Buffy Summers may not slay sickness the way she does vampires, but she and her gang comfort me through sickness in other ways.
Buffy, Xander and Willow on VHS were my most reliable companions through my lonely season in South Korea. They held me through my law school years in Los Angeles, and a later move to Japan. Unlike the friends and family with whom I loved watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I could pack them up and ship them with me, a portability I cherished. Being with the latter Scooby gang far away from home made me feel not so far away from home at all.
I’ve mentioned I was a fangirl, and that I worked as an extra on the show several times, but I haven’t really talked much about the specifics of my fandom. Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing to remember how devoted I was to a television show. Most the time, though, I just smile and shake my head at my younger self, all the while remembering to be thankful she led me on such interesting adventures.
This morning, sick and happily lost in Buffy marathon, there’s no embarrassment, just gratitude as I remember one specific fangirl encounter. Read more…
Although this post begins with a tragedy, it is a post about hope.
I was thrift store hopping in 2003 when I missed a call from a girlfriend. Stepping out from the thrift store I’d been shopping at, I dialed my voicemail access number. I knew something was wrong when my new voicemail began not with “Hi, Debbie!” but “Oh, Deb.”
Only a handful of seconds later, I sank to the sidewalk and thought, “No. No, this is a terrible joke. This can’t have happened.”
But it had.
Months later, I continued to struggle with how suddenly lives could be ended. I found solace only in my long nighttime runs, during which my thoughts ran even further and wider than my legs.
One evening shortly before the 2004 marathon that would be my first, I noticed a car passing by me slowly and repeatedly. I started getting anxious about how dark it was, how long it had been since I’d seen another person, how if someone managed to get me into their car, there’d be no one around to notice.
I ran in the direction of the nearest police station and I prayed. The car fell away, eventually, but the adrenaline didn’t.
I wondered about what would have happened if the ending there had been different. Would my friends remember me for all the happy memories we shared, or would they remember only how my life ended?
The thought horrified me. As I wept while running homeward, I thought over and over again: We are so much more than the ways that we end.
Afterward, I endeavored to remember those who had died not for how their lives concluded, but for who they were while they lived. For their lives.
And yet, when my friend Karin began daily posting links to a blog series about a young girl’s struggle with cancer, I thought, “Gah, why would I want to read so extensively about a girl’s death?”
It was only when I read Karin’s husband Chris’s Freshly Pressed entry about why they are going “Blissfully Bald” that I understood just how much I had misunderstood. This wasn’t a story about a girl’s death to cancer.
It was a story about a girl’s life.
As I read Chris’s post, I knew I’d have to read Donna’s Cancer Story. If her life story had moved him so, so very much that this post flowed from its reading, I had to experience it myself.
Friday evening, I started reading her story.
Saturday morning, vision blurred from crying, I finished reading it.
Notice what I did there? I didn’t say I finished the story. I said “I finished reading it.”
That’s because Donna lives on in the things we do to remember her.
On March 24, my dear friends Chris and Karin, subjects of my first stick figure animation, will shave their heads to raise money for St. Baldrick’s. I’ve donated, which you can do via the “Blissfully Bald” link below. I’ve tweeted. I’ve posted it on Facebook. Now, I must share their fundraising efforts here, in the place I’m freest to explain everything they mean to me.
It’s been almost two years since my mom died of cancer. I remember daily the strength I feigned to cover the helplessness of watching her fade.
I remember deciding to run a half-marathon to raise money in her memory. It wouldn’t bring her back, but it was something I could do.
When you’re watching cancer steal away someone you love, there is painfully, wretchedly little you can do.
In running, I found a way to look forward instead of backward. I couldn’t bring my mom back, but I could take very literal steps toward ensuring someone else’s life didn’t end the same way.
So I ran, with my siblings, for Mom. When we were done, we placed our congratulatory roses on her headstone, and I felt a fluttering of peace. It faded quickly, but feeling it made me know it was a beginning. It was another step in the right direction.
This afternoon, as I drove home from brunch with girlfriends, I marveled at how deeply interconnected are things and lives whose connections we can’t always see: a pediatric cancer charity, a dojo, my mom, a scary encounter running, a pair of Michigan bloggers, and a little girl who filled the world with so much brilliance in the four years she was given to do so.
I thought about the 21-year-old woman the memory of whom inspired the memorial scholarship that enabled me to finish law school. I recently sent a note, via the law school, to let her family know that she continues to inspire me, although I never met her.
I remain grateful to this woman, and the family whose steps to remember her so tangibly impacted me. My life would not be what it is today but for her blessed memory.
