Look Up Now

A childhood friend of mine passed away nearly two weeks ago.

I found out that she wasn’t doing well only a week and a half prior. One minute, I was having sushi with a friend I went to graduate school with, ranting about our perpetual existential crises and life stresses, and the next, I was on the phone with my cousin, hearing the heartbreaking news on the other end of the line. After battling a life-threatening illness for three years, her body couldn’t take it anymore. My friend, Danielle, was losing the fight. Suddenly, the ranting and raving that took place only minutes before dissipated; reality struck me like a gust of cold wind that shook me to the core.

Only 11 days passed between that phone call saying she was in the hospital, and the message I got saying she had passed, and yet, time seemed to stand still between those days, as if preparing me for the gut-wrenching feeling of being paralyzed by grief.

Young death is an unfathomable tragedy that often reminds you of the brevity of life. It’s sudden, and it’s swift, and it shakes you so deeply, and with such force, that you can’t help but feel profoundly betrayed by the world that’s supposed to keep you safe and let you grow old with the people you love.

It was a rainy Tuesday morning when she passed away. The universe often works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? That day for me was a fog. It was coasting through a short work day, and going for a drive, cursing the sky above, asking What’s the point? What’s the point in all of this? She didn’t ask for this. It was repeating to myself over and over again, She was only 27. She was only 27. She was only 27. It was somehow ending up at the grocery store with no list or plan in mind. It was walking down each aisle, angry at all of the people filling their carts with the proper fixings for a Thanksgiving meal. It was the desperate feeling of wanting everyone around me to stop what they were doing and feel even a fraction of what I was feeling. It was praying for a familiar face to come up to me and say I get it, I get it. I miss her too. This sucks so much. It’s not fair. It’ll never be fair.

It was being surrounded by strangers who couldn’t possibly know what my favorite memories are. They don’t know about the elementary school pool parties, or sneaking in bouts of laughter between getting in trouble for torturing your old neighbor together. They don’t know about the sleepovers in middle school, or the time you finally felt like you were growing up when your parents trusted you enough to go to let you go to the mall alone. They don’t know about how Ruby Tuesdays became your tradition because that was the first restaurant you spent your hard earned cash that you made at your minimum wage paying jobs at. They don’t remember what it was like to get dressed up in matching fuzzy sweaters and Kangol bucket hats (both of which I am eternally grateful faded out of style) just to take funny pictures that will forever be a part of me. They don’t know about the nights when it was just you, your cousin, and your friend, and how those quiet moments between deep breaths and tears and wishes made for the future and promises that we’d all be friends forever, laying on a blanket, talking over cups of hot chocolate, were some of the most profound moments of your life. They don’t know that those are the moments that you will hold onto when the grief gets bigger and the anniversary of her death gets further away.

And they don’t know how much you are kicking yourself over and over again for somehow allowing the last conversation that ever passed your lips between the two of you to be about hanging out soon. Soon is a concept I’ve become all too well acquainted with. I’ll get to it soon. I’ll call them back soon. Let’s hang out soon. Sometimes, soon never does come.

. . .

The holidays are trailing behind in the wake of her death. The twinkling lights and Christmas carols flowing through the airwaves are an indicator that it’s supposed to be the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, and yet the older I get, the more it feels like the Busiest Time of The Year.

This year, it feels like the Coldest Time of The Year.

The holiday season always seems to creep in, taking with it the magic of what it once used to mean. August, September, and October have notoriously been hard for me – a season of big change and crippling transition, sending me straight into a time of year that is supposed to be met with gratitude, and warmth, and cider, and reflections of Remember When?

Instead, the end of November is a less-than-subtle reminder of the things we have left to do. Did I buy everything I needed to for Christmas? Did I sent out my cards? Will the gifts I order come in time? Did I miss any parties? Do I have time to finish all of the goals I made for myself for the year in the next 31 days?

In the midst of what is supposed to be a magical time of year, it’s hard to remember to enjoy it. To stop, to breathe, and to look up. To feel the crisp air and be enveloped by the scent of peppermint. To watch those twinkling lights with the same mesmerized glow you did as a kid. To feel and express gratitude. To just be present and have that be enough.

This holiday season is a hard one. It seems that these days, all of the people in my life are hurting in some capacity. Hearts are broken all around me, even when outside our windows, there’s twinkling lights, and smiling snowmen, and kids in their bedrooms making wishes to Santa, all with hopeful hearts.

The reality in my world is this: people around me are hurting. People in my life are waking up every morning and putting on their best smile just to get through the day. People are scrambling to figure out if they can afford food, or water, or their electric bill. Christmas gifts are the last things on their mind. People get sick. People get sick so suddenly and so quickly and without so much as a warning. People pass away, even during the most magical time of the year. People forget you. They’ll forget how much of you was a part of them; you’ll see them and be reminded by a bright flash of the past of how much it all meant then, but it’ll be taken from you so quickly like you never even mattered. They’ll whisper words and promises to keep in touch, to stay friends, but they’re empty, and hopeless, and weightless.

The recurring theme in my life is one that is prominent this holiday season: stop romanticizing being busy. Stop glorifying exhaustion. Stop utilizing being busy as a symbol of status, when really, it’s a barrier and a wall built to keep you from your own reality. Spreading yourself thin isn’t admirable, in fact, that’s probably the reason I’ve been sick for over two months. Stop burning yourself into the ground for the sake of making sure that your schedule is filled up, leaving very little room to sleep, and rest, and relax.

Things happen when you’re busy. People you love get sick, and you aren’t able to be with them when they have important doctors appointments. You aren’t able to sit with them while they talk about how scared they are. You aren’t able to tell them that you’re scared too. People get hospitalized and you can’t swing missing work to go see them. People pass away and you kick yourself for never getting a chance to follow through with your unmade plans. You make empty promises of future plans with people, but you don’t always follow through. Because you’re busy. And sometimes, being busy has an expiration date.

So many people, myself included, wear busyness like a crown of honor – like we are deserving of some reward for the bags under our eyes, the exhaustion that weighs us down, and the stress that is undoubtedly affecting our health. The truth is: busyness is an illness. Busyness keeps us from facing reality. Busyness keeps us from showing up for people. Busyness keeps us from showing up for ourselves.

. . .

There is confusion and guilt that lingers in the weeks following Danielle’s death. There’s questioning how there are people existing in what seems to be happy little bubbles, so consumed by the hustle and bustle of the holidays, thriving, it seems, in a world that glorifies trivialities. There’s the constant ebb and flow of the stages of grief. Today, it’s anger at how unaware everyone seems to be at the profound loss the world just experience. There’s perspective — a lightning bolt, an electric shock, a drop of cold water on a hot day — a reminder that there are so many more important and grave things going on in the world, and that sometimes, all of the extra stuff just doesn’t matter when there are hearts broken all over.

