Earlier this week, I had a great opportunity to speak to the women of Kappa Kappa Gamma at the University of Miami about my career. My student, Claire, is their Vice President of Scholarship and in that role, she is expected to bring in a career-related speaker each year. Her instructions to me were simple: Just talk about how you got to where you are.
Leading up to my speech, I sat down to think about what I was going to tell these young women. When I think about how I got to where I am today, I realize that the road wasn’t so simple. There were cross-country moves. There were risks taken. There were people and things and hearts left behind.
I wanted to provide the Kappa Kappa Gamma members with instructions on how to make their dreams a reality. I’ve been lucky in the sense that when I’m really honest with myself, that is what I’ve done. If I were to tell my 12-year-old self what life would look like as a 30-year-old, she’d probably do a standing backflip.
I spent some time standing in front of my mirror practicing different speeches. I had one all put together and memorized. And at the last minute, I scrapped it. I decided to speak from the heart instead.
When I think about how I got to where I am today, it begins with those two words: I decided.
When I look at my life and my path to where I am today, a place where I love my job, am surrounded by good friends and am in great health, I realize that what got me to this point was intentionality.
There was a brief period in my life when life wasn’t smooth sailing for me. I wasn’t me. I was anxious and unhappy and had misplaced my priorities. I was working a job that I hated, although it was one that I should’ve been more grateful for. I was spending my time and money on wasteful things. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see the good, wholesome, kind, giving little girl I used to know.
And then one day, I woke up and I decided to change everything I didn’t like about myself and my life.
When I look at people who are stuck in their lives, it is the simple act of deciding to change something that is the biggest thing holding them back from better things.
Re-read that last sentence. And then think about it.
It you want your life to get better, you need to decide that you are worthy enough of a better life.
If you want to find your dream job, you need to decide to pursue it with full energy.
If you want to find the love of your life, you need to decide to open your heart.
Life is all about decisions.
What time to wake up. What to eat for breakfast. Whether or not to shower (kidding). What to wear to work.
In my life, the biggest decision I’ve made is this:
I decided to say “yes” to myself.
And in turn, I’ve said “yes” to a life of full possibility and potential.
My life these days is busier than I ever could imagine. I’m going non-stop from 7 a.m. until I lay my head down at night.
It’s so much fun, though.
Because I decided to make it that way.
I decided to build a life centered around my passions.
I decided to build a life surrounded by good people.
I decided to create a life built around the word “yes.”
Yes to right now. Yes to my dreams. Yes to others.
People always ask me, “How did you get to where you are so fast?”
I hate this question. A) Because I still have further to go and B) Because I didn’t get here fast. Where I am now is the result of hard work and passion that have been the cornerstones of my life for as long as I can remember.
I also hate that question, because I am not special.
I have not accomplished anything that you, your friend or anyone else isn’t capable of accomplishing.
The only thing I did, that I see as being different from most that I come into contact with, is that I made a very simple decision. And then I stuck with it.
So, what do you need to decide to change? What in your own life can you decide to say “yes” to so that you can head in the direction you want to go? What is holding you back from making that decision? What do you need to do to finally decide to make your life the best it can be?
I’m here today in a life of happiness, because I decided my life was worthy of being defined by happiness.
I’m here today working my dream job, because I decided to stop pushing my passions aside.
I’m here to living a life that I’m proud of, because I decided that there is no other way to live a life.
Three weeks from today, I’ll be going to Haiti.
I’m getting on an airplane on Friday morning and coming back to Miami relatively quickly later, on Monday night.
I’m getting on the airplane alone. There, I’ll meet with friends that I’ve connected with over the phone and internet, but have never met in person.
I’m going to Haiti alone.
Yesterday, I sat in a doctor’s office to get some vaccines. Hepatitis A. Typhoid. A tetanus shot, because what do you know–I haven’t had one since I was 12! Whoops.
The doctor and I started shooting the breeze about my trip. At one point he said, “Why Haiti?”
And as I sat there on the uncomfortably papered doctor’s office bed with my legs dangling off the side, I didn’t have to think long for an answer.
“I’m going to Haiti, because when I was a kid, I thought I could change the world. And when I look at Haiti, I see a place that just needs a little bit of help to get back to being the great place that I see when I look at pictures of it. I’m going to Haiti, because now that I’m an adult, I realize what changing the world looks like: Changing the world is about making places better.”
