“This is the most unusual story… of a most unusual girl”
The intention of this blog is story-telling; my stories, your stories, universal rhymes and rhythms.
I’m a fan of this line of thinking: everything has a reason and everyone has a purpose. The reason we have detours on our collective journey is so we are empowered to help others’ navigate their own path. The purpose for writing this blog is to share my stories and my map – legends and keys included. For sure, our maps won’t look the same. My off-road trails will show up as highways on your map; my mountains, your valleys. I am so desperate to prove to myself (and to you) how awesome our journey really is, in every sense of the word.
I didn’t choose “The Garmin of my Life Won’t Stop Recalculating” as a subtitle without reason. I have no idea where I’m supposed to be, no clue where I’m going to end up. I don’t always know when to turn around or when to keep eyes focused straight ahead, ignorant of the rear view mirror. I don’t always know how fast to travel: speed up or slow down? Stop. When is it prudent to turn around completely and just head back the same way I came?
Each day I come to a greater understanding of this: I don’t need to know. The only navigational system I need is momentum; propelled by my emotions, my gut, instinct, spirit, energy, and gravity. Where does the guidance system get its’ direction? The Universe, spiritual guides, God, all there ever was and all there ever could be. It’s been programmed in already and if we could only trust that entirely…
Well, who really knows what the world would look like without any preconceived notions and expectations? What would you do if you truly believed everything was happening in perfect harmony and all we needed to do was let go and give ourselves completely over to love and life? What happens when we let our emotions guide us? Success is learning to gravitate toward people and places that make us feel good and away from those things which make us feel bad. Let’s not make this so complicated. We were not destined to be confused and wandering; lost and lonely. We were called to this Earth for clarity of purpose and companionship. I know this moment of clarity came to me last Sunday.
Sunday. The day before the Jason Mraz concert was intense. I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky we were to be seated in the very front row, directly in front of the stage. When we had attempted to purchase the tickets – weeks earlier – we ran in to all levels of technical difficulties. Presale started at 10:00 a.m. and still at 10:01 a.m. the system failed to let us in; it indicated that we had not pre-registered, even though we most certainly had. With each passing second I became increasingly anxious. About to give up, Thommy finally decided to just register with a new email and see if we couldn’t trigger the system to let us in. It worked. The tickets that came to us?
So, Sunday became heavier as the day progressed. I didn’t want to hear Jason’s music; didn’t want to plan our day; didn’t want to believe we were going to be *thisclose* to him, in person, in less than 24 hours. The heaviness finally materialized itself to me in this revelation: I was mad at myself for not contacting Jason, or his crew, to let them know how excited I was to be attending this concert. I knew that if by show time on Monday, I hadn’t made it clear to someone that this was a huge moment, then I failed. I knew I would sit and wonder throughout the whole performance if he knew how monumental the evening actually was. And of course, he wouldn’t know. No one would. Why? Because I hadn’t used any of my words to tell anyone who could listen. I am the type of person to make up motivations, excuses and reasons for people. I sometimes shy away from “showing up” when it counts, for fear of being turned away. I assume people hear me clearly and just choose not to listen. The fact is, I cannot expect to be given that which I have not asked for. I want to shed that part of myself. So, hastily, I sent an email to Jason’s girlfriend, Tristan Prettyman (an amazing singer – a true talent – just like her partner). I tell her this: that every day during the mysterious illness that would eventually be called “MS”, I watched Jason’s “Beautiful Mess – Live on Earth” DVD and was comforted, entertained and inspired. There is so much more I wanted to tell her.
I wanted to tell her how last December, during one of the worst days of dizziness and disorientation, I convinced Thommy to drive us to Dairy Queen for an M&M Blizzard. I hadn’t stopped thinking about that blizzard all day. He offered to go pick it up and bring it back but I wanted to go with him, wanted to get off the couch that held me hostage. He didn’t think it was a good idea, but he relented. Half way to Dairy Queen I got much worse. As I curled up into a fetal position in my seat, he wanted to turn back; I wanted to keep going. He turned the music down (Sunshine Song); I asked him to turn it back up. I paced my breathing to flow with the music and I ingested the words like medicine.
