They Make Me Feel Alive

Last night in midtown, I sat outside in a flowered cotton summer dress, my hair blowing in the blissful breeze between buildings, captivated by what was in front of me. Over margaritas and burgers, I looked around my table of ten friends laughing and boozing, enjoying the company of the person to their left and their right.

I had met this endearing group in all different ways: K volunteers with me at Ed2010.com but we met at an event for Proactiv. M and I went to college together, though were never good friends until she moved into my old apartment, chasing her dream as I once did. Mr. Hitch and I met because of a feature I wrote on him and because he’s quite charming (as his job requires him to be). K and C, I met through Young Authors Club in Chelsea. A is my new roommate and friend, courtesy of the randomly-helpful Craigslist. K and I met through my co-worker J. And L through MeetUp.

Collectively, the list of our meet-cutes is vast. But all of these women and one man have become part of my life, part of my happiness in the city. And as I watched them get along and enjoy the afternoon, gradually becoming pals and ultimately trading numbers at the end of the night, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, New York had finally become what I wanted it to be.

Someone once told me that the friends you make out of college are the family you create for yourself. These people have no obligation to be welcoming to you – you’re not in class together, you’re not in the same sorority, you don’t have mothers who have been best friend for years and years. No, these individuals are people you decide to be friends with, those you purposefully seek out as your companions.

I never imagined when I moved that it would be difficult to make friends. I’m naturally an out-going, bubbly, magnetic person who tends to easily attract like-minded people. I didn’t have trouble transitioning from middle school to high school or from high school to college – I quickly developed new friendships, many of which I still have today. But New York was a different playing field. As I described in an earlier post, there are so many she-fishes in New York’s sea, but for a while, it didn’t seem like any of them were the friends for me.

Much like dating, the way to meet girls who could be your girlfriends is to put yourself out there. I tried joining groups and becoming an active participant in organizations that mattered to me, banking that shared interests would equate to the ability to easily get along and click. Luckily for me, I was right. Within a year or so, I became a leader of two things I cared about and worked up enough gumption to tackle the creepiness that’s sometimes associated with Meetup. (Though after using it, I think it’s a fabulous idea.)

Slowly but surely, I found my footing and more importantly, I found my girlies.

It’s only been until recently – maybe even in that exact Louie Armstrong moment – that I realized that the pieces of New York are starting to fall together. That all I wanted the city to be, apart from jump-starting my career and giving me a coffee shop on every block, it’s starting to be. I actually have a life here, I’m not just a newbie, I’m a girl with actual friends, actual things to do, actual comings-and-goings that people depend on me for.

Love may make the world go ‘round, but too often we confuse love for candlelight and engagement rings, kisses on doorsteps and steamy sex. Some of the best, strongest and most enduring love there is has nothing to do with falling in or making it. Rather, it has everything to do with bonding with a person who at first is just a stranger, but within a few hours of chatting, becomes a friend.

And without those friends, nothing else would work: not our relationships, not our careers, not our minds – because it’s the family we make for ourselves that make us…happy. That make us feel like a city we weren’t born in is home.

New York is a tangled web of buildings and noise, writing is something I’ll do until the day I die, and many men may capture my heart for periods of time, but my friends? They’re the ones who make me feel alive.

A Little Piece of My Heart

Barely a month after I got my license at 16, I hydroplaned on a rainy Wednesday morning, lost control of my shiny red 1996 Chevy Cavalier (with a spoiler!), and flipped into a ditch. When I realized in a split second I wouldn’t be able to get my car back on track, I removed my hands from the wheel, covered my face, and prayed: “Dear Lord, Please don’t let me die.”

The next thing I remember, I’m sitting on the ceiling of my car in the passenger seat, purse on my shoulder, and feeling the urge to get out as fast as I could. All of the windows were smashed in, except for the driver’s side windshield and side window. I crawled out, taking a jagged piece of glass in my wrist on the way, stood before my car, the rain pouring, and put my hands on top of my head. I saw blood leaking down my arm, thought it was my head bleeding and furiously started searching for the wound. I couldn’t find one, and as I watched my tires still spinning, heard Michelle Branch still playing, I wondered if the new tank of gas I just put in would cause my car to explode. I then thought I may want to run away. My high school was less than a mile away, I could just go to class.

Unable to cry, dial my phone, or have a conscious, collected thought, I felt alone on the country road and unsure of what to do. It was then that a woman approached me. I don’t know her name – I’m not convinced she actually exists – but she came up behind me, put her hands on my shoulders and asked me if I was okay. I told her what happened and she started making phone calls to 911, and helped me dial my parents, thinking they’d rather hear my voice than a stranger’s concerning the circumstance.

She then covered my head in her jacket, walked me to her parked car where it was warm, and started asking me questions. She inquired about the career I was interested in pursuing, the university I would be attending, what sports I played, what my plans were for Thanksgiving since it was the next day, and made me apply pressure to my wrist. It seemed like I talked to her for hours, listening to soothing music, and hearing her chat about her life, though I couldn’t tell you anything she said. Soon, my best friend happened to drive by (it was the road to school, after all), and I ran to meet her and we cried together – remembering all of the times we whipped around curvy road without hesitation. The ambulance showed up, the firefighters, and the police. My parents greeted me with watering eyes and smiles bigger than the State because I had survived, though my car would never be driven again.

By the time I calmed down enough to understand the kindness the woman showed me, I turned back to find her car and she was gone. No one remembers her there and my phone had “911” dialed from it when I looked in my history. But I can see her face. I can hear her voice. I remember the smell of her car and the sound of raindrops hitting the pavement below as someone directed traffic outside the window. My mother calls her my guardian angel, but I’m not exactly sure what she is or was.

