Death isn't reserved for the elderly.

I didn't expect that on a Friday night, amidst my search for iPhone cases on Amazon, that I would stumble upon Facebook and discover that a high school friend passed away yesterday in her fight against breast cancer. 27 years old.

Breast cancer.

I had no idea.

It seems that I wrote almost this same post about a year ago (here) about the fragility of life inspired by a childhood neighbor that also died of cancer.

And if I were to be totally honest, I'm tired of cancer. Buffalo, NY has an unusually high number of deaths due to this unforgiving illness. It seems that everyone can point to at least two or more people in their family who died of this relentless disease.

I didn't know Chrissy very well post high school, but what I do know is that she is sincerely missed. The hundreds of sentiments by her loved ones, even strangers, all speak to her outstanding character and open heart.

So here I am sitting on my bed at 1:55 AM EST crying like a child as I write this post wondering why we're here, why it was her, what if it were me next and how the fuck does any of this thing called life work?

We focus so much of our time and energy on things we think will make us look cool, give us more money or "get ahead".

And it's in moments like this that I realize how stupid and vain most of those efforts truly are.

In death, we are all the same.

For better or worse, I've known the grim reaper from a very young age and I should tell you, this forced relationship doesn't seem to get any easier as I get older.

What is increasingly apparent, however, is that we as humans waste precious time pursuing false gold.

We live by standards that aren't our own for fear of conflict and disapproval.

We post quotes on Facebook about living life as if it were our last and then eat McDonalds when we're overweight and have high blood pressure, stay in an abusive relationship or justify working for 10 more years to make a few more bucks in retirement.

Chrissy is dead.

Dan Otremba.

Tom Landers.

Virginia Peters.

Francis Ballesteros.

Laureano Gonzalez.

Manuela Gonzalez.

They are all dead. All people I knew, many of them family.

All died before their time.

Cancer, car crashes, drunk drivers.

They had families, people that loved them. I loved them. Dan Otremba died when I was in 9th grade.  He let me believe I beat him in an arm wrestling contest in 6th grade at lunch. He was a great guy who understood women at a young age. I still think about Dan over 10 years later.

And so I ask myself, what is it going to take for you, for me, for us all to be bold enough to live a life that makes us happy?

Fuck prestige.

Fuck bragging about how much money we make.

What about the quilt you made for your nephew-to-be's baby shower?

Or the time you baked cookies for your sick friend?

The only thing that matters is how we treat others and the extent to which we love ourselves.

I don't care how much of a failure you think you are.

Or if you make $250,000 a year or are on welfare.

Your value has nothing to do with how much money you make or the clothes you wear, but in how you feel about yourself and in return treat others.

And let me tell you, having more money isn't the solution to hating yourself.

You have a life. You have been given a gift and you're reading this blog post right now for a reason.

Where can you love deeper?

Where can you forgive more?

Where can you have more faith?

And how can you love yourself?

I cringe at the thought of dying young.

But my own fear of death has it's own unique repercussions. I fall into a state of incessant work, develop an anxiety over relaxing (go figure) and a legitimate fear of being left behind, forgotten or even worse, not having fulfilled my purpose or lived up to my potential.

Oh the irony.

Maybe why I'm so moved to write this post is because I realize the futility in my own actions and in some way, I hope to prevent you from making those same mistakes.

I'm not different than any of you and we still have time.

We think life is about the major events when it's really about all the moments and space in between.

It's the car ride up to the banquet.

The plane ride with a friend to Burning Man.

The night before your cousin's wedding that you stay up until 4 am in the hotel lobby chatting.

It's the moments in between the anticipated greatness that are the sweetest to savor.

Work is a reality and it can be a great honor to create lasting impact for those around you, enough so that you're handsomely rewarded in the form of a nice paycheck.

But work is an excuse for too many people to pass on life, myself included.

We're cowards and we don't have to be. We hide behind titles, paychecks and responsibility instead of making conscious decisions about how we want to spend our time and with whom we want to spend it.

We don't speak up for ourselves or others for fear of being fired, not getting invited to the next party and missing out on a promotion you didn't care much about anyways.

And we are so entrenched in social norms that we forget that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.

He's fucking naked! Ninety nine percent of the time he's naked!

And we are the emperors of our own lives parading around butt-ass-naked pretending to be something we're not.

I do it myself, trying so damn hard, wondering if we'll ever "arrive".

But we're naked. We're hopelessly, divinely naked.

The rules of a great life aren't complicated, but require us to be real, open and vulnerable. 

They're simple, profound and tremendously scary.

1- Love deeply.

2- Be true to who you are. That means listening to your desires and following through on them.

3- Take care of yourself and stop using work, your boss or responsibility as an excuse to not work out, eat right or sleep at night.

I think about today and wonder how my life would be different if I was the one diagnosed with breast cancer or if I had passed away yesterday instead of Chrissy?

What would the world post on my Facebook wall?

What would I regret in those final moments?

If I were to have died yesterday, my only regret would be that I held back.

I cared what other people thought about me too much.

I did what felt safe instead of what felt right.

I didn't listen to my gut to stop working and enjoy life more.

I hid from affection, both receiving and offering it to others, not thinking I really deserved it.

My own fear of being made fun of, my own fatigue from being an example of authenticity when I as much as anyone struggle with it, led me to not stand up for myself, not ask for what I needed and feel isolated as a result.

And more than anything, that I was mean to myself. So, so incredibly hard on myself for no reason.

We have nothing to prove and everything to love and love is hard work.

So forget social norms and fuck the rules.

Go make your own and get to loving.

It's truly the only thing that matters...

LifeLalita Ballesteros