20 December 2011

a sigh full of life.

I pulled into the driveway, put the car in park, yanked up the the e-brake and sighed. A former boss once told me quite matter of factly that I must drive potential boyfriends crazy with all my sighing.  Is all that sighing really necessary Courtney, he half asked, half stated. It was none of his business, of course, a fact he clearly overlooked. Nonetheless, I politely explained to him that my sighs are not typically out of frustration or restlessness. I sigh to fulfill that very innate craving for a simple little thing called air. A craving that extends beyond my lungs, through my abdomen, all the way down to my toes. But tonight's sigh was different. Tonight's was of the exasperated kind, that kind that was unnecessarily loud and dramatic, yet completely warranted in my mind. I was, as I'm often told I do, catastrophizing. It's December 20th, I haven't purchased a single Christmas present, penned a single Christmas card, or baked a single Christmas cookie. If it weren't for my roommate, our cozy, little two bedroom apartment wouldn't have a single Christmas decoration. So I sighed for my complete and utter disrespect for my absolute favorite holiday. In my defense, November was hands down a pretty shitty month if I may be so blunt, so I did have a rather difficult time finding any semblance of my normal over the top festive spirit. So, I thought, I'll all but skip Christmas this year. But my sigh didn't stop there. I peered out the window into the darkness that crept up so quickly around me and saw that the rain had no intention of tapering off anytime soon. Clearly I was not aware of Mother Nature's agenda this morning when I selectively picked out my "sunny day" only boots that are not meant for any type of precipitation unless I have some irrational desire to ruin them. Get over it Courtney, my mind was quick to pipe up, as I harshly reminded myself that they're nothing more than a pair of completely replaceable shoes.

Pathetically, my sigh was far from over though, as I reflected on the past few weeks. A co-worker recently told me in passing, "you know Courtney, you don't really make small life decisions. When you have your heart set on something, you go after it, and your passion couldn't be more obvious." I joked back that my motto has apparently become "go big, or go home." I recently decided to turn in my CPA license. It won't expire, it just won't remain active, which essentially means I am handing over the keys for a career that I once felt I was supposed to have. Technically I've already done this, when I quit my job two years ago. But this time, I feel like there's no turning back. And what an indescribable feeling that is. I've submitted my resignation at the hospital and am now running full speed into the vast unknown that is my future. So I sighed for the unanswered questions that lay before me. The truth is, I feel liberated, overwhelmed, and nervous all at the same time. Hello, emotion overload! Words cannot express the excitement that is practically radiating from me with the 
thought of finally obtaining a second degree in nursing. I'm ecstatic to go back to school, if for no other reason than I actually like to learn. I get bored easily; my mind needs constant TLC, so I gravitate toward learning new things. But holy moly, talk about doing a 180. I've gone from studying tax laws to genetic code. And it seems that's all.I.ever.do. Work. Study. Sleep. Repeat. No wonder I've all but forgotten about Christmas. So I sighed for the huge leap of faith I am about to take once again. Actually, who am I kidding. This isn't some prissy little leap. This is a holy sh*t, jump off the cliff and hope that my parachute wants to work leap of faith. As my overly dramatic sigh drowned out the melody of the radio blaring from my speakers, I only continued with my woe is me catastrophizing. I thought about all of the college applications I need to start, finish, and submit ASA-freaking-P; the hassle of dealing with FAFSA once again; the fact that it looks like I dropped a bomb in the middle of my bedroom and literally woke up with with a cut on the bottom of my toe yesterday because of a dangly earring that somehow landed in my bed rather than in my jewelry box; that I'll soon need to find a new roommate that hopefully isn't a craigslist killer, and that another one of my beloved elderly volunteers recently passed away and I have to face another depressing funeral service. With too much on my mind and too much to do, I figured it would be in my best interest to start making moves. 

I calmly opened the car door and stepped out into the rain, my anxiety slowly beginning to fade as I inhaled a breath of fresh air underneath the midnight sky. As I trudged up the steps leading to my apartment, I saw a small package laying on the doormat. A spark of hope ran through my veins as I wondered who it was for. I bent down to pick up the fedex, closing my eyes and selfishly praying that it was for me and not my roommate (I love you Kait, but let's face it, I rarely get mail!). Bringing it closer to my face in the darkness, I peered at the address label and saw my name scrawled in a handwriting so familiar that I didn't even need to look at the return label to see who it was from. I practically paraded up the stairwell, tossed aside my purse and sunk into the armchair. Trying my best to not act like a child on Christmas morning, I patiently attempted to not tear the card in half as I pulled it from its envelope. Casting aside the little patience I had left, I tore open the carefully wrapped gift to unveil a book entitled "The Describer's Dictionary." A book chock full of literary quotations and descriptions to have at my fingertips whenever I write. As I paged through my newly acquired treasure, I sunk back further into the cushioned chair and sighed a sigh of sheer
delight and relief. Little did he know, my dear friend Aaron had sent me something so meaningful and heartfelt, I could practically watch my worries and fears dissipate into thin air. How ironic that something as simple as a book from a best friend could bring me back to reality and replace my sighs of frustration with sighs of comfort...happiness...air. 

Christmas, whether I am ready or not, will come along on December 25, just like it does every year. I will navigate through the tangled maze of prerequisite courses, college apps, and student loan apps one way or another. I have made huge leaps of faith before, and with the support of friends and family I have continued to find my way in this crazy little thing called life. 

And when I find myself sighing for anything but a deep breath of air or intoxicating gulps of happiness, I'll think of my friend Aaron, whose genuine kindness and selfless friendship brings me back to reality time and time again. 

PS. Happy Birthday, Aaron :)

24 November 2011

lessons of love.

A year (and one day) ago I reached out to the wonders of the world wide web to explore some of my innermost thoughts and feelings, ponder at the intricacies and complexities of life, and share some of the "that would only happen with courtney" stories that define my life. I have always been an incredibly expressive person, so as daunting as it is to expose myself in such an open and public, nevermind vulnerable manner, it was very natural for me to do just that. As much as I enjoy being surrounded by the energy of people, I can be fiercely independent, which is why I am so drawn to writing. My mind never.shuts.off. So being able to pour my tiny little heart out to the unassuming, nonjudgmental keys on my laptop in complete solitude is undeniably therapeutic. There's something intimate and wildly refreshing about decompressing through words by candlelight with the company of no one else, but me, myself, and I.

As I sit here tonight, with the soft glow of burning candle flickering beside my computer, my mind is in a million different places. So I turn to my computer and let my fingers type away and quiet my brain.

For the first 18 years of my life, I shared every major milestone with my cousin. Our mothers are sisters and gave birth to us less than two months apart. We lived less than a mile away from each other. It would have been nearly impossible to not go through every chapter of life side by side. So we did just that. And despite our drastic differences - he was private, I am full disclosure; he tested the boundaries, I often times stayed within them; he preferred the attention of few, I love the attention of many; he was tough, I am sensitive - we remained close for the first 18 years of our lives. When we graduated high school, we went our separate ways, reuniting only every now and then at weddings, family picnics, holidays, and the like. I do wish we had remained closer, but I refuse to regret the path I have taken.

Two days ago, my 27 year old cousin vanished from the world, leaving a seemingly empty void in hundreds of broken hearts.

