How A Stranger’s Death Changed My Life

This is a story about the life lessons we can all take from any tragedy, whether it’s close by or far away. This is a story about one person’s ripples becoming another’s tidal waves. This is a story about people connecting with each other. This is a story about how a stranger’s death changed my life.

In 2009, a friend fatefully introduced me to the TV show Glee, and from the beginning I was hooked. I made my friends watch it, I quoted it in my public speaking, I used it to connect with students when I worked in a school, I wrote about it in my blogmultiple times. There were so many aspects of Glee that touched me, but one of the most important was that I loved Finn.

Finn was The Quarterback. He was the good guy, the leader, the one who was willing to admit his mistakes, who treated everyone with decency and honesty. And the actor who played him, Cory Monteith, was like that too. In 2011 Cory came to my college for a show and I had the opportunity to meet him. Overcome by emotion, unsure of what to say, I simply asked, “Can I hug you?” “Come here,” was his answer.


Meeting Cory Monteith – 2011

Two years later- and three years ago today- on July 13, 2013, Cory Monteith died of a drug overdose in a hotel in Canada, not a week after graduating from rehab.

My world was rocked. Although I didn’t know Cory, somehow he was this incredibly important figure in my life. In many ways he had been my hero: the one who made me believe, above all else, that every person mattered- and, by extension, that mattered.

Friends I hadn’t spoken to in years sent me messages to ask whether I was alright; one housemate even drove me to a candlelight vigil outside Paramount Studios. At the vigil fans took turns sharing their experiences about meeting Cory. When it was my turn, I said that all I could think to do in the face of this tragedy was find a way to inject into our future lives what I saw as Cory’s ultimate lesson: every person matters. Whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not, whether they have broken laws or hurt themselves or even hurt you- they are a human being, and every human being matters.

The day Cory died, the internet was alight with words from people who were deeply, genuinely affected. I had never felt so connected to people all over the globe who were feeling the same loss that I was, although it touched each of us in different ways. I imagined how modest Cory would be if he could see to how many people saw him as a hero- and then I wondered whether that could be the case with all of us. Maybe we haven’t all touched millions of people, but we have all been there for a friend, smiled at a stranger, offered a kind word when somebody seemed down- and to those people our actions may have meant the world. In some way, we are all heroes.

In the days following Cory’s death, I was forced to make a career decision; a few days earlier I had been offered an internship at an education nonprofit in New York City, and I didn’t have long to decide whether to uproot and go. Simply put, I was scared. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this decision would affect the rest of my life. Overwhelmed, confused, and frozen, I asked a friend for advice. “What if you went to New York,” she said, “and you helped one student, and because of you, that student didn’t become involved in drugs like Cory?”

Life isn’t quite that simple, but the meaning was clear: I could change a life. My tiny action could lead to another tiny action that, some day, could save somebody’s hero. In that universal way in which we are all connected, it almost felt like saving Cory.

So I went to New York City, visiting Boston along the way. One thing led to another, and a year later, I found myself moving to Boston to work at an education nonprofit. Right before we began working in schools, we each stood up in front of the entire corps and all of the organization’s employees to dedicate our year of service.

When it was my turn, my hand shook as I took the microphone. “I want to dedicate my year of a service to a guy who taught me that every person, no matter what, matters. Whether they think they do or not. And that guy’s name is Cory Monteith.”

every person matters

Cory taught me how interconnected people really are, how we care about the same things and how we want to help each other. Cory inspired me to take chances- from moving to New York to starting my lofty 101 Goals in 1001 Days (which I began on July 13, 2015, the anniversary of the day Cory’s death began to change my life). Most importantly, though, Cory taught me that one person’s actions can shape another’s life.

You don’t have to be a famous actor. You don’t have to preach. If we live life in a way that aligns with our own personal truths, we will touch and inspire others. Cory taught me that it’s possible to change a person’s path simply by existing. Cory taught me that everyone has the power to make change. Cory taught me that I can make change.

