Monday, June 30, 2014

100 Happy Days

This morning I finished Kurt Vonnegut’s book, A Man Without A Country. I’m fascinated by Vonnegut, a man others have said was either the world’s most pessimistic optimist or most optimistic pessimist. I like Mr. Vonnegut’s story, Harrison Bergeron, a title I have my students read each year. I admire his wit, his honesty, his ferocious determination to work through the complexity of our human condition. In A Man Without a Country, I reread a passage I had heard the author speak of before in an interview I’d watched with my teens. Mr. Vonnegut spoke of his Uncle Alex whose principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. Vonnegut said that “one day when Uncle Alex and he were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, talking lazily about this and that, Uncle Alex suddenly interrupted and exclaimed, ‘If this isn’t nice. I don’t know what is’”. Vonnegut said he continued to do the same, to think that phrase from time to time, and got his kids and grandkids to do the same--to notice when they were happy and “to explain or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is’”. 

One hundred and one days ago I began a challenge I had learned about from Josh, a former student of mine. I’d scrolled through various pictures Josh had posted, pictures of delicious meals, projects accomplished, and places he’d explored. I loved his pictures for each one was capturing a positive reflection of his day. The photographs each had the same hashtag, #100happydays. Curious, I decided to Google this and I stumbled across the website,, which boldly asked on its home page, “Can you be happy for 100 days in a row?” and then cleverly asked in a subtitle, “You don’t have time for this, right?”  The challenge issued was to snap a picture every day of something--a meet-up with a friend, a tasty meal, etc--that had made you happy. 

The webpage continues its hook by reminding that we live in times when “super-busy schedules have become something to boast about”. It suggests that we don’t stop to appreciate where we’re at in any particular moment and thus, we don’t recognize when we are happy. I was shocked at the site’s statistic that 71% of the people who tried to complete the challenge they were promoting would fail, quoting “lack of time as the main reason”. Do so many people truly believe they do not have time to be happy? I read of the benefits of successfully completing the challenge. People claimed to start noticing what makes them happy every day, were in better moods every day, were feeling lucky to have the life they have, and were becoming more optimistic. Some even claimed to have fallen in love during the challenge. So, yes. I was hooked. I chose two platforms to display my pictures--Instagram and Facebook--as was suggested by the web page to inspire others, and I began. 

On the first day of the challenge I snapped a picture of our dining room table, a maple shaker-style table which had been one of the first major purchases Eric and I had made back in 1992 when we moved into our new home. The table is full of scratches from twenty-two years of family dinners, school projects, the making of Valentine’s, pumpkin carvings, and Christmas present wrappings. The second day I posted a picture of my Dad’s Maine Maritime jacket that Paul had begun wearing. As the fourteen weeks passed, my pictures continued to document items, meals, people, experiences, books, unexpected gifts, notes, quotes, pets, memories, pictures, name it. 

Some days I found it hard to decide upon a particular picture to post. Either I’d had a rough day at school, a mundane day at home, or else I was feeling less than my best. But luckily, these days were far and few between. As the challenge continued, I often felt torn between various possibilities for the day’s post. There was an abundance of happy moments and reflections in my days! Was I just lucky or was this the result of my newly refreshed perspective? Either way, whether the day was blah or full of joy, the challenge accomplished its mission for me. I selected a particular moment and declared it as my days’ happy moments. 

As the 100 days came to an end, I received an unexpected surprise. Several people who had been following my posts over the last three and a half months wrote to me to express their appreciation of my “positive posts”. It seems that my daily pictures have been an inspiration for my friends and family. I’d begun the challenge thinking it was a good way to keep me focused on the joys of life, and it certainly was, but little did I think it would help others in their own perspectives of their days. I am humbled and yes, I am happy that this has been the result. 

Of course, even though the #100happydaysforanne challenge has come to an end, I am not so foolish as to believe that yesterday’s post was truly my last happy picture, or my last happy day. That’s ridiculous. But I do thank Josh for inspiring me to complete this challenge by sharing with me his own 100 happy days, and I thank those who have continued the rippling effect by beginning their own 100 happy days challenge, and I thank all the optimistic, hopeful, kind people in my life who continue to lift me up when my own wings get a little heavy and who will no doubt continue to inspire me to stand in the sun with great joy, peace, and love.

