What Papa Taught Me

Everyone that lives eventually dies, and that is the way the world works. Some deaths are more tragic than others, which is unfortunate. But some deaths, while still extremely upsetting, are long anticipated, and observing the process allows you to grow as a person. This was my experience with my great-grandfather, Nelson Dembs.

I have had a great year so far, but certain emotions have been overwhelming me. I am at a point in my life where certain questions begin to form regarding who I am and what I desire, and not knowing the answers to these questions has been difficult for me recently. I have always been a very deep thinker, but my mind does not stop racing when certain thoughts come into my mind. Recently I have been attempting to cope with this overwhelming whirl of feelings, by minimizing the depth of my thoughts. By trying to go shallow. In my heart this felt wrong because I knew that my mind was capable of so much more than thinking petty thoughts. I spent many weeks on my phone and online for most of my days, worried about things like social media, Netflix, obsessing about things that really don’t matter, and never truly living in the moment. I was not unhappy; I was numb. I just did not want to feel anything. Maybe this was right for me at the time; maybe I just needed a break from always feeling things so deeply.

But when my Papa passed away, my whole perspective changed. I had a special relationship with my Papa, even though he lived in Florida. I always wished that I could be with him. It’s so strange, because even though I am still grieving over his death, I feel that now he can always be watching over me, and he can now guide me through my life more than ever. The distance between us was hard for me, but now I constantly feel his presence.

Talking with my family about all of the amazing qualities of my Papa, and putting my own thoughts regarding my Papa together in my eulogy, brought me to the realization that my Papa lived a meaningful, fulfilled life because of his morals and desire to live. My Papa changed the world, and he impacted the lives of many, many people. He didn’t do this by keeping himself distracted with self-doubt or fear of not being liked or obsessing about how he looked or what he ate. He chose to live in the moment. Because he chose to live this way he was able make difficult and life-changing decisions– for example–he decided to hitchhike from Rochester, New York, to here in Detroit to provide a better future, not just for himself, but for every one of of his family members. He wasn’t thinking about the “what-ifs”, he wasn’t thinking about what other people thought about his actions, he just did it, and this courageous move of my great-grandfather is why my family is here today, and why I have a good life today.

My Papa lived in the moment, and he did not dwell on the past or the future. He once told my mom and my uncle, “There is sunrise and sunset, and this, right here, is the sunshine.” He chose to live in the sunshine.

Now that my Papa is watching over me, I want to live the lessons he taught me. He taught me to be resillient, through all of the personal and financial battles he fought throughout the years. He taught me the importance of family, and how I should enjoy my time spent with them as much as possible. He taught me to think of the well-being of others as well as myself, and to live for today.

As I begin winter vacation, and head off to Israel, I have really been to trying to limit my time on Instagram and Snapchat. This is because I can be happy and have fun without having to publicize what I am doing everyday, and I also don’t have to spend time on my trip checking up on what other people are doing. I want to focus living in the present, and I want to truly enjoy my time with my family, and to figure out how I may be able to help others. This is how I want to live now—in honor of one of the greatest men I have ever known, my Papa Nelson.


Bittersweet Endings

Endings have always been extremely difficult for me. It started when I was little and attended a day camp, and I sobbed on the last day out of the fear of never seeing the people at the camp ever again. I didn’t even talk to most of them, but just the thought of the possibility that I may never see them again freaked me out for some reason. My mom convinced me that she had the list of everyone who attended the camp along with their phone numbers. This succeeded in calming me down and shutting me up and I never mentioned the list ever again. I imagine it was just the thought of knowing that if I wanted to, I could reach out to the people from the camp.

Another time, I attended a Traverse City Beach Bums baseball game up north, and I was playing with this sweet girl on the playground. We played for hours, and when the baseball game was over and we had to leave I started bawling my eyes out yet again. My mom convinced me once more that she had a list–this time of every single person at the baseball game. My gullible, 4-year old self believed her I never asked to see the list; it just made me feel better that I knew that she had it “just in case.”

More recently, different endings have brought me challenges, like graduating from middle school and leaving summer camp after almost eight weeks.

I really thought I hated middle school. It seemed to last an eternity. While I was there, I counted down the days for it to be over already. Then, all of a sudden, it was June of my eighth grade year. It began to hit me that I would be leaving the people in my grade, many that I had known since preschool, because I was starting private school in the fall. That thought was pretty hard for me to handle. I was so excited to attend my new school, but leaving people who I’d been with since kindergarten and pre-school made me feel extremely upset. This time, though, I had my own list (and it was real, not a lie!) and I knew I could contact any of my old friends at any time. I was still, however, very sad to say goodbye.

