My friend Helena loved sugar so much she would put it on anything. On bagels, spaghetti, Pad Thai, anything. I told her it wasn’t healthy to eat so much sugar. I told her how bad it is for your teeth, your body. Helena didn’t care though. She loved sugar and she would eat as much as she wanted, whenever she wanted. She could also get up and dance when there was no music playing, and laughed so much we could barely follow her humor. People were always saying that there was something wrong with Helena: maybe she was dyslexic, maybe she just wasn’t that smart. But those of us who knew her well realized that she was living completely.
I believe she taught me to live every day as if it were my last.
One Saturday morning I woke up to a phone call; it was a misty day covered in clouds and I was jarred by my phone ringing so early on the weekend. When I saw the caller ID I welcomed the call. It was my old friend Stephanie whom I hadn’t spoken with in a while. Helena died this morning. Her words rang through my head with no meaning.
It wasn’t the sugar that killed her though. It was a slick road that morning, heading to an AP practice exam.
Helena was a year younger than me, and she had just turned seventeen. We’d been friends since we were two years old. When Helena died I was struck by how short and unpredictable life is. Before my awakening after her death, I believed that I could wait for some future happiness. But during that first week without Helena, old friends gathered and shared our memories, and Helena’s newer friends told us about her life up to the night before she died. She had lived a complete life in such a short time! I realized that it is not how long I live but how I live that determines whether my life is complete; I realized that I did not have to wait for the right occasion to celebrate life, my life should be one long celebration: eating sugar, dancing and singing! When Helena died, I met myself for the first time. Now I live every moment of every day spontaneously. I believe in dancing when I feel like it, singing when I feel a song coming, and fully engaging in every conversation and fully participating in every activity no matter how mundane. I believe in letting go of disappointments, knowing that the present is all that matters. You never know where you will be tomorrow.
I look at pictures now and see her full-hearted engagement of life, and I remember to let go and enjoy the ride. Not to worry about tomorrow, or yesterday, but living today and absorbing everything that it has to offer.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.