Cory taught me that, if we’re open to exploring the world and trying to understand our place in it, we open ourselves to experiences and lessons and being swept away in a tidal wave of life’s richness that began with a single ripple. Cory taught me that, if we allow it, even a stranger’s death can change our lives.



Right now I am so happy that I don’t know what to do.

Every day it is true that I have a loving family, that I went to a great school, that I have had all sorts of experiences and learned all sorts of things in this world. But every day I am not happy about these things. Often, our emotions are based solely on what’s happening at this very moment, and it is true that this very moment isn’t always the most exciting moment we’ve had.

Here’s a psychology tidbit: humans feel negative emotions seven times more strongly than we feel positive ones. It’s how we made it this far. In terms of survival, it’s a lot more important to be able to experience fear of dangerous things, and sadness in response to losing important things, than it is to feel any sort of positive emotion such as happiness.

In other words, evolutionarily speaking, feeling happy doesn’t get us anywhere. So how do I reconcile that fact with this feeling of gratitude and love that I have at this moment? I am so completely happy to have had wonderful relationships in my life full of self discovery, sleepovers, long walks, long talks, trips all over the world, trips to the grocery store, tears, hugs, hands held, running and jumping into someone’s arms because I know that they’ll catch me. I always know that they’ll catch me, even if we’re not together.

happiness collage

Some of the people who make me happy

I recently watched this movie called Like Sunday, Like Rain (2014), which follows an au pair and her 7th-grade charge, chronicling the development of their strong and uncanny friendship and making me miss my own 8th graders desperately. By the end, my emotions were so strong that I felt uncomfortable simply watching the movie without turning my feelings into some kind of revelation. But what could I do: call one of my kids? Become an au pair myself? I didn’t know how to deal with this feeling, because I treat feelings like potential energy that require some sort of action in order to count. How I feel doesn’t matter, because my emotions are insignificant unless they turn into a career path or a relationship or even a blog.

It’s like the episode of Full House when Uncle Jesse first proposes to Becky. The conversation starts as a breakup, but instead the two realize that they’re actually ready to say “I love you” for the first time. Of course, Jesse takes the most logical next step:

Jesse: Have mercy! We gotta get married right now.
Becky: Wait a minute. Right now?
Jesse: Yes, we declared our love. You said you’d marry me. We’re in Nevada. Let’s do it!

Jesse is so excited to realize that he and Becky are in love that he has to do something about it. Standing around and just being in love doesn’t feel possible. Instead, he has to follow this strong emotion with a concrete action so that it’s easier to understand. But, of course, Jesse isn’t thinking straight. A wedding is just a ceremony that represents love. It doesn’t guarantee love, it doesn’t solidify love, and it doesn’t have to go hand in hand with love either. What Jesse really needs to do, rather than booking a slot at the illustrious Ali Baba Hotel and Casino Wedding Chapel, is pause, look at Becky, and sit with the realization of how he’s feeling and how lucky he is.

Uncle Jesse and I have the same lesson to learn: feelings are allowed to matter because they are a part of us. I have so much to be thankful for, and today the world is sending me all the right vibes and messages and songs to make me think about the incredible relationships that I have had. I can’t act on those feelings by moving so that I live closer to all of my cross-country best friends. I can’t reach out to every single person I’ve known. All I can do is sit with this feeling of joy and gratefulness and remind myself that I have the right to be happy. Even if I can’t use my happiness for anything, that doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to have it.

Right now I am so happy, and that’s all I have to do.


He’s Her Lobster

As you, my devoted readers, know, I’ve been writing quite a bit about my current distaste for fairytale endings. But I wasn’t always like this; there was a time when I believed that the universe would eventually give us whatever we wanted if we asked nicely enough. I believed that people had soul mates and that everything turned out okay in the end. Reality was not a factor for me. Think of me as Ewan McGregor in the beginning of Moulin Rouge.