Have you ever taken the time to genuinely look up at the night sky? We are so, so small compared to the world above us. We are tiny grains of sand — just specs of matter. Years from now, none of the extra stuff we do will mean anything. It won’t matter if we worked a 70 hour work week every year for 40 years. It won’t matter if we lost sleep over deadlines, and time frames, and progress notes left undone. It won’t matter if we hit the ground running every morning, just to come home with our gas light on E every night. It won’t matter if we dedicate our lives to cultivating a life we dreamed up, but never really living it. What will matter is heart and truth. Were you there for people? Did you show up when you were needed? Did you listen? Did you love? Did you pay attention to the people who needed you, but never asked? Did you ask for help? Did you listen to your body when it told you to slow down, take a deep breath, and be where your feet are?

Most of my life has been spent with my head straight, eyes forward. I’ve known what I’ve wanted of life for a long time, and I’ve done nothing but work tirelessly at building it from the ground up. I am dedicated, I am hard working, and I am relentless in my fight to get what I want — but these days, it’s kicking me in the ass. These days are a constant reminder that if you don’t look up every once in awhile, you’re going to miss a hell of a lot.

Sitting at the services for my friend Danielle, I noticed everyone looking up. Everyone was looking at the person we came to honor. The room was full of people who knew her in some capacity, and loved her as tremendously as the next person in the room. It was in those quiet moments, between sniffles and tears, that I realized only do we ever look up when we are forced — when there is something to look up for. When we are reminded of how very fragile and precious life is. When we are reminded of how quickly it can be taken from us.

Have you ever sat at a table surrounded by people you love and thought to yourself that this is what life is about? Christmas carols humming in the background, kids playing with toys downstairs, and a gentle buzz from the homemade spiked cider filling the air. And in those moments, you realize how full your heart is, how good this life is. I want to capture those moments. Preserve them. Remember to seek them every once in awhile. Because when you are too busy, you don’t have time to appreciate the good life, and the good people that are right there in front of you.

This month was a big, bold, painful reminder for me to start looking up. And what I would do to go back and live a life that didn’t require these kinds of life-altering reminders. Don’t be so busy that you need something this big, or this bold, or this painful to tell you to look up. Look up because life is too short to keep your eyes down. Look up because the world around you needs you — the people you love need you. Look up now.

Go Pick Up The Pieces

Without ever realizing it, without ever really trying, we lose bits and pieces of ourselves just by existing.

We lose a piece of ourselves when we give a friend good advice that they don’t heed. When you leave footprints in the sand, only to get washed away by the ocean, you’re leaving pieces of yourself. You lose a piece of yourself when you back down from an argument over something you so desperately believe in. You lose pieces of yourself when all you’ve ever done, is chip away at the parts that make you who you are — when you lessen yourself just to fit inside a tiny box that someone else handed you. When you pacify people, appease them, say yes when you want to say no, stay quiet when you want to scream, do something for someone else because you just want them to look at you like you matter.

You lose pieces of yourself trying to be everything for everyone.

If their love brought with it a series of punches to the gut, you’d stand still and take the hit without thinking twice. You would let them cut you open and spit you back out if it meant feeling whole, even just temporarily. You’ll give pieces of yourself away freely, giving anything you’ve got, if only it meant feeling loved, valued, appreciated… enough.

You’ll walk around with the burn of a thousand paper cuts dancing all over your skin, desperate to lock eyes with anyone who will stop you and tell you that they will cool off the fire. You’ll try to remember these moments — remember how sensitive to the touch your skin was, how it feels to be the one standing with a chisel in your left hand and a hammer in your right, chipping away the pieces of yourself and handing them off to ravenous vultures, desperate for something else to eat. And as hard as you’ll try to remember it all, you’ll still go home at night and be the proverbial punching bag if that’s what it takes to feel anything other than the sting of desperation and the need to just be seen.

As long as you have them for just a minute, you’ll hand them the knife and let them slice and dice right into you. They’ll ring you dry and even when you have barely anything left to give, you’ll somehow dig out all that makes you whole and good and full and pass it around like side dishes at Thanksgiving dinner. You’ll give and you’ll give until there’s nothing left in you but a tired, tired soul.

You become desperate for a home. And so, you’ll build one out of the empty pieces that you cling onto — the pieces that they gave you, the hollow pieces that led you to believe that you were worth keeping. That you meant something to them and that’s why they threw a stone your way. You build and you build and you put together these pieces with the hope that you will fit. That you will all fit. You don’t stop to look and see that no one else can fit inside the tiny box you built in front of you. So you shrink yourself down and compromise yourself just to feel a little bit less isolated and alone. You will do anything to believe that you have a home.

You’ll go to war with yourself. You’ll fight with yourself to try to hold onto everything that makes up who you are. They don’t deserve more than you have to offer. You’ll repeat it in your head over and over again. But it’s cyclical – the way you go around in circles, so desperate to find some sort of stable ground. And so you start throwing whatever tiny pieces of yourself that you can chip away behind you, like a trail for them to follow. You won’t say it out loud, but you hope that they pick up the pieces and that they’ll come and find you. You keep sprinkling the pieces over your shoulder because you want them to find the piece that makes them realize they were wrong about you. You want them to remember all the times you showed up for them. You want them to remember all the times you saved them. You want them to acknowledge the gifts just because, the times you thought of them, the way you wanted them to have everything they never had a chance to experience when they were younger. You want them to notice you — the real you. You want them to pick up the pieces that tell them that you are selfless, that you are worthy, that you are kind, that you are capable of being loved.

You’ll try to hold yourself steady when you look behind you and see that all the pieces you laid out are gone, but they’re nowhere in sight. They’ve taken every last bit of you, but they never came looking for you. They never told you that they believed in you, or that they appreciated you. They never thanked you. They never gave you the kind of love that you were searching for, that you were desperate for, that you deserve.

They never used the pieces the way you needed them to. And so, you’re left empty. Broken. You gave away all that you had and they were somehow always hungry for more. And really, all you needed was for them to be on your side.

I’ve been trying to forgive myself for leaving pieces behind me, and earnestly believing that they’d be the pieces used to build the home I so desperately wanted.

You have to forgive yourself. This is not a suggestion; this is not a solid piece of advice. This is a demand. Forgive yourself for cutting yourself open and letting yourself bleed dry. Forgive yourself for feeling desperate for attention — it was never that you were desperate for attention; you just wanted to be wanted and loved and important. Forgive yourself for believing that every time you fixed yourself up just to be what they needed you to be, that it would be different. Forgive yourself for believing that you could possibly be everything for everyone. Forgive yourself for believing that breaking off pieces of yourself and giving them away freely would somehow make you be enough for them. You are enough just the way you areForgive yourself for jumping into meaningless relationships and conversations just because you need something to fill the holes left from your lifetime of attempts at leaving a trail behind, hoping that they will come pick up the pieces and somehow your story will change.

Your story can change. Your story will change. It changes now. It changes now because you decide it does; it changes now because instead of throwing those pieces of yourself over your shoulder, with fingers crossed, hoping they’ll pick them up and run towards you, you’ll keep them for yourself. You decide it changes now because this is not how it ends. This cannot be how the story ends.

Step one in forgiving yourself is this: pick up those pieces. Turn around and collect the pieces of yourself that you’ve chiseled away and stitch them back together.  There will be scars. There will be a few cracks, but you don’t need to be empty. You don’t need to give yourself away, and be rung dry, with the quiet desperation of a life you never had.