Sometimes I look at how my life has unfolded and I can see so clearly how the paths I’ve traveled down led me certain places.
Some may call it coincidence. Others may call it fate. I call it what I’m supposed to be doing.
This summer, my heart wasn’t in the best of conditions. My heart was burned by a second chance. It was a heart that was unsteady after giving someone a first chance. It was a heart that was prioritizing in the wrong areas, as I spent much of my summer months off from teaching spending my salary. On everything. I didn’t feel like myself. And I knew that I wouldn’t again until I got my heart back.
Towards the end of the summer, in July, I got an email. I get hundreds of emails a day, most of which ask me for something. I scanned it quickly and saw that a Jets player was having a party in New York for his charity and that I was invited. I quickly wrote back that I live in Miami and would be unable to attend.
Later that night, though, for some reason I dug the email out of my trash. I actually slowed down to read it. In the email, I learned that the Jets player was David Nelson and that his charity was unlike any I’ve seen a professional athlete undertake. David had launched an orphanage in Haiti, because he wanted to change a group of people’s lives. For the better.
That night, I wrote the publicist back again. I asked her if I could write a story about the organization for The Huffington Post. Shortly thereafter, I interviewed David and learned more about what I’m Me is doing not just for the children it houses, but for the vast number of Haitian children it serves through its after school program. In our conversation, I heard a plan that was based upon a belief in the worth of other people. I heard a plan that was well-built and sound. I heard a plan that was based on following one’s heart.
Towards the end of our conversation, David said he was looking for sponsors for the nine children I’m Me had begun housing. As it turns out, I’m Me opened up its doors to house children earlier than the organization expected to. This is because one day, David and the I’m Me representatives were called to an “orphanage” to see its conditions. When they arrived, they saw children living in squalor, filth and extreme hunger. They had no choice but to act. And so, they brought the children home. To a place of safety and permanency, and perhaps more importantly, a place of love. That afternoon, I told David I’d sponsor one of the kids. I think neither of us thought much about that comment, but as time went on, that decision would change my life.
Over the course of the next few days, I’m Me began introducing the children in its home to the world, so that they could begin sponsoring them. Every day, I saw beautiful children whose eyes were wide. Some smiled, others didn’t. The stories of some broke my heart to pieces. In their faces, you could almost see them crying out, “Help me.” When I looked at these children, all I could see was a little soul saying, “Just give me a chance.”
Give me a chance to be a kid.
Give me a chance to follow my dreams.
Give me a chance to live out my full potential.
Every one of the children struck a chord in me.
Then, there was Prosper.
This kid. Seriously. When I looked at that little face, I was willing to drain my bank account and hand over whatever David and I’m Me needed to give this kid whatever he needed (or wanted).
I took a step back, though, and started reading about Prosper. He’s 5. He was left at an orphanage by parents who never returned. Even though he looks so joyous in this picture, when David and the I’m Me group found him, he was in a corner alone, sitting downcast. He said that he never had any friends. He showed them scars on his arms caused by children bullying him.
As I read this, my heart wept. No child should have to endure any of this. Childhood isn’t for worries. Childhood is about freedom and fun.
That day, I committed to sponsoring Prosper. At the end of the day, it’s a minor financial commitment. I remembered, though, something I saw when I visited Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace. There, I saw a posting that handing someone money doesn’t change the world. Rather, change comes from actually sitting with a person, learning about him and his condition and working through ideas on how to better his situation.
That’s why I’m going to Haiti in three weeks. My commitment to Prosper and his I’m Me friends is deeper than a monthly payment. I want to go to Haiti and see what it’s like. I want to see what resources exist there that can create possibilities for Prosper’s future. I want to learn about the education system to understand what more it might need to ensure that Prosper can become as knowledgeable as possible. I want to meet Haiti’s people and get to know their hearts so that Prosper understands there is a country full of people waiting to be his friend.
I’m going to Haiti, because in my 30 years, I’ve realized this: Change doesn’t happen by sitting on the couch. Change happens when you get up and facilitate it. I have 13 years until Prosper is 18. During that time, I will have donated thousands of dollars to ensure that he is clothed, fed and comfortable. That all will be worthless to me if I haven’t during that time done my fair share of work to ensure that once he leaves the I’m Me home, he can pursue his dreams and live out his full potential. I want him to do as his namesake says: I want him to prosper.