I told myself on the last day of the challenge, on the day I would post a picture of “Day 100”, that I would let the day come without any expectation of what I might have as my day’s post. As with any Sunday, we began the day getting up early, piling the three kids in the car, heading to St. Joseph’s Church, and singing with the choir. Sidenote: I had entered my pew unable to control my laughter after Emma and Paul and I had had a funny experience in the stairwell. So out of control, with tears rolling down my face, I actually had to whisper to my choir director that I was not crying but rather laughing! The Mass was beautiful with our choir singing an African song to honor our two priests from Nigeria, but as the final hymn began, I found myself getting choked up remembering my father singing “How Great Thou Art” in his signature voice. Emma touched my arm, fully aware of why I’d been unable to continue singing for a minute or two.  After church Eric and I drove over to visit with my beautiful Mom and I sat in the chair next to her, talking and giggling with her. After an hour or so, Eric and I drove to the ocean and spent a couple of hours at the beach. I started a book, Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, and I stopped to share several passages of the book with my husband. We then took in a movie, enjoying popcorn and MilkDuds, before driving home. I watched some tv with my daughter, waved to my other daughter as she left to meet a friend, and kissed my son goodnight before heading upstairs to read. My dog joined me in bed and after pausing to pull off my glasses, I fell asleep to the hum of the window fan.  The 100 happy days for Anne? These weren’t the first 100 days of their kind. They certainly won’t be the last. And so...

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is”.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Nancy

Last July I received a letter from a woman who had come to see our LRCT performance of Gypsy on June 29th. Her name was Nancy. She wrote of loving the performance and of being "moved to send (me) fan mail". She spoke of living near Boston, vacationing in an old cottage in my Maine town, and how she'd grown up in New York City seeing Broadway shows in the '50s and '60s, including a 1959 Ethel Merman performance of Gypsy. She wrote "As soon as I saw you and heard you start to sing 'Some People', I new that everything was going to be fine! We have a good Rose!" She said she continued to be impressed with my command of the role, "every bit as persuasive as Ethel Merman's", and added that "in fact (she had) preferred the touch of vulnerability and tenderness" that I brought to the role. She called me "sensitive and stylish" in my depiction and said I'd put her in a "good mood for days" after seeing the show. 

It was clearly the most magnificent piece of fan mail I'd ever received. Wow.

I needed to write back to her, to tell her how very much her note had meant to me. Little did I know that it would take me nearly a year to respond. Shame on me. But the only way to attempt to make things right, is to apologize now and to make good on what should have been written last year. This letter will be mailed today, to a dear woman I've never met, but whose kind note lifted my spirits when I was missing my truest biggest fans of my lifetime, my Mom and Dad

Dear Nancy, 

Please allow me to begin with an apology. I received your lovely note and donation to Lake Region Community Theater last summer. I then misplaced it all. It was tucked into a book I had been reading in July, one I did not open again for several months. Upon finding your letter, I sent the check off to our LRCT President, Janet VerPlank. It had been my intention to write back to you all along, but I failed to do so. I hope this note reaches you soon and that you’ll understand. 

I want to tell you what was going on with me and with the production of Gypsy last year. Rehearsals were in full swing and then our Gypsy Rose Lee fell ill. Although she returned to perform in the second weekend of shows, a last minute substitution was made and my daughter’s best friend, Savannah, stepped into the role with just a few days of practice. Savannah was remarkable--she is an intelligent and talented young woman and I am so very proud of her. She gave an incredible performance and it was a pleasure to be her Mama Rose on stage!

However, on the Saturday before opening night, our production was thrown another curveball that not many people in the audience were aware of. My father, an 85 years old, strong, intelligent, and industrious man, had a fatal heart attack. He had been caring for my 85 year old mother who has dementia. I was so very close to them both and I received the news of Dad’s death while at play practice that Saturday morning. My daughter Emma (who played my daughter June in the show) and I were devastated as were my husband and children Sydney and Paul.  

I went to my hometown immediately. On Monday night I returned for rehearsal. I then went back to sing at my Dad’s funeral on Thursday. I came to dress rehearsal that evening and the show opened the following night. The following Monday I was on my way to Rhode Island for Emma’s college orientation days. We returned in time to do our second weekend of Gypsy

My Dad and my Mom had long been my greatest fans. They came to every show of mine from childhood to adulthood. Their confidence and support of my passions always gave me the heart and determination to excel. My Dad had already expressed to me his sadness over not being able to make it to Emma’s high school graduation in early June and I knew it was unlikely he’d be able to attend our show two weeks later. I understood of course. But this was all on my mind. I thought I’d be seeing him in mid July at least. After June 15th, I was swimming in grief. 