You have a home. I need you to believe that. You have a home even if the house that built you never was warm and inviting. You have a home even if the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with pushes you out. You have a home even if you’re sitting in an empty apartment, working your ass off just to get by. You have a home. It’s within you; it’s up to you to build it up with the pieces of yourself that you collect.

Stop giving yourself so freely to the people who would be the first to throw in a match after you’ve danced in gasoline. Stop giving yourself so openly and so lovingly to the people who speak to you like your presence is a disservice to them — like you owe them something for simply existing. Stop letting people hold your hand only when they feel like it. Stop taking yourself apart and rearranging all that you are just to fit in with someone else’s belief of what a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, a friend, an employee, should be. Stop picking up the phone for people who don’t answer when you need them. Stop showing up when you’re told to never come back. Stop prioritizing the people who only see you as an option — who only talk to you or make plans with you just because they have no one else. Stop trading in what reality is and swapping it with a more romanticized memory. Stop walking on glass and asking why it hurts. And more important than anything, stop giving away pieces of yourself and expecting to be anything less than empty at the end of the day.

Your story changes here, and it changes now; turn around and go pick up the pieces.

Please Don’t Miss The Point

To the sweet stranger I see at Dunkin Donuts every morning – 

You probably have no idea who I am, and why should you? You and I are nothing more to each other than strangers passing by on our morning journey towards being appropriately caffeinated. The truth is, I find myself thinking about you — probably more often than I should. I think about the way you come staggering in not far behind me, around 7:25 every morning. I think about the way the employees greet you with a, “good morning, Sir! The usual?” and have a large coffee with milk and two sugars, a glazed donut, and the paper ready before you get to the front of the line.

Beyond the morning routine, I wonder about you. I’ll be frank; I wonder if you’re happy. You carry your head like you’ve been sucker punched by life, but the soft creases around your eyes and mouth make me believe that despite the losses, your life was filled with joy. And even though you are merely just a stranger, I really hope that’s true. I really hope you lived a life that you are proud of and that you are able to look back and say you did all you could. I hope you never missed the point.

It’s become second nature for me to see people passing by and feel this tremendous need to know them.

Sometimes, I see older couples walking arm in arm, and I draw up a picture of how sweet their love must be. I map out a story about high school sweethearts who built a life together, and weathered their way through the storm of growing older, and still somehow found home in each other’s eyes. I see people eating alone at a diner and a sinking feeling crushes me to my core. I go over all the potential ways their story led them to sitting alone in the corner of that diner. I think about the spouse that died, leaving them with nothing but memories and a seat in their favorite breakfast spot. I see young people walking through the park with their infant baby and I wonder if they realize how very lucky they are to be filled with so much love in their lives. I see teenagers at the mall, surrounded by a sea full of their friends, and I wonder who they are beyond the poorly done makeup, latest trend of clothes, and hair styles that will go out as quickly as they slid in.

The truth is, I spend a lot of time fearing the concept of time, and desperately trying to look towards strangers in the hopes that their eyes will lock with mine and I will feel some sort of comfort in knowing that I am not alone.

These days, the fear of time seems to be the uninvited house guest that’s crept her way into my life and set up camp inside my heart.

I sometimes miss the naivety that came with childhood and the bubble of invincibility that we lived in. We saw the future as this elusive fairy tale, and when we made plans for who we wanted to become, we saw no path but a straight one leading us right there. All we saw was an infinite number of possibilities — an infinite number of chances to get it right — an infinite amount of time.

It wasn’t until things happened to us — when life happened, when tragedy struck, did we realize how fragile our time here was. And after facing heart break, or death of family members, or fatal car accidents involving peers we just saw in class the day before, we put our fists in the air and promised to live each day like it’s our last. We proclaimed the cliche and thought we really meant it, and we did, until we found ourselves right back where we were: going through the daily motions, but never really sinking our teeth into making our stay here matter.

The problem is we always think we’re going to have more time. We rationalize putting things off because we are busy — because we’ll have another chance. We think we’ll have another opportunity to go after what we wanted for ourselves ten years ago. We think we are given an infinite number of chances to fall off our bikes and get right back up to start over again. We push off doing what we want to do because there will be more time to chase what makes our hearts full. We think we’ll have more time to catch up with family and friends that we haven’t seen. We think we’ll have more time to tell that boy how we really feel. And even though we know that time is never a guarantee, we somehow are so convinced that we are the exception to this.

Let me tell you a thing or two about time. Time wasn’t on my friend Pat’s side when he was walking on that dark road that February night in 2009 and his life was cut short at only 21 years old. Time was not on my neighbor’s side, the healthiest man I knew, who fought his way down to his very last breath after a cancer diagnosis and a stroke that took everything from him. Time wasn’t on my side when I put off watching the movie Groundhog’s Day with him because he told me for years the movie reminded him of the time he drove me around getting my working papers signed when I was 15 and applying for my first job. Time wasn’t on my aunt’s side when she was diagnosed with cancer and suffered tremendously right down to her last day. Time wasn’t on my cousin’s sides, when all the adults in their lives scrambled to find them a stable home after my aunt died, only to leave them broken and drowning in a custody battle when they were in their early teens. Time was not on my side when I thought that green eyed boy would still be around when I was ready to let my guard down. The point is that time is not our friend. She won’t always be on our side.

Time is a constant reminder that our stay here is finite. That this space we occupy is never for keeps, but only for rent, and we never know when our lease is going to be up.

And I guess that’s the fear, really. I fear that if I blink, I’ll miss something. I think that’s why I cling so fiercely onto strangers that I pass by. I wonder if they’ve ever felt the same way.

I don’t want to miss the point in all of this. I don’t want to sit around, stewing in the fear that I will never hit that bar that I set for myself. I want to run towards it. I want to hit that bar. But I find that I’m stuck sometimes — paralyzed, even.

– – –

I’m realizing that all we really are are just bits and pieces of matter.

We are grains of sand; we are tiny specks on a screen shot of the planet. We are so, so small in comparison to how vast the universe really is. We are inconsequential fragments occupying this space. But small or not, we are here. And it is our duty, our job, to make something out of the time we have. What we do with our time matters. What we do with our lives matter.

The older I get, the more that I’m finding that if you don’t pay close attention, if you even, for one second blink, you’ll miss out on some chances.

I hope you never keep your eyes closed long enough to ever miss the point. I hope you don’t wish time away. I hope you don’t miss the important moments and the not so important ones and realize that they count too. I hope that even when you are so caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day life, that you slow down. I hope you wake up early enough one summer morning and really soak in a sunrise. I hope you watch a snowflake land on your palm and revel in the beauty of what it means to be unique — that just like snowflakes, we are all uniquely made. Similar to others, but not quite the same. I hope you find the kind of love that makes your heart swell ten times its size and I hope you take the time to really be in love. I hope that when you’re sitting with an old friend, ranting and raving about life, that you’re really listening. I hope you hear through her whining that she really needs you. That she’s struggling, but that she doesn’t want to admit it. I hope you are able to put down the phone and see life through your own pair of eyes, and not through the scope of a four inch screen.

I hope you make the decision to go after the dreams that keep you up at night. I hope you chase the things that make your heart full. I hope you do something that you feel matters. I hope you find the courage to walk away from people who no longer serve you. I hope you find the strength to leave a dead end relationship. I hope you find the bravery to be okay with being alone, because that is better than being lonely lying in bed next to someone.

