I was nervous. I straightened my tie I was walking down a road I had been down many different times but not in quite the same fashion. I walked into the church and my throat was dry my hands were sweaty. In the same breath I was among honored friends and family.
I never truly understood funerals and death. I got the honoring the dead like the Vikings and the place in Valhalla where warriors reside and revel in the victories of their life and death in the afterlife. Do not add meaning to the reference instead just get this is the honor we give to the dead and those who had an impact on our lives.
For me death never struck me like others. I did not cry I did not sob nor weep. I simply was present to the remembrance of those who had passed on before me. This time was somehow different. I knew I was in a different space as I could feel something more just on the edges of my consciousness. My grandfather had died and I wasn’t prepared to really see that aspect of my life as I began to look at my own mortality in that moment.
The Church was packed there were people from all over in Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania to name a few states. It still was not registering it was so surreal and in that moment I just was in shock. My grandfather had over 20 legitimate children.
As the funeral began I was listening to the pastor at the podium. It was super intense and it was directly powerful. The words he used resonated about my grandfather. The words fit and I began to feel a weariness inside my soul. I knew this was a different thing. My Aunt went up to the podium and began speaking. In the initial stages it was about my grandfather and somehow it turned to a monument about her. Her first words were “I am the oldest and …” It all went blank and began to be a blah, blah, blah session about her and what she did and did not like. I struggled to stay present to her words. She said
When she sat down I felt my heart sinking as my grandfather was gone. I also felt my heart rise as I could be thankful for the time I spent with him and what it meant to me. I was compelled to go to the front of the church and speak. There was easily two hundred people within the church and I was not nervous at all.
“To start off I want to say I was my grandfather’s favorite grandchild. I have no Idea why and why really does not matter. Now to most people that may sound presumptuous or even arrogant. I want you to put that to the side for a moment and really get present to what I have to say. My grandfather would let me ride in the front cab of the truck while everyone else had to ride in the back. My grandfather would work on the farm all day and come home well after 10 pm when everyone else was sleep. I suffer from insomnia and my mind always runs and works. My grandfather would play checkers with me for a s long as it took for me to get tired and he would never ever let me win. I always had to earn the victor and he explained strategies of the game as well as strategies in life. I was really close with my grandfather. We would talk all the time and it was him listening and giving advice when he felt it would help never forcing it on me.
I found out something new about my grandfather today. If you look in the obituary I found out my grandfather was a Korean War hero. He had medals and things I never saw or knew anything about. My grandfather did not seek glory or to be glorified. He simply defended what he felt was right and as an African American back in those days must have been tough. My grandfather helped found a town which feeds into the town we are in right now with over 30,000 people in it. My grandfather again did not seek recognition so I want everyone to really get who this man was and the honor in who he was. I still have my grandmother and she is over there right now looking at me and I see her and all I can think of is what they mean to me.”
“I had a nickname that always bothered me as a child. My grandparents called me Frog or Froggy. I despised that nickname and how I got it was I used to hop around on all fours before I could walk. They never called me my name. Even this morning I went into my grandmother’s room to kiss her and she hugged me and was so excited that she called me frog. Now I am refined with master’s degrees and I am a nerd. And for today for her Frog is what is right and what fits. I love you, grandma.” And I walked to my seat I sat down. I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was familiar without even looking I got who it was and he leaned over and whispered in my ear “watch this and pay attention son.”
This man strode to the podium and there was an aura of respect from every single person in the room. The man began to speak. “That eloquent young man who you all just heard from Is my son. He is accomplished and I am so very proud of who he has become and who he still has yet to become. That being said I am the oldest of all my daddy’s children and after I speak no one else will be speaking here today.” There was a firmness in my dad’s voice that I did not get just yet, and it would be made clear as to the why all too soon.
My daddy revealed them to me and I know he loved them as much as he loved the rest of us. We stand here not to build monuments to ourselves we are here to honor my father. We honor him by being a family in unity and handling any changes that come our way as such, as a family. My son spoke so that we all knew the kind of man we are here to honor. Take that memory with you out into the world and maintain his honor. Thank you!”
I have always been proud of my father and the life he gave to me. In that moment I could not be more proud of him and how he handled that situation. No one else spoke and they all respected my father’s words. I lost a grandfather and gained 3 aunts and an uncle and all the family attached to that.
Sometimes the most spectacular things can be gained in the blink of an eye and all from something that may or may not be what others may deem right. Leave right and wrong behind and be present to all that is in front of you. Be thankful for it challenges and triumphs alike for it is in these moments that we inspire others and ourselves. My grandfather was the First Giant I Knew!!