During this time, my very favorite on-screen couple was Ross and Rachel of Friends. To me, they represented the holy grail of “will they/won’t they” relationships. They were perfect for each other. They were each other’s lobster. No matter what the storyline, there was always something between them. And, without fail, my favorite episodes of Friends were the ones in which they were together, or even pining after each other, because for me their love just made sense.

This was all several years ago and I’ve grown up since then. I’ve learned a lot about people, romantic relationships, messy feelings, things that come to an end before you want them to, and even television and film writing. My opinions have shifted much more closely toward reality, and it made this time around watching the end of Friends very different.

Seasons 8 and 9 feature a lot of Joey and Rachel. First Joey falls in love with Rachel in a way that is so genuine and sweet, and then after a while Rachel returns his feelings. Everyone recognizes that Ross and Rachel haven’t actually dated in several years, and a lot of totally believable writing gets Rachel and Joey together. But as soon as we enter the last dozen episodes of the series Joey and Rachel suddenly can’t make it work. Why? Not because they’re just too great as friends. No. Because the writers needed her to get with Ross. Because, lobster.

Watching how the writers get Ross and Rachel together at the end, I was shocked at how little they actually had to do. Throw in a couple of remarks here and there, a reference to their first kiss, and suddenly they’re in love again. Truly, the buildup to this last leg of Ross and Rachel’s relationship is about as short as Rachel’s final miniskirt. Rachel was never jealous of Charlie (except for when she was dating Joey), and while Ross obviously was not “fine” with Rachel and Joey as a pair, he apparently wasn’t affected enough to explain what was bothering him or, in fact, to end things with Charlie. Nothing happened between Rachel and Ross, really, until Rachel’s dad had a heart attack and she was feeling vulnerable and lonely.

Rachel and Ross are each others’ weakness. The minute one of them is drunk or sad, or feeling much of anything really, they run into the other’s arms. And I am open to edits on this, but I can’t honestly think of why- other than that chemistry. With Joey and Rachel, or even Chandler and Monica, we see fun times that they share together as friends before they’re in a relationship. But, other than 1994’s laundromat adventure, Ross and Rachel seem to have either big romance or just nothing. They are each others’ default.

Here’s where old Leah and reformed Leah battle. Old Leah says that this is romantic: whenever Ross or Rachel feel something strong, they know with whom they want to share it. When their guard is down, they want each other. Isn’t that love? But realistic Leah fights back: why can’t love be about sharing the banal parts of life? Why don’t they want to be together when everything is normal? Why only when Rachel feels sorry for Ross or realizes he’s about to get married or is on a plane to Paris? Why not when Ross makes one tiny mistake while they’re actually together? Why don’t they want to work on it then?

That’s what makes the end so confusing. Rachel and Ross don’t spend any part of the last season figuring out their relationship except to say that it isn’t off the table. Rachel is genuinely excited about her new job and Ross has come to terms with her going. It doesn’t make sense that, when Ross tells Rachel that he loves her, she suddenly doesn’t care about her next career move or the adventure that she’s so ready to have. But, of course, she gets off the plane. Even less surprising: I still cried.

So many of us have experienced this on some level, where we realize that we have real feelings and that we have choices to make, and we have to pick one over the other. Feelings are messy and they don’t simply go away when a relationship ends. In fact, much like Rachel and Ross, we do not all have control over our feelings. Many of us have had relationships that have been on-again and off-again. What’s to say that Ross and Rachel aren’t the same?

I’ll tell you what… the fact that it’s not. It’s Ross and Rachel, and that’s how we know that it’s more. The crazy thing about love is that it’s the one thing that can turn even the greatest skeptics into the biggest believers; we simply don’t believe it can happen for us, until it does, and then we can’t imagine having a doubt. It doesn’t have to mean that fairytale endings exist for us to know that when something is right it’s right. And even though the twilight of Ross and Rachel’s story makes me so mad, I cried because, despite my venturing over to reality, I still believe. I believe that Ross and Rachel can happen in real life. I believe that two people can, in fact, be right for each other.

