This World Will Not Change Me

I am not a hero. I have never run into a burning building or set a broken bone. I have never knowingly charged into danger knowing that I might not make it home when all was said and done. No, I am not a hero. But I was raised by one, though he would never call himself that. My dad is my hero, he is my example on how to live. My dad has run into burning buildings, he has whisked people to safety, he has helped them die as peacefully as possible when there was nothing left to do, he has searched through rubble for the telltale hint of a human soul. My dad has run into danger knowing he might not make it home. He has been hurt, he has been broken, but he has never stopped getting back up and doing it all over again. Because it was the right thing to do, because it was something that he could do. When I was little, I didn’t think much of it; it was just a fact of our lives- other people’s dads went to office buildings wearing suits, my dad charged into burning houses wearing a rather different dress code. I remember special goodnight kisses before shifts, going to visit at the station houses, camping trips with his ‘work family.’ Looking back now, I see the truth hidden behind the smiles, I see the pain and the reward that being the hero can bring. There is not only glory to be found, there is so much more buried below the surface if you only take the time to look.

On April 19, 1995 evil struck in an unimaginable way with the Oklahoma City Bombing. I had just turned six, but I still remember the footage of the building, only a portion still eerily standing. When the call rang out for help, my dad answered it. He flew out with his search and rescue team to assist in whatever way he could. He was never one to stand back and watch, he always had to help.

This is my dad during the search and rescue after the Oklahoma City Bombing:

The second picture where he is sitting on a bucket was a shot taken and used in Garth Brook’s 1995 music video ‘The Change,’ which doubled as a tribute to the victims and rescuers of Oklahoma City. If you ever feel the desire to watch, you can view the original video here: Garth Brooks ‘The Change’ original music video.

When I was a little girl I was so proud of this video- that was my dad! I would pop in the VHS tape and watch it over and over, just to see him right here. Today I found the video again- having a deep yearning to hear this song once more. And when I reached the scene I knew so well, this image hit me like a truck, making it hard to breath. For the first time I saw what it really portrayed. Pain. He never talked much about what happened there, we would get some stories as we got older, but it was nothing like seeing him in that moment of raw heartache and disbelief as the world was falling apart around him. I know they were there primarily as recovery- they flew in after many of the survivors were already rescued. Their mission was to help give peace to the families who lost so much that day, by allowing them to bury those they loved. And it took its toll on all of them. Seeing the devastation of so much hate will do that- it is a side of humanity that no one is ever ready to face. For the first time I saw how much my dad sacrificed to help others.

And then I came across this- a picture he took and kept from that time.

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It’s just a simple sign. But it was powerful. It was a reminder, it was a promise- it was an embodiment of all that we are. When we have no other choice, we find out what we are made of inside, and it is usually so much more than we would have ever anticipated. Through our pain we find strength in one another, we find hope in a lost world.

“The Change”
By: Garth Brooks

One hand
Reaches out
And pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for
They say what good have you done
By saving just this one
It’s like whispering a prayer
In the fury of a stormAnd I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

This heart
Still believes
The love and mercy still exist
While all the hatred rage and so many say
That love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire
With the moisture from a kiss

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

As long as one heart still holds on
Then hope is never really gone

I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world we know
Never changes me

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

Today I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head, I keep coming back to the same thing, the words are burning through my veins. I wish I could do more. I wish I had more to give. I am not a firefighter, a nurse, a doctor, a police officer, a soldier- there are so many things that I am not. I am just a girl, just one solitary girl who finds her power with the written word. Some days it seems that is all that I have to give. And in a world that seems to be shattering right before my eyes- I have to ask myself if that is really enough?

Words feel so small in the face of so much pain and anger. But it is all that I have. I would like to think that I would step forward if the opportunity were thrust upon me, that in the heat of a moment I would make the selfless choice, I would do what my dad has always taught me. As the song says, “I do this so the world will know that it cannot change me.” Perhaps the most powerful thing that we can do is prove to the world that it will not make us jaded, it will not stop us from caring, it will not smother the flame of humanity we all started this life with. This world will never be able to create so much fear in my heart that I stop trying to help. If I find myself forever mired in these struggles, facing the choice of giving more of myself than I think I can bear to lose- I would still fight. The darkness of this world will never change me. I will always try live by my dad’s example. I will always try to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will always try to be a welcoming smile in a world full of bitter anger. I will always try to be a voice of reason in the screaming crowd. I will always fight- even if it means using the only power I possess- my words. I have spent enough of my life idly standing by. I will not be afraid. I will not be bitter or jaded or angry. I will not be changed.

We let fear rule us all too often, we allow the anger to twist our thoughts into venom that we thrust upon others. We turn our backs because there is so much that we can’t process yet, we think that this world will never change. Fear breeds helplessness, which in turn feeds anger. We create our own vicious cycles by giving into the temptation that is giving up. We turn our backs and wonder where all the heroes have gone, we never stop to look down and recognize ourselves for what we could be. You don’t have to change the world, you simply have to hold your ground and not let it change you.

