Friday, January 11, 2013

Do You See What I See?

There are a lot of things I love about traveling. I love the X factor of a new adventure. I love meeting new people and experiencing previously foreign places. I love trolling truck stops and making a point of observing even the silliest of things. Prime example: Oklahoma has the best windshield wiper squeegees between Roanoke, VA and Tucson, AZ. I love being far enough removed from my daily routine that I’m forced to adapt the motions I get lulled into going through on a regular basis. Change is as good at it is hard.

I find that time spent on the road forces me into being a captive, more observant audience to this universe. I am more easily removed from my admitted addiction to technology – although, not often removed enough. I am able to focus with more clarity on the road ahead instead of the road behind, and I find inspiration in places I never would have thought to look for it.

I try hard to keep track of things worth remembering, and anyone who knows me knows that I operate religiously on lists… so for traditions sake, I made another one.

Here it is, a running list of things I’ve come across, thoughts I’ve had, and lessons learned when old memories are jarred loose by the act of creating new ones. There is a lot of brokenness in this world – perhaps there is mortar in some of these observations.

+ The best stops are often the ones you never intended to make.
+ It is important to recognize that there are two sides to every story – for more reasons than one.
+ Respect silence - sometimes emptiness is the only thing capable of filling vacancy.
+ If you don’t understand my silence you don’t deserve my words.
+ If a tadpole spends its entire life in a well, it becomes the world… that’s a tragic perspective.
+ There is nothing any of is can do to keep the tides from rolling in, but how you emerge from the waves is all in how you ride them.
+ It is true what they say about the journey of 1000 miles. It is also true that the first step is the hardest. 
+ Find simplicity in the chaos of this world.

+ Stand up for yourself – no one else will be more convicted in your beliefs than you are.
+ Tell the truth. It takes so much less energy and a lot less people get hurt in the crossfire.
+ Build bridges everywhere you can – but be cautious about burning them before they’ve been crossed.
+ Drink more water.
+ Find the line. Respect the line. Be smart about when and where you choose to cross it.
+ You don’t need to have many friends, but it’s important to have real ones.
+ Have faith in others – but not instead of having faith in yourself.
+ Dress for success. You never know who you’re going to meet.
+ Everyone has baggage. What breaks you down is not the load you’re carrying – it’s all in how you carry it. I recommend getting a luggage rack. You need to be able to set your troubles down every now and then.
+ Assume everyone else’s load is twice as heavy as your own… empathy will come naturally.
+ Surround yourself with good people – they will surround you.
+ Choose the wrench – pain is temporary, scars fade, but words last forever.
+ Listen… and recognize that it is no mistake that silent contains the same letters.
+ Fighting with someone who won’t fight for you is a battle lost before it began.
+ Accountability is everything.
+ Road signs are almost always more important than we give them credit for. Truth or Consequences is one worth pondering.

+ You might have to scale a mountain to find the horizon, but I promise it’s there.
+ Practice what it is you preach.
+ Follow your dreams, but take the opportunity to enable the dreams of others along the way… you’ll find it to be just as fun and often more rewarding than enabling your own.
+ Karma will take care of itself.
+ Act your age, not your shoe size. There is no expiration date on the need for maturity.
+ Before you put yourself on a pedestal you might want to check your balance.
+ You can never say “I love you” too much – unless you don’t actually mean it. Actions speak louder than empty words, but hurtful words speak loudest. Don’t forget that.
+ Taking advantage of someone is one of the most destructive things you can do to a person’s soul. Pay it forward, always.
+ We really are what we eat… and we’re at our worst when we don’t. I should probably start carrying a snickers bar.
+ I truly believe everyone has a good side, but it isn’t always their first side… you have to give them a chance to prove it to you.
+ Honor the legacy of those who have changed what yours will be.

+ Wrinkles should be worn with pride. They’re a tribute worth sharing and a testament to a life well lived. Take every opportunity to ask questions that beg for the wisdom in between the lines – you’ll be glad you did.
+ There is a lot of brokenness in this world, be the mortar where you can, but remember the Taj Mahal wasn’t built in a day.

