Unfortunately, I can remember only one high school graduation gift despite knowing that I received many from my family and friends. I’m not sure why this is, but it is what it is. A very dear friend of mine gave me a copy of Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Places You'll Go."
This insightful friend of mine, who I had known for less than a year, new I loved traveling and exploring new places, and I guess suspected that my life would be filled with adventures. I enjoyed imagining all of the places I would go in my lifetime and the myriad of different experiences I would have while flipping through the pages. This gift also made me reminisce on all of the places I had already traveled to and of course all of the different foods I had had an opportunity to enjoy.
The book and gift were excellent. However, the late Dr. completely missed one of the most important parts of the places you'll go - the people you'll meet. A traveling Canadian iterated this point over a couple of shared brews the other night at my favorite Jordanian pub. "I've never been able to answer people when they ask me of my favorite place I've been. They're all different and the experience, anywhere I go, is dependent upon the people I shared it with." I couldn't have agreed with him more but I didn't tell him that because at the end of the day he was still from Canada, aih?
But it is true. I've lived in a few places growing up and I always tell people when they ask that I've enjoyed everywhere I've lived as much as anywhere else (Hawaii only slightly out-nudges the rest but only because it's where I was born and the waves!). They're surprised though because I spent a year in the bluegrass state of Kentucky. I tell them I met some of my favorite people in Kentucky and they made my least favorite high school (I attended three) a very memorable year - I even gained a third sister that year after we adopted a German foreign exchange student into the family.
I give thanks, in large part, to the Army for moving my family anywhere and everywhere. I say "in large part" because not everyone who's in the Army moves as much as my family did. I owe the rest of the credit to my parents for having in them the willingness to travel, the intent to make us try new things, and desire to give us kids the opportunity to see the world.
But like I said, it's the people I've met along the way that have really made the difference and inspired me. There is a woman back in Niantic, CT that taught me that it's never too late to realize your dreams or learn something new. She came to our dance studio there at the tender age of 76 to learn once again how to dance. The last time she said she had been on the dance floor was, “far too long to mention,” she told me.
I believe I failed to mention that along with taking on the challenge of learning to dance at her age, she was also battling against her Parkinson's. I'll always remember her and the lessons she taught me on the dance floor.
At the studio, I was also taught that no matter how difficult life is, more than likely, there's someone out there who's got it tougher so you should just lower you head, grit your teeth and keep on pushing through. I don't think we'd have half the continent we do today if people back in history didn't have that mentality. I learned this truth vividly from another student that used to frequent the Niantic studio. When she was diagnosed with cancer, I figured we wouldn't see her for a while; give her time to battle the disease and stay home to recover. For the most part, she didn't miss a beat.
Of course some days were worse than others for her but throughout her treatment she still danced us into the ground and competed shortly after she was "cleared." She doesn't know the affect she had on me nor the lessons she taught me but I think the great people are usually unaware of the larger impact that they create in the world. She proved to be strong throughout an impossible time in her life and always reminded me to think of the bigger picture when reacting to my "monumental" problems life was throwing at me. This lesson, she taught me every time I saw her in the studio and I’ll never forget it.
Any problems that I may come across, any setbacks no matter how big or small, I also learned, I must push through and not let them keep me from my dreams. That I can have a singular dream that I work for tirelessly no matter how unlikely or distant it seems. I learned this from a girl I met my junior year of high school when I lived in Kansas. Amy Hastings was a standout runner back then now she’s an Olympian representing the U.S. in this summer’s Games.
I remember talking with her back in high school about her dream of making an Olympic team and how cool it would be to be a professional runner. She took a huge blow this past March when she finished fourth at the marathon trials - one spot away from the team. This devastating blow didn’t deter her from fighting back and becoming national champion in the 10,000 meters at the track trials in June. It was one of the most exciting races I’ve ever seen run.
Knowing what she went through to get there, the miles and miles spent running around an oval, constantly pushing to become better, always being just on the cusp of absolute greatness, seeing all of that come out in pure effort and determination in the last 100 meters of a 6.2 mile race was incredibly inspiring. I’ll never forget the miles run in her midst or the vivid lesson she taught me with those final strides.
Of course I’ve heard most of these quips before – never give up, always put on a happy face, never too late to learn a new trick – but to really understand them they have to hit home in a personal way. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to meet such a wide variety of people in my life who have all had an impact whether large or small. Each one has contributed to my growth as a person and I will forever be grateful.
Oh the places I have yet to go,
the people I have yet to meet.
I simply need to take a trip,
set about from my comfy seat.
(Dr. – you inspire me as well.)