You Only Live Once, But If You Do It Right, Once Is Enough

1 Jun
I do not want to run today. I certainly do not want to study. I want to lay in bed and cry. My life’s been pretty [read: really] not awesome lately. I’ve had a six month stretch of bad luck and bad things and bad people. It’s not something I talk about often here, but it’s been really, really hard. There are days when it takes everything I have to get out of bed and pretend to be a functioning adult.

I can’t even pretend today. Yesterday, I found out from my Dad that my Aunt Chris was in the hospital, that she was unresponsive and they were moving her to a hospice. This afternoon, he called to let me know she passed away. I didn’t know she was sick and I’m not sure how to react. My Aunt Chris wasn’t really my aunt – I still question the elaborate story my grandmother tells about how she’s related to us. My grandfather’s cousin’s wife is, I believe, what she finally settled on. But she we were all so close it didn’t matter. She was a little younger than my grandmother, her son a little younger than my dad and her grandchildren both older and younger than my sister and I. Her family lived up near Albany and every summer we’d visit at least once.

Aunt Chris was a ridiculous person in the best possible sense of the word. She was Italian (the rest of us are Irish) and loud and an amazing cook. She had an internal compass that told her what was right and wrong, what was fair and what wasn’t. She believed in hard work and she believed hard work should be rewarded. She loved having fun and laughing. Even when she was older, she would sit Indian-style on the floor for hours playing with children. She never stopped going – she was a hairdresser and was working until the beginning of last week. She drank Budweiser out of a can [never Bud Light – If you tried to give her a light beer she’d say “What is this crap?” in her great upstate New York accent. Even before I could read, I knew Aunt Chris got the red can, never the blue one]. When she would visit my grandparents at the beach, she would get up at 5 am, march down to the water and sleep in the sand for hours. No blanket, no chair, 9 times out of 10 no bathing suit. She’d come back to the house as the rest of us were waking up with more energy than a woman 20 years younger [certainly more energy than me]. I never saw her with a hangover. We would run the same 5 mile race every year – well, she would run, the rest of us would walk. She taught me how to play poker and left/right/center and bocce and how to bet on a horse.

But most importantly, she taught me not to care what other people thought. You work hard, you do the right thing. You love the people who love you. You value nice things, but you never let them own you. When we were younger, she’d give us orange juice in Waterford crystal tumblers with breakfast and my grandmother would hold her breath every time we picked up the glass. My cousin dropped one once and it shattered. I remember the whole room gasping and waiting for someone to yell. But Aunt Chris just said, “I’ve got more in the basement, watch your feet.” That was it. Most importantly, you do what you want when you want. You want to lay on the sand with no towel? Lay on the sand with no towel. You want to drink beer and play poker? Drink beer and play poker. You want to run a 5 mile race the day after? Do that too. She lived such an amazing, rich, full life, it’s almost hard to be sad it’s over. Almost.

So starting today, I’m going to be more like my Aunt Chris. I’m going to work hard and do the things I have to do. I’m going to do the things I want to do. And most importantly, I’m not going to do the things I don’t want to do anymore.

I’m going to do flashcards and my outlines and my multiple choice because I have to. I’m going to run my 3 miles because I want to. But on the way home from the library, I’ll stop and grab a 6 pack of those red cans. And give a silent salute to a lady who did it right.

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