“If not now, when?”: How a TEDx community supported a speaker’s family through the unthinkable

Truthful and brave

TED Blog

Laura-Rozo-at-TEDxUNC-quote“What makes you think that you have 80 or 90 years to live?”

Laura Rozo posed this serious and almost morbid question to the audience at TEDxUNC in February 2013. She walked onto the stage confidently and calmly, soaking in the applause as the final, surprise speaker of the day. She wore a red turtleneck with a patterned scarf, and her head was adorned with a new henna tattoo. In front of a silent crowd, she raised her arms in the air and breathed deeply to center herself. Then she began to tell her story — one so urgent and moving that the organizers of TEDxUNC made the last-minute decision to not just include her in the program, but to have her close it.

I should explain: Laura Rozo was my friend and classmate — a kind, energetic and passionate person. Whether organizing world dance showcases (salsa was her specialty)…

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Less of a blizzard, more of a blah-zard

The news and media were all panic stricken this week with the news that snow storm Juno would be hitting the east coast with record winds and more snow dumped that anything seen in recent history. WE planned for a day off work (not for me sadly :)), trains and buses prepared to stop and the queues at Fairways were around the block. While standing in the hour long queue for my bag of oranges and milk it never crossed my mind people were preparing for snowmaggedon!

Needless to say it looked bad from the 14th floor of the lab, all of downtown disappeared in a white-out and people scrambled for home. Friends advised me to stock up on water and batteries. God I love the iPhone torch app. I appeased my mother by buying matches for my one lowly candle and then I crawled under my blanket and watched a netflix marathon.

Needless to say the next day as I prepared for my first ever blizzard conditions I was not shocked. Don’t get me wrong, calling Ireland home means anything more than 1cm of snow is intense. I had to switch my torn vans for actual shoes and had to leap some snow drifts. On my way to work (in an empty building) I took some snaps in central park. The little dogs shivering in their booties and checkered gilets were the highlight for me (and the people skiing to work through the park). The resilience and ingenuity of new yorkers is not surpassed by many. Now roll on summer and the absence of hat hair!

Photos courtesy of my new Olympus Pen E-PL7 – still getting the hang of it all but such a nifty little camera with easy handling and a great look.

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Nirvana

I stood outside for ten minutes before I could get up the courage to go inside. Pacing slowly, hands in pockets, face buried in my scarf against the bitter chill of the night air. Lexington Avenue was humming. Commuters passing in all directions, horns sounding the impatience of rush hour and my edgy figure stalling in a darkened doorway. “Man up” I told myself, “its just drinks and meeting new people”. I have never relished the thought of new encounters. Its not about other people, its how they might perceive me. An older women in a volumous coat lingers a second in the doorway before entering the bar. The warmth is so inviting. “Ok” I tell myself, “it’s now or never, just do it”. Feet of lead crossing the threshold. I am greeted by a smiley man. His hat is pulled low over his eyes so his smile is all I can see, a bit like a Manhattan chesire cat. He ushered me to the nametags and told me to enjoy myself. By this stage that inviting warmth has turned to uncomfortable sweating and I would kill for an ice-cold coke. The power of advertising has always been my foe. I had originally signed up for a running group, but as with all things nowadays that meant after work drinks. I made awkward conversation with a mismatched bunch of people some of who thought we were here for a singles night, others were members of the New York knitting meet-up. The conversation was flowing as well as it could amongst strangers with mismatched interests and even the standoffish grumbling of David, a Hungarian and our newest fledgling chatter didn’t stopper the flow. Then out of the fuzzy velvet shimmer of the doorway curtains stepped Marcuitio. He was the head of my supposed running group but was in fact a chuck Norris lookalike in a velour tracksuit. Even in all black he was quite a sight. He announced himself to the group as a famous director. I didn’t know whether to believe him or whether this was just an excuse for the cap and sunglasses in an already dark bar. Either way he looked more three blind mice than Stephen Spielberg. Only in New York right. Upon hearing I planned to try to run on a regular basis, he clasped my hands in his, the way a priest might when giving his condolences and explained the pros and cons of marathons. I was too busy thinking of Chuck Norris memes to hear any of this but when I did zone back in I realized I was nodding alone to a suggestion that I be in one of his films. For an instant I imagined myself like Rita Hayworth or Audrey Hepburn but then I removed my clammy hand, made my excuses and exited stage left. I figured if I needed ten minutes to gather my courage to enter a bar Id need a lifetime to get behind a camera. I paused on the stoop and looked up at the sign overhead. I might just have left Nirvana but I was pretty sure I had escaped the twilight zone.

