Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Fine Balance

This is the New Year, and I have only one resolution: to find, establish, and maintain a fine balance. I feel it is safe to say that balance is something that I’ve needed to incorporate into my life and for the first time in years, perhaps ever, it appears to be attainable.

A lot of things have changed in the last several years… My parents got divorced, which quickly turned into the absolving of ‘family’ as I knew it. Home lost its meaning, I moved out when I was still in high school, and have moved 10+ times since then. I transferred schools, almost gave up what I love, on multiple levels… I’ve had about 15 jobs in the last 5 years, 3 cars, 2 computers, lost all of my documents, pictures, financial records, everything on one of them.. I’ve lost a lot of people I love to both death and other less permanent, more potent, living venom, which packs a different kind of sting.  I have been shaken, broken, and unsettled. A lot of people have hurt me, and I have hurt a lot of people back. I have a lot of scars… but in this life, who doesn’t.

I am learning to wear my scars instead of them wearing me.  It has been a long, painful, draining, but intricate and beautiful transition. I would not change, trade, or go back for anything in my life: good or bad. The trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the darkest nights, are mercies in disguise. It’s taken a while for me to be in a place where I can see that. So, brick by brick I have built up from the floor. My life is a pile shrine of bits and pieces of things that broke me, that through utmost determination, I’ve turned into a stained glass reflection of things that changed me, people who saved me, and unthinkable amazing grace. My family now extends so far beyond blood that I know only where it starts, because from where I’m standing, there is no end.  I am surrounded by angels in disguise, on the daily, who have taught me invaluable lessons about unbridled compassion. I am fortunate to have taken a class called the Creative Process that, thought an unexpected, and currently still unfinished journey, opened my mind and healed my soul in a way that would have otherwise seemed inconceivable. This experience has taught me the value of truly finding myself, who I am in relation to the world around me, and the importance challenging my beliefs to the core. I see with new eyes now, and that is the honest truth. I have met people who have suffered immeasurable tragedy, specifically the parents of Morgan Harrington, who wake up every day determined to fight for justice for their daughter who was brutally murdered, and who’s case, 3 years later, is still unsolved.  They are incredible people, and I hope to help support them and their efforts through involvement with their campaign, Help Save the Next Girl, launched in hopes of creating awareness and preventing this from happening to someone else’s child. That’s right, instead of melding into their tragedy like I did years ago for an offense much less worthy of defeat, they have chosen to ride on the coattails of adversity with unthinkable conviction and beautiful grace. If that doesn’t put your life into perspective, I am sorry for your soul, because I don’t know what will. From them I have learned of a new unconditional kind of love… how to love someone too much, forever, and one more time, but more importantly the kind of love that death cannot sever. I hope to love people that unconditionally. How beautiful is that? How can you love someone or anything more than too much, forever, and one more time? I don’t think its possible. What breaks you down is not the load you carry, it’s all in how you carry it. Mr. and Mrs. Harrington, I salute you. I am finally in a position where I can pay it back because of people who paid it forward and I intend to do so with every day I have, every relationship I invest in, and every breath I take in and let go of for the duration of whatever time I am meant to have on this earth. I have dealt with my ghosts, and I’ve faced all my weaknesses… I still am and will always be rebuilding, but I am closing this chapter and moving on.

The road to self-reliance cannot lie in the past. I have a lot of things to look forward to and I can’t wait to see where the roads that lie ahead will take me. I will tell you that I have relinquished my future to the powers that be, so come hell or high water, I will be where I’m supposed to. There are many things that scare me about ‘unknowns’ but what scares me more, is never taking the chance to explore the ‘what if’s’ behind those ‘unknowns’. I am on a pilgrimage to find my place in this world, but I am not searching for it. Things are falling into place and I have faith that they will continue to do so if I stay true to myself, keep my eyes forward, and my heart wide open. I am not perfect, nor do I want to be, but I know that some things in my life need to change, and they will. Renovation is a slow process, but it will happen. It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back, so from this moment forward I’m shaking him off. I’m not going to keep dragging the past around for those who aren’t willing to let go of it. I’m burying that horse in the ground. That is non-negotiable. This may come as shock to people who won’t expect it, but it must happen. You must take care of yourself in order to take care of anyone or anything else. I can see the bigger picture for the first time in years and I can’t wait to see what begins appearing in the landscape. This is my first step in the journey of a thousand miles. You may laugh and call me a fool, and that’s okay… People throw rocks at things that shine, and I know that, but no river, no lake, and no ocean can put this fire out… I am on a crusade to find a fine balance. I know that the past can only be imperfectly distanced… it’s a slippery thing, slithering into the present through un-repairable cracks, but I know where I am in relation to where I’ve been. I am forever moving forward, and if that means I have to leave things behind to do so, then so be it… I am not sorry.  

