Appreciate Every Day As If It Were Your Last

Appreciate Every Day As If It Were Your Last

by Emma Reynolds

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It was 3:55 pm, just a normal Sunday afternoon. I was sitting on one of the couches outside of my dorm, Parkside, chatting with a friend. However, our conversation was interrupted by muted yells coming from somewhere nearby. I promptly stood up and looked if I could see what was happening.

I spotted the source of the noise- four female employees emerging from the nearby dining hall. Something was going on inside the dining hall. Maybe a fight? was my first thought. I sat back down and just shrugged it off. But something didn't feel right. One of the employees sprinted past me to the street. Even though I only saw her for a split second, I was able to clearly see a look of horror and panic in her eyes. That's strange...

An ambulance shortly arrived. Ok- a typical college Sunday afternoon. But then things started getting really weird. Two policemen arrived casually bearing…. rifles. They started yelling at all of the students, telling us to evacuate the area, immediately.

"Have you not heard?" one of them shouted, "leave the premises, now!" Haven't heard what? While I didn't know what was going on, all I could sense was this horrible feeling in my gut. There was no denying the implied potential threat inside the dining hall: an active shooter.

I felt the world suddenly shrink around me. I wanted to run, but I couldn't. This wasn't the first time I instinctively froze in a "fight, flight, or freeze" situation. I fought the urge to do nothing and followed the quieter voice inside my legs telling me to get the hell out of there.

I ran far away to be safe but stayed close enough so that I still had a clear view of the dining hall. I needed to know what was going to happen next. That's just how I am- I never fully run away from danger, but rather stand along the threshold between security and threat.

More police cars arrived, bringing more armed men and women to the scene, each with their own rifle. One policeman standing right next to me was bearing a large hunting rifle. Nothing felt real to me, not the threat, the guns, nada.

I paced back and forth on the sidewalk, hyperventilating. I didn't know where it was "safe" to go. If there is an active shooter on campus, how could I possibly know where they were going to next? No place seemed any safer than the latter.

I saw more ambulances appear in the distance, their lights blaring a bold, bright color of red. More students gathered near my 'safety threshold', to whom I asked if anyone knew what the hell was happening.

"I don't know," one of them said, "I was just going into the dining hall and they suddenly turned me around, telling me to leave."

"A policeman asked me if I had heard any gunshots. I didn't, but…" another student said, clearly shaken up.

"Not sure, but I heard that someone tripped and fell in the dining hall," another person said, catching me off guard.

"Sorry, what?" I asked. If someone fell in the dining hall, then why were there 10+ police cars, the SWAT team, a helicopter, two ambulances, and a firetruck here?

My confusion was interrupted by yet another rumor: "Oh, apparently someone fell in the dining hall, split their head open, and because there was so much blood, someone thought they got shot and reported it."

Soon after I heard this, the police began telling us that it was safe to enter the premises again. I was still very confused.

What I found out was that one of the workers at the dining hall passed out. A coworker found him unconscious and freaked out.

The first mistake was that the workers started yelling for help. Yelling is never a good first instinct.

What this did was start a commotion in a very closed environment, filled with high-anxiety first-year college students. In fear for their own lives from a phantom danger, students started running out of the dining hall, including through the emergency exits. This set off a myriad of alarms, which only instilled more panic and yelling. Someone must have, during this, called 911, reporting how they thought there was a shooter on campus.

What this all came to be was a terribly large, dysfunctional game of telephone.

Before the situation dissipated completely, no one knew what was happening: not the students, not the policemen, nor the school. (I later found out that the SWAT and some policemen had even gone to the wrong initial location due to even more miscommunication)

Nevertheless, I was quite shaken up; there was a moment where I truly felt my life was in danger. It was a feeling I had never felt before- a sensation so surreal and adrenaline-induced that I hope to never feel again.

After this incident, I took away three crucial thoughts.

One: how sad it is that we live in a society where we often correlate chaos and screaming with "gunman."

Two: the importance of communication. Imagine there was a shooter and the SWAT team arrived at the wrong location as they did today.

And three, how precious life is. Remember to always hang up with an "I love you" to those close to you, or just show some sense of appreciation in some way. It's rare to know when our final day will come, and because of this, we should treat every day as if it were our last.

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Working With People Who Are Dying Teaches You So Much About How To Live

Spending time with hospice patients taught me about the art of dying.

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Death is a difficult subject.

It is addressed differently across cultures, lifestyles, and religions, and it can be difficult to find the right words to say when in the company of someone who is dying. I have spent a lot of time working with hospice patients, and I bore witness to the varying degrees of memory loss and cognitive decline that accompany aging and disease.

The patients I worked with had diverse stories and interests, and although we might have had some trouble understanding each other, we found ways to communicate that transcended any typical conversation.

I especially learned a lot from patients severely affected by dementia.

They spoke in riddles, but their emotions were clearly communicated through their facial expressions and general demeanor, which told a story all on their own.

