Tara and I are different, too. One of the biggest differences in our daily lives is that Tara plays a huge role in caring for her mother, my aunt. Along with her two sisters (my other fabulous cousins), Tara does everything for her mother, including bathing her and keeping her company on days that my aunt is not at her "day care" (as Tara calls it). This is not easy -- it's a full time job, but my cousins would never speak of it that way. Without expecting even a thank you, they care for my aunt, day in and day out, because they love their mother, and each other.
One of our other biggest differences can best be seen at family parties. Tara is hilarious, and her stories make me laugh so hard my face hurts. Once she gets going, a crowd typically gathers around her and we all just listen and laugh as Tara entertains us with stories that make the most simple topics (like a real estate closing or buffalo wings) absolutely hysterical. I, meanwhile, enjoy family parties best if I can just sit back (or run around after my kids) watching and listening to all of the fun around me. I'd just flush and stumble over my words if someone expected me to entertain an entire table.
I really didn't know Tara very well before Annabel was born. I mean, I'd known her since I could remember, but I've come to realize that sometimes it's our very own family members we spend the least time really getting to know, and I hadn't spent enough time building a real friendship with my own cousin. Until one day in March of 2011.
I was on maternity leave with Annabel and after getting her kids off to school, Tara came to visit. We got to talking at my kitchen table and somehow the conversation led to me asking her, "So what's your dream?" I have absolutely no idea where this question came from because I don't think I've ever asked it in conversation before (although I wonder it with every person I meet). I want to be famous, she replied immediately. I was so taken aback that she had an answer to this question, never mind that she had it so quickly and so confidently. I may have let out a chuckle to express my surprise, but when I looked in her eyes, and at her face that had (for once) become very serious, I knew she wasn't kidding. So we talked more about this dream -- what she wanted to do to be famous. Tara wanted to entertain people. We kept going. We brainstormed ways she could do that and at one point, we decided to form our own business based around Tara's talent of making people laugh.
For the next few weeks, we brainstormed ideas about our new business. When my new baby napped, I researched all sorts of issues related to women who start small businesses. I caught the entrepreneurial bug -- that feeling of pure excitement that we could create something, bring it to others, and have it really mean something to those people.
Gradually, Tara and I realized that however we dressed it up, our whole concept was fundamentally based on Tara's ability to entertain. So one day I asked her if she would ever just get up in front of a crowd to do stand-up comedy. Forget our business ideas, the bottom line was that Tara was funny, and she needed nothing more than a mic to share her talents with the world. No way, she replied to my stand-up idea. She could entertain when seated at a table with others, when she could feed off of them, but she couldn't stand up alone and carry the show, she claimed. I fought her on this one. But she was adamant that stand-up comedy was not something for her.
Later on I talked to my Mom about this, because it bothered me that Tara was selling herself short. My Mom suggested that Tara take a class, like improv or stand-up comedy. I relayed the message, and watched Tara's eyes grow wide. Not more than a few days later, she had signed herself up for an improv class in Boston.
Tara faithfully attended her classes, with the constant support of her loyal husband who backed her even though it meant long stretches of her absence. We would talk every week about her classes and it was clear that Tara was the star pupil. I wasn't surprised in the slightest.
With the improv class under her belt, Tara decided to try the stand-up class. When she told me this, I reminded her of her own past words that she could never do stand-up, just to remind her how far she had come. Somehow between the hectic schedules of her two young boys, her job, her responsibilities to her mother, and countless other commitments, Tara plowed through almost every class this comedy school had to offer.
Now Tara has started to perform in all sorts of venues -- from local bars, to large charity benefits, to party cruises out of Boston Harbor. Instead of a gift-opening session at my sister's bridal shower, Tara performed a comedy routine about love and marriage, and she played host of the "Nearly Wed Game," which she named and designed based on the Dating Game. She had us all in tears of laughter, and Rachel and Matt will never forget the fun of trying to answer random questions about each other. Needless to say, Tara has worked so hard to hone her talents and it's all paying off. Tara is well on her way to her dream, and I couldn't be more proud of her.
Of course, through all of this, Tara didn't let me off the hook on my own dreams. But back in March 2011, I didn't have a dream to blurt out like she did. I was working 75-80 hour weeks before I went out on maternity leave and the closest thing I had to a hobby or a dream was a good night's sleep. Still, I gave it some thought, and finally I told Tara that my dream was to write. Not the quit-my-job-to-write-a-novel kind of write, but just write. Something, sometime.
Since Tara was doing everything to pursue her dream, I thought I should do the same. So I bought a desk. If I had a desk, I would write, I thought. Ha. We got a new computer for Christmas (my parents' way to encourage me to start writing, I think). I bought books on publishing my first book. And for this reason and others, I left big law for a firm I love; for a place where my co-workers have more time to enjoy outside passions.
But even with all that, the words were not pouring onto paper or my keyboard. As a small step, I entered a poem in my town's writing contest, and I won third place for my age group. (I told you it was a small step.)
Meanwhile, as I beamed with pride when I heard of Tara's successes with her comedy, I'd always return to the disappointment in myself that I was doing nothing for my little writing dream.
Some people think that everything happens for a reason. I respect that belief and hope it gives those people comfort. But personally, I don't really think that way. Rather, I think that life happens and we have an infinite number of ways that we can choose to react to the good things and the bad. Sometimes, with real tragedy, we just have to find a way to keep going. I have never experienced this type of tragedy with an immediate family member and those people who have are an inspiration to me, because I can't imagine the strength it takes to just keep going.
Most times, however, we can see something as a barrier or we can see it as an opportunity. As a student, we can doze off in class under the excuse that the teacher is boring. Or we can commit ourself to thinking and learning everything possible, even if the teacher should be better (and he or she should be better). At work, we can complain about our bosses or our hours or our benefits. Or we can have difficult conversations to try to improve the issue, and move on when that's not possible. We can blame someone else for a bad situation, or we can try to figure out our role in it, own some responsibility, and start to problem solve. "Everything happens for a reason" makes me think I am a pawn waiting for things to happen to me. Instead, I'd like to think that I will shape my own life and my own happiness based on how I choose to react to those things in my control, and most of all, to the many things out of it.
I started writing when I was diagnosed with cancer. Not because of any dream, but because I had something I wanted to say and it made me feel better. I don't think God made me sick so that I'd get moving on my dream to write. But I do think that I was given an opportunity. Maybe it was from God, or some higher being. Or maybe it just "bad luck," as Dr. Bunnell answered when I asked him how I got this. I have no idea, and that's not what really matters anyways. What matters is that as much as I hate so much of what has come along with my diagnosis, I've chosen to consider it as something more than just bad luck. Because in a crazy way, and without me even realizing it until now, cancer has made a dream of mine come true.
If you'd like to learn more about my cousin Tara Young, you can go to her website HERE or follow her YouTube channel HERE. She has a few videos up now, and I believe more are coming soon. (And fair warning, these wouldn't be rated PG. Tara always makes me think I need to lighten up on my more prudish ways.)