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It was June, 2001, and it was the first time I had ever felt strong, independent, and capable.  Not that my family hadn’t encouraged me to explore my personality.  For the better part of seventeen years they had patiently supported my every weird, geeky, alternative, freakish whim, at least the ones I felt comfortable enough to speak about.  Here, though, in downtown Nashville, was the first time I was given the reigns of those whims, and I was using it to wander aimlessly.  My clothes were way too black and way too hot for June in Tennessee.  My self-confidence was an illusion, and my body image issues had no concern for the fact that I might die of heat stroke if I ventured out of my comfort zone of body cloaking drapes.  I was, to sum it up, awkward.

I’ve told the story of what came next a few times.  I met a boy and his tribe.  I made friends with a group of Rainbow Gathering kids and street gypsies, and the experience changed my life and how I would choose to live and love for the rest of it.  I would find the courage to follow my heart.

Don’t worry, I’m not telling that story again; I’m honouring the woman who made it possible.

Mrs Judith Flannery.  Mrs Flannery throughout my high school career.  Judy thereafter.

Mrs Flannery was my college counselor, and her presence lit up Holy Names High School like a Christmas tree.  She was always smiling, always encouraging, and always finding new ways to inspire the swarms of girls that filled the halls of the nook of a school perched in the Oakland Hills.  To our class in particular, she was the embodiment of Spirit, and even on my darkest days I couldn’t help but smile when she spoke to me.

My senior year a close friend and I convinced Mrs Flannery to agree to be the voice of reason and eyes of supervision on a trip to a week-long country music festival in Nashville.  To our astonishment, she agreed.  Not only did she agree, but she got excited!  It was settled.  We got our parental permission and made our plans, and a week after graduation we boarded a plane to Nashville.

I was slightly startled when Mrs Flannery suggested that first day that we each explore for a while in whatever way we wished before meeting for dinner.  This was how “adults” took vacation, and I had never been an “adult” on a vacation.  Where would I go?  What would I do?

Then it dawned on me.  Anything I wanted.

The introvert in me smiled to herself.  The latent explorer in me leapt with joy.  We were free!

At dinner I told Judy about my encounter with the cute street kid selling hot dogs in the parking lot, fully expecting a lecture or tighter reins.  Instead, her response was, “Well, why don’t you go?  You have a room key.  Just call me if you’re not going to be there when I wake up.”

Really?  I had never been trusted not to get myself killed in my life!  In retrospect, I may not have been proving that by following a group of strangers around Nashville at all hours of the night, but I returned unscathed each and every time, so Judy continued to encourage my little tryst in Music City.  She even looked the other way when they snuck into one of the concerts we attended.  They were charming.  Even Judy was enchanted, or at least tolerant enough to act like it.

The day we left Nashville I trekked downtown alone to say my goodbyes.  The trip home was quiet and bittersweet, and even I had no idea what I was carrying back with me that day.  A sense of purpose.  A sense of self.  A confidence.  An awakened heart and spirit.  Judy didn’t need to.  She never asked.  She simply sat next to me at the airport and hugged me for as long as it took for me not to feel lost.  As she had done for the previous 4 years, she made everything seem like something I would not only survive, but really live through.

We kept in sporadic touch over the years.  Facebook can be a blessing that way.  I was always happy to tell Judy how my life was going, and she always had some words of support or wisdom and a bright, cheery story to tell me.  I know things weren’t always sunshine and flower in Judy’s world, but you would never know it.  It was inspiring.

I write this today because the friend with whom I took that trip informed me last week that Judy had passed away.

Before I could message back, she added, “the first thing I thought about was our trip to Nashville”.

I was touched with an unexpected sadness, but overwhelmed by the feeling of how blessed I was to have known Judy and how grateful I am that she was a part of my life.  Without her, who knows how I would have been introduced to my soul.

Thank you, Judy.  From the bottom of my inspired, free, open heart.

Aloha.

 

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There is a saying:

It’s not about the years in the life but the life in the years.

Nana had both.  At 100 years old she had seen, done, and lived through more than any of us can imagine.    How different life and the world have become in the past 100 years, yet this tiny woman faced it all with enough spirit, love, strength, and faith to carry five generations of family on two coasts for most of that time without missing a birthday, holiday, or special event in any of our lives.  Many of the things we learned in school as history, these things were her life, and she could tell you where much of it was wrong.  To really sit and have a conversation with her, even recently, was to take a journey through time.  You might not learn about the Great Depression or her days as a Rosie the Riveter, but you would hear about a lifetime of love and joy.

This is not to say she didn’t have heartache or problems, but she rode the waves and kept going.  I won’t say she never said a bad word to anyone, because we always knew what was on Nana’s mind.  She was stubborn, like most of the women in our family, but she was strong, and there is not a single picture of her that shows her doing anything but enjoying life, because she knew that the secret to life is to live it and leave the rest to…well, life.

Life.  Nana’s attitude on life can be summed up in one sentence she said to me right before I left for college in 2001.  While the advice I got was mainly about taking care of myself and calling home to check in, Nana’s words were short and sweet.  “Be safe, but have fun.”  Those words have come back to me every time erring on the side of caution turns to limiting myself with worry or insecurity.  Every time I’ve thought things hopeless or finite, I’ve heard her voice saying “eh, we shall see” or what would eventually become her catch phrase, “God willing”.

