It was around this time last year when my life began to pivot.
Kyle and I had just come back from our road trip, following a u-haul crammed with as much of the 100 years of my family history packed into it that we could fit. We helped my parents unpack these things in their new home in a new city, and Kyle was starting to suggest that maybe we should consider leaving Boston, too.
We could have a new start in a cheaper city. He could get more training as a massage therapist. With a lower cost of living, I could continue to write full time.
We spent our return trip to Boston—stopping in Chicago and Kalamazoo and Niagra Falls and Amherst along the way—talking about whether or not we should move.
Kyle thought it was a logical next step.
I knew what he was saying was true, but it was hard for me to even think about: I was watching the Boston landscape, my home, shift like a sand castle, and I was getting ready to launch my first book. I was waking up daily to a feeling of emotional vertigo, and couldn't begin to think of moving, on top of everything else.
Then, I lost two friends.
Andy and Dahlia didn't know each other, but they shared some of the same qualities: both had adventurous spirits, they found the art and beauty in everyday moments. My interactions with them--like so many of my friendships--had been reduced to Facebook: Likes and Comments and watching their opinions and travels pop up in my Newsfeed.
Both of their presences interrupted the usual mundane/toxic updates with reminders about the good in the world, to not give up on the fight for change, to find some peace within ourselves, to have the courage to be creative.
Their sudden passings put my own angst into perspective, and also ignited something inside me--something that I feel even more deeply now, one year later.
It has become cliche to say--Life Is Short. Make The Most Of Every Day. Be Grateful. Give More Than You Take. Be The Change You Want To See In The World. Make Love/Art Not War--or some other sentiment that can be made into a meme with zen rocks or bonsai trees.
That doesn't mean that these ideas aren't true, or that they aren't worthwhile. I'd actually argue that these principles are some of the most important parts of being human, and it's our own folly to make them seem cheap. It may be our responsibility to make them new, make them relevant, over and over again, so we don't forget to live with our hearts.
Andy's way of phrasing it was Embrace Your Awesome.
He shared this message with strangers and friends. He passed out gold stars for acts of awesomeness. Embrace Your Awesome and shooting stars were emblazoned on the side of his van as he traveled across the country, reminding everyone about universal love and self love, that there are no coincidences, that the signs are all around us if we pay attention and listen, that we are interconnected, and each have something awesome to offer the world.
His passing, and the anecdotes memorializing him in hundreds of Facebook posts in the weeks to follow, reminded me of a moment that I had with Andy:
It was kung fu camp, and I was 19 years old, drinking Sierra Nevada even though it was too bitter for my tastes and playing hand after hand of Chinese Poker at the dining room table. The condo rental was crowded with people, most of them gathered around Andy.
Andy had brought out his guitar and was playing cover songs. Everyone was singing along. He started making up new lyrics to familiar songs, describing different people around the room. His new cover songs went perfectly with people's personalities, delighting everyone with these accurate and insightful improvisations.
I remember waiting, hoping, that he would pick me.
I was 19 and feeling so lost—not knowing who I was or what I wanted or what I stood for or how people saw me. I waited my turn, hoping that Andy would offer me some sort of insight in his lyrics that I didn’t see in myself.
When someone finally called out, “Do one for Katie!”—the entire room turned to look at me.
“Okay, Katie!” Andy said to the room. I remember looking back at him, his gaze fixed on mine, and finally he said, “I don’t know, Katie is hard to figure out.”
And I remember thinking, Damn. What is wrong with me? Why am I this No One kind of girl?
In the decade that followed that moment, I had carved out a life for myself. I had taken odd jobs and traveled and went on my own adventures. I began to understand who I was and what I believed in. I fell out of love and back in love and ultimately, found a little bit of love for myself.
But, last August, standing on the precipice of change--for the life as a published author that I had always wanted, for the life outside of Boston that I had never asked for, for the life without these two friends who I had admired from a distance--this memory had resurfaced, reaching deep within myself and pulling out that No One Girl.
Even though I had a list of Accomplishments! and Attributes! and Ambitions!, I had never stopped being that lost girl at the party.
When my friend announced that she would be hosting a tattoo party to honor Andy's memory, I began my usual waffling--Should I go? Should I get a tattoo? Maybe I shouldn't. What if it hurts? I'm terrified of needles. What if I pass out? But I thought back to that No One Girl, that girl who watched life from the sidelines, who committed herself to non-commitment, who loved the world but kept it at arm's length. I knew that the only way to grow out of that lost girl was to have some courage.
I went to the party.
Dozens and dozens of people had come to the shop, bringing food and drinks and stories. Some people had arrived together, others alone, all from different parts of Andy's life. Many had never met each other, but we all had Andy in common. More than a few had said, "I never got a tattoo before, but I have to do this, for Andy. I don't want to forget him, or what he stood for."
Even though I was terrified and shaking and felt tears coming, when my turn came, I gripped my friend's hand as she gripped mine, steadying me as she guided her needle across the skin on my wrist.
After, I stood outside the tattoo shop with a lingering adrenaline buzz. More people had arrived as the day faded to night and the party had spilled into the sidewalk. I was making new friends and listening to their stories and sharing some of mine, our conversations punctuated by music from a passing car. I looked up and caught sight of a young woman, sitting in her car as she waited for the light to turn green. She was looking at the crowd, and I knew exactly what that felt like--to be one of the passengers, looking at a party and wondering what it would feel like to be there.
One year later, I have a shooting star on my wrist to remind me that this whole life thing really is a party. There are going to be times when I'll be the girl in the car and other times when I'll be the girl on the sidewalk. There are times when I will be sad or scared, and that as life goes on I'll only keep adding to my list of Accomplishments! and Attributes! and Ambitions! That, maybe it's okay to not have a song just for me. That, maybe it's up to me to write my own song. That, chances are, the song will change over time. That the lives we build for ourselves are never anything more than sand castles. We keep tricking ourselves into thinking we are building something new, something bigger or better or more important or more impressive than before--when really it's only a matter of time before the tide comes and things change and we start the cycle of new, bigger, better all over again. That the only permanent thing that we have is the awesomeness inside of us: the love that we have to offer.
Live this life like it's the only one you've got--because it is. Be grateful for everything, because you never know when the tide is gonna come in. Don't wait for the right moment to start living--now is the only chance we have. Do what you love and don't be afraid to offer your love. Seriously. The world needs the best that we have to offer, so don't wait. Embrace your awesome.