January 31, 2014.
Four years ago on this day, I woke up to get ready for a busy day of senior year. I would attend my classes and immediately go to rehearsal for that year’s musical. Four years ago, I was an eager student waiting for the news that would determine my future and my educational plans. January 31st, the day that the mailbox would be stuffed with either that long anticipated large red folder reading “YES” in bold letters, or a quaint tightly sealed envelope containing dreaded news of deferred dreams. That morning as I stood over my dresser deciding on an outfit, I truly believed that my future, my identity and my abilities would be determined by the size of the envelope that the mail carrier would deliver.
My best friend drove me home to check the mailbox. We waited and waited and tried to pass the time. After what felt like a century, the mailman hand delivered me a large envelope from the school of my dreams. That cold January afternoon, it felt as if the mailman hand delivered me my future.
That night, I celebrated. I stared at the large red folder with pride and optimism. The next four years of predicted friendships, success, educational milestones and life-changing moments played out in my mind. Holding that red folder, I felt like I was holding the next chapter of my life. In many ways, I was.
That red envelope did in fact turn out to be my ticket to new and amazing best friends, phenomenal experiences and one of the best years of my life. That large red envelope was my ticket to numerous opportunities and life-changing moments. In so many ways, January 31, 2014 did change my life. But I was wrong to assume that it defined my life’s path.
I would later learn that there would be other friendships to be made, other experiences to be lived, other large envelopes to celebrate and new dream schools to attend. There would be other moments that would define my identity and shape my future. There would be other days that I remember and other moments that I would get to celebrate. I would later learn how ridiculous I was to assume that my whole future would be determined on that specific day and by the size of the envelope in my painted mailbox.
Don’t get me wrong, receiving that large red envelope was one of the best moments of my life, I wasn’t wrong about that. What I was wrong about, was thinking that I, a naive 17-year-old high school senior, had the ability to meticulously map out my future years in advance. I didn’t take the time to think about possible curve balls that life could violently spike my way. I didn’t take the time to think about crazy things that could happen along the way. And that, that is where I was totally and completely wrong.
My life could not possibly be any more different at this point than I imagined it would be four years ago. If all had gone according to plan, I would be in the midst of my final semester of college. I would be student teaching in an elementary school in Poughkeepsie and trying to figure out what life post-grad would possibly be like. If all had gone according to plan, I would not have transferred schools, or gone through the tedious college application process two additional times. I would not have had to meet with transfer advisors and go over credit transfer reports. I would not have had to continuously adjust to life at a new school, while simultaneously creating a new normal. But if all had gone according to plan, would I be this happy? Would I be this strong? Would I even be who I am today?
People ask me ever so frequently how much time was lost in school when I was sick, or how far behind I fell. Individuals I barely know will bluntly ask me how far behind my hospital stay put me on my educational path. I’ve learned to laugh, smile and spit out my well-practiced and perfectly choreographed response: “Not as much time as I thought I would lose,” or “I’m just grateful to be back in the classroom.”
Reflecting on this question, I see things differently than those around me do. I don’t see it as time lost or “falling behind.” I see it as gaining time- time to find myself, time to find what I want to do, time to decide what to study, time to make more friends, time to try new things. My life turned completely upside down when I was sick, showing me that there is no need to be anything but happy. “Falling behind” in school as some might say, has given me the opportunity to only do what makes me happy, to only pursue what fills me with complete and utter joy. If you ask me, that is a gift in itself.
I laugh at the version of myself that I was four years ago. As I once read, “we make plans and God laughs.” Right now, I have absolutely no clue where I will be in another four years, and I have no intention of trying to figure it out or to plan it all right now. I am content where I am in life, more content than I could have ever imagined. I am my healthiest and happiest self. When you think about it, we as individuals grow so much in a day, a week, a month, a year. It is practically impossible to figure out what the future holds and it is tiring to try.
Recently, one of my favorite quotes has become, “difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” Last year, my first year post-transplant was one of the hardest years of my life. The year before that was traumatic and life-changing. During this time, I was lost and confused and constantly in a state of sadness. I was trying to adjust to my new “normal,” while attempting to revive what I once defined ordinary as. The past couple of years were an incredibly difficult road, but they have led me to one of the most beautiful destinations: complete bliss.
So I won’t graduate from my original dream school with my friends this coming May, but in a few semesters I’ll graduate from my new favorite place with new friends and celebrate my new accomplishments.
And frankly, I couldn’t be happier.