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#WCW - Audrey Hepburn

Dear friends, as many of you already know, #WCW stands for Woman Crush Wednesday. Though many use this as a weekly opportunity to praise the women in their lives, I would like to use this as a way to shine a light on a woman you would totally crush on, IF you knew who she was. As a hopelessly romantic child, I swooned over the love stories played out in the old classic films. My first love was John Wayne, and I longed to have the gumption of the leading ladies who "made his blood boil", to quote him directly. On the screen, these women were unstoppable. They challenged the status quo and fought their way through extreme adversity and did so with grace and panache. But the dynamic lives these women lived on screen often paled in comparison to the lives they lived off screen. Obviously, times have changed since these women ruled the stage and screen, but their stories, struggles and triumphs have so much to teach us today.

For the first installment, I think it's only fitting to celebrate the birthday girl, Audrey Hepburn. On my own birthday a few years ago, a wonderful friend of mine (Hi, Sandra!) gave me a book called "How to be Lovely" that used Audrey's life and quotations as a road map to, well... loveliness. If anyone could give a masterclass on the subject, it would be Audrey. Her exceptional talent and inner grace allowed her to be convincing as a princess or a pauper. So many of her characters will stand the test of time, but her greatest contribution to the world will surely be her legacy of kindness and compassion. Many have heard of the humanitarian efforts she spearheaded later in her life, but her beginnings were just as compelling.

Audrey's mother was a Dutch baroness who made her own waves by divorcing her first husband and raising her two boys on her own before meeting and marrying Audrey's father, who would leave them when she was six years old. From a very young age, Audrey dreamed of being a ballerina. When she was 10 years old, Audrey was in a boarding school outside of London when her family decided to move to Holland, thinking it would be the safest place knowing that World War II was on the horizon. Shortly after the move, the Germans stormed their town. Audrey and her family expected them to leave in a few days or months at the most, certainly not for five years.

"Don't discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It's worse than you could ever imagine."

During the Nazi occupation, money and food were scarce, so instead of giving up on her dreams, Audrey found a new way to put her talents to use. Using a hand-crank gramophone for music, Audrey would teach her own small ballet classes... for a dime per lesson. She also danced in secret fundraisers for the Resistance. So secretive, in fact, that you couldn't even clap for the performances for risk of being discovered by the Nazis. Creative measures were taken when it came to food preparation, including boiling grass and tulip bulbs. Obviously this was not enough to sustain anyone in a healthy manner and at the end of the five years, Audrey was 16 years old, weighed 88 pounds and suffered from asthma, jaundice and anemia that left her with dark circles under her eyes that never really went away.

War was just one of the heartbreaks she would face in life, in addition to two divorces, four miscarriages and a fall from a horse that broke her spine in four places. With so much excruciating sadness, it would be so easy to retreat into a shell of bitterness and anger. But, Audrey didn't do that. She had truly seen humanity at its ugliest, and instead of ruining her, it just instilled in her a desire to create beauty. Fairy tales had always been a source of joy for Audrey during those dark times, so bringing some to life on the screen was just one way to give that same hope to others.

"I'm proud to have been in a business that gives pleasure, creates beauty, and awakens our conscience, arouses compassion, and perhaps most importantly, gives millions a respite from our so violent world."

In her later years, Audrey served as the goodwill ambassador for UNICEF and traveled the world to meet people in desperate need and carry their stories back in an effort to raise awareness of how certain countries lived on a day to day basis. The U.S. Committee for UNICEF nearly doubled their fund raising revenue during her time, and in 1992, she was even given the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Quite an honor for a girl from Belgium who wanted nothing more than to "wear a tutu and dance at Covent Garden".

What we can learn from Audrey?

1. So many people look at the world and only see the suffering. It's easy to do because there truly is so much. But instead of seeing the sorrow, look instead for the opportunity. Don't contribute to the negativity. Get up, and get out there. Help people with your actions, your words and your optimism. You have so much to give, so why keep it to yourself?

"The world has always been cynical, and I think I'm a romantic at heart. I hope for better things, and I thank God the world is also full of people who want to be genuine and kind."

2. As we get older, it becomes harder to take risks, especially with our hearts. Audrey wanted two things very desperately in life. To love and to be loved. She wanted a love that would last and she wanted to be a mother. Every time her heart broke, she picked herself up and threw herself back out there again. Despite the abandonment issues she clearly developed when her father left at such a young age, she knew that you just have to keep trying if you're ever going to get what you want. When she passed away, she was living with the love of her life, in a house filled with flowers in Switzerland, two sons who loved her deeply and so many more people throughout the world who felt the same way. Audrey never gave up on herself or on people. She didn't let heartache rule her life, and she kept such grace through it all.

"It has stayed with me through my own relationship. When I fell in love and got married, I lived in constant fear of being left. Whatever you love most, you fear you might lose, you know it can change. Why do you look from left to right when you cross the street? Because you don't want to get run over. But, you still cross the street."

3. No matter how hopeless you think things have become, don't let the world change you for the worse. Let adversity make you better. Continue to strive for the light, and you will be a light for others.

"It's the flowers you choose, the music you play, the smile you have waiting. I want to be gay and cheerful, a haven in this troubled world."

Happy Birthday, Audrey. And thank you for your legacy of love, kindness and grace.