Sing Your Own Melody

Jim Lafferty & Melina Hammer PhotographyMy friend Melody died this past February of acute myelocytic leukemia. She wasn’t necessarily a close friend—we went to a small private girls’ school together in Maryland, and our relationship was like that of sisters: we weren’t always “friendly” but we were extremely close. You can’t spend that much time with someone and not feel close. In fact, I can’t think of a single memory from high school that doesn’t include Melody. I still can’t believe she’s gone; her death shook me to my core and brought about a deep acknowledgement of how much she influenced my life.

Melody was a force of nature. I still remember the day she transferred to our school. The cool girls had just started the “Reinforcer Club,” acceptance into which was sealed by wearing a reinforcer (those little white circles designed to fix a broken hole punch) on your forehead. The club’s membership was thriving until Melody arrived; she marched right up to the founders, rolled her eyes, and then told them exactly where they could put their reinforcers. We all watched in awe. That was the end of the Reinforcer Club and the beginning of a new era at our school.

Melody was captivating. To this day, I don’t think I’ve met anyone with that much presence. She possessed the self-confidence of someone who had spent an entire lifetime trying to figure out who they were. She always told it like it was (usually to your face) and had a zero tolerance policy for bullshit. There wasn’t one word that came out of her mouth that wasn’t a reflection of her own truth; she was incapable of inauthenticity. Her beauty was unparalleled and like her name suggests, she was a gifted singer . . . she had the voice of an angel. Melody was the star of every musical – really, the star of the whole school, and everyone wanted to bask in her presence. To be loved by Melody was to feel celebrated for exactly who you were.

Melody didn’t seem to love me. I annoyed her and she let me know it on a daily basis. I was used to the abuse – I had been made fun of by the girls in school well before she came along. While the braces, perm, and (emotionally scarring) acne didn’t help, the truth was, I was an easy target – I did not believe in myself. I placed my self-worth in the hands of 10-year-old girls, most of whom were probably as insecure and lost as I was. Instead of receiving the approval I so desperately craved, I was picked apart and kicked to the curb. I told myself it was because I wasn’t good enough, or pretty enough, or cool enough to be worthy of love. I convinced myself that I would never be accepted for who I was, and decided that my only choice was to become someone else. Sadly, I spent most of my school years trying to be the person I thought people wanted me to be.

This plan got me nowhere, of course.

The more I tried to get people to love me, the more I was bullied. The more I was bullied the more I craved love and acceptance, and this vicious cycle took me so far away from the real me that I lost touch with myself completely. Melody arrived and instantly saw through my hopeless plan. She was the only person to call me out on my crap; any word, action, or behavior that reflected my attempt to be who I thought I “should be” was shot down and ridiculed. She literally didn’t let me get away with anything and she was not afraid to tell me exactly what she thought of my antics. I hated her for it – I worshiped her and yet I hated her.

We went off to college (where I continued to employ many of the same futile strategies) and reconnected after graduation when we both moved to New York City. We built a small friendship. I remember asking her one night over dinner why she had given me such a hard time at school. Her response marked a turning point in my life. “I just felt like you weren’t your own person. You were trying to be someone else and I couldn’t stand it.” I don’t think she knew how much of an impact her words had on me. I realized in that moment that my path—my life’s work—was paved by the desire to find, accept, and love myself. I remember feeling, for the first time, connected to my own purpose. It wasn’t until Melody’s death that I fully understood that it was her light that had lit the way.

Of all the girls who bullied me, I was the biggest bully of them all. I inflicted so much pain by telling myself that I was simply not worthy of love. I suffered at the hand of my own belief that I was somehow fundamentally unlikeable. I’ve worked so hard to eradicate this belief from my life, but it’s not always easy. Am I right? We are often our own worst enemies, convinced that something is “missing”—that we are defective in some way—and that love and happiness will only come if we can “find” or “fix” who we are. How many of us have been tempted to change some part of ourselves in the hopes of fitting in, getting ahead, or finding love? When we do this we are, in essence, apologizing for who we are.

The truth is that there is nothing missing; you are perfectly perfect just as you are. You can only be YOU. Anything else is just a tap dance. When I feel like I have to hustle to be accepted, I know my work is to sit and accept myself. The Uni-verse is always holding up a mirror – how we see our lives is a reflection of how we see ourselves. If we can’t love and accept ourselves, we are not going find love and acceptance anywhere else.

Eventually Melody moved back to Baltimore, went to law school, got married, became a successful lawyer, and had a beautiful son. We saw each other at weddings, reunions, and my 30th birthday party. I was so grateful for the genuine connection we shared as adults and always saw it as a mark of my own evolution—that somehow, after accepting myself, I had finally been accepted by Melody.

We never kept in touch. When I learned that she was in the hospital with leukemia, I sent her a mala necklace and told her how to use it to meditate. She texted me to let me know how much it was helping her. That was the only contact we had. I wish I had thanked her for being a teacher to me, but I hope she’s listening now so I can express my gratitude for everything she taught me.

