“Hero starts with a ‘Z'”

This post all starts with a history project I had to do.  The assignment asked me to choose a figure from American history and describe why and how they impacted history through leadership.  Being a self-proclaimed Apple fanboy, I always admired and aspired to be like Jobs, so I chose him.  His sheer dedication and resilience to get to the top of the industry was awe-inspiring.  I read Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs to get a better feel for his character and legacy.  The book was incredibly detailed, and included dialogue from an interview between the author and the legend himself.  Much of the biography’s content was already known to me, but it was interesting to hear the story from top-to-bottom at one time.  Steve Jobs accomplished some incredible feats, but one thing that really caught my attention in his earlier years, was his refusal to wear shoes.  In public, at work, anywhere, essentially: the man went barefoot.

I have always hated wearing shoes, and tend to take them off at any opportunity I can.  In fact, all throughout high school, I wore sandals because they were less-like shoes.  I think it was the runner inside of me, that only ever wanted shoes on when he was out on a training run… Who knows?  I just really hate having shoes on my feet.  After reading this insert in Jobs’s life, however, I have become inspired to take them off more regularly.  Over the past week, I have cut my shoe-time in half.  By this, I mean I have worn shoes half as often as usual, and it’s been an incredible learning experience.

Maybe it was just the timing of things, because life has been kind of crazy.  Or maybe it’s just that I am always looking for an answer, and this seems to bring me some sort of solace.

Yesterday, I received a phone call from my friend, Kyle.  He and I are both involved with MASC MAHS, an organization dedicated to helping high school students develop their leadership abilities.  This organization truly is a family: a really strong, beautiful, and brave family.  So when Kyle called and explained to me that one of our own, Zach, had passed away earlier in the day, I was paralyzed.  Zach had been battling cancer for over a year. Even though we received notice earlier this week that his days were dwindling down, that we should expect to hear this unfortunate news in the upcoming weeks, I was shattered.  No amount of notice can properly prepare you for when family dies.  It sucks.  A lot.  And on that phone call, any remaining amount of air held by my lungs was ripped from me.

Zach is the second family member this year I have lost to cancer.  It makes me weary, thinking about cancer: the battle, the unknown, the hope, the hopelessness, and the devastating end.  Like most, I kind of really really hate cancer.  And while I’m really taken aback by both of the losses I’ve experienced this year, I have an entirely new perspective on life, now.  This new perspective is full of gratitude for the here-and-now.  I see life through a set of eyes that just wants to fully and whole-heartedly experience everything around me and everything inside of me at every given moment.

That’s the cool thing about life: you get to experience it.  

Everyone experiences life differently. I’m not going to say that there is a right or wrong way, but I know what works for me.  Experiencing life, for me, is learning, laughing, loving, family, running down the longest dirt roads I can find, reading, eating well (and by well, I don’t necessarily mean healthily. I mean more along the lines of eating tasty, delicious, meals), setting and accomplishing goals, taking photos, spending time outside, watching new movies, discovering new music, driving aimlessly around, drinking bottle after bottle of water, attributing symbolic meaning to apparently meaningless things (F.Scott Fitzgerald-style), having great conversations, having simple conversations, wearing shorts the moment the sun comes out, dancing shamelessly around, because it feels good (my mom used to call this, “feels way better than it looks.”), singing in the shower, writing and reflecting at the end of each day, being afraid, being sad, blogging occasionally, staying up late, waking up early, cups of coffee, and so much more.

All of this is a part of experiencing life.  And while it is definitely nice to sit, relax, and embrace all of these things at a slower pace, life doesn’t always permit that.  So when you are crunched for time, embrace that feeling, too.  Experience it.  Recognize it.  Do not simply let it happen, allow it to affect you.  Live in those slow moments, those fast moments, and those in between moments, too.

That’s what I’ve learned throughout all of this.  As angry as I am about Zach passing away, I’ve learned to appreciate my life while it’s here.  And as upset I am that my bestfriend’s mom lost her battle to cancer only weeks ago, I’ve learned to love more while I’m able to.  I’m sure if they could tell me anything, they’d advise me to love and laugh and live while I still can.  They’d want me to embrace the world around me while I’m still blessed enough to be standing on it.  And now, I want exactly that.

So, in the event that you find me standing barefoot, I hope this helps you understand why.  I am experiencing life.  And I encourage you to try it, sometime.  Not because I do it, or because Steve Jobs did it, or because I’m trying to start a shoe-less revolution, but because of this question: do you even know what it feels like to stand where you are standing?  I ask this in the most literal sense: you are alive and standing, but a thin layer of cloth and a thick layer of rubber often times separates you from actually knowing and appreciating what you are standing on and where you are living.  Shoes restrict my ability to experience life.  I like to know exactly what it feels like to walk across the grass, the sidewalk, the paths in the park, and the bridges over the waterways; furthermore, I like to appreciate what that feeling is in the most authentic way of which I can think.

I am standing. I am feeling.  I am appreciating.  And I am experiencing life in the exact moment that I am in.

It’s stupid. It’s weird. It can even be a little smelly, if you do not wash correctly. But I don’t want to die having never known what it actually felt like to be standing or walking or running across this earth.

That’s why I take my shoes off; it’s another baby step towards embracing what it actually means to be alive.

Rest peacefully, Zach.  Thank you, for everything.

A song to accompany this post:

One thought on “Barefoot

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