And so begins my pilgrimage: I truly believe that it’s an important step to a fulfilled life… a step a lot of people my age explore but don’t always take, but more importantly a step it’s never too late to take. I hope to be the best person I am capable of becoming. I hope to pour myself into my music, my writing, and to be surrounded by colors of the art that I almost gave up entirely. I hope that hard work and perseverance will continue to pay off. I hope to see more clearly, love more unconditionally, and treat everyone I cross paths with, with more compassion. I hope to help create awareness and to help find justice for Morgan. ( Help Save the Next Girl )I hope to find myself deep in the valleys of India and/or the mountains of Napal in the next 365 days learning about myself, awaking my soul eternally, and finding the calm and open mind that is necessary for a healthy body and a peaceful spirit… I hope for those I love to have the best that this world has to offer as they’ve given me nothing short of the same. And I hope, more than anything, to find a fine balance between all of the above and everything in between.

“In the end, I've come to believe in something I call "The Physics of the Quest." A force in nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you."   -Eat, Pray, Love

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die… where you invest your love, you invest your life. 
Out with the old… Cheers to 2012!  


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Art of Prevailing

There is something about the word ‘gunman’ that makes any human shudder, but there’s something about combining that word with two others; ‘on campus’ that makes any Hokie’s stomach drop and heart skip a beat... its the same thing that gives you an odd sense of clarity when you feel as though you might be in trouble… that makes every voice an offender, every knock on the door a threat, every text message twice as important, and every breath much more intentional. There is something about being stormed by a SWAT team that solicits, involuntarily, a new level of unparalleled, and unprecedented fear… Welcome to my Thursday, and the Thursday of many other fearful Hokies last week.

I was on campus for the shooting. I was sheltered, with several other students and faculty members, for a significant time, in the office of Marching Band Director, David McKee. We were shaken by the alert, but hoping for a false alarm. When it became common knowledge that at least one person was dead, it became real and way too close to home. Up on the wall behind Dave’s desk is a picture of Ryan “Stack” Clark, a former Marching Virginian, young, vibrant soul, and the first victim in the April 16th massacre.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room glancing at his picture and thinking to myself, “not again.”
Phones started going off with more intensity as it became obvious that this was anything but a false alarm. One thing I found to be very profound in a moment of crisis: You find out who your friends and family are… real quick. Someone beat on the door of the office, and in seconds Dave had thrown himself in front of it demanding to know who it was and not opening it until he knew it was safe: it was clear that it wasn’t his first rodeo. At that moment, for the entire duration of that tragic event, still now, and forever, that man is/was a hero.

We got moved to the 2nd floor of Squires where we met everyone else who was in the building, realizing quickly that we were not alone, but more importantly, that this was not a test. There had been reports of alleged gunshots outside of our building and instantly we were surrounded by people with guns… The SWAT team herded us all into a larger auditorium. “Go, go, go!” No questions were asked as we did what we were told, tears pouring down the faces of many, myself included. I have been afraid of a lot of things in my twenty-one years on this earth, and while there was never a moment that I genuinely felt unsafe throughout this ordeal, I was absolutely terrified for its entirety. I knew no one was getting through that SWAT team, it was the fact that we were in a position where we needed to be surrounded by them that scared me.
With communication limited, every piece of information and every outgoing message was crucial. I was scanning the news for updates on my computer when I came across a quote from a CNN reporter, “I wonder if Virginia Tech has tracking shooters down to a fine science.” My initial reaction: WE’RE STILL HERE. We’re still on lockdown and THAT’S what you’re going to contribute?!? My second: rot in hell. Third: What kind of pathetic, despicably heartless, shallow human being would say something like that? And right there, still surrounded by the SWAT team, still surrounded by friends and faculty desperately trying to let their loved ones know they’re okay, still, with no news on the status of the gunman and reports of shots all around campus, still terrified, in that very moment, began the art of prevailing. 

It doesn’t take much to get a Hokie to defend Virginia Tech, and it takes even less in the midst of a crisis. Instead of Facebook feed’s just reading “Not again.” and “What is it about that campus.” or “VT.. and the bullets spray again.” I began to see posts reading “We will prevail.” and “Hokies united.” or “Praying for VT and the media personnel who misrepresent it.” I was one of them. I couldn’t fathom the kind of human being who could think otherwise...
-->Sitting in what many would consider the wrong place at the wrong time, I found myself reflecting on being in the right place at the right time. I thought about how lucky I was to have spent an entire semester with the woman, my teacher, Nikki Giovanni, who told us almost four and a half years ago what we know now: “We are Virginia Tech…We will prevail.”  I knew the Hokie Nation was a real entity, but I became more than aware of its size, strength, and ability to endure while sitting in that room surrounded by nothing but fear and uncertainty.