But when it came time to perform, when I was in the lobby about to enter the auditorium for my first entrance, a little bird appeared in one of the classroom windows out in the hall. It fluttered its wings and I felt an enormous sense of peace wash over me. I was ready. Dad was indeed here to see the show. 

This role meant so very much to me and I gave it my all. To receive your beautiful letter out of the blue last July was an amazing gift. Thank you. I had worked hard to bring Rose to life in an authentic way. As a mother (who coincidentally has two performance loving daughters who majored in theater in college) and as a daughter who, unlike Rose, had a father who fully supported my every dream, I was determined to do right by the role. 

I now believe that my father’s death gave me the final bit of authenticity that I brought to the role. It may have taken me much too long to respond to your letter, but I think it has taken me this year to truly appreciate the grace God has bestowed on me, not only in the performance weekends of the show, but at all times, in all situations. 

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I humbly curtsy to your words. In my work as a high school English teacher (I’m finishing my 23rd of teaching this next week), I have asked my students to make time to write notes of kindness and gratitude. We need more of both in this world. I thank you for your kindness and gratitude and I hope my own expression of such to you is not too late. 

With Humble Gratitude, 


Monday, June 9, 2014

This Week is Hard

Okay. I need to admit this. I need to admit this to myself. 
So here I go. 

This week is hard. 

It’s not like it hasn’t been difficult already. But then the calendars changed to June. And then I saw the date. And then it was exactly one week away. And then it was the work week...six...five days before.

I told Eric I didn’t want to make a big deal of this. I told him I knew of its significance but that I didn’t want to feel pulled down by it. Because it is getting a little milder. I have grown stronger. I’m blessed. I’m still happy. I’m honoring it all by living well. I’m wiser now. Kinder. Better. 

But...This week is hard. 

I’m correcting senior finals. Just as I was doing at this time last year. I’m setting up for the final days of classes with my underclassmen. Just as I was doing last year. I’m thinking about packing away the items that will come home with me for the summer. I’m thinking of when I can start sorting papers and reorganizing my teaching binders. I’m thinking about those first few days of summer. 

Here it is. The undeniable wave. I try to push it away. I’ve got work to do. I don’t want to wallow. I’ve got to paddle my way through this. 

No. Don’t swim against it. Let it carry you. You’ll be okay. Don’t fight it. Let it wash over you and it’ll dissipate. 

This week is hard. 

Last year. Scenes upon scenes to memorize. Head swimming. Grades due. Get in the shower. Wait. The phone is for me. Hello? .........Okay.......Okay.....Click. Get dressed. Go to rehearsal. Texting John. There’s nothing I can do right now. Wait. Pray. Tell Eric

“Where are you going?!! Eric stammers at me .........You’re NOT going ANYWHERE”

Yes, I am. Going to rehearsal. There’s nothing I can do right now. I’ve got to go. Call Janet..... “Janet?....I’m coming. I think”. 

10 mile drive...somehow. Through the doors. Lew’s embrace. Warm, kind man. Hold it together. Pray. Focus on the lines. Dance. Sing. 

What was I doing? Did he see me? Did he smile? Was he proud? Yeah. I think so. 

Phone is ringing. “Hello?.....he didn’t make it....Okay...Okay...Okay”. Sit down. Sit down. Get your head around this. Pray. Pray.......PRAY. Where’s Emma?......... “Emma?!”

This week is hard. 

It's five days away from Saturday morning... June 15th, 2013. The day we lost you. And this year June 15th is on Father's Day. Of course it is. Of course. 

This week is hard. But it’s okay. It doesn’t have to be any other way. I don’t think it should be any other way. 

Deep breath. Itchy watery eyes. A solitary tear. Gratitude. Warmth. Finally...a smile. 
I’m okay. I’m okay. It's all going to be okay. 

I love you, Dad. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014


The "selfie" they sent me on their IB English exam day. <3
Dear Austin, Noah, Paul, Julia, Tyler, Silas, Josh, Bryce, Jaime, and Josie, 

I went back and forth on the idea of sharing my own "Say Something" final talk. On one hand, this is YOUR final. I've said enough already. I shouldn't add anything more. But at the risk of overkill, I felt the weight of the realization that after today, there will be no more 2B blocks spent with your sweet faces looking up at me from your seats there. So, forgive me. I'm taking a little extra time to speak with you, one last time. Here's my "Say Something" final exam. 

