Gratitude Celebration 31: Simply Friends

Mike O’Brien stands out as one of my best friends. It would have made some sense for us to be a couple for more than the few months that we hung out with each other, but there was just something about Mike’s personality, his exuberant self-confidence and drive that I couldn’t match.

I’m not exactly sure how we met. Mike was a unique visitor to the Thomas More College dorm. He seemed to always be there, but he didn’t live there! He lived just a few miles away, but had made friends with Kathy and Mary Jo, two dorm students a year ahead of me. I would see him with the two women joking and making plans, there in the lobby of the dorm. There was something attractive about Mike’s energy and relationship with Kathy. She was considerably taller than he. Mike was just 5’7” tall, but filled the room with his dynamic presence. read more

Gratitude Celebration 30: Waltzing with Blue Eyes

“Someone who met you wanted you to have this.” Dr. Gerry, whose last name I can’t remember, was handing me a piece of paper, inscribed with a short verse. “Blue eyes, 98⁰ Fahrenheit” or something like that, it began, then unfolded in the words of a modern Shakespeare in love. What I couldn’t fathom is that these words, according to Dr. Gerry, had been written by another student at the table the day before. “Do you mean, John?” I asked. “I hardly even talked with him! I was just saying hi and being friendly!” read more

Gratitude Celebration 29: Romance Confused

When I told my high school boyfriend, Chuck, that I couldn’t marry him because I needed to meet other men before settling down to marry, I envisioned that unfolding rather neatly. As it turned out, I met a variety of lovely friends who lit me up with romance, friendship, song, and heartache too.  I had not anticipated being confused about sexuality, though!

On the very first day of orientation, I met a guy whose voice wafted over me like a warm southern breeze.  His Memphis drawl made me want to ask him endless questions, so he would keep talking to me. I didn’t do that, of course, but I wanted to! I was happy to learn that he was a Biology major like me, so I would likely meet him again. Mark would become my best friend in college, the man I most wanted to be with, and yet my most challenging relationship of all! read more

Gratitude Celebration 28: Old Friends

Dr. Bill Bryant could find anything he wanted on his desk, even though it was piled high with papers, books, and scientific journals. For me, he was the quintessential professional botanist. He could talk about plants, forests, and ecology any time.  He loved his homeland of western Kentucky, and he loved the forests even more. I took most of my electives in Biology from him because he was teaching the classes that attracted me most. I wanted to be outside, not in a laboratory, so I picked Botany, Field Biology, and Aquatic Biology for my electives.  He taught Genetics, too, which didn’t include any field work at all. read more

Gratitude Celebration 27: Salamanders

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday with 60 essays of gratitude for significant people in my life. Today, I’m remembering a college professor who planted a seed of Nature Exploration.

I was excited to return to Thomas More College for my sophomore year. I had spent the previous summer mostly outdoors, working as the “Nature Lady” at a Girl Scout Camp. As a sophomore Biology major, I would take the next required courses in Anatomy and Chemistry.  I looked forward to another year with my roommate, Kelly, my Physics friend, Donna, and my favorite Biology buddy, Mark. read more

Gratitude Celebration 26: Sustaining the Sense of Wonder

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday by writing 60 essays of gratitude for significant people in my life. Today, I respectfully remember and thank a favorite college professor for her inspiration and integrity, her enthusiasm and dedication in the field of Biology.

Sister Mary Laurence played a large role in my development as a Biology student, not just in her physical stature but in her intellectual and personal guidance. She taught my first class, General Biology, in my major. That was pretty straightforward with three weekly lectures and two labs. Studying science at the college level was new to me, so I had to study diligently. But, I did ok and pulled through with consistent B’s. read more

Gratitude Celebration 25: Easy Compatibility

“That leaves Kelly and Regina to be together,” the Resident Assistant was saying as the group of 20 or so freshman women gathered in the dormitory lounge. It was our second week of college and we were all meeting for a roommate shakeup. Although we had each been assigned a roommate who was supposedly chosen for the best match based on our majors, most of us had discovered that we were NOT well matched!

My assigned roommate was a fellow biology major, but that’s about all that Michelle and I had in common. She stayed up late, had a boyfriend, loved talking about clothes and makeup, and wasn’t actually focused on studying. I was pretty much opposite in all of those things. read more

Gratitude Celebration 24: Leading Women

I’m celebrating my 60th birthday by writing 60 essays thanking people who made a difference in my life.

Today, I want to express my gratitude to three women who modeled inspired leadership in Nature Education, opening doors for me in the field where my heart sang!  Remembering Regina Goode, Patti Haye, and Nell Maloney brings a broad smile to my face and a warm fire to my heart.

