Anyone who has ever seen me with my shirt off has seen my heart. Not my actual heart, but a small, one inch by one inch outline tattoo where my heart would be if for some bizarre reason I had to pin it just above my left nipple like a war medal. As does normally occur when somebody sees your tattoo, people always like to ask me what it means. I’ve come up with enough silly, asinine stories about how I got it just to be redundant, or to serve as a target if I were to ever need open heart surgery or a mainline shot of adrenaline. I suppose it’s just easier for me to explain it away than to give them the story ad nauseum.
I’ll give you the gist of it. By age 21, I had already lost the three most important people that have graced my life to extenuating circumstances. These three I consider to be my own personal heroes. Our old housekeeper, Gertie, was murdered by her nephew when I was 14. My grandfather, Charles, died of melanoma when I was 20. My mother, Mary, died of complications after a long battle with cancer.
I spent my last summer with my mom at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. As if we couldn’t have already been any closer, over those few months I feel that we truly got to know one another on a much more intimate level. One night we were having a conversation before bedtime. Out of nowhere, I began openly weeping. When she asked me what was wrong, I told her that I felt like the people that meant the most to me were being routinely stolen from my life. I felt completely, powerlessly, and hopelessly lost.
She looked over from her hospital bed and beamed a smile at me through her own tears. What she said next is something that I wanted to remind myself every day for the rest of my life.
“Well, now it’s your turn to be the person we have been to you for other people. That way, you pass a little piece of us on to everyone you meet, and we never truly die.”
There is more peace and more consolation in these words than I have been able to find anywhere else. In my heart, I carry my three heroes with me every day. Who they were to me in life helped make me who I am today. What they are to me always, is love. Love of those around you. Love of life. Love of living.
This I believe. Love. Love in a very big and very real way. Love, love, love until your heart falls out. When it does, pick it back up, stick it back in its cage and keep on loving.
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