What I Am Thankful For, In Six Tweets

Christmastime

In a little, much-needed reflection, I’ve spent Christmas Day alone in my Upper West Side apartment. Pandora has been playing Christmas tunes all-day long, and my oven has been acting as a makeshift fireplace. Thankfully, this isn’t my only Christmas this year.

We are celebrating Christmas Day on Dec. 27 because that’s when my dad and I can both be home with mom and Rachel. We’re used to celebrating Christmas on a different day than most; it’s great for Santa too because its one less house he has to cram in his busy schedule on Dec. 25.

This year has been one amazing roller coaster. I never imagined I would be accepted to the graduate school of my dreams. Quite frankly, I didn’t even think I could graduate from Florida State University. I’ve gone from being born in a town of 2,000 people to living in a city of 8 million people. Now that I’m here, I’ve completely fallen in love with city life. There’s something strangely freeing about not needing a car. I live right at a train stop, and that train can take me all the way to the northern tip of Manhattan or all the way out to the airport in Queens.

There’s no way I could have made it here without the amazing support system I have. I remember crying on the phone with my parents when I was accepted to Columbia. I remember living with my grandparents over the summer in rural Alabama. I love talking on the phone nonstop with my little sister. It’s pretty undeniable—no matter how dysfunctional my family is (and, believe me, we pretty much take the cake), I couldn’t be half the person I am today without them.
Rockefeller Christmas Tree

During the Christmas season, there is so much to do. I went to the Rockefeller Plaza Christmas tree; it’s absolutely beautiful. Yesterday, Christmas Eve, it snowed! Luckily, it wasn’t cold enough for the snow to stick and get slushy and nasty on the ground. There’s a good chance I’ll come home from Florida around New Year’s Eve to see snow on the ground. The temperatures are supposed to drop pretty significantly over the next few days.

This year has been one I’ll never be able to forget. Now, I’ll probably forget some of what I’ve learned (that’s what happens when you go to school), but I’ll never forget the people who have made it amazing. It doesn’t even feel like I could have been in undergrad at all this year, but it wasn’t even eight months ago that I graduated from Florida State University.

Graduation Photo Westcott

Then I spent the summer bonding with and learning from my amazing grandparents in a tiny town in Alabama. I did a little bit of work there for the local, hometown paper called the Fairhope Courier, but it wasn’t anything big.

We threw my grandparents a surprise 85th birthday party in July. There were almost 85 people there, we rented out a big party room and I put together a video celebrating everything they’ve done for all of us over the years. I still don’t think they know how much they’ve done—just by being there—for us over the years.

My grandfather in particular; he’s not one to be overly emotional. I don’t mean to say he doesn’t show his love because, believe you me, he does, but most of his time is spent in his chair. Over the summer, he and I had some of the most amazing bonding time we’ve ever had. “You’ve got to be humble,” he told me countless times; “Humility is the most important thing you can have for yourself.”

My older sister met, and fell in love with, a great guy (we’ll try not to hold his love for Auburn University against him). He’s probably the best thing to happen in her life in the past two years. We’re all so glad to welcome him to the craziness… err, I mean welcome him to the family. Well, I guess those are the same thing.

Then I moved to New York City. I knew it would be an amazing adventure—perhaps the greatest of my life so far. What I didn’t know was the amazing level of education I would be getting, the amazing people I would meet or the amazing things this city has to offer to anyone. I can’t believe I’m halfway to a master’s degree! Most ADHD-diagnosed folks can barely get a bachelor’s degree—only eight percent of those diagnosed with ADHD earn a college degree, compared to the 20 percent who go to college. Here I am not only getting a bachelor’s degree, but I was inducted into the Garnet and Gold Scholar Society, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, AND I’m halfway to a master’s degree.

Since August, I’ve met some of the most inspiring people in my life. We’re all on an adventure together, an adventure that, for some of us, changed drastically from what we expected. I’m talking to folks in Karachi, Pakistan about a job possibility after graduation! That’s the kind of globalization and prestige I work with at this school. Every single morning I’m in awe of what I’m doing. I find myself extremely lucky (and I mean, quite possibly, the luckiest ever) to be here, and I’m not going to spoil these opportunities.

As the year wraps up, Happy Christmas to you and your family. Even if you don’t celebrate this holiday, enjoy some quality time with those you love. You never know how long you’ll have with them. Happy Christmas, and an even happier new year! God bless you all!

