It's a Monday and I am functioning on 15-16 hours of sleep distributed across 3 nights. Yet, I feel the most awakened I have ever felt in my life.
As a Penn State student, I have absolute privilege of joining tens of thousands of other students to be a part of Penn State THON, a 46-hour dance marathon, the largest student-run philanthropy event in the world that raises over $10 million for childhood cancer. I just attended for my second time and agreed to dance for 23 hours, nearly 10 more hours than I had the previous year.
I was on crutches from a severe hip injury so I seemed a little crazy to agree to dance for that long. Maybe I was. I was still determined to attend, however, because "everyone is going" and "I'd be missing out" and "it's so much fun." Probably not the best rationales for attending an event for childhood cancer (in fact, they were pretty selfish rationales), but nonetheless I decided to go and spent time with two different clubs that raised money for childhood cancer.
In the days (and weeks and months) leading up to THON, I complained about my hip problem. I complained a lot. The biggest burden in the world was having to function on crutches and deal with pain and not be able to run at track meets and the entire world had some vendetta against me and God hated me more than anyone else on this planet. It was true that my life was difficult at this moment. The least fortunate people still hate excruciating pain and struggling to live their everyday lives from the amounts of pain.
But in my own opinion, nothing was more difficult than the life I was living and I was the most burdened person on planet Earth.
Yet I attended THON and stayed as long as I had committed to staying. Twenty-three hours. However, it wasn't the 21st and 22nd hour for me (and the 44th and 45th hour for the entire event) that my entire life was put into perspective.
In my 21st and 22nd hour there, when my enjoyment seemed to be replaced with an aching and tired hip, families came up to speak about why we were there (childhood cancer) and unveil the unfortunate truth (many children lose their battles). Families spoke about losing their children to such a terrible disease, or worrying that one day their children will not wake up in the morning, or have a vibrant child whose life was turned upside-down with a single statement. In that time, I gained an appreciation for the preciousness and fragility of my own life, for the value of every time my heart beats, for the worth of every time I take a breath. And in my nineteen years of life, I never once worried that a single breath would be my very last.
Of course, I wasn't oblivious to the idea that children are diagnosed with cancer and sometimes lose their battle. But something about seeing the grieving families, of seeing continuous faces of lost children who never turned double-digits or begged that they "didn't want to die." In those two hours, reality touched me, perhaps with a harder and more brutal hit than ever before. And it made the pain I was feeling not so bad. Because every moment of my life (and all of our lives) is a gift, whether we have hip pain or no hip pain, sadness or no sadness, motivation or no motivation to live it out to the fullest. And for that experience, I am thankful to have my life, and my family members have theirs, and so do my friends, and so do the people on my college campus, on the street, in the world.
I might have trouble going shopping for myself, traveling to class (or really anywhere), or rolling over in my sleep at night. But at least I know that this may not be my last night on Earth. At least I know that even if I'm struggling to go to bed from the pain I'm feeling, I can almost guarantee that I will wake up tomorrow. I will one day feel better. I will survive.
Sometimes, we fail a test, lose a game, or get dumped by our significant others. The world is crumbling and we feel like failures. We don't feel that we can survive another day, because life doesn't seem worth living anymore. It's true that these challenges are completely valid and they completely suck. But we need to fight for triumph over these challenges. We don't need to fight for our own lives. These times will pass. We will survive.
And for everyone, there are days that just don't please us. We can't wake up, we can't function throughout the day, worry strangles us with its ugly fist and we feel like life isn't worth it. And we are allowed to feel that way. I have felt that way in the past and will probably feel as such in the future. But we have to remember that many of us have been around for 10, 13, 18, 20, 21, or 25 years and survived 100% of those days. At least we don't have a 10% chance of surviving our miserable days. We will survive.
So as I, along with thousands of others saw the preciousness of our lives, we came to realize in two hours how lucky we are to live and fight for those who struggle to live.
And in two hours, my whole life was put into perspective.