Like falling in love, first slowly and then all at once

Many times and experiences in your life may give you pause for thought and make you realize your humanity. I have had moments in mine where an experience will open my eyes to the fragility or futility of life but its only recently that I have started to feel like I have moved further in my life than I previously thought. I have become acutely aware of time and its rapid movement. And I can’t say its terribly comforting.

I have always been young for my age. I’m the eldest in my family but always a baby. I’m not always naive to the ways of the world but I have often ignored the reality to remain shielded from it. I had my first real relationships late, I never partied much as it wasn’t my forte and I follow rules religiously. Even I think I’m a square sometimes but I am mostly happy that way. Having just turned 28 (society teaches me that thats scary) and being torn about my career future I suddenly feel like I am hurtling through time.

Quite literally, last week, between one day and next I have gone from young for my age to rapidly running out of years in my life. And ironically I know this is just a perspective shift. I have previously blogged about my despair with the future of the academic science career. I am literally a proverbial neuroscientist out of water. Fear of poor career choices has lead me to consider (again) a career as a doctor, something I have always wanted and often postponed due to financial commitments or other opportunities. Well now that the option is looming again and having decided to bite the bullet and take the plunge it has dawned on me that I will be 34 when I graduate again and move into gainful employment. I can feel my blood pressure rising as I read that sentence. Thirty-four is not old in the slightest but having lived in New York for 6 months now my awareness of marriage and families is far more acute than it was in Ireland. My colleagues here are married younger and starting families young and while I’ve never given marriage and kids much thought, the fact that I will be in debt and up to my eyes in work well past 34 has made all these never-before considered life milestones seem like choices that need to be made now.

Increasingly nowadays they are publishing articles about women and work and the family life situation. The ticking biological clock and the choices facing women in this generation are presented to me daily in social media and popular culture. Suddenly something I thought was for the grown-ups of this world to decide and was so far from my consciousness is now creeping into my mind. I am getting ahead of myself but for a planner and linear thinker this modern world where everyone can have it all while the economy bottoms out again and again is changing the landscape for what makes for success. And if truly happiness is the only real goal, what does having it all really mean anyway?

Warming hearts and hands for winter

Favourite childrens books are different the world over. In Ireland my favourite childrens stories were Postman Pat, Katie and the dinosaurs, Peter Rabbit, The Hungry Caterpillar and anything by Dr. Seuss or Roald Dahl. I treasured these books as a child, making countless babysitters read and re-read them well past bedtime. But across the pond there is a decidedly different set of bedtime favourites. I am too far past the age to casually read these now and still to young to be reading them to anyone else but I stumbled upon a quote from one of the more famous childrens stories that surprised me. It takes a lot for childrens literature to be surprisingly beautiful and profound but this little exert from The Velveteen Rabbit is quite possibly the best and brightest things I have read in a long time. Enjoy x

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand”

The Dock

The turning of the key in the lock. The clang and scrape of metal on steel ringing out in the dark, shattering the perfect quiet. Rusty hinges announcing the intruder, betraying the stillness of the early morning. Steady footsteps along the dock, sure footed and direct. The moon on the water, illuminating each ripple and casting blue shadows into the darkest corners. The lapping water on the salted pylons came into being and the first sounds of rocking and splashing was audible. This was the moment. Those perfect fourteen steps down the dock to the boat when the world was contained and packaged into a feeling of lightness and refreshing breath. The chill in the air stirred his lungs into reckoning and drafted around his ears. He heaved the bag onto his shoulder and pull down his wool hat. He loved the bracing feeling. This was a new day, a moment separate to all others, the favored ritual. The boat swayed menacingly under his weight but he was sure-footed. He had earned his sea legs over the years but like the rest he had paid fair dues for them. The rope was coarse and stiff in his hands and casting it off was freedom. Steady rowing from strong shoulders. The warm orange glow of lights on the hillside. Soon the world would be awake and buzzing. The hum and rhythm of daily life would come on like a light switch and break through this silence but for now there was this steady ebb and flow. Life is a constant and beyond the rush and excitement is an undercurrent of stillness that if you looked for with a trained eye you could make out in these precious moments. Letting the oars rock into their stirrups, he took out his cigarettes. The match strike, flair of flame and warmth of fire. Smoke on the water and the sun on the horizon. This was solace.