Saturday, May 26, 2012

Don't Let Fear Make Your Decisions

"I must say a word abut fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. ...It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always." -Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Sitting in front of my computer at 10pm researching airfare to Kenya a few nights ago, I seriously questioned my latest impulsive decision.

Conversation with self:
"Self, why are you going to Kenya? On your own, nonetheless?"
"Well, I finally have the time and money, I've always wanted to see it, and I have a place to stay..."
"And what if you end up with a place to stay and no one to hang out with... Or what if you end up stranded somewhere?? Wouldn't it be easier to just go visit some place you've already been and hang out with people you know?"
"Yeah, but I'll miss out on so much of life if I allow my fears to make my decisions. I'll figure it out. There are plenty of opportunities to meet people, see new things that will challenge and change my perceptions, and help me to appreciate life more than if I just always stay in the same place because I'm too afraid of the unknowns. I love to travel, and I cannot allow what I fear to stifle what I love."

And there it was. The answer to not only why I decided to go to Kenya when the opportunity arose, but also why I've finally decided to leave all of my familiar comforts to venture out to Colorado to give myself the chance to find what really makes me happy and gives my life meaning. The answer to why I'm going to do all of those things I've always wanted to do, even if it is alone.

For years I had allowed my fears to dictate the direction of my decisions. It is why I stayed at a job for almost 4 years even though I knew I hated as soon as I walked in. It's why I went to a local college to graduate instead of moving away again. It's why I stayed in subpar relationships. I was afraid of letting go of what I knew; I was afraid of change. I was making my decisions based on fear instead of love.

Fear can rob you of the extraordinary life you are meant to live. It will cause you to question your talents and abilities. It will give you a soothingly logical sounding rationale as to why you shouldn't do that potentially risky thing that will have a huge payoff if it works. It can convince you that a good enough life is ok because you don't want to risk giving up a good enough for a great life since going for great involves the risk of failure. Never mind that a failure doesn't mean the end, it just means one way didn't work. Fear won't tell you that- it will tell you if you fail, there's no coming back from it. But don't listen. It's a lie. Don't let fear make your decisions. Trust your gut. Trust your instincts. Trust your heart.  Trust your Self. You won't let you down.

When you make your decisions out of love instead of fear, a whole new world will open up. Opportunities you would have never imagined will seemingly come out of nowhere. Make your decisions out of love for yourself, your future, and those whom you hold dear. Don't let good enough be good enough. Your life depends on it. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

We Can Live Forever

"The story about how every place I travel to comes down to how I'm going to live. It's the travel that, very literally, keeps me alive. ...If you're going to fight for what you love, don't you have to say yes? ...I may suck at playing musical instruments, and I can't paint even a crooked line well, but I can travel. By doing so, I meet the world on its terms, which teaches me how to be honest with what the day is, instead of what I think it should be. And by doing so I find the best way to make now work no matter what then used to be ...I learn it's not a matter of better or worse, but simply this or that. ...Every time I board a plane, I'm taking out the fire, all the noise of daily life, and keeping only what's necessary: hope, amazement, love. ...Your only moral obligation in life is to make the people you love smile, which you do by being the best version of you that you can possibly be. Not the scared, sick, distracted you rushing through the world and trying to get it all in before it's too late, but the you that says yes. The you that helps them say yes. ...Life, the world, are not buckets to fill: they are bedtime stories to tell."
- excerpts from "Cheating Death" by Edward Readicker-Henderson  

Randomly, I picked up a National Geographic Traveler at the bookstore today thinking I'd find some new ideas of where to go this summer. Flipping through the glossy pages filled with breath-taking views and hoping to, one day, be even half as wildly inspirational as some of the people featured and writing, I came across the article "Cheating Death" by Edward Readicker-Henderson. In bold letters heading the story, "Every time his doctors tell him to stay put, he heads out-- because traveling may be the only thing keeping him alive." I immediately had flashbacks of 10 years ago when my doctor said, "I don't think you should move to Hawaii. People like you are high-risk. You'll keep relapsing... and it won't be good for you to be so far from home." To this day, I know that move saved my life. Literally. I had to know what this man had to say about something that, for over 10 years, has been what feeds my soul and keeps the very spirit of me alive.

Now, allow me to add just a bit of clarity here, no, I don't have a terminal illness that I'm aware of. At that point in my life, as I had mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky to make it out of some of my most painful and tragic years alive. Details, in this instance, are unnecessary and superfluous, but if you're super curious, perhaps we can meet over coffee and chat.

Returning to the point of this, what I found even more poignant than his heartfelt expression of his love and absolute need to travel were the lessons he learned. At the end of it all, he learns to be present with life, with himself, and with what (who) he loves. What we love is all that matters. Quoting the poet Frank O'Hara he  mused "We fight for what we love, not are." We might be sick and dying, we might be scared shitless of everything, but we have a choice to either succumb and say no to life while wasting away until it's over, or we say yes, and we fight to live our best lives and be our best selves- not only for us (though, first for us), but for what we love, because we are no good for what we love if we're too busy focusing on our fear. 