I hope you always feel seen. And I hope that you see others, too. I hope that you stay present. I hope you never miss out on the opportunity to speak openly about how you feel. I hope you never take for granted the love you have in your life or the people who never leave your side, no matter how oblivious you are to their feelings. I hope you stop pushing off what you want to do and just dive head first into doing it.

Our time here is limited. Please, please, just don’t miss the point.

And Melodies in the air, Singin’ Life Just Ain’t Fair.

I used to think I was lucky to grow up without grandparents.

I promise it didn’t start out that way. When I was in elementary school, I envied my friends who spent their Christmas break baking cookies and decorating gingerbread houses with their grandma, and Easter’s looking for pastel colored eggs with their grandpa. I often found myself profoundly jealous over not having grandparents to share with me the stories of their life — the stories of their hardships and what it took to overcome them — stories of trials turned to triumph. I spent a lot of time wishing I had a home away from home — grandparents to be my ears when I needed someone to listen or to offer me sage advice. Someone older and wiser to remind me that this too, shall pass. But when I got older and saw my friends reeling over the deaths of their grandparents, I dubbed myself lucky.

I say lucky loosely. Lucky, because for a long time, I was largely untouched by the heavy cloak of death. Lucky, because I never had to mourn the loss of a grandparent. Lucky, because it was four less people I would have to say goodbye to.

I don’t consider myself lucky anymore.

Before really understanding the permanence of death, I had a taste of what happens when you lose someone. I was eight when my aunt passed away from bone cancer. It was ugly and brutal. I struggle sometimes with the minor details — like how she felt when she was diagnosed; did she have any last wishes or regrets? Did she live a life she was proud of? Did she want more? But what I do remember is the quick and painful way she slipped away from us. How she was here one day — healthy, and happily feeding my then two-year-old brother cheesecake off her finger, and suddenly sick, frail, and then gone. All within the span of six months. And despite being old enough to have a general understanding of death, despite living just around the corner from her, despite watching this horrible disease take my beautiful aunt away from me, I never understood the weight of death until it came back to me at 19, and then at 20. And then over and over and over again.

I suppose that in comparison to many, I am still largely untouched by death. But death keeps making her way back into my life, and each time she visits, she steals a little bit of my heart with her.

Yesterday was the six year anniversary of the death of a dear childhood friend of mine.

Six years is a long time. Six years is more than half of my sister’s lifetime. Six years is the age of a first grader. Six years is how long it’s been since I was a college sophomore. Six years of grief, of growth, of change, of birthdays passing, of life. Six years, and the weight on my heart is still the same. Six years down, but a lifetime more to go. Yesterday was heavier than the last six years have been. Perhaps because the anniversary of Pat’s death fell on a Saturday — the same day he died, showing us that time still moves even when he doesn’t get to come along for the ride. Perhaps also because I found myself driving home from work on the parkway with the same urgency I had that day six years ago, when I drove home from my college down the parkway shortly after hearing about his accident. In a weird twist of deja vu, my heart was heavier as I remembered one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. I think about him a lot. On a windy day, like the day of his funeral, I swear it’s him looking down on us and roughing us up. Reminding us that a little turbulence can’t ever hurt us. I think about him when I drive past his house. When I think about my first few years working at Auntie Anne’s. When I think about the icy Valentine’s Day we were both stuck working and spent the night making heart-shaped pretzels. When I think about being in elementary school and starting martial arts and him telling me how cool it was that I did Tae Kwon Do. Seriously, when you’re a tiny nine year old girl, nothing is cool about doing martial arts. Pat always reassured me. And even though I think about him all the time, and even though it’s been six years, it still seems unfathomable to me that he’s gone.

That’s the hardest part about death. That the earth still turns, and you’re still here, and the person you love is simply gone.

There is something so surreal about the concept that the people in our lives can just disappear. Like my neighbor — the healthiest, strongest, most physically fit man I’ve ever known — who was fighting with everything in him to beat his cancer. He was here one day, telling me to keep working hard at school and to, as soon as I got the chance, finally watch Groundhogs Day — a movie I’d promised I would watch when I was 15 years old. His illness claimed his body in the blink of an eye. One moment, he was here in his entirety. The next, he was hospitalized after having a stroke. And in the weeks between that stroke and his death, I watched the rapid transition and watched as his body grew tired from fighting.

I witnessed my neighbor’s fight. I can still feel the very moment I got the phone call telling me Pat died. I remember the agony of my aunt passing away — and yet the concept that death takes these people away from us permanently is still so hard for me to wrap my head around sometimes.

I still imagine that as life moves on, as the world turns and shifts and changes, as I change along with it, the people in my life will still be doing the same. That my aunt in Vietnam, who passed away last year, is still living her life and running her little convenience store. That on the next sunny day, I can look out my window and see my neighbor with his Red Sox baseball cap sitting on his lawn chair at the top of his driveway. That I can arrange for all of my old Auntie Anne’s coworkers to get together for drinks and that Pat would be sitting right along side us. That although we are apart, we are still living and growing together.

And then other days, I am so paralyzed by the transience of it all — often to the point of anger towards those who don’t realize the same. Some days, when I am scrolling through Facebook and reading complaint after complaint, or on days like yesterday, when I am reminded that this is it. This is all we get. Just this one shot at life. I want to shake the people complaining about non-important things. I want to scream from the rooftops, “Hey, this is all temporary. Don’t you realize that? In the grand scheme of things, your problems are so small. People lose who they love every single day. We can love with all our might, but in just the blink of an eye, it could all be gone.” 

But I’ve never said any of that, because I would be a hypocrite for not living life the same way. For not seizing every single moment and making it all count. But I really, whole-heartedly, want to make this count. 

I think the problem is that we’re waiting for this big awakening. We’re waiting for purpose. For meaning. For someone to kick us over and scream this is why you’re here. This is what you’re living for. And until then, we travel blindly on this winding road with little or no significance. But what if that epiphany never comes? Maybe, instead of wishing to live in these big moments and be these big people, we need to see what we have when we have it.

In the last year, I have been trying to live better. To do better. I’ve been trying to live fully and intentionally. But most importantly, I have been trying to be grateful for even the smallest of things. In 2014, I did a gratitude jar. I wrote down one “good thing” every single day and at the end of the year, I looked through fondly at some of the memories — spending the day in Atlantis, Bahamas, lazy snow days watching Netflix, getting a gift from a friend in the mail because I was having a rough time, spending my first Memorial Day Weekend not in retail with my friends at the racetrack, treating myself to a Starbucks Frappucino, getting out of work early.

When I think about making this all count, I think of only two things: gratitude and love. I think life begins and ends with love. And I think if you practice gratitude, if you make yourself aware of the little things, you’ll find that there is so much to love about this life — even in spite of all the bad things that often come our way.

When I am at the end of my life, whenever that time may be, I want it to be known that I loved as hard as I could. That’s what I need to remind myself when I feel my blood pressure raising over petty Facebook statuses and Tweets. When we are at the end of the road, that stuff won’t matter. No one will care about how much college loan debt you’re in, or how many bills you’ve paid for the month, or how stressed you were studying for that exam. At the end of all of this, two things will matter: gratitude and love.

