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Melissa Stephens: Being the Person You Needed When You Were Younger



Guest: Melissa Stephens
Host: Audrey Lin
Moderator: Anne Veh

Welcome to Awakin Calls. Every Saturday, we host a conversation with an individual whose inner journey inspires us and whose work is transforming our world in large and small ways. Awakin Calls are an all-volunteer-run offering of Service Space, a global platform founded on the simple principle that that by changing ourselves, we change the world to create a more compassionate and service-oriented society. Thank you for joining us!
Audrey: Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everybody. My name is Audrey and I’m really excited to be your host for our weekly global Awakin Call -- welcome, and thanks for joining us! As you may know, the purpose of these calls is to share stories that help plant seeds for a more compassionate society while fostering our own inner transformation along the way. We do this by holding collective conversations with guest speakers from all walks of life -- who inspire us to live in a more service-oriented way. Behind each of these calls is an entire team of ServiceSpace volunteers, whose invisible work allows us to hold this space.
Today, our special guest speaker is Melissa Stephens. Thanks so much for joining today's call! We will start with a minute of silence to anchor ourselves into the space.



Anne: Good morning! In honor of Melissa and as an inspiration to begin our call, I would like to read from a verse from Mary Oliver’s Upstream: Selected Essays, really in honour of Melissa.
“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Send them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then, the silent, beautiful blossoms.”
For me, this verse honors Melissa’s spirit and intention of holding our children at the center! A middle school teacher going on 24 years, she creates a world in her classroom where all her students feel safe, are whole, and can be themselves “just as they are” everyday! Inspired by a quote her brother sent to her, and hangs prominently in her classroom, which reads: “Be the person you needed when you were younger.”
This is a poignant meditation and Melissa honors it emotionally, spiritually, and physically in all the ways she shows up to life. For Melissa, life is to be lived and her infectious enthusiasm emanates from her deepest being, for she is aligned to her calling and serves with unconditional love.
I was blessed to visit Melissa’s classroom last week. Melissa, sitting under a throne of white tulle, looked more like a fairy godmother than a teacher. I was so moved by all the positive affirmations, covering every wall, board and table. Everything about the room conveys wholeness, inclusiveness and kindness. Thinking of everything a middle school student may need, a phone charger, a closet of clothes for when students don't meet the dress code, tampons, a curling iron and nail polish.
Melissa reminds me of my kindergarten teacher, Betty Peck, who turned every no into a yes and had a Magic Mirror in her room to remind the children of truly how wonderful they are.
Like Betty, Melissa has a full-length “positive” mirror accompanied by the following instructions:
Absolutely no criticism of oneself or anyone else.
If you look in this mirror, you must tell Mrs. Stephens or a classmate one thing you love about yourself on the outside and the inside before leaving Room 34.
You must also fill out a self-compliment card and post it on the beauty board with your name and the date.
Only smiling allowed in mirror.
Love the person you see smiling back at you.
I am honored to welcome Melissa, a mother of three, an author, a poet, an actress and a student of life! I know everyone on the call is as excited as I am to be with you!
Melissa: Oh my gosh. Thank you so much. I am so grateful to be here. You have no idea. So, thank you. Thank you.
Anne: And I have so many questions and I know that everyone on the call is going to be bubbling also with questions and I really hold this intention to create a space where you can really share stories and just whatever comes to mind. Please just share, because everything you share, it's really a gift and wisdom that is needed.
Melissa: Okay, thank you.
Anne: I guess where I wanted to start this morning, Melissa is with -- who are your early mentors and how did they inspire you?
Melissa: Yes, so I would say I had several mentors I think directly and indirectly I'll explain what I mean.
So my dad was an incredible person, brilliant, worked for Motorola and helped launch several Apollo missions with NASA and his work ethic was just so strong. He emphasized for us education and continually, you know, continuing to be a student not just of whatever our passions were, but also, of life. And he really lived that and modeled that for us.
And, indirectly, interestingly enough, my mother was a teacher for 50 years. She taught high school and college but really I think high school was her calling. And we had a bit of a toxic relationship. She gave so much to her students and absolutely I would never deny, you know, that she was just an incredible teacher. But it was kind of, you know, the opposite at home where there was criticism, and I don't know maybe she just didn't have enough rest. So although I am a 100% certain that teaching is my passion, I fought it for a long time because I was not going to be like my mother. Again, so crazy!
But I ended up -- so both of my parents passed away about a year apart from each other, and I was my mother's caregiver for the last two years of her life, and they both had dementia. And it's so funny because with, and please forgive me if I go off on a tangent, but you know, I tell my students, you know, you really need to train your brain to default to the positive. Because my dad was so positive and just so you know, had a funny sense of humor. And so consequently when his, you know, kind of brain and capacity went, he defaulted to, he just then became very simple and very, you know, more childlike, and such. And my mom really just defaulted to being quite nasty and angry. And so for me that lesson, you know, was really you need to train your brain so that the pathways that it's going to default to will go to kindness.
However, since she has passed, a lot of that hurt has kind of gone away, and I can see so much how I am so like her as a teacher, which is kind of a crazy awakening for me, because I did...You know her room was also filled with like trinkets and she loved her kids and she went to their plays and I go to my kid's plays. And she would, you know, make sure the kids were fed and I make sure the kids are fed. So that has been a blessing to allow myself to connect with that part of her. So although maybe I didn't see her necessarily as a mentor growing up, I really see now how the universe kind of brought me to where I am through her. I also had amazing teachers. I had a fifth grade teacher.
Anne: Melissa, I just had a question and I was really curious. So when you were actually your mother's caregiver, for that time, what were the seeds of your teaching in that time?
Melissa: So what did I, what did I get from that?
Anne: Yeah, like what? Yeah, like I just want to know -- your relationship really went through a transformation. Was there any moment or time in that and when you were a caregiver were something changed over or..?
Melissa: Yes, you are so good. I'm so glad you asked. Yes, because at first, I was, you know, kind of meeting her back with the same kind of bitterness and I would kind of begrudge it. And I wouldn't have thought about this until literally just this moment that you asked, but I realized then I came to -- I just had to let that go. And realize, okay, she was still a loving person and she was still someone who taught me. So though I had to meet, even though she, up until the very end, I mean literally till the very end, she was very angry and bitter and directed a lot of that towards me. But I just started meeting her with compassion, as hard as it was.
And I realize now that that is how I have to meet my toughest kids and that's what I've really been working on this year, you know. I think it's so easy as a teacher to connect with those kids that are participatory and they get it and they're curious. But the hard kids that act out constantly, you know, you think they're not getting it. I realize like that's for me, where true compassion as a teacher needs to be. It is really those kids -- remembering that we were all born so innocent and whatever life has colored us with.
So yes, that's what I think happened with her. In thinking about it literally in this moment, and I know that I was able to meet her with compassion at the end, when I just realized that my pushing back was not helping. But I really see now the lesson in that in my own classroom. And I think that's really what she did with her kids because she taught in really difficult schools. And I think that's really what she did. So that's a little aha moment for me.
Anne: Well, and I also would, for everyone who's listening on the call, is you teach in the public school system. And what's extraordinary in entering your classroom is it's not a typical classroom we would typically walk into, in a public school setting. And you're just, you know, you're welcome. You just walk in and you just fee love. The desks are arranged in a circle. There's just this, you know you the moment I open the door and I saw you under the tulle, I just couldn't -- my heart just melted. And then you just leapt up with this joy and welcomed me. And you know, I can imagine, you know, any being to be welcomed in that way, just everything gets disarmed everything goes away and you're just present. You've a really special presence.
Melissa: Yeah, thank you.
Anne: And I guess maybe this can go into another question I have which is how do you create this safe space for your students?
Melissa: You know, I think the biggest thing...I mean there are little physical things. Something that I learned from John Malloy was, you know, one time we were all in a circle and he looked at, you know, every single person and said, "I see you." And so I decided I was going to start taking roll call that way. So every day when the kids come in, I will call their name. I make sure they make eye contact with me. I'll say, "I see you." They say, "I'm here." And then the next day they will say they see me and I will say I'm here. So I think grounding it right in, with that connection.
Another smaller piece is you know, we do a moment of mindfulness every day, right after roll, to kind of set the intention. And you know, when they leave, I stand at the door and I give him a high-five and I thank them for class or I give them a hug. And you know, if I know they're having a test in the next period, I'll say good luck. And I think it's just those like listening to them and truly respecting them.
I would have never thought I would teach Middle School, you know, and it's interesting because I think I often think of, you know, when I taught Elementary School, it's like and this is my own generalization, but I think Elementary School teachers really teach because they love you know, that warm fuzzy kind of kindness. And I think High School teachers really teach like the academics because they love the preparation for college. And I think Middle School teachers teach because it was probably the hardest time of life for us. In talking with my colleagues, It was like, oh my God, like, you know Middle School, it was so miserable. And I think we're kind of trying to, or at least I am, make it better for this generation. So I really try to respect every single, I do, I respect every single one of them. And they know that I listen to them. I have great amnesia when it comes to kids being off-task or doing something wrong. As soon as we correct it, the next minute. I'm right back in there with them. I don't hold anything. I just let that go.
And I also you know, you talked about this at the beginning. I really tried to set up my room. I tried to think of everything that I would have loved when I was in this period of my life and and think through a middle-schoolers eyes. And so, you know, as silly as that sounds, you know having a phone charger so they know they can leave their phone with me and have that for, you know, after school to get a hold of whoever they need to get a hold of. I have, you know, paper plates and forks and things so they can have their lunch.
You know, I do have a nail station and a hair curler, but it's not a thing to focus on the beauty. It's you know, if they asked me to curl their hair, I think they're really just asking for it. They just want to feel tended to and so we can sit and I can be curling their hair and chatting about their day or what have you. Or if they don't have any place else to go, they can come in and kind of have themselves, you know focused strictly on doing their own nails, but still be in a place where other people are. Where they don't feel alone.
So they don't necessarily have to fully engage with someone but they feel like they have somewhere to be. I guess that's just what it is. I just want them to have somewhere to be, where they can feel just safe and loved and honored and that's my goal. Every day. And I have to tell you it comes just -- I've talked about this -- it's the energy that I feel for them is absolutely a gift from God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it. And I think it's because I had such a difficult time in my childhood and this particular time, that that's like my reward, like that's my reward for making it through. This intense joy and energy that I feel every day going to [school]. I promise you, I never get up thinking, "Uhh, I don't want to go to work". Not one day. I might be tired but never do I [feel like I don't want to go]. It's just the greatest blessing.

