When Tragedy Strikes

When tragedy strikes, it is an awful and powerful reminder of how fragile life is. It jolts us back for a minute to sharing and showing love to those we cherish and adore. It screams call, hug, kiss, tell the ones you love that you love them so.

When tragedy strikes and takes a life or several, it’s tough.

This post is not meant to be a downer. I actually had plans to write about something completely different but I felt it best to address this which laid more heavily on my heart.

Sometimes real life hits and it’s important to acknowledge the smooth seas right along with the storms that rock the boat. Life has an overwhelming fair share of both.

This weekend marked 10 years since Hurricane Katrina hit the southern coast of the United States and did a lot of damage. Homes were destroyed, families were displaced and lives were lost.

In two weeks will bring September 11, another infamous day in recent American history. Many unsuspecting lives gone, remembered, still mourned and memorialized in different ways like the fountains at Ground Zero. I visited New York for my first time this summer and was able to stand in front of the Freedom Tower and look into the fountain memorial, reading names along the side. I said a prayer sending peace and love to all lost and those left behind, some who have managed to move their lives forward and those who haven’t, perhaps forever stuck in the replaying of that day’s events – both groups wanting one more kiss, hug, touch, wink and laugh.

Today a longtime friend of mine let me know a high school classmate of ours passed away last Thursday. Just 2 weeks ago many of my high school classmates got together to celebrate our 10 year reunion. I did not make it due to my sister’s wedding but wished the class of 2005 well. The young man who passed away wasn’t someone I kept in touch with regularly but we exchanged a few casual social media comments over the past year. I was struck by how young he was and the fact he had gotten engaged recently to a girl we went to high school with. They were to be married next August. Health complications took his life without warning. His fiancé and family are here figuring out what’s next.

New York following 9/11 and the southern coast impacted by Katrina including hard hit areas like New Orleans have been rebuilding since tragedy struck. The resilience sought, the strength and hope they fought for were necessary to gain footing and move forward. These moments are never forgotten.

My classmate’s fiancé, family and high school friends will be the same…Searching for resilience, peace, strength and hope to rebuild and move forward. 

When tragedy strikes it is uncomfortable and awkward and disorienting until you can regain vision and perspective and direction. May this be the reminder you need to share that i love you, i’m sorry, i need you, that laugh, that kiss, that hug, that call, that text. Life is still fragile and tomorrow has never been promised.


9/11 Memorial


#CameraReady: Living in the Moment & Beyond Hashtags

More and more I remind myself not to try so hard to capture every moment on film. Sometimes life just needs to be lived.

In this day and age my brain has been trained to think in perfect snapshots and hashtags. How will I remember this moment if I have no physical or virtual prompt to remind me?

Now this is an especially tough practice for me. I love photos. I love taking them. I like being in them (hopefully looking sane). I have several photo albums bursting at the seams full of the perfect throwback thursdays. Pictures to me have always been fun to peek back at, relive the moments captured and smile or laugh. There are lots of good times and amazing people.

Even if no one else takes the time to look, my photos give me great joy. I have thousands of pictures yet to print, books and albums to create and fill. Thanks to sites like Shutterfly, I can build beautiful visual books to give as gifts and share the timeline of some of my favorite highlights in my life’s history.

Even still, I am learning more and more that there is a time to take a photo and there is a time to put the camera down.

For my sister’s wedding last week, I kept my phone in my purse most of night. I snapped a few here and there but mainly I relied on others in the wedding party, guests, the photographer and videographer to get all the shots I would love to see. I told myself I did not want to have my phone glued to my hand. I wanted to party and dance and enjoy the company of those who were around.

There were lots of times I said, “This would be a great picture.” A lot of those moments did not make it to film but that is okay because I was there to see it live, enjoy it in the moment and now I remember whatever I remember.

I have been managing the WedPics app where all the guests could upload the photos they took throughout the wedding day. It has been equally as fun seeing the event through their eyes.

Pictures are truly great but so is knowing I was not missing something truly great by fiddling around with the apps on my phone trying to get the perfect picture. I managed to live through not having every second immortalized in my gallery. I had a phenomenal time in real time. Those memories will last forever.

In the future, I will still keep my flash ready but I may just have to start relying on my memory more for some moments in my life. This could literally cut my hashtag usage by at least half.


