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Unfortunately, as I write this, Claire Wineland will never see my words. After a lung transplant that led to a stroke just a few weeks ago, Claire died at the age of 21. An avid vlogger, entrepreneur, foundation owner, and public speaker, Claire didn’t waste any time making her mark on the hearts of everyone she encountered. She was one of those wonderfully unique souls whose essence was contagious, and who’s view of life is admirable especially since she faced a day to day deterrent. Claire was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis when she was young, which led her to create a dialogue about how to treat people who are sick, what death is like and her ownership of death, and her vision of living a good life.
I met Claire in my senior year of high school (her junior year). We were in theatre together, along with a slew of fun and energetic people who love Claire just as much as I do. Fifth period was my favorite because it was drama class, and gathering with my friends after school for rehearsals was even better. I honestly can’t remember meeting Claire for the first time, I just remember an instant friendship full of laughter, energy, and silliness.
Our school was performing Caberet for the spring musical, and Claire and I were paired up in ensemble for the moody ending sequence of the show. As our troop of drama geeks rehearsed the scene again and again and again... and again... Claire and I bonded over our gruesome make-up, our teachers intensity, the mistakes we made as we goofed off while pulling around a giant square set piece. After the final show, a group of friends (including Claire) went to Denny’s in our full bruise make-up. We had a blast scaring people with our faces and singing songs from our performance that we could never, ever forget. Ever. I only knew her for a year before I went off to college, and she found her own path, but Claire has changed my life for the better regardless of our how much time we had together. I remember her smile and I feel full of hope. I remember her laugh and I feel that I’m brimming with positivity. I remember her attitude and I feel like I am overflowing with inspiration.
I must admit that a selfish part of me is disappointed in myself for not reaching out as much as I could have. I wish I would have gotten to know Claire better, experienced her sunshine more, been there to support her. But then again, my moments with her were all I needed to be affected, and she has all the love in the world a person could want. Perhaps the time I could have had was spent on someone else who needed help as well, and distance never stopped me from supporting her before.
Out of all the online videos I have seen of her, I can’t get a phrase out of my head that Claire said in one of her public talks:
“Live a life to be proud of.”
Here was this woman who knew she was destined to die young, and she was using her time to make an impact instead of wallow in self-pity like I felt I was doing even with a healthy body. Sure she had her bad days, and sometimes, I’m sure, she wanted it to be over, because she is a human being too and perfection is not an option. But in spite of the frequent hospital stays, daily coughing fits, hours of breathing treatments, she was a force to be reckoned with. Claire didn't take sickness as an option to opt out of the hard parts of life. She took it as an opportunity to enhance the wondrous parts. She did this in numerous ways, some of which were drastic and deep, and others which were simple but powerful. She dressed her hospital room up for comfort and appeal, she slipped out of her hospital room to meet Bernie Sanders at a rally, she traveled as much as she could, set up a fundraiser for others, sang in a breathless choir, the list goes on. What's important in this list however, is that she lived the best way she could.
I hope that each day I may live a life I am proud of, for her and myself. I find too often that I sink into a pity party that involves the frequented statements, "what am I doing with my life," "I feel like a piece of shit," "I'm wasting what I have and that makes me a horrible person," and "I have all of this opportunity and what am I doing with it?" I don't want to think like that anymore. I don't have to think like that anymore, and if I do catch myself wallowing, I can think of Claire. Claire showed me that I can live my life without guilt, and strive for a life that I both enjoy and am proud of. Instead of putting my present ahead of me, searching desperately for solutions and better futures and other peoples accomplishments in comparison to my own; I wish to follow in Claire's footsteps and take my days as they come. If I spend my time living in the moment, breathing in the details, allowing myself to be proud of each day as it comes to an end, then my life will be something I can be proud of.
Claire, wherever you may be, I know you are at peace because you said so yourself; keep shining through and communicating to the world, because there are so many people on this planet who will think of you always. Thank you for your courage and strength.