On January 3, 2017 I moved to the District of Columbia for an internship with United States Representative David Scott from Georgia. I say this because I have now supplanted myself at the political center of America and the pertinence of understanding my feelings of this regarding the greatest country in the world speaks to me now more than ever.
For an African-American male who has always felt like I am in a constant battle with an institution that is not built for me, working towards success comes with enough setbacks and disappointment of itself, requiring a hint of inspiration or hope to keep going in the midst of it all. President Barack H. Obama was that hope. To amount to the highest office in the world in the field that I take interest in was all of the hope and inspiration that I needed. But as that beacon of possibility is set to retreat from the spotlight I search for the thing that will now keep me going in the future.
In that very search I begin to reevaluate my status in this country and whether or not my ability to amount to the success I dream for is even possible. The drive is there. The passion is there. The fight is there.
Countless times those that look like me are wrapped up in an unjust justice system that treats them unequally to counterparts. Too many times those who could be my family members are on the receiving end of unwarranted force often leading to their beautiful souls settling in a better place. Too often is the balance of the financial market tilted toward the few leaving the struggling of the many. These are just a few things to mention. These are all things too close to home.
I believe my purpose in this world is when all is said and done to eliminate these unfortunate beliefs from the young minds that will find themselves in my same position somewhere down the road. But the road is brutally tough.
Setting aside partisanship and political bias, this country lives at a time where bigotry and marginalization has become a social norm—again. Just as this country had begun to move forward and I felt as if inclusiveness had pieced together a broken country, it all fell down. In a boomerang effect it had reverted right back to where it all began. This country is definitely not where it once was, but it is also not where it should be. It is demoralizing and dampens the spirit of hope.
Finding my place in the field of politics my calling is to help people. I truly want to make a change; a difference in as many lives as possible by the time my body releases its last breath. I desire to be that change I wish to see. But even I need help and sometimes when I look up the ladder for someone to help pull me up, it feels as if they are removing the rungs as I try to climb. Each and every day I wake up and work to ensure that I can move past all of the trials and tribulations and find hope in God, because often times He is all there is.
So although it may not be the most inspiring time to be alive, the greatest thing about problems is that there is a solution to be found. I hope my story will be drastically different weeks, months, or hopefully not too many years from now. But faith as small as a mustard seed can lead to possibilities unimaginable. I intend to put my head down and pledge to move this country forward, and through all of the darkness, I will find the light.
I can wish for something different forever, but at the end of the day I am simply all that I am. I can strive to change different aspects of myself, but I’m still me. The hardest thing for people to accept is themselves. I still struggle daily to fight against comparison and loving myself, but it’s something I’m constantly striving for. It’s something I got much better at when God helped me.
Throughout high school I struggled with being okay with myself. It was always a constant battle of questioning why I did or didn’t have certain things, but always wishing to be comfortable in my own skin. That uphill battle is exhausting. Thankfully, I have the greatest praying parents in the world, and they constantly encouraged me.
Soon after getting out of high school and beginning college was when the transformation began. I started filling my days and thoughts with encouragement from the Bible and favorite speakers like Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, and Christine Caine.
It’s amazing what can happen when you fill your mind with the right things! A peace came into my heart. A peace that helped me be okay with just being me.
This is still something I fight with. I constantly fall into holes of comparison, and sometimes it seems there is no way out. But I still stand strong in my faith, and I know that being made in the image of God means “all that I am” is exactly the way I’m supposed to be.
Today I just want to encourage anyone who has similar feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, or are just having a bad day. Don’t let all that God has for you be hidden by these grips of fear and doubt. Wash off the bad feelings, and choose to be joyful!
Christine Caine once said, “The biggest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think.” Today, let’s decide to get out of prison, run in the sunshine, and embrace all that you are.
“Let all that I am praise the Lord;
May I never forget the good things he does for me.” Psalm 103:2
Every day is beautiful if you choose to see it. Continue in fighting against comparison!
“It is a curious thing the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited and that eventually all of us end up under some sheet never to wake up. And yet, it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls through the air and there is a sickly dark moment of surprise as you try to readjust the way you thought of things.” – Lemony Snicket
Lemony Snicket brilliantly puts into words how I felt the moment my brother took his last breath. He was diagnosed a little over a year before he died. Acute myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer that quickly and aggressively attacks the bone marrow.
‘Death’, as defined by Merriam Webster, is the ending of a particular person’s life. By that definition, my brother died the day he was diagnosed. His life was over. He could no longer plan for anything in his life. Simple tasks began to grow harder and his cognitive ability lowered.