With a name like “Regina”, she had to be good!  And she was that too! In fact, her name was Regina Goode and she was a very good catalyst for my initiation as a leader. I realize now, as a mom myself, that she and my mom may have been in cahoots to have Mrs. Goode be my co-leader instead of herself. I was undoubtedly more open to the guidance of Mrs. Goode than my own mom as an 18-year old with ideas of what a fun Girl Scout troop could be.  I did enjoy going over to her house and talking about my ideas and having her agree with them then add her wisdom to make them effective plans. read more

Gratitude Celebration 23: High School Beaus

 “He said Yes!” I told Doug, feeling fluttery and happy inside.”My dad said, Yes I can go with you to the movie!” I had braced myself for my dad’s firm No when I went down into his basement workshop to ask if I could go on my first date with Doug, the popular fullback on the public high school football team. My assumption, based on my older sister’s experience when she had wanted to date a certain boy, was that Doug’s non-Catholic  Blackness would make him ineligible for me to date. To my surprise, though, he said. “That’s fine. What are you going to do?”  Perhaps five years of parenting since my sister had asked permission to date a non-Catholic boy had relaxed the standard. I had fun with Doug, more fondly called Bubba by most people, just because he was so different from me! He was a good friend of Kathy and Dan, my friends from The Living Arts Center where we were all creative types used to being on the fringe. read more

Gratitude Celebration 22: Self-Perception Clarified

Donning glasses in third grade had plunged me into a cage of visual self-loathing. I hated how I looked! When Mr. Oddie took pictures of our family to use for a series of posters depicting family closeness, I was convinced that he had purposely put me in the background, featuring my beautiful big sister instead. She didn’t wear glasses!
Nothing I could do helped me see my beauty while wearing glasses, especially sparkly blue speckled cat’s eye frames mended with a grey blob of epoxy. Getting whacked in the glasses by a missed kickball, had proven my athletic ineptitude in fifth grade. To have my glasses break added misfortune to shame, magnifying my sense of alienation from others. Going back to school the next day with patched glasses required bravado I had not previously needed. That calamity did open the door to a new chance at looking good, however. I got new eyeglass frames.
This time, the frames were a little less conspicuous and had a natural shape. Their brown color that matched my hair seemed less gaudy than the blue speckled cat’s eye frames. They didn’t improve my athletic skills or my popularity, however, and I lost out to the beautiful, unbespectacled girls for cheerleading and softball. I was convinced that wearing glasses made me unfit for these and other junior high activities that I believed used good looks for their criteria.
Somehow my friend Barb must have seen past the glasses because we got along great and were fast friends during eighth grade. Our other friends in Girl Scouts didn’t seem to mind my looks, either, and I had fun on our outings and campouts. My cage of self-consciousness relaxed a bit that year, especially when I caught the bouquet at my new Aunt Jean’s wedding! “Wow!” I dreamed in my twelve year old mind. “ Even a girl with glasses could snatch the fairytale of marriage”.
As a freshman in high school, I made friends with Kathy and Carol, Martha, Ann, and Patty, Mary Jo and Claire, who didn’t even seem to notice that I was so ugly and different. Kathy even declared we were best friends and gave me a sterling silver “friendship” ring. I scraped together the few dollars it took to buy her a matching one. I even liked my sophomore class picture because I realized that I had a nice smile.
In the Fall of sophomore year, however, Doctor Miller, the optometrist who I was by now very familiar to me, opened a whole new realm of possibility for me! For seven years I had taken semi-annual trips to his office for vision check-ups. Most years the Fall checkup would result in new lenses with a stronger prescription. I was getting used to the usual three days’ adjustment time when the kitchen floor, with its speckled pattern of white and pink flakes in a background of grey seemed to pop up at me. Dr. Miller could make my trip home from the office easy, though! He lived next door to us. And his wife, Madeleine was his assistant! I remember that on the days I got new lenses, I could go to his office by myself, wearing my old glasses. He would change the lenses right there in his office while I waited, gazing around the waiting room in a blurry interlude. Then, he would take me home in his luxury car. Sometimes I would imagine choosing optometry as my career, believing that I’d be rich.
That sophomore year, he had a new idea! After doing the usual check-up he said that this time I had a choice between glasses and contact lenses. If I chose contacts, I would be able to have clear vision without glasses! It was like he had just waved a magic wand like Cinderella’s fairy godmother and my rags had turned into a gilded gown! I could be beautiful! I only hesitated a few minutes when I learned that it would take some time to get used to wearing contacts and that they would take extra care. They were more expensive than glasses, but my mom was willing to invest in them. We said yes.
When I got home that evening, I took off my glasses and gazed in the mirror at my eyes. For the first time, I admitted that I had beautiful, blue eyes and with contacts my eyes would not be hidden behind glasses anymore! I liked the way I looked without glasses.
Dr. Miller was right about the arduous adjustment period for wearing contacts. It took a few weeks to get used to the scratchy discs under my eyelids. And taking care of those tiny pieces of blue plastic did require meticulous discipline. All that, however, was a small inconvenience compared to the luxury of self-respect that was unleashed when contacts were part of my lifestyle. I loved the new way I looked and I lost my self-consciousness and shyness. I rarely questioned my outer beauty again, and look fondly at my senior portrait that joins those of my other nine siblings in my mom’s study.
At sixty, I wonder why I couldn’t see my true beauty, and send love to that young girl who hid behind her glasses. Perhaps, feeling the opposite of self-love helped me know how it feels to transform self-hatred into healthy self-love, something that I guide others to do in my current profession. Whatever it means, I am grateful today for the man who opened that door for me with his optometry skill. Thanks, Dr. Miller, for doing your job! I remain a grateful patient! read more