We sit at my kitchen table, as the sun goes down and the day is coming to an end. Even as the sun is setting, though, we have much yet to discover.
Emy: What is your name?
Annelisa: Annelisa Monica Francis Avellino.
Emy: That's quite a few names!
Emy: What is the first thing we should know about you?
Annelisa: The first thing I usually tell people is I have a really big family, which has definitely affected my life, so I guess...yeah. I have a huge family! I have four brothers and three sisters. Wait, no I have four brothers and four sisters. Oh, and one cat and two dogs. And actually a lot of other brothers and sisters.
She giggles and seems delighted by something.
Emy: What do you mean?
Annelisa: Just people who started out as friends, then really quickly became something closer than that. Not blood, but family anyway.
Emy: Do you like living in such a big family?
Annelisa: Most of the time, yeah. There are sometimes where you just want to get away from all of the noise, but most of the time it's just comforting to know that they're always all around me. I feel safer in a big family.
She says this as if it's obvious, as true as the blue sky above and the green grass beneath. There is something about her confidence in these few simple statements that leads me to believe her world, her person, and her outlook on life have been beautifully and positively shaped by this big family existence.
Emy: Who are the most important people in your life?
Annelisa: My sister, Corinne, and my little brother, Isaac are hugely important. My whole family obviously is so important in my life, but those two lately especially have been super incredible. Not even that they're just really nice or anything, I fight with them so much and get so ticked off at them, but we are consistently there for each other. I can always tell they care. It's like that with my whole family, but especially with them. My older siblings are all out of the house right now, so I'm the oldest, then it's Corinne and Isaac, and then all the younger kids. I feel like the three of us have gotten closer lately. Or, at least I've gotten closer to them.
She goes on to explain a completely different "family," entirely made up of her dear friends. The list goes on as she tries to wrap up several times, only to remember another cherished face, and go on to describe them in detail.
There is not even a hint of self-promotion in this beautiful woman. All the conversation is centered around others, their quirks, their likes and dislikes, the things that make them so wonderful to Annelisa that they need to be described in full detail. It's pulling teeth to get her to focus on herself!
Annelisa: I guess I could just talk all about people!
My thoughts exactly. She is lovely.
We pull away slowly from the topic of other people, as I feel we are getting to know them better than we'll get to know her! However, all the characters she describes seem delightfully unique and worthy of her friendship.
Emy: What do you love to do?
Annelisa: I love to help people. Yeah, I guess I just really like to help people. Wait, I also like to dance and sing and act. I love writing when I have a good idea. But I'm not the best singer, or the best writer, or the best dancer, or the best actress. I don't have just one artistic talent that is mine and that I'm really good at. I just have a little bit of all of them and I love using them for whatever. If I can help anyone by using my talents on any of their projects then that is the greatest feeling ever. So, I love to help. It's kind of become my thing. I feel like it's my purpose! Just to contribute to artistic projects, being with my friends, and helping them. In Peter Pan, which is a story I've been obsessed with since I was two, there's Peter and he's really cocky and he has all the plans. But, then Wendy comes along and is kind of caring for all of them, encouraging the lost boys, and just being there for them. At one point in the book she is referred to as a "Wendy-bird." So, I started calling myself Wendy-bird. I feel like that's just part of who I am. I just want to encourage, and help, and be there. I'm not someone who wants to start something and be in charge. I'd rather be a helper.
Servant's heart. I'm not sure I've ever met a truer example of it.
Emy: What are some things you've helped on and you loved?
Annelisa: I've been in some plays and I love those. I love doing costume crew for plays at the school I used to go to, and I loved acting in them, too. I intern a lot! Because, that's essentially what I want to do with my life. I just want to offer up my services in any way that I can. And I wouldn't want to do just one project. I was interning for my brother's film company, Avellino Studios, and I got to write a script! That was amazing, because I didn't know that I could write a script. He just asked me to brainstorm, then told me to write it! I felt really awkward at first because I thought there was no way for me to do it. I kept thinking, "This isn't actually going to happen," but I'm going to do it anyway! Then he gave me another project where I had to put together a wedding video! And now I'm interning with Verity Vareé, which has been pretty awesome! I pick flowers, make coffee, do dishes. I love being here and encouraging the people doing the shoots. Because, I can be completely honest: they really do look beautiful! I just love being here.
She smiles. Her warmth and charm calm you down, draw you in. She seems almost too good to be true, but I know from experience that this is the real deal, the whole person, and that her warmth and charity simply come as part of the package. This is the sweet, thoughtful, caring conversation you're promised when talking with this dear heart.
Annelisa: My cheek muscles hurt from smiling a lot.
Emy: What are your favorite things?
Annelisa: My favorite colors are red and green, but not put together. I don't like Christmas colors. I like them, but not together, like forest red and forest green, or a red rose with green leaves. Just something nature-y. I love lasagna and Chinese food so much! I love the outdoors. I love water, but not really a huge fan of the beach, or the ocean. I love rivers and streams and lakes. I love fantasy. When I was little and couldn't sleep, I would stare out the window waiting for Peter Pan to come pick me up. I'm pretty sure I had a sister who did this, too.
