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.