The Day My Life Changed

Hey guys! One of my closest friends from school was required to do a video project this past week. She had to interview someone, much like what I do every Thursday. She came to me with a question and this time, I was the subject. It was very fun being on the other side of the camera. So instead of my usual interview with someone else, this week you guys get a closer peek at me–in real life! Go ahead then, click play and find out what I talked about! 

The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life and a Great Big Thank You

Over the course of the last nine months that I’ve been sharing my writing, I am always pleasantly surprised when old friends and family members tell me they read my blog. I’ve never assumed anyone would. What’s even more is that they tell me they enjoy it! I am so grateful to these people and to my fellow bloggers for reading my work and becoming a part of my story. In honor of this, I decided to re-post the first piece I shared with the blogging community, my friends and family. Once this piece was published, it was Freshly Pressed and helped share my writing with hundreds of people I have never met. For those of you who have followed me from the beginning, I am forever grateful. For those that have begun to follow me over the course of these months, thank you so much! And to my future readers, I hope you enjoy my work as much as I enjoy doing it. You all inspire me to continue to do what I love. Have a wonderful day 🙂

The Only Thing We Have To Do In Life

I had a teacher in middle school who used to say the only thing in life we have to do, is die.

As a kid, it’s unknowingly easier to understand this concept. Rather than do things because we feel we have to, for the most part we do them because we want to. We dream of becoming an astronaut, ballerina, or movie star, and unaware of the “realities” of life, believe that one day we will achieve these dreams.

As we get older however, we’re bombarded with distractions–from the media, our jobs, our teachers, even our families–that make us believe these dreams are made for someone else–that they’re too outrageous and unachievable for ourselves. And before we know it, we find ourselves swept up in the trivial things we do day to day. Waking up on time, getting to class or work, running errands, watching TV, making dinner. Suddenly, it’s easy to believe we have to do these things. But actually, we don’t.

No matter what we do in life, the end result is the same. We die. Death; it’s the great equalizer. The one thing we all have to do. Everything else simply fills the time.

Knowing that this life will end leads me to believe that the only thing we all want, while we have this time, is to be happy.

So we can choose to be happy one of two ways:

  1. By doing what we are told we should do.

OR

   2. By doing what we want to do (and sometimes these things align with what we’re told we should do-like getting a college degree or falling in love, for example).

Choosing option #1 can be easy, falling into the pre-determined track of life that has been laid out before us. Go to school, get a degree, find a job, get married, have kids, and one day retire to an over 55 living community in Florida. I’m sure there are people who do get fulfillment out of leading this type of life, but I know that there are others who do not. And since you’re still reading this I know I’m talkin’ to you!

That’s why we have choice #2. However, choice #2 requires some work. We must accept that we will die, and then strip away distractions to look within ourselves to see what we want out of life right now, regardless of what anyone else may say. It requires being honest with yourself to see what really lies within. I don’t think it’s easy. I think it takes dedication to yourself and the dreams you had as a little boy or girl. Once we acknowledge our mortality, it’s easier to go after the things we truly want in life.

Many of us have ironically read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” in our school years. Frost writes of “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and the narrator must decide which path to take. Ultimately he chooses “the one less traveled”. I distinctly remember my teacher emphasizing how important it was to take this road “less traveled” in our lives and to not blindly follow others in their choices. We were encouraged to make our own decisions, even if they were less popular. I’m sure others who have studied this poem have been told something similar. Ironically however, as I’ve experienced myself, if we do take the road less traveled, or make a third road of our own-by taking time off of school, or not going to college at all, for example-it’s frowned upon. Frost ends his poem by writing that taking this road less traveled “has made all the difference”.

So here’s what I say; let us make a conscious effort every day to be the judge of what will make our lives fulfilling to ourselves. Let us judge our happiness by our own standards rather than others- a kind of “happy relativism”. Let us not allow others to define what will make our lives meaningful. I think it’s something we must work on every day, but eventually it can become a lifestyle. And let’s see just the difference it can make.

yellow wood2

The Box and The Hole

Clear skies overhead.
My black dress dances with the wind.

