People told her to keep her mouth shut. Stand up straight, smile politely and only speak when she was spoken to. But what happens when I am never spoken to? She thought to herself on more than one occasion, retreating farther back into the wilderness of her own mind. She had a voice. She had words. In fact, she had she plenty of words. Words that were never spoken, words that floated around her mind like leaves on a blustery fall day.
“Your story may not be pretty. Your story may not be elegant. And I know that you feel that telling your story will bring hurt and harm to another,” Sarah told her. “Be sensitive to their feelings, but don’t let them hinder you from using your God given voice.”
That was the kind of person Sarah was, always taking the time to ensure everyone around her knew that they were enough. She was the most elegant, beautiful soul I have had the honor of knowing. She lived and loved every second of her life with exceeding abundance, choosing to see the splendor and beauty in the spaces between the spaces. She was thirty-six when she passed away in a plane crash. Finding out such shocking news will teach you to never let a day go by where you do not say “I love you.” It will teach you to be in love with your life, every single small, seemingly insignificant minute of it.
It will teach you to finally swing on the tire swing you pass every day on your morning run. It will teach you to roll down the grassy hill, not focused on the grass stain you’ll get after, but the tumble ride down instead. It will teach you the simple joy of coloring with kids; drawing cats and bunnies and horses, even if you don’t possess artistic talents. Get dirty, unafraid of the repercussions. Take guitar lessons at the age of 72, unashamed of learning something new. Buy the paddleboard you’ve been talking about for a year. Take the road trip you’ve been planning since you graduated college. Do you long to fall in love, but have been afraid of letting someone into our heavily guarded heart? Let them in and let them love you, even if in the end you’re left heart broken and confused. The love you let yourself feel is worth it.
Smile at the man pumping gas next to you at the gas station, as it may be the only smile he has seen today. Look the woman bagging your groceries in the eye and ask her how her day is going- and then listen to her answer- really listen- and reply accordingly. Strike up a conversation with the single mom in the corner of the coffee shop, nursing her latte and studying for her night class. And smile back at the stranger on the street who smiled at you, because you don’t know how much effort went into gaining the courage to crack a smile in the first place. A little kindness goes a long way. Fall in love with the beautiful humans around you. Never be so guarded that you forget that it’s these connections that give our lives purpose.
Lilacs are my favorite flower. Roses were Sarah’s. She would spend countless hours painting them, rose after rose. I asked her once why she liked painting roses so much and she said “because they are only here for such a short time in the summer. This way people can enjoy them all winter long.” In the short time the flowers are in bloom, they fill the air with their sweet aroma. I wait all year for the lilacs to show their faces, and when they do, they are gone in what feels like only moments after they bloom. Much to the dismay of my walking companions, I take the time to stop and smell every lilac tree I come across in the last two weeks of June, because I know I won’t smell them for another year. All of life should smell like lilacs and coffee. It should sound like the cool river rushing over rocks. It should feel like the gentle embrace of a humid summer night after a storm. These seemingly insignificant details are what tie us all together and show us the beauty in just becoming.
Every 15-year-old has that slightly older friend that they look up to and try to emulate. Sarah was mine. She was a house sitter who lived in her car more often than not. She fit everything she owned into her little Honda civic. You always knew Sarah’s car by the paintbrushes in the back window. She worked towards furthering her education and she worked tirelessly at her multiple jobs, because she knew that on the other side of it was another grand adventure. She would come home with grandiose stories of the places she traveled to and plans of the next place she intended to go. She was happy and free. She wore XtraTuf boots, had sparkly finger nails and was everything I wanted to be when I “grew up.”
As I look at my little yellow bug filled with everything I own, on my way to my next house sitting job, I cant help but smile and think of Sarah.
Goals. Dreams. Aspirations. We all have them. Some of us work tirelessly with focused tunnel vision to reach them while others let life happen as it comes. Finishing college meant saying no to late night fun and frivolity and hello to early morning papers and classes. It meant being 5000 miles away from my family. It meant 40-hour workweeks and 21 credit semesters. But, every single second was worth it. The diploma came in the mail, and 10 years and 256 credits later, I had my Bachelor’s degree. What they don’t tell you, however, is that when you finally finish the goal and the high of accomplishing something so massive wears off, you are left with this overwhelming, crippling emptiness. The goal has been reached, now what? It’s a terrifying realization. I believe that it in moments like this that we must learn to be content in the now. I wont admit to the hours I have spent filled with anxiety, trying to figure out why someone never called me back or the sleepless nights I’ve spent trying to decide to go to graduate school, travel the country or stay where I am. The feeling of being ripped between Cleveland and Alaska, never fully settled in one place. The paralyzing fear of commitment. The questions that spin around my brain on any given day are all encompassing and overwhelming, like bees buzzing around a hive, never quite ready to land. But there comes a time when you have to decide to take a deep breath and be at peace with the uncertainty because when nothing is certain, anything is possible.
We find that our little corners of the world are filled with thinkers and feelers. Feelers feel, they feel everything. They feel the sadness in your pulling away, they feel elated and overjoyed when you remember their strange affinity for white wine in big red wine glasses. They need to process out loud and they need you to patiently listen. Thinkers on the other hand will spend hours alone in silence milling about in their mind as they come their conclusions. It is only after this time that they will break their silence and tell you their fully formed thoughts. I remember a beach walk about six months ago, processing life out loud to Sarah as always. “Somehow, we have to learn how to give the thinkers a chance to be alone and process, but also give the feelers our undivided attention as they process. Let yourself think and let yourself feel- embrace every thought and feeling- and embrace the feelings and thoughts of others as well,” she told me. In the moments you feel like you are too much, know you are not. You are just enough.
All we can do is breathe, take it one day at a time and remember that life is precious, hard, sad, fun and endlessly worthwhile. Just for a moment, let yourself be enraptured in gratitude.