Most years I promise I have quiet birthdays with my family. This year and last year were notable exceptions. On the eve of the 50th anniversary of my terrestrial debut, I wanted to share what I did last year...
I wanted to do something special to celebrate my birthday last year with those closest to me. After a lot of thought, I decided to do a mass release of monarch butterflies into the sky. Why butterflies? Well, butterflies, particularly monarchs, have become a symbol to people with FOP, the rare disease that I have. Butterflies go through cycles of changes. They must adapt to new circumstances. They are symbols of hope and new beginnings.
There is a Native American legend about the release of butterflies. If anyone desires a wish to come true, it is necessary to capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly cannot reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. In return for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom and releasing it to the sky, the Great Spirit always grants the wish.
I love thinking of the butterfly in these terms, and I chose to wish for two things that mattered the most to me. I hope these wishes come true with all of my heart. As you watch this video, I invite you do the same, just as if you had been here in person to share the experience with me.
I also had a second reason for doing a butterfly release, especially last year. I normally don’t think about the fact that I have a 50% chance of living past 41 and I’m currently 49. I prefer instead to live in the spirit of this quote from Frederick Buechner: “One life on this earth is all that we get. Whether it is enough or not enough, and the obvious conclusion would seem to be that at the very least we are fools if we do not live it as bravely and beautifully was we can.” But mortality feels a bit closer this year, as I’ve known three people with my disease who recently died who were much younger than I am, was well as a good friend who was near my own age. So while most people probably don’t celebrate 49 as anything special and instead celebrate the momentous number of 50, I’m choosing to cherish 49, and every year hereafter, knowing that nothing is guaranteed in life. I’m choosing to celebrate those we have loved who are no longer with us for touching our lives. I’m choosing to celebrate butterflies.
“A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam.
And for a brief moment its glory and beauty
Belong in our world.
But then it flies on again.
And though we wish it could have stayed,
We feel so blessed to have seen it.”
A little explanation of what I mean by courage, kindness, and other things.
Each year I participate in a project called One Little Word. This year my word is courage, though maybe not for the reasons you might think. This post is from my January prompts, which help us figure out where we want to go with our words.
Definition (from Brené Brown): The root of the word courage is cor, the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics is important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.—Brené Brown
My reason why: Notice that instead of giving a definition of courage from a dictionary, I used Brené Brown’s overview of the word. The historic definition of courage and her interpretation of it is what pulls at my heart. I have three main goals that I think will help me embody courage: work on a special needlepoint project again (a personal challenge and a sign of deep love); do more memory keeping (creativity and belonging); and spread kindness wherever I can.
One of my favorite quotes about courage: “COURAGE doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
My mantra: "Courage, dear heart" from C.S. Lewis
Note to myself: You have set big goals for yourself this year. Remember, that is one of the ways you work best. Make the things you love a habit. When your fears are talking too loudly, listen to them and decide if they are getting in the way or trying to teach you a lesson. (It’s okay to be afraid sometimes, even if your word is courage.) You can do this...not in one day, but little by little...It all adds up. Keep showing up and make it happen.
More kindness (to others as well as myself)
Having the courage to follow my heart and intuition
Have the courage to try even if I think I might fail—It definitely won’t happen if I don’t try
Let go: I want to make sure that I’m not letting the things I can’t do interfere with the things I CAN do.
In what ways is my word already part of my life: On most days, I will tell you that I’m just living my life—disability and all. It’s not easy, yet I don’t think of myself as especially courageous in the sense that many people think of the word. However, I believe that I am a stronger person because I have FOP. I just have to remember that.
What do I want more of and less of:
More faith and love, Less fear.
More celebration, Less comparison (In particular to the younger me that had more mobility and endurance).
More purpose, Less wasting precious time.
Less perfection (which doesn’t exist!), More COURAGE
What do I fear most this year: I said I wanted vulnerability, so here it is right up front. Even though I truly believe that FOP has made me stronger, I also hate the things it tries to take away. And sometimes that includes confidence in myself and what I’m capable of doing. I’m going to try my best not to let it be that way this year.
What am I mot excited about this year: Showing myself that I can do hard things. Getting back to unfinished projects that have been on the sidelines far too long.
Link to my Spotify playlist Courage, Kindness, and other Things
I can't believe I'm doing this. BOTH starting a blog and the Kindness Matters Challenge. For my 50th birthday this year, I’ve decided to celebrate by committing myself to 50 acts of kindness from June 6 to 30. As some of you know, because of a physical disability, there are many things that I can’t do without help. So part of my efforts will involve acts of kindness towards the people who help me on a regular basis. Other efforts will be acts of kindness for the community and the world in which I live as part of an effort to show people that kindness matters and that it has a ripple effect that can spread in big and small ways to make our world a better place.
What separates my kindness birthday challenge from similar attempts by others to do so is that I can't do this on my own. So family and friends have graciously offered to assist me in making my dream a reality.
You see, I have an extremely rare medical condition called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP for short. FOP causes bone to form in my muscles, joints, tendons and other connective tissue, progressively and significantly restricting movement. In a sense, my body has an extra skeleton of bone that imprisons my body. One of the only things I can do independently is use the computer. I also spend most of my time at home because of endurance issues, going out only when I need to do something or when there is something that I really want to do. Don't worry about me though—those closest to me know I nearly always find things to occupy my time.
If you are reading this and believe in the importance of kindness, I hope you will consider doing some of the things on my list.
P.S. It doesn’t matter to me if you do one act of kindness or all 50. The point of this is that the world becomes a kinder place when we work together to make it happen.
Hello. My name is Sharon Kantanie. I'm 52 years old. I have an extremely rare disease called fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva. I believe in courage, kindness, and other things. Welcome to my little home on the world wide web where I hope to share information on the Kindness Matters Challenge, my life, and the things that matter most to me.