Anne: That is very clear for anyone who is gifted to spend time with you that your energy is almost like, there's not an off-switch. It is like you are 30. There's a beautiful connection to everything around you, you know, whether it's children or nature or you just have this amazing light and energy that is coming through you always, always and, you know, as you said, "I'm going through a difficult time", in your young life where you know, we in this journey, we all walk through Darkness. Sometimes we can't see or we're not gifted with that light until later in life, but when we are, you know, it's like we are able to hold both. That they go hand in hand.

Melissa: Right and isn't that amazing? I mean, isn't it just so amazing to think that. I tell my students, I don't give them the specifics of my trauma because I think that might be hard for them to hear. I really feel like I am in a place where that's not only just a piece of my story or journey, but I truly am -- that all of that, that I went through, was the catalyst for all the joy I feel.

But I tell them, "Look, everybody will have some sort of darkness -- some of you are going through it right now, some of you might not till later in life. And you get to choose how you are going to react. You can go let it bury you and be angry and bitter and believe me, I was there. I'm not saying, you know, I came to and I was like, I have no issues with it. But if you are open to how does this relate to what am I meant to do? How is this supposed to? What am I supposed to learn? Then that will most almost always be your passion and your purpose and you will get the greatest joy out the other side of it.”

And that realization! I just turned 50 last year. So it took me awhile, my friends, but I'm so grateful that I was able to feel like I have a lot of life left, and oh my God, that's amazing that I have perspective. And it wasn't like on my death-bed or you know? I just am so grateful that I was able to really see it for what it was and trust me, I'm milking that story for a long time. At first I would never talk about it because it was very shameful. Then when I finally spoke about it and you get the, "Oh my God, I'm so sorry". Suddenly the ego is there and like, "Oh! Yes, you should feel sorry for me" and then I got tired of hearing my own story and it just kind of -- that piece faded, and all the beauty of the experience or the realization after the experience has just been incredible. So very grateful for that.

Anne: Melissa, it's beautiful. Well first, I just want to honor the space for just holding your story.

Melissa: Thank you.

Anne: And really the courage to be with your pain or the trauma and to be able to have that self-compassion and you go through the different stages of grief, denial and then acceptance. And also I feel in your journey there is even more so, a real surrender.

And through that surrender then you know, you begin to realize that life is different, somehow everything is. Maybe the way we walk with our lens in the world, it changes, you know, we feel more, we see more deeply. For me, myself, you give me that courage and hope that "Yes! you know, there is a process to our healing and to keep surrendering. That's life."