To Have and To Hold: Managing Perfect Expectations

For those who read my post last Sunday, you know I was in the middle of preparing for my sister’s wedding. As of this afternoon after checking out of the hotel, the wedding weekend has come to a close. The planning is over. The newlyweds are happy. The guests are relaxing before returning to work — many recovering from the good dancing, the good laughs, the good drinks — or a combo of all three.

I learned so many lessons from being part of this event. The main thing is to Expect the Unexpected.

Not only on wedding days but in life. I will lay out examples from my wedding day experience because it is fresh on my mind but I know life happens just like this because perfection does not exist anywhere.

When I heard from brides and wedding parties to expect things to go wrong throughout the day,  I was not sure what that meant. When would it happen? Is there a way to anticipate and mitigate the risk? Can we produce perfection anyhow and be an exception to the rule?

Needless to say, we were not an exception to the rule.

Early morning on the wedding day, my hotel room was awakened with a call from the police. They called to let us know the alarm in my sister’s house had gone off and they were there to check things out. It was almost hard to believe. Even harder to believe was the same alarm going haywire 3 times on Sunday morning at 3, 4 and 5am. There was nothing wrong either time. No one was trying to break in but it seems the alarm picked a hell of a weekend to go nuts because the battery was going out. What made that experience more frustrating was my dad having to leave at some ungodly morning hour to drive 60 minutes to check things out himself and reset the alarm…both days.

We arranged for a vehicle to shuttle the wedding party to the venue for pre-ceremony pictures. When we arrived to the hotel entrance, no shuttle in sight so we had to think quickly on our feet. We were already running behind on our photographer’s schedule and we needed to get so much accomplished before the ceremony. My boyfriend grabbed car keys and just started making roundtrips to get things moving. He is a saint by the way and was part of the dynamic duo that really kept the entire weekend afloat by hard-working, selfless, quick thinking like this. We were able to all arrive shortly thereafter for wedding pictures.

We took all our photos before the wedding which in hindsight made sense. By doing it in this order, we were able to spend more time with the guests following the ceremony. What did not make sense however was how freaking hot it was outside. We were all mostly dehydrated, sweaty, smelly messes after walking around for 3 hours taking photos in the heat. Just at the end of our photo shoot, the clouds took a turn and the raindrops started to pour. The bride had to race up the street under makeshift covering from the wedding party. We got beautiful shots but no matter how hard one might try, controlling the weather is well…out of our control.

Minutes before we lined up to walk down the aisle for the ceremony, a member of the wedding party had to leave due to a family emergency when their spouse was rushed to the hospital. Unfortunately that person was unable to return for any part of the ceremony or reception. Their spouse is expected to recover and be okay.

Don’t get me wrong. The outstanding moments far outnumbered the unexpected mishaps. We had a ridiculous amount of fun. The bride and groom were stunning, they said “I Do’s” without incident and the party was epic. The wedding party, the guests and even the vendors had the time of their lives. Everything was well planned and well executed. It is always worth keeping things in perspective though. Not everything in life can be planned to the point of perfection because life is not perfect but even in the mishaps, there is something to learn.

Expect the unexpected and things might still turn out alright.


Wedding Week Countdown: Family is the Principal Thing

My family is 6 days from celebrating our first wedding. My older sister is getting married next weekend.

It is such a beautiful and exciting time. The planning is mostly complete and the final ticks are being marked on the checklist. I am getting more and more excited to party all weekend with some of my favorite people -my closest loved ones.

My family certainly can never be accused of perfection. We are VERY human. The last year of walking through the changes this engagement (and life) has brought though reminds me of how brilliant family teamwork really is.

We relocated one of my sisters to a new apartment out of state when she got a major promotion at work. We helped my future brother-in-law relocate to Chicago from Arizona. We spent some time over the last Thanksgiving holiday meeting future in-laws while on holiday in South Carolina. We gathered together in support over the past year at graduations and birthdays and funerals.

Family is a powerful thing. We spent time this year having our share of laughter and tears as a family. We get mad occasionally and can piss one another off. We champion each other. We hurt feelings and have to apologize just like when we were kids. We love hard and we crack each other up.

Family always sees the real you, for better or worse. Unlike other relationships with lovers and friends… with family people don’t hold back. It is actually really to easy to take family for granted but just like love, some of the same rules apply. Even love that can be expected should never be taken for granted.