I think the cancer treatment played an equal part in my brother’s demise. The medicine and procedures my brother received killed his mentality way before the cancer physically ended his life.
For this reason, my brother chose death. He could no longer endure the endless amount of chemotherapy being pumped into his body. The poking and prodding of needles day after day. The endless amounts of biopsies, ranging from orbital to spinal! I had never seen someone endure so much, only to have no promise of getting better.
He couldn’t bear to live his life that way anymore and so he told my family he wanted to stop treatment. My parents were devastated. I know that the only reason my brother pulled through for as long as he did was for us. He was always more concerned about how my parents, my siblings, and I were feeling.
I think I am the only one who fully supported his decision to end his life. I began to think it was selfish of me to make him put up this fight that we all, unfortunately, knew he was not going to win. I feel like we all feared his death way more than he did. He wanted nothing more than to be at peace. After all, as Albus Dumbledore says, “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” My brother was ready to begin his.
It should not be looked at as an end but a new beginning. Once you stop fearing death, there is a lot less to fear in life. I can’t be sure what happens after death but I do believe it has to be a peaceful place. I find comfort in it, seeing my brother ready for that part of his journey made me not fear mine. Death is not scary. Death is warm. Death is a promise that this life isn’t forever, and I love that.
If death ceased to exist nobody would care for people the way they do. Nobody would cherish memories the way they do. Nobody would love the way they do. All aspects of our humanity could not be the same. People live so passionately because life is not promised. Imagine a world without death and it’s an apathetic one. Death is essential for us to live life intensely, for us to truly live it to the fullest.
It seems from the moment I was born, I was thinking about my future calling. I remember back in high school when my idea of a perfect, successful life entailed both my husband and I being renowned doctors and our children going to prestigious schools. But, you know what they say… if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow.
Most people spend a lifetime figuring out who they are, but who I was hit me like a truck my junior year of high school.
My best friend had had a rough weekend that was exacerbated by attending school. It was a rough Monday for me, as well, because I knew she was upset, but I had to sneak my phone and try to talk to her when I could throughout the day. After school, I received a message that read “Promise me, no matter what, you’ll remember you’re a good person.”
That moment started what was to be the worst night of my life. I lived over an hour away with no license, and I couldn’t reach her for 4 hours.
But we got through that night, and the next day, and the next until she was okay. Today, she’s a successful Division I athlete who loves life and lives hers to the fullest. That night made me think, “I wonder how many people in the world want to kill themselves.”
I went on Twitter and searched the word suicidal, and I was not expecting the dark world into which I was suddenly thrown. I found Twitter accounts with names such as @CarveAndStarve, @BladesandRegret, and @JustKillMe.
I saw tweet after tweet after tweet of people degrading themselves and stating how much they wanted to die. That’s when I thought to myself, “What could I do to make these people’s lives better?”
I started a twitter account in which I talk to people who are suicidal. My best friend told me she didn’t know what she would have done without me that night, which made me think about how many people just need one person in their corner if for nothing more than to be there for them and tell them it’s going to be okay.
I talk to people who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, gender dysphoria, eating disorders, and other obstacles that have consumed their being. The more and more people I helped, the more I started to feel better myself and more steadfast in who I am. Of all the types of people God could’ve made me to be, He made me a helper.
When I came to this realization about my life, I knew what my earthly purpose was and who He wanted me to be. I used to always ask myself if Heaven was the end goal, what’s the point of life on earth? When I found out what that was, I woke up every day excited to find someone else who needed help.
Sometimes, it got hard to talk to these people, and I wondered if this is what my calling really was. But Galatians 5:13 says, “For you, brothers, were called to freedom. Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify your flesh, but through love make it your habit to serve one another.”
Make the world a better place by making one person smile at a time. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s what I was doing. I reached out to one person, and one person turned into two, and two turned into five, five turned into 15 and so on, but I still didn’t feel like I was reaching enough people. I wanted to reach out to more people with a message that says they’re loved and they’re not alone.
I asked my followers to email me their stories if they wanted to use them to help others. I received over 100 stories and used the majority of them in the book I published entitled Hidden in the Shadows.
My book is a compilation of my followers’ stories separated into different hardships such as eating disorders, depression, friends and family who have been affected, etc. and ends with success stories and words of encouragement for people who are going through some of the same things the people in my book are.
The responses I’ve gotten from my book are amazing, and it’s so satisfying to know that the little things I do are helping people become happier.