I'm coming back to the children. I feel, like John Malloy, you so intuitively create the conditions for your students to learn from each other. Having that positive station, the full-length mirror or the nail station where the boys can paint their nails too -- it's not about the outside beauty, it's about connecting.

Melissa: Right, right. I am so lucky to teach in the district where I teach because it is a public school and as far as I know there's not another class, like this one on a weekly, everyday basis.

The whole reason why I started [this class], it was all my experience through ServiceSpace and realizing the whole idea of changing yourself to change the world. And I thought, "Oh my gosh, I came to this so late in life. I wish that I had started down this path earlier." And so I thought "if I could teach a class!" and just as the universe will have it, we happened to need a seventh grade enrichment for the following year because a teacher was leaving.

I approached my principal and I said I really want to teach this class and much like my father, the overachiever that I am, I had like a whole proposal typed up and he said, "That's fine, you have to present it to the board." Which is not an easy task, sometimes getting together in front of all these people who will decide if the class will be accepted. They gave me a chance and I was able to prove how worthy it was. Every week we have a different topic. We start the very first week with suffering to survival and we talk about it.

Anne: Melissa, I don't mean to interrupt, but I want to know, so everyone can have a context for the class. So is this the Service Innovation Class that you are speaking about?

Melissa: Yes.

Anne: Okay, and maybe you can even preface it by sharing how you even learned about Service Space and how and what kinds of ideas started to kind of come together for you.

