As I move into the New Year, I do so with two conflicting feelings: Anticipation, because a new year always beckons with enticing possibilities; and a heavy heart, because my very dear friend, Virginia Giordano, will not be a part the year unfolding. Virginia died on Saturday, from Pancreatic cancer. Only three weeks passed from the moment she was diagnosed and the time she took her last breath. Three short weeks, and she was gone.
Virginia is the second close friend I’ve lost to sudden illness within the past six months. The first was my best friend from 10th grade, Laurie. And then my old pals, Rick and Pete, both members of the college band I played with for over three years, passed away suddenly within a month of each other—one for no apparent reason, the other from complications of a long-term health condition. As if that wasn’t bad enough, now I have two dear friends currently battling rare medical conditions, with grim prognoses. Finally, to add insult to injury, my 90 year-old mother-in-law, Dottie, fell while shopping at Kroger’s right before Christmas, broke her hip, and is now recovering from a complete hip replacement.
One after another, loved ones have died or taken ill. And I get it: Death and illness are a part of life. I’m ok with that, really I am.
But I’ll tell you what I’m not ok with: Wasting the precious time we have while we do have our health and are still alive and kicking on this planet. It’s why I am on my soapbox all the time, exhorting audiences and clients to Touch the Sky – to honor their purpose by using to the fullest the gifts and talents with which they have been uniquely blessed. And to do it now, not later.
When I think of Virginia, I am satisfied that she did just that. Virginia– who was a passionate, scrappy champion of human rights and a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker– spent her professional life as a producer putting socially conscious performers like Ani De Franco in venues like Carnegie Hall. She was also a wonderful visual artist. Over the past five years, we had lots of deep, fast-moving conversations about art and expression and leaping into doing what scares you. Because making art scared the bejeesus out of Virginia. She was a self-trained visual artist, who in later life, picked up a paintbrush and began to express herself on canvas much to her own surprise. This new means of self-expression was both thrilling and daunting. Questions popped up left and right—the kind that can stop you, if you let them: Am I any good? Is this a passing phase? What am I supposed to do with my art? Do I let go of producing to focus on my art? Should I try to sell the canvases I paint?
In spite of her fears and trepidations, Virginia kept on painting, and painting and painting. She wound up exhibiting her art at numerous venues in New York, and selling her paintings to rabid fans (like me—I have three of her works in my home, which I cherish).
And then, a little over a year ago, she did something perhaps even more stunning. She faced down one of her greatest fears– the fear of leaving New York and the beloved she’d called home for decades—by moving lock, stock and barrel to San Francisco, near to her brother and beloved nieces. In true form, Virginia bravely leaped at what scared her the most and started a whole new sun-filled, California life for herself. The light and the terrain inspired her, and she painted with a vengeance . Soon she began to be invited to exhibit her work at local galleries– all while maintaining her schedule as a producer.
The last time I saw Virginia, backstage at a concert she was producing at New York’s Town Hall, she seemed relaxed and happy with her new life—still grappling with the fear, the “what if’s,” but excited at the possibilities that lay ahead.
We all have possibilities that lie ahead of us. But we will never make them a reality if we don’t take action right now. Thank God Virginia had the courage to do what she dreamed of doing, and not just talk about it. In my opinion, she died having fully realized her dreams and gifts. Will you? Will I?
Let 2015 be the year you rid yourself of any insecurities that are holding you back. If you are letting anyone besides yourself dictate your worth, your needs or your desires, take back the reins and steer your own life. If you have unexplored or unrealized dreams that keep tickling you, pull them out into the light of day and take the steps to make them a reality. If you have fears that are stopping you from doing anything that matters to you—speaking in public, communicating your genuine feelings to your loved ones, moving your business forward in any way—face them, feel them and move through them.
You are here right now. And you matter right now. In this new year, be inspired by my friend Virginia: Dare to leap at what scares you, and bring the best of who you are to your work and world.
(Note: The image above is of one of Virginia's beautiful paintings. To view more of her work, visit her website).