Remember that. Practice that. Live in that.

“What are you going to do with your life?” In one way or another it seemed that people had been asking her this forever; teachers, her parents, friends at three in the morning, but the question had never seemed this pressing and still she was no nearer an answer… “Live each day as if it’s your last’, that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn’t practical. Better by far to be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.”
-David Nichols, “One Day

 The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘View From Heaven‘ by Yellowcard.

Here’s To The Nights We Felt Alive

I’ve been knee-deep in mud, trudging through a sea of nostalgia lately.

I’m sure you’ve noticed. I haven’t exactly been subtle in my meticulously stringing words together that do all but scream, “hey, guess what? She doesn’t have it all together. She gets stuck too.” I’ve written a lot about the universality of life– how everything in life is transient. I’ve imparted my wisdom. I’ve talked about infinite connections and how important relationships with people are. I’ve reminded you that if you blink, you could miss a moment. I’ve asked you to make your amends– to reach out to someone you’ve left behind. I’ve told you about the sometimes painful act of folding up our old memories, wrapping them up in ribbon, and placing them high in the back of our closets. I’ve talked about being okay with seeing people walk away. I’ve talked about learning to turn the page. I’ve talked about living in the moment, being fully present, and letting go.

But this is where I have to throw my hands in the air and admit that maybe I’m a fraud.

The truth is, I don’t have all the answers. And part of me hopes that’s obvious to anyone reading this. I hope you know that I write these words because just like you, I need to hear them. I need these messages as little reminders tucked into this corner of the internet. Moments are fleeting. Life passes us by before we are able to grab on and take hold of those very moments. And we can fight it all we want, but we just can’t live in our own memory. Memories keep us frozen in time. As much as I would like to offer you the cure for the sting of nostalgia that creeps up on you, unannounced, in the middle of your morning coffee, or while you’re grocery shopping for the week, or when you’re folding your laundry, I just don’t have that today.

Lately, I’ve been sitting right in the heart of my own nostalgia.

If you asked me to describe my life right now, I would tell you that I’m lucky. And blessed. And happy. Most importantly, I genuinely mean it. I am every single one of those aforementioned things, even when life knocks me over. Even when I am running in circles, unsure of where to go next. Even when I don’t feel very lucky, or blessed, or happy. Every day, I wake up grateful. It’s taken practice. It’s taken collecting a gratitude jar for 365 days filled with one good thing each day for me to get here. I am privileged to go to work, or to school, or to intern. I get to practice what I love every day. I get to surround myself with like-minded colleagues and incredible friends. And I get to go home and work on my other love. This. I am finishing up my Master’s degree and preparing to get my feet wet in the Mental Health field. My life is good– better than it’s ever been. Trust me when I say you could not pay me enough to take a time machine into the past and relive it.

But all of that doesn’t stop the fact that I’ve been crippled by the sudden and quiet whisper of nostalgia. Hey, remember throwing your friend a surprise sweet 16 at Chuck E Cheese? Remember the year you thought getting a perm was okay and appropriate for the early 2000s? Remember when you dressed up like Spiderman for Halloween when you were a senior in high school? Remember when you went clubbing for the first time and saw for yourself that you don’t. have. rhythm? Remember that summer you got drunk with your friends and slept in a tent outside your friends house? Remember missing the train and being left in the city on your 21st birthday? What I would give to hold those moments in my hands and feel them deeper. To laugh louder. Love harder. But time is just like sand; you can only hold so much before it all slips through your fingers.

People shame me for looking back. And I get it. I’ve been beating myself up over it. Sometimes, I can’t control my natural instinct to look in the rear view mirror.

There’s a quote that really resonated with me the second I read it. It captured every feeling I had being that girl who ran back to the guy who broke her heart over and over and over again that it became more of a joke than it ever was love.

“When the past calls, let it go to voice mail. It doesn’t have anything new to say.”

It doesn’t have anything new to say. 

But nostalgia, to me, has never been about my wanting to go back and redo it. It’s never been about trying to change the outcome. It’s never been about trying to go back and see if I could find something I missed. Something new. Something that would change the way my life turned out. Every road I’ve traveled led me to this life. Nostalgia is about taking my arms and wrapping them around the girl I used to be and hanging onto the naivety that I once lived in — the naivety that I sometimes wish I still lived in.

Nostalgia is realizing how much of a damn fool I was to take for granted those moments. Because that’s what life is, isn’t it? Life is a series of flashing moments. Life is in the way my friends and I stuck our heads out of the window of my white Jeep, laughing over Wawa milkshakes, and reveling in the new found freedom that came with being 17 and licensed. Life is in the moments I got acceptance letters and scholarship offers from colleges. Life is in the moments my roommates and I jetted out at midnight to Dunkin Donuts for large coffees to help keep us up to write papers. Life is in the moments my best friend and I drove 45 minutes away to a further Olive Garden just to avoid seeing someone at the closer location. Life is in the moments I am able to share in my friends’ successes. Life is in the moments we let loose. The moments we laugh so hard our cheek bones hurt and tears stream down our faces. Life is in these beautiful moments — moments that escape us shortly after they happen.

Nostalgia is my way of both biting into and avoiding fear.

My fear is that I will never be fully present. That I’ll never love a moment as much as I should. That I will never live in the way that I should. My fear is that I will always fall into my nostalgia and kick myself for not laughing harder, or loving deeper. My fear is that these words — my own words, will never be enough. That they’ll sit on your computer screen and mean nothing more than that. My fear is that I’ll never truly ever be okay with letting these moments disappear. That I’ll never learn to truly let go. 

“But here is the truth of nostalgia: we don’t feel it for who we were, but who we weren’t. We feel it for all the possibilities that were open to us, but that we didn’t take.”

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Here’s To The Night‘ by Eve 6.

I’ll Keep You Locked In My Head, Until We Meet Again.

“Have a nice life,” I whispered, as I pulled away from a final hug goodbye, “good luck with everything in the future.”

An unsettling feeling rattled my bones when I was faced with my first real goodbye. It was the last time I would ever identify as a college student, and somehow I had gone through 22 years of my life without ever being taught how to gracefully leave something behind — without ever learning how to be okay with closing a chapter of my own book. At the time, it seemed ludicrous that we suffered through four years of exams, papers, lectures, presentations, community service hours, sleepless nights, all while accruing an enormous amount of debt in student loans, without ever being taught how to say goodbye to this pivotal part of our lives.

I often think back to that last full day on my beautiful alma mater’s campus and that very moment — standing on the basketball court near my freshman dorm surrounded by a sea of people filled to the brim with the same nostalgia that was bursting right out of me. I think back to those final goodbyes. To pushing myself to stutter those words, “have a nice life.” It all seemed too surreal. I spent that last day roaming campus with my roommates — four girls I had grown to love as sisters over the course of those four years. Together, we participated in our schools “senior sendoff” — our final farewell to four years of memories, of nights out, of heart aches, of parties in the Village, of Late Night dining, and of the quiet notion that no one could ever have what we had. No one could ever love as fiercely or laugh as hard or live as carefree as we did.

