To exist is merely to take in air and exchange it for time, but to truly live is to be filled with the breath of life: brimming with love, gratefulness, and hope.
Tears freely fall from my eyes and kiss the tops of my cheeks as I search for the right words to express the overwhelming emotions I feel. Each tear a culmination of a journey that at times I thought couldn't be possible. Each riddled with the trials, heartache, devastation, and pain of the past months. They're also composed of the disbelief that we actually made it: that we did it. I say "we" because it wasn't just me that got me to this point, it was the tireless work of so many people. Those tears are also enriched with the compassion, love, and confidence of those same people.
When I began graduate school the fall of 2013, only a select few people knew that I had Cystic Fibrosis. I didn't want anyone to know. I wanted to do this on my ability alone. I've never wanted any special treatment, any favors, or to be seen differently than my peers. I wanted the bar of expectation to be just as high as everyone else's, if not higher. I wanted everyone to see me, first and foremost for me, not CF. Most of all, I didn't want any pity. Within the first few days I was forced to tell a few more people about CF, as I had started the first semester with an exacerbation brought on by hemoptysis (coughing up blood). I got through that course of treatment, and would be free to pursue the semester hiding CF until I had a serious episode of hemoptysis during one of my student's performance finals. I was forced to tell the rest of my professors and colleagues the truth about CF and my life. The very thing I was tirelessly trying to hide from them all was becoming more and more impossible. Little did I know, that would be the first of many events that CF would impact during my pursuit of a graduate degree. Little did I know what CF would have in store for me the second year of graduate school. It's still unbelievable to me, the road I've journeyed to this very day.
Six months ago I couldn't walk across a room, I couldn't put clothes on, let alone sing because of complications brought on by CF. I remember the tears of devastation overwhelming me, not because I couldn't bound up the steps like I used to, but because I couldn't sing. The mere thought of never possibly singing again was so very devastating. Everything I had known and loved had been pulled out from under me. I felt as if I had completely lost who I was.
So, some life changes were mandated, but the pursuit of finishing graduate school was not something I was willing to sacrifice. I knew I had to do whatever I possibly could to finish what I had begun. CF was not going to win that battle, nor will it ever. The final semester was not easy, and it was filled with a lot of tears. But it is something I wouldn't trade for anything. Up until about six weeks ago I could still hardly sing, not knowing if my final graduate recital would even be a possibility: the very thing I had dreamed of accomplishing. Again, the faculty and my colleagues went above and beyond the call of grace to be ever so supportive and encouraging. I have been shown more grace by them than I deserve in a lifetime. Little did I know exactly what I'd all learn from my semesters at graduate school. Yes, I learned to be a better musician, better teacher, and gained better insight and knowledge into music as an art form, but most of all I gained perspective into what it means to truly live, love, and be grateful for every person that fills my life.
The Honor of a Lifetime
So, one day before graduation, in a recital hall filled with the most incredible people, I gave my graduate lecture recital. From a hospital bed and oxygen literally 6 months ago to a stage performing some of the most difficult music I've ever done. I cry because it shouldn't have happened: All odds were against me. I cry because as I looked out into the audience I saw my own reflection and the belief that each person had in me. I cry because of the grace I was so generously shown. I cry because I know it wasn't just me standing on that stage, it was every person who poured themselves into me over the past two years. I cry because CF did not win. We did.
I reflect on these past two years and it's hard for me to fathom the journey. It's hard for me to realize how quickly they have slipped through my fingers. What is most difficult for me is the thought that I must start a new chapter, move on from those relationships that have become such a significant part of my life, to start a new pursuit: a new journey.
I leave you with a phrase that meant the most to me in one of my recital pieces, "Beyond all hope, I prayed those timeless days we spent might be twice as long." I look back at my time, relationships, experiences, and lessons learned, and I wish each moment would have lasted twice as long. Beyond all hope you each believed in me, filling me with more life that I ever thought possible.