If you’re going through a lot right now and just can’t see your destiny, know that God took the worst night of my life and made it shaped it for the better. If you aren’t religious, you have a purpose too. Everything happens for a reason, including your existence.
While I couldn’t see any good in that situation at the time, now I’m grateful that it happened. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I say all that to say, my calling found me. I wasn’t even looking for it. When I graduate college, I have plans to go to medical school and become a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Everyone deserves happiness, and it starts within.
I don’t expect sharing my story to inspire you to suddenly overcome your struggles, but if nothing else, I pray you received some hope that your darkest nights can turn into your brightest days.
The calling God had for me turned me into a selfless person who would do anything for anyone and is nice simply because you never know the battle someone else is fighting. When you realize the calling for your life, it will change you for the better. Just be patient, for your purpose is greater than your challenges.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vital for your overall health and wellness in life. The way that best fits for me to do so is through conscientious routine and consistency.
Since 2012, when I went on my first International competition outing in Puerto Rico, I kept a training log to monitor my progress. I started this log to have a form of accountability for myself when my coach (Dad) wasn’t around. This log consisted of everything from how my mood was that day, the weather, and how fast my intervals were or how many miles I ran. I also logged how I felt emotionally because in the sport of track and field, I believe the majority of it is mental.
I found that even if the log did nothing for me, it was a consistent routine of self-reflection. When analyzing areas within yourself in which you desire to change, it is a good Idea to keep track of how you feel and what the aspects of it are so that you can attain your goal and monitor progress. My training log is also psychologically vital to my overall health because in high school when I didn’t always have others there to talk to during stressful home life, I was able to shut my door, focus on my reflection, and vent anything that was bothering me onto paper.
Even if I didn’t ever reevaluate the log that I wrote for the day, it was good to get it off my chest so I can sleep better and prepare for the next day of work.
At the top of each page of this college ruled composition book I wrote a statement or quote to live by for that week. I often wrote my goals in this space as well, that way I keep them fresh in my mind and constantly remind myself of them so I do not lose sight.
Reflecting on my past, physical activity has had a huge impact on my life and without it, I do not know where I would be today. My upbringings weren’t all that great, I lived in 23 different houses, and attended 10 different schools up until I was 18 years old. I come from a very low (if any) income household with 6 siblings and a total of 9 family members under the same roof.
I lived in a very stressful environment with a dysfunctional parenting style being one that my parents never agreed upon anything. The dysfunctional relationship between them had a negative impact on our family atmosphere. Overall, there was a lot more to it than just them arguing. Their un-agreeableness and their lack of financial support led to many problems within my family life that were very challenging to cope with at a young age.
Ultimately, my “norm” was one of pure chaos, stress and agony. Exercise for me, was an escape of my reality. It allowed me to exit the building of pain which I lived in at home. It gave me hope, it restored my emotions, my attitude, my stress levels and my spiritual well being.
That’s when I found that running, to me was much more than just a competition or a leisure activity that most people do simply to stay in shape. I found the love for exercise through my unhealthy home lifestyle that I was trapped in yet I could escape it in two ways, my dreams, and my running.
At a young age I knew I was in a place in my life where I was unsatisfied, and I wanted change. My biggest dream was to travel the world and do what I love. What would be better than doing something that you are gifted at, and earning a salary for it? I did not know exactly what that would look like but I knew I wanted it. I knew traveling the world is very expensive, so how could I possibly travel for free? Seems impossible.
The way that I was able to make that transition to change was that I had an endless amount of focus on my dreams and visions because I wanted it more than anything. I thought about being great every single day, not a time passed when I wasn’t thinking big, imagining myself being great, and one day being free from stress.
After years of running consistently, I was able to develop quite a skill for something I did for fun. I have a competitive edge that flows through my veins and whatever the activity may be whether its back yard basketball or a friendly game of kickball, I wanted to win!. I started to see that I have special abilities that come to me more naturally than others, this is when I found my true self, I found hope for my future, I found my vision.
Self-belief was a huge factor to maintaining not only a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally, but having a small minuscule amount of hope can go a long way. I often think of quotes that motivate and inspire me and one that I came up with is “If you take a simple word, give it direction and purpose, it can go a long way.” So I would think of simple encouraging words and phrases that are uplifting and I gave them purpose and direction. “Bailey you CAN succeed” “BELIEVE in your abilities” “TRUST in your training.”