Death, no matter how familiar we are with it, or how much we can anticipate it, prepare for it, and even accept it, is irrational and cruel. It makes even the most faithful of us question and doubt life as we know it. We fight and deny its very occurrence, refusing to believe there is any truth to it. We surrender ourselves to regret and the all too familiar would of, could of, should of's. It's a vicious cycle that someone maliciously put on repeat everytime we lose a loved one to the universe, God, heaven, whatever it is you believe in.

I have been trapped on an emotional rollercoaster that doesn't seem to want to stop any time soon. My heart aches not just for myself, but for the dozens upon dozens of loved ones my cousin is survived by. I could write until the sun starts to peek out from the horizon on this Thanksgiving dawn about the powerful impact my cousin had on each and every one of the lives he touched. But I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want that. Just a little bit of speculation, but I'm listening to my heart and it's telling me not to make this blog about him anymore than it already is.

So I won't. I'd rather take the time to reflect on how such a devastating and untimely death has pushed me to focus on what's positive in life. My heart runneth over in sheer gratitude and happiness (coincidence that I'm writing this as the early morning hours of Thanksgiving roll in? Maybe. Maybe not), yet I don't often pay enough attention to its presence.

My family - immediate and extended - will never cease to amaze me. They truly bring to life the meaning of the phrase "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." The bonds between and across my family members are intense and unbreakable; it truly is a blessing and a half to know that my family will always be there for each other. The past few days have been a huge testament to this fact, a fact that I will always be grateful for.

My gratitude extends beyond this though. For the past year I have felt a sense of contentment that I haven't quite felt before, yet I don't think I have fully expressed it to the people I need to. For the first time, I feel that I am exactly where I need to be, which is unbelievably satisfying for someone who is constantly trying to figure out this crazy little thing called life. I owe a large part of this to my friends, the ones who have taught and guided me until I was on the right path.  The love, patience, and honesty my friends have shown me is unparalleled to anything else I've ever experienced. I have needed my best friends so much over the past few days, and their kindness, love, and support have brought me to tears in the privacy of my own bedroom. I am so humbled and honored for their presence in my life and pray that I am there for them they way they are for me. When I stumble, they pick me up; when I overreact, they gently put me in my place; when I cry, they don't try to stop me; when I call at 2 in the morning, they answer. Their love is just as great as the love of my family. It's so easy for me to say "I love you" to my parents, sister, and brother, yet I hardly find myself sharing my love with friends. This week has served as a harsh reminder of how precious life is, a reminder that I am thankful for.  We often overlook and take for granted what it means to love and to be loved. And more importantly, to express this love.

So while I can sit here and feel as though there is an empty void in my heart that will never be filled by the passing of my cousin, I feel as though I'd be lying to myself. I want my heart to be overflowing with love for my family and friends, yet this can't happen with a void. So, yes, I will cry my tears and process the irrationality of death, but I will not let there be a void. Filling the void created by death with love is not replacing my cousin or any of the other loved ones who have passed away. It is my way of honoring them.

To all of my friends and family. I love you.

13 November 2011

in gratitude.

I slipped into an oversized, threadbare t-shirt, softened over the years from being worn and washed so many times; flipped the light switch on my wall, allowing darkness to drown out the warm glow of light peering underneath my lampshade; and sunk into my inviting bed, my down comforter and plush pillows embracing my body. My body was craving sleep, but my mind had other ideas. Still not adjusted to the darkness, I blindly felt around for my iPhone, bringing it close to my face. After checking facebook and both e-mail accounts, I typed in the letters of my favorite website, wimp.com, hoping that after watching a few of this week's top videos, my mind would oblige to my body’s request to surrender to sleep.

The first video I watched was extraordinary, a surfer riding a 90 foot wave. I have a deep admiration for surfers who can face the enormous depths of the ocean without an ounce of fear. Although I am very much a lover of all things beach related, the magnificent power of the ocean will always overwhelm me. So for 24 seconds my eyes widened in fascination as I watched a surfer defeating a rapidly crumbling 90 foot wall of water. Breathtakingly amazing.

I clicked back to the homepage and scanned the titles, waiting for another video to speak to me. Because that’s what I’ve come to do in life, go after the things that speak straight to my heart and mind. Probably a silly notion to some, but it’s a way of life that I have adopted and truly thrive on. One of my favorite aspects of this site is how understated the titles are. When my eyes glazed over the link entitled “Simple Gratitude,” my heart may have skipped a beat. My cousin, Tricia, writes a blog about living a life of gratitude, and I just knew that this video would speak to me the way her blogs speak to me. When I realized that it was a link for a TED talk (please, please, please google TED talks if you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about. You’ll do your brain a huge favor. Trust me. Go on, google it!), my heart sank a bit. As much as I love TED talks, this particular one was ten minutes, short for a TED talk, but I honestly didn’t know if I wanted to devote that much time to it. I really did need to get some shut eye! But, alas, I did...

And so should you.

Because, oh.my.God, my inspiration levels skyrocketed through the roof as I absorbed every.single.word and every.single.picture in the video.

I really wish I could find the right words to describe the instantaneous effect this video had on me, but I just know that my words will not do it justice. For anyone reading my blog, I implore you to watch this video www.wimp.com/simplegratitude.

Louis Schwartzberg, a name I admittedly had never heard of before viewing this TED talk, is an award winning cinematographer, specializing in time lapse photography. His footage alone was enough to take my breath away. What followed after his introduction was a narrative so empowering I knew I had to capture it in my blog.

Today is a gift, be thankful for it. Yes, I get it. We’ve all been told this a million times before and I guarantee we’ll probably be reminded of this a million more times. But what does this phrase really mean. What if we each take this already simple concept and break it down even further.

How much would my life be different - for the better - if I actually took a step back to be fully present in my life, rather than just going through the motions. Each day isn’t just another day. It’s the one day that’s been given to each of us and it’s the one gift we’ve all been given to celebrate life. I want my life to be BIG and beautiful. But, in order for this to happen I must be an active participant in my own life. I need to realize all that I already have.

Louis quotes that 80% of the information we receive comes through our eyes. How often do I overlook the beauty of what is right in front of me and focus my energy on silly, negative things. How often do I overlook the ridiculously awesome fact that I am blessed with eyes that allow me to see the unparalleled beauty of life. If I just opened them and looked beyond what is right in front of me I could tap into so much more. The faces of the people I interact with each and every day hide thousands of stories just waiting to be shared. How often do these stories go overlooked because I am “too busy” to look at what my eyes are actually trying to show me. I have the ability to choose what I want to look at and internalize, a blessing that is so often taken for granted.

Life is worthy of gratitude. What if I began cultivating a grateful response to all that life provides me with. After all, isn’t gratefulness the most appropriate response for the gift of each present moment I am given. A heart can never be too full to be thankful.  It can never have too much love or kindness. But how often do we dismiss the very essence of our hearts and the blessings that manifest from within them. I want my heart to overflow with gratitude for the things I have and the life I’ve been blessed with. I may not have all of the material things someone wealthier than me may have.  But I have so much to be grateful for this very second in time. I have access to water. I can drink healthy water whenever I want to and take an exceedingly hot shower just because I feel like it. Such an incredibly simple thing, but something that not everyone has. I have the ability to process the wonder of the human touch and how it warms my soul. I can pick up my phone and be in touch with the dozens of people I love and cherish within seconds. I can sit in the warmth of my own home and type my innermost thoughts and feelings and share them with anyone I want to. I can enjoy a lazy Saturday evening by myself doing absolutely nothing and love every second of it. I can love and be loved.  I can have my own hopes and dreams and explore all that life has to offer.

