On poo, rainbows, and the truth about happy endings

High on rainbows

The nurse spoke quietly as she shook me gently to wake me up.

Ms. Thompson, your hemoglobin levels have gone below seven.  We need to give you a blood transfusion.

It was about 4:00am on a Tuesday morning.  There were a number of people coming in and out of the hospital room, taking my temperature and blood pressure while explaining what was about to happen next.

That’s when it really hit me.  I was in the hospital, and this was serious.  As strong as I try to be, I realized I could no longer handle this one on my own.  So I rolled over and fired off an email to my parents asking them to make the trip up to Philly.

Thankfully, they arrived the next day.

First the mountaintop

The year started off so wonderfully.

I was on cloud nine after exploring Shanghai, being a rockstar in the small town of Dagang, and trekking the Great Wall during my trip to China.

And if that wasn’t enough, on the next leg of my journey I fulfilled a dream when I got to teach entrepreneurship at a girls school in rural Kenya.

My epic trip finished with a week traveling through a few cities in India with my girlfriends.

It was a fabulous month.

A month filled with experiences that changed my view of the world, and my role in it.

With a renewed sense of focus after returning home, I set out to work to try and make good things happen.

Then came the poo

I think I was somewhere around mile three when it happened.

It was just after a particularly challenging swim in the Schuylkill River as part of the triathlon I entered myself in.  I was exerting a lot of physical and emotional energy to make it through the 25K bike ride.

That’s when the bird pooped on my leg.

I was mortified and disgusted.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my first encounter with poo that month.  Just a few weeks earlier on a lovely June morning, a not so lovely thing happened in my little condo.

A blockage somewhere in the pipes outside my home, caused a back-up of sewage in my home.

Did I mention I was in the bathtub when things began to get ugly?  Needless to say I got out of the tub rather quickly.  By the time the problem was resolved, about eighty percent of my floors (and everything on it) had been hit with poo.

I spent the next two months living in a hotel.

As everything was getting on the right track with the renovation of my condo, they started to get off track in my body.  Turns out the “healthy” food I was eating and my immune system are arch enemies.  And since I didn’t know that, I kept trying to make them best buddies.

That resulted in a knock down, drag out brawl on my insides.  I was collateral damage.  I toughed it out as long as I could, until my digestive system shut down and I could no longer hold down food.

That unfortunate melee landed me in the hospital for ten days and I lost twenty-five pounds (don’t worry, I had a good old time gaining all that weight back).  After getting released, I spent the next few weeks with my family in Florida so they could help me recover.

There were plenty of rainbows

Enough not so great things happened in my world last year.  But with each of those unpleasant situations, a rainbow showed up.  Sometimes multiple rainbows did.

When the bird pooped on my leg, I had on pants.  Thank God I was wearing pants!

I was able to brush off the yuck with my water bottle, and continued along to finish the remainder of the triathlon.  More importantly, I didn’t let the Schuylkill River or that bird get the best of me.  I went on to have an awesome day.

While my condo was unlivable, the hotel I lived in was right smack dab in the middle of Philadelphia with an amazing view.  I got to know some wonderful people at the hotel, my condo got renovated, and I got brand new furniture.  Sweet!

While I was sick, I felt God’s grace.  As a result, I had a whole lot of peace while I was down.  I was able to feel the love from so many wonderful people in my life.  They all let me know in their own way just how much they cared.  At times, I felt the love so strong, it overwhelmed me.

The truth about happy endings

A while back I read some research that showed the happiest people are those that are able to find joy in the little things.

Things like being smiled at by a stranger on the street.  Shaving off thirty seconds from your best 5k time.  The warmth of the sun’s rays on your skin.

In noticing and appreciating the small miracles that show themselves each day, the happiest people are able to maintain a level of joy that sustains them in between the high highs.  It also keeps them sane through the low lows.

The happiest people realize life isn’t about getting to a happy ending.

Because they recognize that happiness isn’t an end goal.  Its a state of being.

They realize that happiness is largely independent of their circumstance.  Their level of joy isn’t about the mountaintop experiences, or the lack of poo.