She smiles sweetly, giggling under her breath.
Annelisa: I would stare out the window and wait for him, and I'd imagine what I would say to him if he did. I do that. I talk to myself! I'll just make up scenes in my head. I guess I just love acting, so I'll make up these scenes and act them out with myself! Like, if someone walked into my room and saw me talking to myself, angry, well...I mean, I would make myself cry for the scene in my head and people would probably think I'm crazy. Oh, and I love drinking water. Water is my favorite drink! Oh, and ICE!
Annelisa: Oh, ICE, like the brand "ICE drinks!"
Annelisa: I like water and ice, yes, that would sound redundant!
She's laughing at herself.
Annelisa: On the bottles of those drinks it says, "As in life, chill for best results." I saw that and thought, "Okay, this is my favorite drink!" I love ice cream! Ice cream is my favorite dessert. Ice cream and cake. Ice cream cake is pretty good, too! Hmm, other favorite things...I love movies. I don't think I have a favorite movie, but I might. I love X-Men! And music! Music is my favorite thing. I think right now my favorite artist is either the Unlikely Candidate, or American Authors. Passenger is amazing! I feel like I'm totally going with the crowd on them, but I'm not, they are just amazing. One of my favorite things to do is sing while I clean.
A scene from Disney's Enchanted pops into mind, as I imagine Annelisa's cheerful, bright attitude enticing all who hear her to join in on the festivities while she wheels around a room, sprucing things up. Her personality is such that once you meet her you'll want to get to know her, in any capacity, even sing-along-cleaning.
Annelisa: I like sitting outside! I like to feel like a fairy any time I'm in the woods, or outside. I won't wear shoes and I'll be running down a path, so I'll try to run as nymph-like as possible, or at least what I think might look like an elf. I guess I could possibly look stupid, but in my head it looks beautiful and elegant, so I do it. I like talking to people, but I have to stop eventually because I am actually introverted, believe it or not.
It is hard to believe, but she has a sort of Mona Lisa feel to her. She has secrets and wisdom beyond her years. Behind bright smiles, she hides soulful eyes that see beyond cordial fancies and care deeply for real answers. Human authenticity is a rarity, but I think I've found some in her.
Annelisa: I love dragons. Those are my most favorite fantastical creature. Wolves are my favorite animal.
Emy: What is your proudest piece of artwork?
Annelisa: Oh my goodness. I have a different one for each category! That wedding video is one of my proudest accomplishments. Can I get out my sketchbook?
Emy: Yes, of course!
This is an unexpected treat! Rummaging through her notebook like the Mad Hatter, she finally stops on one page and holds it up, beaming. It is a picture of a wolf, with particular attention to shading.
Annelisa: Every time I get my sketchbook out I want to show it to everybody, even if it's not that good. I just like showing my art to people.
Emy: It's interesting how easy it was to figure out what brings you joy. Typically it takes longer to figure out what makes a person's heart sing.
Annelisa: What do you mean?
Emy: Usually it takes a little while to get to a person's true joy in the interview, but you just said, "People!" from the very beginning.
She laughs and blushes a bit, not denying that this was her passion, but also realizing her own enthusiasm, and suddenly a bit embarrassed by her own excitement.
Emy: You say you want to help people, everything you love involved other people, or refers to other people, you pull out your artwork and the first thing you say is that you like to show it to other people. There is such an honesty to your laugh and your smile! It's been a joy to have you here. You have a heart of thanksgiving that makes you a consistently joyful person.
Annelisa: That's what I want to have. I want to be giving thanks, helping and encouraging people through creativity, and loving people. I think the only down side to loving people this much is when I meet someone that I can't help. I'm a Christian, so I try to point them first to God, but it's just hard for me to admit when I actually can't do anything for them. That's okay, I just try to point them to someone who can help them.
She goes on to explain a time of depression in her own life, recalling friends who helped her, but ultimately describing how God brought her through that time and used the trial to change her into a better person.
Emy: What advice would you give to others who may go through a time of depression?
Annelisa: Well, like I said, if it hadn't been for God I would still be that bratty 8th grader and I wouldn't be closer to my sister, and I wouldn't have met the people I met. So, first I'd say seek Him. Also, being physically healthy has a lot to do with it. I would say you need an outlet, like writing, or art. Sports, if you enjoy doing that! Just find something that you enjoy doing! It doesn't matter if it's the most productive thing, you just have to find joy in doing it! Don't be afraid to tell others how you're feeling and get help. I know I felt like no one would want to be around me, or hear me cry, but people can love you and do love you. Hold on to that, that you are loved. No matter who you are, you are loved!
We pause, I take a sip of my coffee, and we are almost done.
Annelisa: In fact, I love you! If I meet you I will talk to you and I love you so much!
If that isn't a perfect note to end on, I don't know what is. She smiles, she laughs, and we push back from the table.
Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you Miss Wendy-bird, Annelisa Monica Frances Avellino.