I think about the roads my life has traveled a lot. I try to find a reason in everything. I try to understand how I got here.
These days, I have a greater sense of why I’m in Miami. Miami is as close to Haiti as you can get while being in the United States. And as luck would have it, these days I have a lot of work to do in Haiti.
I walked out of the classroom today after teaching my second class and began my walk across campus to Starbucks. As I walked, I noticed hundreds of backpacks sprawled across the lawn at the University of Miami. As I got closer, I noticed that there were letters attached to the backpacks. On some, pictures. As I walked along and looked down, it became clear that the backpacks belonged to college students across the country who had taken their own lives.
I teach a class at 12:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays called Sports Governance. It’s become a joke of sorts amongst my 28 students, but I start each class with a life lesson. Some life lessons are simple, like why it’s important to find a hobby. Others are more focused on the situations students find themselves in, like it’s ok if you bombed the LSAT. Others are closer to my heart, like be nice and a friend to everyone. My particularly favorite life lesson came when a football player who sits in the corner of the room sheepishly raised his hand one day and said, “I have a question: How do I get a date?” Somewhat annoyed that his question wasn’t about Sports Governance, I paused briefly and then said, “Step one: Talk to, be nice to and take interest in someone you’d like to date.” I was proud of that answer.
When I kick off the class with life lessons, I inwardly know that I’m probably aging myself and sounding like the old fogey at the front of the class. Inside, though, I know that I do this for a particular reason: I want each of my students to know that they carry value in this world.
Value goes beyond how you perform on the football field and whether you get drafted. Value goes beyond the score you get on the LSAT and the law school you get–or don’t get–accepted to. Value goes beyond the grade you get in my class, although I hope you pass it.
Value, rather, is how you treat people in this world. You become valuable by treating everyone you come into contact to, regardless of who they are and what they’ve done, with respect.
Value isn’t about test scores, acceptance letters or the amount of money you make.
Value, rather, is what you make of the situation life has handed you. You become valuable by choosing to put a smile on your face even when your heart doesn’t want to. You become valuable by refusing to be a victim to your circumstances, but instead turn them into opportunities. You become valuable by leading a life lived with gratitude.
My students have their first exam next Tuesday. As I began helping them review today, I said, “So, what do you think is going to be on the test?”
One of my most verbose students piped up and said, “Life lessons?!”
I chimed in, “Are you sick of my life lessons?”
Much to my surprise, he said, “No. I feel like I’ve actually learned something in this class that I can apply to my life.”
I then said something I probably shouldn’t have. “First, life lessons aren’t going to be on your test. Sports governance issues, however, are. If I were to be honest, though, I really don’t remember much from my undergraduate classes. If you asked me to do a calculus or physics equation, I’d have to get a book out. The one thing I remember, though, was from a lecture arguably about life lessons. My Economic Development professor lectured one day about what makes people happy. Are people with more money and power happier than those with less? Ultimately, we learned, they aren’t.”
Perhaps I made a mistake by admitting I don’t remember much from my undergraduate education experience.
I hope that’s not what my students dwell on, though.
I hope what they took away was today’s life lesson: College is about learning how to survive and making it through.
Which, if we get down to it, is what life is about.
The backpacks sprawled across the University of Miami’s campus today were placed there by an organization called Send Silence Packing. According to them, 1,100 college students commit suicide each year. A big reason for this astonishing number is because of our society’s tendency to keep silent about mental health issues or the problems hurting us. Rather than talking about it, we attach stigmas to both or bottle up the problem.
We need to talk openly about the issues our college students are facing. The pressure spans beyond the walls of the classroom and the examinations taken within the classroom. The pressures mount from parents and the fears placed on them of whether they’ll be good enough to graduate and compete in the workforce. There are social pressures ranging from using drugs and alcohol to fit in to engaging in self-destructive behaviors like eating disorders to look a certain way. There are pressures to spend more and buy more. There are sexual pressures. There are race issues. There are religious issues. While a college campus is supposed to be a safe bubble for a student, that bubble can quickly escalate into something that even the strongest of adults would find difficult to navigate.