What I mean by this is through various forms of self-efficacy, self-assessment and monitoring self-progress, there is a lot more to maintaining a healthy spirituality than it may seem. I developed my self-confidence through positive self-talk, trial and error, and testing my abilities by pushing my limits on the track and in life. I would climb trees, go exploring, run up the wall and do a backflip, breakdance, ride a unicycle, walk along tall and narrow fence lines, all of which are random skills.
Once I compiled and established all these random skills. I was able to realize that all these activities that seemed purposeless actually played a huge role in who I am today. Little did I know that the more back flips I did, the more trees I climbed, my desire to explore, create, and accomplish allowed me to form a foundation.
From my adolescence, my abilities, visions and mentality have exceeded my physical age by being aware of my surroundings. I am very observant and constantly learn from my experiences. I learn from other people’s actions, people I’ve met, places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. With that being said I have always been good at forming my own ideas and goal setting. I know exactly what I want, and I work backwards from that to my current situation and develop a plan of action.
My dreams of going to college, running on team USA, and becoming financially independent for example would not have come if it weren’t for my focus and determination. Factors that I took into account on a daily basis such as nutrition, sleep, hydration, preventative maintenance activities, and positive reinforcement were those of which I focused on in order to achieve my goals.
I was so focused on my goals that the big picture was much more beautiful than instant satisfaction of leisure activities. I would rather be getting the right amount of rest needed to perform well in my next interval session than to be staying up late at night with friends. In our society, it is very easy to give up on your dreams if you’re not careful.
Too many things in my life atmosphere were telling me to give up, quit, stop trying so hard, the odds are against you but I would never quit, so I did the opposite. Deep down inside of me there was that will to succeed that outweighed anyone’s negative remark or doubt in me because the most important aspect is that I believed in myself more than anyone could ever doubt me. I believe that if you’re going to do something at all, might as well give it 100%. I’m not sacrificing my whole lifestyle to be mediocre, I am in it to be great. Those were some words that I lived by in all areas of my life. None of the less, I stayed focused and accountable to myself through monitoring my progress in my training log and stayed consistent throughout because consistency is key in this game.
My dad always said, “Son, if you want to be so great, you need to master the small things in life and the big things will come easier”, this gave me a perspective that changed my life. All the small things I did such as stretching, ice baths, rolling out, and getting a good amount of sleep allowed me to be ready for the tough challenges I faced in both running and in life. It is not always what you go through or experience in life, it’s how you handle them that shapes who you are.
Another quote that my dad always said was, “Small successes are the stairway to great performances,” this was a reinforcement to my self-confidence because I was setting myself up for success not failure. He always believed in me 100% and with that, my outlook on this had a huge impact on my performance because I did not fail, I set realistic goals, and I attained them. If I exceeded my goals whether short or long term “icing on the cake” as my dad would say.
Throughout my upbringing of struggle, I was able to become resilient to adversity. Through the various places I have lived and the exposure to real-world environments have allowed me to form the ability to adjust. As simple as that may sound, I consider it one of my finer qualities because without it, I would not be able to cope with the amount of stress and overload that my body withstood.
Running has allowed me to maintain a healthy stability throughout any form of hard ship I have encountered and meet my goals regardless of the situation. I am a survivor and I use that to my advantage when I need to adjust to a new environment, situation or place in my life. I use my survival instincts to fuel the fire for my success. Instead of letting stress get the best of me, I make it work for me not against me. I apply my developed resiliency to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and focusing on my priorities.
I am currently a sophomore in college, living my dreams and enjoying a healthy lifestyle.
I’ve traveled to multiple foreign countries, I’ve won national championships, I’ve crushed national records and I’ve won a Pan-American gold medal. Little did I know that this all came from a little hope, a little boy with a big dream. From staying focused and monitoring my steps of self-planning, I’ve been able to consistently attain a healthy lifestyle. With my competitive edge and my will to succeed, I am always looking for avenues to improve on within myself.
Being a sophomore now, I have adjusted to the life of being a D1 student athlete and it is quite tough to balance all that entails. With that being said, I constantly monitor my progression and still keep a running log to this day. I have come up with ways that I can better myself through evaluating areas in which need improvements.
I started a “Life Log” a few months ago that allows me to keep track of my priorities, goals and steps of action because the journey to the ultimate goal is how the goal will eventually be attained. Each day I set time out and use my Life Log as an accountability check that forces me to prioritize what is important and allow me to stay focused. Even if it 5-10 minutes and a few sentences of reflection, it keeps me in check with where I am, and where I want to go.
I choose to prioritize this plan of action so that I do not allow any negativity that I can control to affect my life. I have control of my current life situation as a student athlete, and I have big goals. I’m going to keep continuing to use these methods to allow the big things in life to come easier from the mastery of the small things.
