Your life can change in an instant.
Sometimes that phrase is difficult to grasp since we get caught up in our daily lives and don’t realize when things pass us by — for example: life. But just like a lightbulb, it can burn out without a hint of notice, leaving the faintest remnant of that light clinging on to the last minutes of what once was before fizzing out forever.
I know this all too well.
It started just as any day starts out. The daily routine of being startled awake by the horrific pinball alarm on my phone, prying open my tired eyes, brushing my teeth, and figuring out what the hell to wear out into the stinging cold of a December day in DC. Yet, something weighs heavy on my chest like an anchor; I don’t want to leave my room.
This day was different.
This day was a special day, and a painful day.
This day would have been my father’s 61st birthday.
As I have been preparing this blog for re-launch I have been getting heaps of request from bloggers that I have come to love reading, all asking me to write a post about what inspires me to travel.
In a casual conversation with a friend, or in a passing conversation with someone on the street, I might drop the word wanderlust. I might tell them it’s a desire to see the world. It could be a yearning for something more than just a 9-5 life. Hell, I might even tell them I’m just bored with this corporate rubbish.
To the bloggers who had inquired about what tears at my heart for distant places, I dug a little deeper. I said it was the travelers spirit. That drive to experience all aspects of this planet, to soak in every culture, to become a citizen of the world, and to fight like the kids of Sandlot to leap the fence and and acquire something that everyone else deems impossible or foolish (…even if it is potentially dangerous).
But these are not the real reason.
All of those examples given are true, but they are just blossomed off of one main and powerful word for what inspires me to chase my dream of travel.
It was overcast, grey, and gloomy; fitting of the day. Though it was strangely warm for what is normally a bone chilling time of the year, I was still stiff kneeling atop the saturated hilltop peering out at the gravestones blanketing the cemetery. It was eerily silent besides the occasional squawk of a crow watching over the souls of the dead, and the silhouettes of the skeleton trees naked in winter were attempting to dampen my mood further.
This was only the second time I had visited my father on my own since he had passed 4 years prior; the first time being just last year a day before I left the United States for the first time.
Maybe it was because I couldn’t face the reality, but before deciding to go to New Zealand, I avoided coming here at all costs. I’m ashamed to say, but I would even lie to my brother and tell him I had visited Pop. I wanted nothing to do with this place.
It is different now.
As I ran my fingers over the cold hammered bronze plaque that reads, “Loving Father” I reflected not on death, but on life.
I pulled out my leather bound journal and wrote a letter to him. I described how if I close my eyes, I can still feel the scratch of his beard, and smell the distinct musk of gasoline on his shirt after a long day of work. Tears began to well and cloud my eyes; blotching the ink when they fell onto the paper as I wrote.
And as those tears fell, it sunk in just how short life really is.
Then a quote came to mind:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
This is why death inspires me.
It isn’t something dark and morbid to be feared, it is something that should be embraced as motivation to do all that is possible to create a life you are proud of.
You may not be here tomorrow, so start living for today.
Both of my parents lay in their eternal sleep in those hallowed hills. I sat thinking about how they worked their bodies and minds into oblivion, and how that lifestyle is what put them here all too soon. They gave everything to provide for my brother and I, but they never led the lives I’m sure they would have wanted. And it killed them.
They never left the United States.
They never got to follow their childhood dream.
They never got to see what else life had to offer besides a paycheck in a prison sentence.
Because that is exactly what you are doing if you aren’t chasing your dream. Becoming engrained in a job that you are unhappy at and gazing at a paradise calendar longingly is the same thing as looking out a prison window hoping for freedom; only to able to look forward to one hour recess.
I don’t want that kind of life. And I don’t want you to live that kind of life.
Too often we get caught up in the way everything else is or the way things are “supposed to be”, and we often fail to ask ourselves how we want this life to go. Live to work; it’s what my parents did, and what most people who are unhappy yet unwilling to change do.
Quit that death gauntlet right now, all it will do is kill you. It is a lose lose situation and you are at the ass end of it with a frown and a punch out ticket for the Reaper.
Only work to live and benefit your life goal, and if you start becoming miserable, it is time to move on.
Just think about it as I was this day — Imagine you are sitting here amongst the gravestones and a crow flies above you and drops a black feather. With that feather is a note that reads, “Tomorrow will be your last breath”.
Your life flashes before your eyes.
Have you done everything you always wanted to?
Are you happy with the way your life played out?
Tomorrow, is that car or flatscreen going to matter when your body is 6 feet under and your soul is carried away by the crow?
Will you look proudly down upon yourself knowing you really lived?
Would you do it all over again like a replay, or would you want to change it?
Your life isn’t pre-recorded. There is no rewind. There is no pause. There is now. I you choose to, you can fast forward to a lousy ending, or you can create an epic life worth watching.
Even as I am writing this, I still know I have a ways to go before I am fully living the dream I am chasing. Atop that hill beside my father I know my dream is to travel, and I now realize that I need to become the best damn person I can to enable me to fulfill this.
I have a lot of work to do before I can travel again. It starts today.
I also hope I can start this next journey with you all.
Whether you are working towards your dream or thinking about something better life, just ask yourself this: Would you rather die for money and objects, or for what makes you happy? Because death is the only thing guaranteed in life, so make your life worth dying for.
After I folded up the note and placed it into the slot for the flower vase, I sat for a long time with my father.
On that quiet green hilltop overlooking the cemetery, he had the perfect view of the rippling brook and the colors of the leaves as they spring back to life; change to crimson and gold, then die each year to make way for new life. One day it’ll be our time when we are laid to rest; and when we give our bodies back to earth to watch the seasons come and go for eternity from a hill top, a crow will carry our souls to whatever waits after this.
But that time is not now, and it is not time to watch life pass before you.
“Live life so completely that when death comes to you like a thief in the night, there will be nothing left for him to steal.” –Unknown.
This article is dedicated to my Father.
Here is an inspirational video about embracing death and living your childhood dream by Randy Pausch. Watch it.