I was fully aware of the palpable pang of nostalgia in saying goodbye to friends I’d grown close with. Despite knowing we’d see each other again, we knew that that was where it ended. That this — whatever this was at that very moment, would never be the same. We knew we would never see each other in the same way again. But there was a deeper, and perhaps more bittersweet sting in saying goodbye to our acquaintances. Saying have a nice life was so final. The people we saw twice a week in class, did group projects with, had an occasional beer with, or awkwardly shared a bathroom stall at the bar with – the people who were equally as much a part of our college history as our roommates. There was something so profound in saying goodbye to acquaintances — in saying thanks for being a part of this journey with me, when I think back on these four years, I’ll think fondly of you. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the people we meet and the lives that we touch.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about relationships and the various connections and links we have with people. I’ve been thinking about the way people weave themselves in and out of our lives. And how rarely we notice the subtle impact they have on us until they leave.

We don’t meet people on accident. I am a firm believer in that. I think people come into our lives exactly when we need them to. Like the boy who broke my heart and taught me to stop placing all my happiness on one person. My neighbor who played the role of the grandfather I never had, who taught me to be relentless in the pursuit of my goals, and taught me to laugh in the face of all pain. Even down to his last breath, he was always laughing. A college professor who taught me empathy and understanding when she was in her final days of battling terminal cancer, but still managed to write me a glowing recommendation letter for graduate school just days before she passed. The woman in front of me at the grocery store with tired eyes and two kids that taught me patience and wonder as I watched her let her toddler individually place each item on the belt.

I’ve been thinking about endings. And goodbyes. And letting go. And how people come into our lives at different parts of our story — how they come in and stay for a scene, a chapter, or the majority of our book. I’ve been ruminating over the short-lived relationships and how we establish all of these invisible connections with people, just to see them go. It doesn’t seem fair. If given any wish in the world, I’d wish for the ability to wrap my arms around every single person I care about, around every single life that’s touched me, and keep them right here with me. But as far as selfishness goes, I don’t even come close. One of life’s biggest, suckiest, truths, is that we are never given a timeline. People come and go all the time — some relationships are short lived, some last far longer than they should, some stay for a good portion of our lives, while others cruise in and out faster than we could have anticipated. Some people come in into our lives for what feels like a moment, but we are forever changed by their presence, no matter how fleeting.

I believe our lives are inextricably bound by the people we meet.

If life lately has taught me anything, it’s that people will never stay long enough. And I’m not sure we will ever know why. It’s times like these I desperately wish life was as simple as a geometry text book where the answers were conveniently located in the back. Why do people come into our lives and leave before we are ready to let them go? All I know is that goodbyes are inevitable. And we can’t control how people leave or when — whether it be a death, a breakup, a misunderstanding, a move, or the slow and steady transition from one life to the next. But the inkling of solace that I’ve found is that we get to choose what pieces we cling to. I choose to remember with warmth in my heart the boy who told me to never stop writing. I choose to remember the 8th grade Algebra teacher who stayed with me after school every single day for extra help, and knew without ever saying, that I needed less extra help more than I needed someone to just be there. I choose to remember the stranger in front of me at the Dunkin Donuts drive thru who paid for my Monday morning coffee and turned my entire day around. I choose to remember my first kiss who showed up at my doorstep, years later, on my 19th birthday and left me a rose and a card just as a reminder. I choose to remember my closest friend in middle school who cried with me and helped me sort out the mess that was my life back then. I choose to remember the friendships I’ve made over the course of my lifetime, the people I’ve worked with, the acquaintances who’ve been passerby’s in my life. And I choose to remember all of these people, despite having to say goodbye.

Instead of mourning the losses, and in spite of the heartache that inevitably comes from death, and breakups, and goodbyes, and endings that come far too soon, I want you to remember this – you are forever changed by the connections you make. Regardless of length of stay in each other’s lives, we are all bound by the stories we tell, the lessons we learn, and the moments we share. Your life is a tapestry stitched together by the people you meet along this winding journey; you are who you are because of the people who’ve woven themselves into your life’s work of art. And I think that’s pretty incredible.

“You ever look at a picture of yourself, and see a stranger in the background? It makes you wonder how many strangers have pictures of you. How many moments of other peoples lives have we been in? Were we a part of someone’s life when their dream came true? Or were we there when their dreams died. Did we keep trying to get in? As if we were somehow destined to be there or did the shot take us by surprise. Just think, you could be a big part of someone else’s life, and not even know it.” -One Tree Hill

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘Who Knew‘ by Pink

Sew this up with threads of reason and regret, so I will not forget; I will not forget.

Everything in life is temporary.

It was the end of March when I first tasted those words with full understanding of the weight they carried. I was 22 at the time, and naively thought I was making one more stop on my last drive back up to school before graduation. The air was in its final stage of transitioning into spring — somehow still cool, but in recollection, not nearly as cold as the ice that froze my heart. In what could only be described as the most wearing walk of my life, I felt those words rattling my bones as I willed my legs to move. Please, just let me get to my car before my knees give out. Just let me get to my car. With painfully vivid recall, I remember the sinking feeling with each step I took. “Don’t be a stranger, kiddo,” his voice echoed in my head. I remember asking myself when I missed it. How could I look away for one second and miss that we somehow became strangers? When I finally got to my car, I stood with my hand gripping the door, as if somehow begging to hang on. Begging for things to stay the same. There weren’t big flashing lights and signs to let either of us know it was over. There were no words signifying the end, but I knew it. I think we both knew it, didn’t we? Somehow, things changed. Somehow, we became strangers. Fighting back tears, I timidly whispered goodbye and reminded him of the promise to keep in touch. Those words held as little promise as a middle schooler signing the yearbooks of all their classmates with “HAGS. KIT.” Empty promises fell on deaf ears. But as his house faded in the background and out of my periphery, I started to understand the transience of life — how even the prominent buildings simply fade away in the dark, and how quickly things change. Nothing lasts forever. Not even love. Not even life.

That was nearly four years ago.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of change in that time, but the lesson didn’t come back to hit me directly on the face until a brisk October morning two months ago. I was sitting in bed, coffee in one hand and phone in the other, scrolling through Instagram, all while ruminating over my ongoing existential crisis, future ‘goodbyes’ and ‘see you laters,’ and desperately searching for some tangible evidence that this too, shall pass. Wrapped up in the warmth of my covers, I whispered it to myself. I said it out loud. I texted it to a friend. I repeated it over and over again to justify the palpable sting of feeling left behind — of people leaving, relationships ending abruptly, business being left unfinished, friendships left hanging before they could ever really get started, and life hanging on such a fragile thread.

I let it consume me all day. For my own self-validation with my issues with abandonment, I made myself push it aside. On one hand, you can acknowledge that change is inevitable and that nothing lasts forever, but on the other hand, you can beg and cry and kick and scream to just hang on. For things to stay the same. For nothing to ever change. No amount of vacillating between being accepting of change and battling intrepid fear because of impending change would have made a difference, so I tucked those words away. I locked them up and told myself to only revisit them when I really needed reassurance — when my inner Peyton Sawyer  comes knocking on my door, reminding me that people always leave. 

