The Origami Surprise, Or What I Learned in 2012

In the early days of a new year, I like to think about the old one. It’s hard to say good-bye to a friend who has been with you for 525,600 minutes, especially when it was as awesome as 2012. Ah, 2012. The year that opened with me watching fireworks with friends in Philadelphia and closed with me watching Carson Daily with friends in my hometown. In between, I got into grad school, graduated from college, moved to a new city to start grad school, made some blankets, led some tours,  read great books, wrote papers, and laughed. A lot. 2012 was a really happy year, and I’d be extra sad to see it go if 2013 didn’t promise to be equally good. There are no major milestones in this year, like graduations, but I do have my five year high school reunion this year, and maybe an internship, so 2013 will have its own set of magic moments. Here are few lessons from its predecessor.

  1. Be Kind.

In my mind, kindness is an undervalued virtue. Time and time again, I was reminded that a little kindness can go a long way. So, one of my lessons from 2012 was the power of kindness, and to that end, I’ve dubbed 2012 THE YEAR OF KINDNESS. Which reminds me of one of my favorite songs by Regina Spektor.

2. Work Hard.

News flash: graduate school is a lot harder than undergrad. But with a lot of hard work, I made it through the first semester. Not to mention, hard work also helped me get through my last semester of college. And putting all of my energy into my jobs as a TA and a tour guide have been totally worth it.

3. Celebrate.

If you don’t know me very well, you probably don’t know that I love holidays. All of them. Top Five: Fourth of July, my birthday (What? It’s Teacher’s Day in Lebanon), Valentine’s Day (more on that later), New Year’s, and Thanksgiving (Christmas is #6). I love recognizing the big holidays that appear on the calendar, and also all the little random holidays throughout the year. (February 3 is National Carrot Day, so you’d better believe that Indiana J.J. Bond and I are going to be LIVING IT UP.) It makes an ordinary day extra special. So, I spent a lot of time in 2012 making sure other people were aware that yes, Monday was worth celebrating because Monday, November 19, was Play Monopoly Day. For Valentine’s Day, I made dozens of cards to mail and give, handed out chocolate and felt fortune cookies, and had a blast. Even if I’m the only one having fun, it’s totally worth it. Sometimes (and by “sometimes” I mean “almost always” ), it’s worth being a little ridiculous if it makes other people smile.

4. Be Yourself.

Every year, I get a little bit closer to becoming the person I was made to be. When I get to Heaven, I’d like God to say it was fun watching me grow up. So, to grow up to make God, and my parents, and my friends, and the Universe proud of me, I have to be myself. It’s kind a deal breaker. I call my best self True Hannah and try to make sure she’s cool with my life. At the end of the day, I don’t cringe at myself when I remember something stupid I said. I scold myself for not being myself. Except for that time I went into a Plato’s Closet twice in one week, and convinced one of the employees that the first time it was actually my identical twin sister Emily. Because then I was only not being myself in retrospect, and it was hilarious. But mostly, I try to live up to my beliefs, and potential, and sense of humor, so I can look myself in the mirror at the end of the day while I brush my teeth and be proud of a day well lived. In 2012, I think I did a pretty good job of being myself, and I’d like to see more of that girl Hannah in 2013.

5. Venture Out.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m actually rather shy. If I don’t know you very well, I’m very nervous when I’m around you, and I’d much rather stay in my safe, cozy comfort zone. But in 2012, I literally danced in the rain at my college’s party for seniors. I flew to a different city by myself to ask questions about a graduate program rather than just sending lots of emails. I even stayed the night in a hostel. During the summer, I played trivia weekly with my friends. Four years ago, as a college freshman, I definitely wouldn’t have danced in the rain, never mind going to the senior party in the first place. Now that I’ve experienced these small adventures, I can’t wait for even more. Which leads me to…

6. Talk to Strangers.

While I claim to be shy, I’ve never had a problem talking to people. (I was voted Most Outgoing in my high school class, which is why I plan to dress like Emily Dickinson at my five year reunion.) I’m constantly talking to strangers, but in 2012, it paid off in the most delightful way.

In mid-April, I flew to Washington, D.C. to visit a prospective graduate school. It was a trip of about 26 hours, flying out of Pensacola with connections in Atlanta. The trip itself was productive, but uneventful until I was in Atlanta on Friday night, waiting for my flight to Pensacola, where my roommate would pick me up and drive me back to campus. I was sitting at the gate reading a magazine, when an older Japanese lady was parked next to me in her wheelchair by an attendant. I smiled, and went back to Glamour, until the lady was having trouble with her brakes. I was close, so I helped her get settled. But it  didn’t end there. The lady, whose name was Mrs. Kazuko, pulled origami paper from between the folds of her Japanese movie magazine, and proceeded to fold two paper birds for me to use as bookmarks. For the next two hours, we were best friends. She watched my stuff when I went to get coffee for the two of us. She told me about her son, and daughter in law and granddaughter who she lived with in Pensacola, and I told her about college in Alabama. She informed me that she and her “girlfriends” taught tea ceremonies at schools in Pensacola, while I delighted in her use of the word “girlfriends”. We exchanged addresses and hugs when it was time to board, and she waved excitedly to me when she saw me boarding the plane after her. I thought nothing of it, until December, when a package was forwarded to me from my college mailroom. As soon as I saw it, I started to cry. My parents were concerned, and then sniffing with me, because inside that box was a bouquet of origami flowers, and a card with an origami Santa from Mrs. Kazuko, that wished me a Merry Christmas, thanked me for my help, and told me to call her. I’ve written her a letter that will be mailed as soon as I finish this post. It was one of the most magical moments of 2012, and I can’t wait for the story to continue in 2013.

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Flowers from Mrs. Kazuko, with one of the original birds. Seriously, how beautiful are these?

7. Stay in touch.

Mrs. Kazuko made this even more apparent for me, but keeping in contact with people is so worthwhile. I love writing letters. I love mail in general. But staying in touch with people is more than just writing letters. It’s texting, and phone calls, and three hours of Skyping, and emails, and yes, even a Facebook post on a friend’s birthday. I said good-bye to a lot of friends when I graduated in May, but thanks to letters and modern technology and holidays, I still keep up with a lot of them, and I’m so grateful for this. But staying in touch is more than just checking up on people randomly in the middle of August. It’s also venturing outside of your comfort zone while still checking in with yourself to make sure you’re still okay with what’s happening. It’s asking if you put your best effort into your weekly book review. It’s answering the question “What Would True Hannah Do? “ and being proud of the answer. It’s living in the moment, and being kind, and being happy.

I don’t normally solicit comments actively from anyone who might read these letters that I put out into the Universe, but now I’m curious. What did you learn in 2012? Who was your Mrs. Kazuko in your 2012? What are you proud of accomplishing? What do you plan to do in 2013? I’d love to know, so I can cheer you on. Here’s to the Year of the Snake, the Year of International Water Cooperation, the Year of Quinoa, and the Year of Emerald!

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