Those are the moments that define us… Not the moment where the trigger was pulled, but the nanosecond after, when thousands of people unite as one. Its the strangers becoming friends, friends becoming family, and family becoming your life support that define us in that moment. That is who we are, and that is what we did. Teachers became our legal guardians, parents if you will. I know one of mine did. I was in constant contact with one of my former teachers, Jane Vance, who picked me up the second the lockdown was lifted, taking me away from campus, and giving me the chance to release the breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding for hours. No stranger to tragedy, this was all too familiar territory for her as well… but we are Virginia Tech, and we take care of each other.

I had the honor and privilege of meeting some very special people in my evening away from campus whose story will have to be one for another day, but I can tell you that in the midst of their own tragedy, they opened their home to ours. They welcomed us, even I, who was a stranger, with open arms and provided a refuge from the day’s events… a shelter from the storm. I wish I could explain to you the magnitude of this experience. They are Virginia Tech, and that is what they do for one another.

We are Virginia Tech, and now more than ever, we must remember who we are. We are more than a crime scene. We are more than a skewed, aired in bad taste news story. We are more than a gunman. We are a school, we are a community, we are a nation... and above any and all things, we are a family and we will always, always prevail. You can't change that, I can't change that, and neither can anyone with a gun.. We ARE Virginia Tech, and we will find the triumph in this tragedy.

So to the reporter who says we are a “snake-bitten campus, and a breeding ground for violence” I rebuke you. To the one who asks if we have “tracking a shooter down to a fine science” how dare you. To the ones who say we’re nothing more than “the campus were you’re most likely to get shot.” That tells me you’ve never stepped foot into Blacksburg… I am sad that you clearly have no one close enough to you to realize that family extends well beyond the blood that binds it. To Westboro Baptist Church, you are despicable and make me absolutely sick to my stomach... we are better than you, and we'll prove it. Not only will you be greeted by thousands of Hokies prepared to shelter the loved ones of fallen Officer Crouse, you’ll be driven out of town by the sheer magnitude of our unity. We are Virginia Tech, you mess with one, you get us all. Bring it on…I dare you. To News Channel 7 who refuses to cover Westboro’s picketing, I salute you and commend your lack of publicizing these imbeciles. But to the Hokie Nation, I thank you. I thank you for standing by us, for your outpouring of prayers, and for your stoic support in the face of ridicule, adversity, and tragedy.

Say what you want about Virginia Tech, but this says it all without saying a word.

We ARE Virginia Tech, and THIS is how we PREVAIL.

            Hokie Pride forever and always, always and forever.

Friday, November 4, 2011

To Everything There is a Season

This semester I'm taking a poetry class with Nikki Giovanni, who likes to assign extraordinarily vague assignments... This one was assigned as followed: "Autumn... 1500 words. Any questions?" So here is my abstract take on making that happen.

To Everything There is a Season

and a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.


I always said it would be a cold day in hell,
And it is…
The moment I step through the threshold where daydreams meet reality
I’m accosted by a frigid wind, instantly evicting all breath from my body.
I balance, terrified, on the plateau of hell frozen over,
gazing into the abyss of what once composed my soul.
Fragments of my former existence lie all blurred together,
no longer defined by anything other than the blanket of white that covers them.
There is nothing left for me here, I have nothing left to give.
I have fought with myself… with you… with everyone.
I fought with more fight than I ever knew I had inside me,
and it still wasn’t enough.
Not for you.
My tears freeze the instant they fall,
shattering like the rest of the broken glass;
the glass that once protected our family,
in a frame encapsulating what we used to be.
Those days are long gone, dead and buried like those in the graveyard I’m passing by.
Everything is covered in ice…
So many layers that I’ve lost sight of what was inside to begin with.
The winter months are long, dark, and lonely stuffed in a room full of people,
all the while being alone… I resented that time.
The time you stole from me, the time you froze me in,
stuck in an ice age of empty promises, deceit and lies.
If only I had known that was merely the tip of the iceberg.
I think I would have rather walked through a tornado of broken glass…
I would have come out less wounded.
You’re going to catch a cold, from the ice inside your soul…
So don’t come back for me,
Don’t come back at all.


So melted the ice,
with it releasing the wrath-ridden choke-hold of winter,
breathing life into the sharp daggers of truth
rising from the ground that once housed
the walls of ice I intricately and deliberately surrounded myself with.
I had been safe there…
Up came everything that I had purposely kept
tucked neatly inside my core…
slowly defiling me from the inside out.
I find myself suffocating in the lull of a room
filled with plants that bloom
no matter what the season.
Re-telling the same stories,
as if reliving them would give me a chance to change the ending.
I began again just for the sake of starting over
with the rest of the universe.
And so I started over, chained to the burdens of seasons past
moving forward, yet going nowhere.
The April showers mirror the cascade of tears falling down my face
after been held back for far too long.
Eventually they bring May flowers to remind me that
everything worth having is worth fighting for…
Even in the dead of winter
something lives.
I can feel it.
I am angry still.
I have such a furious fire burning in my soul…
I should be ashes by now,
but I am letting go.
So melts the ice…
out with the old, in with the new.