I forgot about those words for nearly two months. I haven’t needed them. I didn’t need to justify loss or life or moving on until two times this week — one, when I was faced with eventual loss and life ending, and two, when I caught myself saying those very words out loud and sharing my own thoughts with someone else.

“It’s not permanent,” I said, “everything in life is temporary.”

I rationalized to the person sitting in front of me. If you don’t like where you’re going, or what you’re doing, you can always change it. It’s not permanent. 

The truth is, we need these sentiments. We need these little reminders tucked somewhere in our souls that nothing lasts forever. We need to be reminded that just like physical rain storms never last for too long, neither do the metaphorical ones. And it’s sometimes hard to believe. You can justify pain and heartache from a breakup as temporary. Somehow, that can be enough. The pieces of your heart slowly find their way back together and things eventually start to make sense. The world starts to feel a little less cruel and love starts to feel like a magical possibility again. But when you’re faced with people leaving — moving away for jobs, for love, for a fresh start, or passing away slowly with each last breath, the change can be too much to justify. Even the most level headed rationalizers will want to grab onto whatever pieces of the person and will them to stay — I need you, don’t leave me. 

But no matter how we slice and dice it, the truth is in the ephemerality of our existence. Nothing is ever permanent. 

“Everything in life is temporary.” The sound of my own voice has been echoing in my mind all week.

With all of this impending change, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about regret — regret on a profound level. Not ordering a cheesy, glutenous pasta dish instead of a salad, or not going to the gym when I promised myself three days in a row that I would, or not doing my laundry until the next weekend, leaving me with only a small selection of clothes to wear. These are minor in comparison to the vast picture.

When things change, when people change, when life changes, regret hits me on a profound level. I often find myself filled with words left unsaid, things I never got around to doing, people I haven’t made it a point to see, apologies never uttered, promises never fulfilled, friendships left hanging. I tell myself it’s because I’m busy. I tell myself that once I graduate with my Master’s, I’ll make more time. I tell myself I’ll be more social, I’ll make time for old friends, I’ll take a vacation, I’ll finally dedicate some time to writing something worth reading. I’ll fulfill promises. I’ll mend old relationships. I’ll say sorry. 

I’ll do better next time,” or “I’ll do it later,” or “another day” are all bullshit because next time is right now. Later is right now. Another day is right here and right now. And shouldn’t we recognize this? Shouldn’t we look at life and realize how fleeting moments are? A lot of people say that life is short. For some, that may be the case, but life is not meant to be short. It’s meant to be rocky, and bumpy, and challenging — and long. It’s only when we are faced with the end of the road do we gather up the pieces of our relationships with people and say life is short. But here is the reality: life is long; it just goes by fast.

Of all the important lessons I’ve learned throughout my life it’s this: in life, everything is temporary. You get a small window of opportunity to seize the moments, to tell someone you love them, to make the most of the time you have with them before they’re gone. Before life takes them away, or love changes, or careers move.

I think we all know this. Somewhere, beneath all of our excuses and reasons why we’re holding off, we know that life is temporary. I know it, no matter how hard I fight it. I knew it that March night when he and I walked away from each other. I knew it when I graduated from college and made wishes into the sea of people to be friends forever. To hang onto those moments forever. I knew it when I got the news, at 20 years old, that a friend passed away suddenly in a tragic car accident. I knew it when I got a C in statistics, and thought the world was ending. I knew it when someone I love dearly was diagnosed with cancer. I knew it when I visited him last week and realized that I never did watch the movie Groundhogs Day with him 11 years ago, or Against All Odds with him over the summer. And I knew it that day earlier this week, talking with the person sitting in front of me about her fears surrounding her own big life changes, when my own words echoed in my mind.

We don’t need anyone to tell us this. We are fully aware of the transience of life, yet we wait for the perfect moment. We rely on timing.

I say: screw timing. Screw making excuses. Screw being too busy. Screw finding the perfect moment for your mind to agree with your heart. One day, you will be sitting at the end of someone’s hospital bed looking on as they fight for their last breath, and you’re going to beat yourself up over telling them you were too busy to come over, too busy to watch a movie, too busy to make time. All that you’ll be left with are words that you never said, and regret so debilitating that it eats at you every day. One day, the person you love with every ounce of your soul is going to stop looking at you the way they used to. They’re going to forget the fire that once warmed both your hearts. They’re going to walk away. And you’re going to kick yourself over not having told them everything you wanted. That you loved them, that you appreciated them, that despite how things ended, you are grateful and thankful they were a part of your life, even if just for a short amount of time. One day, your best friend might realize that she hates complacency and the small town you grew up in together. When she moves, that lump in your throat is going to wish you said it when you had the chance. I love you. Thank you for being my other half for so many years. 

We always think we’ll have time, so we wait. But the truth is, we don’t. The existentialist in me deeply believes that people come into our lives and are meant to teach us something, but we often don’t realize it until it’s too late. Don’t let it be too late. Today, I dare you to call up that old friend you haven’t spoken to in a year, reach out to family, make amends. Do it now. Today. This very moment.

Everything in life is temporary. Don’t wait.

“Change. We don’t like it, we fear it. But we can’t stop it from coming. We either adapt to change, or we get left behind. It hurts to grow. Anybody who tells you it doesn’t, is lying. But here’s the truth: Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And sometimes, oh, sometimes, change is good. Sometimes, change is… everything.” -Grey’s Anatomy

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘One Year, Six Months‘ by Yellowcard

We’re happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time.

A lifetime ago, or so it seems, long before I ever walked into my twenties, or felt the gut-wrenching heartache of failure, or tasted even a real glimpse of life-affirming success, or cried over the loss of a good friend, or watched love fade away, I spent most of my time with my head in the clouds, ruminating on what my future would be like. Would I be successful? Would I keep all of my childhood friends? Would I get married? The vision I had was built on bits and pieces of what the future looked like through the scope of books, movies, and TV shows. I relied on fictional things to formulate a reality in my mind. I clung to the story lines, the friendships, the love. I was the girl who, every Thursday night at 8 pm, tuned into NBC to watch her Friends navigate through life together, and planned her future vicariously through their present.

When you’re young and naive and unhealthily obsessed with whether or not Ross and Rachel were going to end up together, you have a certain image of how your life is going to turn out. The pretty picture you paint looks like the inside of a 90s sitcom. You imagine stumbling into a new city with all of your childhood friends and growing up with them. Growing old with them. Making mistakes, falling over, and picking yourselves back up with them. You imagine that life after college isn’t all that hard. That even during the most difficult of times, it’ll never be that bad. You’ll have the support and the love of the people who’ve known you since before you knew yourself. And how could life ever be painful, or dark, or lonely, with that kind of love?

But then we get there. We graduate high school, some of us go off to college, and some of us don’t; and somehow, we cannonball into our next adventures. We’re thrown into the middle of nowhere and are forced to come to terms with the reality of our lives. We’re forced to come to terms with the fact that perhaps the vision we had when we were younger was a distortion of what reality really is. We realize that life in our twenties doesn’t consist of hanging out at Central Perk, listening to your slightly erratic friend singing a jingle dedicated to a cat, or coming up with a New Year’s Eve dance routine to be aired on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve with your brother, or getting a Thanksgiving turkey stuck on your head, or building a giant poking device to see if the man in the apartment across the alley is alive.