We were in the car driving past the hubby buildings of Athens, Georgia and I was scared shitless.
They were classic American structures no more than five stories high made entirely out of brick. Refurbished factories converted into retail hotspots and trendy bars. Athens was a complex in the middle of a vast expanse, like a sturdy tree shooting high above a flooded valley that said yes sir, how’re y’all, and we’ll pray for you. Out in the distance the rolling, rolled-over fields allowed the last of the February chill to carry through town. Bryan Wish was in the front seat with his mom talking about what he was going to say when everyone arrived at the event. The Wish Dish One Year Anniversary.
I was sitting in the back holding some banners that covered my face silently venting what the hell are you doing. I was terrified. Didn’t look it but I wanted to jump out the car at the next red light and rush into Pauley’s Crepe Bar. Have a drink at the end of the bar and forget it all, that’s what I wanted. Don’t bother with these people, Matt, just go back inside yourself. But then I had to remind myself of how some wise ass kid from Reston, Virginia touched over 200 peoples’ lives in ways he couldn’t imagine.
We were living in Virginia, both in 6th grade, and we played youth football together. Never really took to each other but that was mostly my fault. I never spoke–to anyone. I was a shy kid who liked to knock his big head around. After that, we happened to play on the same house league basketball team. Don’t remember much except losing in the semi-finals.
After that we didn’t talk for over a decade. We both had amassed different lives over the years. He went into sports and marketing while I tried to be a poet, still trying. One night I remember sitting in the living room of my apartment at Providence College, after an evening of trying to forget that college was coming to an end, I get a Facebook message; it’s Bryan. His mom had caught up with my mom at a Christmas party. That night there was this distinct March chill, like it belonged among the hills of Athens but laid to rest in small, grey Providence. Bryan found out I was a creative writing major (I wanted a lucrative career…) and asked me to write a piece. He said there were no boundaries, no limits, just something true and authentic. Right away, I said ‘sure.’
Damn Matt. What are you going to write about, you’re a fiction writer, you tell lies and call them stories. You’ve never written anything true in your life. After a couple of days thinking on what I should put down, I decided to write about something I had never talked about before. Bryan’s point to make it authentic and providing a place for it to live gave me the balls to go all out. Nothing held back. It was called “The Invaluable Luxury of a Second Chance.” I’ll admit it was tough getting it on paper. But after the tears and anguish and memories washing over me, it was over. It was actually over.
My body felt underweight. Like a tumor I’d grown attached to had been extracted and what filled up was understanding, relief.
The response to my piece was incredible. Thousands of people read it. I received messages telling me how raw and powerful it was. Truth has a way of settling in people’s hearts. To this day, I hope I will never feel as proud of a piece of writing.
He asked over the next few months leading up to and after my graduation if I’d be willing to help him edit a few pieces here and there. I thought ‘sure, why not.’ I was the unofficial associate editor to the Wish Dish. People wrote me back and forth asking me: a guy who didn’t have anything figured out beyond what he was going to do in the next three hours, to lay out their deepest thoughts in the best way possible. I was more than happy to help.
Nurturing a story, a narrative of a life coming from someone where he or she expresses themselves most through language, is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Fast forward a couple months after graduation, Bryan asked me to be the manager of all content. I said, ‘sure.’ Yup, I was on my way. But not everything was so smooth in my life.
For the better part of a year after taking on the role, I went through a rough time. A combination of a bad breakup, entrenched anxiety, depression, and post-graduation uncertainty sent me down a twister of drinking, erratic behavior, and self-destructive tendencies. Longstanding issues I chose to ignore for several years came back to the forefront, like a bad chemical reaction. I reverted into a version of myself who acted savage and selfish. Kept thinking you’re nothing you piece of trash and who do you think you are Mr. Writer? Those voices plagued every portion of my mind and drinking was one of the only things that made it quiet. Drink until it went black, that was the prescription.
The time was approaching for the Wish Dish One Year Anniversary. It had already been one year…my God. I began to accept that there was no escape from what I was about to witness. Bryan was about to finally integrate this eclectic community of writers and artists that all had one thing in common, the essence of truth. I was going all-in, a commitment. There’d be no bars or dark corners to hide in.
