I recently celebrated my birthday, and a dear friend who has been along for the Art of Really Living journey managed to give me an "event horizon" moment to remember as a gift. On Wednesday a.m. I received a FedEx package early delivery the day after my birthday and inside it contained these treasures - a typed note from my friend, and 11 hand written cards and notes from 11 girls at a camp. What's unique about these girls is that they all suffer from forms of chronic illness and things that most of us take for granted are a constant source of challenge for them.
I opened the box and read the note from my friend Andrea:
John, while at camp, I was inspired to share your Manifesto with my campers.
On Wednesday night, I let them go to sleep as usual: lights out at 11 pm. I waited until all of them were asleep and then I quietly woke each of them up. I told them to put on shoes and sweats and to grab a flashlight and a blanket.
I walked them to a field, told them to lie down, and look up - the meteor shower had started. After about a half hour of quiet observation, I asked them if it was okay if I played something for them. I explained that it was something that had a profound effect on me and that I felt this environment was a perfect place in which to share it with them. And so, we listened.
I know many of them had never seen a shooting star before in their life. I also know that none of them had ever heard anything like what they had just heard. I know this because they told me so. One of my girls was moved to the point of tears.
While walking back, I asked if they’d be willing to share what they took away from the Manifesto. I explained that it was your birthday coming up and that I feel that there is no better gift to give someone than to show them how their life matters. They all enthusiastically agreed.
Some of them wrote narratives and others simply made word clouds of the things they felt represented #reallyliving while at camp. What you DON’T see contained in here is, regrettably, probably the most amazing part. We had multiple conversations about what it means to really live. For the remainder of camp they were excited to tell me how they took a risk they wouldn’t have taken before hearing your work. They were excited to tell me about things they wanted to go home and do because of your work.
On behalf of all of us, thank you. Thank you for affording us that moment to #reallylive and bond and share in that experience. Know that you made a difference in the life of 11 people who are young enough to really make great change for years to come.
I couldn’t think of a better time to tell you how important you are and how important the work you do is than on your birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
I have been working on the "manifesto" on and off for nearly a year now - first recording the vocals, then layering in music and sound effects, and now, with my partner-in-crime Michael Ziener we are layering in hundreds of images and short videos. Attached here is the audio only version of what the girls heard:
It moved me to tears that something that has been so inspired and inspiring to me could be meaningful to the girls of this camp - as young as 12 years old. So I decided to write them a note through their counselor to let them know how much it mattered.
To the campers of camp Oasis:
Yesterday I received one of the greatest birthday gifts of my life: the considered thoughts and ruminations of fellow dwellers on this errant planet thinking deeply about what is important, and sharing those thoughts with me. I can imagine it: a dozen of you up on a hill on your backs black in the grass watching the brilliant streaks and smoke trails of meteors, simultaneously disappearing into the immensity of the universe and yet recognizing the proximity of your humanity and the bonds you have with each other.
Thank you for including me, for a moment, in your thoughts. Against the ramparts of the stars, the tides of the wind, and on a mattress of blades you included me in your world and we drew each other into possibility. I don't know you, yet I KNOW you. You suffer, you face daunting challenges, you aren't like everyone else. You too are shooting stars.
I answered a survey yesterday that had the following question, "I go out of my way to spare my friends and people I care about from suffering." I didn't know how to answer it. But now I do. My answer? "Strongly disagree." I wouldn't take this suffering from you, I wouldn't steal this incredible crucible of living and learning from you. You hate it at times I'm sure, but it will design you, refine you, galvanize you, define you. Years from now others will fail to have empathy, will crumble under pressure, will struggle with crisis and you will stolidly stand firm, knowing, "I've been through worse."
Burn bright my meteorites.