The news is full of stories and speeches touting hate and segregation. We are afraid of one another because we refuse to open our eyes and search for the truth beyond what the reporters and politicians are telling us. We refuse to discuss the true issues. Our own ignorance will destroy us. People speak of building walls and closing borders, all the while forgetting that the majority of our disasters are home-grown. We forget that these people we are turning our backs on- they are really no different than us. It seems we forgot that age-old rule to treat others as we wish to be treated. My four year old nephew understands this concept, but many of the adults that I know have let it slip away. We have the power to change this, but we would rather blame everyone else. We listen to the fear mongering that has inundated our media- forgetting that they simply want a story they can sell. We listen to the voices that are screaming the loudest without focusing on what they actually have to say.

I refuse to give into the darkness that we have cast ourselves in. I refuse to turn away from someone who needs my help because I am afraid. If enough of us decide to be brave, we can banish any monster. I refuse to let this world change me. I will be soft, I will be kind, I will not scream, but I will not stop speaking. Because my voice is all that I have. Perhaps it is all that I need. I know that we are capable of so much more, I have seen it. Every hero must pay a price. I have seen the cost in my dad’s eyes. But I have also seen the reward. I have heard the stories, I know the price of the choices that I wish to make. That will not stop me from making them. Because I was raised to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is, no matter how many people try to scream that I am wrong. I will not back down, I will not break. I will keep getting up. I will not let this world change me.

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

Introverted (I’d love to hang out, but…)

It’s a frustrating paradox that the most fulfilling moments in my life happened when my stomach was twisted with nerves, my anxiety was at a fevered pitch, and every synapse in my body was firing off warning signs, begging to understand how I could have possibly been so stupid as to agree to the activity at hand. So many fond memories that I am so proud of now, moments that have been able to enrich my body and soul- what would have happened if I had been too afraid? The white water rafting trip, jumping off that bridge into the river, telling that one special man that I loved him, getting on that plane to Vegas, pushing off on that zip line, going in for that job interview, going out to that one happy hour with the friends that feel more like family now- everything that makes me who I really am happened in these moments. So why do I fight them inside on such a fundamental level?

I am an introvert to a textbook degree, I practically embody that definition. I prefer my solitude- books are my constant companions, I would choose staying at home and watching my newest Netflix obsession in my pajamas with my fiancé over going out with a group of people, without the slightest hint of hesitation. I crave my down time, my moments spent lost in my own thoughts, not having to constantly analyze the social cues of others. I get invited to social occasions- and in the moment that I agree I am so excited, but five minutes after the person leaves, I am plotting the most inconspicuous way of getting out of it. And it’s nothing against them, though I’m sure they wouldn’t understand that if I tried to honestly explain it. That cliché line of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ doesn’t seem to go over very well. A million possible excuses start dancing through my mind- can’t say I’m sick, it’s too transparent, and besides, I used that last Wednesday. How about broken leg? I’ve never broken my leg before- yes, that one could work. But would it be painful or expensive? (For those of you without social anxiety, you are probably wondering why on earth I could ever be considering actual threat of bodily harm to get out of something that you wouldn’t even think twice about doing. Then again, those of you with it will probably be nodded your head in understanding and pointing me to the nearest staircase to throw myself down).

I get anxious in social situations, deeply uncomfortable with small talk. Perhaps its deep-seeded insecurities rising to the surface, perhaps I’m just wired differently. Don’t get me wrong- I can still go out and have fun, I have a group of friends who I adore, I look forward to my happy hours just like everyone else. I’m not like Sheldon, I can read social cues as well as the next person, and 95% of the time you wont even be able to tell that I’m uncomfortable. It’s an internal battle I’ve learned to mask over the years. I have a Batman exterior over my Bruce Wayne inner thoughts. No one will see what I’m really feeling unless I decide to show them. So when I go out, I am fine, I smile, I joke, I laugh, it may seem that I just take a bit longer to test the waters. But inside I am weighing every word I just said, watching your reaction and calculating what every twitch of your nose might mean. And when the night of fraternization is over, I will be exhausted right down to my core. Again- it’s not you, it’s me.

So here is the ultimate dilemma of the introvert, the socially awkward, the one who’s tummy ties itself in knots at the thought of small talk with someone I’m not already intimately familiar with: do you step out of that box and join the rest of the world, in spite of your flat lining comfort levels; or do you stay at home and plan for the ‘next time’ when you will be brave enough? Or perhaps simply plan to tackle that adventure solo. I know which one I would like to be, but I am also painfully aware of which one I really am. For those of you who live for the social scene, I am sure that this will sound strange to you- the way that someone like me can fear and simultaneously crave these moments that you live for.

