May 1, 2020
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Spontaneity
Why is almond milk called milk and not almond juice or almond water? Why don’t ants wear clothes? Why don’t humans have sticky pads to climb trees? If we are made mostly of water when we drink water, are we being cannibals? This is my brain. All of the time. It’s exhausting but, to say the least, extremely entertaining.
Obviously, these questions make no sense but we all know that – for at least a second – you imagined a reality in which they did. For a brief moment, you contrived a world in which fire ants flaunt Gucci bags and the Queen of the anthill struts overpriced, slightly-unflattering, microscopic Prada sunglasses. For an instant, you light up. You laugh, and not in that obligatory “lol” type of way but in a genuine, lighthearted fashion, just the way laughter is meant to be: freeing.
Inspired by this philosophy I couldn’t stop myself from making one of the best purchases of my life: a “Nuns Having Fun” calendar for a nun at my school. I can still picture the gaping faces of the other freshmen as I handed Sister Mary Glavin the gift at my school’s annual Christmas Formal; followed by everyone’s almost-verbal sigh of relief when she began to crack up rather than freak out. Such a reaction has become tradition as every year I gift the same sister a variously-themed calendar. Sophomore year the motif was “Sloths” because I’m a sucker for alliteration, and honestly what is more random than walking into a nun’s office and seeing baby sloths on the wall. Last year I felt the need to up my game. So, with the help of Vistaprint and the best photoshop platform in the business (Snapchat stickers), I put together a personalized calendar with the sister’s face featured on every page. Nun surfing. Check. Nun as the Thanksgiving turkey. Check. Nun as both Santa and the kid on Santa’s lap. Double-nun check. She loved it.
That’s how I try my best to live each and every day: within that sparkle of creativity found in the crinkle of a smile. I know who I am and I’ve learned, mistake by mistake, to fall in love with that person, no matter how hard it may be sometimes. As a result, this year I’ve begun something for myself, a routine of sorts. This cycle is triggered every morning by the chaotic eruption of Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up (ft. Nicki Minaj)” followed by a 45-minute drive packed with Crime Junkie Podcasts (murder + 5:30 am = perfect combo), and then a cycle class. Developing something for myself has taught me that people who listen to Electronic Dance Music at 6 am are a different breed but, more importantly, that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes.
Take that time, cherish it, then otherwise live for others. Too many times I was forced to understand that in the pursuit of everything you can become nothing but in the laughter of others you can find everything. So, take the time now to understand that life is way too short not to take the long way. Happiness is synonymous with spontaneity, so why not do the unexpected, be the unexpected? Take that sudden turn to watch the planes land at sunset. Time is meant not just to be filled but fulfilled. Why not make every moment a memory? Strive every day for that feeling that absolutely nothing could be better than this time, right here, right now. Drive a little longer, sing a little louder, give a little more. Make people feel like they matter. If there’s something you could do to make someone else’s life just a little bit more bearable on the bad days and just that much brighter on the best then why not do that very thing?
Laughter is contagious so why not be the virus.
My Friend Tod
Everyone has that one childhood friend — you know, the one who has known you since you were in diapers, the one who raced you to the swings at recess, the one who knows your deepest darkest secrets. Friends tend to drift away as high school separates friendships and indifferences arise, but that was never the case with Tod. Through the ups and downs, highs and lows, Tod was, quite literally, glued to my side.
Tod and I met when I was 18 months old. Ever since then, we conquered each childhood milestone together, from the excitement of riding a bicycle to the exhilaration of passing my driver’s test. He was there when I won first place at my middle school science fair and when I dropped the baton in my 4×100 track relay. Whether it be my large successes or ultimate failures, there was not a single moment I did not share with Tod.