Melissa: Okay. This is the most magical thing ever. I was reading a book a few years ago and it was called E-squared and it was like nine energy experiments to prove that your thoughts make your things and in the book they were talking about this whole idea of gift ecology like pay-what-you-want or pay-what-you-can and they had a little story of Nipun and Karma kitchen. And I had never heard of anything like it and I was like, "Oh my God! that sounds so amazing. I should email him." Not knowing like he's this amazing like fabulous person who travels the world spreading kindness and I emailed him and said, "Hi! I'm in charge of our Student Activities and we do community service assemblies. I'd love if you could come speak." And oh my God, he was so amazing.
He actually emailed me back like within a day, said he wasn't going to be in town then, but he put me in touch with Audrey and then, I had created this wheel of kindness for the kids, and we spin it every week and it says like, five high fives, or hold the door for someone, or tell yourself you're amazing.
And so Audrey happened to invite my husband and me to a community dinner that they were having . So I went there, and that's where I met Anne for the first time and yes, Audrey is right on the money. Anne's eyes -- like, I walked away, and I said to my husband, I want my eyes to be like that.They're just glowing, they're just aglow. And so that started it.
And then I was asked if I would like to participate in Laddership, and that was an amazing -- I couldn't believe all the beautiful readings and such. And then I got to volunteer at Karma Kitchen one day, and I was like, oh my God, that's amazing. So I just started like, what if like I could create Service Space in the classroom during the day. So that's kind of how that all started, and to be fair, the first year, I was definitely finding my way. I was kind of fumbling around. I didn't really have a full curriculum. And then I realized, you know every week in Laddership, we would have a certain theme, or there would be certain videos, and so I started structuring the class on a Service Space model of head, heart, and hands where at the beginning of the week or so, we would pick a topic.
So let's say the very first week it really is on suffering and survival and this whole idea of how you are going to work through your pain or your trauma. So we would watch a video on maybe people helping out after Hurricane Harvey or you know, reading an article on someone who has had a lot of trauma, but used it to really teach or serve. And then the student's connection that I do is -- I will have them the next day partner and interview each other. But I never have let them choose their own partners, because I know exactly how that will go, having taught middle school for so long. So I have them number off. Like if I have 24 kids in my class, we number off -- one through twelve, one through twelve, and then they have to get with their corresponding number, and then when we do the share out, same as with your kindness circles, you share your partner's so that you know that you are listening and engaged. It's easy to share our own story, right? But especially for middle schoolers, if they know that they have to share what their partner is telling them, they're going to dial it in, a little bit better.
I have two older kids -- I have a 21 year old son and an 18 year old daughter, and then I have a seven-year-old son. Both of my big kids went to our school, and I just remember with my daughter, that was a time where it was like, "I will not talk to you now, and for the next three years, I'm going to completely shut myself off." So putting my mom cap on, I was like, I'm going to do a little gift for the parents. And the homework every week is to interview their parents on whatever topic we happen to be talking about. So, you know, "Share a moment that you struggled at some point in your life. How did you move forward from it? If you haven't moved forward, what's holding you back? And then the last thing is always either give your parents a 10-second hug and tell them you love them. Or tell them one thing that you appreciate that they do for you. And I've had so many parents tell me, "Thank you so much for assigning this homework -- it's like the one time during the week where we can sit down and connect."
And so I felt like it that's how it slowly evolved. I keep thinking, "Okay, what did I need as a parent when my kids are in Middle School? What did I need when I was in Middle School?" And just constantly kind of exploring that to really make the class even more valuable.
Anne: I just wanted to share that as as a parent, and I'm sure for all, even parents, even as children growing up, too, this kind of homework assignment is so brilliant, right? You know, it's so simple, but it's so brilliant to create that connection in the family and many times, I know John Malloy always says, you know, if a child can become a good listener, then a child could heal a whole family system.
Melissa: Yeah. Wow. Yes, so true. We just finished talking about -- and again, I always give Service Space all the credit -- so I learned about multiple forms of capital through a reading I did with Service Space, and I made that a whole week topic. Because I teach in a really affluent area, and I think there is so much emphasis on Financial Capital that I really want kids to be aware of other forms. And so sometimes they just finished that homework, and when they're interviewing their parent, I think the questions were, “What form of capital do you use most often in your line of work, and how?" And then the next question was, "What form of capital would you like to use more often, and why?" The kids have to sometimes explain exactly what it means to their parents for their homework. If their parents haven't really been thinking about that, then it's also a way for the kids to teach their parents something in the meantime.
One of my favorite things with that week's lessons is that we talked about, you know, cultural capital and spiritual capital and then I have the kids do improv skits on what that would look like in the seventh grade setting, right? Cuz if you're talking experiential capital on a grand scale., maybe that's someone who runs a company and they can show you how to set that up. But on a middle school level, it's like, "Oh, you don't know how to shoot a free throw. Okay. Let me show you how. If you'll help me with my math, then I'll help you work out how to throw a free throw. And it's really sweet to see what they come up with. It's really sweet. So, that's just putting it in context for them, because if you try to go too far over their head, then I realized quickly you're going to lose them with that.
Anne: Can you share an experience where one of your students has really been your teacher, has kind of opened a space for you?
Melissa: Absolutely, like truly like every day I learn something from them. So one comes to mind is that they also have to do a service project. So we do an overall class project but they do individual service project. I say whatever you choose to do, it just has to have a one-to-one connection. I just wanted to have a one-to-one connection with someone, so a few things on that. A few boys were like, "Can we have a bake sale?" And I was like -- Oh, Okay. Not that a bake sale is bad, but it's a lot of like, I mean, "I have a bake sale and I'm going to give the money to the Humane Society." Which is amazing, but there's not that deeper connection. And I said, okay, "Well what exactly are you going to do?" And they said, "I don't know, we'll figure it out, and I was like, mmhmm.
Three 12 year old boys two days before it was due. So they ended up -- they did all the baking FYI, which was amazing. They didn't ask their parents to do it or just go buy, and then they went out and they said, instead of saying, "Pay a dollar or pay what you want," they made cards up of different prompts for the people to utilize. So if someone came up and said, "Oh, I'd like a brownie," they'd pick a card, and maybe the card would say, tell us your favorite childhood memory, or tell us a funny joke, or something like that. And I thought, I would have never thought of that.
In my mind, I would have thought, gift ecology, pay what you want. But they took it so they were then actually conversing with people. They told me that one person came up and they said they were walking by, because they were right on this kind of busy corner by our school, and they saw someone else doing it, and so they go, "Oh, I don't even want a cookie, but I want to pull a card, so I can see, you know." And I think that was, "If you can still accomplish one thing, what would it be?" And I just was like, "Oh my God, it really can be that simple and so beautiful."
And then I had another group of kids who said -- the project was due, we were presenting, and they said, "Oh yeah, we went and put grocery carts away for people across the street." And I could just tell that they were not being truthful. I just knew, by the way, they were kind of fumbling over. I was like, "Oh and how did it go? Tell me your favorite story?" And I just, I wasn't going to call them out on it because I felt, I really wanted to see if they would come to me. And so the next day they were waiting at my door at 7:30 in the morning. That's early for middle school as we don't start until 8:30 and a lot of them roll in at about 8:22. So I said, hey guys what's going on? And they said, we need to talk to you. And I said, okay. And they said, we lied yesterday about doing our project. And I said, I know. You did? And I said, Yeah. I said, I figured but I'm so grateful that you came to me to let me know. And I said, why did you come? And they said, well, first of all, you kept saying how proud of us your were and that made us feel really bad that we weren't. And then I said, I was like, well I said, you know what guys, I really appreciate that you came to me, that's the most important thing. And you know, that's more important to me than you doing a project.
And they were like no, no, no. We did, we did a project this morning. And I was like, this morning? It's only 7:30. And they said, yeah, we waited outside the grocery store across the way, that they had said they had put carts away from. And there was no one there obviously, but they went in and they helped set up for the aisles and cleaned up where they needed, you know kind of the counters to clean up. And I was like, that is amazing. You really didn't have to do that. And they said, I know but then we were listening to everybody else and how much fun they had doing their projects and we wanted to do it too. And I was like, oh my, I could have never planned for that, I could have never scripted it, I could have never put it in my curriculum. And I was just I was so blown away by their initiative and their insight and their wanting to do something for the sheer joy of doing it. Even after I said they didn't have to complete the project because you know, there are classes ending the next day for that semester.
Isn't that amazing? Middle schoolers! People, middle schoolers are amazing! They are my favorite age of all. They're just the best, the best.
Anne: What comes to mind to me too is that you create the space of no judgment. So you allow your students to have the realization, to feel maybe badly that they weren't telling the truth. But in their own time, you allow them the space to come and they trusted that they could share it with you and that you wouldn't judge them. Which is I think such an amazing teaching for like me as a parent or any time we're with children and just how we hold children. You know, like you said at the beginning. You know, I want to listen to that. Listening is important and respecting them fully. You know, they are closer to the truth, they have so much to say and share and see in the world, that we don't. We want to give them that space and that voice. I know they're going to think about Mrs. Stephens for the rest of their life.
