While the exact words from the conversation are blurry, the feelings stemming from that day in my parents’ living room are crystal clear. My family was gathered together for a fun afternoon to be followed by dinner. We were catching up on what had been going on that week. I know I had a glass of wine in my hand and I was sitting on the fireplace talking to my mom who was across the room on the couch. Other members of my family were coming and going through the sliding glass door, which led to the patio where my dad was presumably grilling.
At some point in our conversation, I told my mom about the feral cat colony I had started feeding in a neighborhood a few miles from our house. She reacted like she usually did to such things – with a slight gasp and offhand comment about “why I would bother” with something that served no purpose, wasted my time, or didn’t benefit me (not sure which of these she chose for this specific convo). I spent the next few minutes defending my actions and my desire to help. And as what usually happens in these types of discussions with my mom, within mere seconds, my heart starts to race, I feel my face flush, and my stomach feels like it’s been punched.
Or maybe that’s just my soul being crushed…
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom to death. She is not a bad person. She doesn’t hate cats; in fact she’s the reason I love them. She has volunteered for Meals on Wheels in years past, so giving of her time is something she is certainly capable of. She simply does not share the same mindset that I have.
I love to help. I love doing little things that are part of a much larger picture. I love making an impact. I love to influence the people and community around me in a positive way. When someone asks for help, I usually raise my hand. When something needs to be done – whether at work, amongst my friends, or on my team – I typically say yes. As I look at where my interests lie today, what my goals look like for the next decade and how I want to live the rest of my life, everything I want to be a part of involves influence, connection and community.
I don’t have any clue how I became this way. Ironically, my mom will be the one to tell you that I have always done so much for others without asking for anything in return. Seeing as how she usually reacts the same way (cue feral cat story above), I have no idea how I’ve managed to maintain this desire to keep involving myself in such projects.
One Monday night in January of 2014, I remember standing in the kitchen scrolling my Facebook feed when I read the status update of a friend. Never in a million years did I expect my reaction to that status update to change my life. Our mutual friend, Meg Cross Menzies, had been killed by a drunk driver that morning on a training run for the Boston Marathon. Not even a mile from her home and 20 minutes after she had put her children on the school bus, she was struck head-on and dragged for yards under an SUV into a ditch. I just immediately remember thinking to myself, “No. Not Meg. Why?”
Meg and I were more acquaintances than friends, but the few times our paths crossed one thing always stood out to me – her smile. Meg’s smile could light up a room. She quite literally radiated love through the smile in her eyes, too. Looking back at these memories we shared, I often wonder if those few playdates we spent together were really “just playdates.” It seems to me that it was God’s way of impressing upon me a feeling, perhaps even a calling.
I just did what I knew how to do that night in January – offer help. In my mind, it was a small thing. I set up an event on Facebook so others could run in Meg’s honor. A virtual run, where anyone could do it in their hometown. Many times, as runners, we take it for granted. We have music to distract us and motivate us. We have friends to chat with along the route. All I wanted was for people to run for Meg, but run with purpose. To notice the flowers blooming on their neighbor’s bush. To feel the hot sun on their necks, or possibly the rain on their faces. To appreciate the cold air or the snow underfoot. To just be alone with their thoughts and be grateful to be alive. Because Meg wasn’t. She was gone forever. Her smile wiped from the earth.
Using the hashtag #megsmiles to describe their runs and pictures that day, more than 100,000 people ran for Meg all over the world. 99.95% of those people didn’t even know Meg. Her story captured the hearts of so many. What has transpired after that day between thousands of us who ran for Meg is quite remarkable. Her legacy lives on amongst strangers.
Meg was a devout Christian, wife and mother. Running was just one part of her life. She was a talented runner and that upcoming marathon would have been her second at Boston that she had qualified for on her own. What I’ve learned about Meg since her passing is that her faith was the strongest piece of her life, with her family a close second. The belief she had in God, in the power of prayer, as well as in herself was undeniable. She connected to so many others in these ways.
It is in this way that her legacy lives on. Most definitely in me, but also in many others who never knew her. The element of connection is ridiculously powerful. We are connected to others in more ways than we can likely imagine. Profoundly connected through shared struggles, shared interests, shared faiths, and shared beliefs. It’s what was addressed at the first ever Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago this past week.
Our Meg’s Miles Supporters group, which formed days after the virtual run event in January of 2014, was one of 100 groups that exist on Facebook to be represented at this conference, where Mark Zuckerberg spoke publicly about the direction of his company. About his vision for what his company can do to help connect people together.
Because it’s the connection to others’ stories that help inspire action. The power of a story or personal experience you share with someone else can literally help change the world.
Call me crazy, but your story matters. Yep. Yours. The story about that time you came home from school one day and you found your dad with another woman. The story about that time you got fired from the best paying job you’d ever had & realized you hadn’t saved a penny. The story about how you hated how the girls teased you in middle school so you stopped eating in hopes of becoming their friend one day. All those deep, dark secrets you’ve been internally struggling with, thinking that nobody else has ever gone through anything like it, you need to let them go.
Letting fear hold you back from telling your truth, your story, does nothing to make you feel better. In fact, it makes it worse; it blisters and boils deep inside you. In essence, killing your soul. It keeps you chained from living free. From living your own life on your own terms. It holds you back from truly connecting with others. From allowing yourself to feel loved. Not just love from another person, but self-love. True, honest-to-the-core love for yourself.
Self-hate is powerful. But what’s more powerful is self-love. What’s more powerful is recognizing that you matter.
What I’ve come to understand over the last few years is that I want to align myself going forward in my life with people who want to “be the good.” People who see that honesty and positivity are not lost causes in this crazy world we live in. American society has a lot of growing up to do. This toddler phase we’ve reverted to lately is ridiculous (#iamsooverrit).
I want to connect people together. I may only be one person, but I sure as hell have seen what the power of connection can do in this world and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anything hold me back from connecting more people, more communities, more stories, and more “good” together. Whether it’s cat ladies, runners, soccer parents, athletic girls, cancer survivors, moms, WHOEVER!
Connection inspires action.
That is my mantra. That is what has been rooted in my soul for as long as I can remember. My mom might not understand it, my friends might not all understand it, my husband sometimes doesn’t understand it.
But I do. I get it. I live it and breathe it and own it. And at the end of the day, I now know that I matter. I may only be one woman, one mom, one player, one runner, one crazy cat lady – but I matter. I can make a difference. And that’s all the motivation I need to “be the good.”