Thoughts on Vegas

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Last Sunday night I went to bed thinking about all the random things that had happened over the weekend, mostly consisting of “ughhh why did I eat that” and “I’ll just grade that really fast at school”.  Monday morning, at 5am, I was sleepily glancing through my daily Skimm e-mail, and stopped cold when I saw the headline “Shooter at Vegas Music Festival”.  Every time there is a tragedy that happens, I always feel shock and empathy, but this time was different–this time, my best friends were at the festival.

After some frantic phone calls and panicked-but-trying-to-sound-calm voicemails, I saw that my friend had posted on Facebook that they were ok.  Relief immediately flooded my body, and I got ready for work in a haze of thankfulness.

The reality of things truly didn’t hit me, however, until I got to work and I started watching footage of the horror.  The staccato bursts of the gunfire sounded like a video game or an action movie, and the panicked people mere actors on a set.

But it was real life.  Live, horrific, indescribable.  I started bawling as the reality of the situation hit me.  I tried to imagine what my friends must have felt like, the amount of adrenaline pumping through their bodies, the terror coursing through every minor vein.

Yet as much as I want to enter in to their pain, I can’t.  I wasn’t there.  I have no idea what it TRULY felt like.  All I know is that I need to be there for them in whatever capacity I can be.

Which is all we can ever do in a situation like this.  Be there.  And by ‘be there’ I mean actually BE THERE.  Be available to meet up at 9pm if they need to get out of the house.  Be there to hear their stories, 20 times if need be.  Be there to sit in silence when the stories are too painful to utter out loud.  Be there when they attempt to be strong and be there when that attempt crumbles.

Humans are the largest paradox on earth because there is nothing so incredibly strong yet so softly fragile as the human spirit.  If there is any glimpse of light in this situation, its that it caused so many people to hold their loved ones a little tighter, hug a little longer, and love a little deeper than before.

It sucks that sometimes it takes a situation like this to make us realize how fragile life is and what the important things are; we have little reminders surrounding us constantly, and the reality of our impending death is always acknowledged when the topic is brought up.  However, being slammed in the face is a lot different than a gentle nudge, and that harshness, however unpleasant, can grudgingly be appreciated for the fruit that it bears.

The thing about tragedy is that it cannot be truly understood unless it directly effects you.  I have experienced way more empathy and love for the victims of Las Vegas than I have for any other horrible event, simply because I had a direct connection.  I can never enter into that experience fully, but I have definitely been opened up more than ever before.

The biggest thing that has come out of this experience for me is the importance of loving fiercely.  We cannot burn with the brightness of a 1000 suns every second, but we are infinitely capable of bursts of ardent flame, way more than what is self-allotted.

Love, no matter what kind, deserves to be fueled boldly and purposefully.  Make it a habit to show your love.  So many times we assume that those in our life know that we love them.  However, knowing and feeling are two very different things, and the latter is what everyone deserves to experience.

Simply saying “I love you” is powerful.  Hugging someone even when you just saw them yesterday, or when you know you’ll be hanging out tomorrow.  Squeezing a hand.  Keeping plans.  Sitting in silence in each other’s company.  Being honest.  Doing stuff you don’t care for because it makes them so happy.  Going the extra mile.  Loving so loudly and proudly it’s embarrassing.

People are imperfect and flawed.  But more than that, people are worth it.  No matter what kind of relationship you have, whether it’s a sibling, parent, friend, partner, that spark of love is precious and worth all the time in the world.

When it comes down to it, relationships are what we are left with when all of the bullshit of life goes away.  Relationships, not money or fame or luck, are what get us through life unscathed.  Relationships are the only currency of any true, consistent value.

Tragedy on both a major and minor scale helps us to refocus on the things that matter.  How lucky are we that we possess things so valuable that their loss would devastate our existence?  How thankful can we be that we actually have something to lose?

As the shock and the pain of this calamity eventually fades, keep the reminders of fierce passion burning bright.  There is so much devotion in the world, which is a force more powerful than a bullet and a strength more enduring than the deepest pain.  Nothing can stand in the way of pure selfless emotion.

When we are filled with the deepest and truest love, we are unstoppable.

What To Do When you F*ck Up

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Yesterday….yesterday was a lesson in humility.