Sunrise, sunrise,
you couldn’t stop me if you tried.
Free at last.
I am as free as the wind blows,
free as the sun to rise and set as it pleases,
finding the joy in elongating the light of each new day.
Free like the honeysuckle vine
wrapping desperately around everything it touches
begging to expand its ability
to make something crippling, beautiful.
Free like the dandelion seeds floating through the air,
finding ‘home’ wherever the winds of life take them,
expanding their ‘family’ to those encountered along the way.
The world around me is bursting with life,
and for the first time in years,
I see it for what it is,
instead of what it is not.
I counted the stars on the fourth of July
knowing that this independence day meant much, much more
than rockets bursting in the sky.
Talking about redemption and leaving things behind…
At peace with how I played the hand I was dealt,
at peace with the beauty in the breakdown.
Encompassed by the eternal serenity bestowed upon me
by the angels I spent time with,
just passing through the crossroads.
The warmth of the air is comparable
to the heart I finally allowed the chance to thaw.
Through the changing tides of time
I’ve come to understand,
I must write the good in stone,
and lie the bad down on the sand.


It is true what they say;
a journey of a thousand miles
does indeed begin with the first step.
I took that step, and many, many thousands beyond it.
Though my feet may hurt, I’ll never stop walking.
I’m starting over,
for the sake of starting over
without the rest of the universe.
Once upon a time,
I wanted everything to stay the same.
Once upon a time,
it was better that it changed.
I changed.
What if trials of this life,
the rain, the storms, the darkest nights,
are really mercies in disguise?
What doesn’t kill you builds character.
The winds of grace are always blowing
but you must raise the sail…
The combination of the sunshine on my face,
the chill in the air, and the hues of every season
joining together in a grand finale
reminds me of the journey…
and that it is far from over.
I walk down the paths I’ve walked before,
past the graveyard I used to call home,
and in the absence of disdain, I'm planting seeds…
Seeds of the memories that now compose my soul
coupled with the desire to cultivate new ones.
You reap what you sow.
I’m reminded by the leaves,
as they fall from the trees,
that there IS beauty in the breakdown.
It is true that in order to gain something worth having,
it may be necessary to lose everything else.
Like the flowers shriveling up
into nothing but the seedpod fruits of their labor,
I will find something worth leaving behind.
I will go into winter knowing
that I used everything I was given
to cultivate for myself a new existence,
a new and deeply impassioned ambition;
a new and selflessly loving family;
a new and eternal inspiration to be the change;
a new and unparalleled happiness.
I will go into winter
knowing there is no need to shelter my heart with walls of ice;
knowing that it is better to love and lose;
knowing that even in death there opens doors for life to enter;
knowing that it is not always about what is ending, but what’s beginning.
So starts the beginning to my new ending:
May God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference,
and the strength to do all the good I can,
in all the ways I can,
for all the people I can,
for as long as I can.
forever and always,
always and forever,
till death do I part from this earth.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

If I Die Young

I find it hard to believe that its been over a month since my last post, but in retrospect, looking at all the events that have taken place since then, its harder to believe it hasn't been longer. I find myself in disbelief that I'm well into the fall semester of my Junior year at Virginia Tech. It really doesn't seem like I should be that old. I am voluntarily shadowing a middle school choir at a local school one or two mornings a week and was introduced a couple weeks ago as Ms. Schneider. WHAT? I think I aged 20 years in those 2 seconds. And so begins the days of being addressed with formality. I suppose I'll look back on that moment someday and say, "Those were the good ole days" but until then, I feel SO old.

I have jotted down so many things that I wish to write about, but with 21 credit hours, 11 classes and barely enough time to eat and sleep in between, the time to sit and reflect on said thoughts has simply evaded me.. I'll perhaps get to those as time allows. But for now, I think I'll pick up where I left off in an effort to get back into this more actively. If I Die Young by The Band Perry was one of my 'Songs of Summer' and at some point I started wondering if I were to die tomorrow what I would be leaving behind... Not because I anticipate doing so by any stretch of the imagination, but because it got me to thinking about how I have invested, am investing and will continue to invest the time I've been given... I don't know if you're a religious person, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I am either, but when it comes down to it, if I find myself face to face with God, I want to be able to say, "I used everything you gave me." I have since realized that in order to ensure I'm doing what I should with what I have when I can, I must first evaluate the things I value, the life lessons I hold in high esteem, and the people I surround myself with. I started this list this summer and have since added to, taken away, and modified slightly the things on it. So without further ado, and in no specific order of importance, I present to you, the 21 most important things I've learned in my 21 years of living.