I want my students to know and fully understand how sports organizations govern themselves. I believe that I teach them in an effective enough manner for them to fully accomplish this. I’d be thrilled if they remember our sports governance lessons after they graduate. However, I will consider myself a success if they each hang onto this: No matter what problem you’re facing, no matter what you get yourself into, no matter how badly you’ve been hurt, here is the one lesson you need to know about life:
It goes on.
The lesson about life isn’t that it’s easy. No. Life is hard. Really, really, really hard.
However, it always, always, always goes on.
For every bad day I’ve had (and there have been some pretty bad ones), I’ve had a good day.
For every time my heart has been broken (and it has been broken more than I want to say), it’s been restored.
For every problem I’ve faced (and there have been some big ones), I’ve eventually found a solution.
It may not have seemed like I’d see another good day, restoration or solution when I was in the mix of things.
But I’m glad I gave life time to go on.
Because time after time after time again, there was another good day, restoration and a solution.
It has never failed.
I wish the 1,100 college students each year who take their lives could have someone near them to just whisper to them, to just remind them, to just nudge them and say those three simple words: Life. Goes. On.
However, we can’t remind people that life goes on if we don’t know they’re hurting. We can’t tell someone what they need to hear if we don’t know how badly they need the words.
The silence must stop. And the best place to stop the silence on the college campus is in the classroom, where discussion is meant to happen.
I read a quote a couple months back that only young people list autumn as their favorite season. The quote went on to explain that as you get older in life, spring becomes your favorite season, because you are excited to once again see life begin anew.
I guess the good news in all of this, is that I’m still young.
Since I started college in 2002, autumn has been my favorite season. I love football and the camaraderie it brings with it. I love pumpkin spiced anything. Save for maybe humus–can you believe they’re selling pumpkin spiced humus? I love crisp air and the changing of colors.
Here in Florida, we don’t have autumn. Leaves don’t turn color, let alone fall from trees. The temperature doesn’t dip. If you sport fall riding boots or scarves, you just look like an out-of-touch fool.
I learned my lesson last autumn, which my first one in Florida, when I didn’t book a plane ticket home to Colorado during the fall. This year, I didn’t make the same mistake twice. I needed my season.
I spent the weekend with old friends and family at some of my old haunts. I had a chance to see Mines play in its homecoming football game. I visited the newly renovated Union Station with my girl friends and got a kick out of feeling like I was living in the Prohibition era whilst sipping on Sidecars.
Most importantly, though, I saw color. And felt crisp air.
On Sunday, my parents and I took a drive into the Colorado Rockies to see the aspen trees changing colors. There, we saw gold mixed with green mixed with orange. And it was perfect.
I guess I like autumn best, because it signals to us that there is always time for second chances. There is always an end to the seasons in our life, whether they are good, bad or indifferent. Sometimes we have to be broken down raw, cleared clean of our brightness to come back even better. No matter how bright the spring is or how hot the summer is, autumn comes and wipes it all clear. Autumn is the punctuation that leads to coming change. It signals new life, a re-birth in a sense. It’s a reminder that no matter what season of life you are in, there is an end to it. For those traveling through difficult seasons, that’s news to celebrate. For those in the midst of joyous seasons, it’s a gentle–albeit, colorful–reminder to savor it.
All hyperbole aside, I dig autumn. I dig it a lot.
Another thing that I’m digging right now is Rocks Box. Founded by two women and based in San Francisco, Rocks Box gives women access to high-end designer jewelry for a low price. Each month, Rocks Box members pay $19. With that payment, they are sent a box filled with three pieces of designer jewelry valued at over $200. Since my ears aren’t pierced, my boxes typically come with a necklace, bracelet and earrings. The pieces are all coordinated so you can wear them together or individually. If you don’t like the pieces sent to you, you can mail them back to Rocks Box and they’ll promptly ship you another box of pieces. You can interchange the pieces an unlimited number of times throughout the month. Or, if you’re like me, you can purchase them for 20% off!
I love Rocks Box, because I am trying to downsize my life. I’m all about sustainability and reusing products. Think of Rocks Box this way: It is one giant jewelry box that women across the world can share! How awesome (and financially responsible) is that?!
If you haven’t heard enough to sign up yet (or purchase one for the lady in your life), this should seal the deal: Beginning on October 8, Rocks Box is giving away FREE Rocks Box credit to every member! On October 8, members will find out if they’ve earned a $5, $50 or $500 shopping spree to celebrate a newly launched Rocks Box website. So, spending $19 on a month’s worth of designer jewelry could turn into $500 for free to use to purchase designer jewelry!