“Well sometimes the sun shines on other people’s houses and not mine. “
I cried. I felt that unfairness in every cell of my body. I had no idea what was happening to me and why after finally feeling like a ‘normal’ person, I was being forced back into medical purgatory.
“I won’t ask much of nobody, I’m just here to sing along…”
But I couldn’t sing, couldn’t talk. The nausea and dizziness was so intense I was sure I would pass out before we got to Dairy Queen. I kept thinking that the measure of my happiness in that instant was directly related to the ease in which I could ride in a car and listen to Jason… to sing along. In that moment all I wanted – the only thing – was the ability to sit up, eyes straight ahead, and belt out the lyrics. To people who have never known the cold fear of an undiagnosed illness, this request might seem trivial. It’s not. It is the little things (the very things we all take for granted) that project themselves onto our canvas as the end-all, be-all of our lives. I wanted to sit up tall and sing. I didn’t wish for an answer in the car that night, I wished for a voice. I had to close my eyes for the rest of the trip home and pray for strength. It seemed to take hours to get from the car to the couch and I cried some more. Then we put on the DVD.
Back to Monday. We were just about ready to hit the road to Utica. Before we left I checked in with the obligatory websites (Facebook, Gmail, Tumblr, WordPress). Then, before checking out for good, I inexplicably signed into my Twitter account. It had been so long since I had done that I had to look up my password. The first “tweet” on my homepage? Jason Mraz asking…
R u coming 2 the Utica show tonight? Do u compost? Will u take our compost home with you? I’ll Hi-5 ya if u do! Hit @beingtricia if yes.1:01 PM Sep 13th via HootSuite
I could barely think straight. Would it be possible for us to learn composting and set up a compost area at our apartment building in less than an hour? Thommy, my voice of reason, reminded me that his mother and her boyfriend compost. Better yet, we would drive right by their house on our way home. Are you sure???” I can’t put this out into the universe under false pretenses. He’s sure. So, I put it out there…
@beingtricia WE CAN TAKE COMPOST! My mother-in-law has bins and we can drop them off after the show! We r sitting in the pit, seat 111/1121:45 PM Sep 13th via web in reply to beingtricia
@jason_mraz YES WE CAN!! Wrote Tricia already, but we would be happy 2 take some compost off your hands and do our part. Can’t wait 4 2nite2:01 PM Sep 13th via web in reply to jason_mraz
That heavy feeling of silence was completely lifted. They knew I was coming. Just to make sure, I emailed Tricia at her webpage and reiterated the things I had told Tristan: Jason’s voice sang me through the MS diagnosis and we were so grateful. Tricia would tweet us back…
Thank you @RheaJunior ! You are the winner of our daily compost tonight! We are grateful! Tweet at me when ur in ur seat & Ill come say hi3:08 PM Sep 13th via web
…but we were already on our way.
We had hoped to get to Utica by 5:30 to make sure we could get parking. Turns out, there was tons of construction going on near our exit and we ended up getting lost. The Garmin couldn’t quite grasp the fact that our exit was closed and refused to calculate another way to get there. (The metaphysical implications of that astounds me.) Eventually we found our way, pulling up to The Stanley at 6:01 p.m., just as the parking lot adjacent to the theater became “free parking.” Within seconds, it was full. We were in front of the line when the doors opened at 6:30 p.m. and had a personal escort to our seats when the theater doors opened at 7:00 p.m. Front and center, indeed.