We push and pull as human beings. We live and we learn. We are fragile and we are resilient. We make mistakes and we are mistaken. We are a lot like the trees I saw on the side of a Texas highway… When we’re in full bloom it’s hard to tell the direction in which we’ve been blown, but when the seasons change, the leaves disappear, and we are exposed - the battering is blatant. 

It doesn’t make us broken – it makes us bent. It doesn’t make us un-loveable, it makes us that much more appreciative of the love we are given. It doesn’t make us immobilized, it just means our roots run deep… Conviction is a good thing, conflict is healthy, and compromise is the key to success. Sometimes the thin ice that you’ve landed on has solid ground underneath. 

I was flying over the mountains of Arizona’s painted desert when the importance of perspective hit me with crystal clarity. From 30,000 feet, what the world has us seeing as impassible mountain ranges are so easily conquerable. I realize that in reality, it’s a long hard road, but sometimes all you need is to see the glimmer of light to know that there is always at the end of the tunnel. 

Someone told me the other day that they were concerned that I would lose my faith in people… it was funny because it came directly from a homegrown source of my hope in humanity. I’ve always thought of myself as a hopeless wanderer, but a recent correction has me thinking that perhaps I am a hopeful wanderer after all.

Sometimes the molehill really is a mountain, and sometimes the ripple really is a tidal wave, but more often than not, it all comes down to your perspective.

Maybe you’re the one who needs to see the light, maybe you’re the one holding the candle at the other end – either way, don’t put a glass over the flame… There’s a soul looking for a lighthouse somewhere in your world.

Sometimes all the firefly needs is for someone to loosen the jar. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Out with the Old

It’s practically become tradition to spend this time of year traveling to a post-season bowl game. So here I am, doing exactly what I do every year: sitting on a charter bus, chewing on a pen, scribbling pieces of the year behind on a notepad as I look to the year ahead. It’s the most wonderful time of the year - I forget how much I treasure this time.

2012 has been a whirlwind and a roller coaster. When things were good they were great, but when they were bad, they were ugly. 2012 was tragic and triumphant, discouraging yet enlightening, stressful but balanced, and hopelessly hopeful – it was full of possibility but strategically riddled with trap doors.

I talked this time last year about how I longed to find a fine balance between what I thought I needed and the things that really matter. I always find checkpoints throughout the year, but none better than the transition from the end of one year to the beginning of the next. It was the time in between all of the ups and downs that I learned my most important lessons.

I have learned a lot about the world. I’ve learned the importance of being an informed citizen in a country where we’re allowed to have an opinion.  We take a lot for granted here in America. We are luckier than we think we are to call this fiscal cliff dwelling nation home. Our “problems” might not seem so great if we spent more time looking at the big picture. I have learned that if you go through your like a tadpole in a well, your world will shrink… rapidly. Perspective is key – if you don’t have a good view, it’s important to consider changing your vantage point.

I have learned a lot about people. Everyone has a good side, but it isn’t always their first side – you have to be willing to give them the time to prove it to you.

I have learned a lot about myself… and some of those realizations have been difficult. I have learned that it is important to love your family – even if you don’t always like them. I have learned that life-support is much more than a machine in a hospital room. You never know what other people are walking around carrying – so for the sake of everyone, assume their load is twice as heavy as your own.

I have learned that if you truly reflect on your experiences and take the lessons that life offers you along the way they’ll become an encyclopedia of how to help others. Ruin is the road to transformation – keep your eyes wide and your mind open.

We make a conscious choice every day to either embrace or deflect love… and when we deflect it because of the packaging we become a product of our own poison. We live in a world full of poison – it is us to us to create and employ the filter necessary to ensure that we make it through our days with the least amount of brain washing possible.

There are a lot of parts of 2012 I would love to re-visit, but just as many I’d rather not. I am starting to recognize that as pattern.

So for 2013, I hope you have the opportunity to change the world by starting with your own. I hope you have the opportunity to be the light to others that they are to you. I hope that you have the chance to learn from the best and worst of every experience you encounter. I hope you’ll remember that roadblocks are only temporary and that brick walls are there to give you a chance to prove how badly you want something. I hope you’ll take the road less traveled because you can, not because you have to – and I hope you find, as I have, that the difference is always worth going the long way. I hope you find wonder in simple things and simplicity in the chaos of this world. I hope that you take every opportunity to expand your mind, treat others with compassion, and explore open doors with bright eyes and a hopeful heart.