September 11, 2012

Why? That is the only thing I can ask. Why? Why did so many innocent people need to die? Why did the city of New York have to be devastated for years after this pointless attack?

I recognize that I am lucky. I am amazing, unquestionably and irrevocably lucky. My father is a pilot for American Airlines. He flies 757s and 767s—he has flown almost every airplane American Airlines has in its fleet; in 2001 he was flying Airbus A300s.

I remember 11 years ago. I remember he had woken up and left for work a few hours before I left for school. I was 11 years old, and I had no idea where his trip was to. I remember going to school like it was any other day. I’m not going to rewrite something I’ve already written, so you can read my experience here.

I write this post to say I now live in New York City. Last night, Sept. 11, 2012, I went downtown. Now, I’ve been to Ground Zero before—several times, in fact. But last night was the first time I have seen the tribute lights. To say they were amazing; to say they were awe-inspiring; to say I cried is barely scraping the surface. My father was nowhere near New York City 11 years ago. Dad wasn’t even in the air. I didn’t know that, and—to an 11-year-old—everything is about them, so my mind created the worst possible scenario. I thought my dad was the pilot on those planes. I know at any given moment there are thousands of planes in the air (and, therefore, thousands of pilots), but at that moment, on that day, I just knew it was him. Immediately I started thinking of all the things I never got to tell him. I started crying, thinking I’d never get to see him again.

I have to say this again: I am lucky, so lucky. He was not on those planes. He came home immediately and picked me up from school. He shielded me from the horrifying images. For many years that followed, he studied everything that happened. He bought the TIME Magazines, Newsweeks, New York Times, with stories about the attacks. For years, he shielded me from that literature. He knew I would learn about it elsewhere, but he didn’t want me to see it. Eventually, (I was probably 15 or 16) we had a heartfelt conversation about what happened, and I understood why he had shielded me. At 11-years-old, my mind wasn’t prepared to fully comprehend what happened.

Now, 11 years later, I was fully prepared. Well, I thought I was. Then I went downtown last night.

I was many things, but prepared was not one of them. I walked past One World Trade Center, known colloquially as Freedom Tower, and it was lit up red, white and blue from base to top. As if that weren’t enough, I saw—for the first time in person—the tribute lights. Those lights are amazing. Photographs will never do them justice. They are the brightest lights I’ve ever seen, and they seem to go forever upward; up toward the sky, toward Heaven.

My dad will be in town tomorrow evening on happenstance. This is his first trip to NYC since I have been living here, and I’m really excited to see him!

So, I write this blog post with only one purpose. To honor and recognize those who have been lost. Know you are never gone from our hearts. Those lights from Ground Zero are pathways to you up in heaven.

Home

I’ve been told that “home is where the heart is,” and I know it’s the people in a home that make it homely. There’s no question leaving home is one of the hardest young people ever do in their lives, but I also believe moving away from home is a requirement. From my own experiences, “home” is a state of mind more than a location. I have many homes, and among them are buildings, rooms, piers and, probably the most homely of them all, is in my parents’ arms. There’s something amazingly settling about being held by mom or dad.

Home is dysfunctional. It is that distinct lack of functionality that makes home home. Home is not the perfect, two-and-a-half children family. Home is as many kids as there are dogs craziness. Home is different for every person. But one similarity every “home” shares is an unquestionable sense of connection. Homes connect families. Home brings mom, dad and kids together around the dinner table. Homes bring siblings into crazy (and often pointless) arguments.

Tallahassee became home. I started saying “I have to go home in August,” when I would visit Naples for breaks from school. It got to that level of comfort. It was that familiar; I think homeliness is due to a kind of familiarity. When we become accustomed to the toothbrush being on that side of the sink, the length of time it would take to run out of hot water in the shower or how often the dogs need to go outside we allow ourselves to become part of the home we are in. Home is the familiar. Home is the usual. Home is the comfort. Home is mom asking whether you want fried or scrambled eggs. Home is dad waking you up (against your will) to go fishing at 6 a.m. Home is being around the people who you know love you and loving them in return. Home is that one particular harbor. Home is that song of movie that reminds you of someone you once lost.

It has been 1,490 days since I left for college the first time. On June 8, 2008, I left the comfort of my parents’ home to embark on what would become the greatest period of personal growth I have experienced yet. Actually, you know what? It wasn’t my greatest period of personal growth, it was my greatest time of overall growth: personally, professionally and educationally. Tallahassee, while maybe not the “educational center of the world,” was exactly where I needed to be for the four years I spent there. I learned so much from my friends, teachers and mentors at Florida State and Florida A&M Universities. I am truly grateful, and there are not enough words in the English language (or the Spanish language, for that matter) to express the depth of my gratitude.

