Wednesday, August 14, 2013

live a brave life

I don't need another bracelet, but I couldn't pass on this one!

What does it mean to live a brave life? There are as many answers as there are people in this world. For me, living a brave life means doing the things you have always wanted to do but were too scared to do. Or too insecure to try. Or too busy to get started. To live a brave life is to live a life we want. A life we choose. A life dedicated to our authentic self. Life is too short to be doing anything less.

But to get to that authentic, brave life, sometimes our lives have to shatter so we can put it back together in a more genuine way. 

We all have the image we have created of our lives. We see the image that is currently the reality of our lives. And around the reality, we often construct images that we imagine or hope might happen. Inevitably, the glass in front of that image forms fractures. That’s just the way life goes. Things go askew—they don’t go quite as planned. But, we continually work around the fracture. We work to make the picture just right by fixing the fracture and moving on.

But most likely in everyone’s life, something happens that goes beyond a fracture— your life shatters. Your entire picture, the world you always knew, shatters around you. You cry, you get angry, you give up, and then you finally start to piece together a new picture from those fragmented pieces of your life. The thing you might not have considered when glass was raining overhead is that the new picture you are about to create has the potential to be much better than the original. You have to gather the fragmented pieces that were your life and you have to look long and hard at each individual piece. You have to decide: Do I want this piece in my new picture? You keep some shards of your former picture, you incorporate the pieces of your new reality, and you toss the rest. 

Before July 27, 2011, there were fractures in my life, to be sure. Failed relationships. Agonizing decisions about school and work. Overcoming weaknesses and developing a set of core values. But the image I had of my life remained fairly intact as I worked around the fractures. 

Then my life shattered. At the age of 32, nothing could have prepared me for the words: “We got the test back and your tumor is cancerous.” With those words, all I ever thought about my life crashed down on me. I sat crying on the green metal bench on Swede Alley, under a warm Park City summer day and rustling aspen trees, while employees at Main Street Pizza Noodle took their break on their back stairs. The beauty of the day was harshly juxtaposed with the words coming from the nurse practitioner’s mouth. Only 9 days before, she had breezily told me: “98% of lumps are nothing and you’re so young, you don’t need to worry.” So I didn’t. She had gone to a lot more medical schooling than I had, so I trusted that if she said I would be fine, I figured it would be fine. 

After all the non-worry, however, there I was, on July 27, sobbing uncontrollably, barely able to speak. And mostly all I could think was: “My life is over.” 

I cried all the way home. I cried all night. And I cried with each person I had to tell. Because when you say, “I have breast cancer” and you’re 32, people can’t believe it.

I thought nothing could be okay after that. 

Of course, those who know me well know I can be a bit dramatic (okay, okay...a lot dramatic at times!). Of course my life was not over—it was never in much jeopardy, really. Breast cancer can be very treatable. I had surgery. I had tests. I had radiation. I was exhausted. I have to take drugs for 5 years. But overall, medically, it was not as aggressive or as bad as it could have been. 

And so here I am, 2 years after that diagnosis. That shattered image I had is still being put back together in a thoughtful, sometimes slow, process. But I look at each piece that I find lying around me. Many pieces have been tossed. I decide which pieces will fit back in my life. Life, as it turns out, isn’t over, it’s just beginning. It might sound cliché, but this is why I believe life is too short to put that image back together exactly as it was before it shattered. Life is too short to be timid. Life is too short to be unhappy. Life is too short to be scared. Life is too short to let insecurities rule. 

Let’s be honest, though. I cry sometimes for that image I had before, when I wasn’t worried about cancer coming back (because cancer is always hanging over my head, ready to disrupt what I have created). I cry because cancer has invaded the lives of many people I love. I cry because the reality of me having a kid is considerably less than I could have ever thought it might be. I cry because my body is kind of mangled. But I think about the things I have done since that day, and I wouldn’t trade my life for any other. My life will most likely shatter again, as I assume we all will have a few life shattering moments.

But, if our lives never shatter, how will we come to ourselves? Each time I pass the month of July, I am grateful for the opportunity to live my life. Live being the key word.

Last summer I saw a quote on a marquee sign in a Wyoming town, which I think sums up all my ramblings:
“Life is good. So live it.”
My July 2013 Escape: Mirror Lake explorations!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

without gps

I have this old, worn and tattered atlas. You know, an atlas, that piece of paper with roads of different colors showing freeways, state roads, and dirt road and green indicating national forests and little dots representing cities. My atlas is becoming an antique, in that no one, apparently, uses atlases anymore--and I did purchase it in approximately 2007. But I love my atlas. It's been across the country and back (and then again). It's traveled on adventures in Virginia, DC, Maryland, and Delaware. In California. In Colorado. And all throughout Utah and Idaho. There is something I love about maps. There is excitement and hope in a map. You can plot your route as best as you know, but there is always the unknown as you start and as you travel. And isn't that how life is... hopefully we have some general sort of idea of where we're going. But the greatest beauty of life is taking that general sort of idea and then experiencing the unexpected turns and vistas along the way. 

Before I started my latest travels to California, I was teased a bit about my atlas and my lack of GPS. Now, don't get me wrong, GPS is great--it's nice to not be continuously lost. But sometimes, it is pretty great getting a little bit lost. Or at least traveling off the well familiar road. There is something freeing to be able to take a road that looks interesting. Or being able to stop and investigate when you see something crazy. No auto-mechanical nagging voice telling you to turn right or turn left or make a u turn as soon as possible. Because you might just discover this crazy, random collection of structures that could easily be from some hippie commune experiment. (Whatever it is, I am still thinking of it nearly a week later.) 


Freeways were built for a reason. Travel is quick these days and you can make good time on a freeway. In fact, on the freeway, you are almost compelled to make "good time." Even if you see something that looks interesting, if you are on a freeway, you are more likely to keep on going and continue on the road well traveled. The road less traveled might add more time to your travel, but sometimes it makes that journey a whole lot more interesting. Why follow the path everyone else takes? Why not strike out without GPS every now and then?

An atlas gives you the big picture. A picture of what is around you. But until you are there, in the midst of it, all an atlas provides is a hope or a vision. Sure that little grey road looked harmless enough--who knew it would be a narrow two lane winding mountain road full of speeding California drivers? But that's the fun! Discovery. The Mojave National Preserve was once a large green blurb on my map. Now it is a place of cactus balls stuck in my feet, lizards falling out of trees, amazing blue sky, 117 degree heat, and beautiful open space.

This journey to California became a journey of discovery and rediscovery. I rediscovered my love of George Strait. I rediscovered my love of new adventures and open space and deserts. And I made a new discovery: I quite like old forgotten motels (and other built structures) along old forgotten roads. So even in the hum drum of everyday, I hope to still rediscover the things I've always loved (like writing!) and hopefully discover old and forgotten things with new eyes.