37 Days and 19 Hours

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In precisely 37 days and 19 hours, I will be stepping off the last plane of my journey into Sevilla, Spain.

In precisely 37 days and 19 hours, I will be stepping off a plane into my new life until June.

In precisely 37 days and 19 hours, I will be stepping off a plane and I will be alone.

It all sounds very dramatic and that last one, in particular, rather dark.

But it’s something I’ve had to come to terms with and ponder during my last month and a bit at home.

As I was homeschooled, I had independence but never fully. I always had my mom watching my back to make sure I didn’t become a juvenile delinquent. I always had my twin there to push me into working for the good grades I earned. My brother and I got our car at 16. I went to dance rehearsals on my own. I volunteered on my own. I traveled on my own (let’s talk about how my parents shipped me off to Mexico at 12). I had a steady part-time job that I loved. I wasn’t a part of an (incredibly incorrect) stereotype in the vein of unsocialized homeschoolers. But I was never truly alone or independent.

When I entered college, I thought that that would be the time to prove that, at 18, I was an independent woman and I would indeed make it on my own (ha. haha. Someone please go back in time and whack me upside the head for my hubris). I had a full-ride scholarship. I had my own apartment. I went to class without being forced to. I got good (even excellent) grades and high praise from professors.

But then one break up happened. And several months later, the next break up happened. And then the class taught by a professor with an ugly chip on her shoulder happened. And friend problems happened. And I realized that I was still not truly independent and alone. I had a support system. I had my other friends to lift me up. I had my parents there to make me cookies. I had my posse telling me how smart I was, how talented I was, how funny I was, how pretty I was, how ___ I was. I had people constantly consoling me after each failure, offering advice or gentle criticism. I could have three hour conversations with my mentor on Sunday afternoons.

In 37 days and 19 hours, my safety net disappears. It will be wiped off the map. Gone for six months until I’m reunited with my mom in Spain.

Oh sure. I’ll have Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Skype. All these (admittedly wonderfully useful) bits of technology.

But a brief Facebook post to my timeline is no substitute for hugging someone in a hall on campus.

A Skype call is no substitute for snagging a coveted armchair at the ‘Bux and chatting away until it gets dark.

A text conversation is no substitute for eating ice cream and cookies at two in the morning and discussing Disney songs with your best friend.

Liking a friend’s Instagram picture on the day of graduation is no substitute for being there to squeal and have celebratory dinners together.

In 37 days and 19 hours, I will be immersed a culture I don’t instinctively understand.

In 37 days and 19 hours, I will be speaking a language 24/7 that I know half as well as the one I’ve been learning since birth.

In 37 days and 19 hours, my comfort zone not only diminishes, it completely evaporates, and I will be completely independent.

And that’s how it should be.

There is nothing comfortable about the fact that I will step off the plane and know absolutely no one in my new city. All I will know of the family I will live with for six months are their names, ages, and home address.

There is nothing comfortable about the fact that I’ve spent 20+ years learning how to speak English properly, and for six months, will instead spend a concentrated effort trying to forget all of it so that I can fill my head with how to speak Spanish properly.

There is nothing comfortable about the basic, but still harrowing, fact that I will be taking public transportation to school for the first time in my life.

In 37 days and 19 hours, there is going to be nothing comfortable about the next six months of my life.

In 37 days and 19 hours, I will unpack the most important pieces of my life from two suitcases and a carry on and fit them into a room that will, sooner rather than later, feel like mine, but isn’t yet.

In 37 days and 19 hours, I will try to make up for the fact that my new host family’s first impression of me will be of the cranky, sleep-deprived, teary-eyed persona that inhabits my body after 24+ hours of travel and the remnant memories of saying goodbye to friends and my family.

In 37 days and 19 hours, I will desperately attempt to not look at my friends’ “first day of the semester” posts, knowing that this is the first time since middle school that I haven’t been copying them.

In 37 days and 19 hours (and before), I will pray. A lot. And then more until it’s really overkill and God probably is like “Shove paella in her mouth already” except He would never do that because He’s cool like that. (But really, God. Send the paella. ALL THE PAELLA).