Ready to sign up and ROCK autumn?! Click here!
It’s been a tough couple of weeks to be a sports fan.
So many of us love sports, because sports provide us a break away from reality. They give us something to celebrate in the midst of a world that is chaotic and confusing. I think Earl Warren, the former Chief Justice of the United States, summed it up best when he said, “I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”
The last two weeks, I haven’t wanted to turn to the sports pages. I’ve watched movies and TV and caught up on new music. I’ve read about art. I even turned on CNN one morning. The morning news was less depressing than ESPN. That says something.
We don’t turn to the sports pages to hear stories about men knocking their fiancees unconscious.
We don’t turn to the sports pages to see bleeding lashes on a young child’s body allegedly brought about by a 217-pound NFL veteran.
I started covering sports in 2011. While my main schtick then was sports law, what I really wanted to do, was tell stories about athletes doing good things. I saw the way that the media sensationalized the bad acts of a few professional athletes to make news. I knew, though, that for every bad apple, there were hundreds of athletes doing the right thing. For every Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson, there are hundreds of men who not only make the right decisions, but are working off the field to make this world a better place.
A journalism student emailed me early last week. He asked me, essentially, how do I keep writing about sports when there are weeks like these when everything seems negative? How do I keep a positive outlook on my subjects?
To answer that question, I need to go back to the first sports interview I ever did.
My entry into sports writing wasn’t grandiose. The first event I covered was the Manhattan Beach Open, a volleyball tournament, in California. The goal of my story was to highlight how during the NBA lockout, Kevin Love was playing volleyball competitively. While I was there, a man walked up to me and said, “Do you know who that is?” and pointed at an older, tall, African-American man. I said, “No.” He said, “That’s Rafer Johnson. That’s who you need to be interviewing.”
Seeing as I was holding myself out as a sports writer, I said, “Oh, of course that’s Rafer Johnson!” like I had any clue who he was. I then Googled him on my phone and agreed with the stranger who approached me that Rafer was someone I needed to interview.
Rafer grew up in segregated Texas and moved to California where he would become a standout athlete. He played for John Wooden’s UCLA basketball team, but his mainstay was track and field. In 1960, Rafer won the gold medal in the Olympics for the decathlon–arguably, the most difficult sport to compete in. He’d become a national celebrity of sorts thereafter, championing various causes, especially promoting the interests of people with special needs. In 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, Rafer was one of two men who tackled the man who shot him so that authorities could apprehend him.
On a July day, my 27-year-old self marched over to Rafer across the sand of Manhattan Beach. I introduced myself as Alicia from RulingSports.com and he was gracious enough to say he’d heard of it (which was a lie, since the site had been up for all of two weeks). The next thing I knew, we were making plans to grab lunch the following week so that I could learn his story.
Rafer was one of my early mentors in the sports industry. He told me things like they were. More importantly, though, he showed me that there is always hope in covering sports. Because at the end of the day, covering sports is about covering the human spirit. And the human spirit is one born to compete, to fight, to do anything at all costs to survive.
How do I stay positive about my decision to dedicate a large chunk of my life to covering sports and professional athletes after weeks like the few we’ve had in the sports world?
I stay positive because I know better.
I know that for every Adrian Peterson, there is a David Nelson who dedicates his time, money and heart to saving orphans in Haiti.
I know that for every Ray Rice, there is a Jason Witten, who through his SCORE Foundation, places mentors in battered women’s shelters in Texas.
I know these things, because I’ve sought these stories out. These are the stories I care about telling. They are never going to land me a job on ESPN–I’ve been told that in so many words. They are never going to generate significant traffic–I’ve had stories I’ve written on these subjects pulled by editors because they “aren’t newsworthy.”
And therein, lies the problem. We are told the stories that the media tells us. And the stories that the media tells us are the ones that they believe will generate the most views, clicks and traffic.
Last night I was out with some friends and one asked me, “Jessop, when are you going to write about Ray Rice?”
My answer? “Never.”
If we want to see positive news make its way into our media, we–the storytellers–must do our part to stop the negative news cycle.
That’s not to say there isn’t something positive that can come from the last two weeks we’ve had in sports media, where the news cycle isn’t about X’s and O’s or heroic victories, but rather two men beating women and children. What good can come of it? Change.