And I hope, that at every turn, I recognize, treasure, and graciously accept every opportunity I have to do the very same things.

A Tribute to a Friend

Exactly two years ago Annalee Marshall was just another person in a classroom full of people I was unfamiliar with – but at first glance, it was so obvious that she had a story to tell. As chance, luck, or fate would have it, we edited each other’s writing, and I began to learn what that story was. We exchanged phone numbers, the occasional cup of coffee turned routine, and we quickly became close friends. 

 Annalee and I were both so moved by the Help Save The Next Girl campaign and the response it was to violence. We knew we wanted to be a part of it but we had no way of knowing the incredible journey the next 365 days would have in store for us. With the critical help of several other students and faculty members, we rallied together and founded the first collegiate chapter of HSTNG at Virginia Tech. Annalee immerged – not surprisingly – as a natural leader in the organization. She was creative, compassionate, driven – that girl was on fire.

I have a friend who describes people she would characterize as fireflies as someone who goes unnoticed in the glare of sunlight, but given the right circumstances, they give off a spectacular glow. They are not typically “flashy” people. Quite the opposite really. They don’t really try to shine – it’s just who they are. It’s a part of their being. The source of their light is often mysterious – or at least not obvious – but they are undeniably attractive to be around.

Annalee was a firefly.

I was inspired by, motivated by, and in awe of her passion constantly - she was a courageous crusader for change, a warrior for peace, and the brightest of lights in any room. We embraced the best of times together and we shared in some of the worst. She was never the fair-weather type and I will always be grateful for that.

We’ve stood hand in wax-covered hand memorializing the victims of Virginia Tech’s massacre by candlelight. Those same hands held mine at Take Back The Night last spring as VT Help Save The Next Girl emerged as one of the fastest growing anti-violence organizations on campus. Those same hands are immortalized in the PSA for the national Help Save The Next Girl campaign – a cause she tirelessly poured her heart and soul into. Those same hands never met a person they couldn’t reach and those same hands chalked, with bright colors and intricate design, the entire Copely Bridge in honor of another life lost too soon... She did everything she could to honor and perpetuate the legacy of others – it still seems unreal to be speaking in past tense while doing the same for her.

I could tell you stories for hours about Annalee – I have 730 days of them, but my stories aren’t any more important than yours. We are all here because we have a gaping Annalee-shaped hole in our hearts that we’re not quite sure what to do with. Perhaps that hole is the perfect treasure chest for our stories and for the memories we will share with one another in her absence.

I have spent a lot of time on the road recently, and I find that on the road, the writing comes to me. On my way back from Orlando, FL at an unexpected stop on the edge of the ocean, I found these words:

Today, I am grateful for the reminder that there is triumph in the face of tragedy, light in the darkness, and beauty in the breakdown. I am reminded that how we emerge from the waves is all in how we ride them. I am reminded that even the most devastating storms run out of rain – so perhaps the lesson is that it is up to each of us to find peace within the silver linings that shelter us while it passes. 

Perhaps the silver linings will be in the memories we share today, in the relationships we build tomorrow, or in the peace we find years from now knowing we’ve got one incredible guardian angel on our side. Perhaps the silver lining is in the four lives that are forever changed by the priceless gift she was able to give as she transitioned peacefully from this life into the next. Perhaps it’s in the love she shared with each of us – making us better individuals and empowering us to cultivate for one another a better world. Annalee lived the change she wished to see in the world – so perhaps the silver lining is that we now have the opportunity to do the same in her honor. Wherever that silver lining may be, I encourage each of us to embrace it – because I think we’ll find it’s her that embraces us back. 

Two years later, I am beyond grateful to not only know her story, but to have her ink on the pages of my own.

So it is with life – pages turn, bridges burn, and lessons are often learned the hard way. We never get the time we think we have so we must make the most of every moment as it happens – I learned that from Annalee.

I wish I could tell her one more time just how much she meant to me… How much I appreciated her compassion… How loved she is by all of us… Just how much her very presence changed my life.

