Letter To My Bus Buddy

Dear rabid fan base (haha, just kidding): while rummaging around in some of my saved drafts, I found this short but sweet blog that I wrote over Thanksgiving break following my trip to NYC. Better late than never, right?

Yesterday’s bus ride from New York back to Boston was an adventure for many reasons, but what I’ll always remember about it was one very small moment that actually meant quite a lot to me.

I had my headphones in the entire way from New York to Hartford. I spent a majority of the time sleeping, and the rest messing around on my phone. I talked to the person next to me for all of one minute when the bus stopped somewhere and let a few people off. He asked if I was getting off and I told him I had not a single clue where we were or what I was supposed to do, but that I figured this wasn’t my stop. Then we both went back to sleep.

Upon our arrival in Hartford I stepped off the bus and continued messing around on my phone as I waited in line for my next bus. My former bus buddy came up to me and handed me a folded up piece of paper. All he said was, “Here,” and I automatically replied, “Thanks.” He was gone before I even looked up.

I figured the paper was something that had fallen out of my backpack. I unfolded it and read this:

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I think you’re very beautiful. I’m sorry if I do sound creepy saying that, I’m just really shy but I thought I should let you know. Sorry for the sloppy handwriting. I blame the bus shaking.

Since I won’t ever see this person again, all I can do is write this response back and send it into cyberspace and wonder whether he’ll ever come across it. So here I go.

Dear Bus Buddy,

Thank you for the note. I’m quite flattered and a bit confused; we were both asleep the entire time, so I’m not sure how I made such an impression on you, but knowing that I did is a nice feeling. I admire your bravery and I appreciate your heart. It’s a really sweet thing to give someone the gift of a compliment without expecting anything in return, and such a compliment can go a long, long way.

Something that I think about often is the idea that you never know what somebody else is going through. If you tell a stranger she’s beautiful, you never know how she’ll take it: annoyed at yet another pursuer? Confused by the circumstances? Or maybe she’ll take it as a sign from the universe telling her not to give up hope on people, because some of them are simply good. Maybe it’ll save her from giving up hope on herself.

You may be shy, but you have courage and a pure heart. Never stop being honest and giving to others. That kind of thing doesn’t happen often enough, and it’s so appreciated. And, truly, thank you. This girl doesn’t hear that she’s beautiful very often.

Sincerely,

Your Bus Buddy

Take a minute today and say something nice to somebody. You never know how much they may need it.

Until next time.

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Love and Death: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

In 2014, Robin Williams and Mila Kunis starred in a film called The Angriest Man in Brooklyn. This movie tells the story of a man named Henry who discovers one day that he’s dying of a brain aneurysm, and his freaked-out, pill popping, affair-having, crazy cat lady doctor (Mila Kunis) ends up telling him that he has 90 minutes to live. What does one do with just 90 short minutes left?

Henry drops by the office to ask his colleagues, one of whom is his brother. Brother doesn’t really give a crap about this deep and thought-provoking question, and he shoos Henry out the door. Henry decides that he needs to sleep with his wife one last time, but his advances are met with a declaration that she’s in love with the neighbor and that Henry no longer means anything to her. Meanwhile, Henry has called his assistant and listed off the names of every important acquaintance in his life and requested that they attend an emergency party. It’s pretty incredible that a man who’s so angry at the world all the time (hence the movie’s title) can just tick off the names of 25 people who feel important to him. But sadly, only one shows up.

Even worse than the dismissive brother, the cheating wife, and the absent friends, though, is the reaction from Henry’s son. It turns out that Henry shunned his son, Tommy, for pursuing the life of a dancer rather than going into business with his father and uncle. It also turns out that Henry is the one who instilled in Tommy a love of dancing; there was a time when Henry was constantly affectionate and happy, and the two would dance together. After his son- Tommy’s brother- died, Henry reacted with pure and utter anger and hatred toward the entire world. And now, when Henry just wants to call Tommy to say that he loves him one more time before he dies, Tommy won’t pick up.

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Henry gets himself a video camera in a last-ditch attempt to get the message to Tommy. Now, keep in mind, it’s been almost an hour at this point. This guy thinks he has very little time left, and he could be spending it going somewhere special, eating great food, or doing anything else to make himself happy. He could even be in a hospital trying to extend his time. Instead, he’s spending his last moments completely alone, having been rejected by every person he loves, trying to let them know one last time that he loves them in spite of it all. His love is bigger than himself but not big enough to be seen by those whom it touches. But despite Henry’s anger and his tragedy, all he wants to do is show it.

This is what he says (see the whole speech here):

They say that love is pure and generous. It’s not. It’s small and selfish.

You know, I wanted you at the office because I couldn’t envision anything finer than having you next to me… What you wanted, what you dreamed, I didn’t want to hear it.

We’ve all heard the popular song and dance: love is patient, love is kind, love is letting someone go, love is caring for someone else more than you care for yourself. It goes on and on. What doesn’t get said, but which is just as true, if not more, is the other side of the coin. Love causes us to care about somebody so much that all we want is to have him or her around. It might mean sitting with us at our office; it might mean keeping them home when they really want to leave. Maybe it means pushing them toward what we do because, really, what we want is for them to be just a little bit more like us. Love causes people to make stupid decisions all the time. When you think about it, that is pretty selfish.

We see more examples of love’s selfishness and stupidity as the movie goes on. Thinking about his dad, Tommy shares a random memory: “When I was seven, he taught me how to play gin rummy. And I hated it, because I could never beat him…” Now, here’s where logic comes in and says, okay, you’re seven. Of course you can’t beat him. This is a great time for a teaching moment about perseverance or something. Instead: “…so he taught me how to cheat.”