Mel, you were a light in my life. I was a lost soul and you inspired me to find myself. You were one of my first teachers—an example of a strong, self-assured woman who knew what she wanted, spoke her truth, and embodied her beliefs. There was nothing I wanted more than to connect to the real me and abide in myself, as myself, so that my light could maybe one day shine as brightly as yours. You are alive in my heart every time I teach – when I stand at the front of the classroom, vulnerable and brave, and encourage others to cut the crap and keep it real. I hear your voice when I try to inspire others to stand in their own truth, walk their own path . . . sing their own melody. What I learned from you is as important to me today as it was the day I met you: to feel love, you first have to love yourself.

Thank you, missy.

Love,

Chrissy

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Chrissy Carter is a passionate yoga teacher and domestic enthusiast. You can take class with her in New York at YogaWorks, online at GaiamTV.com, or with her Gaiam DVD, Beginning Yoga. Learn more at chrissycarter.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

  • That. Was. Beautiful. And perfect timing, as I sit here and think of ways “get” my own 10-year-old to love herself in ways other than me telling her she should. She IS me at 10…and 20…and 30. I see it and I want to SAAAVVVVEEE her, yet I know she has to come to it on her own. This account is good kindling, and I can’t wait to read it to her this evening. Thank you.

    • Chrissy Carter

      I’m so touched that it spoke to you. I can totally relate to that feeling of wanting to save someone from experiencing the same suffering. I, too, am learning that I can best serve others when I create a safe and loving space for someone to work through it on their own. Thank YOU!!!

  • ronniejoy

    First of all, reading this makes me think you were not alone in the bullying and in the low self esteem you felt growing up. Secondly, I am moved by your friendship and the “mark” it has left with your world together and in her memory. I am personally moved by your story, as a woman we are blessed to have such friendships in our lives and you found a special one in Melody. I hope through stories such as these that her remarkable life and the enlightenment she shared upon you lives in the hearts of those who loved her. For you, I congratulate you for opening up- sharing your story and moving your readers. I look forward to reading more and thank you for your opened heart and core honesty!

    • Chrissy Carter

      Thank you Ronnie! It’s not always easy to open up, but I’m learning that the places where we hide the most shame are often the portals to our own strength. I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece.

  • Dave Frenz

    We all have had those times when it seems like it was ‘us against the world’, wisdom later shows us it was more frequently ‘us against us’

    A remarkable and moving story. I am sending the link to all my children, maybe if they don’t need it someday their future children may

    • Chrissy Carter

      Thank you Dave. You are so right – our suffering, often at our own hand, can ultimately lead to our own healing. I appreciate your support!

  • Courtney

    It can be so hard to write so honestly about someone once they pass. This was written so honestly, that the beauty of the story can’t help but to shine through.

    • Chrissy Carter

      Thanks Courtney. This piece has facilitated so much healing, for me – and I hope for others.

  • Laura

    Beautiful story Chrissy. It is amazing how much see in our reflection through others. Keep writing!

    • Chrissy Carter

      I appreciate that Laura. Everyone is a teacher, if we let them…

  • Abby

    Just beautiful. And from such an honest place. What a wonderful legacy she clearly has had and you honor it so well 🙂

    • Chrissy Carter

      Thanks Abby!

  • Nick

    Such a beautiful piece Chrissy!! Very introspective and authentic. Makes me think of what I will instill I my daughter and the importance of doing so early in life… Understanding the beauty within. Congratulations.- Nick

    • Chrissy Carter

      Thank you Nick! That is the greatest gift you could give her.

  • Kirsten Kramer

    Chrissy, this is so beautiful! It made me cry to read it. I can only imagine what it took for you to write it! It holds so much truth that so many people can relate to. It takes tremendous strength to share such things. -Kirsten

    • Chrissy Carter

      Thanks Kirsten! I think I get it now – our shameful secrets, our greatest vulnerabilities . . . they are actually our greatest source of power.

  • Payal Parekh

    Beautiful and so true. Inspirational….sending you love. Payal xx

  • Meghan Mack

    I, too, went to a small girls school in Baltimore and while I did not endure the nastiness that you went through, I never stood up and told anyone to stop either. Melody sounds like she was a force to be reckoned with. It’s funny how much perspective age can give you, how much bolder it makes you…she was obviously well beyond her years. Beautiful story. I’m sorry for your loss…
    Meghan

  • Karen Kearns Buch

    Thank you for sharing this Chrissy. I was a good friend of Melody’s and I agree that she was captivating and had no patience for bullshit, I loved that about her. I am running the Boston Marathon in 2014 in her honor, every mile is for her. Check out my fundraising page if you have time.

    Take care-xxoo-karen

    Hi!

