Living this kind of life

As December begins, we're approaching the deathiversaries of two people whose lives impacted me greatly. They are two completely different people, from different places, different times, and with very different stories.

Both of these people left in what was, so far, the darkest period of my life, when I was in despair for clarity and direction. These two people's stories ended the exact opposite of each other - one with chance, one with a choice. I sat there in between; trying to be thankful for what little control I had; my good health, my talents, the things my hard work had given me. I found some comfort in the dusky, foggy clarity that kept my life from ending like his.

A few weeks after my second friend's death, I changed. After the most difficult grief was subdued, I embarked on a new journey fueled by the understanding that this is MY life. I am able bodied, intelligent, and a citizen of the free world - and until any of those things change, I am in control of my destiny. I get to decide.

Now, a year later, I'm in a different place. I'm not the girl I was last year at this time, but the path of my life is still in need of a lot of work. This week, particularly, I'm in a creative drought. I have finals due and a massive marketing campaign to design with regard to my business, and neither are getting done. I haven't photographed anything lately. I haven't even been blogging.

I know that these weeks happen, to everyone. I know that I'll probably end up finishing my finals on time, and hopefully, they'll be Ok. I know that I'll pick up my camera again. It's just that now, while I'm in the hole, it's dark.

The Drummer and I went back to Minnesota to stay with his parents for Thanksgiving. While we were there, we visited the Art Institute, which is a gigantic museum filled with works from ancient to present. I love visiting art museums, obviously, and I've been to a few great ones. This visit, however, made the other experiences seem tiny in comparison. I browsed ancient Chinese ceramics, Japanese block prints, Gallileo's writings, and even a real reproduction of the Doryphoros. Of course while the Doryphorous's creator, Polyklietos, and Gallileo are famous and known by most people, much of what I saw there was without a known artist. The works were on exhibit because they are symbolic of times, of movements, important ones, that defined and inspired in myriad ways. These artists may have been well known and beloved in their times; they may have been nobodies. Regardless, they probably never imagined their work being studied and implored by millions of people thousands of years later. Most of the time, they didn't realize they were innovators. They simply lived and created.

For awhile after our visit I was feeling overwhelmed by all the inspirational work I'd seen. I think most artists feel that way - that you want to take from what you've seen to make your work better, but that those artists were masters you'll never be. While walking through the museum I thought I'd come home and create, create, create, but it's actually had the opposite effect.

Two days ago, the Drummer and I went to Target for a few things. The particular Target was a different one than we usually visit, and is designed in the same fashion that the Target by my old job in Redwood City was. We visited the frozen food section, and continued on toward the Christmas candy and supplies on the right followed by the electronics, and the toys and baby supplies on the left. I looked to the right and saw a cardboard display holding lots of different bags of M&Ms - regular milk chocolate, peanut, almond, dark chocolate, and a Christmas specialty - mint. I was then slammed with a a memory - still very vivid, of work friends and I milling that aisle a few weeks before Christmas, two years ago. There was a life-sized pony in the left aisle across from us, built for little girls. My friend Jason picked up the mint M&Ms in disgust.

"These are TERRIBLE. Mint should not be here. Ever."
My friend Ray let out a subdued giggle. "Oh no, how terrible". We always made fun of Jason because he was black and white about everything. This guy hated vegetables, and was absolutely against even eating a pizza that had ever held a veggie, removed or not. He was extreme about his opinions.

I, on the other hand, LOVE mint.

Other things transpired in that aisle, that visit, things that include white fudge covered Oreos, Spiderman action figures and Wii games. It wasn't a visit out of the ordinary. Yet since standing there, in front of the Mint M&Ms, I have been back there, that day.

Those are the things, in the end, that you can't tell someone you'll remember. That you'll miss. I know he probably never imagined that I'd hear his voice so clearly in the aisle of a Target.

We build our lives based on expectations. While there's definitely differences in the exact expectations for different people, the basics are always the same. Success. Notability. Happiness. Long life. Good health. Love. Money. We live our lives with respect to the expectations in which the world runs on. We judge each other and ourselves based on these expectations, regardless of where we started or stopped.

