I originally published a version of this piece on October 23,2017 for the HuffPost blog. In this version ,I have included these opening remarks and some different images.
The original narrative remains unchanged, because in October of 2017, these words literally wrote themselves. In recent years , I have learned that you don’t attempt to alter what divine intervention is meant to reveal to us.
The title of this essay was inspired by one of my students who herself has the potential to be a gifted writer. The message was directed primarily to my Utica College students who were truly beacons of light, during what was undoubtedly the most challenging period of my life.
I am not one to frequently republish essays ,unless I am specifically asked to do so or feel a strong nudge to do so. Over the past few days the nudges to revisit this essay were especially strong. It didn’t take me long to figure out why.
During this past semester, several of my students experienced significant personal challenges. Their ability to transcend those challenges while fulfilling their course work requirements were inspiring to me. Of course, my students have inspired me in one way or another since I began teaching at Utica College.
Additionally, over the past two months or so, at least five individuals that I directly or indirectly knew died by suicide or a drug overdose. Several were young adults, a little older than my college students.
These events were the impetus for me to revisit this previously published piece and post it on Medium. Though it is dedicated to my students , the following message that is contained in We Are Beautiful ,Tragic and Alive, is for anyone young or old who is overwhelmed by life’s burdens and feels that there is no way out from under them.
To my student, Mac. Thank you for sharing your favorite quote with me. Your words were not only the title of my piece, but the inspiration for it.
The tapestry of beauty is woven from the fabric of tragedy. On the surface, this beauty may appear to be flawed, but in reality, is enhanced by the challenges that shaped it, becoming more endearing, long-lasting and impactful.
Following loss due to death, we find that our inner beauty is forged by the legacies of our fallen loved ones. Our inner beauty morphs into intense and heartfelt compassion and benevolence towards others. The impetus for our inner beauty radiating outward is the deep, unconditional love that we have for our deceased family and friends. It is love that knows no earthly boundaries or limitations. As a result, our loved ones become our companions in service, working with us side-by-side to help others transcend tragedy. In the process, we may also help others find their voice or discover renewed meaning in their lives, when all else seems lost.
The Transformative Power of Community
During the early phase of my grief after the death of my eighteen-year-old daughter Jeannine, I certainly felt tragic and on the surface, alive, even though there were days I did not wish to be alive. I never entertained thoughts of suicide, but I would have gladly welcomed death to be reunited with my daughter. In order to thrive in a world without my daughter’s physical presence, I needed to discover my own inner beauty and a reason for being. I was able to do so with the help of my Utica College students and community.
I was hired at Utica College during the summer of 2002, as an adjunct instructor of psychology. I had completed the requirements for my Masters in Social Work Degree in May of 2002, and had a desire to teach college part- time. I was hired during a phase of my daughter’s illness where she was experiencing positive effects from her chemotherapy.
I taught my first class at Utica College on January 22,2003, less than 2 months before Jeannine’s death. In retrospect, I believe that Utica College was part of the universe’s divine plan for me. My students and the entire Utica College community lifted me up on their collective bootstraps. They helped me find my purpose and a reason to exist, when both were unclear to me. I fed off of their energy and love at a time when my energy was lower than low, and love for myself was questionable. My students and the Utica College community helped me rediscover my inner beauty after tragic loss. They helped me become my own version of “beautiful, tragic and alive.” It is a version of myself that I have accepted and am at peace with, fourteen plus years after Jeannine’s death.
For my Students (Past and Present)
“We are unusual, tragic and alive”
Doing my due diligence as a blogger, I googled the title of my piece and found this above similar quote from Dave Eggers. This passage further inspired me to conclude this essay with some thoughts directed towards my current and past students, for whom a simple thank you isn’t enough:
You are all unique and unusual in your own way, and your presence is always a gift to someone even if you may not always see it that way. Trust that you have, and always will be a gift to me. Celebrate the life energy that emanates from your unique gifts; you will inspire and be inspired. If you are perceived as unusual or perhaps a misfit, don’t buy into it, or allow perception to steal your mojo. Don’t let the burden of external expectations cause you to strive for something that is unattainable…. perfection. Our mistakes are the gateway to greater self-awareness, provided that we allow them to be our teacher. Learn from your mistakes, as you have allowed me to learn from you.
Commit to always doing your best and being true to yourself. See the world through your own eyes, and always trust your inner voice.
And if life seems hopeless or overwhelming and you are thinking of checking out of this world, remember that with the help of others there is always a rational solution to your challenges. Besides, we are all individual drops of water in the ocean of humanity, each with its own unique, indelible impact. Remove one drop, and the impact on the collective whole is permanently altered. Be the drop that stays, because your voice and presence will always be an inspiration to someone……. like me.