Updated: Feb 28, 2019
This weekend, I took a weekend trip to get away. Most of my activities were insignificant. I promptly got sunburned and made it my personal mission to try to stick it to the hotel by eating my weight in food at the breakfast buffet. I wasn’t sure what I needed or why I wanted to get away or even what I was hoping to find. To be completely honest, at the end of the trip, I was kind of back where I started, and more than a little underwhelmed. As I was standing in line at an airport deli waiting for my turkey club sandwich, that all changed.
I struggled in trying to determine if this is even something I should write about, not because it lacks substance, but I think in some ways it lacks humanity. How do you take the multi-dimensional presence of another human and transcribe it onto the one-dimensional page? I have to try.
Her name is Ana. She is a woman in her late 30s, from a major city on the East Coast, and she has one of those imperfect, honest smiles that shines life into everything. We met as we were both waiting for our sandwiches at the airport deli. We came to the conclusion that they must be actually growing the veggies and raising the pigs because it took an exceptionally long time to get our food (notice I didn’t say forever). Before we parted ways, and as I was looking for a table, she invited me to sit with her and her friend. Her friend left shortly after, and Ana and I were left to enjoy our conversation for the next few hours. It was then I found out about all of her travel plans, her 10-year-old daughter, being accepted into a neuroscience masters program at a prominent school on the East Coast, and then we talked about her terminal illness.
Ana's abundant travel plans were the reason why she was actually at the airport; she was in the process of living out her bucket list. She has 0-4 months of life left in her. She mentioned it with striking candor. So our conversation changed. As I started asking her questions, and possibly slightly selfishly needing her perspective, the conversation turned to those deep topics you try to avoid at your in-laws Christmas dinner. We talked about mortality, depression, psychedelic drugs that helped her see the beauty in her soul, and we talked about lessons learned. Then I asked her a question and was immediately taken aback by the simplicity in her answer. I asked her what she wishes she would’ve known before getting the news that she was terminally ill, that she could only learn after receiving that news. She said two things. One being, she wished she wouldn’t have been so self-conscious. This one I kind of expected. The second answer, the one I didn’t expect was when she said: “you have to find your people.”
As I write this, I’m still astounded by this answer. For someone in Ana's position to tell me that the single most important thing she wishes she would’ve known was to “find your people,” was profound. Find the people who make you happy, who challenge you to live, and who will be there when things get hard. She was, figuratively and literally from her death bed, telling me about the importance of being tribal.
As a SEAL, “Tribe” is an integral part of our culture. We inherently behave tribally. It’s actually very difficult to find any sort of resemblance of that tribal mentality outside the teams. Since I’ve been away, I have for the first time started to wonder how vital my tribe really is. There is a constant struggle between the dichotomy of self-reliance and the implied dependency of being tribal. I’m learning every day that those two things are not mutually exclusive. How important to being happy in life, or at the end of life, is surrounding yourself with the right people? It’s everything. I knew that once in a different life. Hearing it from Ana instantly etched it into my heart and mind, and I hope that through me she etched into yours as well.
Decision, Design, Discipline:
I’ve written before on the importance of being tribal. Reading it from a book and hearing stories about it didn’t strike me nearly as hard as hearing it from Ana. There’s something about it that can't be replicated. There was both a sense of acceptance and desperation contained in her voice and in her character that can never be reduced to written language. The acceptance was for the scroll she received and the hand she’d been dealt. The desperation was to get the very most out of the few short months she had left. When she told me “find your people,” I had to listen, and so should you. There is no decision, design, or discipline in this piece, and you don’t have to trust me, but you have to trust her. Now go find your people.