How fate allowed me to live without fear

Spring break in 2019 started with a disaster and a (sort of) run-in with the law. My sister had dropped me off at the airport with my bags packed for Greece. I was going on a community service trip with a group of people I had never met before. I felt nervous. I was the person that couldn’t eat alone in restaurants, let alone travel to a new country where I knew no one. It didn’t help that I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. Was I wrong for choosing this over an offer to go to Morocco with a close friend? Or was it fate?

No matter what, in the end, it’ll turn out okay.

Everything was going according to plan until a man called my name and asked me to follow him, leading me away from the flight gates. I panicked. “Won’t I miss my flight?” Looking me over in my sweatpants and faded Lollapalooza shirt, he told me that due to complications with my visa I wasn’t able to board the plane. Speechless, I was escorted out of the airport.

The car ride home was gloomy. I felt disappointed in myself for not double-checking my documents. I wasn’t sure it was wise to buy another round trip ticket. This felt like a sign. “No spring break this year for me,” I thought, resigned. Plus, I had just lost a lot of money I was probably not getting back. 

I called my friend, trying to seek assurance that I wasn’t the dumbest person on the planet. She was in Morocco, already on day two of the trip I gave up. “There’s still a spot for you here,” she said. I laughed lightly, not in the mood for jokes. “I’m serious. There is a flight tomorrow. Just come.”

Sometime that night, I got some of that money back. That had to mean something. The most difficult part of making my next decision was explaining it to my bewildered mother. I caught a flight to Casablanca. That trip became one of the best travel experiences of my life thus far.

I often turn to this story when I start to doubt the trajectory of my life, when it starts to go wayward and I feel myself spiraling into regret. It’s the assurance I need that no matter what, in the end, it’ll turn out okay. Just like how seeing a familiar face at a subway platform when I swore I was hopelessly lost made me pause for a moment and think that maybe I’d find my way home after all. Or how going on a gallery visit with a class led me to meet someone that made the rest of the year fall in an unexpected way.

So, yes, I do (loosely) believe that some things are bound to happen, and mostly for the best. I grew up between parents on opposite sides of the spectrum when it came to faith. The one thing they both agree on is fate. The phrase “what happens, happens” is as common as a greeting at our house. If something bad happens, it is normal to feel bad about it, but it was meant to happen to make way for something. This sentiment has been something I internalized and accepted.

When one door closes, sometimes it means that there was no room for you there anyway.

I heard that a remarkable thing that makes us evolved humans is that we can hold two contradicting ideas to be true at the same time. I know, on one hand, that believing in a preordained fate is a coping mechanism for us to remain sane in a world of chaos. Accept that what is meant for me will be can be a slippery slope, as I can lose a sense of control over my life. Some might even think of the belief in fate as a grandiose coping mechanism, which may be true to some extent.

The important thing is balance and being self-aware. I can’t always miss a flight and jump on another right afterward. But I won’t give up believing in fate– because, at the end of the day it brings me solace to know that I may not be responsible for absolutely everything in my life that goes awry. And it keeps me humble about the things that go right.

When one door closes, sometimes it means that there was no room for you there anyway. The group I was supposedly traveling with didn’t even ask why I had dipped out of the plan. Plus, looking back at it, I wasn’t going with the intention of helping others but rather to do something bold. And to see Greece. My heart wasn’t in it and fate knew it.

There will always be a door that opens up in its place, even in the most unexpected ways. Keeping the thought that “what happens, happens” has made me braver with my decisions. The only thing I can regret is dwelling on regrets themselves because it has long kept me from stepping out of my shell and looking around for new possibilities. Accepting fate has emboldened me, to put myself out there with my writing and be vulnerable no matter what, and to apply to programs that I felt were ‘too good’ or out of my reach. Now I’m here, sharing this with you and off to study literature in the master’s program of my dreams. 

I encourage you to take the leap once in a while and trust it. Looking at your life in this way makes you recognize the silver linings even in your most embarrassing slip-ups or a more devastating turn of events. 

