Let's be honest: With the homeless man in Miami having his face eaten off by a naked guy and the Maryland college student eating his roommate's brain and heart, even those of us with high intellect are starting to wonder if there is such a thing as a zombie apocalypse -- and if we're about to experience it. Ridiculous or totally possible, you can't help but stop and think about our own mortality and about how we're spending the short amount of time we've been given.
Before my best friend JJ made his grand exit from this world, he did everything he wanted to. He took spontaneous weekend trips to Atlantic City, bought a Cadillac XLR convertible and drove it down Ocean Parkway like he owned the place. He partied, he loved freely and he spoke his mind. He behaved in a way that would cause most people to roll their eyes and call him reckless. I was once one of those people. Until I stopped and realized that maybe, just maybe, he wasn't the crazy one. JJ was no longer afraid of dying, he had embraced it. Which left him free to truly live.
To quote one of my favorite movies, Riding in Cars with Boys, "Someone once said a hero and a coward have one thing in common: fear." There's really no such thing as being fearless, or without fear, is there? To fear is part of being human. We have fears of the dark, of being alone forever, of failure or success. We have fears of spiders, heights and even some strange fears like fears of condiments (guilty as charged!). It's what we do with those fears that sets the brave apart from the cowards. Fear can either hold us back or be our greatest motivator.
What I've learned about fear? It's normal, and necessary -- and nonsense, if we let it get in our way. Life is short and there's a reason there are so many songs about living like today is our last day. Because one day, it will be. While I'm not advocating for anyone to go bankrupt to travel the world or start their own business, I do believe that we have to go after the things we want now.
I am more likely to spend my money on an exciting vacation than I am to save it for a "rainy day." He who dies with the most money does not win anything -- not that I know of anyway. So why not enjoy it while I can? Yes, Suze Orman is shaking her head at me. She'll get over it.
I've learned to say "I love you" as often as I can to the people who deserve to hear it. I will never again allow myself to hold on to the regret of holding those feelings back, wondering if the person I loved so much even knew how important they truly were to me. I have allowed multiple loads of laundry to pile up, opting to spend the day at the beach instead of doing boring housework. (Fortunately, I have a major shopping problem so I can last quite a while before I run out of clean clothes.) I realize that probably sounds pretty irresponsible, and you may be right. But it's also what keeps me from becoming just another stressed-out, cranky New Yorker. In case you haven't heard, vitamin D deficiency is a widespread problem in our country lately. Therefore, soaking up some sun is the obvious responsible and healthy decision. (Just don't look in the hamper corner.)
I have learned to live my life with my happiness in mind. Who decided that selfishness is always a bad thing? I don't force myself to attend activities or functions that make me want to slip into a coma or flee to Canada and request asylum. I take vacations from work, and lunch breaks -- something I didn't do for years. If the shoe fits, I buy it. I challenge and push myself every day, whether it's at work, in my personal life or with my writing.
I still have fears, enormous ones. I am terrified of success and also of failure. (I'm equal-opportunity that way!) I am terrified of the dark (there are monsters!) and of condiments. (Seriously, I am petrified of salad dressing. No, I have no explanation for it.) I am scared of the current condition of our economy and whether or not I will have to one day sell my shoes on eBay in order to afford gas for my car. But I'm not going to lock myself in a brightly lit, condiment-free room where I quietly pay my bills on my laptop and never try at anything so I don't have to worry about succeeding or failing. How boring!
Losing JJ was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. But it was also an experience that I believe may have saved me from myself. JJ opened my eyes to life and to the fact that I was wasting mine worrying about everything! No one likes a Debbie Downer! I may not have told him how very much I loved him while he was still alive. but that's all the more reason why I owe it to him now to face my fears and attack life head-on. Life is what we make of it, and I've never heard of people lying on their deathbeds and regretting that they don't have more money in their bank accounts. If, when all is said and done, he with the most money does win, I guess I'm screwed. But I'll be the one with all the good stories. And the prettiest shoes.
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