Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that, shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass. -Ray Bradbury
The words came out in a whisper of disbelief. A faint, unreal whisper.
She was 30 years old and a close member on my team. She had presence that filled the room. A laugh and smile that were infectious. A flawless sense of style, poise and grace. A list of accomplishments a 30-year-old could only dream of and a love of life that was envious. She was perfect and young. Far too young.
Although she only lived a short time, the room her body rested in today spoke volumes. I’d never seen so many people gathered to honor one person. Nor do I believe many parents can say they’ve received a letter of condolence from the president of the United States. She was accomplished, driven and dedicated to her country and community.
I sat among the weeping family and watched her life play out before me. Pictures of when she was young – a time I sadly never got to know her – sporting that gorgeous grin. She was always smiling. Pictures of her at prom, graduation, working on the Obama campaign, traveling to Napa and Paris with friends, and finally her 21 months with us. She lived a rich, vivacious 30 years. A 30 years she and all who knew her should be proud of.
I couldn’t help but think: if that were me, what would be said? What have I accomplished that’s so remarkable that I would want read at my eulogy? The answer was almost depressing. What’s more, what have I done in my life that I’m particularly proud of?
The conclusion I came to was simple. While it wasn’t an answer to the question, it was a much needed realization and the first step to getting there: living. Stop wasting time. Stop waiting. Start living. Take risks without fear of failure or judgement. Embrace my creativity, don’t be afraid of it. Reprioritize. Question my path. Reevaluate my passions. Challenge myself. Fall in love with life and just simply live.
I make excuses; we all do. We get comfortable and forget the purpose of our time here – to live, not merely survive. We do enough just to get by with no energy, drive or desire to question it or demand more. We get so caught up in the mundane day-to-day that we forget that this is our life to live, love and make our own. We settle for careers we’re unhappy with because at least “it’s something” and we need “something.” It’s secure and we need the money. We need the money to save. And we need to save to afford a life we table for years down the road. The problem is, we don’t know if we’ll make it, and we never bother to question it. We figure we’ll be here today, tomorrow and 40 years from now. We say we’ll learn that new hobby tomorrow, buy that dream car in a few years, go on that vacation after we get that raise. But we can’t say for sure that tomorrow exists.
Within the same week of Ashley’s death, the husband of another co-worker who retired six months prior passed away. Just like Ashley’s, it was unexpected. They’d been on one trip together since her retirement. That’s it. She waited 65 years to finally enjoy life with her husband only for it to end in six months. I don’t want that. I can’t do that. I can’t sit back and watch my life blow up before my eyes.
There’s a song, as a teen, I used to love. I loved the lyrics because they matched my angst and, at the time, I thought I understood them. I couldn’t have been more wrong. But today, as I sat staring at Ashley’s photos, listening as loved ones praised her life – it clicked.
“I just want to get mugged at knifepoint
To get cut enough to wake me up
Cause I know that I don’t want to die
Sitting around watching my life go by
And what we take from this is what we’ll get
And we haven’t quite figured it out just yet
Because all of us are all too stuck
Strapped to a chair watching our lives blow up
Stuck watching our lives blow up”
Today, as I stood before her still body, I got mugged at knife point. I got a wake-up call most of us will never receive. It’s somewhat pitiful to say it took her death for me to realize that I’m tired of living in fear. I’m tired of society’s labels. This is my life. I call the shots. If I fail, I’ll find a way to make it through. How? Because I have to. If I don’t, I’m no better than dead. And if I’m dead, it doesn’t matter anyway. So I might as well die trying, have one hell of a time and enjoy this crazy little thing called life.
We live our lives in fear, afraid that if we break the mold and be who we truly want to be and do what we want to do, we’ll fail. There’s no backup plan in life. And for people like myself, that scares the shit out of me.
But life didn’t scare Ashley. She took risks; she took chances. She made the most of her short time here on Earth. And she loved every god damned minute of it – failures and all.
She gave her 30 years her all. She didn’t allow self-doubt to creep into her mind. She didn’t take herself too seriously. She didn’t allow people’s perceptions of her shake her. She didn’t have a plan but knew it would be ok. But, more than anything, she didn’t live in fear and neither should I.
For this and everything else, I thank you, Ashley. You have brightened the lives of those around you, and we’re all better because of it. You will never be forgotten and forever missed.