Maybe Ross and Rachel aren’t so unrealistic after all. Here’s what they’ve taught me: sometimes you’ll have feelings for someone and it just won’t work out. A whole bunch of times. And you will be able to walk away, because you are an individual, and there is no love that a person simply cannot leave. Ross and Rachel teach us that chemistry and friendship aren’t all it takes- that a relationship, even one between two lobsters, doesn’t work until you work for it. Ross and Rachel are actually pretty incredible because they understand their feelings, and they know that they are each strong enough to be okay on their own or just as friends, even despite them. There is no realization that they must end up together, because these two adults know that life won’t end if they don’t. But they make the choice that they want to be together, and that makes all the difference.

Ross and Rachel are not two lost souls who were destined to find each other. Like so many of us, they are two people who have had feelings for each other and then messed up. But what makes them special is that one day they decide to make it work no matter what. They take control of their decisions, no matter how crazy those decisions might be. They decide that they wanted to be together, that they are willing to work for this and that they will do anything. Even getting off the plane.

Life is not a one-way path to the magical ending. It is full of disorganized and unproductive feelings, decisions that need to be made, and people whose roles fluctuate constantly even though we can always care for them. Perhaps my transformation toward reality has allowed me not to reject happy endings but to realize that they can happen even if things are complicated. In fact, they are that much more powerful when we realize that people chose them: if Rachel can choose her lobster, so can I.

Here’s to airplanes and their left phalanges, to planetariums, to complicated and full and unplanned lives. But, most of all, here’s to lobsters.


The End of Glee: Part Two

When I started kindergarten, I had just about the coolest backpack on earth. It was pink and purple and it said “Dreams Do Come True.” It even had a matching coin purse with the same saying. Perfect message for a five year old, right? Dream big and believe that it’ll happen.

So, I think we can all agree that the Glee series finale, entitled “Dreams Come True,” was named for me. And, frankly, made for me. This finale was exactly what I needed. There’s never a good way to bring certain things to an end, but this episode left me with no regrets. Many television shows do their best to use their ending to wrap up the story, but Glee didn’t do that. Glee realized that it was more than a show, that it was a part of peoples’ lives. So it ended its plot early, and it used the last episode to say goodbye. And, like Glee always does, it taught us some lessons along the way.

Mercedes’ Song: How To Say Goodbye

“I want to walk out of here like I’m seeing everybody in Glee Club tomorrow and like it’s not really goodbye.”

Mercedes Jones, the only person in the world who cares about being classy while saying goodbye. She invites her friends to the auditorium but cautions them not to come close to her for fear of crying. She has something to say, and then she’s going to leave with class. She sings one of the most classy, glorious, and- in a way- content songs ever: Diana Ross’s “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Once she sings her song, she’s silent. She doesn’t say a thing because she left it all on the stage, and there is no perfect way to say goodbye. She simply looks at her friends, blows them a kiss, and walks away. The moment is beautiful and it sends the message loud and clear that there’s no perfect thing to say at the end; sometimes at the end all we can do is be human. Share a look, and understand that all of your feelings can’t be put into words, but that that’s okay. And then you move on gracefully, hoping that someday you’ll again be together.

Rachel’s Song: How To Look Back

“I’m not afraid of moving on or letting go. It’s just so hard to say goodbye to what I know…This time no one’s gonna say goodbye. I keep you in this heart of mine. This time that we had I will hold forever…No matter who or what I am I’ll carry where we all began.”

This song is special, but even moreso once you know the story behind it. Rachel, the star of the show, needed to leave with a bang, and Lea Michele and Ryan Murphy could not come up with a song to fit the moment. Darren Criss stepped in to write this song specifically for Lea Michele’s voice, encapsulating perfectly and exactly the feelings of the actors, their characters, and the fans. This song says frankly what we all think of but don’t say enough: we know that we have to let go, but it’s just hard. It’s hard to leave what’s comfortable, and that’s okay. Sometimes it seems like there’s this glorified narrative of leaving everything you know and never looking back, but this song acknowledges the fact that the things that are part of us are part of us for a reason, and they deserve to be remembered. And not only that, but the song pays homage to the fact that this show was a beginning for television, society, these actors, everybody, and that, wherever they go from here, they won’t forget where they came from. Darren couldn’t have put the words more perfectly, and Lea clearly felt it.