The sense of wonder we each have for life is extraordinary, but we’ll never realize it until we learn to be grateful for it. Once we’re present in our lives, we’ll be able to understand the very present of life.

...With so much to think about - to be grateful for - my mind was finally tired enough for sleep. I clicked off my phone, sunk further into my bed and drifted off into a dream of gratitude.

08 October 2011

listening is making a comeback.

"How is your husband feeling?" I asked my colleague, feigning sincerity as I was asking more out of sheer politeness than of genuine concern. A pang of guilt still rings through me for my insincerity, especially since it's my co-worker who I don't care for, rather than her innocent ailing husband. She offered little detail in her reply, being careful to match my somewhat obvious disinterest in the conversation. I was gracious of her valiant effort to at least fast forward through as many awkward pauses as possible. As she droned on and on, my mind was left to wonder. I was just beginning to space out when that ever so slight part of my brain that was still engaged in the conversation picked up on something she was saying. Her voice had turned bitter, as if there was an unpleasant taste in her mouth. What rolled off her pretentious tongue next really shouldn't have come as surprise to me, but it did. Apparently this woman, in all of her prestige and power, didn't have a regard for other people's problems given her own situation at home. After all, how could anyone else's problems added up together even remotely compare to what she was going through at home?

Maybe I should have given her a high-five for saying what a lot of us tend to think, but would never dream of admitting to our loved ones...family...friends. It's incredibly easy for us - me, you - to get so wrapped up into our own problems that we tend to lose sight of reality. We become so absorbed in the things that are troubling us - however big or small they may be - that we often forget about the one thing that ties together all of humanity. We are not alone. Instead of embracing the reality of this, we crawl deeper into our holes, creating barriers amongst us. We start to compare our woes to those of our friends and enemies. The deeper we crawl, the thicker the walls become, until we no longer even reach out to the loved ones we once so desperately needed. Of course, I realize, it's okay to bottle our emotions at times. To internalize our thoughts and feelings. To simply not want to reach out to a friend. I get this. I've been there before. And sometimes it's nice to throw a pity party for no one else but y-o-u, complete with a bottle of wine, a pint (or two) of ice cream, a sappy chic flick, hell even a goody bag filled with candy to get you through the next day...you get the point.  And sometimes, it's even okay to feel as though everyone else but you can live a carefree life without a worry in the world.  The danger occurs when you don't resurface and you tread in the waters of comparison, which is exactly what my co-worker was doing.

I have been on both sides of this spectrum. I have been the one to compare (Oh you're going to a funeral? Try going to 20 by the time you're 20. Oh you know someone with cancer? So do I. She passed away when I was 15). It's easy to be this person. To be the one who thinks everyone else has it easier. To think you're the only one with the fabulous luck of the Irish. To latch onto the "of course this would only happen to me" attitude. Being the other person, however, often comes as a slap in the face. It sneaks up on you and bam!, out of no where someones asking you "Who do you think you are?! You think you have problems!?" This happened to me recently. Someone very near and dear to me said very matter of factly that her problems were of way more importance than anything I could possibly have going on in my life right now.

Is that so?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But what's the benefit of letting ourselves sink so low as to compare our problems to those of others.  You don't win if you have more troubles than your best friend. Your life isn't of more value or importance based on how many problems you have. Perhaps when we stop comparing and start listening, we (myself included) will realize we're not alone and that we can lean on each other to get through the tough times. Sadly, this world is in such short supply of this invaluable resource. Quality listening skills. Not hearing. But actually engaging our minds to listen to one another without having to talk over one another.

In the past few weeks I've had the opportunity (yes, the opportunity, not the obligation) to listen to several teenagers who came into my office to express some very personal fears and anxiety provoking issues. At one point one of the girls dismissively said, "I'm sorry. My problems must seem so small and stupid. You're so much older, your problems are probably much more important. I shouldn't be wasting your time." I quietly let her words sink in. At such a young and innocent age, this girl was already belittling her own personal woes. What, I wondered, is she going to do when she's experienced more that life has to offer? Sit in silence and never "bother" anyone with her feelings? I wanted to grab her and shake the absurdity out of her. Were her issues ones of life or death? No. Did they seem as significant as the constant battle my friend's brave two year old daughter is going through right now? No. But the fact that this teenager chose to open up to me meant that she needed someone to listen to her. She needed to know that she wasn't alone.

And so I put my own worries aside and listened. I didn't compare, I just listened. When she left my office later on, I knew she wasn't alone. Neither was I.

And maybe, just maybe, my co-worker needs someone to sincerely listen to her, as well.

25 September 2011

the soundtrack to my life.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we had a soundtrack to our lives?" Kaitlin hopefully asked as she watched a Jane Austen movie this past Saturday. Even though I was immersed in yet another book and was tuning out the dialogue, I was still absorbing and enjoying the melody that transpired softly in the background. I sighed and agreed, taking a second to reflect on how intriguing it would be if we each had our own personalized soundtrack identifying with our every move throughout life. The truth is, while we don't have a unique playlist that accompanies the rhythm of our life, despite Pandora's attempt with its Music Genome Project, we can choose to identify with certain melodies, harmonies, lyrics, and vocals.  

As I made my hundredth effort to lighten my life and organize the catch all storage closet that barely closes this weekend, I came across a box overflowing with old pictures, journals, and cards permeated with nostalgia. Delicately, I picked up a journal I had not written in, nevermind even picked up since I tied the fraying string that sealed its cover over three years ago. I flipped through the dusty old thing, eventually stumbling upon a passage in which I wrote "I feel our society does its best to remind you of your heartbreak...constant 24/7 overly repetitive reminders that break you down and suffocate you from all angles. Where do these reminders come from? Music. After all, 'music is what feelings sound like (anon).' For the past month I've been hearing my feelings constantly." I was at an admittedly low point in my life, where a series of events had evoked more emotions than I knew I was capable of owning, let alone expressing. I was consumed with frustration, guilt, disappointment, and anxiety. While I had the support of some truly amazing friends, I still found myself turning to music, at times as a crutch to feel sorry for myself; other times as a ray of hope to pick myself up from the mess I had created. Certain lyrics spoke straight to my heart, as if the words existed solely for me. Looking back on this time, it's no wonder that it was so easy to identify with the songs that overflowed my playlist. I was the one selecting the songs. After a few months of wallowing in a ominous blue pool of depression, I grew tired of the burden that was weighing me down. So I made the choice to create a new path for myself without looking back. And with this, the soundtrack of my life changed for the better. As I surrounded myself with friends who brought out the best in me, the music that I gravitated toward lifted my spirits and renewed my soul. I was finding peace from within and learned to love myself again.

I recently made the choice to open that heavy door I so vehemently slammed shut three years ago. It opened with ease, as I found that time had healed my broken heart. I was finally ready to let go of the past, while able to relish in the beauty of the memories that resulted. The past had pushed me to find myself and in doing so, I embarked on so many adventures; some solo, some with newfound friends, and many with the fabulous friends and family I've already been blessed with. I didn't just step out of my comfort zone, I ran out of it with open arms, ready to explore all that life has to offer. I tapped into new interests; became more open minded, not only to myself, but to others, and in doing so, found an absolutely mesmerizing side of life I had been missing out on.

