I ran across this story and I just had to share it with you. Especially since we’ve been talking about dreams and goals.
Suleika Jaouad was born in New York City and attended The Juilliard School’s pre-college program for the double bass. She then earned her BA with the highest honors from Princeton University and MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College…okay, okay, she was super brilliant, accomplished, and had an amazing future and career ahead… and not only that, she also worked on various human rights campaigns for the Center for Constitutional Rights, and studied abroad in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt where she researched and wrote about women’s issues. Basically, she was awesome!
But her future career aspirations were cut short when at age 22, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Doctors estimated she had a 35% chance of long-term survival. She would spend the next four years in the hospital. While receiving treatment, she began writing a column for The New York Times, which eventually became the Emmy award-winning video series called “Life, Interrupted.”
This is where her story truly begins. When the column was published, she started getting many emails and letters from people who were deeply touched by her story, and wanted to share stories of their own. This correspondence with the people she didn’t even know became so meaningful to her that she started keeping these letters in a little wooden box.
She talked about a woman she met briefly at a non-profit called First Descents, an outdoor adventure camp for kids with cancer. Her nickname was Salsa, and she was the camp mom who was in charge of nurturing and loving these kids. When she found out that Suleika was in the hospital, she wrote her a letter asking her to come to visit her and her family to go horseback riding at their beautiful ranch in Montana when she got well. This letter was added to the little wooden box. She said she kept it because it just seemed so far away and almost impossible. But she would just daydream about it hoping that one day, it would become a reality.
Not only did she finally take that trip to Montana, but the letters she kept in her little box eventually became the itinerary for her 100-day-15,000-mile road trip to meet and encounter the people behind the stories who helped her move forward and realize what a real hero’s journey looks like.
Life is unpredictable. As Suleika says in her TED talk: “Every single one of us will have our life interrupted. Whether it’s by the ripcord of a diagnosis, or some other kind of heartbreak or trauma that brings us to our knees. We need to find ways to live in between…”
To truly “live well” or “be well” or “to live the dream” is to be ALIVE in the messiest, richest, most painful, and even most joyful of circumstances.
I hope this interruption in your day helps you be present to focus on what matters.