Yesterday, I was 18 years old, graduating from high school. Yesterday, I was 19 years old, telling my parents their baby was moving to NH for the summer to live with three of my best friends--I’d work retail and save money for college. Yeah right. I spent most of my paycheck on clothes thanks to my employee discount. I was the most fashionable sophomore on campus that fall! It was also the summer I finally accepted Mr. Walker's proposal and got engaged. Oh my God. No more flirting,  courting attention without intention. What was I thinking? I’d had such fun when he was away at college?! ha!  Well, I guess I knew a good man when I saw one. I needed to keep him around for the long haul. Best decision of my life right there. Best decision of his life too--after all, I'm "Freem the Dream"-- forever and always, right?!

Yesterday I was approaching my 21st birthday, walking down the aisle on my Dad’s arm, wearing my Mom's own wedding gown, smirking and suddenly feeling incredibly bashful--I suddenly couldn’t look up at Eric as we recited our vows. I’d been dating him for nearly six years--what was up with that?! 

Yesterday I was 22 years old, graduating from college and enrolling in grad school. Yesterday I started teaching at GNGHS. Yesterday I became a mom at age 23. Yesterday I gave birth to a second daughter at age 27 and then yesterday I had a son at age 31. Well, you get the idea. 

The truth is, it really does feel like yesterday. Nowadays I sometimes get up in the morning, make my way into the bathroom and I do a double take as I look into the mirror. WHO THE HELL IS THAT?!  I think. When did I get this old? I actually think I’m going to see my 18 year old self in the mirror. You can imagine the shock I get on a daily basis. I get kind of achey at times--a little sciatica in my back and legs, a little arthritis in my hands. And sometime after yesterday, maybe overnight, I'm not sure? I gained 40 pounds. I don’t know how that happened but I’m told it might have something to do with those three young adults who call me Mom. So, it’s a goal of mine to lose that weight by next June. Friend me on Facebook and scold me when you see me posting pictures of my homemade whoopie pies, okay?!

But in all seriousness, it’s a blessing to get older. It’s a privilege denied to too many. I know this for a fact. I’ve lost some former students to accidents, diseases, and most devastating to me, to suicide. I see those teens still--right in here--and I nod to them every once in awhile--they too were once so vibrantly alive. 

I don’t mean to turn morbid. I just want to emphasize to you all that we don’t know what the future holds for us--whether we’re 18, 22, 31 or 46. What matters most is that we live, truly live each day that we’re given. Like Tyler said, make those breaths count. Like Josie said, live authentically with the right attitude and most importantly, with awareness. Oh you're all so wise already with the words you've spoken this week in your own final talks--far more so than I was at 18, or so I I remember. 

As you know, I lost my Dad last June. As Father’s day weekend approaches again, I’m trying very hard to remain calm and at peace. But I am constantly reminded of my Dad’s last words. After his heart attack he was being flown to a bigger hospital in one of those Life Flight helicopters when he suddenly opened his eyes, looked out the window to the bright blue sky and said, “It’s a beautiful day”. I know I’m still grieving his death--because, aww, I miss him so damn much--and I’m grieving the ongoing loss of my Mom to her dementia too, but I can also acknowledge that I have become a stronger person in the midst of these losses, especially since last year. I strive to find the beauty in each day. I laugh more heartily. I listen more intently. I’m a better person--more patient, more forgiving. I’ve got a much better perspective on everything nowadays. More faith too. It’s my way of honoring the life that my Mom and Dad gave me. Each day is a beautiful day--it doesn’t matter whether I’m correcting piles of papers or whether I’m outside playing basketball (badly) with my family. I’m more aware of my days. I’m more grateful for my life.

Yesterday, I welcomed 10 IB students into my classroom for the first time. And now, suddenly, (or as they tell me, it’s now two years later), it’s the last day before you all move on to college. Once again, a set of teens I’ve spent my days with will move on and I’ll remain in high school. But something tells me, this is where I’m meant to be. Because no matter what I see in the mirror each day, no matter what new aches and pains I feel, I’m still 18 at heart--yep, a bit immature for sure, but so very passionate and hopeful about the future. No matter the losses I face, each and every day is still a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL day. 

Thank you for being a part of my yesterdays for the past two years. I love you, all. 

Mrs. Walker