1) It is better to be silent then to be silenced. It is no mistake that silent contains the same letters as listen.
2)It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at shouldn't take death to make you realize how important someone is to you.. if it does, you need to seriously re-evaluate your relationships.Where you invest your love, you invest your life. I can't speak for the stock market, but I'm pretty secure in my investments.
3) There is no prescribed path... but you should have a plan. Followed by a series of 'what-if' back ups. Its important to keep in mind that the moment you try to force things, they'll never happen. So while keeping in mind the bigger picture, take baby steps. You can always change your plan, but only if you have one.
4) You've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything. If you're not convicted enough in yourself and what you believe in, who will be? You cannot live eternally behind a brick wall of eggshells. At some point you must take responsibility for your own happiness... even if that means being selfish. Sometimes you simply must save yourself. 
5) No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.
6) We are given moments. They turn into hours, that turn into days, that turn into weeks, that turn into years, that eventually make up your life time... Invest in them wisely, spend them well, give them freely, and treasure them forever. Waste not want not.
7) People are going to disappoint you... the sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be. Don't place your faith in anyone who wouldn't place their faith in you. Don't cry over anyone who wouldn't cry over you... Sometimes the ones who are supposed to be closest to you will fail you the most... Unfortunately, you often times learn that the hard way.
8) When you are most secure in your circumstances, prepare for the other shoe to drop. Everything happens for a reason. When painful things happen it is important that you realize its because good things have fallen apart... But its more important to realize that better things will fall together. The best thing you can do is try your best to grow instead of falling to pieces. You must not forget the good was there to begin with..
9) The most important requirement for success is conviction in your dream even if the world thinks its worthless pursuing it. The second is coupling that conviction with the relentless action to make it come true. Be the best you can at what you're doing... in every aspect of your life. Push your limits, no one else is going to do it for you. Do it or don't, just don't do it halfway.
10) The hardest part of teaching is realizing you are in fact the one being taught... the moment you feel you are done learning, begin looking for another job. Cause you missed the point.
11) Take the good with the bad and make something better. Life is not fair... let it go.
12) You can never say I love you too much.. unless you don't actually mean it.
13) You have two choices in this life: to enable or disable. You decide.
14) Try to focus on how lucky you are instead of how lucky you are not... because no matter how bad things seem, it could ALWAYS be worse.
15) Blood is not thicker than water. While I love my family, I have expanded it greatly and I can honestly say I'm not at all related to some of my closest family members.
16) Do not go to bed angry... Holding onto anger and resentment is like drinking poison and hoping your enemies die. Forgive the source of your anger for yourself and evaluate in the morning. Forgiveness is not about forgetting, its about releasing the hold you have on somebody's throat.
17) Do one thing every day that scares you.
18) Enabling the dreams of others is often times more rewarding than achieving your own.
19) You never outgrow Crayola crayons. If you think you have re-prioritize your life.
20) 'Goodbyes' are the one thing in life that doesn't get any easier with age, practice, repetition or preparation...
21) Something earned is twice the value of something given... but when given something, never forget to give back. Foolish is the man who does nothing because he can do little. In everything you do, pay it forward.

In addition to this, I'm in the process of creating a bucket list... Its going to be comprised of things I want to achieve, things I want to do, things I want to see, but most importantly, things I would love to someday be able to do for others. I have been abundantly blessed with good family, great friends, and a lot of people who have really enabled me to appreciate what life is truly about... I would be absolutely lost without them... I am eternally grateful to all of those people and only hope that I can give back to humanity a fraction of what they've given me. 

"If I will love than I will find that I have touched another life, and that's something worth leaving behind."  -Lee Ann Womack

Monday, August 8, 2011

Amazing Grace, Brick Walls, and Catalysts

To all of you who believed in me, thank you... to all of you who didn't: I made it to the "oh-so-glorious, long-awaited, deeply-coveted" age of 21. Successfuly, independently, not always gracefully, but I would hope humbly and with the utmost gratitude to the ones who HAVE stood beside me... not because they had to, but because they wanted to... Its been an honor proving the rest of you wrong.

On the days leading up to my 21st birthday, the day of, and these couple days after, there have been three things consistently on my mind. This first of which is amazing grace. I talk often about how lucky I am to be surround by the people I'm surrounded by. There is someone up there looking out for me... I'd be a fool to think otherwise. I cannot say that anyone who has been in my life has been there by coincedence. Its just not possible. For every bump in the road, there has always been someone at the ready to take me on the detour. Talk about amazing grace. I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now, I see.. Thank you to everyone in my life who knowingly, or unknowingly keeps me believing in God... I consider you all angels. I would have never made it through the last several years without all of you... which brings me to my next topic.