However, Tod was far from a golden child. In fact, he was the opposite — he tended to disregard my schedule entirely and bug me like a pesky little brother. Tod’s behavior was so absurd that he would drag me off course during a cross country race to feed him or wake me up at 3am for a late-night munch in the kitchen. Speaking of snacks, Tod had a colossal sweet tooth. If his sugar craving was not satisfied, he would throw massive tantrums that required my immediate care. Fortunately, I was always prepared with a stash of candy to distract him, but I had to be cautious. Too much sugar caused large spikes in his behavior. Not enough made him sluggish. In a matter of seconds, Tod could transform from a quiet being to a wild beast, jumping off tables and bouncing off the walls if I had not calculated the correct amount of sugar.
My inability to control these outbreaks caused people to believe that my future would be limited due to my constant supervision of Tod. They did not see the challenge it was to manage both Tod and my life as a student, athlete, artist, and leader, nor did they see the countless hours I spent satisfying Tod’s needs in addition to my own. We were connected on a level that few could understand.
For the longest time, I was convinced that Tod merely existed to make my life harder. There have been multiple occasions where I have questioned our friendship, but I realized that Tod would cease to exist if I did not care for him each day. Every time I helped Tod, I had made the decision to keep not only himself, but myself, alive. Despite our indifferences, I am incredibly grateful for what Tod has done for me. He forced me to grow up more quickly than the kids around me; it amazed my teachers that I could stomach the sight of blood nonchalantly or calculate the carbohydrates of a meal faster than a calculator. He gave me values of responsibility and self-awareness, as well as the confidence to reveal who I am without fear of judgment. He made me a more empathetic human, one who understands that there is always an underlying story underneath someone’s physical appearance. I hope that I can apply my lifetime with Tod into research that seeks to improve the lives of others who have faced challenges similar to my own. I am only one of the millions of children who struggle with accepting something that is out of their control, children who are exhausted by the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Tod is not like any other friend. He is a rollercoaster of a condition, a lifetime of chaos — but deep down, I would never change a thing about my diagnosis of Type One Diabetes, or TOD.
When Rocky Balboa said, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows,” he clearly had never seen the world through my eyes. Everything around me is dipped in rainbows. I have two favorite pairs of shoes–my tie dye crocs and my white crocs with rainbow striped platforms along the bottom, and my favorite shirt is rainbow tie-dye with a smiley face. These are only a few of my rainbows, but I think you get the idea. I can’t pinpoint where my obsession started–just one day, I noticed that I was enveloped by everything rainbow. My parents have always described me as their “unicorns and rainbows” child, and I cannot disagree. I love rainbows because they symbolize kindness and inclusion, inspire curiosity and wonder, and always make their viewers feel good.
Rainbows have long been a symbol for kindness. There have been times in my life when I did not feel the security of acceptance. At the beginning of my freshman year, I felt lonely and scared in my new, larger environment. Quickly, however, upperclassmen began reaching out to and befriending me. Through this, I realized how much of a difference that it can make for one person to reach out in kindness to include another, even in the smallest ways. From this, I gained self-confidence and developed a passion for meeting new people. It inspired me to be a swim and diving coach, where many times I encounter the same nervous young freshman girl that I was four years ago, and to apply and be selected for the Ryan Nece Foundation, which is a service organization seeking to help others in need.
Rainbows always inspire curiosity and wonder in their viewers. From an early age, I think that all of us have tried to imagine where rainbows begin and end, wondering if there really might be a pot of gold where it meets the ground. In the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” the film switches from black and white to color when Dorothy enters the land of Oz, intending to spark the imagination of the viewer. Scientifically, we learn that the colors in a rainbow are almost infinite; it is only our human perception that limits our ability to see the continuous color spectrum. Curiosity is what has driven my love of learning. I enjoy dissecting issues and finding arguments on either side. I understand that there are nuances to all thought and argument, and that things are rarely black and white. I know that no matter how far I may go with my formal education, I will always be a curious student, filled with the same wonder and excitement that a rainbow inspires.
Rainbows inspire good feelings. They are associated with optimism and the promise of a new day after a storm. I choose to view life through rainbow-colored glasses. I believe that I am privileged to live in a beautiful world, in an exciting era of history. More important, I believe that we can affect change for those elements that are not positive. Rainbows are also the promise of a new day. In some of my most difficult times, like a dive meet where I could not see beyond my anxiety, a rainbow has appeared to calm my soul. It is impossible to view a rainbow and not feel good about life.
