Tuesday, July 31, 2012

If Only...

Some people believe that everything happens for a reason. I’m not sure if I buy that. I’d like to think things don't just "happen." I'd like to believe that I have a little more control over my destiny. I picture my life more as a complex series of intersecting paths. You make a decision; you end up on a path. You make another decision, you switch paths. Things can go one way or another based on what decisions you make in life. We are constantly switching our paths or routes in our lives with each decision that we make. Some decisions seem "big" ("Yes, I will marry you!"), whereas other decisions seem "small"  - so small that we aren't even conscious that we are making a decision (stopping to send a text). Sometimes this seems fair. Sometimes it appears as though we have control over which path we end up on – you work hard, you make “good” choices, and you end up on the path that you desired. However, sometimes it seems to make no sense at all. You leave your house two minutes late because you responded to a text, placing you on the road at the exact moment that a drunk driver swerves in front of your vehicle. How could you have known that taking those two minutes to respond to that text would change your life forever?
I guess my path changed as soon as I injured my knee. I had intended to learn how to sail this month. Perhaps that uphill run I took in March was the deciding factor. Perhaps that was the moment when I tore my cartilage, leading to this challenging path that I'm currently on. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen this path, but now that I’m on it, I made the decision to remain as positive as I could (difficult!) and investigate the opportunities that were available to me (NOT sailing or unicycling as planned). So those decisions lead me to meditation. I don’t think I would have willingly chosen to meditate unless I was forced into this sedentary state. I was looking for something more adventurous. As it turns out, meditation and mindfulness month is exactly what my mind and soul needed at this pivotal time in my adventure. 
In the last 3 weeks, I’ve been enlightened with regards to this entire year-long experience – and the decisions that I am making in my own life. This month of meditation and self discovery has forced me to sit still and think about things. This is exactly what I feel I needed to gain insight and closure after a fabulous and exciting year of new experiences. So although I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason, perhaps that cartilage tearing uphill run and the decisions I've made since have placed me on a path that was difficult, yet important and necessary for me to navigate.
man do we miss this face
One year ago today, we lost Ryan. Ryan made a series of decisions and choices throughout his life that somehow placed him on that river on July 31, 2011. For the past year, I have replayed that day and the series of decisions that were made. I recall each and every single detail of that day – the way the air smelled, the wind blowing across the river, and the frantic shouting that ensued when Ryan didn’t surface. These memories evoke anxiety, fear, overwhelming sadness, and incredible guilt. These memories haunt me in the middle of the night, prevent me from "seizing the day," and cloud the positive memories of Ryan. I’m tired of replaying these memories. I don’t want them anymore. I want to remember “Holowaty’s hotdogs,” the unicycle, and Ryan’s exuberant “HOLA!”
During the past month, I’ve finally came to the realization that it’s time to put the bad memories to rest so that I can clear room for all of the positive memories I have of Ryan and all the lessons that he's presently teaching me. I’ve replayed a list of “if only’s” in my mind now for one year: If only it hadn’t been windy that day – if it wasn’t for that damn northwest wind we would have been on the lake instead of the river. If only the river wasn’t so high – the land was flooded, creating intense undercurrents. If only Ryan had been wearing a lifejacket – would that have saved him? If only Ryan wouldn’t have jumped at that exact moment – what if he would have waited 1 minute, 30 seconds? If only I would have taken the situation more seriously – I was sure Ryan was pranking us, “He has to be somewhere, you guys!”  If only the guy with the green shorts on the riverbank had been Ryan – I was sure it was Ryan! (“Look! there he is! I am going to strangle him for scaring us so bad!”) If only Ryan had surfaced like each of us who jumped in the river that day. We will never know what would have happened had Ryan or any one of us had made a different decision leading up to that moment. I understand that it’s not healthy to dwell on those “if only’s” anymore. In order to truly honour Ryan, it’s time to stop replaying the events of that horrible day and focus on simply remembering our friend Ryan.  
This past weekend, as Ryan’s friends and family organized and attended a memorial day for Ryan at Candle Lake, it was apparent just how many lives Ryan has touched in his short 31 years of life. We all gathered to remember and celebrate Ryan – his enthusiasm, his originality, and his love and zest for life. The qualities that made Ryan, “Ryan”, are the thoughts and memories that are important to hold on to and remember. Those are the thoughts and feelings that I need to expend my energy on. I feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of Ryan’s life. I feel incredibly lucky to have memories of those experiences that I shared with such an unique and vibrant person.
This journey is coming to a close. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year! During the month of August, I have one last project that I’m creating for Ryan and I’m determining exactly how to organize my thoughts to fully explain what Ryan has taught me during the past year.
So today, as you carry on with your daily routine, take the time to tell a special person just how awesome he is and how much he means to you. Although I didn’t get the chance to tell Ryan (If only!), I know that he was with us on the island this weekend, totally psyched that his friends and family gathered in his favourite place to celebrate and honour him. 
Oh Ryan! You always made me laugh!


  1. May you continue to have comforting memories of Ryan.

  2. Gosh what a cutie. So horrible. The only good being that at least you became AWARE - some people go there whole lives without even looking around them.

  3. Just found your blog today. I wanted to say that I can relate. Eight years ago, my best friend died of diabetes ten days before his 21st birthday. The first year is the hardest, but your experiment is brilliant.