While performing ad analyses in our marketing class, we’ve been talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This guy, Maslow, reduced the entire human experience to the pursuit of physiological comfort, safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization.
I reached the “love/belonging” stage when I joined INDEV. This program, at this university, is where I found my people. I’m bad at being away from my family, but I’m lucky to have found a new one at UW. Over the last few years we’ve been building our little world here, and our little world is safe and happy.
Last August, shockingly, suddenly, our safe and happy little world crumbled like the walls of Jericho – or at least, my part of it did. Our classmate and friend was killed in an accident, just a few weeks before school started. Our family shrank unexpectedly in a way that nobody is ever equipped to handle and it changed us.
It took me a long time to come to terms with losing Alex. Knowing her, and losing her, made me into a different person. A whole part of reality that I’ve never had to deal with before came into my family, and for a long long time I was angry that her story ended so abruptly. In trying to deal with my grief and rebuild the walls (that I was convinced would still keep me safe) I threw all my energy into being sad, into sitting around and wishing I could talk to her again, into doing whatever I could to honour who she was to me and the rest of the world. My sadness consumed me, and it opened up doors I never thought possible.
World Vision organized an event in Alex’s honour on the first anniversary of her death (x). I participated in the Live Like Alex Water Walk with my classmates, and had the most successful fundraising campaign in my life thanks to the generosity of my family and friends. This fundraising earned me a scholarship to visit World Vision Nicaragua in Alex’s name. I spent two weeks around Managua with a group of vibrant passionate loud individuals learning about the organization closest to Alex’s heart. And the walls I had worked so hard to rebuild came tumbling down.
I met a lot of beautiful souls and saw a lot of things that broke my heart during those two weeks. I wasn’t my usual self on this trip. I sat quietly, I absorbed everything, I learned, and I tried to put my walls back up with tape and glue. I wrote letters to Alex every day, telling her everything I’d seen and heard and felt. I asked questions when I could, discovered things about World Vision that I had never known, despite a lifetime of connection. I climbed a volcano (mostly) and I failed to learn Spanish at all.
One night we had a debrief meeting as a group, where we talked about our personal timelines, and what all of our turning points were. The first, most obvious one for me, was losing Alex. I wasn’t the only person on the trip who knew her – in fact, one of our group leaders was Alex’s mentor in the WV Youth Ambassador program. She and I had gotten to know each other over the past year, and she’d unknowingly helped me come to terms with a lot of things. When she shared her timeline and got to the Alex section, she put everything so perfectly into perspective and by doing so she took the final swing and permanently undid the walls I was building.
I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was somewhere along the lines of, “it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that someone so full of life can’t be more than a supporting character in your own story.” That’s what Alex was. She played an important role in my story in the year that I knew her, but my story doesn’t end with hers. We both ended up in the same place for a reason, and our time together was a gift. But it wasn’t the only gift.
I’m not just miraculously okay with losing Alex. I never will be. But my intense, consuming sadness was a chapter in my life that’s over now. Alex was a part of my story, but she was not the whole thing. I thought my walls were keeping me safe, but just like the Biblical city of Jericho, there are bigger things going on. My walls won’t be rebuilt this time. They’re only holding me back from the whole world out there, from joining other people’s stories, from growing as an indevour and a human. I still have my INDEV family, even though we’ve changed a lot, and I still have that sense of belonging I found when I started two and a half years ago. I have a lot of really wonderful supporting characters walking by my side. I have everything ahead of me still, and I finally have a clear view.