While my rainbow Crocs may be goofy, it is impossible to see me in them and not smile. While my tie-dye t-shirts are heavily worn, I know that they convey my happy and free-spirited feeling. While my multi-colored study guides may seem to be a waste of time, the many colors feed my curiosity and love of learning. And while my rainbow lanyard may not be a fashion statement, it communicates my commitment to kindness and inclusivity to all. So, when people ask me what my favorite color is, I happily answer, “Rainbow.”
Imagine this: I am enjoying one of my favorite meals at one of the most popular gathering places in Tampa. I wait in line, pick up my salmon poke bowl, and head out to the peaceful outdoor seating area on a busy Saturday afternoon. I walk past tables full of young families and groups of friends conversing and laughing, to a table in the center of it all. There I sit, alone, to relish in the flavors of my meal and the thoughts in my mind. What may look like a pitiful image to others, is one of the ways in which I fully embrace my introverted tendencies: taking myself out on a “date”. Though I am fully aware of the oddity of my behavior, such a phenomena of solo outings has become my norm. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a social person. I find joy in surrounding myself with the people I love, and cherish the opportunity I get to do so. Although time spent with others is something I’m fond of, I find that passing time with myself is of unfathomable value for me.
For an anxious mind like mine, I realized that taking the chance to delve deeper into my thoughts in solitude was the most substantial way for me to recenter my thoughts, and regain balance in my life. Through a variety of solo outings, I found that some time alone is the most proactive way to feed my soul and develop a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me. An outing such as treating myself to a tasty meal and the opportunity for uninterrupted contemplation has become priceless to my well-being. I also found that time to myself allows me to maintain open mindedness and engage in respectful conversations with my peers. Being the student activist and politically active person that I am, it is so easy to be blinded by my own opinions and views. Throughout high school, since being met with so many varying political views, I have utilized moments of solitude as an opportunity to fully comprehend someone’s points by taking a step back from the conversation to properly ponder and work through the new ideas that have been presented to me. Such time for reflection has become a tool that empowers me to hold respectful and receptive conversations with my peers, and truly sympathize with their thought process and ideas. I have learned that delegating time for myself has not only allowed me to develop a stronger understanding and relationship with myself, but has also taught me how to most effectively keep an open mind when it comes to interacting with my peers.
Though this concept may seem insignificant to some, it has sparked the growth of a greater understanding of my thoughts and the ideas of others, and made me realize how profoundly meaningful it is to be conscious and self-aware. People these days are so concerned with maintaining constant socialization and connection, that the idea of taking time to recenter and disconnect from everyone but your thoughts is daunting. In actuality, properly delegating time for reflection has positively influenced my relationships with others by allowing me to better understand my thoughts and gain a greater awareness of my surroundings. Despite my initial hesitation, I’ve come to learn that a little time to myself goes a long way. I genuinely don’t think I could say that I am the person I am today without it. Whether it’s at a table at my favorite food spot, in the car on my commute to school, or in an Eno Hammock suspended in the palms near the river, I have found that leaving a little time for mindfulness and reflection is just as important to me as time with friends and family. So, if you see me alone in the bustling environment of downtown Tampa, you know why.
A year, nine months and four days can be combined into a video that is ten minutes and one second long. This video means so much to me and represents a major change in my life. September 2, 2017 is the date that my cousin Owen died after a year-long battle with Leukemia. After his death, I was very sad and frustrated, as any family member would be. I didn’t like feeling this way and wanted to make a change.
The New Year signifies a fresh start and a new beginning. With this in mind, for my New Year’s Resolution of 2018, I wanted to appreciate every day more. Keeping in mind Owen, I decided to document something important every day of my life, either positive or negative. I am not the biggest fan of writing, so a journal would not work, but I also wanted to keep it short and simple. So on December 31, 2017, I decided to record one second every day for the whole year and create one large video of these moments.