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Family Life

My mom survived breast cancer. Am I next?

On average, an estimated 15.2% of new cancer cases in the United States are women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. 

These statistics are indicative of families, touched eternally by a cancer that is more than just a disease – it is linear. Breast cancer often weaves a thread, mangled in fate and fear, through mothers, daughters, and sisters alike. The survivors among them are the superheroes of nearly every generation of women, powering through all of the anxiety, body disfiguring surgeries or treatments, and impromptu decision-making associated with the onset of such an illness. They take this disease and nip it in the bud, almost passively, acknowledging the unforgiving weight that will forever be weighing down their bodies and minds. 

In some cases, before these women can even think about what comes next, they are sewed up, stripped, and shaved. Left without any sensation in their breast area after a mastectomy, and feeling less and less whole with every visit to the oncologist. It is hard for most women to even feel at home in their bodies anymore. 

In February of 2017, my mother sat in a bleak and claustrophobic doctor’s office for her regular mammogram visit and heard the dreadful words that every woman lives in fear of, “I think we’re going to need to take a second exam. There may be cancer.” 

There was. 

She has told me that she spent most of her life, 38 years to be exact, in terror of what was surely to come. When my mother was 17 years old, the same age that I had been when she was diagnosed, her mother passed away after a long and debilitating battle with breast cancer. Afterward, this disease became a constant threat. So, in some ways, her diagnosis was more of a relief than anything else.

For me, however, it was excruciating. I had a hard time fathoming the enormity of it. Often, I would find myself drenched in hot and burning tears, unable to put into words what I was feeling. I was incoherent and unable to be comforted. I really hated it when people tried to comfort me, too—it felt condescending. I didn’t want to need them.

But, at the same time, I wasn’t even close to being the strong person that I presented to the world. I was falling hard—and fast. Most days, I would go to school or hang out with my friends, but the entire time I felt as if there were a million knives stabbing my chest at any given moment, and I couldn’t help it. Sometimes, I even liked feeling the pain. If my mom had to suffer, then, I thought, so did I. 

Years later I’m able to articulate my thoughts a little more clearly. I was terrified, desperate, and I didn’t know where to turn. So much was happening all the time and I was grieving my old self. That is, the self that hadn’t yet felt such complete and sunken remorse. There was this urgency to do everything right. In a situation like that, there’s no room for mistakes and I was incredibly nervous that I would mess up. Or maybe I was nervous that something would mess me up. Either way, I changed a lot that year. 

Unfortunately, our story is not an uncommon one. 

A woman’s chance of developing breast cancer increases if her mother, sister, or daughter has been diagnosed. In addition, women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene are at an increased risk of breast cancer than women who do not carry the gene. 

My mom is thankfully, and gracefully, in remission today. Her fight seemed, on the outside, to be continuous and suffocating. But, she is a survivor, bold and vivacious, in all of her glory. She has the scars and the strength to prove it, too. 

I am well aware that my risk of this disease is high. But, I am also confident that this does not mean that it is a death sentence. Regardless of being only 21 years old, I am diligent in conducting breast exams on myself at least once a month in an attempt to detect any early warning signs of breast cancer. What I search for is any abnormal lumps or changes in the breast tissue/skin. 

The good news is that with advancing technologies the survival rate of people diagnosed with breast cancer is steadily increasing, even though the number of people getting sick remains stagnant. 

Any cancer diagnosis is terrifying, but breast cancer for me feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I won’t be able to stop being overwhelmed by this sharp and unrelenting nervousness until it is completely out of my system. And we all know that there is only one way for that to happen. 

For now, I am trying to focus on what I am able to control. Breast cancer is certainly not one of those things. But, I am in control of my mindset. While it is important for me not to let my guard down, at some point I have to just let go and let it be. I trust that fate will run its course. 

