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Write every day: I’m just happy to be here—remembering the day I almost wasn’t

Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash

Today is my Alive Day — the 11th anniversary of my apartment building fire when I almost got trapped inside. Every day since September 5, 2009, I’ve thought about my own death. The fire started in the first floor apartment directly in my line, and it grew so big that eventually it burned through the ceiling, out into the first floor hallway, and up the stairs I ran down just moments before. The fire fighter who later spoke to me as the EMT checked my lungs told me that if I’d hesitated even a few seconds longer, I would have run right into the flames. “You’re very lucky,” he said to me. Those words have never left my mind.

For years PTSD and massive depression tortured me. I was watching myself fall into madness. So much so that one night I climbed out onto the roof of my new apartment building because I wanted nothing more than to stop thinking about the worst day of my life. A handful of things kept me from jumping — the enormous full moon, the water towers in my neighborhood that looked like guards standing watch, and a little girl name Emerson Page who started to form in my mind. A scrappy triumvirate, the three of them — the moon, the water tower, and Emerson — protected me from me. And I started to write it all down.

Shortly after that night I was on a plane that was hit by lightning (right on the wing near my seat) and we made an emergency landing just before the wing fell off the plane and onto the tarmac. I was deep into therapy at that point, working hard to shine a very bright light into all the dark places of my mind. My therapist, Brian, saved me many times over the years that followed until finally something changed, something shifted. Not in the world or in my circumstances, but in me. In my bones I internalized that the fire didn’t destroy me; it set me free. Every day after that fire has been a gift, and not one that was promised to me but one that I was so fortunate to be given. These days are extra, in the truest sense of the word.

I’ve certainly had bad days since that fire. Just look at this year we’re living through. I’ve had broken hearts and dreams that fell apart even when I tried so hard to hang onto them. I’ve lost a lot of people I love. I’ve lost, and lost, and lost. And I’m grateful for all those days and losses, too.

At one point about a year after I started therapy, I told Brian how much I hated going to therapy. He looked at me very simply and said, “Well now we’re getting somewhere.” We were getting somewhere. Freedom isn’t free — it takes work, time, and patience. You have to crawl through all the muck if you want to leave that muck behind. And I did. So I crawled, inch by painful inch until I was free of it.

Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said that many people die with their music still in them. If I hadn’t survived that fire, my plane hit by lightning, and that night out on the roof of my new building with the moon, my music would have died in me. People would have said things like, “How sad. She was so young. She had so much left to do.” They would be right. But I didn’t die on those days or any days after. Today I get to be here with all of you, in our socially distant, masked up weird ways of 2020 but still here. Still breathing. Still living. It’s some kind of miracle, and every day I work to make the miracle matter.

It’s a strange feeling to look your own death in the eyes and live to tell about it. I had lived through the death of family members and friends, but living through my own was different. It’s given me an unimaginable strength, an unending sense of joy, wonder, and curiosity. There’s a deep peace that lives in me now that I never had before. Building back my mind, body, and spirit from that level of devastation made me fearless, grateful, and happy to just be. We really can build back better, even and especially when all the odds are stacked against us.

At the end of every day, I say thank you to that drive to survive that was there in me that day 11 years ago today. I opened my door to pitch black smoke so thick I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I had a split second to decide: should I chance it and run blind down flights of stairs not knowing what I was running toward or close the door and hope someone would come rescue me? I took the chance and ran. I rescued myself, and all these days since I’ve been trying to make that rescue mean something. Making meaning of my survival is exactly what I intend to keep doing every day that I’m given.

About Christa Avampato

The short of it: Writer. Health, education, and art advocate. Theater and film producer. Visual artist. Product geek. Proud alumnae of the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia (MBA). Inspired by ancient wisdom & modern tech. Proliferator of goodness. Opener of doors. Friend to animals. Fan of creative work in all its wondrous forms. I use my business skills to create passion projects that build a better world. I’ve been called the happiest New Yorker, and I try hard to live up to that title every day. The long of it: My career has stretched across Capitol Hill, Broadway theatre, education, nonprofit fundraising, health and wellness, and Fortune 500 companies in retail, media, entertainment, technology, and financial services. I’ve been a product developer and product manager, theater manager, strategic consultant, marketer, voice over artist, , teacher, and fundraiser. I use my business and storytelling to support and sustain passion projects that build a better world. In every experience, I’ve used my sense of and respect for elegant design to develop meaningful products, services, programs, and events. While building a business career, I also built a strong portfolio as a journalist, novelist, freelance writer, interviewer, presenter, and public speaker. My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, PBS.org, Boston.com, Royal Media Partners publications, and The Motley Fool on a wide range of topics including business, technology, science, health, education, culture, and lifestyle. I have also been an invited speaker at SXSW, Teach for America, Avon headquarters, Games for Change, NYU, Columbia University, Hunter College, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The first book in my young adult book series, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, was acquired by a publisher and launched in November 2017. I’m currently working on the second book in the series. A recovering multi-tasker, I’m equally at home in front of my Mac, on my yoga mat, walking my rescue dog, Phineas, traveling with a purpose, or practicing the high-art of people watching. I also cut up small bits of paper and put them back together as a collage artist. My company: I’m bringing together all of my business and creative career paths as the Founder of Double or Nothing Media: • I craft products, programs, and projects that make a difference; • I build the business plans that make what I craft financially sustainable; • I tell the stories that matter about the people, places, and products that inspire me. Follow my adventures on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christanyc and Instagram at https://instagram.com/christarosenyc.

Discussion

One thought on “Write every day: I’m just happy to be here—remembering the day I almost wasn’t

  1. Brilliant! Amazing what we don’t know about each other and what we’ve survived. Now, I can see why each day is packed with so much living! You’re an inspiration with lots more to do, say, and teach. Power on!

    Like

    Posted by Cheryl Dolby | September 5, 2020, 12:16 am

I'd love to know what you think of this post! Please leave a reply and I'll get back to you in a jiffy! ~ CRA

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