I am fortunate to have family that has been such a blessing to me. They are good to me and will rally around me whenever I need it. When we stand as one next week, to extend generosity and acceptance adding more into la familia, I hope we all feel the same power in the vows. I hope we also remember to strive for our current family members and friends to feel the same love.

I, Dilaun, take thee, to be my newest family members, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, ’til death do us part.

Seems heavy right? But that is the kind of commitment family has. Since you do not get to choose them, it is best to elect to be a blessing regardless. My family has shown me this level of commitment and I truly believe I am a better person because of it.

We are in this together. Love & Family are the principal things.


The Body Issue

Body image is such an interesting subject right? It is a topic that cannot necessarily be exhausted because there is always a need to be reminded of the importance of positive body image. 

In the time we live in, positive reinforcement on what is actually valuable and important and worth the fuss is as necessary a daily practice as eating, sleeping, working and living in my opinion. It is so important because it exists in every one of those other areas.

Over the weekend, a few things happened that drove this point home for me. This concept of body image and how you can create two sides to the same story is intriguing. The way you view yourself can be empowering and beautiful or quickly become ugly and twisted if you look at the same picture using a different lens.

On Saturday, I joined hundreds of Chicagoans, suburbanites, tourists, lolla-goers and whomever else was in the crowd for a summer workout in Millennium Park.

I always go to the front so I can see what is going on and not have to rely on the people in front of me to know what the instructor might be doing. I typically break a sweat for 3 hours of yoga, pilates and Zumba #backtoback. For Zumba there was a professional guest  photographer snapping up shots of the dynamic, gorgeous, fit dance teacher we had. Well seeing as I was in the front, I was in more shots than I imagined.

Afterwards the photographer came up to show me a few. “Well that one is great but that one…could be deleted. I look ridiculous,” I told him on a few. I gave him my email so he could send me them all to view up close. I was unfairly critical of myself like I often am in photographs then I was like, wait. My goal wasn’t to look great in a photoshoot. My goal was to work my butt off while working out and I did that. Some shots I may look ridiculous but I am proud of the way I look because I was out there working hard.

Saturday was gorgeous but also quite hot so after I worked out, I decided to head straight to the beach. If you want to give yourself a lesson on body image go to a beach. I mean honestly. I love to people-watch anyway. There were thin, big, curvy, old, young people everywhere with all different body types. I love the confidence of people to just be who they are. It can be tough to not compare myself but I remind myself how much better it is for me to love myself as I am, work on whatever I can instead of comparing myself to others. Of course once you get out of your own head, things are back in perspective. I enjoyed myself and stayed at the beach over 5 hours.

Recently UFC Champ, Ronda Rousey made some pretty intense statements about body image for body shamers going after her. I am all for women taking pride in their body back. My body is under my command and no one else’s so no use allowing someone else to dictate when it’s right, perfect, beautiful. It is best to focus energy on getting your mind right.

While on my trip to London in June, I became familiar with such a handy phrase. When that voice saying of doubt, over-analyzing, stress, negativity, self-criticism creeps in about anything. For example a voice inside that my body isn’t alright. It’s too much of this and not enough of that, that voice has to be cut off. Say, “You don’t serve me.” Refocus and keep it moving.

There is nothing wrong with beauty, feeling beautiful, being beautiful and being told you are. As long as it is not everything you live for. It has always been more important to be a genuine, real and fun person who is beautiful because you believe you are and you act accordingly (read humbly).

Another example of taking beauty to another level: I was running late for a show over the weekend so I had to hop in a cab. Towards the end of my ride, the driver says, ‘You’re not like Chicago girls. Pretty girls aren’t usually nice.’ It reminded me of a few years ago I took a trip to Miami and got the same comparison to Miami girls. That is really too bad. Of course, the blanket comparison is not totally accurate but I wish it did not even have to be a statement.

If throughout my life the best thing someone can say about me is I’m beautiful in the asthetic sense only,  i think I’m missing the mark. Beautiful is a fantastic attribute but we can all stand to strive for more.

In Chicago, at the corner of Ashand and Foster, there are these huge ‘You are Beautiful’ signs. I am sure on a tough day those reminders mean the world to someone who just is not feeling it.

In the meantime, I am going to keep working on self-awareness, self-love, self-acceptance because one can never have too much of it. In aha moments like this weekend, I believe I’m winning.

Remind yourself of your greatness by reinforcing your positive body image. Be beautiful/handsome AND make it hold more weight than physical appearance.