Rachel’s Speech: What It Means To Be Special

“I want to dedicate this award to the person who is responsible for getting me on this stage tonight, and that is Mr. Will Schuester. Mr. Schue always taught to my strengths and not my weaknesses, and he cheered the loudest when I soared and he picked me up when I was in a million pieces. He taught me the one great thing that all teachers do…being a part of something special does not make you special. Something is special because you are a part of it….Dreams really do come true.”

Rachel’s often-repeated (by me) line from the series pilot, “Being part of something special makes you special, right?” is a sincere cry for a feeling of belonging and for acknowledgement for being special. Rachel is a young woman who knows that she has something incredible to give, but that’s not enough. She needs what we all need- support and love. But by the time she gives her Tony speech, Rachel has realized that she has something to contribute to a group, too. And not only that, but this speech also sheds light on the things that help us to be successful and to help others most: acknowledging strengths, not weaknesses, and believing in the truth and worthiness of our dreams.

Sue’s Speech: The Importance Of Dreaming

What I finally realize… it takes a lot of bravery to look around you and see the world not as it is but as it should be. A world where the quarterback becomes best friends with the gay kid. And the girl with the big nose ends up on broadway. Glee is about imagining a world like that, and finding the courage to open up your heart and sing about it. That’s what Glee Club is. And for the longest time I thought that was silly, and now I think it’s just about the bravest thing that anyone can do.”

Obviously, I’ve never liked Sue, but this speech is the moment that absolutely gets me. This moment is my end game. Not often in life does everything get summed up, but for me this is it. This is the tribute that Cory Monteith deserved. This is the message of Glee. Of life, I hope. It’s better and braver to go through life with hope and dreams than to be prepared for disappointment. In fact, I’d like to believe that the kind of person who lives on hope and dreams deals better with disappointments as well. But Sue is right. It takes bravery to see the world and any human in it not as what it is, but what it can be. If we take nothing else from this show, let’s always remember this.

The Last Song: Glee

“I did it all. I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone I swear I lived.”

Say what you will, but Glee went hard. It used every moment, tackled every lesson. It existed richly and without apology. It got a few broken bones along the way- literally and figuratively. But it lived. It lived, and the world changed because of it.

What more can any of us ask for?

The End of Glee: Part One

Brace yourselves, this is going to be sappy. It deserves to be. This is important.

I’ll say this right away- I know that a lot of people feel like Glee fell off the deep end for the last year or two or three. Those feelings are allowed. But, as I’ve mentioned before, Glee means a lot to me. Because I care about the characters. Because I love music. Because it has changed the course of my life, and the lives of so many others. Because it has changed the world, for the better. But maybe mostly because- and I didn’t realize it until now- Glee is, at its core, about being true to yourself and about finding someone or something that understands you, even when you can’t understand yourself. It’s about feeling something so strongly and intensely and not knowing whether it’s okay or how to express it, and then finding a way not only to come to terms with it yourself but to use it to connect with others through a shared passion. Whether that something is your sexuality, your past, or the fact that nobody around you accepts that you’re a dreamer, there will always be a song that understands you and a home where your feelings are accepted and you are celebrated for being brave enough to have them. That is a world-changing concept, and it deserves to be celebrated.