Hopeless (hopeful?) romantic that I am (shh.. don't tell anyone), I felt my heart both melt and find a new resolve when reading, "I can't worry about my days being numbered when I know I've already lived forever over a lingering breakfast in Venice with the woman who keeps my heart beating as I stare at her..." The end of our lives could be staring us in the face, but that which we love reminds us we are infinite in each and every moment we are present. When we know who and what we love, we know the answer to the 'why' of our lives- however long they are.

Moral of this story? Go out and find what makes you come alive, literally and/or figuratively. Whether it's travel, music, rocket science, art, gardening, cooking- find what makes your heart beat, takes your breath away, and leaves you awestruck for your place in this world because it can not only save your life, it can give you a whole new one.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” 
-Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

This post will be a bit of a deviation from my regular posts.

This post is for my mother.

Mother's Day has, for the last 13 years, been a day that feels like Valentine's Day does to single people- but only, much worse. If you're single, that's not necessarily a permanent state. There's hope that one day that will change. When you've lost your mother- there is no hope of return or that the situation will change. You know in your heart the rest of your life will always contain an empty void that can simply not be filled by anyone or anything else.

There aren't many in my life who remember my mother. I've told the story of the morning she died in full to very few, but for whatever reason, I feel compelled to tell the story now.

Five something AM on October 2, 1998, I wake up, not sure why, and glance up at my window. The blinds are flashing. "Oh... lightning" I thought to myself and started to drift back to sleep. But, within a split second I realized, "lightning doesn't do that." I bolted out of bed into the hallway to find paramedics racing upstairs to my mother's room. Oh my god.

I ran down to the basement where my sister was sitting up in her bed, the covers pulled over her knees. "What's happening?" she asked with a tone in her voice that said she already knew. I don't know what I said at that point, I just remember we were somehow both standing at the entrance of the hallway listening... waiting... I was about to say "it must not be too bad... they're taking a long time" as my sister said, "something must be really wrong, they're taking a really long time."

Not too long ago, my sister and I were talking about what we remember from that morning... her flashbacks include the heart-wrenching piercing sound of my screams as my feet flew down the stairs to tell her what was happening. I don't recall a single sound.

I have no idea how much longer it was after she made her comment because time was suddenly moving at an agonizingly slow pace, and yet somehow, at a breath-stealingly fast speed. I feel like I remember them taking the door to the upstairs off the hinges, moving some furniture, and then at some point they ran down the stairs with the stretcher...

I caught a glimpse of my mother, limp and lifeless as they raced to the ambulance. I knew in that instant it was over. I knew that was the last time she would ever be at home with me.

My dad stayed behind with his 3 children- I stood beside him at the door as he clutched his chest struggling to breathe. The last paramedic to leave asked him "Are you ok?" I wanted to scream at him "No, we're not fucking ok!" while a momentary terror entered my mind "Is my father going to have a heart attack?" Thankfully, dad settled, the ambulance roared off, and I went to get ready for school.


To this day, I can't explain what possessed me to get on the bus that morning. Maybe initial denial that everything I had just seen wasn't real. Maybe if I kept going about my day as usual, it would mean I didn't know my mother just died.

Third period I raised my hand in history class, "Can I leave?" My teacher knew what happened- I wandered down to the office, called my sister, and she and my now brother in law picked me up and took me to the hospital with them.

I don't remember anything until the moment I walked into my mom's room. She was lying in the hospital bed with tubes everywhere- the respirator making that eerie "beep....beep..." One nurse explained the machine would count every breath she took on her own. So, every time one walked in, I asked "Has she taken a breath yet?" And every time, "No, honey, not yet." I knew the answer would never change.

Rewinding to the day before, mom had picked me up from school. Driving home she was swerving and I impatiently said, "Mom, just let me steer." Resisting she said, "No, I don't want the cops to see."  I started to get angry "They're more likely to see you swerving than me steering! You should have your license taken away." We fought the entire way home. We went to our rooms and slammed our doors. I didn't speak to her the rest of the night, even when she had come down to apologize, say goodnight, and she loved me.

Mom's health issues had peaked again at that point in time- she was actually due to go in for a sleep study around the time she died. Years later as I looked back on that moment, I realized that, on some level, mom must have known what was about to happen. Our night time ritual for years involved the kids going to her bedroom to say goodnight because after she took her medications, she needed to stay in bed. She had not come down to us since I can't remember when. Also, after a fight like that, she wouldn't have talked to me until the next day. She came down to say goodnight and I love you. I blew her off. If I regret anything in my life, that's it.