Sports, unlike anything else, has the power to change the world.
Our sports stars are our heroes. When they slip up, we watch. And we talk. And hopefully, we change.
If there is anything good to come from the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories, it is this: They’ve forced us as a society to have tough conversations.
They’ve forced us to discuss the way lovers should treat each other and what type of behavior is acceptable.
They’ve forced us to discuss how billion-dollar leagues should handle domestic violence.
They’ve forced us to discuss whether a winning at all costs mentality should stand in the wake of abuse.
They’ve forced us to discuss how children are disciplined.
They’ve forced us to discuss if there are better ways to bring up a child than hitting him with a tree branch.
Through sports, our society has confronted some of the most serious issues the world has to face. AIDS with Magic Johnson. Dog fighting with Michael Vick. Homophobia with Billie Jean King. Racism with my friend Rafer Johnson.
So, how do I approach weeks like the last two we’ve had in sports?
I remember that there is always, always, always a positive story to be told in the sports world.
I remember that sports is one of the greatest facilitators of change in this world.
And then I get back to writing.
Her name’s Blossom.
I pray every night before I go to bed. My prayers are private conversations between me and God. A chance for me to lay out my fears, make requests for the people I care about in my life, ask for the world to change, and request His favor.
Last night, I prayed like I had many nights before. “Keep my parents safe.” “Help me do Your will.” “Let this world find peace.”
And then I added in this, “Lord, help me help someone else.”
Things have gotten out of hand for me. I’ve never been very materialistic. When I look back at the last six months of my life, though, my saying that is probably hard to believe.
I drive a brand new car. I live on the 19th story of a high rise on the water. I spent two hours of my day yesterday getting the new iPhone, because I HAD to have it on its launch day. I have a new wardrobe of designer clothes thanks to not having enough to do this summer and plenty of time to spend on a little website called RueLaLa.
I’ve become really good at looking out for me. I’m taken care of. I’ve become really bad, however, at doing what I used to love: Taking care of others.
And so, when I realized this last night, I prayed. I prayed for God to give me a chance. And as I explained earlier this summer, I hope that the one thing people see when they look at my life, is that God has always been so faithful to me. He faithfully answered my prayer this morning. And in doing so, He gave me more than a chance.
On the weekends, the first thing I do in the morning is hit the pavement for a nice, long run. This morning, I ran through a neighborhood of Miami known as The Roads. As I wound back to my house, I passed a large Catholic church that I’ve run by hundreds of times before. This time, though, tucked away on the grass next to the steps leading to the church was a woman lying face down sleeping. Her clothes were dirty and battered. There were large holes in her jeans. Other than the clothes on her body, the one thing I noticed was that she had nothing. I saw no bags surrounding her. No items of her own, except for literally what was on her body.
I was about .25 miles from my house. However, I knew what I needed to do. I began running the other direction–the way I came–and to the Publix. I bought groceries like peanut butter and Ritz crackers and those tuna salad packs my roommate used to always take to work. I grabbed toothpaste and a toothbrush and deodorant and Tums. I threw in some bottles of water and fruit snacks and when the lady rang me up, I got some cash back, because who knew if she was going to like any of this?
And then I began my walk back. And with each step I took, I thought about the blessings in my life. The two parents He gave me that would do anything for me. The friends I can call on at any hour of the day. The job I not only love, but that pays my bills. The brain He gave me that has helped me achieve my dreams. The able body rid largely of sickness. And with those steps, I realized that in those things alone, I have enough. I don’t need fancy clothes. I don’t need the latest technology. I don’t need the glamorous jewels. In these things alone, my life is fulfilled.
As I turned the corner to the church, I looked toward the sidewalk where she was lying before and didn’t see her. I briefly panicked, thinking I missed my chance to help her. However, as I scanned the church further, I realized she was awake and sitting on the steps.
I held my breath and got nervous for a moment. What was I going to say? What if she rejected my help? What if she thought I was rude?
I watched two people walk towards her and up the steps and into the church without looking at her, lest so much as saying anything to her. And then, I knew it was my time.
So, I approached with my green Publix bags. And I said the most obvious first thing, “Hello!” And she said, “Hello.” And I sat down on the steps with her. And I said, “I saw you sleeping when I ran by earlier. And I thought maybe you could use some things. So I went to Publix and got you some stuff I thought you might like. And if you don’t, there’s $40 in there so you can buy what you want haha.”