We’d pulled up to Nuci’s Space, this venue dedicated to the club owner’s son. Nuci was a talented guitarist on his way to becoming a real staple in the Athens music scene. But he took his own life at the age of 22. On the back wall right next to a stage riddled with guitars like a shrine there was this eight foot tall picture of Nuci standing in the middle of a field looking up to the sky. It looked like he was thinking why can’t I be up there, maybe if I jump high enough…and a jab of realization got me right in the mouth. That could have been me. It was a real possibility that if I let shit get bad enough then I probably wouldn’t be able to dig myself out. If the drinking got that bad, and kept on feeling bad for myself–Right now I could be sailing the clouds up there with Nuci looking for a place to land on the sun. After a full year of looking through hundreds of stories from hundreds of people, I realized that apart from having the love and support of a wonderful family, these stories had formed me and kept my legs planted on the ground.
During the long nights of barhopping, sometimes alone, finding a shadowed corner to paint with my self-pity, waking up early trying to remember how I got back, I’d check the site and make sure everything was running smoothly. Bryan counted on me to get these stories together, these people were depending on me. I thought I had been through some shit in my time but, I had no idea how much shit life throws at you until I read these stories, your stories. They, these men and women, had allowed me to gain a perspective that my life was nothing in the grand scheme if I didn’t want it to be anything. There was this center and that was the Wish Dish.
Instead of making meaning out of every day (my old motto), I wanted people to remember that I at least tried and that was all the meaning I’d need. I was ready to leave that jerkish asshole behind and start a new chapter of my life dedicated to a higher purpose greater than my own gain—But then, another wave hit me. I was in a riptide of revelation. Shit, all those people who’ve entrusted their words to you are going to be here tonight and you’re going to see them face to face. I was finally going to see each of them, talk to them, shake their hands. Oh for the love of shit, Matt, you’re just figuring this out now?! Anxiety was kicking in two-fold.
There was no distance, no invisible fourth wall to separate me from these people. Before, they were more ideas to me who had created beautiful language, like angels. Looking these people in the eye would be like a flashback from an acid trip and that freaked me out.
Standing still in the middle of the Nuci’s giving myself a 360 degree view, I was petrified again. I needed to see if I could slug a few beers to calm the nerves. The amount of relief is almost indescribable when I found out this event had an open bar. Never said I stopped drinking and, hey, I’m not perfect. After a few Tropicalias, I got to meet the rest of the incredible core of the Wish Dish staff.
Shelby Novak, our social media director, saw me. My face was a bit flushed from the beers, Irish red, and she straight-up hugged me. I could just feel that there was a kindness and good will emanating from her, I’d like to think I picked up a little bit of that. She had the Athens vibe, happy to help someone, to give someone a blanket on a cold spring night even when she might need it more.
Not too long after we had all the chairs set up, hung all the posters, and the microphone sound tested I saw the head of content strategy, Sam Dickinson. Dressed to the nines in a blazer, khakis, and a tie he made my blue button down with Polo sneakers a bit underdressed. He shook my hand with an earnestness I don’t see in many people. Along with being as tall as a redwood he’s a great guy, he’s genuine. We three had invested so much into giving people a voice in a world where words have increasingly diminished in their significance. People use them as throwaway symbols, like inconveniences suffered through for the sake of communication. This site and these people and most importantly these stories from young, old, sad, happy, empowered, victimized—they had come into this melting pot where each was celebrated and welcome.
The event went off without a hitch. I’ll let Bryan explain it from his perspective but just let me say that he is the core of this whole thing, a molder of culture. Believe it.
Nearly 200 people showed. That’s 200 stories I’ve read. How would they see me? Would I get criticized for my methods? Do they even know who I am? Did they think their stories were just magically put up on the site?
The amount of welcome and thanks I received shocked me to the foundation.
I talked with Tom Bestul, who had written a story about his experience at Camp Kesem, a camp for children whose families had been affected by cancer. His story inspired me to volunteer more. Another one was Megan Swanson, a former Miss Nebraska who gave her perspective on the highly criticized beauty pageant process. She helped to broaden my horizons. And Denna Babul’s story of love for her dying mother-in-law demonstrated how strong a bond one can share with another. If only I could have talked to every single one of these people I would have relived every moment perusing their words. With each passing recollection and introduction the moments grew more surreal. It might have been the beer but the whole event seemed to gather this arid, temperate hue like the words exchanged between all these storytellers was adding substance to the air, filling a void. I don’t know, maybe I was sloshed. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
First I want to thank Bryan for allowing me to make the closing remarks. Standing up there, the crowd stared, all focus magnified on me like was under a hot beam on an ant hill. Matt what the hell are you going to say you have nothing prepared you never prepare for anything but can you ever be prepared for the truth, truth, yes, the truth just tell the truth—And this is a rough cut of what I said, it is a thanks to all you contributors, past and present.