The happiest people don’t base their happiness on future events.  They don’t sacrifice their present happiness waiting for that dream job.  Waiting to get married.  Waiting to have kids.  Waiting for the kids to get older.  Waiting to make more money.  Waiting for someone to notice their talent.  Waiting for their life to get better.

The happiest people are happy because they choose to be.

They choose to see the multitudes of rainbows.  Instead of dwelling on the poo.

And so I’m happy

My worst fears came true last year.

But through it all, I think I may have had my happiest year yet.

Because I realized somewhere along the way (maybe in the middle of one of my meltdowns when everything was falling apart), that I’ve got to find a way to be happy no matter what.

So I started looking for rainbows.  And when I looked for them I found them.  I was able to easily see that all of my good days, outweighed my bad days.

Yeah, everything may not be exactly the way I want it to be.  But there’s still plenty of sunshine.

And when those wonderful, big, amazing things happen in my life, I’ll be happy.

When a woman on the street smiles at me, I’ll be happy.

When things don’t quite work out the way I want them to or when I want them too, I’ve still gotta find a way to be happy.

And the same is true for you.

So be happy about the big things.  Be happy about the little things.  Be happy about all that’s right in your life.

Poo is gonna come.  Rainbows are gonna come.  Mountaintops are gonna come.

And you often have no control over when, how, and in what order they arrive.

But you can control how you feel.

That’s the lesson I learned while knee deep in poo, and in between mountaintops.

So I choose to be happy.  I choose to get high on rainbows each day.

You have a choice too.

So come on.

Skip the happy endings.

Embrace the rainbows.

And let’s get happy.

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People make the world go ’round

“Wow God, You’re really doing a number on me!”  It was the day before I was to return home, and I had just arrived in Beijing.  It was there, as I rode in the back of the cab on the way to my hotel that I found myself crying once again, as I had another revelation.  I was closing out a phenomenal month of travel, on what has thus far been the best trip of my life.

 

Here are a few highlights of what I was blessed to do (pics are up on my FB page):

  • I went on safari at Maasai Mara and saw a lion, and lots of other beautiful creatures
  • I hiked the Great Wall of China
  • I saw the beauty of the Taj Mahal
  • I connected with Gandhi and cried my heart out at his memorial museum
  • I rode a matatu in Nairobi
  • I went to The Bund in Shanghai (but didn’t get to howl at the moon)

Initially, when I set off on this journey, my intention was to go and add lots of value.  It all started with the volunteer trip to teach entrepreneurship at a girls school in Kenya.  Once that part of the trip was confirmed, I added in the other countries in the hopes of seeing how people live in other parts of the world, and maybe even offering up my services from a business standpoint in the process.

 

But God had other plans in mind.  Even though I did do some teaching and made some business connections, the biggest impact that was made on this trip wasn’t me imparting my “wisdom” on others.  Ha!  It was the impact that other people had on me.  Imagine that.  I saw the beauty of God’s creation, and I saw the glorious things God allowed man to do that are regarded as Wonders of the World.  But with all of that, I must say the absolute best parts of my trip, the times that I will remember and cherish the most, were those special, seemingly uneventful moments when there were no cameras around.  It was in time spent with friends old and new.

 

In China, two of my favorite moments came in the streets of Shanghai with one of my best friends.  As we
kicked off the celebration to bring in the New Year we sat in a park and someone had a Stevie Wonder song playing in the background that I began to sing along to.  Later, as we made the long walk to meet the group we were hanging out with that night, we quizzed each other on U.S. state capitals, and Canadian provinces (he’s Canadian).  Those unguarded moments when we’re just being silly and shooting the breeze are always special, especially with a dear friend with whom I often have philosophical conversations that regularly contribute to my personal growth.

 

In Nairobi, with my new friend of only a day, it was walking down the streets of the city on the way to what became my new hangout spot, as I learned and felt Nairobi as a local rather than a tourist.  This laid the foundation for an awesome next couple of days where I met even more wonderful people in his circle that became my own “Nairobi crew.”  We all spent hours together, and it felt like we had known each other for years rather than less than a week.