Brick walls. In the words of Randy Pausch, "The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough."  I cannot tell you how many brick walls I've hit, run through, jumped over, slammed into, or just sat and stared at in the last handful of years. I could have built an entire city out of all of them... but looking back at all of that from where I am today, its good to know that those mountains are now mole hills, and some, better yet, canyons. I learned a lot about life in the years that I spent falling apart... but I've found that most importantly, I've learned to rebuild. And though I don't always get it right the first time, I've learned a lot about what not to do, which I like to believe puts me a little closer to rebuilding for good. "The struggles make you stronger, the changes make you wise, and happiness has its own way of taking its sweet time.." I've grown to become quite fond of brick walls... they really do give you a chance to prove yourself. You've got to learn to fight for yourself when no one else will fight for you, and though initially its a big pill to swallow, it really makes you a stronger person from the inside out. But what happens once you make it past those walls?

That brings me to my third and final contemplative subject: catalysts. One of the last things my grandmother said to me was "Congratulations, you've made it to the other side... now its time to stop treading water and move forward." I would say her death was the most significant catalyst I encountered this summer. She's right. I am finally on the other side of the ever-looming black cloud. Sure bad things will still happen, but I'm quickly learning that that is just life, and its to be expected. It really and truly is time to move forward.. no excuses. In losing my computer this summer which was packed full of memories from the last several years, I realized its not about being able to hold onto those things, its about being able to let them go. I was lucky to be able to make those memories in the first place. There was a lot of negativity packed onto that hard drive... those are gone, but the happy, meaningful, most treasured memories are in my heart forever... that's what counts. Sometimes you lose the people closest to you... but A) thats not really true because if they were that close to you in the first place they will always be present in some aspect of your life, even if it is just in your memories. B) it allows room for others to reach out to you and ultimately for you to reach out to others.

The Lion King got it right, "Its the circle of life, and it moves us all through despair and hope... through faith and love. As we find our way on the path unwinding in the circle, the circle of life." I am so excited for the future... I did something for myself last week... I've done this about once a year since my parents got divorced... but before going to teach my band back home, I drove past my old house: the last place where we lived together as a family. For the first time in years, I felt nothing. Not happiness, not sadness.. nor resentment, nor hate... not anything but complete peace. That, my friends, was an awesome feeling. . I have started over more times than I can count, and I have gone backwards more times than I care to admit... But I am taking a stand to move forward. I have hit a lot of brick walls... but the point is, they're behind me.  I can honestly say I am happier than I have been in years. I have some big plans and some crazy big dreams and I have no intentions of letting anything or anyone get in my way.

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. 'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Series of Un(fortunate) Events

So, its definitely been a while...

