A year ago today I was at my dad’s funeral.
A year ago today I was in a different relationship.
A year ago today I was best friends with a girl who prioritized seeing her boyfriend over seeing me in the wake of my father’s death.
A year ago today I was lost.
Today, I still grieve. I’m in a new relationship that makes me incredibly happy. I’ve finally gotten enough sense to cut ties with my supposed best friend, and I’m not lost. I know who I am better than ever, and I am proud of myself. After a year I am still in so much pain that sometimes I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me, but I also feel like a more whole, complete person.
Today, I know I can do anything.
One of the most important lessons I learned while traveling is that the best way to have great experiences is to just say yes. This works at home as well as abroad.
When my friend decided he wanted an adventure at 11 o’clock pm on a weekday, I jokingly suggested roaming the tunnels under the school. I thought about it for a minute and realized why not? I never would have taken the idea seriously if not for my experiences abroad, but it’s changed my way of thinking. There are so many ideas and opportunities in life that we wave off because it doesn’t occur to us to just do them. They don’t seem like things that we should or could do, but what was stopping me from putting on some sneakers, hunting down a flashlight, and exploring some tunnels? So we went and it was one of the best things I did last semester. Another was agreeing to run through sprinklers at two in the morning with the same friend, who now happens to be my boyfriend.
Just take a chance, say yes to something you normally wouldn’t even consider, and the best things happen to you. Sure, it doesn’t always work out, but that’s okay.
Saying yes to a crazy proposition was how I ended up in Norway last February. It was one of the best trips of my life.
Long story short, a girl named Alex and I had some mutual friends. My mom found out about her, that she was in Edinburgh, went to the same university back home as me, and had also lost her father, and started scheming. I brushed my mom off, didn’t contact Alex, and thought nothing of it.
Alex, on the other hand, emailed me, asked if I wanted to go on a trip. I said sure, that sounds fun, and forgot about it. Then I got an email from her saying she had found cheap tickets to Norway and I thought why the hell not?
So I said okay.
Before I knew it, I was meeting her in Edinburgh to catch a flight. We got along right away and had some crazy adventures. The whole trip was one hilarious episode after another, from the guy who tried to pick us up by saying “watch out ladies, because I’m like a volcano; I could explode at any time” to exploring a nude sculpture park with a 28-year-old Mauritanian man we met in our hostel.
On our last night, we sat in our hostel eating salami and peanut butter because we couldn’t afford real food and a guy came up to us to ask if we wanted to come drink with him and his friends. We shrugged and said sure, and next thing we knew we were being ushered into a room of about ten 22-year-old Irishmen.
There are a lot of funny stories from that night, but the most important part was Dave, the 18-year-old younger brother who had brought us to the room. I was talking to him and stupidly (read: drunkenly) blurted “My dad’s name was Dave.”
Amazingly, Dave, who was so drunk by 8 pm that he didn’t even sound Irish, picked up on the past tense and said “I’m sorry about your father.”
He then proceeded to talk for several minutes about how he believed life was like a sleepover; your parents drop you off and you live and have fun, and you see them again in the morning.
When you give people a chance they will surprise you. There is always more to people than what you see on the surface, and by saying yes and opening yourself up to opportunities you encounter some pretty extraordinary people. Some people you will forget almost immediately, and some will stick with you forever.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve updated this this thing, but I felt like writing. More specifically, I felt like writing something very honest and important to me and putting it out there where anyone can find it.
This year has been the hardest time of my life but I have also had the best experiences. I have gotten to know myself better and I am a happier person for it. I carry a lot of sadness and I still have days that make me want to curl up in the fetal position and never move again, but I am a better person now. I am more comfortable with myself, I appreciate people and experiences more, and I love more deeply.
When I was trying to decide what exactly I wanted to write today, I took a look at my old thirty day challenge list to see if anything caught my eye. Number 27 couldn’t have been more perfect: a quote you try to live by.
So, let me tell you a story. It isn’t a happy story, but it’s true and it’s mine and that’s the best I can do.
On December 28, 2011 I slept in. As I got ready for the day, in my head I went through all the errands I needed to do to prepare for my semester abroad in Scotland. I had a lot to do in the six days before my flight. I was brushing my teeth when my mom called me downstairs.
I expected a funny squirrel out the window or my dog doing something cute. Instead I found her standing by my dad who was in his normal chair, sleeping.
“I can’t wake him up,” she said.
It’s amazing how calm we can be in the face of emergency. I guess it’s more shock than anything, but we got through the motions of what we needed to do: getting him out of the chair, her calling 911, me performing CPR.
Those next few days are a terrifying blur. Anger, sadness, disbelief, confusion, fear. Angry at him for not going to the doctor when I told him to, beyond sad that my dad was gone. Disbelief that he would really never walk through the door again, and confusion over what to do, how this could happen to me. Fear, terrible fear of what the future held. I was supposed to be leaving the country, but nothing was set in stone anymore. I had so many reasons to stay: my support network was at home and I would know no one in Scotland, I felt guilty at leaving my mom when she needed me, I didn’t want to ruin what was supposed to be an amazing experience by tainting it with grieving.
Several people told me to go to Scotland, including my mom. And though there were real reasons for going, like I would probably lose the semester if I stayed and end up living at home, I just saw more and more reasons to stay.
My mom told me that my dad had written the message they put in my senior yearbook, and I was flipping back to find that when I happened to glance at another girl’s senior ad and see the quote that changed everything:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I really took this to heart and thought about it, and without it I do not think I would have gotten on that plane. It was the scariest and most difficult thing I have ever done, and I have not once regretted it. I have seen and done amazing things, met incredible people, and grown so much as a person. This year has presented to me all the extremes of life, and I’ve learned to accept everything for what it is.
I can’t bring my dad back, so instead I’ll live my life the way he did, by seizing every opportunity. He was a man who loved to travel, and I inherited that trait from him. His favorite places were Thailand and Israel, and I have plans to travel Southeast Asia this coming summer. I will not sit idly as life passes me by, but will do everything I can. I will also remember that people, even the ones you don’t know, are the most important thing in life. I will nurture my existing relationships and continue to form new ones, because that is what life is about. People will always surprise you – like Dave, the Irishman I met in Oslo. But that’s a story for another time.
So, I leave you with pictures of my travels, and one more – the most important of all.
And finally, I may not show you myself, but here is a man who deserves to be recognized: my dad.