Our bodies will cease. That is inevitable. But we will live on in the hearts of those who shared the journey with us, and whose lives we touched with our actions. In the hope that we helped build through these actions.
It’s thus I leave you with the words I shared on Facebook right after finishing reading Donna’s Cancer Story:
Last night I started reading Mary Tyler Mom‘s blog series “Donna’s Cancer Story.” This morning, through tears so abundant it was hard to see, I finished it.
I hope you’ll consider reading the series yourself, someday if not today. But if you don’t think you can read the whole thing, I’d recommend you read this last entry. It’s full of thoughts about what you can do to help Donna live on in the good things you do today.
If you are able to donate to From the Bungalow‘s team “Blissfully Bald,” that’s one thing. There are many more that don’t cost a thing but will help make life easier or brighter for someone else. Check out Donna’s Good Things for more on this, even if you don’t read this entry or the series.
Like its name suggests, it is full of good things, but there’s always room for more.
After I post this, I’ll greet my little man for the day, and be grateful. And I’ll remember these words, this morning and always, as well as the little girl whose story brought them to me:
“Choose hope. Live until you die.”
In doing so, you’ll live on further still in the memory of those blessed to love and have been loved by you.
© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.
I met my honey, Ba.D., on the verge of my 2004 move to Japan.
Over drinks shared with a mutual friend, I told him about why I wasn’t interested in practicing law despite the law degree I’d soon hold. He told me how he liked his beer (“black and bitter, like me”) before launching into an improv Dashboard Confessional-style song that had me in stitches.
I moved. Ba.D. and I alternately exchanged emails and conversed through online forums. Our friendship developed online because that was all the distance between us allowed.
Recalling how much of our relationship was built through the written word, it struck me one day that I really wanted a written update. I wanted to see more words from Ba.D., and I wanted them on my blog.
Ba.D. agreed, but he wasn’t sure what he’d write about. After a couple of weeks, I suggested his stint on Survivor would be a gimme. He could talk about that for years, after all!
I asked you if you had any questions for him, and some of you did. He’s answered these here, giving me a sweet opportunity to remember all the time his written words brought me joy before I returned to Los Angeles.
What is something that you did on Survivor that you thought you would never have the courage to do?
Get on the boat and do it. Seriously, I was aching to do it, but I didn’t know how scared out of my mind I’d be until I got on the boat in the middle of the Pacific and start paddling. And yes, it is something frightening in the back of your mind to think that you’re out in the middle of the ocean, no life vest, sharks and about 3 miles between you and land—and only a flimsy catamaran between you and the cold water. Yeah.
Oh, and what is the ONE item that you wish you had brought with you that you didn’t?
Oh, I brought it, I just didn’t get to use it: A journal and notebook. It was my luxury item, but my tribe didn’t win that challenge, so no go. It was too bad. I would have probably been a little more even keel if I’d had it. Or a camera. Yeah.
I suppose I could ask: What was the toughest part of the show for you? What did you enjoy most?
The two things that sucked the most: Dehydration, and this guy named Rocky. If you’ve ever been really thirsty on a really hot day, imagine taking the biggest drink of scotch you can. Now run around the block like 3 times. Then imagine doing that every three days without drinking anything but coconut water. Dehydration sucks, and is no joke.
The other thing was this guy named Rocky who just rode me like an evil boys gym coach from an 80s teen movie. Or like a glee club kid by a certain cheerleading coach. Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.
Do you have any regrets about being on the show?
Yes: Losing. Maybe not punching out a person or two (not that I’d be allowed to without facing some prosecution).
Deb told me she was in labor for 27 hours w/ your son. Do you think this makes her tougher than any member of the Survivor cast?
Yes and no: Tougher than many of the pretty boy whiny castaways, sure—but many folks are just as tough, for different reasons—like Christy Smith, who went way far in the game despite being deaf and ostracized by her tribe, or Chad Crittenden, the first player with a prosthetic leg, or Cristina Coria, who before coming on the show survived being shot by a murder suspect.
Deb’s also tough as nails (I can tell you stories), but she refuses to audition for Survivor.*
Hmm .. the Chicagoan in me wants to ask if somebody pissed him off so badly, that he wanted to just make them “disappear”. You know, concrete galoshes into 500 feet of Lake Michigan “disappear”.
Yes, a guy named Rocky (see above) and a guy named Mookie. I guess their names were totally appropriate for that question, huh?
Did you, or any of your fellow castaways have any military survival training, and if so, did it really help?
I didn’t, but one of the older guys my season was a door gunner in a helicopter in Vietnam, so I imagine that counts. From what I gather in talking to him, it didn’t help him at all. Survivor is kind of its own animal. You’d do better watching that guy Bear on Survivorman before going on.
