Jillybean's Blog











{February 20, 2013}   And the Greatest of These…Starts Here

“And now I invite everyone to come up and say a few words.”

Yeah, right.

Was he KIDDING me???

I knew for certain in that moment I didn’t have the strength to even put weight on my legs, let alone stand up in front of all of our friends. Tears were streaming down my face, gentle gasps of air were stealing control between silent sobs, and I couldn’t fathom saying “a few words” of anything.

In that moment, I was pretty sure I couldn’t even put one foot in front of the other.

It was Sunday, January 27th, 2013…and I was at a funeral. And it wasn’t a funeral for which I’d had any preparation. It was a funeral for a very dear friend of mine. A friend who was my age. A friend who hadn’t even been sick. A friend who used to meet me once a month after work in Downtown LA to indulge in some post-work cocktails. A friend who had always made sure I took time for fun between stressful days.

In fact, he was the friend who had just picked me up at the airport a couple weeks prior (he was THAT kind of friend). There was NO WAY he was gone. We were JUST giggling like kids during the car ride home from LAX, talking about the handsome stranger I’d just met on the plane.

But there I was on a late-January afternoon, sitting in a black dress weeping into a handkerchief. This was a new kind of pain…the sting of loss compounded by the cruelty of its spontaneity.

Then something crazy happened. I was somehow lifted out of my chair. Oh no, wait. I WAS WALKING.

“One foot in front of the other…”

WHAT WAS I DOING?

How the hell had I gotten to the front of the room already??? My heart leapt and my neck felt hot.
I adjusted the mic on the mic stand.

I was facing the crowd of friends and family without even the comfort of my sunglasses to disguise the raw emotion on my face. My pain was evidenced by the mascara trails lining my cheeks.

I cleared my throat.

I had something to say.

“My story is simple,” I said. “But I think it will tell you all about who Ryan was in my life…and how he changed me.”

I gathered myself for a moment. I really wanted to do him justice.

Some of the faces looking back at me were friends I loved. Others were strangers. But somehow through my fear and grieving, something moved me. My voice cracked and my resolve faltered. Yet, something continued to push me through…

“This was…” I said, holding back the tears. “This was what he did for me…”

***

It was a warm August day in 2012. Ryan and I were hanging out, talking as we often did. We’d just wrapped up a discussion on string theory and quantum physics. The conversation shifted and went in several other directions, and we were enjoying the moments.

At one point, I’d let something self-critical and cutting slip out.

This stopped Ryan in his thoughts.

“Jill,” he said with a big smile. “Do you understand the concept of loving yourself?”

“Of COURSE I love myself,” I said. “Come on, do you know anyone with a bigger ego?” I was doing it again. Poking fun at myself with a hint of intolerance.

“No,” he said. “That’s not what I’m talking about. I mean, is there that voice that defends you and doesn’t judge when that inner critic of yours starts going? You know, that inner judge?”

I just stared at him.

He smiled again, taking a teasing poke at my arm to ensure I was paying full attention.

“You know what I’m talking about, Jill. It’s the voice that no matter what you accomplish, it’ll never be enough. I feel like you especially have this. It’s the voice that allows fear to rule your relationships and makes you less open…I get it, no one is harder on you than you…but can you just really love and appreciate and fully accept who you are? This is SO important. Can you reach higher in life without beating yourself up?”

“Well…” I paused. “Actually…”

DO I really love myself?

Ryan got up and walked over to his desk.

“OK,” he said. “What do you look at…what do you use every day?”

This answer was easy.

“My phone.”

“OK, hand it to me.”

He hunched over the desk and took out a piece of paper and a Sharpie.

“What are you doing?” I asked, walking toward the desk.

He proudly handed my phone back to me.

And there, he had taped a small blue piece of paper to the back of my iPhone. In red, bold letters it said: “I LOVE MYSELF.”

“Now you’ll see it everyday,. And, trust me, it WILL make a difference. Just, do me a favor…HUMOR me. Really look at this every day and take a few minutes to think about it.”

I took my phone back (and probably rolled my eyes). “Uh huh.”

In the days to come, I’d acknowledge but occasionally forget about the message. It’s consistent presence and familiarity would sometimes cause it to blend into the background until someone would point it out or ask what it said after they’d caught a glimpse. I’d explain it away, hide it and even temporarily ignore it. The way people brought it back to my attention sometimes surprised me…and caught me off guard.

But still, it was there…every day…

And a few months later, something beautiful happened.

I noticed the message had started wearing off. The paper and tape began to gradually peel away.

Somehow, I was more taken with the idea that this reminder was slowly, visually disappearing, bit by bit…at first inperceptual…almost like Marty McFly’s image from an elusive existence in the photograph from “Back to the Future.”

Even more amazing was how the physical disintegration of this message coincided with the occurrence of more “fun” days, more laughs, less worry at work and easier self-forgiveness when I’d say or do “something stupid.” And maybe most importantly, it coincided with more time-outs taken merely to feel gratitude for a life of which I was privileged to play a part.

This message was making its way into my being, my every day thoughts…

Was I realizing that nothing but love and being a good person REALLY mattered? Could over-thinking everything be destroying the moments of opportunity for the insatiable happiness that follows when you know there is so much life to be lived?

Before I knew it, the paper and tape had worn off. They were completely gone.

When I finally put two and two together and realized that a subconscious, transcendental shift was gradually (and visually) taking place, I paid Ryan a visit one night in December.

“Ryan, you won’t believe this. Your paper is gone. LOOK at my phone!”

“Where’s the note?”

“It’s gone! The note is gone! It just…wore off!”

I looked my dear friend in the eyes.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s because…you don’t need it anymore.”

***

Sometimes looking at the past gives us a sense of empowerment. On occasion, we think about the things we’ve learned over the course of a year, six months, even a week and give ourselves a good ‘ol pat on the back.

This self-indulgent ‘atta boy never seems to come easier than when we realize we’ve somehow avoided being lied to, fooled, tricked, or played. But, if in spite of the lessons, the difficulties, and the teachers who have let us down…if we can still love and forgive ourselves…and treat ourselves and others with kindness as we’re all tested in this classroom of life, we can have true success.

And this is what Ryan taught me. We can learn lessons and yet not compromise a positive self-image. We can reach higher and dedicate ourselves to learning…and yet, silence the inner critic. We can effectively manage the temptation to batter ourselves and not carry negativity into the future with those lessons.

***

I stood at the mic in front of everyone, and let out a deep breath.

Ryan loved with all his heart. He enjoyed life without worry. He touched people with kindness, love, and respect for the moment. But the concept of self-love was especially important to him. He knew love is the greatest force of all, and it starts “in here.”

And he wanted to leave us with that. All of us.

His lesson no longer belongs to just me. It belongs, and always has, to ALL of us.

Sometimes I wonder what he’d say to me now…when I fret over the future, or give into moments of self-doubt and over-analyzation..

But I know that today, no matter what happens in the present moment, he would take my phone and tape a new note to the back…

“Love, laugh and never fear.”

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Sandy says:

That was beautiful Jill. I’m sure your friend Ryan is smiling. My deepest sympathy for your great loss.



Jim says:

Such a sweet story. Ryan was such a great guy. I feel privileged to be able to say I knew him.



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