After six seasons, Glee came to an end with a double episode this past Friday. After a weekend of anxiety, I was finally able to watch the finale today. My thoughts before viewing the episode:

Here I am, in bed on a Sunday, about to watch my last episode of Glee. There’s so much anticipation. I think about how much I used to look forward to new episodes- watching with friends in high school or college, discussing them in depth after. Some season finales stick out more than others. I remember most season 3: I biked to a friend’s empty apartment to watch it on her TV. I sat alone on her floor, nobody to watch with me. I watched Finn break Rachel’s heart, and I rocked back and forth on that floor crying. I’ll never forget that. Every time there was so much hope, so much anticipation for what would happen next. Finn’s smile just after he confesses his love to Rachel in the finale of season 1 is enough to give me hope for the rest of my life. To be so happy just to know that you’re in love, and to tell it, and to be looking ahead to nothing but possibility.

And now here we are for the last time. I’m about to watch the first part of the finale, entitled “2009.” It’s hard to believe that it’s actually going to be over, and I’m going to have to deal with whatever emotions it brings on my own. No more episodes to change my feelings. This is it. Here goes.

Then I watched the episode, which takes a look back at the pilot of the show from a different angle. The episode fills in some story, but all I could think about the entire time was when I would see Finn. Ever since learning the title, I knew that this episode would be a special one, and I anticipated the thrill of seeing fresh footage of Cory Monteith, saved from years ago. To my great disappointment, there was none. However, the episode ended with the same song that the pilot ended with six years ago, even using the same Cory Monteith-centered footage, the song that has defined this show and an era. Don’t Stop Believing.

Glee has performed Don’t Stop Believing many a time. Never once has it been repetitive or out of place; every time has been more meaningful than the last, because of the history and the feelings that this song brings. Maybe I didn’t love this episode as much as I thought I would, but it taught me an important lesson: once something is a part of you, it’s a part of you. It can be the pilot, the finale, Rachel’s season 4 audition (which also happened to be the last scene Lea Michele and Cory Monteith ever appeared in together), or using season 1 again in the show’s finale. It’s never old. Don’t Stop Believing is Glee. Finn and Rachel dancing around in red t-shirts and jeans and converse is Glee. In life things may go a million different directions and you may have tragedy or annoyances or any number of things that change you. But there will always be something that makes you you. And Glee will always help you to celebrate that.

Don’t Stop Believing, Season 4 Episode 19 “Sweet Dreams”

Letting Go

The time is now

So let go

You’re on your own

There’s something waiting for you

There’s something waiting for you

So let go

Of the world you know

There’s something waiting for you

In the great unknown

Jukebox The Ghost

Letting go may be one of the hardest things that humans have to do.

If you ask me, change sucks no matter what. (I remember crying hysterically as a child when I switched from bright red kid-sized hangers to slightly darker red adult-sized ones; change is not my forte.) There are different kinds of change, but I think the kind that hurts the most is letting go. It’s not sudden, it’s not planned, you don’t get to give up control and blame somebody else. Letting go is a conscious decision that you make to allow something that was once so important to you to make its way out of your life.

For example, let’s say you really came into your own in college. It changed you for the better, you weren’t ready to leave, and you didn’t have any control over the fact that you eventually did. After graduation, you could still pretend things were the same by hanging out with the same people, maybe living in the same area, whatever it was that defined college for you. You got your closure- your ceremony, your degree- but you still haven’t let it go. And nobody can make that happen but you.

But why is it so hard to let something go? I think it’s because you don’t know whether you can find anything that will replace it. Usually the reason we hold on to things is because we feel comfortable with them or they mean something special to us, and we don’t know if anything else can give us that same feeling. But at the same time, when the idea of letting go is brought up there’s always a reason. Maybe it’s something you need to grow out of. Maybe it’s someone who doesn’t treat you as well as they used to. Whatever the case, it’s possible to let go instantly but it’s also possible to hold on to whatever it is for an indefinite amount of time.

Take Titanic: “I’ll never let go.” And yes, haters, she does physically let go, but can we remember the Celine Dion lyrics? “Every night in my dreams, I see you, I feel you. That is how I know you go on… Near, far, wherever you are, you are here in my heart and my heart will go on and on…” Rose never truly lets go of Jack. She has no need. He was her first and truest love, and she keeps him alive inside her, despite the fact that she is able to move on and live her own life after his death.

