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Monday, August 15, 2011

Time may change me. But you can't trace time.

~All things change, and we change with them.

Change. It’s within your reach. You know what it means, but as I’ve come to realize, you can’t achieve it without some personal risk. Five years ago, I was living in a small town in N.J., surrounded by everyone I’d ever known growing up and never truly feeling content with where my life was at or the direction I was going.

Sure, I knew that it was possible to make changes, but it was so hard…and I was petrified. For me, fear was one of the main components of change. For every change I made, I became stronger, and realized that while I’d never be able to control the outcome; I could control the action I took and the energy I put out in to this World.

When I came to NM, I thought that I had hit my bottom. I was so lonely, and had nobody but myself to answer to. What that meant was I could no longer blame my bad days on other people. I couldn’t come home upset that someone had done something to me to make me feel a certain way. For this first time in my life I had to hold myself accountable for everthing I thought and felt.

It was decision time. I was only supposed to be in Albuquerque for six weeks. By my calculations that was just long enough for me to get away without missing anything, or anyone too much. A couple of weeks before I was supposed to leave, I learned that someone I had knew and cared for passed away much too young. I was so sad and wanted desperately to escape the emptiness in my heart, so I went up to the top of Sandia Mountains on a tram. When you reach 13,000 feet of elevation the air is different. When I got to the top, I sat out on the edge of a peak overlooking the land and realizing for the first time that instead of being the center of the Universe, I was only a small piece. It was something so simple, yet I’d never even considered it in all the years I’d spent in N.J. I was always too preoccupied with working too hard, stressing out too much and spending any free time I had entertained by what was going on around me rather than what was going on inside of me. I decided that day that I was going to stay in N.M. I didn’t know for how long, but for the first time in my life, that didn’t matter.

About two years in to living out here, on my own, I had some time to think and mature. I began figuring out who I was, what I wanted, and where I needed to be. It was difficult picking up my life and moving 2,000 miles away from everyone I loved, but it was worth it. I strongly feel that without risk, there is no reward. In exchange for the loneliness, I got to know myself, and for the first time, I genuinely liked who that was.

Of course, I didn’t always have the courage to make a move like that. Truth be told, I left because my heart was broken, and I knew my spirit was next to go. Also, I started paying close attention to all of the signs around me telling me it was time to leave. First, my job moved to another state. Then, I had a breakup that left me with no place to live. Finally, I tried to lease an apartment that turned in to an eight hour ordeal which promptly sent me (and my first month’s rent ) running out of there realizing, if so many things are turning out so badly, what could I do to make it stop?

People always ask me, why do you live out there in New Mexico? How do you stand living in the desert? It’s so slow there…and hot! The answer I always give is the same, it doesn’t matter where you are, it only matters who you are and what and whom you choose to surround yourself with.
In order for things to begin, things have to end. I’d always had an issue with resorting to my past for safety. Whether it be a bad habit or a bad relationship, I just couldn’t seem to keep myself away from the things that were already proven to be toxic for me. It’s like the feeling of exhaustion you get after trying to swim against the current in the water for too long. I was tired, and I knew I had no choice but to go forward. Except, my mind just wouldn’t let me. If I’d been telling this story 10 years ago, I would have blamed it on my heart. But, I learned over the years that you have the ability to control your emotions, it’s your mind that will lead you to the edge of self destruction and dare you to jump.

It isn’t easy and it never will be. Personally, I don’t think it’s supposed to be. But, there came a time when my countless hours of self reflection began to illuminate the darkness I’d been living in for so long. That’s when I knew I had found myself again. I was no longer someone’s daughter, friend, colleague or significant other, I was Melanie, and that was finally okay with me.

Taking control over your life breeds a confidence that can’t be shaken. When you have traveled your journey to wherever it is you’re going, and realize that you have the power within you to make your life what you want it be, you will never feel like you have to rely on another person again. However, ironically, when you get to that place, you turn around and see all of the people that supported you along the way. That’s how you know who your true friends are. The people that are there to wipe your tears should be the same people that are excited to join you in toasting to your happiness.

I started out just breathing at night to clear my head because I couldn’t remain calm enough to attempt meditation and my thoughts were driving me to places I was tired of visiting. The small windows of clarity allowed me a peek at what being in the moment was all about. If you’re not present for life, you miss it. You can spend a lifetime pouring over your regrets, or take a moment and be aware of what’s right in front of you.

Don’t spend life waiting, wondering, hoping for better times to arrive, make it happen for yourself. Don’t try to plan ten years from now, every breath we take is another blessing. Life can change in an instant. The only way to enjoy it is to remain flexible, and open yourself up to the possibility that the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In Your Honor

  When I left Bayonne, 4 years ago, I thought I was saying goodbye to my hometown. But last weekend that all changed when I had an idea for a group where people could share their most cherished stories of all--their memories about their hometown.

Our hometowns shape us.  It can’t be denied.  Each and every one of us is who we are, in part, because of where we grew up.  It was the people we knew, our teachers, police officers, priests and preachers,  piano teachers, PAL coaches and dance instructors who taught us lessons about life that would later prove more valuable than we ever knew they would be.

It is truly a tribute to humanity that so many people have flocked to this group with hopes of sharing a ‘remember when’ story, just aching for the chance to discuss a time when life wasn’t so stressful.   A time when people left their doors open because they knew and trusted their neighbors.  When the people that you surrounded yourself with lived on your block, or went to your school.  This group has done that by creating a welcoming atmosphere of nostalgia. Thank you, (yes you, reading this right now), for starting what I hope will one day serve as a reminder to not just my hometown people, but to everyone's. My gratitude for each and every person that feels the same way is immense.

When I look at old photographs and speak to people that I haven’t communicated with in a while, it always takes me back to a time when I didn’t have to worry if the rent was paid. All I had to worry about is being a kid. TPlaying games and laughing until my stomach hurt. That kind of carefree attitude can’t be manufactured or sold.  And once it’s gone, it’s near impossible to recapture.  That’s the beauty of nostalgia.

The overwhelming majority of folks shared the same things. Some missed the locally owned stores. Some wondered why their children couldn’t have the same childhood they did. Why couldn’t their child go out and play until the streetlights came on and it was time for dinner? The simple answer is that times have changed. But, what I’ve realized by starting this group is that people have not. People are still good even though times are tough. I truly believe that this group is indicative of what America needs today:  To reconnect with a time when there weren’t cell phones and gadgets consuming our lives.  A time when people left their house and explored their community.  We need to remember that a community is people and places with shared experiences.  What that means is that we’re all in this together.   That while we are different, we share the same memories, have passion for the same interests, and are defined by our desire to be ‘heard. recognized, and above all else, loved.

Nostalgia serves as a reminder that we are all interconnected. That while we may be different, most of us share the same kind of memories, the same common goal. We are in control of our own happiness, and ultimately are all a part of something worth fighting for: our community.  And if everybody remembers that…well, then anything is possible.