It gets exhausting, letting those ill-conceived phobias rule you. I am a firm believer that the more you push yourself outside of your own comfortable little box, the easier it will be. So this year I’ve decided to challenge myself to say yes more- and actually follow through, no matter how much the insecure little girl inside wants to throw herself on the ground kicking and screaming until she is allowed to just stay at home. The best parts of life are when you are dangling out on that limb. But today I need a reminder of that, of why I am trying to make myself painfully uncomfortable all of the time.

And so I look back at the past few months, at all of the good things that happened because I chose to be brave instead of comfortable. I applied for a new job within my organization- and I got it. I love it, there is not an ounce of regret when I look back at that decision. I went to a dealership and bought a car that wouldn’t threaten to break down on me every other Thursday (to someone with social anxiety- stepping into the car dealership is like Harry Potter entering a Death Eater nest- you know going in that it will be ugly, and will not be over quickly). I went on a trip to Vegas, something completely new for me. I went zip lining down Freemont street. I put myself out there and started this blog- and people are actually looking at it on occasion (still blows my mind). All of these things have happened in the past few months alone. I have been trying so hard.

I have come to a conclusion in the past year, one that was painful to accept; these feelings that I get- they wont ever go away. No matter how hard I try to overcome them, pushing myself out of my comfort zone over and over again in the hopes that I will learn to stop being afraid of social situations- that will never happen. This is a war that has to be fought one battle at a time. I have to deal with my phobias head on one moment at a time, blow by blow. I have to struggle, I have to fight the inner child constantly reminding me that one trip down the stairs could solve all of my problems. I have to fight to say ‘yes’ and then build myself up until I actually follow through. I will always be awkward, I will always feel stupid at the end of the conversation, I will always feel my heart start pounding in a panic when I agree to do something new. But I have to keep doing it. Not to make it easier in the long run, because the individual decisions will never be easier. I have to do it so that next time I want to say no, I will have one more reason backing up my decision to say yes. I will have one more memory of a time I decided to be brave and had an adventure. After all, what is life worth if you are too afraid to experience it? I cannot let my fear dictate my actions anymore. I will be brave- awkward, yes- but brave.

 

 

Things I Learned from my Dog

In honor of best friends day, I have a confession to make. You were bound to find out sooner or later, I would much rather be up front about it. I am one of ‘those’ pet people. There, it’s out! Wow, does it feel like a weight has been lifted or what? I will admit, I like putting Easter bunny ears or Santa hats on the dog when the correct season arrives. And there is a slight possibility that I have a picture of him sporting a human jersey for my favorite football team (I’ll leave the specific team anonymous for now- I think it’s best that I only throw one bombshell on you at a time). And really, he doesn’t seem to mind; after all, I do occasionally make him his very own cake (Okay- I’ve only done it once, and it was when he turned a year old- that doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me, I think I’m quite tame for a pet person). Now the cat- he’s the smart one, he’s managed to escape all of my photo sessions simply because, well, he has discovered how to use his claws. That’s a battle I only fought once- I learned my lesson. The cat rules our roost. But really, I’m not that bad. I just love my critters. In my mind, pets are a part of the family. A large part of the family.

When we brought home the little ball of fur that has since morphed into a 75 lbs mass of muscle and sloppy kisses, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I had expected that I would be teaching him; how to come, stay, roll over, don’t bark, eat the burglar, do not eat the mailman (no matter how tasty he looks). I never expected that I would be learning so many lessons from him. Here are just a few of them:

  • Always be excited to see your people. ALWAYS. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a rough day, or they didn’t change the toilet paper roll (or they moved the bone that you finally managed to hide in the perfect spot under the covers)- be excited to see them and you will brighten their day.
  • A walk will fix everything. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Link is always quick to give me a little yip when the sun is shining and I have spent too long working on my laptop. Sometimes all you need to push that reset button is a breath of fresh air and some sunshine.

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  • Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, because looks are often deceiving. Link is a German Shepherd- he is supposed to be tough and scary. But, as I’ve learned- sometimes it is the ‘toughest’ ones that actually have the biggest hearts. And sometimes those who give the appearace of being unusually serious are the biggest goofballs of all.
  • Respect the ‘little guy’: treat everyone equally, whether they are a Grate Dane or a little Chiuaua, treat them well. You’ll be much happier making friends than enemies.