Suddenly, a girl appeared on stage, looking at a piece of paper. I recognized her and told Thommy that the girl was Tricia. She took the paper over to the security guard posted at the stairs on the right side of the stage. They pointed to us. Thommy turned to me and said, “That’s you, kiddo.” I ran over and shook her hand – astonished that Tricia, whose blog I’d been following for over a year, was radiating her beautiful light just inches away from me. She asked that we remain in our seats after the show and she would come get us so that we could pick up the compost. I could hardly wrap my mind around it. Would that mean we could get a picture with Jason? Maybe an autograph, too? I told Thommy I didn’t want to hope for too much or dictate in what way our interaction would manifest. He suggested we meditate, so we took five minutes to say prayers of gratitude for the opportunity to be of service. Then, before I opened my eyes, I thanked the Universe for showing itself to be so powerful – it had never been so clear to me that asking and allowing are fundamental life skills and blessings. I asked that going forward (not just for that night but in my life) I would never underestimate the need to make my presence known and the power of being both seen and heard.
Lights. Jason. Action. There he was, singing live and in true high definition. Let’s go present tense.
This new song was so beautiful and I fought to hold back tears.
Then, a little later, in case you doubted how powerful and pure his intention with music really is, he sings this song that he wrote during a trip to Ghana to work with Free the Slaves.
The seconds leading up to me being pulled up on stage are a little foggy. I know he told us that the beautiful set design in the background is made completely out of recycled water bottles and how important it is for us to reuse materials. Then… something about composting. Then more specifically, he says, “I hear there’s someone in the audience that’s going to help us out by taking home our compost…” –
Thommy’s hand is on top of mine, yanking my whole arm into the air, waving it like a crazy person. I see Jason look right at me and go, “You, are you Rhéa?”, which he mispronounces as most people are apt to do. Thommy corrects him. Jason repeats it. Jason Mraz just said my name. “Rhéa, why don’t you come up here for a second…”
Again – blurry. Jason grabs my hand and I can feel Thommy picking me up and it honestly feels like I fly on to the stage. “Wow,” Jason says – “is that your husband?” I affirm. “He just threw you up here! Like, ‘here you go, you can have her.’ Well, that’s alright, I’ll tell you what…”, he points to Thommy and says “you can take the compost home, and we’ll keep her.” Then… this happens –
I’ve waited a few days to write this all out, hoping I would be better able to process everything but I’m still a little hazy. I still can’t believe that this happened. I wish I could write down everything that went through my mind in those five minutes but most of it comes and goes, like trying to recall a dream upon waking. I know this much to be true:
0:13. He shakes my hand and thanks me. I figure this is my only opportunity to grab a hug so I reach in for one. Having secured that, I am ready to get off stage so I can promptly pass out. I am not sure how to get back down so I point to the stairs…
0:17. “You’re not going anywhere,” he says. I think my brain shut down right at that moment.
0:22. The band teases him but he assures them “it’s fine” because I’m married. I am really not paying attention because I’ve just noticed that we are heading over to the oriental rug in the middle of the stage. That rug (or one exactly like it) plays a main role in the “Live on Earth” DVD. Its’ image is seared in my mind. I’m about to stand on it.
0:37. He offers me cantaloupe. I normally don’t love cantaloupe and I’ve got gum in my mouth. Regardless, I take the cantaloupe and hope that I don’t start smacking the gum because my Mom will be incredibly disappointed. The cantaloupe is amazing. I don’t know why I didn’t take his fork; I guess it just didn’t seem polite.
1:02. He asks me what I do for a living. Upon replaying this part, I can’t get over how quickly he takes the microphone away. Either I instinctively knew that’s what he was going to ask me, or time actually stopped while I was up there. I can’t process it quick enough. 1 million answers run through my mind but I don’t know what to say. I look at Thommy; perhaps he will mouth something insightful. Oh, S#!%, I really don’t know what to say. “I…”
1:03. He pulls the mic away. “That’s awesome…”
1:05. Never have I been more relieved. I check out mentally for a second and run through a quick gratitude prayer: “Thank you, Universe, for not making me answer that question, at this moment, in front of all these people. Much appreciated. Love, Rhéa.”