Leaving home is hard, but I believe it’s necessary. Leaving that which is familiar pushes you out of your comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone allows you to explore part of you that may not have ever surfaced at home. What happens if you leave your house at 1 a.m. while mom and dad sleep? You’re “sneaking out.” That same act is called “going out” when you leave your dorm room at 1 a.m. Some call it freedom; I’ve heard some call it hell. Whatever it means to each individual is decided by them and only them. Leaving home allows immeasurable growth of your person. Leaving home allows you to create new homes. Leaving home allows you to create new families. It allows you to determine your own fortune. Leaving home allows you to come back home.

I write this to say, simply—very simply—home is a state of mind, not a state of address.

The Old Man and the Dog

It’s commonly known that dogs are “man’s best friend.” Our family had dogs growing up, and we knew they were part of the family; hell, they wouldn’t let us forget it! This summer I’m living in Fairhope, Ala. with my grandparents and their Maltese, Tootie (AKA Tootsie, Toot-toot, Toot or Tootie-fruity). I can honestly say my grandfather—who our family calls “Pawpaw”—and Tootie are two peas in a pod. They go together like peas and carrots. They’re Bonnie and Clyde, Simon & Garfunkel, Delilah and Sampson. They’re the Old Man and the Dog.

Now, the funniest part about this duo is the separation anxiety. I don’t know who has it worse, Tootie or Pawpaw. If Pawpaw goes off somewhere without taking the dog, Tootie whines and cries until he returns. If Tootie is ever being taken care of by someone else (like when they were in Tallahassee for my graduation and my friend Joe took care of him), Pawpaw worries and asks about him constantly.

My grandfather and his dog

It’s the kind of bond that man and dog can only share. There is no bond like it. I remember growing up with dogs in our house. We had a Cocker spaniel named Mikey, a golden retriever named Mango, and now we have two Dachshunds and a Cavalier King Charles spaniel: Oscar, Bella and Chip (respectively). The dogs are without question part of our family. Well, let’s be honest, they’re probably the best fed and most unquestionably liked ones in our family. If we make breakfast—they get some. We know their favorite kinds of people food. Chips is crazy about apples, lettuce and celery—anything that crunches, really. All three of them love pancakes with syrup, popcorn and eggs, grits and bacon. As all dogs do, they love ice cream too.

But when it comes to dogs, no dog I’ve ever met can compare to Mango.

Mango lies on my bed

My uncle lived on a house boat when he got Mango as a puppy. Well, in about 9 months she had grown to be “too big” for his boat, so he asked us to watch after her for a year or two until he could get settled down. Thank goodness my mom was smart enough to say “no, we’ll fall in love with her. We can take her, and we’ll give you a puppy if she has any, but we won’t watch her for a year and give her back.” Brilliant move, mom. Fall in love, we did. That dog was one of us. When I was growing up, I had terrible trouble sleeping. I would lie in bed, awake, for hours and hours. When we got Mango from Uncle Bimbo (Yep, that’s his name), I was seven years old. Somehow she taught herself to do this—she would lie in my bed, often with her head resting upon my chest, while I fell asleep. Once I was asleep (it took me years to figure out how she knew I was asleep), she would get out of my bed and go into my parents room to sleep at the foot of their bed. When I fall asleep, I get very still—I stop squirming; that’s how she would know I was asleep. Well, as a child, I would get upset because “someone would let her out of my room” by the time I woke up. I used to ask “Who let Mango out of my room last night?!” My parents and sisters all said it wasn’t them. Who could it have been? Let me tell you how brilliant she is—in case you haven’t already figured that out. She would get up from my bed, jump down and go to the door. Then she would jump on her hind legs and gingerly nudge my door handle. Well, the door opensinto my bedroom, so she had to be very cautious. Once she hit the handle she would fall back to all four legs. Then she would ever-so-gently nudge the door with paw, then nose, then paw, then nose until it opened just enough for her to get out.

That, my friends, is one brilliant dog. She was our family’s protector; that’s why she would always go to the foot of my parents’ bed at night. It was her spot to keep us all protected.

If you have a dog in your life, love them. Love them because they love you.

Oscar loves to burrow in the covers