The past handful of weeks has felt like somewhat of an eternal downward spiral. Just as soon as I’d cross one hurdle another immediately jutted up directly in front of me. These new challenges coupled with the ones I knew were lingering in the distance for me to overcome eventually really got to be more than I could wrap my head around. Just for kicks and grins, here’s the running list of said ‘series of unfortunate events’.
6 weeks ago, I found out I was going to lose a couple close friends to a job relocation across the country… this wouldn’t have packed as harsh a sting had it not been completely out of the blue and had it not been people who had somehow gone from complete strangers to family in less than a year.
5 weeks ago, my grandmother died: She is probably the most influential person I’ve ever had the pleasure and honor of sharing time on this earth with, and to have to say goodbye to her just about shut me down.
4 weeks ago, someone ripped off my check card number and drained my bank account. This also, wouldn’t have been quite as catastrophic had it not been 48 hours before the end of one month and beginning of another.  Despite having numerous rounds with BB&T, they refused to refund any of my money until they had investigated everything.
3 ½ weeks ago, I got into a blowout with the family I’ve considered my own for years, and came way too close to burning a bridge I’m not quite sure I’ve even finished crossing yet. We don’t need to go there. You know that feeling when you’ve let frustration get the best of you, and you explode, not caring who you catch in the cros fire, and you feel better for about 30 seconds… until your stomach falls out your ass because you know you just did some serious damage? That was me… and that’s all I have to say about that.
3 weeks ago I worked 52 hours in less than three days, not sleeping from Tuesday until 2:30am Friday morning. I was complete and total zombie status by the end of that week, but was so excited to have put in so many hours because it would have just put me over the top to pay for all the major anticipated expenses for the summer. What a huge sigh of relief.
2 weeks ago, I was leaving after dropping off my favorite 3 year old from one of our last “Adventure Days” before he moved to TX and in my haste to get everything in my car, I put my $1,600 MacBook Pro on top of my car. My passenger side door was locked, which is where I placed my computer... So I guess I walked around to get my keys, put the things in my arms on the driver’s side, put the rest in my trunk, and drove away. No, you didn’t miss the part where I walked back to the passenger side to put my laptop safely in the car. Bon voyage, $1,600 and 2+ irreplaceable years of my life. Despite walking the 5 miles from their house to mine, filing a police report, and going door to door; no sign of it since. Now that’s an EPIC fail.
1 week ago, I had to say goodbye to said friends and their little boy. To say that that ripped my heart out would be somewhat of a massive understatement. In the absence of a “text book normal” family, it has become somewhat second nature for me to consider others as my own. So to lose people I consider as such, felt twice the loss. If there is one thing I’ve learned this summer, it’s that heartache really and truly is a physical pain.
All in that week, the dogs I were pet sitting absolutely destroyed the deck furniture while I was gone and I had to let the people know… looking like an idiot. I locked my keys in my car… twice. I got bit by a brown recluse spider, which obviously didn’t kill me, but didn’t hurt anything shy of ‘like hell’… My checks stopped working, so I had no access to my bank account in any way, shape, or form… which ultimately ended in me having to call friends a couple times to bail me out for dinner. That was embarrassing. I made yet ANOTHER trip back to the dentist (6th visit for the same problem) to try AGAIN to get my teeth fixed, so far to no avail. But after all this… you wanna know the straw that broke the camel’s back?
It was a fortune cookie.
After all the crap, the ups and downs, the frustration, the anger, everything… it was a freaking fortune cookie. I was eating $5.00 Chinese food for dinner, which was all the change I could find, and more relevantly, all I had time for, and after a craptastically difficult and nothing shy of awful couple of weeks, I was really looking forward to the fortune cookie. So, like a little kid, I open the wrapper with excitement, cracked it open, unrolled the paper, and read “Bad luck and misfortune are sure to follow you.” And I lost it.
That was enough. I decided that there was a flipside to all of this. There is a flipside to everything… you just have to be willing to look for it. Up until that point, I wasn’t, but I was desperate for something to hold onto. So I did some soul searching… and what I found brought me straight back to “everything happens for a reason.” I don’t think I could do a better job of summing it up that with this Marilyn Monroe quote, so here it is: "I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they're right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together."
Out of all that crap that happened, things WILL come together. Yes, my grandmother is gone, but at least she isn’t suffering anymore. Yes, it sucks that someone made off with a bunch of my money, but it could definitely be worse. Yes, I play with fire when I’m exhausted, frustrated, and at my breaking point, but don’t we all? Yes, even I, who makes it a point to say exactly what I mean, sometimes go a step further into the land of things I wish I could take back. You can’t take back the words after they’re said… so you just have to learn to say ‘I’m sorry’, which is most often, the bigger pill to swallow. Yes, the stupid spider bite sucks.. but I'm not dead... yet. Yes, losing my MacBook BLOWS. Not only because its $1,600 down the drain, but because of the pictures, important documents, music, etc. that I lost as well. But at least I was able to make those memories in the first place. I’ve had about 3345980398450938987 of those “oh, shit. That was on my computer…” moments, but the best advice I got in that regard was the following: “Okay, so in essence part of your house burned down. You’re able to start cleaner than most people can imagine. Don’t let the smoke from the old home follow you into the new one.”

Maybe, as circumstantially stupid as it may seem, this is all part of a master plan to make me move forward. I think I was stuck in a rut of treading water in many different aspects of my life. Now I have no choice but to move on, because there’s nothing to hang on to anymore. Yeah all the other little stupid things that have gone wrong pissed me off and have been quite the annoyance, but such is life. Yes, saying goodbye to such good friends broke my heart, but it wasn’t goodbye anyways… I’ll see them soon enough.  I know that wearing my heart on my sleeve makes me an incredibly vulnerable person and easily susceptible to heartbreak, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t stand the thought of going through this life not loving unconditionally only because I was afraid of being hurt. I know several miserable people who have wasted their lives doing so, and I have no desire to be one.  
My apologies for the lengthy post, but I needed to spend some time decompressing… I guess all this to say, the series of unfortunate events really, in hindsight, made me focus on how lucky I am, instead of how lucky I’m not. So take that fortune cookie, I rebuke you.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Words of Wisdom

Don't get too excited:

I'm not putting myself on some high horse and issuing out words of wisdom or free advice by any means... In fact, I'm doing quite the opposite: I'm taking it. I've mentioned before that I am someone who firmly believes in interconnection and that no one that crosses your path crosses it by accident. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have crossed paths with some of these people, but luckier to have noticed it... It saddens me to think about the opportunities that I've witnessed people miss because of egotistical nonsense, pure arrogance, stubbornness, animosity, and otherwise... but what saddens me even more is, I've done so myself.

 I am issuing myself a voluntary attitude adjustment that I feel has become somewhat rather mandatory... I don't want to miss what's right in front of me... not anymore. I try to be an open-minded person, but I can be incredibly closed minded about things once my mind is made up. I hold more grudges than I realize and I'd like to make a conscious effort not to do that anymore. I'd like to find some good in every situation before acknowledging the bad... I've found that if I first acknowledge the bad, I never get around to finding the good because its simply too easy to be negative. I don't want to be like that.