My introduction into the real world will come not with a whimper, but with a bang.

I believe we are all given an adventure in life.

My adventure is different than yours. It’s different than your brother’s adventure. It’s different than your best friend’s cousin’s adventure.

Adventures take different forms. They involve different people and places, dates and lengths. They vary in scope and sequence. They could be used to change you or just to bolster up the qualities that need a little positive nudge in the right direction. Sometimes adventures bring people into your life at the right moment, sometimes they bring you into someone else’s.

My adventure starts in 37 days and 19 hours.

When does yours?

Dignity

If you haven’t heard, there’s a young woman named Brittany who will be committing suicide dying with dignity with her doctor’s help on November 1st of this year.

Brittany is 29. And she has stage 4 glioblastoma that, back in April, gave her an expectation of living six more months. Because of that, she decided that on November 1, she would take a deadly concoction of pills (prescribed by her doctor) and pass away “with dignity.”

There are so many things I want to say. So many things about this that make me so unbelievably sad.

I’ll start here.

There is such an overwhelming amount of cognitive dissonance with regards to her situation from everyone offering her support.

Cognitive dissonance is a psychology term.

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.

This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.

For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition).

Attitudes may change because of factors within the person. An important factor here is the principle of cognitive consistency, the focus of Festinger’s (1957) theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory starts from the idea that we seek consistency in our beliefs and attitudes in any situation where two cognitions are inconsistent.

Leon Festinger (1957) proposed cognitive dissonance theory, which states that a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational and sometimes maladaptive behavior.

Essentially, we want all of our beliefs and actions to all match up and be pretty and in alignment with each other and we are willing to make leaps in judgment and logic to achieve that goal.

Back to Brittany’s situation.

The media and, (based on my twitter/facebook feeds and general internet perusal), the general American public have lauded Brittany for her choice to “die with dignity” and kill herself die on her terms.

Cognitive dissonance comes in because you present the same media and public with a gay teenager or a woman whose husband cheated on her contemplating taking doctor-prescribed pills and the same media and public will explode with an outcry of “Don’t do it! Your life is worth so much more than you think it is! They can’t take your self-worth from you!”

Riddle me this:

How is Brittany allowed to “die with dignity” with millions applauding her bravery because her cancer is wreaking havoc on her body with no way to stop it?

How is a person suffering from deep depression (with no real cure and a life-time diagnosis) not allowed to do the same?

How is physical pain so much different than emotional pain that we, as a society, will allow a young woman to kill herself because of a physical disease, but not a mental one?

Why are such brilliant and life-affirming organizations like “To Write Love on Her Arms” (rightly) lauded by the public, while in the same breath, we declare that Brittany is brave and making a good decision in committing suicide?

And before we go off on this whole rabbit trail of “But it’s not suicide!”, let me show you a few definitions of suicide–

The act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind (Merriam-Webster)

Death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior. (Center for Disease Control)

Here’s my favorite:

Suicide, taking your own life, is a tragic reaction to stressful life situations — and all the more tragic because suicide can be prevented. Whether you’re considering suicide or know someone who feels suicidal, learn suicide warning signs and how to reach out for immediate help and professional treatment. You may save a life — your own or someone else’s.

It may seem like there’s no way to solve your problems and that suicide is the only way to end the pain. (Mayo Clinic).

Brittany, a person of sound mind, is taking pills with the intent to die due to a stressful life situation in order to end the pain [that late-stage cancer brings].

Tell me what part of the above statement does not fit with the above definitions.

It is suicide. It is suicide and we are applauding a young woman for taking her own life and it is appalling.

Don’t mistake this for callousness and cry that I’m “cold-hearted” or “couldn’t possibly understand.”

I don’t know what it’s like to actually be diagnosed with a fatal disease.

But you’re wrong in saying that I’m cold-hearted.

I’m completely empathetic.

I watched a boy my age die from medulloblastoma. Sam was in high school when he was originally diagnosed but somewhat in remission when I first met him at our freshman retreat the summer of 2012.