A couple of days ago, my former students’ mother had called me to ask if I could have a chat with said student just to see how she was doing—she is a high level student and likes to be the best at everything she does, which is awesome but also leads to quite a bit of stress.  Based on her request, I made plans to pick my former student up for dinner before her big homecoming game where she was part of the homecoming court.  She had a narrow window of time, but we decided to make it work.

As fate would have it, my memory failed me and I ended up going to the wrong high school to pick her up.  This would have been fine, except it was 4:15 on a Friday in the middle of an overpopulated city, and her ACTUAL high school was allllllllllllll the way across town.

Cue me cursing other drivers, alternating slamming on the brakes and the gas, and finally breaking down in tears in the car as traffic sloooooooowlyyy crawled along the nine impossible miles.

I almost reached her high school when she called and asked if I’d like to meet at Subway down the road instead as her mom had come to pick her up and it would save time.

Burning with humiliation, I agreed.  And, in the manner that usually happens when things are going wrong, my GPS showed some unclear directions which added at least five minutes onto my commute in the opposite direction of my original trajectory.  Eventually, it was decided that we would meet on the following Wednesday as she was already late to her next commitment.

I died inside.

I had fucked up. Royally.  And even though my friends told me things like “it was an honest mistake” and “oh well, those things happen”, I couldn’t help but internally scream that these things don’t happen to ME.

Two glasses of wine later, I was feeling a bit better about the situation (helped in no small part by a generous pour from the sympathetic bartender), but still burning inside from the knowledge that my mistake didn’t affect just me, but had screwed up her day, and her mother (who had entrusted me to be there for her daughter) was a witness to my screw-up.

So, burning humiliation aside, how could this have been prevented?  How can we minimize those moments in our lives where we (hopefully only figuratively) screw the pooch?

Always double check the details, even when you think you know.  My mistake happened simply because I got the wrong high school in my head, and never once confirmed where I was supposed to meet her, specifically.  Making 100% sure of whatever critical details are pertinent to the situation at hand goes a long way in preventing those major collisions that result from not confirming the seemingly inconsequential details.

Conform to a standard of excellence.  The reason why this incident had me so shaken up yesterday is because this sort of thing is a very, very rare occurrence in my life.  I am very rarely late, much less completely at the wrong location.  I make it a point to deliver on any promise that I set forth, and I always make up for it when I fail to do so.  If you hold yourself to a high level of commitment no matter what task is set before you, you can almost ensure the complete or nearly complete lack of “ahhhhh FUCK” moments in your life.

Allow the moments of failure to spur you towards higher levels.  I could react to this incident by telling myself that it’s no use, I’m going to keep screwing up, so I might as well embrace it and not give it a second thought.  Or, I could realize that I am going to keep screwing up if I don’t take action, so I need to double down on my efforts to make those mistakes fewer and further between.  Whenever you use the fallout from your weaknesses as teaching moments, those weaknesses slowly start turning into strengths.  Recognizing that you are human does not have to be synonymous with constantly letting yourself off the hook.  Life is meant to be a growth process, not a continuous recline into our comfort zone.

Ultimately, make up for your mistakes that do happen.  I apologized profusely to my student.  I sent an “I’m SO SORRY” text to her mother.  I made sure that I texted my student this morning to see how the homecoming election turned out.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that I won’t be taking her to Subway for dinner on Wednesday.  You cannot erase mistakes, but no matter how small they are, you can show that you care enough to make them right, or as right as possible.

Each and every time you fuck up should be a time where you learn.  If you’re applying the knowledge gained from when you screw up, it will be very rare that you make the same mistake twice.  A flaw-free live is completely impossible, as much as the A-type personalities of the world wish it were so.  However, a life lived with integrity and purpose is as close as we can get.  Don’t allow your missteps to prevent you from finishing your path, and don’t allow your dirty shins and skinned knees to give you permission to sit down and throw up your hands.

Every. Single. Person. makes mistakes.  As with everything in life, it’s what you do AFTER those mistakes that truly makes the different between moving forward or sliding deeper into the mire of false contentment.  Pick yourself up, dust off your jacket with dignity, and step forward with a keener eye and sharper sense of purpose than before.