After days of crying over the ending of my five great years spent at West Hills, I began to look forward to my summer at camp. I went to camp for almost eight weeks this summer, and I had the most amazing time. I built upon and strengthened so many friendships and had some really incredible experiences that I don’t believe I could have experienced anywhere else. As the last few days approached, I was convinced that I felt ready to leave camp after being away from home for so long. Well, I woke up the morning that we were leaving, went into the dining hall, and I suddenly remembered that I only have one more summer as a camper after this one. At that point, I started sobbing uncontrollably and the tears wouldn’t stop until an hour into the bus ride. And they continued throughout my first week at home.

I’ve learned a couple of really important things through my experiences. One is to really appreciate the present moment. When I find myself wishing that something is over, I will try to remember that, no matter what, I will be sad when it’s over so I will try not to waste my time wanting to be done. I want to learn to appreciate the present.

The other thing I have learned is that with an ending comes a beginning. Middle school ended. Camp ended. Now, I am beginning high school. I miss my old friends and my camp friends and my great teachers and counselors, but I know I will make new friends and have new amazing teachers and mentors. So far, my first few days at my new school have been great. If I stayed at camp, if I stayed at my middle school, if I stayed at that baseball game, or if I stayed at that day camp, I wouldn’t have had even half of the amazing experiences I have had. I realize now that sometimes I have to let things go to allow new, wonderful blessings to come in.

So, high school, here I come! I am so excited to get involved and to learn and experience everything that high school has to offer. And I look forward to the future–to see what other beautiful beginnings will come from my bittersweet endings.

No fake lists needed.

Best of luck with all of your own endings and beginnings,


My Social Media Vacay

Well, I deleted social media for awhile. In our generation, deleting social media is pretty much like cutting off a limb. However, I won’t lie and say that it was that hard of a decision for me, because it truly wasn’t. While on social media, I was starting to see and feel some things that I didn’t like. I was beginning to realize that every time I went on social media, I was becoming really irritated by all of the fake-ness that I was scrolling through. And the worst part was, I was also being fake. I was looking for the perfect picture to post…judging others by their not-so-perfect-pictures…spending a lot of time seeing how many “likes” I was getting… my self-esteem drifting lower and lower…

I started to get a very empty feeling. I was becoming sad and frustrated that I rely on social media so tremendously, and that most of the time that I was spending with my friends was spent scrolling on social media, or posing for pictures to be posted on social media. I began to realize that social media promotes the opposite of “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”, because very few people were showing  their real and authentic selves, including me. I was getting so caught up in all of it…thinking I could really get to know people just by looking at pictures of them, and that they could get to know me, too.  And that just can’t be the case….there is so much more to people other than how they look. I was losing track of what I already knew..that how someone looks does not determine who he or she is….it is simply one small aspect of a person. There is so much more to a person. It’s like reading one page of a book and thinking that you know the whole story. Everyone knows this on some level, but very few people seem to actually remember this when they are social media.

Sometimes I heard people criticizing others’ pictures or calling them ugly,  and it felt awful to me that we were judging people’s pictures. Social media also caused me to dislike myself because of my insecurities about my looks. It caused me to compare myself to others, which is always a dangerous thing to do. In a teenage girl’s world, almost everything about social media is just about the pictures. And there is so much more to life than how someone looks in a picture. So, I thought, why am I wasting so much of my life scrolling through pictures that cause me to compare myself to others and cause me to feel bad about myself? So, one day I just did it. I deleted all of my social media. And I will share with you what I learned from being offline for awhile.

Even after a few hours, I noticed I had far less negative comments about myself floating through my mind. I am very prone to comparing myself to others, so I would become self-conscious when I scrolled through pictures of people. Of course I still often hear those negative voices inside my head about myself  (remember, I am a 14-year-old girl).  However, I realized that when I was in the mood to do something, I began to do other things I hadn’t done in a long time. I rode my bike. I walked my dog. I hung out with my parents and actually talked to them. What I really rediscovered, however, was my love of reading. Reading books rather than going on my phone, I realized, minimized the amount of thoughts I had about comparing myself to others. Books, even though they were fiction, reminded me that people are so much more than their pictures. Characters in books are seen at all angles. You learn about their insides, their feelings, their flaws, their passions… There is so much more depth to them and so much more that I can learn and know about them than I can by only seeing a pretty picture. So, even though the books that I am now reading aren’t real-life, to me, reading feels far more real than social media. I am sure that some teenagers have a higher self-esteem than I do, so maybe seeing pictures of other people all of the time doesn’t affect them, but in the place that I was with my insecurities, scrolling social media was not helpful, and reading was a great substitute.
Also, I noticed how often people were on their phones. Whenever I would be with people, everyone was on their phones, constantly scrolling through Instagram, answering Snapchats, and watching other peoples’ “stories”. During these times, I looked around with nothing to do. I wanted to talk to people, but everyone was very preoccupied with keeping up their Snapchat streaks or deciding which picture to post on Instagram. Before I deleted social media, I was on my phone incessantly as well. Spending time offline made me realize how much of my life I was wasting staring into a screen that might as well be called a time-suck machine because it zapped away hours and hours of my life. This made me really sad, because life is so short; way too short to spend it staring at a screen, constantly comparing myself, and concerning myself with the lives of others.