 

 

In India, my most cherished moments were with my girlfriends (BRCS!) during our talks in the hotel
rooms.  As we talked, we were completely honest and transparent about our feelings on our dreams, our careers, about some of the men in our lives.  Whether it was in just listening, the endless laughs, keeping it real with each other, or in helping to find practical solutions and action plans that will help get us to what we desire, this was where the magic was.

 

The time spent with wonderful people wasn’t just limited to my close friends.  It extended beyond to various other people I got to spend time with along the way, whether it was:

 

  • Shooting the breeze in a coffee shop with some very cool Canadians who are teaching in China
  • Crying together (I had lots of tears on this trip!) while singing the school song to the WISER girls with my big-hearted fellow volunteers as we said goodbye to the students
  • Hanging out with a very cool gal from Mumbai who showed us the city, and introduced me to one of the best meals of my life

 

Why is all this significant?  Because I’ve always considered myself a loner.  I’m an introvert.  I love my quiet time, and enjoy my own company.  And over the past few years, I’ve been fully embracing my independence by doing things that I want to do on my own (travel to Paris, concerts, triathlon) when other people weren’t able or available to go with me.  There have been a number of other major milestones in my life that I’ve gone through and achieved independently:  buying a car, buying a house, selling a house, and starting a business.  Being who I am, I suppose that these were all things that I needed to do and experience on my own.  Not sure why, maybe it was to prove to myself that I could do all that by myself.  And while I’ve enjoyed my independence, I realized while in the back of that cab, that doing everything “on my own” isn’t necessarily what I need (or want) to do anymore as I move forward.

 

What started this?  I arrived in the Beijing airport, and there was no one there to pick me up.  I knew there wasn’t going to be anyone there, and I was gonna have to jump in a cab.  In fact, there have been many, many times when I’ve arrived in a city and there was no one to pick me up at the airport.  That’s actually the norm.  But, this time, the feeling of getting to a new city and walking through the arrivals terminal knowing there was no one waiting hit me in a different way.  Hence, why I found myself crying a river in that cab a few minutes later.  I realized why I felt differently, as I thought about all the great times I had over the past few weeks with such wonderful people.

 

People make the world go ‘round.  I’ve always known that.  But I learned it especially on this trip.  People make my world go ‘round.  My family.  My friends.  Strangers who become friends.  People who I spend a few moments with.  People I see, but don’t get the chance to speak to.  People I never met, but read or heard about their stories.  We aren’t in this world alone.  No matter where you are, or what you’re going through, people have a wonderful impact on your life.  And people have had a wonderful impact on mine.

 

Independence is great, but it can only get you so far and fulfill you so much.  The best times in our lives, the most impactful moments in our lives, the biggest lessons in our lives, tend to come with and through other people.

 

So to all the people who were a part of this epic journey:  thank you for helping to make my world go ‘round.  And thank you for helping me learn this lesson, as I walk into a new chapter in life.  There’s more time to be spent, more memories to make, more places to go, and bigger things to do.  Hopefully, lot’s of that will be done with you, and with people like you.

This is a man’s world?

It was day 3 in India, and we had just passed a group of school age girls at the Bahai Temple in New Delhi.  As the girls walked by and waved to us with glee, my friends and I had a moment.  “These are the future engineers, doctors, and scientists!,” my friend exclaimed.  As I fought back tears, I thought about the futures of these young girls.  They were so full of life, and with their whole lives ahead of them, there seemed to be so much promise for them.

Schoolgirls at Bahai Temple in New Delhi

Schoolgirls at Bahai Temple in New Delhi

 

Normally, I’m not in the habit of crying when I see young school girls, however, after having spent a few days in a country that felt like it was dominated by men, it was refreshing to see these girls and to be able to imagine all the wonderful things they could do and become in their lives.

 

If this is a man’s world, it appeared that no one had yet told these girls.  And I hope no one ever does.

 

I was raised to be independent, and to believe that nothing is impossible to me.  And the fact that I am a woman, has never in any way (to my knowledge) prevented me from doing anything I wanted to do.

 

If this is a man’s world, then nobody ever told me that.  I live my life in a way that reflects that it can’t be a man’s world, because for me, it’s Sonia’s world.  And in my world, there are no limits.