And that’s what they don’t tell you. They don’t tell you that life in your twenties is often sticky and messy and heavy and confusing and wonderful. That you will, in fact, be happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time. 

They don’t tell you this, but I will.

You’ll wake up one day and feel like you’re falling down a rabbit hole. You’ll look at yourself, you’ll look at your friends, you’ll look at acquaintances, you’ll look at enemies even. You’ll find that you’re barely getting by in graduate school, or being a stay-at-home mom, or starting up a small business, or pounding the pavement at a job you’re sure you’ll never advance at, all the while wondering if this life belongs to you. You’ll wonder if this is where your story ends or where it begins. You’ll feel stuck inside someone else’s story. You’ll beat yourself up over not having done it differently. What would be different if I went left instead of right? If I followed my heart instead of my head? If I took that job when it was offered to me? And on the days when you feel a little too defeated by the what ifs, you’ll look at what you have and wonder if it’s enough. You’ll ask yourself if you’ll be okay and content and full for the rest of your life if you don’t ever achieve anything else. You’ll try to be okay with it. You’ll try to quiet the incessant voice that says, ‘no, I need more. I cannot settle.’ But the voice will still be there, and it’ll rattle your bones until you do something to silence it.

You’ll start fresh and you’ll start new, and it can come in waves; the change can be welcome, or it can be sudden and uninvited. You’ll bounce from different careers. You’ll decide that you really don’t love what you have a degree in. You’ll leave a job that you never had any intention in leaving and you’ll wonder what the hell you can do differently. You’ll walk away from financial security and open doors to possibilities, only to find that the door you walked through wasn’t the one with the winning lottery ticket, but you’ll still try. You’ll still fight, despite the sinking feeling of walking into the office every single morning. You’ll make an effort and establish a routine. You’ll talk yourself out of bitterness and resentment. You’ll wonder if you have the strength and the courage to start over just one more time, and you’ll forget how brave you are for starting over in the first place.

One day, you’ll scroll through your Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram feeds and realize that your friends somehow figured it out and you’ll ask yourself how you missed it. You’ll go back to the summer nights spent on the beach, Wawa milkshake in hand, coming up with a list of goals and dreams for the future, and wonder where the hell it all went. You’ll wonder what happened to the plans you made together. To the dream of getting your first apartment with your childhood friends and dating twin brothers and having kids at the same time and raising them together. You’ll go in different directions. They’ll move on, and part of you will feel like you’re sinking in quick sand, while the other half of you is elated. You’ll be happy for them. You’ll celebrate their engagements. You’ll organize a cocktail hour when they get their first promotion. You’ll be the first one at their housewarming party. And in the midst of all this growing up stuff, you’ll feel selfish for feeling anything other than ecstatic. You’ll wonder when it’ll be your turn. When you’ll settle into a career and relationship and new apartment. You’ll stop yourself and wonder how on earth you can be so happy for their gains and successes, yet so heartbroken at not quite being there, all at the same time.

Sometimes, while you’re sitting next to the people who know you the best, you’ll feel at a loss for words. You’ll feel small next to them. You’ll feel like the conversation you bring to the table is nothing like the success they bring. And you’ll kick yourself afterwards for being so selfish. For wallowing in self-pity. For letting your feelings win.

You’ll get a taste of what love is, only to have it walk away from you. You’ll see the love of your life fall in love with someone else. You’ll watch in envy at how easily it is for them to move on. You’ll pray, every night, that you will never get the notification on Facebook telling you they got engaged. You’ll date people who are bad for you, and you’ll be bad for other people. You’ll wonder what’s stopping you from your own happy-ever-after. You’ll make a mental list of the reasons you’re alone. You’ll guard your heart with everything you have and you’ll wonder when someone will come and permanently knock your walls down. You’ll decide for yourself that it’s okay to be single, but you’ll grow frustrated at hearing your friends and family ask ‘when are you getting married, when are you having kids, you know your time is slowly running out.’  

They don’t tell you about the isolation. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and if you don’t grab onto your dreams, someone else will take them right out of your hands. So, you put in the work. You stay later at the office to finish a project. You take on overtime hours at the hospital. You choose to go for your Master’s. You start building a family. You’ll feel comforted by your friends when they embark on the journey to reaching their goals, too. You’ll have the same ideals for the future, but different paths to walk to get there. You’ll sacrifice sleep, you’ll sacrifice a social life, you’ll dedicate your all into what you want, and it will be lonely as hell. You won’t be the person who runs to her best friend crying about an argument you had with your parents. You won’t be the person who calls someone up in the middle of the night to go grab half price appetizers at Applebees.  You’ll ask your friends to hang out only to hear that they’re all busy. And then you’ll be busy when they want to hang out. You’ll spend nights going through old pictures of drunken college nights out and reminisce over the simplicity of life back then. You’ll cling onto your youth and life before the transition into this in-between stage of adulthood. You’ll bargain with whatever higher power you believe in just to feel forever young with your friends one more time. 

They don’t tell you that despite your best efforts to keep your emotions stifled, hidden under layers of bravery and strength, and a shield of armor, you will cry. You will cry when you realize that your planner is overflowing with due dates and test dates. You will cry when you scroll through Instagram and see your group of friends hanging out without you. You will cry when you clock out after your 17th day working in a row without so much as a consecutive 8 hours of sleep in one night. You will cry when you realize that you can’t split yourself apart and be in two places at once. You’ll cry on your way to school because you don’t know how much more you can take. You will cry because you’ll feel misunderstood. Because you are a master’s student, an employee, an intern, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and you will be made to feel like what you’re doing is not enough. You. Will. Cry. You will cry when your friends confront you for drifting from them. You’ll cry when they call you a stranger. You will cry because they don’t get it. You will cry because you feel all alone in a world that shouldn’t be this cruel. You’ll cry because you are so profoundly happy that there are still people in your life who decided to stick around. You’ll cry when you share in their successes. You’ll cry because you can’t imagine what life would be like without the friends that turn into family. You’ll cry and you won’t know why or how to stop the tears from falling.

They don’t tell you that sometimes, you will feel everything and nothing all at once. You’ll feel your heart exploding from happiness and your brain drowning in misery. They don’t talk about the influx of emotions and the roller coaster we ride just to fight through them. They don’t talk about the brokenness and the bitterness. They don’t talk about how confusing it is to be in your twenties. How life can be incredible and heartbreaking at the same time, and how it makes perfect sense to feel like you’re unraveling from time to time.

They won’t tell you it’s okay. They won’t tell you that it’s normal. That despite the broken pieces, your twenties are a time to feel everything. To get a taste of both highs and lows. To fight for what you want. To really learn what it’s like to love and to lose. They don’t ever tell you that. But today, I did. 

“You’ll be fine. You’re 25. Feeling [unsure] and lost is part of your path. Don’t avoid it. See what those feelings are showing you and use it. Take a breath. You’ll be okay. Even if you don’t feel okay all the time.” -Louis C.K

The title of this post comes from lyrics of the song ‘22‘ by Taylor Swift