But I can – because she’s right here in my heart – just as she is in yours

Annalee had hoped I would someday take her the the beautiful peaks of Gates Pass - and as chance would have it, I could.  With the help of friends and family, we took
the pieces of this particular journey gathered at the closest point to heaven the geography of Tucson, AZ could offer us. A stone from every state traveled through, bits and pieces of memory placeholders, and prayer flags from around the world pay tribute to a life that couldn't help but enrich our own...

Annalee, I know you’re always listening to great music, but take the headphones out and listen to me... My world was a better, brighter place because you were a part of it. I am only just beginning to process the magnitude of this earthly robbery, and in doing so I must believe that you were planted on earth to bloom in heaven. VT Help Save The Next Girl will miss you and so will I, but your roots in each of our lives are eternal and your legacy will prevail. You will always be an angel in the architecture of my world and I will carry you with me wherever I go. Up you go, my beautiful friend. Fly with the angels… Soar. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Truth or Consequences

I was lucky enough to spend some much needed time on the road less traveled and along that road, specifically in New Mexico, was a sign for a town called “Truth or Consequences”. As we drove past Truth or Consequences I began thinking about those very things.

As I get older, I’m becoming less inclined to believe that everything happens for a reason – instead I believe that there is reason within everything that happens. I was raised to take complete ownership for my actions and I can count on one hand the number of times I didn’t. Accountability was not optional – I am eternally grateful to my parents for instilling that in me.

Don’t kid yourself - I have told my fair share of little white lies, blatant lies, half-truths, blurred truths – call them what you want - but you can bet your bottom dollar that the consequences decked me square in the mouth, and more importantly, that I learned from them. You know how it goes. You get confronted, you get caught off guard, and you spit it out – like uncontrollable word vomit – an itty bitty lie. The problem with this teeny tiny lie is that it’s really a seed… now it’s planted… and as it takes root, it metastasizes.

Now you’re terminal.

The truth is, we are all terminal. So why spend time intricately designing a snare of lies only to end up trapping ourselves? Because it’s easier…

Easier? Of course it is… It’s easier to tell people what we want them to know. It’s easier to control the flow of information. It’s easier to Instagram the image, to filter the pollutants, to sweep the dust under the rug than it is to be proactive – we have backed our way into a corner of being a supremely reactive society. We gloss over reality, and like a bandage covering a flesh wound – it can’t help but get infected.

But it’s not just easier to tell a lie, it’s easier to live one. It’s easier to be the person people see in the spotlight than to let people see who you are behind closed doors – but shouldn’t we be the same? It’s easier to settle for what you think you deserve than to fight for it – but shouldn’t we want to? It’s easier to live by someone else’s table of contents than to write your own book… if you’re an invertebrate.

What is it about the truth that makes it so hard to tell? Is it the clarity? Is it the vulnerability? Is it the transparency of having nothing to hide behind? What is it about a fictitious life that is so attractive? Nothing.

I would much rather write my own book and stand my own ground than to hide in the shadows casted by a web of lies… Why do we build the walls of Jericho knowing they’ll all come tumbling down? …because in the very moment where lies become the ‘truth’, even temporary shelter seems comforting.

Perhaps the next time you find yourself at the intersection of Truth or Consequences the high road will be more appealing. If it is not, I suggest a brief vow of silence. I believe there is more honesty in silence than we are apt to suspect… and if you can’t understand my silence, you don’t deserve my words.

You must choose your words like you choose your clothes… and if you cannot, prepare for the wardrobe malfunction.

Look in the mirror. Question your reflection. Be honest with yourself – you’re the only one who knows the difference. Evaluate what it is that you believe in and embrace those beliefs as the foundations of your life. I do not expect every human being to feel and act upon the same convictions as deeply and as sincerely as I do, but I do expect a certain level of accountability. You must stand up for yourself and the people who stand up for you – if you do not, consider what that looks like to them. The truth seeps through the cracks of the walls right before they tumble, so take every opportunity to build before it’s destroyed. 

A quote from Sue Monk Kid, author of The Secret Life of Bees, goes like this: “There's release in knowing the truth no matter how anguishing it is. You come finally to the irreducible thing, and there's nothing left to do but pick it up and hold it. Then, at last, you can enter the severe mercy of acceptance.”

If you cannot be honest enough with yourself to be honest with others, you’ll find my pity for you somewhere between the end of this sentence and the intersection of Truth of Consequences.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, but just in case they are not, let your trumpets blow.