And she looked at me and said, “God bless you. Thank you.”
And I looked at her and said, “What’s your name?”
“Where do you stay, Blossom?”
“Usually I stay in a room off of 10th, but I’ve run out of money. My husband was killed by a drunk driver five years ago.”
“Is that when you became homeless?”
“Yea. My babies were in the car, too. They died. The drunk driver took everything from me. He took my life. I woke up in a hospital six months later. I had been asleep for six months. And when I woke up, I had nothing.”
As she told me this, she showed me the scars on her face and arms from the accident. Blossom was the only member of her family to “live” after the accident. But if you asked her, she might say that her light was stripped from her that day.
I did what I usually do when I’m about ready to cry but don’t want to. I scrunched up my nose, raised my forehead and looked up.
She, though, went on.
“I was a nurse. I had a good job. We had money. But my head was messed up after my life was taken from me. I couldn’t do anything. And so I didn’t work. And then I lost my Green Card. And now, there’s no one to take care of this old Jamaican woman. I have nobody. No family. No one.”
I collected myself and looked at her. “You have me, Blossom. I’m going to look after you. I’ll make sure that you always have something to eat. And we are going to work on getting you a place to stay.”
So often, I think as society, we are quick to label homeless people. Lazy. Drug addicts. Drunks. Criminals. Wastes.
Blossom doesn’t fit any of those stereotypes.
Her name’s Blossom.
And she’s my friend.
Being 30 is weird. The world expects you to have everything figured out. You carry yourself through the world like you have everything figured out. But in all actuality, you don’t.
I spend probably far too much time questioning whether I’m doing the right thing with my life. Recently, the questions have been spurred by my declaration that I am going to purchase my first home within the next year. I’m the last of my friends from Colorado to buy a home. Yes, this is a bit of a hit to my ego, until I remember that my path was delayed by law school and living in really expensive cities. So, it was with much excitement that I announced, “I’m buying a house within the next year!” to all of my friends.
As the words flew out of my mouth, my anxiety went up. A house is a serious commitment, quite possibly only second to locking it down in marriage with someone. For someone like me who has trouble making choices, the thought of settling on one place to live and staying in that home for a considerable amount of time is frightening. The battle inside of my head goes like this: “I really like living by the water, so I should probably buy on the beach or the key. But, I also like living in the suburbs where things are more quiet. The suburbs aren’t by the water. Fort Lauderdale is nice, too, because it’s more kitschy, which is more me. That drive to work would be a nightmare, though.”
They say when you know, you know. So, for my sake, I’m hoping within the next twelve months some neighborhood rocks my heart as being “the one.” Or, that I find a realtor who all but makes the decision for me as to where my future house exists.
I share the story above, because it’s so indicative of me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to do everything. I wanted to be good at everything. I wanted to be friends with everyone. I wanted everyone to like me.
For a long time, I was able to dabble in everything. I was the president of this club and a member of that club. I studied this and that. I had a social circle that was ridiculously large and included all different types of people with all different kinds of interests.
One thing they don’t really tell you about growing up is that when you do, your time becomes more limited. I’m still trying to figure out why. 30-year-old Alicia has 24-hours in her day, just like 21-year-old Alicia did. However, 30-year-old Alicia’s time is more limited than 21-year-old Alicia’s. I definitely don’t do more than I did then, so the only logical reason I can find for why this is, is traffic. Yes, traffic. When you’re 21, you’re probably living on a college campus or close to one. Your life is centered in an area that at most, is several square miles wide. You have more time, because it’s all spent in one place. When you’re an adult, your life is spread all over the place. Literally. Your commute to and from work can take hours. Your friends don’t live down the block. Heck, I get on airplanes on a pretty frequent basis to see my friends! Traffic, people. It’s a time killer that is wasting our productivity as adults. It’s preventing us from doing everything we want to do.
I’m not doing everything I want to do. I’m obsessed with my job and my career is progressing better than I ever could have planned. That’s not everything to me, though.
Yesterday, I got to thinking about what 16-year-old Alicia wanted to do with her life. She wanted to save the world. And she was naive and bold enough to believe that she could. She didn’t care about money or clothes or where her house would be. She just cared about helping others and finding ways to make life easier for them. That’s why 22-year-old Alicia went to law school, if I am to be truly honest with myself.