    I am humbled to be selected to participate as part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’ s “Team in Training” Program for the 2014 Boston Marathon. As you can imagine, much anticipation surrounds this upcoming day.

    On top of what this day will mean for so many, I will be training, fundraising and running for this BIG event in memory of my dear friend Melody. I have set big goals for myself, both in my commitment to training and in fundraising, and I hope you will consider helping me raise money for this organization which is doing so much to help find a cure for those suffering from blood cancers.

    Please take a minute to read more about my courageous, dear friend Melody (http://pages.teamintraining.org/ma/boston14/kbuchw#.UjsmSmH1VwE.aolmail) and to learn why I am committing to this marathon to raise funds in her name. Any donation amount helps!

    Thanks and much love,
    Karen

  • Kate Dominique

    Dearest Chrissy, Bravery appears in many forms – in Melody for living life so honestly and authentically, and in you for reflecting through painful experiences on paper and making the changes necessary in life to be the person you want to be. It’s daily work for sure and I’m so glad to know you. xoxo

  • Paul Harris

    Chrissy, thank you for sharing that story. She was way too young to leave. But as someone I know says, “she is in a far, far better place.” Miss you.

  • NV

    I totally made the mistake of reading this at work and now I am crying! So touching and so honest and it struck a chord with me. Thank you for sharing your journey, one that I share as well, to learn how to accept and love myself.

  • Allyson

    You have captured Melody so perfectly here. And, your own voice is so honest and vulnerable. She would be honored, I think, to have inspired that voice. Keep writing. Just like this.

  • Anna Gilbert Zupon

    Your bravery and grace are an inspiration and the raw elegance of this piece is so moving. I am reminded of the very wise words from Queen Brene Brown: “vulnerability is the birthplace of courage.” Not only did Melody touch your life, but now through the vehicle of your gifted writing, she is touching so many other lives.

  • Katie

    What a brave and beautiful testimony to Melody’s impact on your life – and so many others. I can hear her voice clearly, reading this. Thanks for that gift. And, thanks for the gift of your honesty. Your own person is – and always has been – amazing.

  • Peggy

    There are some teachers that have hurt me just by being human in their actions towards me. There are some teachers that that have lifted my head above the water then up to the sky just by being soulful in their actions towards me.

    Remember we are all teachers. Lead with your soul and you will heal the human in both of us.

  • Marilyn

    Reading this made me want to reach out and hug 10-year-old Chrissy. How proud she must be of the honest, brave, wise and compassionate woman you’ve become.

  • Kacey

    I don’t know anyone who can’t relate to this in some way. What a beautiful piece not only of Melody but also of your own experiences. You’ve shared what so many others are thinking. Thank you!

  • Katie

    Really beautiful, sad, and yet triumphant. Brings me back indeed. I think I am still seeking that strength and confidence Melody had. The ability to be utterly true. Thank you for sharing.

  • Barry

    I met Melody thru her mother when Mel was around 11or 12, Thru her early years I found Mel to be highly intelligent,had great insight and initiative, was articulate and knowlegeable beyond her years. She could even swing dance. What couldn’t Mel do!.Your brilliant Melody blog Chrissy brought back to me those 30+ years of Mel memories that made me feel lucky to have been part of her life Mel will live in my heart forever.

  • Fran Hauser

    Chrissy – you are the most together person I know, so it’s unimaginable thinking about you being in that position when you were younger. I love you so much for having the courage to publish this. It had to have come from such a place of vulnerability. So proud of you. XO

  • Maya Magenis

    Absolutely spot on. Yet another reason why I feel so fortunate to know you, Chrissy. Your willingness to be honest and sit readily with the vulnerability of your situation is beyond admirable. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jocelyn Krasner

    Thank you for sharing this beautifully heartfelt story, Chrissy! It’s impossible to imagine you as the kid you describe, as I have always known you as the radiant, confident, authentic, unique, intelligent, talented goddess that you are! Your bravery and vulnerability make you that much more perfectly perfect 😉 xo

  • Liese

    Knowing both of you so well as girls, young women, and then the blossomed women you both became, I am blessed to read your authentic and courageous writing. I am richly touched by your truth and love, and the absolute clarity to be who you are…because who you are for yourself and so many now sweet Chrissy is all a result of your journey through the other place and time. I loved you then and I love you now, but now I see your incredible soul and spirit enrich those who call you teacher and friend!

  • Kelsea W

    Thank your for sharing this very personal story off loss, love and personal realization. Your story speaks volumes and inspires us all to move forward, a little less afraid to embrace who we are and what we have to offer.

  • Ramez

    Thank you for sharing this Chrissy. Very touching and so glad I came across this. I think its easy to say that Melody had a motivational impact on a lot of people.

  • Shoshanna

    Lovely. Ditto all the wonderful comments, this is a beautiful, brave, and moving piece. Thank you for sharing it, Chrissy.

  • Jill

    This is beautiful, thank you for sharing it!