This video makes me think a lot about how blessed I am to be given so many opportunities but also how silly I can be. In 2018, I tried the exotic “Jackfruit” from the southern rainforest of India, modeled and 3-D printed the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the City Spire building in New York City, ate lots of Chick-fil-a, had a “Star Wars” marathon, discovered that I had scoliosis, and had way too much fun. Thankfully, I “steered clear” from all the homework videos because I knew that would be extremely boring.
I was so happy with the 2018 video that I decided to continue into 2019. Nine months in, I have successfully recorded multiple dance parties with myself in between homework sessions, humourous pre-calc memes, egg selfies, being pushed to my limits at the Naval Academy Summer Seminar, the start of senior year, and running in many rainstorms with my friends.
My only regret about this video is that I wish I would have started it earlier. High school has been the best time of my life. Learning so much about myself and creating memories that will last a lifetime. These memories shared inside this video, I wish I would have started this freshman year. It is crazy for me to witness how much change has occurred in my life and it hasn’t even been two years, I could not begin to imagine four. Even though I started this video for me to get passed my hard times I am so thankful for it. I have realized to not stress the small stuff because, in the grand scheme of life, we have so much to be thankful for. I can’t wait to see what other adventures this video will hold and I am so proud of the ten minutes and one second that I have currently.
I am going to die
Can you remember the exact moment that you realized that you were going to die one day? The fact that I have a finite amount of life to live was an earth shattering realization that I came to after my best friend, Cailin Cannella, passed away due to Osteosarcoma on September 18, 2017. I recall sitting on the floor of my dark closet on the day she died, surrounded by nothing but a vast, hungry emptiness, and saying to myself: “I have so much more life to be living.” Many may be shocked at the fact that it took me fifteen years of existence to fully understand the ephemeral nature of life, but I had never truly realized how limited my time on earth was until that moment, as I sat in the chasms of my closet.
Sometimes, in the quintessence of teenage being, in a car with my friends, the music so loud that it’s a miracle my brain could muster any thoughts, I would think about how much of life Cailin is missing out on living. All of the significant moments in my life that I didn’t appreciate, moments Cailin would never experience, began to haunt me. I would walk around ridden with guilt, consumed by every simple pleasure that I didn’t fully appreciate. People would look at me with worry and tell me not to feel guilty for being alive. “It’s what she would have wanted,” they’d say as I scoffed at the employment of such a cliche, meaningless phrase.
I would think about simple things that were important to me, things that I loved, these beautiful things that Cailin would be missing out on, things that I take for granted- and it would be hard for me to breathe. It would feel as if the impending doom of time wasted was wrapping itself around my neck and squeezing me so hard I could barely breathe. I would feel as though I was on the edge of a cliff, eternally stuck in the moments between being stable and falling over its edge. But I wasn’t suffocating, and I wasn’t on the edge of a cliff. I was back in the car with my friends and the music. I’m driving much too fast, and the music is much too loud, and for the first time in what feels like a very long time, I’m smiling.
Again, although more metaphorically this time, I beg the question: Can you remember the exact moment that you realized that you were going to die one day? The exact moment you realized that your days on this earth are limited? That every second taken for granted is one that is wasted? This realization initially haunted me, but after much thought, it took on a new significance as I came to the conclusion that the comfort of a daily routine, and the special moments scattered throughout this routine are things that have been robbed of Cailin- but they have not been robbed of me. Although my realization may not rival the philosophical mind of Socrates, or the poetic musings of Charles Bukowski, it completely changed the perspective of which I view my life. Now, I seek bliss in the habitual moments between when I wake up and when I go to bed. I tell the people I love that I love them. Every once in a while, amidst everyone else’s rush, I stop where I am, look around, and realize the blessing that lies within the moment I am living. I am breathing, I am seeing, I am here. I am here! And although it pains me to say the words that I once so denounced- I know that it’s what Cailin would have wanted.