Angels Among Us (Part 2)
By Rachel, age 26, Connecticut
Part 1 appeared in last month's issue.
Sweet Designs Featured Writer
I recently heard a song on the radio titled "Angels Among Us." This song has the most beautiful lyrics I have ever heard. As I listened to these lyrics, I could not help but think of the angels who have come into my life, beginning with the day I set foot on the campus of Anna Maria College. I began to reflect on the blessings each of them as individuals and collectively as a group have brought me over the last six years. I was once again reminded of the fact that the angels you will meet in this piece saved my life.
There were four social work professors at Anna Maria whom I was blessed to have as professors but even more blessed to have as women in my life. Denise, Mary Ann, Joyce, and Joanne are four of the strongest women I know.
In my first meeting with Denise I was intimidated. I sat down with her in her office upon making the decision in November of 2005 to transfer from the education department to the social work department. Denise came right out and asked me within the first few minutes of our meeting why I wanted to switch to the social work program when I seemed to be doing well in the education department? I explained as vaguely as I could that I'd had several very negative experiences in my life, the last of which had happened just three weeks earlier. She asked me what experiences I'd had. I told her outright, waiting for the condemnation I was sure was coming. I was waiting for the lecture about how at that time social work was probably not going to be a good idea for me. Surprisingly the condemnation and the lecture never came. She expressed sympathy over my experiences, we filled out the paperwork, and then Denise looked at me very seriously and made sure I knew that the road ahead of me in her program was not going to be easy and that she was expecting a lot out of me. I was scared.
Over the next four years I learned that, although Denise could definitely be tough, that she was also very caring and was invested in both the academic and the personal lives of her students. Denise kept on me and never let me slide. She made me work harder than any other professor I have ever encountered or ever will. She taught me a strong work ethic, but more importantly she taught me how to have confidence in my abilities, both academically and personally. That is a gift I will always be grateful for.
Joyce was the professor I went to when I wanted a sympathetic ear and a hug. Joyce was always realistic and practical; however, she was always kind in the way that she responded to students. She always gave me sound advice but it never came in the form of a lecture. Most times she would have me sit with the situation that had come up to see if I could reach a conclusion or solution on my own. I was not used to this strategy. I was used to always having my hand held and having everything done for me before I came to Anna Maria. While she never held my hand, when I came to her Joyce always seemed to know what I needed. She was someone I looked to as a role model. Joyce was the type of woman I wanted to be; I just did not have the slightest clue how to get to that point. To me, Joyce was independent, powerful, confident, self-assured, and comfortable with where she was with her life. I admired the traits that Joyce possessed.
Hanging out with Joyce made me feel like I was just like her. Of the four social work professors, Joyce was the one I went to when I needed or wanted a friend. She was and still is someone I enjoy conversing and spending time with. I valued her during my time at Anna Maria and I still value the friendship I have with her.
While at Anna Maria I was asked by a former high school teacher to lecture in front of his psychology/behavioral science students. I had never shared my story in depth with any of my former high school teachers or publicly. I felt it was an important opportunity; nonetheless it was frightening to think about. The person I went to was Joyce. She and I talked about the decision at length, and she told me she thought it was important for me to share my story, but also important for the teens in the classes to hear it. Joyce took time out from her office hours, several hours at that. She helped me to create a PowerPoint presentation for the lecture I was going to present. She spent many hours over a week's time helping me to create the lecture. She also sat with me while I went through all of the 'what-if's' and the panic. She kept me calm. She called me the day of the lecture, both before and after. Joyce is such an amazing woman. I am so blessed to have her in my life.
What can I say about Mary Ann? Mary Ann is the professor within the social work department who will slap you across the face with reality. Mary Ann is the professor who time and again looked at me over a four year period and made it clear that she would not accept excuses, whether it was concerning an assignment or a personal struggle. I can still see the look in Mary Ann's eyes and I can still hear her telling me, "I don't care, save it for Oprah." Mary Ann was tough with me. That was a component I needed at the time because I was making excuses for myself and was not holding myself accountable. Mary Ann was a professor that, if I didn't check in with her on a regular basis, she checked in with me. She always held me accountable.