Thank God he doesn’t care what I do and will now change the topic…
1:09. “No, seriously…” he asks, “what do you do…”
1:10. “I’m a writer.” WHAT?!?!?!?! Where did that come from? Come again? Sorry, what did I just do? I’m spinning and this voice inside my head says “there is a chasm of difference between writing and being a writer.” Apparently, something inside wants to bridge the gap. Way to put it out there. I wonder what Thommy thinks about this…
1:20. Jason’s said the word “dance” a few too many times for my comfort. He isn’t actually going to make me dance up here, right? I don’t “do” dancing. Of all the people I know, I dance the least and I do it the worst. Really, I don’t dance. I believe that if I keep repeating this thought, then maybe he won’t make me. He’ll give me another hug and release me back to the audience. I keep touching my nose; it’s all I can reasonably think to do.
1:30. “Band. Kick it.” Uh-oh. He’s serious. We’re going to dance. I don’t dance and yet here I am, on stage, dancing with Jason Mraz. In my mind, I’ve danced with him a million times, I’ve sung along to his words even more than that. And now this is happening, for real… because – here, we, are. But what is this??!! It’s sounds Latin, no? I don’t understand my life at this moment. Then, it makes sense.
2:00. Indeed, he is now singing in Spanish and I don’t understand the words, but music is a universal language and the music to my ears is “Not So Usual,” one of my favorite Jason Mraz songs. I can do this!! Wait. No, no I don’t think I can.
2:05. I hear Thommy scream, “YEAH, RHEAAA!!!!” and I remind myself to breathe.
2:10. Jason raises our hands and I’m sure we are done. A few steps, a few lyrics and the opportunity of a lifetime. Surely this is a gift and I’m grateful I’ve survived it in one piece. Exhale.
2:23. “She’s mostly a ghost…” – OK, I guess we’re singing the song. I know this song. I love this song. I join in… “the way she watches over me…”
2:30. He messes up my hair. Jason Mraz is messing with my hair like a friend would do; he’s playing. I laugh from the very depths of my spirit. This is really what my life looks like at this moment.
2:37. What happens if I drop Jason Mraz?
3:05. I’ve been singing right along, blissfully unaware that he might, at any moment, hand me the mic. He hands me the mic. What’s the next line? Oh, right “…never sipping on her wine…”
3:09. After hearing Jason repeat the line, I realize I’ve mixed myself up and was suppose to sing “never sucking on the lime.” Oh well, you’ll have that. I congratulate myself on the continued ability to stand up. Then I wonder – how awful did I sound singing to thousands of people? Is Jason completely regretting inviting this random girl on stage? Despite messing up the lyrics and dancing like the nerd that I am – I am NOT regretting one second.
3:15. I look around at the stage and try to look out into the crowd but it’s hard to make anything out. I kinda freeze – realizing where I am and what I’m doing. At this point it’s actually getting harder to process what is actually happening. I start to feel a little dizzy.
3:19. Out of the corner of my eye I catch him kneeling down. I don’t even have time to process what that means. I kneel down too. I look out towards Thommy for reassurance.
3:21. Jason motions for me to sit on his knee. I just about fall over. Is he kidding? Never have I ever envisioned something like this happening to me. I can’t really say I have a crush on Jason because it doesn’t feel anything like that. It’s more of a deeper yearning to have him know of my existence and hear me tell him a story; tell him what his music means to me. Whether he will remember me seconds after this song is done or not, at this point in time, I am occupying a space on his lap. He sees me.
3:30. I know that this lyric will indicate that the aforementioned “she” kisses him goodnight. I am not that she. It is not in my DNA to be so “forward” as to just kiss him because the lyric says so. Fact is, nothing about kissing him ever crosses my mind on the stage… until he points to his cheek. *Kiss* …
3:33. My heart stops.
3:41. I need a minute. My mind isn’t catching up fast enough. I don’t want this to ever end.
4:00. I’m dancing inches away from Jason. I just kissed him. My heart is about to explode from love and wishes fulfilled. I love that Thommy is right there, sharing this moment. I blow him a kiss. I wave. I love him.