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  • Just because someone barks at you, does not mean you have to bark back.
  • Down time is important. When you feel overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing you can do is find a quiet corner and chew on a bone
  • Be slow to anger and quick to forgive: It’s okay if the cat thinks its funny to bop your nose and run away when you want to nap. And if he gets you with his claws on accident, why not answer him with a big sloppy kiss instead of a nip. After all, he does let you chase him sometimes. He can’t be all bad.
  • Work time is for work, and play time is for play. You need both to feel happy and fulfilled.
  • When you are in a bad mood, sometimes all you need is a snack. And if a snack doesn’t work- a nap is usually the perfect trick.
  • When someone is sick or sad- cuddles are always the best medicine.
  • Never be embarrassed: who cares if you ran into the wall? You were busy staring at that suspicious squirrel on the fence.
  • It isn’t whether you win the game that counts, as long as you play. Missing the ball just means you get the added adventure of sniffing it out.
  • If it seems like the cat is doing something naughty- he is. Whine and alert the humans immediately.
  • Always be willing to make new friends, but be wary who you allow close to you (anything with shooting quills is usually a bad idea)
  • Always trust your intuition, it is usually right.
  • Be ambitious- why settle for a stick when you can take the whole log?

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  • Be curious about the world- there are so many new things to learn, taste, see, smell. You will never learn unless you try.
  • Be passionate- always. The world is an exciting place, if you are willing to embrace it.

 

 

 

Jumping off the Bridge (crossing out of the comfort zone)

I once jumped off of a bridge because my friends did. (Sorry mom, but I can explain).

It was early spring, and still cold enough to be comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, but the sun was out and there was not a drop of rain in sight (a rare treat in the pacific northwest). We were on a white water rafting trip for my friend’s birthday- the first time I had ever done something like that. I was already feeling emboldened because I had not only managed to climb into the raft without any help, but I had also succeeded in staying in it the entire time- didn’t even lose my paddle! So naturally, being dry and warm in my wet suite- it seemed like a perfectly logical idea to take the guide’s offer to climb out of my little raft and scramble up to the cement monstrosity we had just managed to pass under. I even convinced my sister to follow along (again- sorry mom, but big sister peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with).

That was all it took- not even gentle prodding, just the mere mention of this possible adventure, and there I was. Standing on the cement railing, staring down into the dark rushing waters below me as four rafts of college aged students (most of which I didn’t even know) stared up at me with gleaming expectation in their eyes.

Now, let me explain something to you- a vital element to this story. I have two big fears: heights and deep water. And there I was, standing on the edge of a bridge glaring into the eyes of both of them. I remember thinking that after everything, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would be the only one to turn tail and walk sheepishly back down to the rafts, dry as a bone. I stood there and nearly froze, perched precariously on the railing, staring down into the black water. And then my friends started cheering for me- perhaps they were able to see the slight hint of panic in my face, or they noticed the way my muscles tensed and I stopped breathing.

I knew that all I had to do was take one step off of that ledge- just one, and then there would be no more going back, it would be done. It would be over in a heartbeat. All I had to do was go- and forget the fact that I was stepping out into a void of nothingness. Before I could let my brain catch up and realize what I was doing, my body moved.

You always expect that something crazy and adventurous would go quickly, it would be over in the blink of an eye- I would hit the water, and all would be right in my world once more. Don’t let the lies fool you- that’s not how it happened. Everything was suddenly going in slow motion. I had more than enough time for my brain to catch on to what was happening and berate me for what a stupid decision I had just made. Jumping off of a bridge? Really Katie? A bridge? Isn’t that the exact example all parents use because its just so ludicrous, who in their right mind would do it? I am pretty sure I could have read the entire works of Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote- and still had time for a spot of tea- all in that endless moment from when my feet left the cement bridge to when the water engulfed me from below. And all I could do was stare at it’s lapping waves as I approached, as the dark expanse of water slowly grew larger. The whole time I was hoping it wouldn’t hurt too bad when I hit, and secretly willing my body to magically learn the art of teleportation and zap me back up onto the bridge.

And then I was in, the water was cold as it enveloped me, slowing me down as I sunk towards the bottom. It was done, I was kicking towards the surface, fleetingly wondering how deep this little water hole really was, and whether Lake Placid style crocodiles could ever hide in a place this far north (fully immersed underwater, it seemed like a plausible possibility- so I kicked harder). I half floated, half swam back to the raft where my friends pulled me in and I looked up to watch the next person take their death defying leap.

I grinned like a Cheshire cat the rest of the way- and I’m actually doing it again now as I relive this memory. There is something about knowing your boundaries and your fears- and tossing them to the wind anyways.

If there is anything that I have learned, it’s that every story we have worth telling starts at the edge of our comfort zones. We just have to be brave enough to take that leap outside of our self-imposed boundaries. I am the first to admit that I forget this fact a lot. But this year I have been fighting for my adventures, the spice that peppers my writing. Some days all I want to do is curl up on my couch and ignore whatever is waiting for me outside that door. But the other thing life has taught me- you never regret opening that door, even if it all turns out disastrously- you have one more memory, one more moment to shape who you will become. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the girl who did something- even if it was as crazy as jumping off of a bridge in spite of your fears.

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