I made up my own training schedule, consisting of trying to make fire from pretty much nothing and keeping it alive for 3 days while brushing up on my first aid and coconut opening skills.
In your view what is the right stuff to survive? What did you think was the right stuff at the time you applied/auditioned?
There’s survival and then there’s survival on Survivor. There’s a kinda mix you need. But I’d say its 1) The ability to think outside the box 2) A certain adaptability that allows you to work with almost any kind of people and 3) A level of “moral flexibility” that will let you do or say what you need to survive and 4) The ability to keep your humanity intact in most situations.
Looking across the seasons, which survivor do you admire the most and why?
This is actually a question on the application!
Did you go really hungry? Did they monitor you?
Oh yeah, the hunger is for real. People pay a lot for coconuts. When you’ve not eaten anything but for 9 days, there is a lot of the suck. You can live off of them, but gah.
Being a pretty laid back guy, did something/someone really make you angry?
Yes, see above about that guy Rocky!
How often did you laugh…if ever?
Not nearly enough. But once I did again, things got better.
Honestly, did you ever get so hungry you considered eating one of your own limbs? Which one would you eat? Do the producers at least give you guys salt and pepper to season said limbs?
No, not my own. You always eat the other guys first, starting from the flank … what, you’ve never read the story of Alive?
Was it hard to watch yourself on TV? Would you say how they portrayed you was accurate?
Parts were very hard, especially my last tribal council (I was watching it by myself in a New York hotel room). And yes, for the most part it was me … edited and parsed down to make me look a certain way, but it was me.
What would you do differently if you could go back to compete again?
What was harder for you: the physical toll (being hungry, no sleep) or the social aspects?
The dehydration … oh man, the dehydration.
This one if from my nine year old son: Were you ever really REALLY scared? And if so, what scared you the most?
Yes! Of falling off of cliffs and of sharks! REALLY SCARED of sharks. Two of the deadliest sharks in the world (and one of the highest counts of shark attacks) are in Fiji where we shot the show.
Did you ever get a little ticked off that Jeff Probst would show up completed rested, showered, and with a full stomach and then proceed to yell at you guys with his annoying play by play during the challenges?
You better believe it, though mostly with Jeff’s play by play. It’s his job to do (because you’d be surprised how quiet it would be on tv without it), but man it gets iritating when you’re trying to concentrate on the challenge, or worse when you’re trying to hide your flubs. You hear a lot of “Thanks, Probst.” from folks during the challenges.
Also, did the cameras bother you? Or did you forget they were there after awhile?
You’re hyper aware of them for the first day or so, and then you totally forget they exist. Heck, you find yourself standing in these perfect little half circles for conversations without knowing why. They’re like ninja! With cameras.
I need to know how I can get on the show. Seriously. This is not a joke. I have tried a few times. (Okay once.) But I don’t have time to mess around. I’m 43. I can wear a bikini. I’ve had laser hair removal. I love to camp. Who can you put me in touch with so I can get on that show. I don’t even care about the money; I just want to go somewhere hot and play.
This is one of the questions that I get asked A LOT. Like once a week. The best advice I can give on this is to just be interesting and willing to talk your mind. They want interesting people from all walks of life, but you’d be surprised how “cookie cutter” applicants can be. They’re looking for big characters, so, if you apply (and in your case if you apply again), make yourself into a character—take one or two little things about yourself that are big and just blow them up. I went for the gamer nerd, and well, look where it got me?
Oh! And the second piece of advice I can give is to be persistent. Many of the non-recruited, cool players were fans who just kept on applying. Leslie Nease (the really REALLY Christian lady from Survivor China) applied like 30 times before she got on.
And the third piece of advice is to know the game. They really, really, really, really, want people who know the game. My friend, Bobby “Bobdawg” Mason of Survivor Vanauatu proved that he knew the game by bringing in a huge flowchart to his interview showing who got voted off when, what their mistakes were, and their occupations. Cochran from this season of Survivor is studying at Harvard Law, and wrote his entrance essay on how the jury on Survivor works in contrast to the judicial jury system, and flaws and advantages in both.
How did being on Survivor change your view about people?
Honestly, if anything it reinforced some of my beliefs: If you treat people with some kindness, and at least a speck of respect, you can get pretty far in life. I mean one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known won my season. And yes, I know (and saw in spades) that people can really suck. It really is a microcosm of the human condition, even as manipulated as it may sometimes seem.
* Ed. note: See Ba.D.’s answer on Jeff Probst’s play by plays for further detail. As you know from my road rage post, there’s little that says “I love you” quite like staying out of jail for your offspring.