One of Joey’s friends said that he was always the one who did stuff and inspired other people to do stuff. He’d say, “I’m going on a ride.” And they might whine, “I’m tired” or “It’s too hot” or some other lame response. And he’d say, “Stay home, chumps. Chumps stay home.”
He challenged people to be better, but he didn’t push. He just had this essence that made you want to be more like him. I often found myself doing things with my little brother that I’d never consider doing with anyone else – like strapping myself into a metal cage attached to 30-ft cables and catapulted into the air like a slingshot (a ride at an amusement park), but somehow he made the decision to DO something the obvious choice. You always wanted him to respect you, not just because he was cool (although he was) but because you knew you would be a better person if you attacked life the way he did.
Over the last few years, I had grown sedentary in my life. Jobs I’d worked had required me to sit for long periods of time, and I’d gained quite a bit of weight as I’d become “fat & happy” with my husband and 3 kids. All attempts to lose weight for me had been about conforming to cultural norms, being accepted, or fitting in. But something happened to my thinking after Joey’s death.
I finally had the opportunity to really get to know his friends and this opened my eyes to what Joey had always tried to tell me: that I was beautiful, and that beauty does come from within. It’s the kind of thing that I always heard as “it’s ok that you’re not pretty because you’re really nice.” But that is so far from what is meant by this popular advice given frequently to teenage girls and mostly met with a contemptuous eye-roll.
Getting to know these people, I saw how the beauty within them shone through and transformed their exteriors. For example, if I hadn’t known Joey, I might have thought a neck tattoo that said NEVER BETRAY was grotesque and aggressive, but knowing him made it a testament of a man’s integrity and commitment to his ideals. And that’s beautiful. Seeing the love that his friends poured out for me and my family helped me to understand the beauty of self expression in these dear souls. Maybe for some, their tattoos and “strange” sense of style is a mask, but for most of them, it is an expression of their creativity and commitment to be true to themselves. And THAT is much more beautiful than glossy hair that covers insecurity or “perfect” clothes that require no sense of self.
All of this has awoken inside me a desire to be better, to live more, and to teach my boys to live their lives “all in.” For me, the first step is getting more active physically. I’ve started walking and have completed over 60 miles at this time. I have always wanted to be a runner. I’ve dreamed about it, but I never believed I could do it. I’m sure if I had ever confided these thoughts to Joe, he’d had have said, “You can do anything you want to do.” And of course, he was right. Some time in 2013, I’ll run my first 5k, and when I do, I’ll be taking a vial of Joe’s ashes along with me because if he were here, he’d be cheering me on, yelling as he did when he was 3 and I played his favorite song on the piano, “She did it! Sarah did it!”
From now on, any time I feel like giving in or giving up, I’ll hear Joe’s voice in my head saying, “Stay home, chumps. Chumps stay home.” And it will always push me to change the track to “Sarah did it!”