We would connect through smiles and short phrases, yes or no questions, but more often than not, their minds were in another place. Some patients would repeat the details of the same event, over and over, with varying levels of detail each time.

Others would revert to a child-like state, wondering about their parents, about school, and about family and friends they hadn't seen in a long time.

I often wondered why their minds chose to wander to a certain event or time period and leave them stranded there before the end of their life. Was an emotionally salient event reinforcing itself in their memories?

Was their subconscious trying to reconnect with people from their past? All I could do was agree and follow their lead because the last thing I wanted to do was break their pleasant memory.

I felt honored to be able to spend time with them, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was intruding on their final moments, moments that might be better spent with family and loved ones. I didn't know them in their life, so I wondered how they benefited from my presence in their death.

However, after learning that several of the patients I visited didn't have anyone to come to see them, I began to cherish every moment spent, whether it was in laughter or in tears. Several of the patients never remembered me. Each week, I was a new person, and each week they had a different variation of the same story that they needed to tell me.

In a way, it might have made it easier to start fresh every week rather than to grow attached to a person they would soon leave.

Usually, the stories were light-hearted.

They were reliving a memory or experiencing life again as if it were the first time, but as the end draws nearer, a drastic shift in mood and demeanor is evident.

A patient who was once friendly and jolly can quickly become quiet, reflective, and despondent. I've seen patients break down and cry, not because of their current situation, but because they were mourning old ones. These times taught me a lot about how to be just what that person needs towards the end of their life.

I didn't need to understand why they were upset or what they wanted to say.

The somber tone and tired eyes let me know that what they had to say was important and worth hearing. What mattered most is that someone who cared was there to hear it.

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A Few Birthday Thoughts

Goodbye teenage years, hello twenties!

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So, it is looking like I am about to leave my teenage years behind. I think that I want to reflect back on this time in my life and think about what I want to keep with me in my twenties and maybe some things I can let go. My teenage years have been full of love from my family and friends; hard work to make good grades in school and creating art. I developed several great friendships that I have held on to across the miles even though I went to college 14 hours away from our previous home. I am so thankful for the friendships I have made in college as well.

It seems like friends you make in your childhood and younger years can really stand the test of time. Maybe it is because when you became friends you were truly who you were. Everyone was genuine and didn't put up walls to protect themselves. You got to know someone on a deeper more personal level more quickly than if you had met later in life. I also think we laughed even more as children and that always creates good memories to look back on. So I think in my twenties I will try to hang on to the "childish" way of making friends. I will try to show my true self and will accept them for who they are, and we will laugh....a lot.

I think a good thing to let go of is always trying to make dead-end relationships work. When we were children on the playground and we tried to play a game together or jump rope and it just wasn't working, we would run off and find someone else. It was easy. It was just natural. Now sometimes I find myself trying to stay in a relationship by being overly nice, giving gifts, trying to find what pushes the persons "good" buttons. I might spend so much time trying to figure this person out that I leave out more solid relationships that are worth my time. So in my twenties, I will try to be more realistic about who to spend my time on. Some people are just never going to stand the test of time. I can continue to be cordial but won't let them rule my time and thought life.

As children, we loved our parents and siblings and would show love to them in a myriad of ways. Maybe it was hugs, pictures on the fridge, good night kisses, playing games, or just quality time spent together as a family. Starting my twenties, I am mature enough to realize the value of these people in my life. Thankfully, I have always known this. I was never the type that was embarrassed if someone saw me walking with my Mom or Dad or being dropped off in the Mom Van somewhere. I always knew these people loved me more than anyone else I was about to meet. But in my twenties, I plan to keep up with my family even when I am eight hours away from them. We are never too old to need the love of family.

As weird as it is to say goodbye to my teenage years, it's honestly helped me to soak in the precious moments of everyday life and treasure them even more. Every year when birthdays come around, it always serves as a reminder how quickly the days, months, and years fly by. I think that has been one difficult part of this birthday season. It's hard to say goodbye to the past, without a clear map of the future. But, I must remind myself that this is why growing up is a beautiful thing- as we live life and experience new things, we are better prepared for what the future may hold. Everything that I have experienced in my 20 years has served an important purpose- to make me into the person I am supposed to become. Yes, life is always changing and so am I... and change can be hard. Very hard. But one thing to remember is God is always constant. He will never change. No matter what number is on your birthday cake, He is always there...the same God yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is the Rock that we will always be able to cling to. Isn't that a wonderful thought? Even if we don't know what's in His plans for us in the coming year, it's important to make Him a part of our plans. Rather than worry about change, let's embrace it all- the good and the bad- and look to the Lord to see how He will guide and shape us.

Teenage years- the time has come. I must say goodbye to you now. But, you will never be forgotten. I will hold your memories in my heart forever. Twenties- I am excited for all that awaits me.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." - Joshua 1:9

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