The only thing I’m certain of is that whoever she is, she changed my life.

I took a tiny piece of my car with me that day. I still have it. It reminds me that our time here is limited. It could change, it could end, it could be over without notice. And it keeps me motivated to volunteer consistently. Since that day, November 23 to be exact, I created a community service club at my high school called SOUL: Serving Other Under Love, that’s still active today. I joined my campus’ community service center, serving as a peer counselor and as part of the leadership and service residential living community. When I moved to New York, I joined New York Cares within a few months, and now lead the Young Authors Club in Chelsea. I also participated in charity events through my sorority, Alpha Omicron Pi, and I run 5Ks and participate in other events when I can.

It wasn’t that she volunteered her time that morning to help a scared teenager, but that she gave a little piece of her heart. And really, I think that’s what volunteering is all about. It’s being generous enough with yourself to give a bit of yourself to someone who needs it. To someone who, regardless if they know it or not, craves compassion. I was lucky enough to survive crashing my car into a ditch and if I’m able to walk, to speak, to live my life fully – I should be living it to help someone else.

Perhaps she wasn’t a real person and maybe she really is sent from the heavens. I don’t know and it doesn’t quite matter because I still think of her often, especially on nights like tonight, when the group of volunteers, parents, and children celebrated a successful year of writing with story sharing and pot lucking. The smiles on the children’s faces, the pride the volunteers felt, and the love that circulated the room – that’s why I will forever aim to be a humanitarian, and one day if I can afford it, a philanthropist. Because no matter how insignificant the contribution,it  is a contribution in itself, even if it just shelter from the rain and smooth jazz tunes at 8 a.m., it’s enough to shape the life of a stranger…forever. And, for the better.

If the World Ends

Apparently, the world is going to end on Saturday. I was under the impression the apocalypse was in 2012, but apparently I haven’t been keeping up with the rapture news. I promise to be better next time, if there is one.

I didn’t believe in Y2Y when it didn’t happen and I don’t give much credit to the end of the world as we know it this go around, either. But as my group of friends discussed happily ever over, my mind wandered to thoughts of what I would do this week if I was actually promised, without reasonable doubt and based on scientific theory with a promise from the heavens that lights would be shut off in six days.

I’d like to think I live my life pretty openly, doing and enjoying the things I crave. I don’t really limit myself too awful much and definitely not as much as I used to. If I want a mini carrot cake cupcake as a snack, I walk to seventh avenue and buy one. If I don’t really feel like running because I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have preferred, I give the pavement a rest. If I’m single and he’s cute, I’ll kiss on the first date if the mood strikes me. If I’m given an opportunity I doubt I’ll find again, I take up the offer and push my savings account to make it happen. If I’m starting to fall in love with someone, if they’re getting under my skin, I may hesitate, but I breathe, gather myself, and let my heart flow in the direction it desires. If I see a chance that needs taking, I take it; and if there’s road that’s less traveled, I’ll go where there are no signs and make my own route.

I wouldn’t say I’m fearless or brave but I have confidence in myself, and especially in my capabilities to adapt to new situations and tough times. Even more so, at this time in my life, I’m growing better at listening to my own needs and following my inhibitions instead of my doubts.

But if the world really did end – what would it remember about me?

It’d have this blog, with ramblings about things that matter and things that don’t. It’d have a handful of bylines from various publications, online and elsewhere. It’d have my membership in a sorority, my degree from a university on top of a mountain, a few addresses in New York, employment at a magazine, and the efforts I’ve made as a volunteer for a decade. Relationships and people aside, my living resume of things I’ve developed, created, cultivated, and published doesn’t seem as long and extensive as I once imagined.

Sure, if the world ended, I would die at a young age and perhaps the world wouldn’t expect me to accomplish great feats or have great loves by this time in my life – but it isn’t success and men I’m concerned with. It’s more about wasting gifts.

I believe we all are blessed with a gift we can use to help improve the status quo of the world. To shake it up, if you will. We’re given a talent that others do not have or one that doesn’t come to them as easily as it comes to us. And with this special quality, we’re supposed to shed its light to the populations we can help. Those who are affected the most by us; those who need us the most.

And if we’re not using that skill to better the world, making a sincere effort for mankind, aren’t we wasting it?

I do a lot of things well and with ease, but the only true gift I’d ever claim is writing. It is as much a part of me as my own hands, without the ability to tap the keys or string together words, I’d feel lost and built up with emotions I badly needed to express. Not everything I write is public and not everything is meant for me – but how often do I truly write about issues that will help others?

Or am I being too hard on myself? Am I thinking in terms of black and white, survival or catastrophe? Do I think a New York Times byline about suffrage or abuse affects more people than a freelance post for a semi-well-known women’s e-zine? Yeah, I do and I’m accurate to think it reaches more people, but inaccurate to think I can measure its impact.

That’s the thing about writing – you put it out and you never quite know how far it got or what you did by carefully and strategically putting sentences together.  If the world ends, I may have not reached my dream job, picked up my own book at a bookstore, or been interviewed as a voice for women – but I’m making an effort. I’m giving what I have to give, regardless if one person reads or 10,000.

Because all we can do is make our own little contributions to the world and hope that as long as the globe balances on its axis someone, somewhere, somehow, is benefiting from our work. And if you’re not giving, you have time to start. Even if it may be just a few more days.