I have been spending a significant amount of time with people I was fortunate enough to not let slip by unnoticed, talking endlessly about things that actually matter. For the record, those really are the most invaluable conversations... I really try hard to pay close attention to those... because thats where said "Words of Wisdom" come into play.

I have spent the better half of my life trying to figure it out. I want all the answers. I want them now. I want a step-by-step plan as to how things are going to happen, when they're going to take place, where my next step is going to be, etc. But I think that some of the best advice I've ever been given came from a recent conversation among a few good friends of mine... In talking about past, present, and future events the notion came up that "there is no prescribed path." That statement blindsided me in a way I didn't really expect. It became so apparent to me in that moment just how much I tried to micromanage every aspect of my life. Sure, some things I have no control over, but when I do, buddy, back off.

I have changed a lot of things in my life intentionally, and several things have changed unintentionally because of it, but more often then not, things change that I have absolutely no control over... and instantly I go into damage control mode, trying to control the uncontrollable. That's a lot of control... or rather, lack thereof. What I got most from that conversation was that I didn't need to have a plan, a map, a blow-by-blow of the rest of my life. Its okay to not have control of everything and to relinquish a little bit of your fate to the powers that be... I really do believe things happen for a reason, and now I know why. I was also told "If you can figure out the 'why', then the 'how', the 'where', the 'when', etc. will all fall into place." And I believe it will. It has thus far... which up until now, I was too nearsighted to see.

There really is no prescribed path... But I do know I'm headed down the right one... and that's all I need. I've figured out the 'why'. So, until the rest of the things fall into place I'm going to make a conscious effort to be less critical, more open; less judgmental, more accepting; less focused on the things that are insignificant, with my eyes wide open to the bigger picture... and all the while making sure that I'm not letting the people who have been put in place to change my life slip by without knowing it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When I Say "I Do"

Clint Black put it best…
“When I said I do, I meant that I will, till the end of all time. Be faithful and true, devoted to you, that’s what I had in mind, when I said I do.”

I have spent the last few days remembering and honoring my grandmother, Marlene Schneider. She is exemplary of the woman I hope to grow up to be. She is selfless, encouraging, determined, devoted, understanding, unconditionally loving, and above any an all things, tirelessly compassionate. This woman never laid eyes on someone she couldn’t find the good in. She sought to discover the better side of every person she crossed paths with, and I hope I can learn to become like her in that sense.

What I loved most about her, is that when she said something, she meant it… and she stood by it. Forever. She had a love for family unlike anyone I have ever encountered. She was always finding ways to bring us closer together, especially when we were furthest apart. She and my grandfather have served as constant beacons of stability for our family. They have unknowingly and as far as I know, unintentionally taken on the role of defining for my family the epitome of grace. They had been happily married 56 years the day she died, and through thick and thin, the good times and the bad, stood side by side embracing our family and uplifting us in whatever capacity we needed. I don’t think they know how very meaningful their relationship has been to me specifically.

This picture is from their 50th wedding anniversary that was celebrated at our farm in Millboro, VA… unfortunately this is a milestone that has become somewhat of a rarity. Please understand that I am not pointing fingers, shunning, or looking down upon anyone who has been in a ‘failed’ relationship: I’m not. That would be pure hypocrisy, as I, myself, am a product of a broken home. But what means so much to me about this picture is the essence of possibility. It is possible to find the right person, to be happy, to have a wonderful marriage, and raise an incredible family together, and to have the happily ever after you deserve.

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes it takes one or two or more tries to get it right… I don’t believe in ‘failed’ relationships. They’re simply broken roads that take you to the right path, the long way… honestly, sometimes you need that… because when you find that missing link, you treasure it so much more having looked for it for so long.

I am currently in Virginia Beach spending some time with my family before the funeral. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve watched, seen, or listened to my grandfather painstakingly relive every detail of my grandmother’s last days multiple times. I’m not sure if it helps him to continuously relive those moments, but I can tell you that as many things have changed in the last few days, one has stayed the same… and that’s the look in his eyes when he talks about her.

Though he looks as though he’s aged years since I saw him two weeks ago, his eyes have the same sparkle they’ve always had when he’s talked about her. I know he’s hurting, but he still somehow manages to be happy for her, in the sense that she’s not suffering anymore. So am I, but it sure doesn’t make it any easier to let go. This is about to be the hardest day of my life, but I must remind myself of all the love she left behind instilled in every member of my family, and then some.

I hope I have a love like my grandparents have shared. I hope I find someone that will stick with me through anything and everything unwaveringly. I hope that their success story becomes mine someday, in some way, some how, somewhere, with someone. Most importantly, I hope they know what an inspiration they’ve been to me and my entire family. When they said “I do.” they meant that they will, till the end of all time. Be faithful and true, devoted to each other, that’s what they had in mind, when they said “I do.” I can only hope to do the same.

When she said it, she meant it… and so did he. Always and forever…
Until death do us part.
And it did.