Quickly ascending to the top of my soundtrack for the past few weeks is Adele's increasingly popular Someone Like You. During times of solitude, the song is often on repeat, her words speaking volumes about my life experiences. "Regrets and mistakes are memories made." Surely these words can be interepreted more than one way -- to each their own -- but for me, the mistakes I've made, the regrets I've held onto and learned to let go of, created lasting memories and, more importantly, paved the path for more memories to fill my soul with. Because, isn't that the best part of life? Having memories to hold close to your heart, knowing that you've fully lived and soaked up all that life has to offer. How nice of music to remind me of this.

So as my mind drifts back to Kaitlin's wishful thinking, I know that music will never simply take a natural presence in the background of my life. But I also know that a life without music would be terrifyingly dull. Fortunately, I have the power to create my own soundtrack as I navigate through this crazy life. One that helps me through a heartbreak, provides serenity when sadness sets in, complements my happiness, or simply combines the perfect melody and vocals to feed my soul. And for this I am forever thankful.

07 September 2011

the little green book.

"Everything is going to be OK," the cover of my recently acquired book whispered to me as tears trickled down my cheek. "Everything is going to be OK."

I first stumbled upon this book at a teensy tiny boutique tucked away in the Marina District of San Francisco a few months ago. I immediately fell in love with the concept of the book; the use of art and simple words to serve as reminder of the power - and beauty - of optimism. Tight on money (as the bank of Courtney always is), I only purchased one copy, and bestowed it upon a darling cousin of mine, who I was absolutely certain would appreciate the celebration of inspiration and happiness offered by this book.

A few months later, I found myself idly perusing the shops of Detroit International Airport, hoping to make the time between my flights go by just a tad quicker. Nestled amidst a Starbucks, McDonalds, and your standard airport convenience store was a humble little shop that couldn't be more out of place than if it were in the middle of a football stadium. Its whimsical knick knacks and sundries apparated me from the hustle and bustle of the airport to a place more befitting to a scene in Alice in Wonderland. It was just what I needed to lighten my mood and brighten the gloomy day that taunted me from the vast windows lining the terminals. Longing for more inspiration to shake me out of my funk, I saw a familiar little green book staring at me. Its bold white letters practically screamed to me, "Everything is going to be OK." Without hesitation, I plucked the book off the shelf, made my purchase and tucked it securely away in my carryon.

I keep the book by my bedside, propped up like a picture frame, its simple presence a gentle reminder to embrace all that is positive in my life. I often find myself flipping through its pages, absorbing the powerfully candid words that break the cycle of my hectic days, allowing me to come up for a breath of fresh air. I am reminded to "be present everyday" and that "things are looking up." I read that "it is okay for me to have everything I want." There are days when I thumb through every page and then there are the days when I flip directly to my favorite quotes.  Some words are more empowering than others, some more humorous, some more sentimental; but all of them speak to straight to my heart.

So as I sit here tonight, with tears trickling down my cheek, I once again turn to my book. The little go-to bible for a 20 something year old girl, lost in a little place called life. I read through the book once, then a second time for good measure. And deep down in my soul to the farthest depths of my heart, I can just feel that everything will be OK.

03 August 2011

the stranger on the plane.

What is it that you're doing over there, the intrigued passenger next to me questioned. Listlessly, I replied that I was writing and continued to punch away at my keyboard. This didn't seem to satisfy him and he tried again. Impatiently, I glanced up to see why this complete stranger was so interested in me when, quite frankly, the interest was clearly not mutual. My eyes shifted from the glare of my computer screen to a tanned face framing a pair of deep, mysterious eyes. Immediately, my eyes drifted down to his left hand, and I quickly thanked God that he was wearing a wedding band. I wasn't in the mood to be hit on by a 50 year old. I politely explained that I had recently joined the bandwagon of blogging. Puzzled, he said "blogging?" Doing my best to avoid the automatic roll of my eyes response that is triggered when I'm agitated by someone, I explained what blogging was. Then, in a hasty attempt to adhere to social etiquette, while keeping the conversation snappy, I went through the obligatory introduction process, hoping that my computer could have my undivided attention, sooner rather than later.

After five minutes of chatting, I succumbed to the fact that there was no hope of returning to my blog. My newest companion couldn't seem to stop talking and I simply didn't have the heart to cut him off. The more he talked, the more I realized there was something different about this complete stranger, but I couldn't quite place my finger on it. There was something about him that seemed so...lost, yet so hopeful all at the same time. There was a certain urgency in his voice, a compelling need to continue conversing with me. Before I knew it, he was unravelling a tangled story of sadness, anger, frustration, and guilt. His perfectly healthy brother-in-law was killed two days prior in a freak accident a mere two hours after he had spoken to him on the phone. I didn't know what to say. I barely knew this person. He barely knew me. What could I possibly say to help this helpless stranger. Finally, I understood the sadness in his eyes, the pain in his face, the confusion in his mind.  Despite my most valiant efforts to dig deep into my soul to find the perfect words to soothe him, I couldn't formulate a
sentence. So I listened. And amidst my interjections of "I'm so sorry" and "oh my goodness, how terrible," he continued to pour his heart out to me. Slowly, the urgency in his voice dissipated, replaced by a wave of calmness. With less desperation in his voice, he acknowledged that he wasn't much of a writer himself, but was still curious if I received any benefit from writing. Ahhh, so this is why he was so intrigued when he saw me furiously typing away. Making up for my prior loss of words, my whole face lit up as I explained how incredibly therapeutic writing can be for the mind, body, and soul. The act of writing transports me light years away from reality, allowing me to open up my mind and channel my deepest, innermost thoughts and feelings out of my body onto a piece of paper (...or computer screen) in a brilliantly constructive conglomeration of words. When I write, I'm able to examine all of the things that plague my mind, allowing me to think more clearly and understand life as I know it just a little bit more.  As I talked away, it dawned on me that the therapeutic benefits I reap from writing are perhaps the same benefits this man was gaining from simply talking to me.  This man needed someone. Right then and there. He needed the warmth of a human voice to subdue the pain and anguish that was torturing him inside. He just needed a person who would listen to him as he questioned the meaning of life and the complexities of death. He needed to be able to talk freely to someone who wouldn't judge his complaints about the unfairness of this crazy ride we call life. He needed to put his vulnerabilities on the line and let his guard down. He didn't specifically need me. I just happened to be the person Orbitz.com placed next to him on a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia.

And so this person turned to me. As much as I tried to remain strong and not let the sadness of this man and his story permeate into my heart, I could feel the tears forming. It doesn't take long for the floodgates of my seemingly never ending supply of tears to open, and I was quickly reaching my breaking point. One by one, the tears slowly slid down my cheeks, meeting the edges of my mouth, their saltiness tantalizing my lips. Collecting my thoughts, I turned to him and slowly offered him my insight. The truth is there is no reason for freak accidents. These types of things can happen to anyone at anytime, anywhere. We are all vulnerable to life and death. And as much as we yearn for a reason as to why certain things happen and certain things don't, we'll never know for sure. The only thing we can do is accept life when these unfortunate and tragic events are bestowed upon us. It is up to us to find the courage to move upward and onward. I then reminded him that it's  even possible to extract something positive from this untimely, tragic accident. The death of his brother-in-law served as an unexpected reminder to me and, now to you, my "audience" of how fragile life truly is.  How lucky was I to be on a flight home to the happiness of my family, when this man was flying home to the sadness of his. How fortunate was I to be the person this man chose to open up to. I wouldn't have known this person from the next random guy in the airport, but for whatever reason, we were seated next to each other on an airplane packed with dozens upon dozens of people. And for that I am truly thankful. 

