I saw my first sunrise this past year at the age of 49. “How can this be?” you might be asking. Well, I usually like to be asleep when that is happening. Living on the West coast my whole life, I’ve seen hundreds of gorgeous sunsets. I’ve even seen the elusive green flash once. But never a sunrise. Of course, there have been a few times when I had to be out of bed before dawn, so I’d witnessed the creeping orange light pushing the darkness out of the early morning sky. But this year, from a picture window in a rented flat in San Francisco, I saw the sun peek up over the horizon and rise, slowly turning from deep red to bright yellow and changing night into day. I hadn’t planned on taking that trip. It didn’t make sense to do it, but I did. And I saw the sunrise.
In 1997, Greg and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. We thought it was such a big deal. We planned an epic Vegas vow renewal and invited our family to join us. Everyone was super pumped to party in Vegas. About a week before the big celebration, we got a phone call. It was after 10pm when the phone rang, and my Grandmother had been very ill, so I immediately thought the worst. No, I guess I thought something bad, but what I actually heard was the worst. My cousin Brandon had been in an accident and was in a coma. Traumatic brain injury. Sometimes people recover from it, sometimes they don’t. Brandon passed away the day before my birthday. You don’t think that 23 is going to be too late, but sometimes it is.
That changed my life in a way that cannot be unchanged. Even when my life was seriously disrupted in 2009 because Greg and I both lost our jobs, and everything we had worked for, all of the careful plans we made and the feeling of comfort and security vanished, we had the most important thing. As long as you are alive, it’s not too late. We thought that.
About three months after losing our entire way of life, we got more bad news. My dad Bob was diagnosed with lung cancer. We were pretty much like “WTF, Universe?” But we had hope. Bob’s treatment was a success, and he was in remission. He looked pretty good, he felt pretty good, his test were great. He had time. Then, in another WTF twist of fate, he was severely disabled by a medical procedure gone wrong. Everything changed, again. He would never recover from it; he could not. He would forever need to use oxygen. He could never fly again, or go on a cruise, or walk very far. He was fragile. When Greg and my brother Justin were planning their trip to Mt. Whitney this past summer, it was bittersweet. Bob was so excited to hear them talking about it, and bonding over it, but deep down he was sad that he couldn’t join them. If they had done this ten years ago, would he have wanted to go? I bet he would not have, because ten years ago, we didn’t know that it would soon be too late.
And now he’s gone, sooner than we expected, even though we knew all along what was happening. I am tormented by the questions I didn’t ask. Greg and I were planning to take drawing and painting lessons from him, but this summer it was way too hot to be in his studio, so we thought we could start in the new year. And now, it’s too late.
That is the thing about “too late”, you hardly ever know when it’s coming. Bob knew something that most of us don’t know – too late would be too soon for him. But most of us don’t want to know that too late can happen at any time. “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today,” is a quote people like to throw around. If I thought I was going to die today, you can sure as hell bet that nothing constructive would get done. I wouldn’t be standing here typing this, guaranteed. My day would be mostly eating, and spending time hugging my loved ones and telling them all of the things before it was too late. So how about we dream as if we’ll die today and live as if we will die sooner than we want to. Let’s not put off telling people we love them. Let’s not wait until the stars align to get going. Let’s not wait until everything is perfect because it never will be. Do not wait to try something, to do something. To be something. Even though, or maybe because he knew his time was short, Bob still tried new things. He was a Master Lithographer, but he had never tried linocuts until this year. Of course, he was awesome at it.
When Brandon died, my life and the way I saw things changed. I had allowed fear to control my life under the guise of safety, and when I realized that none of us is 100% safe, it was freeing and a little scary. I’d already begun to move away from materialism and this just sealed the deal. Experiences were what I now craved. Nobody wants to hear the story of how you scored a set of dishes on sale. They want to know the story of your one-day whirlwind trip to Paris while on vacation in London, and how you dashed through the city so you could see the Mona Lisa, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower in a matter of hours. I was terrified to fly (and oddly, of airplanes in general), but I wanted to get over it. I had to, before it was too late.
So here is the deal. I am 50. A lot of soul-searching has been going on around here lately. I am living the years of my life where, barring any unforeseen circumstances, it is not yet too late. I cannot allow this time to just pass. I quit my job in 2012 to become a full-time maker. The plan was for me to get my thing going, then Greg would be able to quit his job and live his dream of traveling our beautiful country and taking gorgeous pictures. It hasn’t panned out. Maybe because what I really want to be is an artist and not a jewelry maker. Maybe my heart just isn’t in it. Maybe there really isn’t a market for what I make, or I’m just bad at business. Maybe I am still more afraid than I’d like to admit. I don’t know. I only know that I can’t wait any longer. We are moving forward with the plan. I confessed to Greg that I’ve been afraid to take this next big step because I didn’t want to ruin our lives, but ruining your life one drip at a time is no better than going all in and seeing what happens. It is time to go all in, before it’s too late.
In 2016, we will begin our Legacy Project. It’s not just enough to have experiences. You have to document and share them. Going through Bob’s childhood photo albums after his passing made me realize how much I didn’t even know I didn’t know. It made me wonder if my kids would remember that trip to Paris. They’ve seen pictures from our journeys and heard stories, but nothing is written down. Could it be lost forever? Very likely. Will it be too late someday? Without a doubt.
My word for 2016 is “fearless”. Will I still feel afraid? Of course. But I am going to do my best to act fearlessly, because fear is an illusion that is supposed to keep us safe, but too often it’s used as an excuse.
[Tweet “Usually what we’re afraid of isn’t disaster but discomfort, and that is bullshit.”]
No more of that. We are taking a trip, and hopefully leaving a legacy. I want to see Old Faithful, gaze in wonder at the Northern Lights, feel the mist of Niagara Falls, and dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean before it’s too late. I have no idea what will happen. And truth be told, we rarely ever do.