16: Becoming Real

16: Becoming Real

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

Becoming Real

Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.

~James Dean

I met Jill in her last month of pregnancy. The incredible irony of meeting her was not lost on me. I was a woman who had tried desperately for years to carry offspring of my own and whose arms were still agonizingly empty.

Jill had recently become single and this would be her third child. She was in need of friendship and support, and would need it even more when this new little one would enter the world.

I rejoiced in the birth of Jill’s baby girl and walked through life beside her. A couple of years went by, and our friendship blossomed. We were kindred spirits. Jill and her children spent Thanksgiving with my husband and me. Her little family participated in fundraisers to help us inch closer to our dream of adopting an infant.

When our baby finally arrived, Jill gave us the book The Velveteen Rabbit and later attended our daughter’s first birthday party.

Less than a month later, Jill was dead. Three children lost their mother. I lost a friend.

Nobody saw it coming. Jill experienced a massive seizure while driving. It was a miracle that her vehicle did not hit anyone and that no one else was injured. As her young children kept vigil at her bedside, Jill was kept alive by machines. We soon learned that she would never wake up.

After a few days, the social workers took plaster forms of Jill’s hands, preserving her fingerprints. They took photos, too, preparing the children for the inevitable time when they would need to say goodbye to their mama.

Removing life support from a loved one is horrific for an adult, unimaginable for a child. As a friend helplessly watching from the sidelines, it was unbearable.

And yet this extreme and heart-wrenching time jolted me into a new perspective on my own life. I had always lived for “someday” or for “when we have kids.” I had not been truly living in the present. Through the painful lens of what I had just experienced, I realized that what I have right now is all I am going to get. I will only live this moment one time. I don’t get to do it over again. Life is fragile and fleeting; I am not guaranteed another day.

I also realized that I had lived the majority of my life for other people and according to their expectations. I was operating out of fear. Fear of failing, of letting people down, of disappointing them.

I was participating in activities and serving on committees that I didn’t even enjoy being a part of, because I felt intense pressure to be the person others wanted me to be.

The film of my life was playing in front of my own eyes and I didn’t even recognize the woman in those scenes! Who was I?

I began making changes — difficult but positive changes that enabled me to pursue the things I wanted to do, that allowed me to serve causes that I truly felt were utilizing my strengths as well as challenging my weaknesses.

Now, when individuals extend an invitation, I ask myself a few questions…

1. Is this something I want to do? Is this a way I want to spend my time?

2. Would it be appropriate for me/my family to attend? Does the activity line up with our family goals and mission?

3. Does it reflect the values we wish to own — not just portray? Is this something we are passionate about? Is it the best use of our time? opportunity?

It took some deep inner reflection to figure out exactly who I was, what I wanted in life, and how I felt I could best serve. I had to nail down my various roles in life (wife, mom, coordinator, employee, writer) and prioritize those accordingly. I then reflected on my legacy — how I wanted to be remembered in each of those chosen roles. I then decided on what I wanted to personally invest in — which relationships, roles, and responsibilities.

Once I had this all mapped out, it was so much easier to know where to focus my time and energy. It is a wonderful thing to truly experience freedom. Knowing who I am and what I stand for is a powerful tool.

I now agree with the wisdom of the nursery toys in The Velveteen Rabbit: “Real doesn’t happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

~Amy L. Stout

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