 Cold, gray, rectangles
depressed into
the green grass underfoot.

Like ducklings,
we pass
L. ZIOBER
25 MAR. 1912- 9 JULY 1979
and
JARMOS
JAN
AUG. 13 1919
APR. 30 1997

And then,
GALLAGHER
LOVING
WIFE, MOTHER
AND FRIEND
PATRICIA M.
1926-1982
I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
JOHN 11:25

Three leaf clovers bloom from
carved Celtic crosses
framing the name.

Concerned voices mumble.
A hand shovel plows into dirt.
Small footsteps race through aisles.

But I am still,
grip the edges of a box
small enough for only
a handful of his remains.

Uncertainly,
unsteadily
I lay him to rest
with the grandmother I never met;

cover the hole,
read his speech from
eighteen years ago
to a son he’d never get the chance to know.

Maybe they fish together now.

Red, wet-faced,
I trail behind.

Clear skies overhead.
My black dress dances with the wind.

DSCN1184

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

After my dad passed away, I had a really hard time having conversations with friends and family about “stupid things”. The Dancing with the Stars gossip. The babble about cute boys that you never actually get the nerve to talk to. The daydreams about meeting celebrity crushes that almost never come true (I say almost because I’ve still got hope that I will one day meet mine. Harry Styles, I hope you’re reading this.)

These silly conversations help relationships last. Because if the only things we ever talked about were serious, deep, and existential subjects, our relationships would not only be seriously depressing, but also very short. Because no one wants to hang out with a person that can’t enjoy the fluff of life.

And I had become that person. Sure, I listened to friends and family talk about the “stupid things” but while they talked, I barely listened. I nodded and smiled, but inside my head thought about how ridiculous it was that they cared so much about how their little sister borrowed their shirt without asking when my dad was still very dead. I had become so wrapped up in my own life that I could barely take an interest in anyone else’s. And it had created distance between me and the friends and family I cared very much about.

When I started seeing my bereavement counselor, Mary, (written about here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/07/10/skiing-with-my-bereavement-counselor/) I told her about this problem. How I would have dinner with a friend and while they went on about the things in their life, my mind would wander and think about more serious subjects. Most of all, my dad.

She gave me an assignment. Instead of just nodding and smiling, I had to start these “stupid conversations” and really practice listening to the other person speak and not let my mind wander into the depths of Abbey-La-La-Land.

And because I wanted to get better, I did what she said.

But it was so much harder than I thought. I struggled to care about the “stupid” things my friends and family cared so much about. It all seemed so trivial compared to the loss that I was dealing with in my life. After a week, I told Mary how impossible I found her assignment.

That’s when she gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

“Fake it till you make it.”

I couldn’t believe a licensed social worker was telling me to pretend to care and pretend to take an interest in my friends and family in the hopes that one day, I really would. But I figured she must have known something about what she was telling me so I gave it a shot.

For a while, I had to consciously pretend in those conversations. But as time went on, it became easier to engage with others about silly things. I no longer had to keep track of whose turn it was to speak and I no longer pretended to care. I really did. Her advice had proven true.

And it certainly doesn’t just apply to these “stupid conversations.” I carry this advice with me everywhere I go.

For example, the other day I saw one of my aunt’s who I rarely ever see. She’s from my dad’s side of the family, married to one of his brothers. However, she lives over a thousand miles away in Florida. Which particularly stinks since I love spending time with her.

After seeing me, she texted, and among other things, wrote,

“It is so nice to see how comfortable you are as yourself.”

I was completely surprised.

Firstly, because someone had acknowledged all the hard work I’ve done these last few years on becoming a healthier, happier, and more confident person in a very direct and straightforward way. It wasn’t just a passing comment. By writing the message to me, there was a sort of permanence to it.

And secondly, because even though I’ve made tremendous progress, I still struggle to feel comfortable in my own skin sometimes. But every day I look in the mirror, smile wide and pretend I’ve got all the confidence in the world. Because I know that eventually, one day that confidence will stick.