My Chicago Fortune Teller

IMG_7488A few weeks ago, I walked into a room at the Hyatt Regency in Chicago and it looked familiar. The room had a modern feel and the view of Navy Pier was great. About 15 years ago I stayed at that hotel. Fifteen years ago I was there with my husband and two of my three kids. But this time, I was there with my boyfriend.

Back in 2002, or whatever year it was, I was living about an hour outside of St. Louis and was a stay-at-home mom raising three kids. I’m guessing the year because it pre-dated uploading things to Facebook to find later. I remember using Priceline to find a hotel and taking grade-school daughters to the city and leaving my toddler son at home with grandma. I remember visiting the American Girl store and riding a tour boat on the river and onto the lake on a very cold night.

So, how did I get from that hotel 15 years ago with a husband and two kids to now – that same hotel with a boyfriend? What the hell happened? And what if a fortune teller would have found me in the lobby of the hotel during that stay 15 years ago to tell me what my future would hold? Well, lemme tell ya.

I was in the lobby all those years ago, getting an overpriced Coke from the gift shop, and a lady in an olive-drab cape approached me. I thought she was a fellow guest, albeit, in an unfortunate outfit. Wrong. She said she was a fortune teller. My fortune teller. She asked if we could chat; she wanted to tell me something about my future. Of course, I thought she was a kook, but I was also mildly intrigued. So I followed her over to one of the couches in the lobby and thought “this oughta be good.”

Just then, she reminded me of my 5th grade year in New Jersey; some friends and I bought a pack of cigarettes at a local hospital’s vending machine. Holy shit! She’s for real! Before I could wrap my head around that one, she started talking. “Dawn, you poor thing. I’m wary of telling you of things to come, but feel I must so you can prepare yourself. In the not-too-distant future you will move across the country and have many surprises. People you trust will be dishonest. You won’t see it coming. You will be betrayed. And abandoned. You will lose your home at a really bad time. Rewarding job prospects will be non-existent and you will work low-paying jobs. You will work really hard to earn a Master’s degree, but you won’t use it. There will be long periods of time when you and your kids won’t get along. They will struggle. You will be brought to your knees and sometimes will feel that you don’t really want to be alive. Those times will scare you as you have never experienced them before. You will spend a lot of time crying and feeling anxious. You’ll feel traumatized. Oh, and you’ll have a heart attack. You will experience three life-altering phases. You will wonder why all of those things are happening to you. But don’t worry, you’ll be fine in the end. FYI, you’ll be back here in 15 years and you’ll have a wonderful time at a conference with a professor you call Jimmie Jailbait.

Uh…

What?

With that she got up and walked toward the lobby doors. I could see her trip and fall before she reached the revolving doors. She got up and left the hotel in a blob of olive-drabness.

I sat on that couch in a stupor. I didn’t have much time to think about what to do next, because a few minutes later, a woman with bright pink hair plopped down next to me. She looked like Cyndi Lauper. Before a word could escape my mouth she said:

“Hey there you hot piece of ass! I’m so glad you came to Chicago Dawn! I know you are feeling a bit lost now as a stay-at-home mom, but no worries. Things are certainly going to change for you in the next decade or so. You are going to have some big changes and surprises coming your way but you will handle them with grace. You are surrounded by love and people who truly love you. You will be helped by your first husband when the chips are down. And when despair comes, you will survive the waves like a ship toiling at sea. What you need will appear. And you are so strong. You will rise up like you always do. You will be hurt, and scared, and lost. But you will find strength you never knew you had. And you will find true friends. And you will continue to be a great mother. Stay the course sister. You will create something that helps others after you weather your own battles. You will invite people into your pain and triumph. Oh, and you’ll be back here in about 15 years at a conference for nerds and you’ll LOVE it. And the guy you’re with is a keeper. He’s gonna help you and you’re gonna help him.”

She gave me a long hug and got up to walk away.

I jumped up and said “Wait? What? First husband? You mean there will be more than one?!”

She just winked and said “Due time sweetness, due time. Just keep in mind that all this stuff happens for you – not to you. You’ll figure that out too. It’s all in the way you think about things. You’re gonna do great. And you’re gonna do great things. Oh – and that drab chick that was here before me – I tripped her on the way out and told her to go back for more fortune teller training. Her delivery sucks.”

With that, she was gone. But not before she stopped at the lobby bar for a six-pack to go.

__________________________________________

Anyone who knows me well knows I often say “If you would have told me then, I would never have believed you.” That’s what I kept thinking during that recent stay in Chicago. That thought comes to mind often, especially at the holidays. For example, if something odd, challenging, sad, or wonderful happens, I often think “Wow, it’s the 4th of July. If you would have told me last year on the 4th of July when I was (fill in the blank) that today I’d be (fill in the blank), I never would’ve believed you. Yep, life sure changes.

