Just about 5 months ago my life turned upside down. My relationship of two years ended very abruptly under very unpleasant circumstances. I had to move suddenly and my life was in complete turmoil for several months. For a while there I thought my world had collapsed.
My friendships were what sustained me during that time. That, along with plenty of exercise, therapy, work distractions, and travel. One of the best things I did for myself was plan a two week trip to Hawai’i. And it was during that trip to Hawai’i that I learned my good friend John O’Brien had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Within a few hours after reading that email, I was on the phone with Karen O’Brien, explaining that “I’m an action person” and I needed to DO something. And I had an idea about what we could all do together to show our support. Karen agreed with the idea and so we became collaborators in creating this video gift for John.
The next day, I bought posterboard and markers and went to the beach to take some photos. That night I put up this website and then I emailed about 20 friends on Facebook, asking them to spread the word. And just like that, the HOPE project was launched. The next day, Karen O’Brien used Sean’s email account to contact their family and friends about the project. Word of the project spread like wildfire and the website received almost 700 hits over the next two weeks.
For the next 3 weeks I was immersed in hope. I started out responding to emails, answering questions about file formats and deadlines. Then I was listening to music on iTunes to pick out the soundtrack. I was trying to keep up with the emails I was receiving and I was constantly downloading files to my MacBook, and editing the written messages people were sending me. Then I had to learn how to use iMovie and how to use all the features. Then it came down to editing and timing, to make sure everything would fit. Somewhere in there I was also tracking down the last few photos and the last minute messages. All the while I kept my fingers crossed that no one would slip up and ruin the surprise for John. I was also busy texting and emailing with Karen every day, as we coordinated which relatives were sending which photos and when.
And somewhere in the middle of this project I suddenly realized I was finally happy again. I was happy again because I was being creative and passionate and focused and I was energized by something that was important to me. I was doing something positive for someone else I believed in. And I was doing something that mattered. Suddenly, I was creative and purposeful again.
Every day for almost three weeks I was looking at photos that people had sent to me because they love John & Karen O’Brien. I had become a conduit for the love and hope of more than 200 people. And I had become the artistic curator of several hundred photos and messages. As the size of this project grew far beyond the scope I had imagined, I realized I needed to grow along with the project. I had a responsibility to use my talents to coordinate this outpouring of love and support for a very special family.
And so I became slightly obsessed. I poured over the timing and sequence of photos, I listened to more music, I made more tiny edits. I fiddled with fonts and transitions and everything else I could tweak because I wanted this video gift to be perfect. I wanted the video to be as amazing as the OB family.
I blew off dinners with friends and I skated by without a lot of sleep. I skipped a few workouts and I made more edits.
Finally the day had come to share the video with John. Karen and I had coordinated all the details – I had invited them over for a “fake” housewarming/open house I was supposedly hosting. After they arrived, I would offer to show them my vacation photos from Hawai’i, but instead I’d show them the video.The night before they came over I was so nervous I could barely sleep. I wanted everything to go smoothly.
Finally they were here(!) and everything about the surprise went as planned. John, Karen, Sean and I sat down to watch my vacation photos and instead we watched more than 200 families express their love and support for a very inspirational family. It look a few minutes for it all to sink in, but as soon as it did everyone was reaching for the tissues. John and Karen held hands thoughout the video and soon the room was full of smiles and laughter. When it was over we answered all of John’s questions and explained how we had pulled this off. And then we watched it again.
Doing this project doesn’t change the fact that both John and Karen have cancer. They will both proceed with their medical treatments as planned. We can’t change their diagnoses. But in the midst of their cancer, we can express our support and our love. As Karen says, we can lift them up. We should never underestimate the power we have to lift others up.
And I think this is how this project changed me the most. By lifting up other people, I myself was lifted up. By expressing love for others, I myself felt loved. By doing this project, I finally got my life back. I finally got my own happiness back and after five long months I was no longer heartbroken. Instead, I felt fulfilled and happy and peaceful. Working on this project truly made my heart happy. This project transformed me in ways I could have never predicted.
Yes, this project gave me a focus and an outlet for my creativity. It connected me to many many wonderful people. But more than that, it reminded me how much love there is in the world. Sincere, mature, honest and genuine love.
Bearing witness to this much love, this much strength, and this much hope, has healed me more than any vacation ever could.
Being the conduit for this much hope has transformed me. And for that, I will be forever grateful.
—-> Here’s the link where you can watch the final video: HOPE4OB