According to my mother when I turned 15 someone stole me from my body and I was quickly replaced by an evil twin running ramped with teenage hormones. I know this may come as a shock, but I wasn’t necessarily a role model teenager. Some days were spent skipping school, nights were spent sneaking out. Bonfires, circle parties, and endless sleepless nights with friends who I still consider the very best were more important to me than SAT prep. And guess what, I still feel that way. Sure, were there plenty of moments of irresponsible decision making that I would change? Absolutely. However, when I look back on my life the times spent with the ones I love most is certainly something I would never take back. I love who I am and where I am in life and I truly believe that each moment led me directly to this place in time. A perfect score, or an Ivy League School, would not have changed that for the better. It wouldn’t have made me any happier, and it certainly wouldn’t have provided me with the memories we made all along the way.
I have mentioned this before, but it is important to paint a picture of my hometown when understanding where I grew up. Ellenville, NY has a total population of slightly over 4,000. As I walked across the High School graduation stage, I knew the other 100 seniors that stood with me that day. In fact, I knew everyone in our high school, including their family members (it’s just that small of a place). When someone earns success in our town, we all cheer, when there is a loss, we all feel it deeply. But, somewhere in between the triumphs and tribulations there is this little thing we all do called living and people from “The Ville” do it damn well.
My friends and I made the most out of every situation. We lived in the moment and enjoyed every second of it. Want to leave school to go swimming and jump off 50-foot bridges into a small body of water that no one checked out prior to? Sure, why not?! (Side note, I was a spectator while my best friend did this, but it was still thrilling to watch!) Want to load up a car with as many of us as we can, drive 2 hours to a random steakhouse in New Jersey because one of our friends swore it was the best thing he had ever eaten? Obviously. Want to meet up outside your friend’s house and laugh hysterically as your friend not-so-accidentally lights your hair on fire? I sure did because, at the time, life wasn’t too serious. We loved each other’s company and realized the importance of not being too hard on ourselves. We took things in stride, which afforded us the opportunity to have fun. There are times now in my adult life that I wish I could look back on my teenage self and maybe, even if for a day, be as carefree as I once was. Of course, life changes. I am almost certain if my friend decided to take a match to my hair at 33 I rightfully wouldn’t have the same reaction as I did 16 years ago. But a tiny part of me sees the beauty in being able to laugh at life’s journey and be present in the times I experience. A small part of me recognizes that although I drove my mom crazy for a good year, she realized the bond my friends and I created was something special and unique.
Years went on, I moved 13 states away, got married, started a career that I love, and yet the connections I built with friends from home remained unbreakable. We may not be spending every afternoon together anymore, but the memories are ever so real. Land may be between us, time may go on without us all talking, and in the most tragic of events, some of us may no longer be here with us. But there is one thing we all still have; the memories. Not only were the times shared important, but the life lessons learned were priceless. Above all else, when faced with a difficult decision today, I’m reminded to take that leap no matter how scary the fall may be. I’m reminded to live in the moment because the future is uncertain. In life and in experiencing loss, there is one thing I’ve learned and that is simply to live life fully. I understand it may sound cliché, but then again, any happiness I’ve experienced in life, any love, any achievement, has been in times of being present and living life to the fullest. So next time you are contemplating whether to meet up with an old friend, pick up the phone. Fantasizing over booking that vacation? Make it happen. And if any of those choices scare you remember I had my hair lit on fire, you’ll be ok with booking a plane ticket, in fact, you’ll thank yourself. Because you truly never know how long you’ll be here to make those dreams a reality.