I’m a crier. I have never admitted that until this moment. I mean, my friends and family have probably known this for years, but Denial remained my middle name- even while tears streamed down my cheeks during country music videos- until today. I’ve cried four times this morning- three from different articles my friends shared on Facebook and one from a speech on television. Four times. I can no longer turn a blind eye to my condition. One article was about a couple that survived the Boston Marathon bombing and wed last month, one was about Pharrell crying (chain reaction!) because he was so moved by the worldwide reaction to his song “Happy,” and one was about how moms have the toughest job in the world. I know what you’re thinking: why are you reading so many articles? One might ask the same of you since you’re here reading mine…
When I cry in the middle of watching Les Miserable on Broadway (Eponine’s death…I can’t) or when I see dogs being reunited with their owners, there is no doubt that my tear ducts are a bit too free-flowing. However, I will say that the speech I watched during this morning’s coverage of the one year anniversary of the Boston bombing gave me every right to get a little watery. Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a survivor who lost her leg during the blast, gave a beautiful tribute to her fellow survivors, the victims, and to Boston’s strength. To wrap up, she said this: “The biggest lesson I have learned is that something in your life, in anyone’s life, can go horrifically wrong at any second. But it is up to us to make every second count, because believe me, they do.”
I’m a big fan of taking phrases that we’ve all heard a million times and deeply reflecting on their significance. After all, we must keep in mind that there is a reason we’ve heard these phrases before- in this case, “Life can change in a moment” or “Make every second count.” Life really can change in a moment. And because of that, we have to make every second count. The survivors of the Boston bombing woke up that morning, brushed their teeth (hopefully), probably cracked a joke with their friends, maybe looked forward to a beer later in the day, and then- mid-cheers- lost limbs. Though the Boston bombing and other random acts of violence make headlines and are indeed devastating, lives are also unexpectedly changed or taken by car accidents, mother nature, or cancer (among countless other possibilities). Not for the sake of morbidity, rather for the sake of motivation to live fully, do I bring up the many ways our lives can negatively transform or disappear in just a moment.
You see, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in March 2012. She died in September 2012. It wasn’t a freak accident or a sudden collapse- which makes us lucky. However, the second I got that call, my life changed. I felt it shift. I was standing outside of a steakhouse on the lower east side of Manhattan, wearing a red sleeveless turtleneck, about to meet friends for a birthday dinner. Though she had months of chemo and hopefulness ahead of her, I heard a resolve in her voice- this was her time.My first thoughts were of what life would be like without my mother. The day I pick out my wedding dress and she’s not there. When I have screaming, crying kids and I need someone to tell me what to do. The first time I sing on Broadway or publish a book or cook something other than mac and cheese. You know, all the dreams in life (I made spaghetti the other night- does that count?). Once I grieved those moments, I moved onto the ones we had already shared together. When she sewed us matching dresses for Easter when I was little. When she sat on the stairs and listened to my brother and me sing and play the piano for hours. That time she wore her fanny pack to Busch Gardens and unabashedly took pictures of me during my performances. When I called her almost every day I lived in New York to take her on my rollercoaster of emotions that happens to every young soul who braves the Big Apple.
During the grief that came (and comes) as a result of moments we’ll never share and moments we were lucky to share, I noticed that the latter hurt the most to ponder. People often assume that the worst part about losing someone is all of the time you’ll miss out on, or perhaps any regrettable moments that were handled poorly or neglected altogether. My experience is not so. Rather, when all you have of a person are memories, those existing memories become far more emotionally valuable than imagined ones. Remembering my mom’s voicemails that always started with “Oh, hi sweetie, it’s Mom” or “Shannon, it’s Mom” (when I was in trouble) triggers more of a reaction than thinking of how great it would have been if I’d spent time learning from her how to cook. Remembering crossing the finish line together during our five miler Turkey Trot trumps wondering what it’d be like for her to have known I became Miss New York. Knowing how her hugs feel outweighs guessing what she’d say the next time I am broken-hearted.
Actual moments > imagined moments. That was the Boston survivor’s point when she said “…it is up to us to make every second count, because believe me, they do.” The moments that we actually live are the most important- not the could have, should have, will do. Yes, make choices with your time that you won’t regret and get excited about the moments to come, but more crucially- live in the now. Enjoy listening to voicemails from your mom. Befriend coworkers so that your time in the office isn’t a waste of life. Tell someone you love them if you do. Reflect on the beauty in the world while you’re exercising. Pray when you’re distressed. Laugh when something is really funny, even if no one else thinks it is. Dance at weddings and dance in your car. All of those moments count. They really do- so let them.