Melissa: And you know the biggest thing for them too -- is just never shaming them in front of anybody else. And I don't know that teachers purposely shame kids, but if you call them out or make them feel small in front of their peers, that I think for me is one of the biggest things, because I did have a teacher who did that to me in middle school. And I think, you know, that sometimes can stay with you longer than the teachers that really lifted you up at the same time. So I would never shame a child. And if I say something to them or correct them and I feel like that I embarrassed them, like really unintentionally, I will always pull them aside and tell them, I am so sorry, I approached that the wrong way. And I think that's how they really feel respected as well.
I have zero ego when it comes to telling them I was wrong, that wasn't the right way to approach it. And I think when they feel that like, wow, a teacher saying they were wrong? I think that's a big piece of building that trust too. Because they realize oh, okay, yeah you were wrong. But so that's a big piece, just never shaming them. Oh my gosh, it's the worst thing ever at that age.
Anne: Well and also the way how I am hearing you share the way you approach teaching. I mentioned earlier in the call, you remind me so much of my kindergarten teacher Betty Peck, who I feel just channeled this wisdom from the universe the way you do. And she would share about how important it is to touch and how if a child was somehow out of sorts or really had forgotten who he was, to bring them to that mirror and put her arm around their shoulder and remind them, look, look how beautiful you are, and really hold them. Whereas today we have, you know, there's so much fear around we can't touch we can't do this, we can't do this, we can't. You know, there's all these, you know politically correct ways we're supposed to be in the world. And what I love about you is that you just do it because it's right. You just know. Even the way you approach the district. This is important, you know, the children are going to learn and we're going to do it. You don't take no for an answer.
Melissa: Yeah, it's true. And I have to say that our district is so incredible. I mean, I am so blessed to work there and I know that's also a big part of why I love going to work as well. Because truly, you know, our vision and our mission statement is really centered on creating a sense of community and the whole child and our academic standards are very high. But we have enrichments that are amazing. We have enterprise classes where kids create a product and then they sell the product out to other students and then the money goes to the local food bank. I'm so grateful that our district is open to a class like this because it's just such a blessing for me. And I do feel like the kids love it, I really do.
And you know when you're talking about touch, it's so funny, because I'm a big hugger. Like I said, I gave them a high-five when they leave. But on Thursdays, we have blocked days, which are no longer, they're 72 minute periods. And so we always start with an 8 to 10 minute meditation. And so we'll build a rangoli mat, I have candles. And the very first day of class, I asked them to write down an intention, which I got actually from our kindness circle, yeah, I just realized. And so I will put those, we put those in the center of the rangoli mat, every Thursday. And then I also, while I'm getting the candles lit and such, I have one of the students kind of, you know, guide, taking intentions for family members or anything or the world or you know a classmate or what have you.
So then I do play some peaceful music for them because they can't really sit in silence, that's all too much for them. But then at the end we'll always do something around, say, okay, take the hands of the people on either side of you, give the person on your left two squeezes, give the person on your right one squeeze. Or hold the hands and look at the person on your left and say, you're amazing. And then look at the person on your right and say, I'm amazing. They don't even, like the first time, they're, ahhh, like holding hands. But now they just, without even like me getting there, it's like once the meditation is over and our timer goes off, they automatically just put their hands out. All right, what are we doing with you, who are we telling what?
I think that it's so important to have that, to have that connection, to have that touch and to have it be positive and accepting without putting any other layer on it. And that's I think really important for this age too.
Anne: Well and especially in this age where social media has taken over and you see that children today, they don't connect the way we did when we were young. You don't see kids going to the movies together on a date, you know, it's very different. And so how do you see social media with your students and your children today? And how do you how do you see the positive of it? And also what is your theme?
Melissa: So I'll tell you what...it is so interesting because on the one hand, I can't stand how mean it can be on social media, how easy it is to just fire off a put-down for someone where you are from the safety of your own behind your phone. And the lack of connection when you see kids, when school gets out and they are sitting there and they are instantly on their phones.
So at our school we actually instituted last year...our school bell rings at 8:28, but a bell rings at 8:15, and they have to have all phones put away at 8:15 and then they can't have them back until after school. So that way they are not connected in until the last possible second, and they are walking into the classroom. So that I think is very positive.
I think the negatives of social media for sure have been reported on and they are there and they are obvious. But I will tell you, it is an incredible way for them to spread the word or for them to connect.
Case in point, I follow a lot of my students on instagram, partly that is for me to track to see if there is anyone being mean in the comments, is there anything being posted that I might be able to say, "Uhhh, this is going to stay with you for a while, you might want to remove that."
But the other day, I saw one of my students posted a picture and it said, "Gift ecology bake sale. Give us a smile and we'll give you a treat." And they were advertising it on their social media, so I said to them, "That is so brilliant. What a beautiful way. If we are going to be mass spreading communication what a great way to communicate about service and kindness." To get people to come and ask what is gift ecology? What is that? And to get people to come.
So that I think will really serve these kids because they are so tech savvy and they can use social media very well. I think about last year when the Parkland shooting happened and those kids really took to social media and have created such a following and such a voice for gun control regardless what your thoughts are or what have you.
Some of my students last year, when that happened, saw this going around on instagram and snap chat and they said, "We saw on some social media site that there is going to be a nationwide walkout on March 14th to honor the kids whose lives were lost at exactly 10:17, and we really want to do that." And so, the other biggest piece that I have learned in my teaching is really amplify their voices. I think when I was a new teacher, I wanted to spread my wisdom like it was so all about what can I teach them.
Whereas now I really do get we need to give them a voice, we need to have them come to these realizations in their own time and guide them that way. So these two girls went to the principal. We coordinated to change our schedule for the day. We set up 17 speakers--students, parents, teachers who were going to come and speak. These kids did it all. And it was all because they had seen it on social media. And they spread it through their own social media like "If you want to submit something to be one of the speakers, send your google doc to..."
I don't know if you remember, but on that day, it was pouring outside. Kids were standing with umbrellas and we had everyone outside. And they spoke and it was so powerful. And it was so student driven. And it was all because what they had seen on social media. So I think there is good and bad. If we teach them to use it properly, it is a really powerful media for them to get their voice out there. And that has been a real realization for me. Instead of being like, "Darn technology. Get off your phones kids."
Anne: Do you find your infectiousness with amplifying their voices within your classroom has spread to other teachers within the school?
Melissa: You know it is hard to tell. I feel like I always have to say for me if every class can have an element of service learning and this and that, it would be amazing, But I also really recognize that our math teachers and our language, arts teachers and our science teachers are so under the gun for having to meet standards and get test scores. There is a real kind of rigidity that I don't have. So I can't judge.
And absolutely, yes I think our staff is so good about giving kids choice and you need to accomplish this, but how you go about it gives them that choice. But when you have a class that is all based on service learning and kindness and connection, it is a much easier to be able to champion that, then if you have certain material that you have to get through before state testing and you are going to be held accountable for that.
And that is the part that is really hard for teachers. When you are teaching an academic subject, there is a lot of pressure. So I think our staff really does the very best they can with the restraints on them. I'm just lucky that I get to teach my class.
Audrey: That is great. We have some callers in the queue.
Melissa: And the former middle schooler in me is like "I'm so glad there are questions. What if nobody wanted to hear anything." [laughter]
Audrey: Melissa you are like ageless. It is amazing to see how you can kind of empathize at so many different levels--as an adult, as a parent, as a child--and really feel where people are coming from. I think that is such a beautiful quality that you carry.
Ashima: Hi Melissa. This is Ashima. Thank you so much. And thank you Audrey and Anne. It is such a beautiful conversation and I have been smiling throughout it. Anne, I have to say what a beautiful poem to begin with. Oh my God. I was also blessed to visit Melissa's classroom last month and I was amazed by her energy at the end of the day.
We met around 5 pm, and I have never seen a teacher so energetic at the end of the day. And her classroom, especially the positive mirror room, is definitely like ServiceSpace in the classroom.
And Melissa, I'm amazed at the approach of looking through everything through the lens of what you needed when you were that age. I think it is so difficult to practice. I'm sure the students are so grateful for it, even the parents. Your homeworks are definitely that.
So a question that I had was I recently came across this whole conversation around empathy and compassion and how compassion is not just being nice. So what I want to ask was how do you practice some tough love with your students? Did you ever need to?