I come from a long legacy of confident and courageous women, all beautiful and bountiful in their own right. So, it would be a disservice if I did not take their wisdom and hold onto it tightly. I mean, I watched while my own mother boldly stared her fears directly in the face. She never skipped a beat, not even for a second. Her resilience against a disease that is otherwise overbearing is nothing short of inspiring and I am so proud of her. Because of her, I am starting to think that maybe I can handle it too, that maybe I can be as brave as her, when and if the day comes. 

I am not alone in my fear, although it may seem like it sometimes. I am one of millions living and feeling these same anxieties at full volume, so I must not let it overcome me. Instead, I have to remind myself to be introspective and to keep moving forward.

Love Life Stories

How ‘The Spark’ could be working against you

We are all, through experience or observation, aware of ‘The Spark’. We’re told about it in all the stories of how our parents met, in the dating advice our friends give us, in the anecdote about how an uncle adopted a stray dog on a whim. Every story chronicling the beginning of a significant relationship features ‘The Spark’ in some way, shape or form. Maybe it’s romantic love at first sight, or laughing at the same joke and knowing you’ll be friends forever. Maybe it’s instant, intense hatred. What it’s not is casual interest, or indifference, or anything that doesn’t jolt you awake and make it very difficult to get back to sleep.

Using the evidence I have acquired by being in constant observation of feelings and art and other humans, I have formulated the following definition of ‘the spark’: ‘the spark’ is a definite and undeniable physical, emotional, and psychological indicator of belonging. It is the closest we get to proof that Fate really does exist and that she is sending us one of those signs we keep asking for.

Popular 'The Muppets' characters Kermit and Miss Piggy stare lovingly at each other in the midst of a crowd.
[Image description: Popular ‘The Muppets’ characters Kermit and Miss Piggy stare lovingly at each other in the midst of a crowd.] Via Giphy.
My mother says she felt it when she met my father. My cousin says she felt it when she met her fiancé. Almost anyone I know that’s in a healthy and committed relationship mentions knowing. Meet-cutes in movies and impassioned lyrics about love at first sight have only reiterated this narrative. But do we always know? And is knowing a prerequisite for a successful relationship? Or are the pressures we place on first impressions standing in the way of real connection?

The science behind love at first sight asks even more questions of it – whether it’s love or lust you’re experiencing, whether it’s still love if it is unrequited, whether there’s still a chance if ‘the spark’ doesn’t come into play at first. To answer the first question, a recent study concludes that a lot of the same areas of the brain respond to both lust and love, making it confusing to pinpoint which you’re feeling. The difference in how your brain processes love and lust, however, is that it treats the former as a more abstract, complex representation of the latter. Whether love grows out of lust or whether the two can exist simultaneously remains unanswered.

A redheaded man and a brunette man speak to each other at a bar. The latter says to the former, 'Do you believe in love at first sight or should I walk in again?'
[Image description: A redheaded man and a brunette man speak to each other at a bar. The latter says to the former, ‘Do you believe in love at first sight or should I walk in again?’] Via Giphy.
Love at first sight is, apparently, often one-sided, although one partner’s intense initial reaction may influence the other’s recollection of that first meeting. And as for whether a relationship can be successful if there is no spark present initially – only a third of Americans have reported experiencing love at first sight, and yet more than half of them are in relationships. So maybe there is life beyond ‘The Spark’. Why, then, am I still so preoccupied with the concept?

It could be because I’ve heard more success stories coming out of love at first sight than not. Or that I’ve watched Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes stare at each other from either side of a fish tank one too many times. Or that I’m surrounded by romantics who could have, in retrospect, projected the intimacy and affection they feel in their relationships currently onto its inception. Which is why I wonder whether ‘The Spark’, and my fixation with feeling it immediately, is standing in my way when it comes to forming meaningful relationships. I’ve built my expectations up so high for the first meeting that I won’t give anyone a chance unless, when we first meet, a solar eclipse, a medical miracle and world peace all occur simultaneously.

