I don't know about anyone else, but I have a life goal to inspire others. Even if it's one person, I've done something right. I have this thing about life. It's short, sometimes we don't even know how short. There are babies who barely live past birth, a smart and amazing 8 year old boy took his last breathe on a Boston street, I had a friend die in a car crash when we were just 16, people pass from cancer or other diseases. I'm not looking to depress you. I'm looking to prove my point. Life.Is.Short. BUT, life is also beautiful, unbelievably beautiful, if we just stop and look around.
Every day, we are surrounded by beauty, by beautiful people, by LIFE, but many times, we are too focused on the bad things or the trivial things or the every day stresses that,if we stop for a moment and really think about them, look at them objectively, we realize aren't all that important in the long run. When we are consumed by those things, we forget. We forget that we only have this one life. We have one chance to make our mark, to spend time with those we love, to make a difference, to enjoy all of the little and big things life is giving us.
The first time this all really sunk in for me was September 11, 2001. We all remember where we were. I had skipped a class and was getting ready for my next with the Today Show on. I remember watching in shock as the live feed behind Matt Lauer showed the second plane hitting. I still get chills just typing it. I remember I just starting to cry. After that day, I remember distinctly thinking about people I knew who were not speaking to each other and wondering how they could still hold a grudge after knowing what just happened. I mean, didn't they realize that you never know what your last words to someone could be? Didn't they realize how someone could be gone in an instant? Didn't they realize life is precious? After that, I wanted to make sure I remembered all of this. But, I got caught up in life. I took care of my grandmother suffering from alzheimer's and got stuck in it, I let everyday life take over and let stress get to me. I forgot to live. Then, I finally started to snap out of it. At 28, I went on my first overseas trip alone. I was excited and terrified at the same time. I got there and had a complete meltdown after a very long day of travel and realization that I was in a foreign country where I couldn't speak the language, and thought, "what have I done?" But then, after a good night's sleep, I conquered Rome. I wasn't afraid anymore. I realized THIS was living. It was an unbelievably freeing experience. I felt more confident in myself than I ever had. I fell in love with Italy, with traveling, with the realization that there is a big world out there that needed to be explored and appreciated. This was something I already knew, but had lost it while losing myself in everyday life.
So, that was the start of my solo traveling, something I try to make happen at least once a year and in 2012 and 2014, twice in one year. I've had a lot of "aren't you afraid to travel alone?" and "It must be nice to be you." To that first comment I say, of course I am sometimes. But, fear is in our minds. We let fear take over, we think of all the bad things that could happen instead of just enjoying. I think of children when I say this. I would love to have the mind of a child. They are too young (most of them at least) to know fear. They don't over think. They enjoy and appreciate the little things. I mean, really, watch a child when they get a new toy or something as simple as an ice cream cone. The little things.
Now, the second comment. Yes, it IS nice to be me. It is nice to be me because I make my life the way I want it. And anyone else can too if they let go of that fear, if they truly start to realize how short and precious life is. That comment used to annoy me, now I find it amusing. I don't have a lot of money. I own my own business and started a second one that I don't even get paid for yet. I'm basically poor. :) But, I know that if I don't make time and find the money in my budget to do the things I love, that make me happy, that feed my soul, I will regret it and may not have the chance. I hear a lot of people say, "Someday, I'll _______" (travel to a place I've always wanted to go, quit the job I hate and do something I love, etc). My response to this is, there may not be a someday. Now, is the time to live.
As much as I tried to embrace this whole philosophy, I admit I hadn't fully. Then, on April 15, 2013, I was watching one of the most inspirational things there is, the Boston Marathon. Every year I've watched, I've been in awe and inspired, especially near the finish line. You see people pushing themselves for the last of 26.2 miles, but you also see humanity. In 2012, it was HOT and humid, horrible conditions for a marathon. While standing in the bleachers, I watched a man collapse. I got tears in my eyes, thinking, "he's so close. His race can't end half a block from the finish". Another man stopped just past him. He ran back and started to massage his legs and talking to him, giving him water. He then waved off the medical personnel. He managed to help this man get to his feet again and then he helped him to the finish line. That man just ran 26 miles. He was probably trying to make a certain time, but he saw another runner in need and helped him. I have so many stories of things I've seen at the marathon, but we'd be here all day. Here are some pictures from 2012. I still get chills. The first pictures are the story I mentioned above. The man with the gray on the back of his shirt was the one who collapsed. The next picture shows a man whose legs were literally giving out and he was halfway fallen to the ground when two men came up being him, put his arms on their shoulders and walked him to the finish. GOOSEBUMPS. Humanity.
What I learned that day and through this experience was that I had to stop half-assing life. I was already doing many things I wanted to. I found my passion in a photography business and it's extremely difficult and I don't make a ton of money (which also took a hit for that year from 2013-20140, but I love it. The mayor, before he took office, asked me about my business, if I love it, if I wanted something else. He was asking if I wanted a job. I could've gone to be one of his photographers. I didn't want to. I got a lot of, "but you'd have benefits that would be great", "they make a lot of money" and my favorite, "it would be secure job".
