This past week has been a strange one for me. I’ve been unable to do much without my mind constantly pulling me back to my hometown.
Those of you that follow me on Twitter or Facebook, may have already seen links I posted earlier this week. I still cannot begin to wrap my mind around how something like this occurred, and of all places – that it occurred in the tiny town I called home for almost 20 years of my life.
When I see the smiling faces of the young women involved in the crash, my mind flashes back to my high school years. To the carefreeness of that time in my life. To the silliness involved in day to day happenings. To the closeness I felt to my friends that I spent every waking moment with (before class, in class, between class, at lunch, at sports practices). I cannot imagine if something like that had happened to us. I cannot begin to fathom what these girls, their families, and the entire community are going through right now.
While I do know some of the cousins, siblings, families and friends of the girls involved (as it is in any small town where you know almost everyone) – I did not personally know any of the young women that did not survive the crash. But all I have heard from those that did know them is how happy they always were. How they were always smiling… always giving… always laughing. And all the images I’ve seen shared on Facebook and elsewhere confirm exactly that. The photos show them giggling, acting silly, carefree – with arms thrown around their friends.
And what hit me most when I saw the photos – is that the images look strikingly similar to photos I have from the same time in my life. Photos that feature the same faces of my friends over and over again. Photos of genuine smiles, laughter, goofiness, and pure happiness.
All these thoughts were floating around in my head when I came across an article in The Guardian online titled, “Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” It was about a palliative nurse who cared for patients during the last 12 weeks of their lives. She wrote about the clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives and how we could all learn something from them. Then she went on to list the top five regrets of the dying that she has found. (You can read them all here.) The one that stood out to me the most though – the one that literally jumped off the page at me – was No. 5…
“I wish that I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
And it again brought me back to that time. To a time before I was worried about paying the bills. To a time before I was too busy to spend a night with my friends. To a time before I was too uptight to let my work be interrupted by a ridiculous dance move. It brought me back to a time where laughing so hard that I made no noise was a regular occurrence.
Of course I understand that carefree feeling can’t last forever. Surely as we grow older we have more responsibilities, more worries, more resting on our shoulders. But all of those things don’t mean we are incapable of continuing to laugh, to smile, to giggle, to dance, to embarrass ourselves. Even with all the pressures of adulthood, we can still Choose to be Happy.
I feel like if there is anything we can take from this tragic situation in my hometown – if there is one thing we can learn from these young women whose lives were taken much too soon (and from younger, more carefree versions of ourselves) – it is to be happy. To find joy in life’s small moments. To cherish those around you. To smile. To laugh. To enjoy yourself.
Because I don’t know about you… but I don’t want to come to the end of my life (whether it is decades from now or days from now), and think:
“I wish I had let myself be happier.”
. . .
A side note to those who are interested in helping, the brother of one of the girls who did not survive the crash has set up a scholarship fund in her memory. (You can read more about it on Facebook here.)
If you’re interested in contributing you can donate to the “Caitlin Scannell Memorial Scholarship Fund” at any National Exchange Bank location (http://www.nebat.com/) or you can mail your donation to:
National Exchange Bank
P.O. Box 840
Campbellsport, WI 53010