Well, after all I learned, I did decide to download social media back. I know I just wrote about how amazing it was to live without social media, but I have made a promise to myself to use it differently. I use it much less. I now constantly delete it and re-download it only occasionally, so that I’m not tempted to go on it all of the time. I have also promised myself that I would spread positive messages, and not just post pictures.  I promised that I would be myself, and post whatever I want to post; I will not post what I think other people will be impressed with. I am also going to try to caption pictures with meaningful messages, so that it’s not all about how my life looks on the outside; I can show the world what’s on the inside. And I want to help others feel good about themselves, too. I think that is how I will be able to turn social media into a positive experience for myself, and for the others I am connected to.
I challenge everyone who reads this to try to portray your true life, what is real, on social media. Overall, social media is a wonderful invention that can be utilized to spread beautiful messages and connect us and remind us that we’re not alone, but many of us are missing these opportunities and using it to show our bodies and our prettiest pictures of ourselves. We could, instead , be showing the world the beautiful parts of us that may not be able to be seen in a picture…our kindness, our compassion, our creativity.  In the end, what truly matters is on the inside, so show the world what lays in your heart. Your real beauty is there.


It’s Not All About The Things

 Growing up in a world that focuses on what one’s life looks like from the outside has evoked several issues in our society—one of them being a powerful emphasis on the importance of having many, many “things”. Growing up, I encountered several occurrences where I found myself begging my parents to buy me something. Whether it was a hoverboard, designer clothes, tickets to a Justin Bieber concert, the newest iPhone, or any of the latest fads, I somehow thought that having cool things would make me a cool person. Sure, I really love my iPhone and I LOVED the Justin Bieber concert, but I am really beginning to understand that, ultimately, having “things” is not what makes me happy, and that having lots of things really doesn’t matter as much as much as I once thought. 

I vividly remember thinking about this subject for the first time when I was nine years old. I was at a pretty high-end store, and I saw some girls my age taking clothing off of the racks, and throwing them at their mothers. I heard their moms say, “Oh my, this is so cute! Of course you can get it!” And the girls proceeded to make piles of clothes that they wanted to purchase. I looked at my mom and started to beg her to get me things, too. My mom reminded me that I really didn’t need anything, but she did allow me to pick out one shirt. I was happy, but when I realized the superfluous amount of clothing that these girls were planning to purchase, I began to feel very jealous. However, it was then that I observed something that stuck with me for all of these years. I saw how ungrateful they were acting. I watched as the girls stood at the cash register mindlessly laughing and joking with one another, not paying attention at all as their mothers swiped their credit cards to pay for their purchases that cost more than five hundred dollars each, and then I noticed that neither of the girls really cared much, and not one of them even said thank you to their moms. Something clicked in me… I realized that watching these girls ungraciously receiving piles and piles of clothes almost succeeded in preventing me from feeling appreciation for the shirt that my mom was so generous to buy me. We were next in line, and my mom and I walked up to the cash register to purchase my shirt. I turned to my mom, hugged her, and said, “Thank you, mom.” 

Later, I talked to my mom about my feelings and she helped me to see that it is hard for many people to appreciate “things” when they have so many “things” and when they tend to get everything they want. And that one day, someone is going to say “no” to those kids, and they may not know how to handle that.  

 I’m not saying that my parents don’t buy me things, because they do. They buy me plenty and I am very fortunate.  But because of how I was raised, I don’t get so upset when I hear the word “no” (well, ok…sometimes I do!) and I definitely have much more gratitude for everything that I do have. Now, having “things” does not matter to me as much as it used to. My parents are not very materialistic and would rather spend money on experiences that we will always remember, like really awesome family vacations. Personally, I love exploring new places and I would rather do that than spend a bunch of money on a meaningless shopping spree. When traveling, I get to see and experience new things and I get to bond with the people I love most in this world; my family.