I went to a friend's birthday party last night. She's a dear friend, and one that doesn't have very much self esteem. She's beautiful, funny, and brilliant - she was the Salutatorian of her class this Fall when she graduated from Pharmacy school. Now, she's a Doctor. She told me, almost in passing, that she'd applied to many schools to do her residency - with letters of recommendation from her mentor - UW Madison, UM, Stanford, UC Davis, Mayo Clinic, and a few more. She then scoffed that she wasn't getting her hopes up. I know she'll get one of these jobs. But standing there, she really believed that she has no chance. She's not just trying to get praise. I felt so much pride for her, because I love her like a sister, and to see her making this awesome life for herself makes me feel so incredibly happy for her. She stood there, a Doctor, a non-believer in herself. I stood there feeling like a worthless pile of shit. I haven't even finished college, and she's a doctor. She'll go on to make great money, do something she really enjoys, and live close to her family - who are amazing. I felt like an insignifigant flea with nothing to offer and no real future because I don't deserve it.

This morning, something startled me to visit Emilie's blog. I read many of the posts from November and December...the end. Part of what made her death so shocking was really the fact that a week before hand, she wrote this. I don't think any of us who weren't near her understood how much she was suffering, because she wrote with this fervor for life that was unwavering. She wrote with a passion that most of us with decades in front of us to live don't have. She accepted that her life path would take her in a different direction than others. I have read this article that she wrote for the Catholic Spirit many, many times. That article alone has helped me to understand faith in God, as people should see it, and how I can respect their opinion. And, apart from that, it can be interpreted for someone like me, an Atheist, as well. She's basically saying, what if we let go of what we cannot control? What if we put those things in the care of "the man upstairs" and concentrate on being what we are? Living the life we have?

Maybe Emilie didn't understand it, but long before she wrote that article, she did. She accepted that she was going to die, and her life path was different from those around her. Joy, to her, would be different. Happiness and success - to a young woman with terminal cancer - were not impossible because of a shortened time on earth. They were just different. Found in different places, made absolute in different ways. So many of us read her blog and expected to see pain, anger and sadness because that's what we think someone should feel when their life won't be the standard, the norm, what's expected. Instead, we found someone who had defined her own life in acceptance of what chance had given her.

For the rest of us, it might not be that easy. We don't even know what our life path will be. We, for the most part, don't know when we'll die, how much time we have. We don't know how long our family will be with us, or our friends. We don't know if we'll lose our health in some way that changes us. We don't know if the world will end. My friend Jason didn't know when his suffering would end, and he didn't realize that so much of it wasn't in his hands. He lost track of his life path, and because he was judging himself by someone else's standards, he made the choice to end is. I wonder - had he met Emilie, or someone like her - would he have done differently?

I don't have control over those things. I only have control over what I am, and what I do. Can I do what Emilie did? Let go of what's chance, and put those parts of my path in the hands of whatever makes those decisions? Can I live this kind of life and define success as it pertains to me rather than the greater world? Can I accept that this kind of life is equipped with the difficulties and dreams within me? That I might not start or end like them, so I can't expect that any part of my path will be like theirs?

I know, it sounds easy. But do you really understand it? Have you really accepted with living your kind of life is? Are you making the most of it?

2 people's thoughts:

David December 5, 2009 at 6:21 PM  

I guess you know you're making the most of it if, upoon asking yourself that question, you can honestly say yes...and I don't think anyone would say yes. It's about always living like your goal is to make the most of it. What i'm saying is...if you know you could do more and are able to do so, do it. Dreams are dreams until they come true and once that happens they are no longer dreamlike, they are reality, so it's important to keep dreaming so you're not wallowing in reality. No one ever regretted constantly trying. Love.

C December 6, 2009 at 3:57 PM  

I miss Jason. And I didn't know Emilie, but her story was profoundly touching, and I hope her family is well. If you ever hear from them please let me know. This will be a rough Christmas for them, I'm sure. The first one is always the worst, though none really get better.

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