It was Fall 2016 and I was a junior at Appalachian State University. The doctors told us he had six more months left to live. I decided that staying in school was what I needed to do for myself. There are times when I look back and wonder if I made the right decision, however, I know I would’ve done that with whatever I chose. Hindsight is 20/20 and the way my life has panned out it’s clear that there was a combination of shitty life circumstances, a bit of luck, but most of all, seizing my moment. As I sit here and share this story, I’m in awe with how it all didn’t work out then to work out like this now.
Seeing my dad contemplate and exhaust what was left of his life over should’ve, could’ve, would’ve’s naturally led me to think of what I’d be leaving behind if death came for me instead.
The previous spring semester I fundraised for a colon cancer 5k and ended up winning an unexpected award for “Top Individual Fundraiser”. I was literally walking to the car to drive back to Boone after the 5K when I heard my name on the loud speaker. It was the first real conscious look I had into the non-profit sector and the first time I saw what pure passion and desperation could devise. So, it was a semester booked with classes for my aspired Public Relations degree and a few for my newfound minor in non-profit management.
Intro to Fundraising. This was a service-based learning class. Our names were drawn out of a hat and we were placed with local non-profits in the community. Each team had to create a semester-long campaign plan and carry it to fruition. I was paired with Wine to Water. One scrap piece of paper with my name on it in a hat changed everything for me. This random pairing altered the course of my entire life. It is exactly as dramatic as it sounds.
We thought it was going to be a December filled with loss. Instead, it was September. I lost my dad September 29th, nine days before I turned 20. The doctor’s wrong prediction led me to stay in school. Ironically, it was my most prosperous semester. I got the best grades then than I did my whole college career. I threw myself into my classes and particularly into Wine to Water’s mission, vision and story. I spent the rest of the school year fundraising for a trip to Nepal and applying and accepting an internship with Wine to Water. It was going to be a summer of intention I so deeply needed.
When I went to Nepal, my wounds were still fresh. I had yet to learn that time in fact does not heal all pain as our harped upon cliches try and make us feel otherwise… When you lose people who were fundamental pieces of your growth and who’s lives were so intricately woven within yours, it does not ever heal. Instead, what I’ve learned is finding something that moves you- anything- and acting on that could restore your faith in life. It helps you choose to live instead of suffer.
In Nepal, I did manual labor I had never done before using homemade tools. I helped dig a 10×10 ft hole where a water reservoir tank would be constructed and placed by the group after me. My group and I also dug trenches where pipe would be laid that stretched through the mountainous terrain. When we needed breaks from digging, we were often on such narrow paths our only choice to relax would be sitting within the trench we were digging. At one point, we were all, us and the locals, sitting in the trench together. When I look back on my time, it’s hard to not picture the bright orange dirt but it’s harder to not picture the faces, the children, who were going to directly benefit from this work. In a weird way, I became at peace knowing that if I died tomorrow I had poured my soul into something bigger than myself. Clean water does more than just improve and SAVE lives of those receiving it. Once a necessary part of life is obtained, communities and villages can then focus on other things- agriculture, education, infrastructure. People don’t think about that aspect of things as much as they should.
As we were leaving on our last day working in the village, Dahakhani, the community dressed us with hibiscus flowers and put a tika, the red pigment between our eyebrows, to show their appreciation. I was pulled aside and was given an extra flower crown and a ring made by a woman out of a Nepalese coin. After we exchanged a warm embrace, I got on the bus with tears filling my eyes and staining my cheeks. It was overwhelming to be affirmed that I had touched them like they had touched me. I had felt the energies of those no longer with me physically through service. Moving forward from Nepal, I knew I wanted to stay on the path of service. I needed to chase those feelings. So I applied and am currently serving in Comoros, Africa with the Peace Corps.
There are plenty of other realizations I’ve made about the choices in my life and those around me. I was going to play college soccer in Florida but didn’t– making me go to school in-state and thus being closer to my dad. Colon Cancer led me to a 5k which made me consider non-profit management as a minor. My sister didn’t get into nursing school so she was forced to move back home and spend, unknowingly, the last years of my dad’s healthy life with him. My mom’s boss decided not to retire just yet so she didn’t apply for a different job she wanted at the time- only to later quit when cancer struck. My parents randomly and conveniently decided to stop saving for retirement and funnel money into their checking account which provided us with the opportunity to take a family vacation to Hawaii- our last one we would ever have. There are easily a thousand more I could list. In the long run, all of these things not working out helped us spend priceless moments with someone we have a lifetime to miss and live for. We were able to wrap my dad in a cocoon of love and appreciation until his final days in human form. Nurturing your relationships- the most important effort you can exude.
We oftentimes look at “why me” and not “why not me”. You see, once you start accepting the “why not me” mindset in life, it translates to other aspects. You realize you and your family are not untouchable from life’s impermanence. You start living with the awareness of your own mortality- I often wonder what the world would look like if we all did. And in return, your actions change because of it. There is a liberating side to it as well. Once you acquire the “why not me” thinking process, you take more leaps and more chances. You maybe even apply to the Peace Corps even though previously you thought you never had a chance of being accepted. You start seizing your moments that give you a sense of control again.
I encourage you to not look at your misfortunes in life as barriers anymore. They can, do, and will always hurt like hell. However, there is beauty in what you will make out of those hardships and why your plans don’t always workout in the moment. You have things to teach the world, but more importantly, the world has things to teach you.