Sam, who was playing cards with me a week before his final fatal diagnosis, spiraled downward until he died January 2nd of our freshman year at college.

I have watched his parents try to cope with the fact that all of his friends are now halfway through this life milestone and I’ve watched his older sister graduate college without him there.

I know what cancer does and I know the heart-wrenching ugliness that it brings to its victims and their families because I have seen it happen.

But for all the ugliness of Sam’s death, he also brought such a glorious light to the world for the brief semester we all knew him at IUPUI and for the 19 years he previously walked through life.

Sam and I were never best friends, but we talked several times, lived in the same building, took the same intro-level classes that first, and his only, semester. It was the first time in my life that death happened in an unexpected way in such close quarters and it affected me.

He introduced me and others in our building to “Cards Against Humanity” a week before fall break, which was when he returned home, went to the doctor, and received the news that this time, there would be no recovery.

There is not a single time I play that game that I don’t remember the complete shocked hilariousness of playing for the first time and Sam watching with glee as we tried to out-do each other’s depravity. That is a memory I cherish and will cherish forever.

Less than a week before he died, Sam and his family held a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Want to know how much he raised?

More than $180,000.

More than $180,000 to give to a hospital that is fighting every day to prevent more deaths like Sam’s.

Soon after his death, his family set up a scholarship fund at Sam’s high school to be awarded to other high school students going through a tough situation.

The Honors College at IUPUI holds a benefit dance every year in his memory to raise money for the scholarship fund as well as St. Jude’s research.

That is the legacy he left behind. That is the legacy that his high school and college friends, family, and everyone at St. Jude will remember.

But what if Sam had chosen to “die with dignity”?

What if he had chosen to bypass the ugliness and pain of his disease and go out on “his own terms”?

That is $180,000 less that St. Jude would have had to work towards a cure.

That’s a legacy that would never have existed because Sam’s legacy would, instead, have been an ordinary one, not extraordinary like it was in real life.

And so it grieves me that Brittany has chosen her legacy to be one of death. Her legacy will forever be that she fought for the right to let other people commit suicide rather than fight to create an exquisite, extraordinary legacy like Sam’s.

There is so much good she could be doing in this world right now and she has chosen not to. She has chosen that rather than work to raise money for a cure and for research for other cancer, or even just for awareness, she has chosen to die. The story is not about her cancer, the story is about her dying and it is so tragic that people are pointing to it as “uplifting.”

What about a young woman choosing to end her own life, for any reason, is uplifting?

The term “Death with dignity” makes me sick to my stomach.

It implies that anyone who chooses to go through the progression of advanced cancer to the bitter end does not have dignity.

It implies that anyone who goes through any disease to the bitter end does not have dignity.

It implies that Sam died without dignity. I cannot and do not believe that. I also happen to be pretty damn sure that his parents and sister would rip into anyone who dared to say so.

I watched Sam deteriorate as each picture that was posted leading up to his death was more and more of a departure from the skinny, but relatively healthy, college freshman I had known and last seen laughing hysterically while playing cards.

But just because Sam’s outward appearance and physical wellbeing changed so drastically, his soul and his spirit and his dignity never did.

Every. Living. Soul. On. This. Planet. Has. Dignity.

God gave us dignity at birth and it sticks with us until we take our last gasp.

Do you know who can take your dignity away?

Not the police, not the bullies, not the media, not your peers, not your friends, not your family, and sure as I live and breathe, cancer nor any other type of mental or physical disease can steal your dignity.

Your dignity is with you for good.

Let’s go back to our trusty definitions.

The quality of being worthy of honor or respect (Merriam-Webster)

Cancer cannot take that away from you. These poisonous and destructive cells in your body do not get to decide your self-worth and inherent value. You are honored and you are valued, not by those cells, but by your family and friends. 

Most of all, you are valued by your Creator.

Perhaps that is the saddest part of the entirety of Brittany’s story.

She clearly does not know God.

God gives us peace. He gives us hope. He gives us light and joy in the darkness.