Melissa: Yes. They really know, I think because middle schoolers can read authenticity. So if you are trying to fake anything with them. They know instantly. And I think they really feel how much I really love and respect them.
So that I really never have to yell in my classroom. But I will have to...I will get stern with them. If they are messing around during the meditation for example, and I can hear that. Once it is finished, I'll just say to them, "You know, I have to say it feels really disrespectful for the people that we are holding intentions for, to not just be able to sit and honor that. It breaks the energy and it is not respectful to your classmates who maybe have an intention that they are holding or are wanting to really connect in.
And in that way, it is almost like, you know, if your parents would say, "I'm not angry. I'm disappointed." And we were like, "Just yell at me. Just yell at me." But I do have to do that sometimes because in the end they are still seventh graders. Some mess around or don't feel comfortable. So I really try to root it in "this isn't ok." We are here to support each other and do this or what have you, and when you do x, it can be interpreted as y to your other classmates. I would never do that to you and I expect that you won't do that to others.
And I think that is the way I can practice tough love with them. Because they go through so much at this age and some of them are already experiencing their own trauma that I never want to be someone that they are going to feel like punished them. Had consequences for them, absolutely, but punishing them or making them feel badly, I couldn't do it. So if I err on the side of maybe being too soft. For me, I would rather that than ever...because once you make them feel embarrassed or ashamed, you can almost never get them back. Or it takes a long time. And I only get six weeks with them. So I think that the tough love that I practice is always rooted in that.
Like "I expect the mutual respect in this classroom and I expect that you are going to take to heart what we are doing." And that is the way that I practice it, if that makes sense.
Ashima: Yes, yes, very beautiful. Thank you so much.
Audrey: Yeah, kind of as a follow up to that, when you were describing the meditation that you do with your students, you need a little bit of tough love for the students to really take that seriously. And it sounds like you have been able to create a sacred space where they really honor the silence and they hold that and reflect. How do you do that?
Melissa: Well, I will tell you the very first time with any new class that we meditate is always the hardest because most of them have never done anything like it. I think the silence or hearing the music sometimes translates as awkward giggles, sitting next to each other if their knees bump, what have you.
So before we start the first meditation that Thursday, I really lay out the expectations. And I will say, "I understand that this may feel awkward for some of you. Or you are not used to it. Or you want to take this opportunity to catch someone's eye across the room and make funny faces, but for me this is really sacred."
And the fact that we do the intention cards before we ever do the first meditation is really useful, because I can say, "You all have written down something that is important to you that you want to hold space for. And if you are messing around or breaking that, then that is really taking away from someone who may need us."
So then, the first one is always a little awkward. So I'll say afterwards, "So, now that we have been through it. Now that you know what to expect when we are sitting in silence. The next time there will be no messing around or trying to get attention or trying to do anything other than really holding intentions."
And I swear, every time they just get it. They do it. I will say, "For me personally, I really have things that I am holding space for. And I am holding it for all of you. So if you are messing around then that is something I will take personally." And that I think too is like...because I know how much I love them, I know they don't want to disappoint me. I know they don't. So if I put it for me too, it is like, "Ok, we don't want to do that for her."
So I think setting the expectation for the first one and after the first one saying, "Ok, now that we have that out of our system. I'm going to give you a pass on that one. From here on out, here are the expectations." And we revisit them before we start. I'll just say, "Once the music starts, I expect you to get settled and really just enjoy this time."
And I also tell them, "This is a gift. In what other class in school are you able to just sit for ten minutes and listen to music and just be still?" Not a lot, so take the gift my friends. And I think then they really get that. It is really kind of front loading it with what the expectations are.
Anne: Well Melissa if you could also share how you allow the students to ring the bell?
Melissa: Yeah, so we do our moment with like a minute of silence before each class period, not on the full meditation days. I have these little chimes. So last year, I would always hold it and tell them, "When you hear the chimes, we'll take two deep breaths in and out together."
And this year, one of my students said, "Can I be the chimes?" Again, when you talk about learning from the students. And I was like, "Yeah, absolutely." And from then on out, I have never run the chimes again. They do the chimes every time. And it is so interesting because they will say, "How do I know when the minute is up?" And I will say, "Just feel the class. When you feel like we are ready, do the chimes." And if it takes longer than that and it is so interesting to see. Sometimes kids do the chimes in like 30 seconds. Other times kids have gone for like two minutes, and I think giving them that responsibility and saying, "I trust you with this sacred moment." It is the best and I would never have thought of it.
And I also do a moment of silence. I teach the fifth graders typing, mind you, old school. And I also do a moment of mindfulness with them and I do the same I see you roll call. I let the fifth graders do the chimes too instead of thinking they are too young and they won't get it. Every time, a different child every day, and every time they do it perfectly.
I am waiting for the kid, like the class clown who like just doesn't ring it forever, and we are sitting there for the whole class period. But so far, we've been good.
Audrey: Awww. That is great. We'll go to our next question.
Kozo: Melissaaaa! This is Kozo.
Melissa: Oh my God. How are you?
Kozo: Oh my God. What a blessing. You know, I didn't know who was on the Awakin Call this morning, and I just called in late. I had no idea who it was, who was hosting, and I heard Anne's voice, and I'm like, "Oh my God, it is Anne!"
Melissa: Right!
Kozo: Then I was like, "Oh my God, it is Melissa." Then I heard Audrey and was like "Oh my, what a blessing."
Two things, one I'm so jealous that these kids get to spend six weeks with you and we just spent an hour with you and I'm like, "I could sit on this call all day." Beautiful.
What really came up for me, Melissa, is...it just kept ringing over and over...is dignity and restoring dignity. When you talking about caregiving for your mom, when you were talking about these kids who didn't do their project, when you were talking about tough love, all these things, there is just this baseline of dignity and restoring that back to people who maybe have lost their dignity. Because when you think about it, the kids who are acting out and doing different things, at some point in time they lost their dignity and they are kind of lost. It is just beautiful.
Obviously, I'm thinking about my older son; he's in sixth grade now, so he is in middle school. And I'm thinking a lot about the things I have failed on. So the question I have for you because I was really struck by the relationship you had with your mother. I'm wondering if you had a point in your life where you found yourself doing the same thing. Where you were just this amazing kind, compassionate teacher, but then had trouble transferring that into your home with you children or your husband. Because to tell the truth, Melissa, both my wife and my eldest son have said to me, "You call yourself compassionate?" So I was wondering if you had an experience like that.
Melissa: Yes, I have actually. It is so interesting because I for a long time, up until I really started doing my own healing, I was so easy going in the classroom, and I don't yell. And then I would get home and the way that I would react to things was really kind of explosive. Like, "What are you doing?" And that I think was so much like my mom.
And then I welled in the shame of I know this not what I needed as a child, so why am I doing this to my own kids. And I know my daughter would say the same, like I was a quick yeller. And I don't know if that was because I held it all...there are some students that hold it together beautifully at school, they get home and they get YAAAAHHH with their parents. And I think I would do that as well.
And it wasn't until I truly started to find my own peace and my own acceptance of myself that I got much calmer at home and was able to not be explosive. And I think the difference for me with what I hope the cycle that I am breaking with my daughter is that my mother would never have said, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I did say that." And I really have gotten to a place where before I never, my ego was so big, and I couldn't admit anything because that is weakness and I needed to be strong. Again I was very controlling because I was so out of control, things that happened to me were so out of my control as a child, that then I would just clamp down. And when I started finding my own healing I would just say, "You are right. I shouldn't have done that." My daughter was saying I had set up lunch with someone and I didn't even ask her about it. And she said, "You didn't even ask me. You should have asked me."
The old me would have said, "You know, I'm your mom. You are going to go." Instead, I said, 'You are right actually." Because it was disrespectful. I didn't even check with her first. I just made an assumption and set it up.
So I think that is where I have grown. That is to be able to say, first of all, just to be calmer because I feel more peaceful with myself and more loving towards myself, that I can say to her, or you know, most of my kids, but it really is, the mother-daughter relationship is something to behold, my friend, sometimes. And I can just say, you're right, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said it, I shouldn't have done that.
And I think again it's the same way with apologizing to my students. When they see that you're willing to admit fault, that really I think means a lot to them, that really resonates with them because it's not like you're trying to pretend like you never do anything wrong, you never make mistakes and you can, you know, the kids can only learn from you, don't question anything about me, because I know it all. I think when they see your own humility and willingness to show that vulnerability and admit fault, I think that goes such a long way with kids. And my mother would do that and I never used to be able to, never. I really I would, man, I would bear down, even if I knew I was wrong. Because I felt like I couldn't admit I was wrong because then that would mean I was weak.