But not all of us are as strong as Rose Dawson. Not all of us can move on without letting go. Often, not letting go means holding yourself back from what’s next. It’s like the season 4 finale of How I Met Your Mother, in which they all “take the leap.”

Imagine: you’re jumping from one rooftop to another. The rooftop where you started is safe and comfortable and, honestly, you love it. But deep inside you know that you have to let go and move on. So you stand on the ledge, look down at what may quite possibly kill you, and you jump anyway. You take the leap. And for that split second in midair, you don’t know whether you’re going to make it or not. That second feels like an eternity. But, what you don’t realize until you make it to the other side is this: you were flying. You felt scared and uncertain and completely, utterly alone. But what you can’t see until later is that, in fact, you were defying gravity. You flew away from what you left, and when you look back, you realize how insanely proud you are to have made it to the other side.

Letting go of what we know hurts. It’s scary, lonely, painful, and sometimes so hard that it seems impossible. It may take ages to be able to let go, if you ever do at all. And once you do, it may not be a clean jump to the other side. But when you make it, you’ve earned it, and there’s no feeling that compares.


How Glee Taught Me to Grow Up

Sometimes when I’m feeling melancholy I like to watch Glee.

At the end of high school but mostly through college, this show was an inspiration to me. I loved it dearly and, as strange as it seems, the characters and the music got me through some extremely trying times. Sometimes people can’t understand that, but we all have something that touches us and for me this was it. I identified with the character of Rachel, and I absolutely loved Finn. And because I already connect so deeply with music, the pairing of life events with music magnified their meaning for me that much more. For a long time, Glee for me was truly a source of comfort and happiness.

thequarterbackOf course, the show certainly has its difficult moments. In my opinion, some of the most powerful episodes are the ones that deal with something hard: when Sue loses her sister, the only person who brings out her humanity. When Rachel and Finn or Blaine and Kurt break up. And of course, The Quarterback. This episode, the show’s tribute to Cory Monteith three months after his sudden death in July of 2013, is painful to see. But I have watched it many a time, because my mission isn’t to avoid pain; it’s to feel something powerful. And that’s certainly what The Quarterback achieves.

Due to a combination of Cory Monteith’s death and simply getting older, I have become less of a rabid Glee fan than I once was. But there have been a few times this year when I needed something that felt familiar, something that would bring me out of a funk and put the feeling back in me full force. At those times, I turn to a few choice episodes of Glee- from the old days, seasons 2 and 3 when I was in my first years of college.

For each episode I see, I have a memory of the first time I watched it. Today I threw it back to season 2; I remembered watching First Kiss while on the ellipticals in my freshman dorm where everybody else was watching the same thing, and we all gasped at the same moment. Next I watched The Substitute, which I viewed on a Friday with a friend right before band practice. And then I turned to Furt, a personal favorite that I watched the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving with a group of friends, suitcase in tow, before running off to catch my shuttle to the airport to go home.

For me Glee is more than a show. It’s a way to remember and to measure a past life. As I watched today, overcome with emotion at seeing Cory Monteith (ever since his death, I have in some ways avoided his performances), I wondered whether it was time to let Glee go. What was the point of watching something that was supposed to make me feel better, if it only brought up overwhelming sadness? I watched and I saw characters who I knew would later die, and I remembered how different I was years ago when I first saw them and how much I’ve grown up since then.

Certainly the show will never bring me the same pure joy that it once did; I will probably never be able to watch without feeling at least a little bit of grief. Realistically, Glee may not always pick up my mood. Sometimes it may bring me down with memories and thoughts of what could have been. But perhaps that’s just part of getting older- realizing that the good rarely comes without even just a little bit of the bad. Taking in the memories and trying to be happy about them, even if things didn’t turn out well later down the line. In fact, that may even be one of the hardest parts: appreciating what happened in the past without resenting the fact that I may not have it anymore.