Love is more profound than right or wrong. It’s more selfish than caring. Sometimes, you can love someone so much that it’s not good for either of you. (It can cause you to cheat at cards, push them away, or even skip out on the hospital when you have minutes left to live and a broken ankle from jumping off a bridge because, damn it, you are going to dance with your son.) Quite honestly, we humans can’t understand love. We’re clearly not capable of handling it, and we make mistakes with it all the time. Maybe we haven’t evolved enough yet. But what I know for sure- what even the Angriest Man in Brooklyn knew in his last moments- is that there’s no way we can live without it.

Love tears through our lives, and death doesn’t stop it either. We learned that in The Princess Bride. We learned it in Titanic. We learned it from Glee’s Quarterback. Recently, Fast & Furious 7 paid a beautiful tribute to fallen star Paul Walker with a Wiz Khalifa song called See You Again:

It’s been a long day without you, my friend

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again

We’ve come a long way from where we began

And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again

All of these stories, and many more, have something in common. It’s this idea that love doesn’t stop when life does. To me, that seems like a universal message from every time humans deal with death. There seems to be an understanding that dead doesn’t mean unloved, and it most certainly doesn’t mean gone. Why else would we have these notions of praying for people after they die, or joining them again one day?

It seems that, sometimes, it may even take someone dying for the rest of us to realize or to celebrate the love that we have for them. Again, this isn’t love being kind. This is love waiting until we’re at our worst and taking that moment to hit us brutally hard. And yet we always embrace that hit. Sometimes, love speaks even louder in silence.

A final note: in the end, Henry doesn’t die after 90 minutes. He lives a miraculous 8 days, and those 8 days are filled with love and family. He asks Mila Kunis (remember, the depressed pill-popper) what she would do if she knew how long she had. Her response? “I would try and figure out how to be happy.”

I leave you with Robin Williams’ answer, and his final words of the film: “Then why don’t you?”

Orlando

Last year I saw The Book of Mormon. Parts were offensive, parts were hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed the music. But my favorite part of the story can be summed up in one word: Orlando.

The story centers around a lot of things, but one of the main parts is that Elder Price is a Mormon missionary about to be sent on his mission, the defining moment of his young adult life, and he wants to go to Orlando. Price has never been to Orlando, but he reasons that it’s the best place in the world, and it’s the place where he belongs.

Of course, this story wouldn’t be a good story if Price simply decided he wanted to go to Orlando and then he got to go there. Where’s the drama? Where’s the pain? Well, turns out it’s in UgandaThat’s where Price gets sent, much to his chagrin. And not only does he get sent to not Orlando, but he gets sent with a very un-Orlando-ish person, Elder CunninghamCunningham is uncool and unworthy of being Price’s buddy, and Price is pissed. This is not how things were supposed to go.

I won’t give away what happens, but at a certain point Price decides he’s had enough. He leaves. He gets to Orlando! And…

Meh.

Orlando is okay. Nothing to write home about, really. Enough to sing a song over, but not worth staying. Price decides that perhaps feeling fulfilled and wanted and valued is more important than living in some location that was pre-determined as perfect. He returns to Africa, to a community that accepts and needs him, and to doing something that he’s passionate about. And that becomes his “Orlando.” Turns out that Orlando isn’t a geographic location; it’s a place in your heart. (Awwww) It’s a place where you feel that you belong, and it may be because of a person or a mission or anything else. But I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not about that place itself.

Home becomes home when emotions and traditions wrap around place. Yes, we can love a place for what we find there. But for those of us who are lucky enough to be in that part of life in which we get to choose where we want to be, beautiful places with fun stuff to do aren’t enough. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want somewhere that feels like home. My Orlando.

Let’s switch gears.

One of my favorite childhood movies, Sweet Home Alabama, tells the story of a woman named Melanie who grows up in the deep south, in Alabama. She marries her childhood sweetheart, Jake, but eventually decides that she needs a change. She leaves Jake and moves to a completely different place- New York City. There she finds the suave and delightful Yankee Andrew, the picture of a perfect boyfriend, nothing like her old, flawed, unpolished Jake. Melanie finally has it figured out (she’s finally made it from Alabama to “Orlando,” if you will). She’s ready to marry Andrew.

But this is a romantic comedy, so you know it’s not that easy. Melanie has to return home to tie up some loose ends with Jake before she can marry Andrew. Once there, as you’d probably predict, she starts to second-guess herself. Finally, it’s wedding day.

Melanie looks up at the perfect and wonderful Andrew (a.k.a “Orlando”) and says, “You don’t want to marry me. Not really. You see, the truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago. My whole heart. And I never really got it back.”

And now I beautifully tie everything together.

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, located in Los Angeles. During my time at USC I had a love-hate relationship with LA. I anguished endlessly over finding the perfect place to live; LA was alright, but I had some problems with it. “I can’t live in a place where you have to take unprotected left turns,” I would say. “It shows that LA isn’t right for me.” I needed to find my Orlando.

And so I left. Maybe Orlando was on the other side of the country, so I drove clear across to Boston. There are so many things I love here- public transportation, how it feels like a small town, my school community. Like Orlando, Boston has many great things. But, ultimately, it’s not where my heart is.

I gave my heart away a long time ago. I gave it away every time my family arrived at LAX when I was a kid, and the first thing I saw were those palm trees. I gave it away when I celebrated Thanksgivings in Lancaster. I gave it away, all of it, when life centered around football, and everything else was put on hold to be a part of this electric and incredible nation of Trojans. I gave my heart away in LA, my whole heart, and I never really got it back.

So I’m going back to find it.

On this day in 2010 I sat on the floor of a hotel in LA and officially decided that I was going to USC. What a great day this is, because here I sit in a school hallway in Boston, making it official: I’m going back again.

Fight On.