As the plane taxied down the runway, the man graciously thanked me for listening. I assured him that I was incredibly grateful to be his airplane companion and that my thoughts and prayers would be with him and his family.

Later on that day, I still couldn't stop thinking about my flight home. A flight that was supposed to be dedicated to blogging turned into a story that I will forever hold near and dear to my heart. A complete stranger was able to provoke my emotions in their rawest form. The horrific death of someone I never knew had not only affected his family, friends, and loved ones, but me - a complete stranger.  

19 June 2011

for my dad.

First things first: Much like my sister, my dad does not exactly do "full house moments." But, being that it is Father's Day, I thought it only appropriate to express my gratitude for him the best way I know how to: by dedicating a blogpost to him.

I could sit here and write pages upon pages of how awesome my dad is, resurrecting stories from the past that could have anyone doubled over in fits of laughter. Quite frankly, it would probably be easier to do just that, rather than keep this short and sweet, which is precisely what my dad would prefer. 

Let's be honest. My dad and I may not always see eye to eye on everything, we certainly have had our fair share of arguments, and there have definitely been a couple of times when I've been so frustrated with him that you could almost see the steam coming out of my ears. Isn't that how it goes with someone you love? You take the good with the bad and the bad with the good. It's the people you love the most that are capable of evoking your innermost emotions.'

In many ways, my dad resembles the fathers Hollywood creates in its wholesome family  movies and tv series (remember Tim Allen from Home Improvement?!), but in many more ways, my dad is far superior. In my younger years, he was the head softball coach for both my sister and I for years on end. He never once missed a game - even if it meant an IV machine came in tow when he was released from the hospital (true story!). As I grew up and older and entered the dating scene - most father's worst nightmares - my dad played it cool. He trusted my judgment in boys and was never overbearing or intimidating. (Thanks, Dad!). My dad rarely raised his voice -probably because most of the time he couldn't keep a straight face when disciplining my younger sister (which to this day still bemuses my mom). Despite this, we always knew when my dad meant business.

My absolute favorite example of this was when my sister and I were still living at home. It was your typical January in Jersey - frigid and snowy. It was six or seven am and a pretty severe ice storm had just made its way through town, so undoubtedly my sister and I were still fast asleep, only to be woken up by my dad bellowing from the back door, "Courtney! Ashley! Wake up! This isn't college! Get up and help your mother shovel!!!!" This was pretty routine in a household where sleeping in translates to wasting your day away. However, this wasn't a typical shovel snow request (read: demand) my dad was making, it was a request (again, read: demand) to shovel ice.  Begrudgingly, Ashley and I got out bed, cursing a blue streak as we bundled up and wondered if other parents made their twenty something year old daughters get up at ungodly hours to shovel *ICE*. To make matters worse, our dad was abandoning us to help the post office put snow chains on their mail truck tires. So while my dad was out being a good Samaritan, Ashley and I chipped and cursed our way through the 2 inch layer of ice that had glazed our driveway. After several hours of extreme physical labor (think I'm exaggerating? You go "shovel" ice), our dad finally rolls up to the driveway. I'm pretty sure an intense screaming match was about to go down, until we saw my dad waltz around the front of the car carrying two piping hot cocoas and a bag of donuts for us. Needless to say, Ashley and I bit our tongues and graciously accepted the hot drinks and my dad's gratitude for us helping out. Even though I chose not to understand it back then, I am now mature enough to admit to the lessons my dad instilled on us that day and dozens of times over again: 

Take responsibility and don't expect other people to do your work for you. Lend a helping hand without being asked to. Work hard and play hard. 

The unspoken lessons didn't start or stop there. Over the years, especially the more recent ones, my dad and I have grown closer on a more emotional level. Maybe it's because of all of our bonding over Monday Night Football, Dancing with the Stars (that's right, my dad is the one who got me hooked -- a fact that I gushed to Maxim upon meeting him in LA), or NatGeo Wild. Maybe it's because of the times when my mom puts my dad on babysitting duty during family vacays and he's stuck indoors with me, because I'm so sunburned. Whatever the reason, I am so grateful for our present day bond and our ability to have a heart to heart. Whether he knows it or not, my dad is the person who has taught me to make the best of every situation, to be patient and kind, and most importantly make the most of the cards you've been handed and let go of the things that won't matter in the long run.

Happy Father's Day, Tookus (a term coined by the one and only Miriam T. Khan).

Love, Court

PS. Molly and Mia are so thankful that you're their pack leader  ;)

17 May 2011

only me.

200 miles. 28 hours. 24 Bouncing Boobs. And I had the time.of.my.life once again. Our team raised over $2,500 in an effort to raise awareness about organ donation. So here is a huge, heartfelt thank you to each and everyone of you who donated money, shared Brent's story with family and friends, signed up to be an organ donor, wished me good luck, or simply read my blog. 

Now for the fun stuff. AKA how I went from falling flat on my face to losing the time to getting stuck in a sports bra to burning my ovaries to finishing 16.5 miles. 

Simply put, winter in Jersey sucks. So when mother nature blessed us with a 60 degree day in February I *had* to go for a run. Nevermind the fact that I didn't get home from work until 8pm and it was dark out. Nevermind the fact that my parentals were still my roommates and my mom insisted on giving me her two cents. Two very smart cents, that went something like this:

Mom: "Courtney!! it's dark out, you are not going for a run."
Me: (in a very defiant manner): "Mom!! I'm 26 and I will go for a run if I want." And then just for good measure, I added "plus, it's Hopewell, nothings going to happen."
Mom: "Well that's just stupid. Do you even have your ID with you?"
Me: (rolling my eyes): "Really Mom!? Don't be ridic. Nothing's going to happen. I'm just going for a quick jog through town."

Fast forward ten minutes later and I'm running through town thinking about what a gorgeous night it is even if it is a little dark. Two seconds later and I am flat on my face. Literally.flat.on.my.face. I have no idea what happened. I couldn't even blame it on icy sidewalks (remember it was 60 degrees out)! I just remember flying through the air, doing everything I could to avoid falling, and landing on the ground. Picture a horrific slide into home plate and that was basically me. Dazed and very confused, I looked up and three EMTs had already swarmed around me. How convenient of me to take a little track snack right outside of Hopewell's Fire Department. As I fought back tears (mostly of the embarrassment variety), I insisted that I was fine (yea, okay Court) and would be okay to run home. The EMTs were not having it and maintained that I wasn't running anywhere except right into their car so they could escort me home. I practically begged them to let me continue, but being that I was outnumbered three to one, I had no choice. So, 26 year old me was scooped into the car (thank GOD it was not an ambulance) and an EMT drove me home. And, just because the situation couldn't get any worse, the EMT politely asks, "So,was this your first time ever going for a run?" I almost died, because let's not forget that I played sports my entire childhood (including track) and this was my very first day of training for The Relay. It was as though the EMT sucked all of the motivation from my very soul. Oh, and the best part, as we drove home, who do I pass, but my mom taking the pups for a walk. Talk about the luck of the Irish! So, in my best Jersey Shore effort, I did the dip. I ducked and crossed my fingers hoping my mom wouldn't see me. But let's be honest, based on how my knees looked, it was only a matter of minutes before my mom heard the whole story (no help from my dad thank you very much!). 

