting wellbeing. It is not a badge of honor to be drained, physically and emotionally or pushing oneself to the limit to the point where lethargy and burnout is the only thing achieved in the end. Instead of chastising oneself for a checklist or to-do list that still sits untouched or unfinished, it is important to remember worth is not dependent upon the activities achieved one day or another. Life can be hard, conversations can be hard, sometimes pulling oneself out of bed can be hard, sometimes thinking of doing anything besides sitting quietly, reading can be hard. We’re all still of value, even when our to-do lists remain. The number of tasks achieved each day is not indicative of whether or not someone is valuable.
Today, I pose the thought: what if sitting calmly one day, relaxing, pausing and taking a break prompted more productivity the next day? Sometimes, those days when we feel the least productive are what provide the momentum and energy for the next. In any case, value yourself, your time and the importance of taking a break and taking care of you. Completing tasks on a checklist or to-do list is certainly nice, but feeling good and energized while doing it is even better.
This morning as I typically do, I settled myself onto the sofa, planted in front of my laptop and began to type, search and carry about my day as scheduled. Minutes prior to making my way into the kitchen to read the newspaper and enjoy coffee, with the TV on, I suddenly heard an announcement from the familiar voice of TV anchor Savannah Guthrie, informing the audience of the passing of Prince Philip. Though I was completely aware of him, there was little else I knew, nothing acutely specific, but as the morning edged on, I learned of his lifelong romance with his wife, Queen Elizabeth. Having met as young teens, her at the age of 13, and he only several years her senior, their romance and marriage spanned over 70 years. To me, it is enviable to have a love and love story like that. For minutes, I watched as their love story was detailed on the TV, each others’ confidantes for much of their lives. Their story generated my own take on their meeting and so below, please enjoy a bit of my own fictional tale inspired by their romance and may Prince Philip rest in peace and his memory live on:
“A Fictitious Love” (Inspired by the real-life romance of Prince Philip & Queen Elizabeth):
She wore a white dress that rippled in the cool breeze and pale, white sandals whose straps loosely clung to her ankles as she swung her legs over the balcony, watching for onlookers in the distance. She spotted him from a mile away, his translucent green eyes sinking into her. From a distance, he noticed her, too, her long, golden tendrils freely swaying in the breeze, her fingers gently clutching the mass of bracelets lining her arms. Though they’d never spoken, they communicated through their eyes and a knowing glance, an acknowledgment of each other, soaking each other in and enjoying every moment.
Blushing, she turned her body to the patio door, unsure what move she should make next, but her onlooker chose for her. In minutes, he appeared before her, his eyes taking her in, waiting expectantly for her to question him. The first words she said to him she knew would be the beginning of a lifetime of words; words, actions, memories; moments, both good and bad. True, she did not know in particular what would become of them, but this she was sure of – it was the beginning of a lifetime of love, one she would never emulate with another besides him and for her, that was enough.
When I was much younger, I’d say yes to mostly everything, whether I inherently wanted to or not. Sometimes I’d be feeling physically and emotionally poorly, but still I’d respond with “Yes,” no matter how hushed, mild or whispered it was. Many of the times when saying yes to others, I was saying no to myself; no to listening to my internal dialogue, no to that warning and knowing feeling I nursed inside, well aware that by saying yes, I’d be subjecting myself to hours and days of chastising and regret.
Some may not realize or acknowledge it and I, myself, can often forget that “No,” can actually be and often is a complete sentence in many respects. Sometimes I convince myself I need to provide a reason for saying no, but often, a reason is not required, depending upon the circumstances. It can be easy to feel like we need to justify all we do and say, feeling as though we “owe” something to someone, instead of focusing on our needs or sentiments, ignoring the small voice inside us.
Some may feel saying “no” to someone is mean or callous, but if saying yes leaves one feeling fractured, uneasy and ridden with fear, then often times, it is a sign that by saying yes, we are ignoring the more appropriate decision – saying no.
Saying no still sometimes leaves me wondering and worrying if it was the right choice; wondering if I was too quick to issue a response.Or on the contrary, sometimes by saying no, it renders me proud of myself for being able to confidently recognize my sentiments and make a decision best suitable for me.
Being authoritative and saying no when you feel it is right for you, is not selfish, it is necessary, because our own needs are just as imperative as others and if we cannot or choose not to be there for our own selves, then it is often difficult, if not impossible to be completely there for others. In the words of Dr. Andrea Bonior, “No is a complete sentence. There are few words stronger or more powerful than no because it automatically says that you and your time are valuable. Don’t be afraid to say no.”
Say yes, or say no when confronted with a decision, but always stay true to the small voice within, because even if it sounds or seems small, it amounts to big results, either positive or negative.