 

As I’ve been traveling over the past few weeks, I noticed that my reality of a limitless world doesn’t necessarily seem like it exists for all women.  Not because it isn’t their God-given gift, just as it is for me and every person.  But because of history, culture, and tradition.  Based upon what I’ve seen in some other countries, it would seem that it really is a man’s world, and it has been that way for a long time.

 

There were many instances during my travels in India where I noticed that there appeared to be very few women around.  On the metro, in the streets, in the hotels, in the restaurants, everywhere we went women seemed to be few and far to between.  Where are all the women, I wondered? In New Delhi, I found some.  While taking the metro, my friends and I happened upon the “women only” car.  Given the stares that we had been receiving throughout the day from the men, it felt great to be on it.  It felt relaxed, comfortable, and safe.  And then as I was enjoying a few moments of relaxation in being in this “safe space” among only women on the train, I then got troubled.  Why is there a need for a women’s only car?  Why doesn’t that feeling of being relaxed, comfortable, and safe exist on a car that is co-ed?  Was it because we were in a man’s world?

 

With students at WISER school

With students at WISER school

In Kenya, I had the joy of teaching entrepreneurship at WISER , an all girls secondary boarding school in Muhuru Bay.  The mission of WISER is to “improve the educational, economic, and health outcomes for girls;  create gender allies in boys; and promote community-wide enhancements in health and development.”  Spending time with the girls was wonderful, and had me on such a high.  But the reality is, this all girls school is necessary because there are gender inequalities in the community.  Not just in Muhuru Bay, but in many places.  Before going to WISER, many of these girls were growing up “in a man’s world,” and their lives would likely be very different had they not been admitted.  But now, with the education that they are receiving, along with the exposure and opportunities it will undoubtedly bring them, they are recognizing that they don’t just live in a man’s world.  It’s their world too.  One that is filled with possibility.

 

I think what has been troubling me so much about the notion of seeing, experiencing, and reading about these instances of what it feels like to live in a “man’s world” is that other people seem to be making choices for women, rather than allowing these capable beings to make choices about their lives for themselves.  Whether its what women wear, how they sit, when to go to school, what their role is to be in the household, what career they can have, how much they will make, how they can sit on a motorcycle, what is proper behavior becoming of a woman, whatever it is, it seems someone has an opinion, and in some unfortunate circumstances, those opinions are actually enforced in local laws and customs.

 

I would like to note a few things.  I am not so naive as to believe that gender equality fully exists in the U.S. or other Western countries.  As it stands today in the U.S., there is still a significant gap in the pay between men and women for the same jobs, there are still many more men in higher level positions than women, and not even a year ago, there was major debate in the country about women’s reproductive rights and birth control.  There is definitely progress to be made in the West.

 

The second point I’d like to note is that I’m not anti-male.  I’m a big fan of men!  I’ve never really been a girls girl, and I actually do have a traditional view of male and female roles.  For instance, whenever I do find myself myself married, I fully envision my husband to be the head of our household, and I intend to respect him as such.  But therein lies the whole crux of this issue for me.  I’ll recognize my husband as the head of our household because I’ll choose to, not because someone or some tradition told me I had to.

 

I have the same feelings about traditions and laws.  I’m all for tradition, and cultural norms when they are followed as a matter of choice, rather than a matter of obligation, or a rule that was made by someone many many years ago, or by people who in most instances doesn’t even know the people they are making rules about.

 

In my mind (again, in Sonia’s world), the goal would be for all of us, men and women to live together

Wisdom from Gandhi

Wisdom from Gandhi

fully embracing who we are, striving to be our best selves, and encouraging each other to do the same.  In doing this, there wouldn’t be any need for any one of us to put any type of limits, or restrictions on another person.  In this, my ideal world, it isn’t about eliminating the notion of gender with the goal of making us all equals.  Men and women are different.  We were created that way for a reason, designed to work together to be complementary one to another.  One isn’t better than the other.  We’re just different.  I’d like to think that when we operate together, fully embracing the individuals that we each are and allowing each other to fit into our own personal ideals of manhood and womanhood without limits, then we’ll find that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

This isn’t a man’s world.  It isn’t a woman’s world.  It’s our world.  It belongs to all of us.  And together, we can make it a world that is worthy for all of us to live in merrily.