Two months later and my training for The Relay is going remarkably well. No more falls, no more escorts home by an EMT, no more lectures from Mom. I'm at the point where I'm running six miles and I'm trying to focus on my time. The thing is, when you focus on time, you obviously need a watch. So there I am at work, changing into my workout clothes, getting pumped by my usual pitbull fix, when I realize that my trusty, hot pink watch that has been my faithful running companion for years is dead. Panic sets in. I cannot run without a watch. I simply cannot do it. I frantically tear my office apart searching for a battery, because we all know that I need to run while the sun's still shining after my running in the dark incident. (The fact that you actually need to go to a store to get your watch battery swapped out was completely lost to me at this time). I then start dialing everyone I know in the hospital, hoping I can find a watch so I can still get my run in. Sometimes, my stubbornness really gets the best of me, because, quite honestly, I really could have gone for a run without a damn watch.

Finally, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. My cousin Brent was still working his shift in the ER and said I could borrow his watch. Woohoo! I knew I could do it! Forget the fact that my wrists are so incredibly tiny and Brent was not lending me a sports watch. It was one of those super nice looking watches meant to fit a guy. As I watched the watch dangle pathetically from my very skinny wrist, wondering what good this watch was going to do me (with my luck, the watch would have flung off and shattered two seconds into my run), Brent was at my side strapping the watch to me with some good ole coban just like I was a patient of his. The end result: priceless. Can I just say WINNING!

If anyone has ever been shopping with me, you know that I require an assistant when trying on clothes. My very being defies gracefulness and eloquence. So leave it to me to get stuck in a sports bra by myself in a dressing room at Dick's Sporting Goods. It was a week before The Relay and I decided my workout wardrobe was long overdue for an update. Any excuse to go shopping. So off I went for some solo retail therapy. As I perused the store, I grabbed anything and everything in sight. New running tights? Definitely, just in case it's cold when I'm running in the middle of the night. New tank top just because? Absolutely! Reebok EasyTone Long Bra Top designed to create resistance as you move and help maintain proper posture? Yes, please! I'm not shy about my small boobs, so I grabbed a small and headed to the dressing room. Not more than 30 seconds alone in the dressing room and I'm already having problems. I should have known that if I had to struggle to get into the Reebok EasyTone sports bra, there was no way I was getting it off alone. And believe me, I put up a very valiant effort to get that freaking top off. I was able to shimmy the the top up to my neck, but then I was stuck. And could barely breathe. I couldn't have ripped the fabric if I tried. I was able to shimmy it back down around my chest, but that was it. So there I was, stuck in a dressing room half dressed, half naked, pondering my options....search the store for a sales associate and ask someone to remove it...or...purchase it while it's still stuck on me. Courtney: 0. Sports Bra: 1. As a competitive person, losing to a sports bra is an epic failure.

Sooo when kdubs decides to give my phone a little ring a ling, I realize there's still hope! Lucky for me, my mom happened to be pulling into the same shopping center I was in and came to my rescue. But before she did, while I was stuck in the dressing room, I decided to have a little photo shoot with me, myself, and I. Oh and just so you know, I did not purchase anything that day. But here's a huge shout out to my mamacita!

Finally, the day of the Relay is upon us. And, I know that for some this may be considered TMI, but for purposes of this story, I have to disclose that I had my period. Translation? I had the worst cramps in.the.entire.world. Killer cramps and I had to run 16.5 miles. Can a girl catch a break!? After almost collapsing after my first leg (although, I must say I ran hella fast because I was in so much pain I just had to be done), I took my mom's advice and purchased a heat pack. So right before I embarked on my second leg of 6.5 miles I stuck the heat pack right over my lower tummy. Not over my running tights, but smack down on my actual skin. Homegirl was in pain and desperate times call for desperate measures. Who cares that the instructions come with a gigantic warning stating that the heat pack should not be placed directly on skin. So, of course, after a couple of miles into my run, I realize I could not take the heat any longer. I swear it felt like my ovaries were burning. My hopes of having babies one day were going down the drain. A bit dramatic, yes, but you let me know how it goes if you ever run with a heating pack placed directly on your skin. Needless to say, I was able to rearrange the heating pack, but not without looking like a complete fool while trying to run under the pitch black sky at 10pm (because Heaven forbid I stop running for two seconds).
There may or may not have been a few more typical Courtney moments during The Relay, but I can't disclose all of my stories :)

08 May 2011

for my mom.

Why I thought it was a fabulous idea to take a red eye back to the east coast is beyond me. Throw a three hour layover in Hotlanta into the mix and now we're really talking.

But, alas, I did just spend 10 days on my favorite coast with several amazing friends, so I suppose I shouldn't be complaining. Plus now I have all the time in the world to throw myself into one of my most beloved hobbies - writing. So here I am with my one suitcase, plus one personal item, my laptop, my purse, an extra bag thatI accumulated somewhere along the way, tuning out the chaos that has embraced the airport food court in the early morning rush, losing myself to my new favorite CD (thanks, Trish!), and sprawled out at a table in typical Courtney fashion as though I'm in the comfort of own very humble abode.

My brain is on overload. They say you only use a fraction of your brain, but after the past ten days I feel as though my brain is chock full of *stuff*. I'm operating at 100% capacity. I have so much I want to write about; I feel as though I could take another week off of work to just write. Collect the thoughts, the stories, the experiences that are taking over my brain, and ship them off on that channel that travels through my fingertips finding themselves transformed into words on my blog. And I will do just that - well not take another week off as much as I'd like to - but I will be writing. Alot. So keep your eyes peeled.

But this morning I want to write about something different. I want to take a few minutes to celebrate my Mom in honor of Mother's Day (even if she did cram in her birthday, anniversary with my Dad, and Mother's Day in the span of less than a week! Really, Mom!!?).

The short version: My mom is a remarkable person.
If you want the "Full House" version that would make my sister cringe due to its unabashed honesty, read on.

My Mom and I have always shared a very special relationship. She is without a doubt one of my best friends. That go-to person you seek for her words of wisdom, unparalleled guidance, and unconditional love. Make no mistake, our relationship has been far from perfect. We have had our fair share of ups and downs. We certainly do not see eye to eye on everything. There have been many times when we have driven each other to the point of insanity and on the surface I have questioned our relationship with each other. But, through it all, she has remained by my side; my beacon of hope, my avid supporter, my friend, my Mom.

At my age my Mom already had two children, miscarried a third, and was planning for my sister. While my dad worked to financially support our family, my mom sacrificed her career goals to be a stay at home mom. Times were not always easy. In fact they were far from easy most of the time. But my parents made it work. Instead of having the material things that most of my friends had, I had a Mom (and Dad) at almost every one of my softball games. My dance lessons. My races. My track meets. My field hockey games. My lacrosse games. Instead of having one house to call a home, I grew up in multiple houses in one town, and was taught that a house is not what makes a home - it's the people in your life that do. I learned that life is what you make of it, rather than what you have. Experiences outweigh possessions. Compassion, respect, and forgiveness are traits that will take you far in life.