Kozo: Beautiful. Beautiful. Thank you, Melissa. Thank you for all that you're doing.

Melissa: Oh my gosh, I'm so happy to hear from you.

Kozo: One quick plug -- Cupertino School District needs you! Love you!

Melissa: Love you!

Audrey: Thank you. Thank you, Kozo. It's a great reminder in these high performing times or in high-performing cultures, how to kind of reground in, you know, just genuinely who you are. We have still a couple more questions and about 10 minutes left in the call. So we'll go to our next caller.

Moe: Hello, this is Moe.

Melissa: Hi.

Moe: I enjoyed your talk. There is a good chance that two of my friend's children, they are now grown-ups, may have been your students, I don't know. They should have been your student.

Melissa: Oh my gosh. What are their names?

Moe: I think last name is Elmi E-L-M-I. One name is Iman. Iman and Anush, I'm not sure.

Melissa: Oh, okay. I think so. I had Iman. So I wonder if that was the same. Oh my god, that is amazing!

Moe: I have all kinds of questions. Number one is, did you share your experience with all school districts within California or not? Number two is, have you written a book from your experience so that maybe other school districts and teachers can have that book and learn from your experience. And number three is, if there is a chance to save one school district in Sacramento area. They would like you to go and have a two-hour seminar for the teachers for that school district, you can do that.

Melissa: Yes. Okay. So as far as for all of California -- No. I mean I know that there's no actual state standard requirement for service-learning. So I think, you know, we're really blessed in our district that we still have money and such from different, you know, taxes and property taxes, to have these enrichment programs like art and band and my class and and makers. So I know that I'm sure in other districts that, you know, don't have that kind of opportunity that there probably isn't a class like this. So I just know of it in our district. I've kind of, you know, looked around because I teach four days a week of it, like it really is a set class that all of the seventh graders are required to take. I think it's so important, I think every school should teach it for sure.

I don't have a book like a curriculum book, but I'm slowly putting, you know, I have everything typed up. I have all of my homework typed up. So it is definitely something that I have been thinking about putting together because again, there's no, you know... I was going to be an actress once a blue moon ago and the focus was so much on I want fame and I need money, and this. And I've really come to, oh my gosh, I am happy to share anything that I've done that people would find worthy. So I would love to be able to kind of call it all together in a way that would make sense for it to be available if people would want to use it or trying to do, you know, at least use the structure for their class. So I am working on that.

And as far as doing seminars, I would love that. I think that would be amazing to go and just be able to share my experience and hear what other teachers are doing. I mean, I am always learning from you know, like I said, Anne and Audrey I've learned so much from them. I learned so much from so many people in ServiceSpace and my own students. I would love to do seminars and, you know, present what has worked for me and then hear other ideas. I think that would be amazing.

Moe: May I just comment, Melissa, that I will be in touch with you for another district at some point in time. The other thing is that when you are preparing your book, if it is an instructional manual that could help the other pieces.

Melissa: Yes, absolutely. I now know that this is a sign, I need to get on it. I will, my friend. I promise.

Audrey: It's true. We do need a book of all your amazing stories in your curriculum, Melissa.

Melissa: I will, I promise. I've been, I was just in school myself and I recently graduated in December. So there's no excuse. I have the time now. I will, I hear you and I'm on it.

Audrey: That's great. You're always non-stop with everything. We will go to our next caller. We have about five minutes left in the call.

Caller: Hey Melissa, I so resonate with your love of middle schoolers. I used to be a Middle School drama teacher.

Melissa: Oh my gosh, the best.

Caller: And the drama was required, which is also a brilliant thing that schools can do.

Melissa: Yes!!

Caller: Yeah, well, I wanted to ask you personally. You had mentioned a couple of times that you had done some healing work and I'm wondering what that looked like for you. Just can you maybe briefly describe some things that you did that helped you and also in terms of dealing with the mom stuff. And also maybe what do you do for self care?

Melissa: Yes, so first of all, you know, and I like I said, you know, telling, you know, my story, you know, did get a lot of sympathy or what have you. I don't do that anymore, but I do think it's important to understand kind of the background. And so, you know in my past, from the time I was 8 to 11, I was really very sexually abused on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. And that's not just my story. That's one in three, you know, women experience the same thing. And so for me that just kind of set... So my middle school years, you know, I had said, you know, when I was entering sixth grade, I was like -- “No more, I'm telling.” And so then that stops.

But you know, then you have the years of the recovery and the residue that sticks. And when I finally told my mother what had happened, it wasn't, gosh, it wasn't until I was like 25. And then on top of that, she didn't believe me. So then there's another layer of you know, not only my own kind of personal shame about it, but also another thing that I could hate her for, you know. So for my feeling I will tell you honestly, I ended up putting on a one-woman show in San Francisco, called "Growing out my bangs" and I was just like that was like my whole thing growing up, like if I felt totally out of control, I would like cut my bangs, I'd be like, I'm going to grow out my bangs. That was my way of holding onto one little piece of control that became the title of my show.