You can tell me she forgives me, and I know that in my head, but I'll tell you this: Logic and a broken heart want nothing to do with each other.

Throughout the day, tons of people came to visit. I barely remember any of them. I do remember some benevolent Christians decided it was their duty to inform me that my "fire for God had been dying lately- and maybe God was taking my mother to make me more dependent on Him." I told them if that's the kind of God he is, he could burn in hell with me.

That night, with mom still hooked to the machines giving her the appearance of life, my dad and I stayed while everyone else went home to rest. I peeked in on her a few times, then went to lie down on the bench in the waiting room where my father was sleeping. As he snored, I buried my head as far into a pillow as I could to muffle the sounds of my hysterical desperate tears. The tears that were, reluctantly, beginning to accept that this person who was my world was leaving, and there would be no coming back. I wanted to scream my own existence away into the universe.

Sometime the next morning, my sister, her fiancé, and my brother returned. Again, people swarmed in and out. Three of my sister's friends showed up, and for whatever reason, they were the most comforting to me. Maybe because they weren't my obnoxious 13 year old peers who had no idea how to handle the situation and were annoying at best, isolating at worst.

There came a point when the doctors had to tell us that they had run all of their tests. Mom was completely non-responsive; she was brain dead. Dad made the impossible decision it was time to take her off the machines. And here again, I did some inexplicable thing. Everyone was in the waiting room completely drained from the last 36 hours, and I decided to say goodbye to mom by myself. I think dad may have hung by the door while I stood by her bed crying saying, "I'm sorry... I'm sorry... I miss you...I love you."

I walked back to the waiting room to announce I was going outside while everyone else said their goodbyes. One of my sister's friends came out with me. I wasn't crying now. I felt numb. We walked out to a crystal clear star-filled night and I said, "I don't know what I'm going to do." I don't remember exactly what he said... something about being strong, and I would be ok. I had never felt so lost. We walked back in to find the rest of my family, gather our things, and made our escape from what was the beginning of our new reality.

I had no idea what lay in store for me after that night. I had no idea how hard life would continue to be for a long time. People always say "it will get better," but who can predict that? My next several years were some of the most tumultuous to date. It's no small feat I made it through them alive. What does a 13 year old girl do when the sun above her goes out? She either withers and dies herself, or she starts over and learns everything she's ever known has to be different now- she has to make her own light.

Here I am, 13 years later, finally able to acknowledge and embrace that, while I miss my mother horribly- I've learned more about love and living through her death than I ever may have if she was still here. I still have no idea what's in store for me and my life. I do know that whether you've lost a parent, child, lover, or best friend, at some point, you have to make a decision. You can either let your own life waste away until you die, or you teach yourself to make a beauty and joy all your own. You can let the love that's still in your life fade out, or you can pour every bit of yourself into it with a heightened awareness and reverence for how sacred our relationships are with each other. I hope it's the latter.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I hope I make you proud.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Day I Found My Freedom

The day I found my freedom is the day I decided to walk away from secure stability. 

I was thinking about my life changes, and realized I've never felt so utterly free. I've never had that feeling before- I've been doing what I'm "supposed to be doing" for a large portion of my life. All the while I've felt trapped- I've literally developed claustrophobia from feeling caged. This is the first time I'm letting go of everything that sounds reasonable/logical/grown-up and diving head first into uncertain opportunity to lead a life that so many think only the lucky can have. And maybe they're right. Maybe it is only the lucky that can have it, but I think the lucky are 'regular' people who've realized they own their fate. We are not pawns in some silly predestined game so no matter what we do, the outcome will be the same. We get to choose our paths.

I found a blog entry I wrote in 2009 that almost seems to be a foreshadowing of now: 
A feral heart- uncontainable by dogmatic rituals and traditions guiding a calm comfortable course of existence. Wild spirit pacing like a caged animal... waiting. Waiting for the doors to open- for the light to pour through from a world waiting to be torn into-- to be explored and discovered-- to be known intimately in only the way a predator understands its prey. Endless appetite- insatiable hunger for a solid opportunity in which to sink eager barred teeth. Ready. Ready for the main course- hidden in the depths of lightened darkness- crouching in wait for the opportune moment.
This is it. 

This year will be one of the most life changing years of my existence because I'm running into the midnight of my fear to find my dawn.

I was waiting for myself to figure out I had the key to my cage.

This is it.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Learning a New Language

Learning a new language opens an entire body of information that frequently has no direct translation into other languages. It opens a whole new world. While I didn't literally learn a new language in Belize, I found myself learning new worlds- worlds that have no direct translation in my every day existence, so communicating them here will be sketchy at best, but I'll try because they should be known. You should go see them for yourselves, really.