None of which Brittany seems to have or she would not be making the choice to end her life before cancer does it for her.

God brings such beauty in the hard places.

I’ve seen it in my life on a much smaller scale than Brittany’s but it still was there. Through all the emotional troubles I went through this past year, there were still the splendid, intimate moments with my ever-loving, ever-patient friends and family that proved to me that God was still there.

I saw it in Sam’s life as he raised $180,000 in one single event. God blessed his walk through the valley and He blessed me and a multitude of nameless others through that walk.

Sam’s motto was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Anything is possible.

I’m not saying that Brittany will be miraculously cured if she doesn’t go through with her current plans.

Reality is, she probably won’t.

But in reality, she has the opportunity to bring stunning light to the world. She has the opportunity to inspire, not through her death, but through her strength in life. She has the opportunity to truly exemplify living life to the fullest extent rather than being the poster child for giving up.

As a society, we need to not encourage death as an option and alternative to ugliness. Rather we need to gently encourage her to make the choice to inspire beauty and hope in the time she has left.

For if we are afraid of pain and death, who among us would ever truly live?

(You can find more about Sam’s organization to raise money for his high school and St. Jude HERE)

(HERE is the original post I wrote the day Sam died).

The Adventure of My Life

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a new little box on the side of the blog.

In tiny letters it reads “España.”

In slightly larger letters it reads, “Saliendo para la aventura de mi vida.”

And in English it states, “3 Months.”

Saliendo para la aventura de mi vida.

Three months (give or take a few hours), I will be on a plane to a country I have never visited before, to live with people I have never met, and take classes in a language I know half as well as my native one.

I think “la aventura de mi vida,” or “the adventure of my life,” is fairly apt.

I’m honestly a bit terrified.

I’ve been dreaming of this since I returned from Mexico at 13 bitten by the travel/exploration bug with no hope of a cure.

This is a trip seven, almost eight, years in the making.

I’m overwhelmingly excited.

But I’m not ashamed to admit that, yes, I am overwhelmingly scared, too.

Who wouldn’t be?

I will be leaving everyone and everything I know. Even the simplest idea (like black rice paella. Look it up.) makes me nervous depending on the day.

I sent off for my visa just a few days ago. Soon, the government will be sending me back a document giving me permission to study abroad.

I will be buying my plane ticket in the next month or so.

I will also be filling out a housing survey, much like the one I completed to find my roommate here at IUPUI. Except this time, it is much more high stakes. This housing survey will not determine just a single person I will have to tolerate for a year, as it did here in the States. This housing survey will determine which family of strangers will be learning about me, knowing my likes and dislikes, coping with my homesickness, and helping me adjust to a brand-new culture.

So yeah, I’m scared.

But the more I go through these steps and through the overwhelming process, the more I realize that God has put me exactly where I needed to be, which is exactly where He wanted me. Those of you who follow me closely know that just getting to this point has been a struggle four months in the making.

And in the end, it has all worked out gloriously.

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under the heavens.”–Ecclesiastes 3:1

My acceptance to the program came right when it was supposed to. Not too early, not too late.

I think these last four months were God equipping me to deal with the fear and the nervousness. I went through such challenges to get to the point where I can stare at my acceptance letter daily, that even through the fear, I never once consider backing out.

I made it this far. I will make it through the next three months of crazy. And then I will make it through the next 5+ months of beautiful insanity.

And guess what?

At the end, God will have dumped a 5-month adventure of a lifetime in my lap that I will remember forever.

And in the end, that’s enough to overcome the fear, get on that plane January 12th, and head into the unknown.

The Millionth Time I’m Apologizing For This

So sorry for neglecting everyone for the last month.

#College.

And yeah.

I’m hoping to have really exciting news in the next 1-2 weeks so stay tuned!

Also, in case any of you are wondering where I’ve gone, you can check out some theater stories I’m writing for a class at rebeccasbeat.wordpress.com AND sports columns I’m writing professionally at indysportsreport.com (Just search my name!)

In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful picture courtesy of the Patriots’ epic failure last night.

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