But that was a year-long process of really just like purging everything on stage through, even though it was me, I was able to you know work through a lot of the aggression I had towards my mom and the shame that I felt and what I had hoped, what I hoped to be for my daughter. So that was a huge piece of my healing, was just going through that show and writing and rewriting. And I had an amazing director. And just being brave enough, you know. The tagline, and I put this at the very end I think of my questions, the tagline for that show was "Don't hide, go seek." And that, we are good, we always play hide-and-go-seek, right, but in this case I was like, I just had, I knew just somewhere deep down that if I did not bare it all, if I did not, you know, if I held anything back, I was only hurting, you know, myself.

So that was incredible and then you know, I found, I went on, I heard about this like goddess retreat and I was like, alright, a bunch of tree huggers like that's not going to be for me. But again that little voice was like just go, just go, just go. And I went and it was so eye opening and it was really the first time that, like through kind of our meditations and our silent hikes, that I started to connect with feeling worthy as as a woman, really. And not feeling shamed or dirty or anything like that. So that was huge and I started, you know, kind of meditating and reading books on that and then this book that I wrote, this little Miss book, it's just kind of like a poem book. But that book kind of just came through me like within 20 minutes. And I was joking with Anne, saying how, you know, I've heard artists say like, oh I was painting and it wasn't me, you know, it was just coming through me, and I used to be like, yeah right, until this happened with this children's book and I was like, oh my God, that's what they mean, you know.

So I wrote the book and I self-published it. So that was healing. And, you know, I did, I went to therapy for it, you know. And I tell my students, I'm like, yeah, I've been to therapy, you know, to help me figure out my own, you know, path and to kind of demystify that as, it's something that's taboo to do. But that really also helped me figure out... You know, there was a line in my show where I, you know, I'm writing a letter to my daughter and I'm saying, you know, I have to figure out where my mother ends and I begin. And that piece was really, you know, that was really hard to kind of separate out what, you know, who am I outside of my relationship with her. So that really kind of helped with the healing as well.

But I love that you taught drama because that for me really was, that was such a purging of everything, you know. And saying it four nights a week for four weeks, you know to an audience of people that I didn't know, you know, some opening night was mostly my friends, but from there on out, you know. And so that was incredibly healing. And also really to kind of connecting with my mom and see, you know, what hurts she brought into her life and how she kind of then, you know, brought that on to us and the awareness that I didn't want to do that with my daughter. And I still make mistakes, you know. I figure I'm just setting her up for her own one-woman show.

Caller: And what tremendous courage, you know, to go out there, and a one-woman show is, on its own, a huge amount of courage, that it takes. And to do that and tell your own story that you were already not believed about. Huge!

Melissa: Oh, but it was great. It was amazing. It was such an amazing experience. You know, it really was, it was tremendous. So you know, my first husband, I was with my first husband during that and he was, you know, so supportive and we, you know, we got a second mortgage out on our home. You know, I would have people say, you know, like, so it wasn't a success? Like, you know, how much money did you make on it? And I was like, oh my god, if we're talking financially, I lost so much money on it because it cost so much to get it done. But you know, that's not my measure of success. I'm like, oh my god, I came out the other side so much further along in my healing and there's just, there isn't a price you can put on that. So yeah, it was amazing. It was incredible.
Caller: That's hugely inspiring. Thank you so much Melissa.
Audrey: Yeah, thank you. Who is calling, by the way?
Caller: This is Melanie. I'm in New York state.
Audrey: Aww, thank you, Melanie.
Melanie: It's only the second call I've ever joined on Awakin.
Audrey: Awww.
Melissa: Oh god, I'm so honored. Thank you so much.
Audrey: Yeah, thank you so much for your question. So now looking at the clock, I see we are a couple of minutes out of time.

Melissa: Ahh, I'm sorry.
Audrey: No. No, I mean thank YOU so much. It's been such an amazing conversation and I feel like so many of us, we're just left with so many more questions for you, but I guess they have to wait for your next book.
Melissa: I am so happy to give my email as well on a link or what have you.
Audrey: Aww, thank you. We can share that online afterwards. But one final question we have for you and then we'll close out the call is, you know, how can we as our as an ecosystem of the community this ServiceSpace ecosystem be of service to you in your journey and your work and any way.
Melissa: Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? Like you have done so much for me, you have no idea. To continue service is just to continue teaching me, to allow me the beauty and gift of these, you know, these calls and Laddership and, you know, that, you know, going to Banyan Grove and just, you know, everything that you all are doing -- it just absolutely blows me away. The effort and love and work that goes in to all of this. So just continuing to ask me to participate is the best way, the best way, so I can continue to grow. Because I have grown leaps and bounds through my experience with all of you, and I just can't tell you enough how grateful I am. It's the hugest gift in my life, truly! Because I'm able to then give to others in my own family and everything from the growth that I've experienced. So just keep asking me to dance, I guess is what I'm saying.

Audrey: Aww, thank you Melissa. That's so sweet of you. And it's amazing, you know, the ways that we all influence each other and I know that many would say the same of you, how you helped so many grow. So thank you for that beautiful lessons and the stories and for just being who you are with all that bouncing energy...

Melissa: The only person I can be, right?

Audrey: Thank you! We'll close out the call. I think Anne has some final thoughts before we close with a minute of gratitude and silence for all that's been shared.

Anne: Yeah, thank you, Melissa! One intention that really stays in this call is your wish to experience more of the world. And may we all really have the courage to be here and live the life we're here to live. And so thank you! And I wanted to just close with a couple of verses I actually found in your book, Little Miss. I feel like it's a perfect close after beginning with Mary Oliver. So I'll just read and then we can share a moment of silence to close the call.

So this is from "Little Miss and Spirit Bear's Kiss:"

He felt her pain and sadness
He knew why her light had grown dim
But he also knew that a glimmer still glowed
To rekindle it she could learn from him.

Until one day she finally met that bear
His presence to her suddenly known.
But something whispered in her ear
"Trust and let all else go"

"Who are you?" she asked
"I'm here to help you tell your story."

Thank you, Melissa. Thank you so much.

Audrey: Thank you! A lot of gratitude for all the goodness that's been shared. Then I will unmute us all so you can wave a good night, good morning to everybody. And as I think another caller, Mish, wrote in: Thank you for being you and inviting love and all you do, Melissa. You made me smile and chuckle, she says, your spirit helps us not to buckle. [Laughter] So thank you. Let's close with a minute of silent gratitude.

Audrey: Thank you.

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