I look at where I am in my life today - my success, my happiness, my well-being - and know that I would not be here without my Mom's presence. I am at the age where I fully understand what my Mom gave up for me. I recognize the fact that this came at a cost to her. The values she instilled in my life - in my brother's and sister's lives - are values that will be with me forever. I can only hope that I impart a fraction of this wisdom onto my children one day.

I often joke that my mind is like that of an elephant's. I have a superb memory (if I do say so myself), and everyone knows that an elephant never forgets! With that being said, I have tucked away hundreds of memories involving my Mom - good, bad, funny, sad. Some of the memories are old, dusty and ridden with cobwebs; others are fresh, lingering with ripeness. As I sit here on the plane (I've relocated from the hustle and bustle of the food court to actually board my plane) I plucked two memories from my brain.

The first was about 10 years ago. Maybe 15. I was walking along the beach with my Mom in, where else, but South Carolina (our home away from home in the summer), and I distinctly remember saying to my Mom how much I couldn't wait to be older. Immediately my Mom replied, "Courtney, never wish your life away." A simple statement. One that my Mom has probably long since forgotten. I, however, have never forgotten that moment or those words of wisdom that rolled off of my Mom's tongue so effortlessly. Don't get me wrong. I find myself constantly saying I can't wait for "xyz." It's the underlying meaning of that statement that has given my life so much meaning. In essence they helped mold my philosophy on life. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Live each day to the fullest. Know the difference between living a carefree life and a careless life, as the disparity is paramount.

The second, equally as casual moment occurred right before I headed off to sunny California to confirm my aspirations of moving west. Before I slipped out the door into the early morning twilight I gave my Mom a quick hug and she whispered "I am so proud of you." I will never forget this moment for as long as I live. Moving to California was a dream of mine and to know how proud my Mom was that I was able to fulfill my own dream - to pick up and leave with no regrets - will forever bring a smile to my face.

So thank you, Mom. For everything.

Happy Mother's Day!

<3 Court

19 April 2011

Courtneyisms on Running.

After my last post, I figured I'd share something a bit...lighter. Something carefree and refreshing, for me, at least. So, without further ado, I'd like to present you with what I proudly call the Courtneyisms on Running:

1) Run in circles.

Most people cringe at the thought of running around in circles. I, however, cherish my time on the track. Running is already incredibly therapeautic, but when you throw circles into the mix....ahh, it's a tiny slice of heaven sent down from the gods of psychotherapy. My mind comesthisclose to shutting off, which is a miracle in and of itself. When I'm on the track, I don't have to think. After a few laps , my legs fall into this beautiful rhythm that requires virtually no concentration. I let go and I run. 

2) Want to get noticed? Go for a run.

Think about the last time you were driving and saw someone running. Admit it, you totally checked that person out. So if you're feeling down, need some attention, grab your sneakers and hit the streets. Want to get noticed even more? See Courtneyism Number 5.

3) Forget the orgasm, give me a downhill.

I'm not talking about a 90 degree descent, because quite honestly that's just as difficult as running uphill, especially when you lack any type of core strength (ahem, such as yours truly). But, when you're running uphill, there is nothing your body wants more than a downhill stretch. Just the sheer thought of a slight decline after I've been running uphill is enough to put me over the edge, and then when you finally take that first step downhill...ah...pure bliss. So the next time you're running up Mt. Everest (let's face it, any type of hill seems like a mountain when you're hot, tired, and sweaty), just think of delayed gratification. And hey, a downhill stretch does last longer ;).

And one more thing, don't be fooled by surfaces that seem "flat." You'd be surprised how much of an incline a seemingly level road actually has.

4) H 2 Oh my.

I don't know how people run without a water bottle. If I'm going to be running for more than two seconds, I need to have water at my beck and call. I suppose it's like a security blanket of some sort. And a regular water bottle or Nalgene simply will not do. I actually took the time and energy to find a water bottle that minimizes any extra effort on my part while running. Because Heaven forbid I actually have to use any additional strength to carry a bottle. Please, that's for amateurs. And so I invested a whopping 10 bucks for a handheld water bottle that loops right over my hand. Hydration at my fingertips? Yes, please. Hands down one of my best purchases ever (no pun intended).

5) Workout clothes can be sexy.

This is one of my more recent revelations. Back in the day when I used to actually make money, I insisted on shopping at lululemon for yoga apparel (thank you, Tricia!). Oh and for people who know me, homegirl does not do yoga. Been there, done that, no thanks. But of course I still purchased yoga pants galore for all of my other work out festivities. Simply put, it was love at first sight. I loved everything about lululemon, right down to the very aroma of their store. So don't ask why I decided for the longest time to skimp out on cute athletic apparel for when I run. I was reminded of my lackadaisical attitude toward my running attire when I recently perused a Sports Authority. All of my self discipline dissolves when I'm shopping for just about anything else, but I never thought about marrying up fashion with running, until I saw all that Nike, Adidas and Reebok have to offer! Hot pink sports bra? Yes, please. Sexy black running shorts? Check. The age old saying "if you look good, you'll feel good," totally applies when you're working out. Running is 10% skill and 90% attitude, so yes, if it takes a flashy tank that hugs you in all the right places to make you feel good on your run, I say go for it.

6) Underpromise, Overdeliver.

I'm serious! If you want to run 6 miles, tell yourself you're only going to run 4. This is a complete mind game that you can win! The entire time you're running, you will be thinking - and repeating to yourself - that you only have to run 4 miles. A drop in the bucket. Just as you're finishing up your fourth mile, tell yourself to run one more. At that point, your mind will think one more mile isn't so bad. Repeat this at the end of mile 5, and voila! Six miles will be here and gone before you know it.

7) Suck it up and do it.

This doesn't come easy all the time. As a matter of fact, there are many times when I actually dread going for a run. And then, once I'm on my run, there are times when I kinda sorta hope that maybe I'll fall or twist my ankle just so I don't have to finish the run. Anything to get out of it. As if running is some sort of self inflicted punishment. Dramatic? Yes, but would you  expect anything less from me? But once I let go of that negativity and channel my energy in a more positive manner, running becomes...enjoyable. Especially if you're trail running. How many other opportunities do you have to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors without anyone else interrupting you? I can't think of very many.

8) Screw the treadmill.

Honestly. The treadmill sucks. Enough said.

And with that, I'm off to bed. It's late and I have to get six or seven miles in tomorrow.

G'nite :)

04 April 2011

Faith, hope, love. And an organ.

My mom's sister has three children who are approximately the same age as my siblings and me. Scott and Kyle are 28. Brent and I are 26. Andrea is 24. Ashley is 23. We grew up less than a mile apart, attended the same school district, waited at the same bus stop, played sports together, practically lived at each other's houses, built forts together in our grandparent's backyard summer after summer, vacationed together, fought together, laughed together, and cried together. In a word, we were inseparable. 

As we grew older, the elasticity of our close knit friendship was tested, and often times strain was placed on each of our relationships. But through it all, we have always been there for each other - when our grandmother passed away from lung cancer, when our grandfather passed away five months later from a broken heart amidst an array of medical complications, when we each graduated from high school, when Scott married Christine, when Kyle married Lauren. Happy or sad, good or bad, we have been there for each other...