Hey everyone, I’m Matt Gillick and I’m the chief editor. I’ve read all your stories and for that—well let me first that I’m sorry for any mistakes I made for any of your pieces—I’m not perfect but I try. I just thought that it would be decent of me to say a few words and to thank you all. Thank you guys for taking such a risk, not necessarily a physical risk but an emotional risk in entrusting me to nurture your words and publish them for everyone to see. Someone whom you’ve never met before and haven’t seen until right now got to see the inner you and what really makes you tick. Through language you showed me a corner of your soul. I wanted to let you all know that you are all incredible people. I have been shaped by your stories, every one of them. Let me finish by saying hopefully one day I can be a fraction of the person you all are now—when I’m older and greyer.
Later on I walked outside, into the evening. There wasn’t a chill rolling from the hills anymore. Downtown was lit up and beckoning. Bryan patted me on the back as we looked out into the night, about eight Tropicalias deep, and I was happy.
For the first time in a while, I was happy.
The two ran, hand-in-hand, as the lights began to fade behind them. Their backs glowed as their shadows cast among the reedgrass in front of them.
Silence. The groans of the town had faded. The blaring car horns were lost in the sound of the dry grass grazing their legs as they ran. For miles, all that could be seen was reedgrass as tall as their hips or shoulders, stretching across the hills.
Ava and Anna bounded towards the trunk with the beat of their footsteps cheering and motivating as drums. As they finally reached the roots of the tree, they collapsed to the ground. There, they lay panting; chests rising and falling, until their breath evened out and matched the serenity of the beautiful world around them.
“Let’s keep going!” Ava’s eyes beamed up at her older sister in expectation and hope. She was far too young to understand that life had so little to bring; her mind was just too full of hope and adventure.
Ava often dreamt of holding Anna’s hand as they ran through the hills. But instead of stopping at their tree, they continued to run. Past the dunes and the signs that lead them back home, through the fence that had entrapped them for so long, and to the edge of the world, wherever their feet would allow them to go.
Sometimes Ava would dream of a huge lake, with fish and lily pads, and the promise of change.
In darker times, she would dream of a long road, cracked and battered, and no matter how far the two of them walked, the road always led them back home.
“We can’t.” Anna said, running her fingers through Ava’s curly red hair. She began to hum Ava’s favorite lullaby, the same one their mother would rock them to sleep with.
“Don’t be stupid” Anna mumbled. Tears began to pool under her eyes as she spoke. “You need to understand that there’s nothing out there for us, Ava. If you ran, I wouldn’t follow you. I know you’re curious, but when you grow up you’ll understand. All we have left is each other. There’s nothing out there.”
The silence became unbearably deafening, and Ava decided to run. However it was no longer in spite of what had restricted her, it was the security of knowing that Anna would indeed be running behind her as she went. She heard Anna screaming her name as she chased her up and down the valleys, and to the wooden fence they had never dared to cross.
Ava waited for Anna to come, and by the time she caught up, she was sobbing. Her ragged green dress was stained with dirt and splattered in tears.
“If you go, I’m not following you Ava.”
“Come on!” Ava bent over and climbed through the space between the wooden planks. She didn’t turn around as she kept walking, in hopes that Anna had jumped the fence and would soon clench her hand as they walked together.
She had walked about a mile until she saw the edge of the trees. They seemed to call her name as the occasional breeze came and went, and ruffled the branches in a dance of expectation.
She had never seen woods like these. When she began to immerse herself in the trees, for the first time ever she felt scared. The leaves and branches beneath her cracked as she stepped, while she watched many more leaves fall from the towering trees above.
The darkness of dusk crept, and began to fill the woods with dim moonlight. Ava started to hear more; a frog croaking, a twig breaking, an owl calling. She saw a deer grazing by a dogwood tree in front of her, and as she took another step forward, the deer cocked it’s head and stared at her.
The sound of the shot was deafening. Her ears rang as the woods spun around her, and she watched the deer dash away; dancing between the trees as if on stage.
She hadn’t seen the hunter, he had been aiming for the doe that escaped death.
She collapsed to the ground and watched the stars and trees that hovered above her twist and spin like a merry-go-round. She clasped her hands to her stomach and felt her blood begin to pool around her.
She closed her eyes and pictured herself floating in the lake she so often dreamed of. She imagined Anna floating next to her, humming their mother’s lullaby and reaching for her hand.
“Let’s keep going” Ava whispered, and the world fell silent.