“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.”
March, 2010. It was a warm Thursday evening and I’d been out to Steeps for tea with a man I’d been briefly dating. I’d decided to try “George Costanza’s Law of Opposites” by dating the type of man I’m not normally drawn to; I have a predilection for larger-than-life, swarthy foreigners and this man was as white, engineer-geek as they come. He was intelligent, warm, and a good conversationalist with a balance of talk and ask. We’d been out on a number of dinner dates that consisted of delicious full course meals and delectable bottles of wine.
I’d not given him my last name at this point, simply for the fact that if he Googled me and decided to read my book, he’d find out far too much about me too fast. (Not something you think about at the time you are writing a revealing travel memoir).
The longer this went on, the more curious he became. On this particular night, he teased me that he was becoming intimidated, that maybe I was a famous author and he a mere mortal. I told him not to worry; I was a legend, but only in my mind.
He parked the car outside my apartment and left me with a long good-bye kiss. A true gentleman, he opened the door and escorted me to the landing. It was near midnight, and as we walked up the path, we heard a wail, “Waaaaaanda!”
Josh, a colorful barista from my writing coffee shop, and his girl friend ran up breathless. “We both read your book. We love it. We absolutely love it!” they both gushed, kissed me, then ran off from wence they came. My date cocked an eyebrow and gave me a look. I laughed and assured him that this was definitely not the norm.
I crawled into bed and for some strange reason (twitterpation?), I gave myself a breast exam. A few weeks earlier, I’d booked a flight to Italy. My friend, Lynne, was hitting her five-year survivor marker and this year, 2010, was to be my grand twenty-year marker. We’d talked about Italy for many years and finally decided that this was the perfect time for a celebration of life tour.
I sat bolt upright in disbelief. There, in my left breast, mirror location of where my first lump had been twenty years prior, was a distinct, hard lump.
No f-ing way. Not after twenty years.
Cancer had been eradicated from my radar; I’d learned a lot from it at the vivacious age of 29 and my life had changed in good ways from the experience. I’d had all manner of other challenges since, but cancer was something, I was sure, I never needed the lesson of again.
In the aftermath of the big C, many people want to get back to normal, back to their old life as fast as possible. A second close encounter at this stage in life stopped me in my tracks. Go back to my old life? I think not. Clearly, it wasn’t working for me. From my point of view, if it were, I wouldn’t be having this experience. Spontaneously, I challenged myself to live life by heart.
I am now, two years later, reminded of a career crossroads I found myself in the middle of at age 24. I knew I needed to place myself on an upward trajectory. I’d left my difficult, straight-commissioned job and set myself some lofty goals: a top 100 company, first-rate benefits, a company car, a specific base with bonus, and an opportunity to grow.
I made looking for a job a full-time job. As the clock ticked by, everyone told me to take a job—any job. “Be a waitress for God’s sake!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). But I knew if I settled, I’d likely fall into dead-end jobs for the rest of my life. I stuck to my vision and values. And at the final hour, I triumphed, with more than I’d set my sights on.
I now find myself at a similar fork in the road, only this time the experience is far more profound. Two rounds of the C word and life takes on a new hue.
So what’s living on the edge? For me, it’s taking stock and digging in. Reviewing, reassessing and remembering what I truly value and not going back to what brought on my tsunami in the first place. Is that easy? No frigging way. It means doing a lot of things that I never imagined I do.* It means accepting (and asking for) help when I’ve been fiercely independent since I was 15. It means finding the guts to live by those values, no matter what, because my life might just depend on it.
Living on the edge for you may mean taking that solo trip you’ve dreamed of but have been afraid to book. It could be signing up for that Italian class even though you’ve never spoken a word of another language before. Maybe it’s enrolling in an evening university course to, inch-by-inch, get out of your dead-end job or closing the door on a dead-end relationship.
Living on the edge is like hanging on the ledge of a precipice. Your heart pounds, your palms sweat, you panic. Then you find a foothold. And someone grabs your hand to pull you up. And you take a moment to look down and you see that the gorge is not that deep and that there was always a way—you just couldn’t see it from where you were hanging. I’m at the “someone grabs your hand” part and looking forward to the view.
In spite of what my crazy-assed life looks like to others (or to myself) right now, I just know that I’ve been called to heed Shakespeare’s “to thine ownself be true.”
Actually, I think we all are. As I navigate through on a wing and a prayer, share the bumpy but beautiful trail with me and maybe we’ll find a spot of inspiration, a chuckle, and an odd miracle or two along the way.
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© Wanda St.Hilaire
*More in future posts.