I think sometimes in the traffic and searches for the perfect home and while climbing the career ladder, we lose ourselves. We let go of our original, organic intentions for our life. We get caught up in keeping up with the elusive Jones’ and building a life that looks good on the outside. We do all of this while letting our hearts go. The truly successful people, though, find a way to wrangle their hearts back and to get back to what really matters to them.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all of the things in my life that I take for granted. There are so, so many things. Yesterday, as I walked to the restroom I thought about how blessed I am to work at a place where there is running, clean water. I thought about how when I buy my house–wherever it may be–there will be running, clean water that pour out of faucets inside of it. I thought about how when I have my babies, they will run through sprinklers and never have to search too far for a glass of water. I then thought about the little girls, career-driven women and mamas elsewhere, to whom finding clean water is the biggest obstacle they face in a given day. Clean water is their life’s battle. They need it to survive, yet they have to search for it.
Suddenly, the fact that purchasing a home was causing me anything resembling anxiety seemed horribly embarrassing. What was more embarrassing, though, was my realization that I’m not doing everything I want to be doing with my life. We, as Americans, are basically given cleared paths to pursue our dreams. More importantly, though, because of the comforts we live in, we are given a clear path to serve and help others.
I’m not doing enough of the helping others thing. And it’s eating at me. It’s eating at me, because I know I’m in a position to and that I have opportunities to. For me, I use time as an excuse. “I don’t have time right now.” If I don’t have time now, when will I? When I have a husband and kids? When I’m old and not in as good of health as I am now? The time is now, and I know that.
Mothers have a weird way of sensing things. I talk to my parents on the phone at least once a day. My conversations with my dad are generally much more serious than my conversations with my mom. My mom and I talk about TV shows and the weather and my friends. Our conversations usually leave me rolling on the floor in laughter. Yesterday, though, out of nowhere she said, “It’s ok to be average, Alicia. You don’t have to do everything.”
For those who know my mother and how much she dotes on me and everything I do, the fact that she said this was surprising to me. I almost wanted to stop her as she moved on to her next random topic of discussion and say, “Wait, did you really say that it’s ok for me to be average? I don’t have to do everything, either?! SWEET.”
My mom’s comments shouldn’t have been surprising to me, though. That’s because throughout my entire life, my mom has consistently given me one piece of advice. Until yesterday, it was a one-liner that I hated. I hated it, because I thought the point was so obvious and more importantly, that it didn’t apply to me. “Just do one thing at a time,” my mom always tells me. “Well, obviously, Christine,” rolls through my head every time she says it. Followed by, “I don’t have time to just do one thing. I have too much to do.”
Yesterday, after she told me it’s ok to be average, my mom said, “Just do one thing at a time” in her typically cheery voice. This time, though, I didn’t roll my eyes on the other side of the phone. It finally made sense. Like I said above, being 30 is weird. You may finally come to understand what your mother has been trying to tell you your entire life.
I didn’t tell my mom how when I walked to the restroom earlier in the day I made a mental note that I wanted to join the clean water movement. I didn’t tell her that I was thinking about picking up my life and going to Africa to help women locate clean water for their babies. Truth be told, telling her these things wouldn’t have been the weirdest things to have ever come out of my mouth to her. However, I’m glad I didn’t tell her these things.
There are people who can be radical in the way that they give to others. There are people who can literally lay down their lives to serve others. They pick up, they move and they go to where the problem is to solve it. These people are my heroes. I am not those people. Yet, that doesn’t mean that I can’t help. That doesn’t mean that I can’t do more with my life than what I am currently. And I think that’s what my mom was saying to me.
I don’t have to be the best giver to give. I don’t have to be at every event my friends around the world host to be a friend. I don’t have to be published the most to be a writer. I don’t have to own the biggest home to be a homeowner.
The secret to getting things done is twofold: First, do one thing at a time. Whether that one thing is working a job that provides an income for your family or moving to a third-world country to serve others, pick one thing and do it until it’s finished. The second is, it’s ok to be average. It’s better to give at least a little bit of yourself than none of yourself. It’s better to dabble in hobbies than to have none at all.
Things only get done when people do them and no one said you have to be the best to get something done.