In less than two months, I will be turning 22 years old. For most people, the Taylor Swift jam pops into their head and they may get the urge to start singing and dancing around the room. For me, it’s a bit daunting. Scary, terrifying. Choose your adjective.
Many may wonder what’s so nerve-racking about a 21-year-old college student in her senior year so worried about turning 22 for? Well, let me tell you. 22 is such a significant age for me because that’s as long as my brother was alive for.
He was killed in Cleveland, Ohio on April 30, 2009 by a punch so hard that he was knocked unconscious, falling back and hitting his head on the curb. I was 16 at the time and a completely different person from who I am now. I could never imagine this being the end of my road, but it was the end of his. That is terrifying.
The pain and growth I’ve gone through over these years has allowed me to walk away with a perspective that not many people have. Michael was my best friend, and just like that, he was gone. A short 16 years was as long as he knew me.
In the pain, I feel a certain responsibility to share some of the things I’ve come to terms with since that day. I was the person who naively believed “it would never happen to me”. It did. And as this dreadful birthday approaches for me, I figured there is no better time than now to put out what I know. The things I’m about to share may not be true for everybody and some people might even completely disagree, but this is what I’ve walked away with so far in my experience.
1. The people in your life are not guaranteed to be there tomorrow. If you would have told me on April 29th that Michael would be on life support on April 30th, I would have laughed and called you a liar. I feel like this statement has become a bit of a cliché, but it’s true. Please do not take anybody in your life for granted. It’s amazing the things that can happen overnight in the blink of an eye.
2. You can’t take your money with you. Since my brother died, I have traveled to New York City twice, Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles twice, Las Vegas, San Francisco twice (I even lived there for a month), Chicago, Ft. Myers…when I made money, I spent it seeing places. If something happens to me, what will I have to show? A bunch of money in a bank account that I worked my ass off to make? Nope. At my funeral, there will be life. There will be picture boards of memories and experiences and I refuse to die with any regrets. I won’t be buried with money; I’ll be buried with the shot glass I got from Vegas and a picture of me watching the sunset on Santa Monica beach. You cannot take your money with you, so spend it wisely on things you can cherish forever. Find a way to enjoy what you work for.
3. Help people. Help people. Help people. We are all on this theme park of life together. We need to help each other whenever we can and just be good people in general. If you see a homeless person on the street, stop and talk to them. Show them that you give a shit about why they’re on the street and buy them a meal. It isn’t going to break your bank. If we ever want to progress as a people, we have to help each other every chance we get. You would want someone to do it for you, right? You never know what somebody’s story is, so take the time to learn it before passing judgment.
4. Honesty is literally ALWAYS the best policy. Especially to yourself. Hate where you’re living? Move. Don’t like your major? Change it. Boyfriend/girlfriend driving you crazy and you don’t know if you’re into it anymore? Break it off. Sure, breaking hearts is never easy and calling people with trucks to help you move is super annoying, not to mention that like 20 of your credits don’t transfer. But being honest with yourself in your wants/needs and making changes to accommodate those will only make you a happier person. Every time.
5. Forgive. It took me a long time to learn forgiveness. When my parents divorced, I was angry with my father. We would go months without speaking and things were turbulent for a long time. My father isn’t a perfect man. But I’m nowhere near perfect either. Forgive the people who have hurt you or done you wrong. If it’s possible to move on and continue a relationship with them, do it. You will regret holding a grudge. If not, forgive for the peace that you’ll feel within yourself. One of my favorite quotes goes, “Anger is like holding onto a hot coal and expecting the other person to get burned.” You really do hurt yourself.
6. We really do only get one shot at this. Make it count. This is your life, and nobody knows how many days we have left. Talk to your parents every day, let them know how much you love them. Make peace with your little brother or sister, even if you don’t see eye to eye all the time. If you love somebody, my God, please tell them. Tell them everyday. Life can be scary, but what’s even scarier is going through the whole thing and then looking back at all the things you could’ve and should’ve done better.
The death of my big brother was the most profound, horrifying thing that could have ever happened in my life. Some days I still have to drag myself out of bed and look in the mirror for a few minutes and convince myself to get ready. But most days I wake up, look at his picture, put the chain around my neck with his initials on it that I’ve been wearing every single day for 5 ½ years, and say “This one’s for you. Today is for you.” He taught me way too much to just sit there and let it go to waste. So yes, this year I will be 22. And the year after, 23. A year he never got to see. And as the years go and I name my first son for his Uncle Michael, he will learn these same values. This is your life. We get one chance to do this, you guys. Do it right.