“Life is about moments. For me, there are moments in the before and moments in the after. Most of the before moments were mundane: I came from a suburban life, I went to Catholic school, I had a cushy desk job that I worked long, hard hours at chasing the next promotion, and paid me well by the age of 23, and I was a mom to twin girls who brought my nothing but joy- and a very, very small amount of sleep! In Delaware, where I was born and raised, everyone knows everyone and connections are easy to come by, so I had a ton of friends and a great social life.
I was married, had a house on a hill, a dog and a life that seemed fine to everyone, including me. I was happy, in the way that people who don’t face too many issues usually are. Life was easy, in general, with the occasional hiccup, but I had rolled through them all without a second thought to changing the course of my life. The before was easy. It was simple. It was planned.
Until the day it wasn’t.
On October 1, 2017, in Las Vegas, I had enjoyed a weekend of festivities and live music at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. This was a trip I’d planned for months, when I first heard of a country music festival in Vegas. Two of my favorite things together? Sign me up!
My friend, Andie, and I had inched our way closer to the stage for the final performance of the weekend, the nighttime Las Vegas air wasn’t as crazy hot as the beating sun had been during the day, and life was good as Jason Aldean sang ‘When She Says Baby,’ and we sang along (loudly, and out of tune- hey, we all have our strengths).
To top all that off, we started to hear fireworks, and I thought how awesome it was to end the weekend that way, with a true celebration of life, music and fun. The only problem was, I couldn’t see them.
Rat-a-tat-tat. Pop. Pop. Pop. I kept hearing them over and over again- but where were they? I looked around and saw no bright colored lights in the sky. No red, white and blue cascade. Rat-a-tat-tat. Pop. Pop. Pop. Guitar music in the background, singing ‘that look in her eyes, got me comin’ alive, and driving me a good kinda crazy, when she says bab….’
And then the music stopped. But the pop-pop-pop continued. And, as if in slow motion, I saw people running from the other side of the stage. Wait, what? Why are they running? And where are the fireworks?
Again, life is all about moments. And the moment that you make the connection in your brain that what you’re hearing isn’t fireworks, but gunshots is a moment that you don’t forget. It’s the turning point- the moment that changes everything. The ‘a-ha’ lightbulb that goes off and fight-or-flight kicks in. It’s the moment you think of your kids, your husband, your family, 2,000 miles away, that you may never see again. It’s the mistakes that you won’t be able to undo, the life that you won’t get to live. It’s every fear you’ve ever had; not getting to say goodbye, being alone, not knowing what death will feel like, all rolled into one.
And then? It becomes the moment that you do everything you possibly can to make sure that you don’t die on the side of the Las Vegas strip.
I turned to Andie, grabbed her hand and said ‘run!’ We turned away from the sound of the gunshots, and made it ten steps before her hand slipped out of mine, the rush of people from the other side overtook me, and I fell, underneath the feet of thousands of people running for their lives.
‘Go!’ I said to her. If she waits, she will die, I thought to myself. And, even if it was over my dead body, one of us was surviving that night. But she waited. She pulled me up, bleeding and bruised. And we ran again, to the shelter of a cardboard sign advertising one of the beers for sale that weekend. And we hid behind it, until another moment hit me: This cardboard sign won’t do anything to stop the bullets that continued to beat the ground around us so hard we could feel the vibration and the kick of the gravel into the air. So we ran, again.
And we came to a fence, about 8 feet tall, with no gate. The next moment: The realization that you’re trapped. That unless you scale a fence or break through it? You have nowhere else to go. So I, along with others, ripped through the chain link fence and made a space large enough for us to go through, one by one, until we found the safety of the other side.
We ran down the private runway at McCarran International Airport, banging on every door to the private hangars to find some sort of shelter, until finally- finally- one opened. And we went inside. And we slammed the door. And we took a breath for the first time in what felt like forever.
From start to finish, the shooting lasted about 8 minutes. Eight minutes was the amount of time it took for the moment that changed everything in my life. And by everything? I mean the entire trajectory. In the aftermath, I became a different person. Who I am now wouldn’t even recognize who I was then.
I am no longer content with ‘my life is fine’ and no longer motivated by money or status, chasing the next big promotion. What I am motivated by, every second of every day, is earning the second chance I had been given at life when so many other people did not get that opportunity. I want to live a life that matters, because I know how quickly it can all be taken away, and I do not forget for one second how lucky I am to be alive, and well, and writing this today.
So, I changed direction. I quit that cushy desk job. I walked away from the salary which helped me live a comfortable life, and I became certified in personal training and group fitness. Because I wanted to create a life for myself, and for others, where the value of health and wellness was never taken for granted. I wanted to forever be reminded of how fortunate I was to be here, and be healthy, the only physical reminder of that day a scar on my knee that fades more and more each year.
I became a mindfulness coach, teaching others the coping methods that I’d learned to work through my own PTSD. Learning when I can’t find an exit or a car backfires out of nowhere and the panic starts to rise, I am in control of reminding myself that right here, right now, in this moment, I am OK. It is a practice which has, quite literally, saved my life.
And I started a blog, ‘The Loved Life,’ which promotes all of these things- wellness of the mind, body and soul- along with living with a gratitude first mindset. Because if there is one thing that I know for sure, it’s we are privileged to live and breathe another day. And waking up grateful to be on this earth- to hug my kids, to taste the sweet kiss of dark chocolate, to smell the ocean air- is what fuels me.
That’s not to say that I don’t have hard days. Trust me, there are still plenty of them (if you have ever raised teenage girls, you can feel me on this, y’all)! But the difference between the hard days now, and the hard days before? Perspective.
Before, on the worst days, when I felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, or that the overwhelm was too much to deal with, it consumed me. I let it take over my entire day, and sometimes even my week. It was hard to see anything good when this one thing was going wrong.
Now, everything is the opposite. Sure, the one thing is still going wrong- and maybe it’s going big-time wrong. But I look around me and I see so much good that it’s impossible to let one thing bring me down. I have a home that I love with a roof that protects me. I have a family that has loved me through every single up and down that life has brought, unconditionally. I have friends who are there, at the drop of a hat, no matter what or when I need them. I have a job that I love, and even when it’s hard, means I’m helping people to find the strength of body and mind they’ve always had within themselves- how stinkin’ cool is it that I get to be a part of that?
And mostly, I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m here, and even if I’m living a bad day, I’m still living. I still get to see my kids grow up, I still get to make mistakes- and learn from them, and I still get to show up for myself. That is something I never take for granted.
Today, my life is still made up of the moments. That hasn’t changed. But what has, is the ones that matter so much more are the small ones. I no longer wait for the giant, life-altering things to happen to feel feelings. I find joy in the snuggle of my 12-year-old dog, faith in the whisper of the wind through the trees, because I know there is something bigger than me out there, and hope in the vision of the world I know exists, because there is so much good to be found if you just take the time to look around you.
My life is quite dramatically different than it was 4 years ago, but for me, different isn’t a bad thing- in fact, this change has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. These days, life doesn’t happen to me, I happen to it. I manifest the things that I want, I work hard to create a life that I am proud of, and I live with a grateful heart for all of the things I took so easily for granted before. Because I know that life is short, nothing is guaranteed and the only question that really matters is this: If I knew today was my last one on earth, how would I love and how would I live?”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Megan O’Donnell Clements of Wilmington, DE. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and her website. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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