A young man and woman, playing Romeo and Juliet respectively, stare at each other in wonderment from either side of a fish tank.
[Image description: A young man and woman, playing Romeo and Juliet respectively, stare at each other in wonderment from either side of a fish tank.] Via Giphy.
Perhaps we should stop putting so much pressure on first meetings, on first impressions, on all kinds of firsts. Second, third, fourth chances are all opportunities for a delayed Spark. After that, I’m drawing the line. If it’s not love at fourth sight, then it’s not love. And if it doesn’t keep me up all night feeling like several sparklers are being lit in my stomach, brain, and heart, then it deserves to be slept on.

Books Pop Culture

6 books that prove that reading can literally change your life

Ah, summer…the perfect time for kicking back and grabbing a good book. There’s no other feeling like losing yourself in an inspirational book. I’m obsessed with books that deal with self-development, spirituality, and finding the purpose of life.

This is a short list of books that are actually pretty damn good.

1. You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero


If you’re ready to meet your new best friend, grab a copy of Jen Sincero’s #1 NYTimes Bestseller now! She is hilarious and her writing style makes reading effortless. No matter who you are, she will make you feel empowered and ready to tackle anything that comes your way.

One of my favorite quotes from this book is:

“Imagine what our world would be like if everyone loved themselves so much that they weren’t threatened by other people’s opinions or skin colors or sexual preferences or talents or education or possessions or lack of possessions or religious beliefs or customs or their general tendency to just be whoever the hell they are.”

2. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

This book should be mandatory reading for all men and women. You completely lose yourself as you put yourself in Glennon’s shoes. She shares the most intimate details of her life in hopes of showing us that we are not alone in our struggles. Reminding us that, “sometimes people who need help look a lot like people who don’t need help.”

Love Warrior touches upon themes of bravery, trust, infidelity, parenting, self-esteem, hitting rock bottom, love, resilience, and empowerment.

3. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

Mark Manson is a genius. If you feel like you don’t have time to read this book, then A) you’re missing out BIG TIME and B) you can read his awesome blog posts which have won over the hearts of millions around the world. No matter what stage of life you’re in, you’re bound to gain insight and wisdom from Mark. Also, the last few chapters will give you goosebumps and realize how so many times, we are too afraid to truly live.

Mark says, “You and everyone you know are going to be dead soon. And in the short amount of time between here and there, you have a limited amount of fucks to give. Very few, in fact. And if you go around giving a fuck about everything and everyone without conscious thought or choice—well, then you’re going to get fucked.”

4. Rising Strong by Brene Brown

I can’t describe how much I love all of Brene Brown’s work. This woman is a bad ass researcher and storyteller who has inspired millions around the world, especially with her TED talk on the power of vulnerability. In this #1 NYTimes bestseller, Brene walks us through her sixteen years of research on topics like shame, empathy, courage, and worthiness. She makes it so easy to understand and you’re bound to have little aha-moments on every page you read.

We are always hearing of success stories in the media. But rarely do we get to hear about the difficulties and pain involved in the process of going from zero to a hundred. Perfectly describing her work, Brene says, “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.”

5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This book is a must read! We go on a journey with Santiago, who is on the quest to find a hidden treasure that he sees in a recurring dream. Santiago’s journey is a representation of finding one’s destiny and of becoming one with your true self. This book encourages you to work on your “personal legend”- things you are passionate about and that is very important when you are on a quest to finding yourself.

The core message of The Alchemist is reinforced by this quote that an old man said to Santiago on their encounter: “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

6. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle is such an angel, I swear! He’s a spiritual teacher who does not identify with any religion in particular. He was on the brink of suicide when he came up with this realization: “I am not my thoughts. I am the awareness behind my thoughts.”

This isn’t just another one of the thousands of books which claim to help you awaken to your life’s purpose. This book is mind blowing and speaks the truth. Oprah even added it to her Book Club in 2008-because it’s that good. He teaches us about our ego in a very easy to understand way and his writing helps transform and illuminate lives around the world.