And there are many narratives we can use to tell the stories of our past. So many lenses to look through. So many thoughts we can create.

Lately, I’ve learned so much from life coaches Martha Beck, Brooke Castillo, and Susan Hyatt. They share their own work and the wisdom of many teachers. I listen to their podcasts and/or read their books. I think Oprah SuperSoul podcasts are great too as she interviews wonderful teachers/guests. Check them out if you are interested in looking at life through a new lens.

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Marching Band by James G.

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Waiting for the runner up band to be called at Nationals can be the best and worst feeling in the world. Your fate is decided in that instant when the announcer either does or does not say your name. This announcement of runner up and first place had serious implications in my freshman and senior year of marching band. This announcement was followed by tears both times. In between these two years were two seasons of the band declining.

My freshman year I was completely new to the idea of being in a competition band. My freshman year was my first year playing Tuba and I was introduced to a whole new world and intense level of music. This new thing was called high school marching band. During the summer before my freshman year rehearsals began and they seemed very similar to any other band I had been in until about the third rehearsal when the marching part was introduced. After that rehearsal the reality behind the concept of marching band hit me. I thought to myself. I have to march, and play? Those two tasks are hard enough to do by themselves. Not being a person that quits often I accepted the challenge and decided to stick with it. My section leader Adam was a wonderful leader and was a great teacher. He kept me in line throughout the summer rehearsals and band camp. As the year went on I progressed fairly well. Soon enough competitions started rolling around. The first seven competitions we won first place and then it was time for us to get first at Nationals. Nationals isn’t just a walk in the park by any means. Our school had never won at Nationals and I believed with all my heart that this was the year it was going to happen. Nationals were held at the Naval Academy football field in Annapolis Maryland. All I really remember from the show is the very beginning feeling the cold wind whip around freezing my body and seeing my breath slowly rise above my head as we were introduced and given the thumbs up from the judges to begin. I also remember this same feeling of the wind blowing throughout the stadium like a wind tunnel and my breath rising at the end of our show, but the only difference was that I was drenched in sweat. The band as a whole had a very good show, and it was by far the best of the year. After the show a few hours passed by and it was time for awards. There were about twenty teams in our division and they started calling the names of the bands in their respective place starting with twentieth all the way down to sixth and the name Susquehanna Township had not yet been called. With our hopes rising higher and higher with every band announced three more names were called “Annapolis Area Christian HS, Morris Knolls HS, and Shepherd Hill HS”. This left Susquehanna Township and Timber Creek HS. I looked at my good friend David and said “Yo I think we’re gonna to do it”. He responded with a simple affirmative head nod and said “Yessir”! The next high school called earned second place and was Susquehanna Township HS. This was the most devastating moment of my freshman year of marching band. As hard as this was to accept I had to muscle up a fake smile and clap/cheer as if I was happy with the second place finish. When we got on the bus to go home tears streamed down my face and I kept saying to myself “I am not letting this happen again”.

Nearing the end of freshman year we started rehearsals before school even let out for summer break. The band rehearsing way ahead of schedule was a great sign for the upcoming year. I now was experienced in the field of marching band and I honestly believed that I knew all there was to know concerning marching band. During my sophomore year my main focus was ME.  The only thing I worried about was having a perfect show every week. The position of a sophomore in this band is very gray because you are no longer a rookie, but at the same time sophomores aren’t really in a leadership position. This was great for me, but in the end I think it hurt me that I only focused on myself. What needed to be done for the good of the band and helping others wasn’t on my agenda. I was very selfish and it was all about me. I should have been more of a leader to the freshman even though that wasn’t my position, but I knew most accurately what they were going through since I was just a freshman the previous year. The senior class my sophomore year was talented but their main focus wasn’t winning at Nationals. This angered me very deeply and it was so blatant that all they worried about was having a good time and looking out for themselves. I realized this and began to feel bad because I was a reflection of the leadership in the band and we could not win with this mindset and lack of dedication to being one band united trying to attain the goal of getting a gold at Nationals. Then the competitions started approaching and we started to somewhat get our acts together. We began collecting our first place trophies at all of the minor competitions, and again it was time for Nationals. During Nationals weekend of my sophomore year I came to practice with a completely different mindset than I had at any previous competition. I basically had my blinders on and didn’t let anything distract me and I had a very productive practice that Saturday. Then Sunday I kept this mindset throughout the whole day, including the performance. This again was our best performance of the year, but I saw some if the other bands before and after our band and I saw the writing on the wall, but I stayed positive and figured that we would still pull it out. I definitely wasn’t as optimistic as my freshman year, but I still thought we would win. Just as the names were announced the previous year, the same occurred my sophomore year. As we got down to the top five I began to get filled with that same excitement I had freshman year, but that all went away as we hear Susquehanna Township’s name called for third place. This definitely was not satisfying by any means, but I couldn’t say I didn’t see it coming. On the bus ride home I didn’t cry but I just started thinking what has to be done next year so that we can get a National Championship. Not having the first place trophy from Nationals gave me an empty feeling at the end of the season. I did not want to have this feeling again.