Admittedly, in the beginning, I didn't like Mary Ann much, but by the end of my senior year at Anna Maria, Mary Ann was someone I loved and respected immensely. I came to realize that Mary Ann, although tough when need be, was that way because of how much she cared and wanted to see me succeed. After a while I stopped using excuses, got down to business, and worked. Academically Mary Ann always knew when I had done my best on an assignment and when I had thrown together the assignment. There were times when I can remember redoing an assignment for the third or fourth time. I learned that Mary Ann was very much unlike the professors at my previous college where my work was simply called garbage, thrown away, and that was that. Mary Ann gave me as many chances as I needed to make my assignments the best that they could be, and she did this before grading the final result.
Over time, I stopped needing so many chances. I wanted for Mary Ann to be happy with my first copy. Once that started happening I knew that the first grade I was handed was my real grade and I knew that I had earned it, because I knew Mary Ann. Mary Ann also knew of my past abuse* and of the loss of my second father to suicide my first year at Anna Maria.**
For my Social Work class' final project, we as a class (with Mary Ann's help and guidance) put together the Senior Social Work Conference. The topic was addiction/mental illness/homelessness. Because of my second father the topic hit too close to home. The day of the conference I tried to explain to Mary Ann that I felt with all the work I had done with Dennis, Delia, and Patty that I felt attending the conference and having to come to a full understanding of the last few months of my second father's life would set me back in my healing. Her response was, "Too bad - you're going, no excuses." It was painful and difficult, but I was told once that you cannot heal from a suicide death of a loved one without a full picture of events surrounding the time before they passed. That statement turned out to be very true. In the end, sitting in on the conference that my peers and I put together was a step forward for me.
Mary Ann also had a saying that has become my mantra in life. This mantra has given me the motivation to work out when I haven't wanted to, but it has also given me the courage to cliff jump off of a 20 foot cliff. Her saying "Comfort Is NOT the Goal" has in many ways transformed my life and given me strength, courage, and the desire to live again. Thank you, Mary Ann, for inspiring me.
What can I say about Joanne? Joanne is the fourth in the quad of social work professors. From that day on campus my freshman year (2005) when I first met Joanne I was scared of her. I lived in fear of the day that I would have Joanne for class when I became a senior. Joanne might be about my height (about five feet tall) but she is a force to be reckoned with. Joanne never had a problem telling you exactly what she thought of you or your work. Joanne also does not sugar coat anything. I was scared to death.
From the day I met Joanne I respected her purely out of fear. My opinion of Joanne changed the day I began my internship class with her. Joanne was tough but she was also fiercely protective of us, her students. Joanne advocated for us and defended us when it was appropriate.
We were supposed to record in our journals our experience each day at our internships. This was difficult for me as my supervisor deemed me incompetent from day one. The only task that I was given for much of my internship was to clean and organize my supervisor's office. As a result, I was not recording much in my internship journal. When Joanne confronted me about the lack of writing in my journal I explained the situation. To say that Joanne was irate was an understatement. She spent my entire senior year in meetings with my supervisor defending and advocating for my competency. When I would return from my internship nearly in tears, in her magical way, she would re-instill confidence in me and was able to raise my self esteem. I have never witnessed anyone, let alone a teacher or professor, go to bat for me the way that Joanne did. On days when I questioned my abilities or my worth, thinking about how hard Joanne fought for me would always reassure me of just how much worth I had.
The moment that sticks out the most in my mind though was when I received an A on one of my papers for Joanne. Joanne does not hand out A's ever; she makes you work for an A. Earning that A from Joanne made me feel and still makes me feel that I can accomplish anything.
I would be lost without Dr. Michael Boover and his wife Diane. I cannot count the number of hours I spent both in and out of class conversing with them. The conversation might be academic in nature or about the personal struggles in my own life regarding my past. As my spiritual advisors, Dr. Boover and Diane have been and still are invaluable to me. They are two of the most grounded and yet faith-filled people I have ever had the blessing to know.
There were days as an undergraduate at Anna Maria when I began questioning my faith and questioning why God would have me go through the trials that I have. They never gave me an answer but they sat with me when I cried. They sat and prayed with me on an almost daily basis and listened to me on more than one occasion when I vented and raged, sometimes for more than an hour or two at a time. I know they had better things they could have been doing, but they would always make it clear that I came first.