4:04. Jason catches me flirting with my husband. He goes for the camera.
4:10. I don’t know what made him think to do this – but these seconds are so priceless. Jason has our camera in his hands, and he is taping us belting out “Not So Usual” on stage – impromptu. Everything is warp speed. I’m singing on a stage with Jason Mraz. Nine months ago, I couldn’t manage to meek out whispers in the car on the way to Dairy Queen; all I wanted was my voice back and the ability to stand up straight, kept steady by my own control. Here I am. Watch me go.
5:00. Disco, huh? This I can follow. Salsa? Not so much.
5:10. Thommy, we did it.
5:15. Take a bow. With Jason Mraz. Yes, please. Thank you.
5:20. “Give it up for Rhéa everybody…” he said my name again. The crowd is clapping. I don’t hear any boos. Good sign.
5:30. One last hug. Exit, stage left.
Not only is the end of the concert a blur, it’s basically repressed memory at this point. I’ve tried to get it back but it escapes me. This must be what shock feels like. It alternately feels crazy, this incomprehension that I was on stage with Jason Mraz and also so reaffirming and comforting, this comprehension that the Universe really does unfold exactly as it is supposed to. Prayers are answered. Time heals wounds. Dark turns to light. Truly magical, this place is; there are so many opportunities to forget that – this experience taught me to never turn my back on it.
It’s hard to sum up everything this concert meant to me. It happened on September 13, 2010 – the three year anniversary of voluntarily checking myself into the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia. Prior to that, almost every decision I made was a deliberate choice to not be seen. The further into the background I could fade, on all levels, the safer I felt. Being me was somehow an unfulfilled wish; more like a wasted life. Stay small, stay quiet, and maybe no one will notice what a disappointment you are. Back then I felt like the only thing I could ever be in this life was sick. When I made the decision to stand up and speak out, I was backed by my family and friends; yet, Thommy anchored me to it, even while waiting in an emergency room bed the night before I was scheduled to check in. He found previously unknown strength to leave me in Philadelphia (where I belonged) in spite of my desperate pleas to go back home. How he saw me cry and scream “don’t leave me here” and still walk away… well, I think that is what makes all of this so profound to me. I remember the fear and hope in his eyes on September 13th, 2007. Exactly three years later there is now pride and joy.
Another lesson: be happy for others as often as you can. Thommy possesses a selfless type of love that I’m still learning. I believe this type of love is usually reserved for parents. When great things happen, he is always happier when they happen to me. Plus, I’ve had so many strangers and new friends congratulate me on what they assume must have been an amazing experience. They say I’m lucky. They have no idea how much so – how blessed. I am also surprised at how quick people are to reach out and say “how great for you!” … and mean it. I don’t mind sharing that this is a process I’m working on myself – I want to remove all traces of jealousy and envy from my experience and feel the joy of others’ as if it were my own. Frankly, it is. We are all one.
About 30 girls waiting near Jason’s bus after the show started screaming my name and waving as we passed by. I thanked the Universe for hearing my call to be seen. Before we went to sleep that night (around 4:45 a.m.), Thommy looked at me and said, “don’t forget me when you’re famous… you don’t have to stay with me, just don’t forget.”
Never in this lifetime. This video would mean nothing to me if he wasn’t the one holding the camera.
Please, never forget that your prayers will be answered. Keep talking out loud, keep asking, keep showing up for others, keep believing in yourself, keep using your words, keep allowing all that you are worthy of to come to you. And most importantly… never forget this: All you need is love.
PS. Thank you to Tinker & Doug for composting!! This was the golden ticket:
Finally, if you are so inclined to check out these links, you will surely find some inspiration…
Tricia’s Website – http://yourjoyologist.com/
Tristan’s Tumblr- http://icecreamisbetterwithafork.tumblr.com/
Jason’s Blog – http://freshnessfactorfivethousand.blogspot.com/
ALL OUR CONCERT PICTURES: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rheakelly/collections/72157624847354263/