Life.  Nana imbued life into our family like a vein.  Her house, and later her rooms, were wallpapered in pictures of family, both old and new.  The last things she asked for were her cross and a picture of her family.

Life.  Even towards the end she was still asking about my family and my life, because to Nana life was what mattered.  All of ours.  People she met.  People she loved.  People she believed in.  People with whom she shared her life, all 100 years of it.

Life.  It is because of Nana that I continue to choose the beauty, joy, and love of life over the struggles we face daily.  It is because of Nana that I am not afraid to stand my ground and make my voice heard no matter how small I feel.  It is because of Nana that every birthday song I sing is followed in my head by a tiny voice adding “and many more”.

And many more.

Go now, Nana.  Safe crossing. Thank you for sharing your life with us all.

Aloha

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There was supposed to be Rapture last week.  There wasn’t, but people spent their life savings and waited for the world as we know it to end.  People tried to cram a lifetime into a day for fear that time was up for us all, a reality people with terminal diseases and chronic conditions face every day.  What causes this panic?  What causes people who have sat around complaining about life and never taking a chance suddenly try to change it at the last minute?  Furthermore, what if that moment of living was what ended the world as one knew it?  If you knew that the experience of a lifetime would cause your death would you relish the moment or risk never living?

This is not a simple question.  It’s one we would all like to say we know the answer to, but would we all have the nerve if we knew for certain what the end looked like?  If Amelia Earhart had known we’d be pondering her disappearance decades later would she have ever learned to fly?  Would Abraham Lincoln or John F Kennedy have become an accountant instead of President of the United States?  Would any of us take the chances and risks for our passions that we do?

I’d like to say I would, and there have been times when I’ve made decisions that could have lead to some terrible end for me.  I’ve hitchhiked, I’ve followed complete strangers through unfamiliar cities for a fling, and I’ve done some pretty stupid stunts on a dare.  In retrospect, maybe those decisions were ill advised, but it brings up another realization.  At some point in my life I started to fear the world instead of embrace it.  At some point I let everything cause me anxiety.  Who knows how many opportunities I’ve missed.  Gods only know how often my head jumps to the worst case scenario.

In the last few months I’ve been faced with some pretty tough decisions and realities, and I have come to the conclusion that if it all came crashing down tomorrow there will have been moments I haven’t lived because I’ve held myself back.  This is unacceptable.  This is not who I am.  This is not who I want to be on my deathbed, wherever and whenever that may be.

Because of this realization I have instituted changes.  I have been completely honest at times when maybe I should have kept my mouth shut.  I have let my heart be broken and my pride be hurt.  I have left myself open and vulnerable, and I have fallen.  On the other hand I have a new girlfriend and some wonderful memories.  I have had the opportunity to love without fear and the comfort of knowing I survived the only possible result of that love.  I have taken control of my career and refused to let indiscretions slide.  I have spoken my mind and been validated.  I have been open about my lifestyle and how I choose to live, and even if I have been negatively judged I am confident and free.  If my life ends tomorrow, I will end it knowing I have been true to myself and open to the world.  I may not yet have experienced all I want to in life, but I will have taken hold of the moments to me and lived them.  In between the mundane responsibilities and chores in life I have made the memories that will sustain me in my last moments.

My answer to the original question.  Yes, I would relish the moment.  As I recently told Hubby, you’re not a failure until you stop trying.  Never stop trying.  Never stop living.  Never stop experiencing life.  Of all the risks, don’t let the one you take be the risk of regret.

Go now! Make a memory!

Namaste

Before I begin, I would like to send out my condolences to the family of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.  I also admire and applaud his teammates for continuing their Olympic journey.  This man died doing what he loved, that to which he had devoted his life.  Ask anyone with the passion, determination, and dedication it takes to compete on an Olympic level, and many will tell you the risks are worth the glory.  His teammates would be letting him down if they never competed.  Whether or not they win, they are honouring their comrade beautifully.

That being said, I decided to proceed with what I had written in my head this morning on the way to work.  A bus and two trains had been no shows, causing me to be late for work, an offense for which there are hefty penalties, when a man passed me and smiled and said, “it’s a beautiful day and a gift from the Lord!”  All morning I had been unsuccessfully trying to change my attitude and find something pleasant in my day.  He was It.  I do not know what sparked It, but I was able to then retrace my steps and find something beautiful in every facet of my troubled Friday.  It brought this thought.

The day after the snow falls we forget the biting cold and the howling wind.  We forget the lightless, gray skies.  The world is clean, reflecting back all the rays of the sun shining in a clear sky.  There is always a day like this soon after the snow falls.  It reminds us that the warmth will return and the wheel will turn again.  Clusters of snow and ice fall from branches and telephone wires, causing cascades of glittering explosions like frozen fireworks on the asphalt.  The air is fresh and it even seems less cold.

No matter what the tragedy or hardship, there is always a day after the fall.

Go now, my friends, find It and enjoy the world refreshed.

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