So when Brent was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease (an inflammatory disease of the intestines that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract) *and* Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC, a chronic liver disease caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the bile ducts of the liver) at the innocent age of 12, we were there for him. Being diagnosed with two diseases - one which has no cure - didn't stop Brent. So for the next few years, Brent was a "normal" teenager, doing all of the things the average teenager does. What most people didn't know was that Brent was not a "normal" teenager. Brent had to wear a spleen guard around his stomach to protect his spleen. Which meant that Brent couldn't play sports like most teens can. Instead of sleeping over at his buddies, he sometimes slept over at CHOP (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia). Instead of carrying a cell phone, Brent had to tuck away a pager in his backpack - a pager that would beep if a liver became available.  So while most of us were dying for a text message from the person we're crushing on, Brent was waiting for a page. Imagine that. You're 15. Your liver is essentially broken. You're trying to maintain a "normal" teenage life. Oh and you're kinda, sorta hoping that today is the day you're given the gift of life. Only that call never happened for Brent. 

At the age of 16, doctors attempted to place a stent in Brent's body, to hold his bile ducts open. Unfortunately, the ducts were clogged and he almost died from the procedure. Being the fighter he is, Brent fought back and survived. Eventually, through some miraculous combination of time and a new, yet risky experimental medication, Brent's MELD (Model for End Stage Liver Disease) scores stabilized. This stabilization, coupled with Brent's improved condition were grounds for taking Brent off of the transplant list. Finally, some resemblance of a "normal" life was bestowed upon Brent. A gift most of us don't even realize we've been given. A gift we take for granted day after day, month after month, year after year. A gift that often slips my mind when I find myself carrying on unnecessarily about the trials and tribulations of my single life.

And through all of this, the friendship between the six of us carried on. Crohn's Disease was put on the backburner and life went on...
But as they say (and don't ask me who "they" is), all good things come to an end. It was the day of my brother's wedding. I had just corralled the troops, making sure to get a picture of the six of us - Scott, Kyle, Brent, Andrea, Ashley, and yours truly. No family event is ever complete until someone snaps a pic of the original six (as I secretly call us). I was talking to Brent, probably trying to drag him onto the dance floor, when he told me in confidence that him and his incredibly supportive girlfriend had to leave the reception. I was very perturbed, no one can leave a wedding early! Much to my dismay, Brent was not simply leaving the reception. Brent and his girlfriend were going to the hospital. He had been fighting a pain in his lower back for a few weeks, but never said a word about it, so that everyone could enjoy the wedding and not worry about him. I can't imagine the last time I was that selfless. Discreetly, Brent checked himself into the ER, while the rest of evening carried on. And as amazing as the reception was, I couldn't erase the conversation I had with Brent, and then with Andrea about his condition. The uncertainty of the unknown was lingering in the back of our minds. But there was nothing any of us could do except wait...

Less than 24 hours later, the doctors delivered the news that no one - not even your worst enemy - wants to hear. Brent most likely had cancer. That devastating and painstakingly overwhelming disease that has the innate ability to bring even the toughest person to tears instantly. As if Crohn's and PSC weren't enough, cancer had to be thrown on top. The icing on top of an incredibly poisonous cake. 

Within a week, it was confirmed that Brent had cholangiocarcinoma. Cancer of the bile ducts leading to the liver. A cancer with no cure. A cancer with no promising future. Teams of healthcare professionals rushed to the scene of a mother's worst nightmare come true. There was constant debate about the best course of action for Brent. Only there wasn't one. Countless clinical trials exist, but Brent's tumors were so large that he was denied without consideration. And while a liver transplant wouldn't guarantee a cure, it could have been an option if only there were enough livers available. The Mayo Clinic couldn't risk "wasting a liver" on a patient like Brent, whose body may reject it, when it could be used for someone else. Basically, if Brent's body accepted a liver transplant, the chance of the cancer finding its way back to Brent was too high. So for the second time Brent was removed from the transplant list.

Fast forward 9 months later and Brent is doing remarkably well. He is undergoing chemotherapy in a two weeks on, one week off cycle and is back at work. In a word, he is a trooper. He is defying the odds and moving forward with his life. And let me tell you, his life is far from easy. But he's doing it in the typical Brent fashion we all know and love.

Despite this, I can't help but wonder if things would be different if a liver had been available for Brent. There's also the possibility that if Brent can fight off the cancer, he could be placed back on the transplant list. Which brings me to the reason for this post. In one month I will be participating in "The Relay" - California's longest party, stretching from Calistoga to Santa Cruz. Hundreds of teams will run to support "Organs 'R' Us" - a nonprofit organization promoting organ donation through walking and running. Each team has 12 participants, running 3 legs each (36 total), totaling 199 miles. My kickass team is the 24 Bouncing Boobs, and yes, my ta ta's may be small, but they still bounce ;). We will begin the race on a Saturday morning and continue running, through the night, until the following afternoon. We will sleep for only an hour or two. We will eat nothing but granola bars and Gatorade. We will climb the Santa Cruz mountains, run along the Pacific Coast, and cross the Golden Gate Bridge at midnight. And we will do all of this as our small part to raise awareness for organ donations in the hopes that the 100,000 people in America on the transplant list will receive the organ they so desperately need. We will run for the gift of life.

And that's where you come into play. Yes - you - my loyal audience. As a member of the 24 Bouncing Boobs, we are collecting money to raise awareness for organ donations (please see the link below for our website). I fully understand that America is *still* in a recession (I am reminded of this on a daily basis when I look at my bank account), so if you cannot donate, I *completely* understand. But just because you cannot donate, doesn't mean you can't help! Read on! Think about your position on organ donation. I know this can be a touchy subject for varied reasons - cultural beliefs, religious backgrounds, personal convictions, etc. But please, understand this: Regardless of what you believe in, when it is your time to leave this precious world, your organs can give another person a chance at life. Your organs - your liver, your kidney, your eyes, your heart - have the potential to give someone a life that they may not otherwise have. Or they can be buried. Left in ground to rot and taunt the 20,000 plus people who die each year because there simply aren't enough organs available. Your organs are not part of your soul or your spirit. When you die, your organs don't have to. Your organs have a choice. They can die with you or they can provide life. But only you can dictate that choice. It is my hope and my wish, that my story - Brent's story - is the inspiration you need to become an organ donor. The best part is that it is so unbelievably easy to do! You just need to make a trip to your DMV, check off a box that you want to be an organ donor, ask them to reprint your driver's license and Voila! You are now an organ donor. 

You never know whose life you may save.

Oh and as for the original six. We still have each other's backs. Always have and always will. But we need your help. I want Brent to be in my wedding party one day. I want to be able to snap a pic of the Original Six when we're all grandparents. I want the story of our close knit childhood to be passed down from generation to generation. And I want Brent to be part of that story until the very end. 

I know this was an incredibly long post, but Brent's story is important not only to me, but to Brent, our family, Brent's friends, and the thousands of people waiting for their gift. Please take a look at any of the below links for more info. And, from the very bottom of my heart, thank you *so* much for taking the time to read this.

For Info about Cali's longest party, please visit: http://www.therelay.com/re_new.htm

For info about "Organs 'R' Us," please visit: http://www.therelay.com/organs/indexmain.html

To see the "24 Bouncing Boobs" homepage, please visit: https://sites.google.com/site/team24bb/
Please e-mail/call/text me if you have *any* questions about donating.

For info about where Brent is being treated, please visit: http://www.pennmedicine.org/hup/ ; http://www.pennmedicine.org/perelman/ ; http://www.penncancer.org/ ; http://www.chop.edu/