Since my time in Hawaii, the ocean has been a mirror metaphor of life and myself. It is where I find myself balanced, and at the same time forced to face myself- my hopes, fears, inhibitions, dreams, strengths, and weaknesses. In Hawaii I navigated myself through learning to surf the surface of the ocean; facing my fears and finding balance while being propelled forward. In Belize, I found myself 50-60 feet under the water. Completely submerged, it was a strange sensation of claustrophobia combined with an overwhelming sense of the vast openness that lay before me. On land, you can get lost in the maze of stuff. Under water, you can get lost because there's nothing for miles and miles but an expanse of deep blue. In that expanse there's a world of living things that are nothing short of amazing. A huge 100ish year old sea turtle swimming towards you just a few feet away won't fade from memory anytime soon- nor will the discovery of a shark tucked away in the rocks. Everything is alive, and surviving in an environment that would kill us without gadgets to help us breathe. And your breath becomes a focal point only in that you have to breathe through the fear of not being able to breathe- because you can (so long as your tank isn't empty). As you adjust, breathing becomes calm and rhythmic, and as bubbles rise to the surface, a glance up to follow them reveals a bright sun piercing through the depths- a reminder of the sky so far above. A glance down and the ocean's depth almost seems to be as infinite as the heavens.  Here we were suspended between the two. Absolute silence drew everyone to the very present moment, able to communicate through only a few hand gestures- here we learned reverence for our place in this world, each other, and life itself.

After 2 days living in over water cabanas at Hugh Parkey's Adventure Lodge, we were transported to Maruba Jungle Spa and Resort in Maskall.

My room at Hugh Parkey's Adventure Lodge

My room at Maruba Jungle Spa and Resort

As you can see, completely different styles- both awesome in their own ways.

Here's Maya- fierce jungle dog; protector of the grounds:

On our second day at Maruba, we went cave tubing. Here again, we found ourselves in a dark silence, but a completely different kind of silence than when in the ocean. We circled up and chanted a few long resounding OMs in the darkness before turning on our headlights and paddling our way through the caves- occasionally getting stuck on the rocks in low spots, and yelling 'butt up!' to the others coming behind us.

entering the cave

lighted opening

light at the end of the tunnel (cave)

out in the open

sky above

After tubing, we went zip lining. I thought I had a fear of heights, but apparently my time guiding myself through my fears during scuba diving prepared me for launching myself off a platform hundreds of feet off the ground flying down a 700 foot long line. Go figure.

The day after cave tubing, we went to the Mayan ruins in Lamani. A boat transported us an hour away making the occasional pit stop to let a monkey on board.

Once we arrived, we had a Belizian lunch, and headed into the jungle. About 15 minutes in there was a torrential downpour. We made it to the first site completely drenched, but no one cared. We were taken in by the incredible structure in front of us, and the fact that these were built ages before our modern technology and machinery. 

accepting that I'm soaked and look like a drowned rat

this was a rather steep set of stairs that challenged
 balance because they were wet and corroded

Jaguar Temple

After a long day of boat rides, hiking, and climbing temples, we returned to the resort to clean up and nap before dinner. 

Now, I should take this moment to tell you all a secret. During all of these amazing adventures, I was still distracted by one thing from home (and only one, mind you). Remember that last post about the interview at Eagle Rock in Estes Park, CO? I was (guiltily) regularly heading to the lounge area of the resort where there was sketchy wifi access so I could check my email. I suppose I could have waited until I got home, but either way, I wanted to know if I got the fellowship while I was away. If I was rejected (again) I was away from everything and could deal with the rejection in a place with much better distractions than Mechanicsburg, PA, or if I was accepted- what better place to celebrate than in Belize with a bunch of friends? I had checked a few nights in a row with nothing in my inbox but junk mail, but tonight... tonight was different. I waited a few moments for my phone to connect and watched my inbox clock "checking for mail..." while I ordered a hibiscus mojito. Still clocking, I took a sip of my mojito then heard a "dinngg" I look down and see an email with the subject line "Fellowship." Ok, deep breath... "this could go either way" I tell myself. "You've already got a plan if it's a no because you thought it was no months ago." I open the email and the first lines reads "I think I got an email from you saying you would be out of the country for the week so I am emailing to offer you the fellowship for the next year." 

I nearly fell off of my chair. I re-read it a few times to make sure I wasn't misreading. Once I was certain I read it right, I started shaking. Seriously? Did I just land a position that will unquestionably change my life forever? One that I can, for the first time, pour my heart and soul into and see growth and progression? The rest of the group arrived and we celebrated our being in Belize and my new path. 

My life is completely changing course because I decided staying in a job I hate for stability to cultivate a comfortably numb existence isn't good enough. I want to be proud of my life in those last moments before it ends- whenever that is. Now, for the first time in awhile, I can honestly say I'm proud of what I'm doing. I'm about to learn a new language that doesn't involve rationalization because I sold my soul to pay my rent- instead it will be a language of meaning, love, and passion.

"I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain."
-Shawshank Redemption