Next it was my junior year and I could finally start somewhat of a leadership role in the band. I just helped out the freshman somewhat, but the seniors still had the most leadership responsibilities over the band. The only problem with this senior class is that they were very petty and immature. They fought over things that were very minute and they always wanted to horse around and just have fun. This affected not only the band, but the band instructors. Mr. P, my band director had to spend entirely too much time telling students to act right and stop horsing around. Many times he would say “This is the kind of stupid stuff that’s holding us back”. That statement couldn’t have been more true. We held ourselves back from greatness that season and the result of Nationals really made it evident. I entered Nationals weekend my junior year with that same intensity as I did the previous year. I was ready and had my head on straight when it was time for us to perform but evidently everybody else wasn’t in that same place mentally. We laid an egg at Nationals that year and got a fourth place finish. This show was far away from our best performance of the year. People were making simple mistakes that we hadn’t made in months. I knew that we had no chance of winning that year after that horrible excuse for a show that we performed. On the bus ride home no tears came, but instead I was just mad at the seniors. Their leadership, or lack thereof seemingly made us regress for our Nationals performance. On the way home I realized that now it was my turn to be a senior section leader and I promised to myself I would not disappoint. I knew that if we didn’t get a National Championship my senior year, my whole marching band career would be a bust. Nearing the end of my junior year we started rehearsals and I knew it was now all on me. It was now my turn to lead…

Finally it arrived, senior year was here. It was my turn to lead my band to a first place finish. Now that I was a senior I had a large number of responsibilities. These responsibilities ranged from keeping the underclassmen in line, to reporting progress to my instructor, to creating and teaching choreography for the band. I sat down with my band instructor Mr. P during school one day, and I asked him “What’s the band gonna do this year?” he responded with a calm “That’s up to you guys, especially you seniors”. This was just another sign that the fate of the band was basically in our (the seniors) hands. I took this conversation we had to heart and made one very large change. That change was my attitude and seriousness about marching band. The same intensity and mentality I had going into the Nationals my performance during my sophomore and junior years, I had that all year during my senior year. Every single marching practice, every music rehearsal, and every single run through of the show from the beginning of the season to the end was at full intensity and one hundred percent effort. This mindset was something missing from the band leaders in previous years. One hundred percent wasn’t given at all times and the intensity wasn’t there.

So the season started differently than every other season of my marching band career. Our first competition we finished in second place. This was definitely a setback for the band because we have never experienced a loss this early in the season. Even though this harped at my mind and thoughts I kept the same attitude and told everybody not to worry about it, but instead to work harder and harder to make sure this never happens again. After this first competition we got back on track and won first place at all of the following competitions and finally it was time for my last Nationals weekend as a part of the Susquehanna Township Marching Band. During the Saturday practice I gave a speech on how important the Saturday practice was and how it would affect our performance Sunday. The band took heed to the wise words I gave them and we had a great pre-Nationals practice. Then Sunday rolled around and it was almost time to go onto the field and I looked at my friend David who was now also a senior and section leader and said “Last chance bro, we gotta do it”. He responded with a simple look into my eyes and we both understood how serious this was and we simultaneously nodded our heads. No ore words needed to be said. We marched onto the field and again it was cold and the lights at Met Life Stadium in Meadowlands New Jersey bounced off of the metal instruments giving our band somewhat of a glow. We performed and the show was nearly perfect. It was the best show of my four years of high school. After the show all that was left was the wait. This year I was on the field to receive the award for my school since I was a senior section leader. So the announcer started at twentieth place and got all the way down to second place and our school still had not been announced. The announcer then said “In second place, we have” this seemed to be the longest pause of my life and he finished with “Lenape HS”. That only meant one thing that Susquehanna Township Marching Band won first at Nationals. The announcer then went on to say “And the winner of the 2012 Group 2 National Championship is Susquehanna Township.” In that moment my life seemed so complete. My bandmates in the stands cheered and screamed their heads off, but I couldn’t because I was on the field and wanted to be respectful. I looked over to my friend David and said “We did it.” Standing in the parking lot waiting to meet up with the rest of my bandmates tears began to form in my eyes and stream down my face. I looked up into the sky and said “Thank you.”