So, to answer my own question, I will not stop watching Glee. I will never watch it with the same unadulterated exuberance, and it may not ever make me feel the same way it used to. But it will always represent a dearly special time in my life, and I will always keep with me the lessons that I learned. I’m viewing it now with different eyes, eyes that are older and wiser. Things look a little different through them. Maybe not as bright, maybe a little more clear. Definitely more appreciative of the gifts that we can all get from whatever it is that touches us and brings us peace.

But even though its place in my life is different, what brings me peace is this: I no longer need Glee to make me feel better. I am tougher and stronger and smarter than I was back when I used to fanatically watch it. Now the experience may be less exciting, but Glee shows me how far I’ve come. It doesn’t give me the same feeling that it used to. But when I watch it and think about where I was in life the first time, I can see how many incredible strides I’ve made and how different of a person I have become. Like the characters I love so much, I have grown up. That’s not something that everybody gets to do, as I’m reminded every time I watch The Quarterback. So it may not be easy, and it may come with a bit of confusion or nostalgia, but it is most certainly a beautiful thing.


How I Met Your Mother: The Little Things

Yesterday I had a conversation with a very dear but very misguided friend about How I Met Your Mother. It went something like this.

Me: *tells some story about two people who start randomly dating each other*
Friend: Wow. Maybe if it weren’t for this small detail about the guy, he and the girl wouldn’t be together at all.
Me: Cool, right? You really should watch How I Met Your Mother. That show is all about tiny things having huge outcomes.
Friend: No way. But if you love HIMYM so much why don’t you blog about it?

So here I am, blogging about it.

How I Met Your Mother (henceforth referred to as HIMYM) teaches us about love. It teaches us about friendship. It teaches us about fate. But I think my favorite lesson from this show is the one which my friend, although misguided, astutely alluded to. HIMYM teaches us that the little things matter.

Honestly, how often in movies or TV shows do they actually pay attention to the little things in life? HIMYM gives us entire episodes about minuscule, seemingly unimportant happenings that, nevertheless, actually happen in real life, and therefore deserve some attention. Like loving a restaurant and then forgetting what it’s called or where you found it; like having video game tournaments or movie marathons with your best friends; like having a crappy boss or having to get rid of all the stuff you still have from old relationships.

But honoring the little things doesn’t just mean showing the common but unsung stuff that happens to everyone. Sometimes it means taking something little like a high-five and making it legendary. Or recognizing that previously random objects (red cowboy boots, blue french horn, yellow umbrella, ducky tie…) have the potential to really mean something. And sometimes it means taking little patterns of interaction between people and making sense out of them to use as rules for living life (hot-crazy scale, date-time continuum…). All of these incidental trinkets and moments become insanely meaningful for no other reason than because somebody decided that they were worth it.

HIMYM teaches us that life doesn’t have to be a TV show in order to be funny or important. It teaches us that TV should follow life, because life is important; whether it’s the little things or the big things, they all have equal weight in determining the shape that our lives take. HIMYM inspires us to be the kind of people to whom the little things matter, because life is more full that way. And it also teaches us that the little things sometimes aren’t so little at all.

“You see, the universe has a plan and that plan is always in motion. A butterfly flaps its wings, and it starts to rain. It’s a scary thought but it’s also kind of wonderful. All these little parts of the machine, constantly working, making sure that you end up exactly where you’re supposed to be, exactly when you’re supposed to be there. The right place at the right time.”

-Ted Mosby

Isn’t that an incredible thing? You don’t always have to be making big moves. You just have to be doing something. Something that makes your life fuller and better and more worth living. And by doing that something you’re making a difference to someone else somewhere else through something else. Or maybe you’re making a difference for yourself. In other words, that little thing that you did mattered. Whether it was walking your dog or practicing a new language or writing a blog, if you did something today, today you mattered. Today, the world changed because you were in it.

That’s what HIMYM teaches us, and I’ll take it.

Until next time.