In June of 2003 a friend of mine was killed in a drunk driving accident. I was beside myself as she was the third person I knew that was a victim of such a preventable crime. I picked myself up and promised that I would never drive after having more than one drink -- a promise I have not broken.
Two days later, I was enjoying myself at the Pride Parade and was waiting to see the last float on which my friends Gina and Katie would be dancing. When the last float passed and Gina and Katie were not on it, I called Gina to to yell at her because I missed a party waiting around for the last float. That's when Gina told me that Katie was one of the 13 victims on the infamous porch collapse in Chicago the night before. Two friends lost in a weekend.
Losing two friends in such a short period of time really brought me to a place of introspection that I've never been before. I started writing in my journal more and lying in bed thinking about the brevity of life. I found myself distancing myself people to avoid the inevitable hurt that would soon follow when they, too, die. A wall went up and it would be years before it would ever be climbed.
Two months later and five days before my birthday, my very good friend Crista died. It was a blow I was not prepared for; one that nobody could ever prepare for. I had my first anxiety attack and cried until dehydration. I was temporarily medicated for the debilitating anxiety and lost what little faith I had left. If this is a test, I don't want any part of what you have to offer. Life was no longer random. Life was now cruel.
To deal with this, I took some time off work and wandered around the UK and Czech Republic to flee the pitiful eyes and empty "I'm sorry's." I found it helpful to sit around a foreign environment completely incognito and collect my thoughts.
I realized that I could die any day and wouldn't have done anything great or that I was truly proud of. I'd miss out on so much that life has to offer and would disappear without having left a significant mark. I didn't want to look back on life and see me sitting at a desk at work with a huge bank account that I never used to have fun or do anything worthwhile. This scared me. It was then that I created my first bucket list. There were things on my list I had never even known I wanted to do:
- Travel to all 50 states.
- Walk the Great Wall of China (check)
- Write a book. (half check)
- Surf the waters of Hawaii. (check)
- Go skydiving.
- Learn yet another language. (check and check)
But sitting atop that list was "Join Peace Corps." I stared at the entry having not realized I had written it and began to smile. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to join Peace Corps.
When I returned to the States, I filled out the lengthy application and began the acceptance process. I was placed in Ukraine and my life has forever changed since then.
While living in Ukraine, I had a rare, but epically horrible day so I pulled out one of Crista's journals that I took after her death and began reading it, like many times before. Only this time I came across a passage that I had never read before. It said, "Sometimes I wish I would just sell off all of my belongings and join Peace Corps." It was then that I knew I made the perfect decision. I made my mark. I've made a difference in people's lives. I won't soon be forgotten. Before that day, I often wondered what she would have thought knowing that she had such a large part in my joining. Now I know she approves.