 As I get older, I am learning more and more that when I buy things, they don’t make me happy. Being around people I love makes me happy. Doing things I love makes me happy. Learning things and living my life to the fullest makes me happy. Every single time I have gone shopping, I have taken notice that when I come back home, I am not a happier person. And even if getting something does seem to make me happy, the happiness is almost always short term.

Recently, I watched a documentary about minimalism with my family, and I think the concept is intriguing. It showed people who choose to live very simple lives with very few possessions. One thing that was said really struck me— they mentioned that the American dream seems to include that “having more and having bigger is better.” But, really, why would families live in these huge homes on these huge pieces of land that force them to be so far away from each other? I, myself, have often wished for a bigger house. Why is that? Because everywhere I look: on TV,  in magazines, online— EVERYWHERE— people associate the word “beautiful” and “ideal” with these enormous houses, and the big houses filled with lots of beautiful stuff implies that that the people who live there have lives that are perfect. 

The thing is, when we watched this documentary, we were at my cottage up north, which is very not big, and we were all snuggled up on the couch… together as a family…in our one room that has a TV. To me, THAT was perfect. Would we be spending this much time together, cuddling, if we were in a huge house? Probably not.

 I know that many people do love “things” and want big houses, and I am not here to offend those people. It’s just that as I’m learning more about myself, I am learning more about who I’m not. And I am not striving to live the American dream where bigger and more is better…I am striving to live my own dream— a life filled with less “things” and and an abundance of living, learning, simplicity, gratitude, happiness, and love.

Oh…and a lot more snuggling on the couch with my family.

We Need To Talk About This….

If no one else is going to speak, then I will, because this problem is damaging the health and happiness of so many people, and there needs more awareness about what the expectations of our society is creating for women of all ages. 

Our society keeps telling girls and women what they should and shouldn’t be. What has caused the most problems in my life is “being told” what I should look like. No, I was never directly told that I need to be tall and thin, but looking at magazines, watching diet commercials one after another on T.V., and being made fun of for how I look made the message pretty clear to me. 

At the beginning of eighth grade, I began dieting. I told myself that I would do it for a certain amount of time, but I truly was never satisfied. I no longer looked at an apple as an apple; in my brain it was simply “70 calories”, and peanut butter was thought of as “190 calories” and a piece of cake was “500 calories” (so I shouldn’t even think about eating it… right?). 

I came home from school, and I no longer did what I truly enjoyed. I began watching video after video about “what to eat in a day to lose weight” and “how to lose 20 pounds in a month”… etc. I loved becoming educated, and I imagined myself looking just as pretty as the girls in the videos. 

After months of this being my routine, I was exhausted and depressed. I began to nap everyday after school, I was so unhappy during school because I was always having anxiety about food, and I spent my nights crying into my pillow, but I never knew why. 

I thought that if I became anorexic, I would always be skinny guaranteed. So I was determined to keep starving myself. Well, anorexia actually kills people. The fact the society practically promotes others to develop a deadly disease is sickening, and I felt so miserable to have been sucked into that. 

After some time, I knew I needed help. Food was consuming my whole life, and it was all I thought about. I went to a dietitian, and she told me that I was tired because I wasn’t getting enough energy. Also, my brain was beginning to get slower because of the lack of energy I was receiving. She told me to stop dieting, which I doubted at first, because I didn’t feel satisfied with how I looked. Well, she mentioned that I might never feel satisfied if I continue down this path, and lucky for me I was able to escape before I was too far down the path to come back. But, some people don’t reach out for help, and it becomes harder and harder to cure their obsession which can turn into an illness. 

This is why we need to put a stop to this. We have to stop telling girls that they aren’t enough. We need to recognize how everyone is amazing the way they are, and we should not brain-wash them into thinking they are not. People are literally dying because of what our society says is “good” and “bad”. We all have to learn how to just rock what we have, and feel confident being ourselves. We must stop striving to be someone else, and love ourselves. Do good things for your body because you love it. Learn to stop hating your body. It’s literally the only one you have. If you find yourself down the path of hurting yourself, get help immediately because it could eventually get out of hand. It’s not worth it. 

Why did I want to become skinnier? To be happier. But was I happier? Would I ever be happier? Would it ever be enough to satisfy others, or even myself? No, it wouldn’t if I continued. But, it will now…as I continue to learn to love myself from the inside out.