My response to the first two: I would not sacrifice my happiness with what I do now for benefits and a lot of money. I love the mayor but to follow him around taking pictures of him that are barely seen by anyone all day, sometimes very long days, would be miserable. Other days, I'd sit in the office just printing off pictures for him to sign. Um, no thank you. I love my business. It will continue to grow and I'll make good money. I'll have the flexibility to travel like I do and to just enjoy life. Most important, I'll be happy. To the last comment, what is secure anymore? I see people lose jobs all the time. Security means something different to me. I find security in being who I want to be and doing what I want to do. Again, we're here for a short time, I'm making the most of it. I know, I know, it's not always that easy. But, you make sacrifices if you really want to. I don't spend a lot of money. I don't go to expensive dinners all the time or spend a lot of money out drinking. I don't buy more expensive things except for some things I treat myself to here and there. I choose to spend my money on travel and doing the things I truly love. Most importantly, I find time I spend with people to be what makes me most happy, and most of the time, it's a cup of tea or free time. :)
April 15, 2013 led me down a path; a thorny, uphill, rocky path. At the end, I found myself. I found my immense appreciation of life, my life. I found that "life is precious", "anything can happen", "I'm going to make sure I enjoy it all" philosophy. I found humanity in the people I've met along the way. I've found an enhanced appreciation of the little things; the stillness of a lake, the smile from a stranger walking down the street, the unknown amazingness that is the ocean, the tiny details around us every day that we don't notice because we're too busy with our hustle and bustle or looking at our phones. I found love for myself and those around me more than I ever had. They say you have to love yourself first and then you can really be happy and appreciate everyone else and everything around you. It's true. It also helps you give that love so much more easily and freely. The other thing I found is inspiration. SO MUCH inspiration. I already had people who inspired me (these first men are some of them) but I found so much more. So, here are my first two of many people I will highlight in the coming weeks. They will be no surprise.
The first is my cousin, Matt. We are not cousins by blood, but we are cousins in the ways it matters. Most people know Matt's story. In 2010, he was paralyzed playing hockey. From the beginning, Matt has had a positive attitude. He is determined to walk again and he is also determined to help others like him by forming his own foundation, which he decided on just months after his accident. Matt is only 21, but he has this amazing way of putting people of any age at ease. Kids and parents alike, look at him as a sort of celebrity and even get nervous to talk to him at times. Matt can talk to a 7 yr old, someone his own age or a 50 year old and know exactly what to talk about and how to make them comfortable. I don't think there's too many people who can do that with the ease he does. I've thought about Matt a lot when it has come to giving up on something and it makes me keep going. His mantra, "Never Quit" sticks with me. It also gave me another reason to see how short life is. Matt's life changed drastically at just 15 years old. He wasn't able to just get some surgeries and get back on his feet. He works extremely hard and has gained bits of movement over time and I have every bit of faith that he will stand again someday. He also enjoys life. He has the opportunity to live away at college and he makes the most of it. He has such a great sense of humor and can make anyone laugh. He can also give pretty damn good advice for a 21 year old. He did that for me a few times over the year after the bombings. He probably wouldn't even remember it, but I do. As he laid in a hospital bed after having his spine straightened on July 15, three months after the bombings, he very seriously looked at me and asked how I was. When I said I was okay. He said, "How are you really?" And then we talked a bit, with him reassuring me while laying there (and a little drugged so no, he won't remember that conversation). ;) He was one of many who gave me hope. And let's not forget that amazing smile. It's contagious. And last, Matt is now a marathoner. He has been pushed in 6 marathons to date. Can you see why I'm so inspired by him?? Matt doesn't let the difficulties consume him. It's hard. It's life changing. It's a roller coaster at times, but he is determined, positive, and works hard. And so, he is my first person of inspiration.
Imagine fighting for your country, seeing awful things and then as you finish your 6th Boston Marathon, a bomb goes off, something "normal" at war but so unbelievably not normal here. I have thought a lot over these two years about any vets there that day and how it would be so much harder for them, triggering whatever they went through while sacrificing their lives for us. Anyway, Lucas called me 9 days after the bombings. He probably wouldn't remember this conversation but he gave me advice and reassurance that I carried with me. He asked me how I was. He told me that never should have happened, that I should never have to see or experience something like that while on a street in my city. He said that, even when you train to see things like that, it can't prepare you for it and can't stop the effects it will have on you. This helped. For the first time in 9 days, my leg stopped shaking, and even though it was just for the length of our conversation, that was a small victory. His words made me realize I was justified in feeling the way I did, being so messed up from it. I kept thinking that because I wasn't physically hurt, I had no right to be struggling. Lucas assured me I did.
Then, he gave me two very important pieces of advice. One was to connect with others who were there because only they would understand what I was going through. Boy, was he right. No one could understand such a thing (I wouldn't even wish for anyone else to experience it or know what it was like) except those who experienced it. It took me a long time to find those connections, but it made a world of difference when I did. Second, he told me to laugh. He said that when he was overseas and they saw something awful, they'd watch the 3 stooges and laugh. It made sense. When you feel such strong negative emotion, it makes sense to do the exact opposite. There's that old saying, "laughter is the best medicine" and I do think it is. I tried. I watched funny movies I loved and ended up crying (weird) but eventually, I laughed more. It took a while to get my real, deep laugh back, to really find things funny and happy again, but I did and it made a difference. Those two seemingly simple pieces of advice helped me get through the storm.
So, Lucas inspires me. He was already amazing running marathons and having fought for our country and now, he has become a Boston Firefighter to continue helping people. Plus, he's not hard on the eyes. ;) This pic is more of Matt but it shows a blurry image of Lucas' shorts last year which had the names of the four victims of the bombings. This year's had those plus the two firefighters who were killed in the Back Bay fire last March.
I'll leave you with these goals:
Find your passion
Look for the little things every day (or at least on some days)
Stop and smell the roses (figuratively and literally)
Tell the people you love just that. You never know if you won't have the chance again.
Do good things for yourself