Dr. Boover also trained me as a lecturer for mass, which took quite a bit of time. The most amazing thing that the two of them did for me was to accept me into the Master's program for Pastoral Ministry. They stood by my side and guided me as I journeyed through the Master's program. They are still standing at my side as two of the best supports I could ever ask for. Dr. Boover even drove down to Connecticut one Sunday to attend mass at my parish with myself and my father, and then had breakfast with us afterward just to hang out. I consider Dr. Michael Boover and his wife Diane not only professors but also close friends. They are two people whom I know will remain close friends for the rest of my life.
Delia was the campus counselor at Anna Maria College during my undergraduate years. She and I also met in October 2005. Right from the beginning I did not think that Delia and I were going to click. I foresaw our counseling relationship being a disaster. I had a sinking feeling right from the beginning because, in the past, admittedly I had been coddled and had never been required to push myself. Delia not only worked with me around the loss of my second father and issues stemming from my past assault, but she helped me to put in place healthy coping techniques and strategies for the days when I struggled. At least once a week Delia sat with me and listened to all of my 'what-if's' and fears. She did not just listen though. Delia called me out on each and every one. With each 'what-if,' she would say to me, "Ok, so what if it the scenario you have just given me did happen, what would be the worst case scenario?"
Delia processed more a few hundred 'what-if's' with me over the four years I saw her. I know that I drove Delia crazy and that at times she would become frustrated beyond belief with me because I always tried to have an answer for everything. It took a lot of work, but Delia was finally able to get me to a point where I was able to admit that I could not possibly have an answer for every situation that would crop up in life. Once she accomplished that goal, which I'm pretty sure in the beginning she thought of as impossible, I was finally able to admit that underneath my need to always have an answer was fear and the need to be in control and secure.
Delia put me in a few different situations therapeutically that were challenging for me psychologically and emotionally, but I will say that, though I may have fought her tooth and nail on many occasions over the situations she had me experience, her techniques did work. Instead of feeling fearful, powerless and small, I began to feel empowered. By the time I graduated from Anna Maria College I was a new person who felt confident and prepared to take on the world.
The last person I want to tell you about is my friend Stephanie. Stephanie is perhaps the coolest woman I have ever known. She is not only a really cool person to hang out with, but she is also someone who inspires me on a daily basis. Steph is a woman who knows what she wants out of life and she is not afraid to go for it no matter what the consequences may be. Steph is someone who lives life to the absolute fullest with no regrets. No matter what obstacles she encounters, she scales the obstacles as if they were nothing. Once she overcomes the obstacle in front of her she never looks back and thinks, "what if?" or "if only."
The most inspiring thing to me about Stephanie is that she does not let her personal struggles or the negative remarks made by others define her or make her feel lessened. I feel as if her struggles and the way others have defined her only makes her more determined than ever to soar through life with her head held high. With every conversation I have had with Steph over the last six years, either in her office or over the phone, I always walk away more empowered, more confident, and with more resolve to live my life the way that Steph lives hers. I am definitely a work in progress, but with each occasion that I am blessed enough to call myself a friend of Steph's, I remember that from here on out, no matter the type of life I was living before, that today I can start fresh and I can be the person that I want to be, and that I can live my life on my own terms. Thank you, Steph, for inspiring me daily to live my best life.
These 13 angels are my angels, without whom I would be lost. These are 13 people, from the day we met, who have brought something unique and special to my life. Each of them has given me a gift that cannot be assigned a numerical price. For the gift that each has given I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude. There are no words adequate to express how truly blessed I am to have had and to continue to have them in my life.
These 13 individuals whom I have shared with all of you have given me my life back. I was given a second chance at life because my 13 angels saw in me what I could not see in myself back in 2005. They saw worth and value. They decided I was worth saving. They have in fact saved my life. I love each and every one of them for it. I want them to know this.
As we begin a new year I am reminded of the last six. I am brought back to a time when I did not believe that I would ever attain a Bachelor's degree. I had no hope of ever attaining a Master's degree either. As I begin this spring, the completion of one class and one thesis away from earning my Master's degree, and being in the best place in my life that I have ever been, I begin the next chapter of my life with hope because these 13 people chose to care. They are truly angels.
* See "Teen Dating Violence - A Teenage Epidemic: My Story" (SDM, Apr 2011)
** See "My 'Other Dad'" (SDM Nov 2011)