Today is the birthday of one of my brothers. Naturally, I called and sang for him. I even made an Instagram post for him because he was one of the first ones Bryce introduced me to, and thus was one of the first ones to integrate me into the group. He knows that he's always been very dear to me.
My boys are all very aware of the fact that I am a) very sentimental and b) very open about my gratitude and love for them. And lucky for me, they all seem to appreciate it, or at the very least, they accept me just as I am and don't expect me to change. So this particular brother and I have been texting throughout the day today because he originally sent me a message to thank me for the song left on his voicemail and the IG post. One part of the exchange said this:
Me: If you ever need a friend or just someone to listen, I'm here for you anytime. There's not a thing I wouldn't do for my boys. You guys saved me.
Him: That means a lot. And the same goes for you! And don't say that. You saved yourself. You're a lot stronger than you think, Mal! Keep bringing positivity!
Me: No, see, here's the thing. I'm strong because I have people like you. That year was harder for me than I let on. I genuinely don't know if or how I would have made it to graduation without you boys. When my seizures came back as frequent and hard as they did, it was a battle not to let my depression win. But being around you guys with your infectious, bold, silly personalities, you guys made everything seem okay in the world any time I was with you. And the way you guys accepted and believed in me, that kept me going on the days I felt like giving up because it helped me remember that I could do anything. I pushed myself to go to your games because you guys brightened up my whole life. Even when I was too sick to leave my dorm, I knew that you guys were with me every step of the way. You guys made me your sister when I was scared to trust you and wasn't even sure I wanted you to. Now, I can't imagine my life without you in it, and I hope I never have to.
Yet again, these guys have proven that they don't understand just how much they did for me. And in a way, I get that. There weren't a lot of outright actions they did that made them so special. But that's the thing - they didn't have to do things.
It was just the way they lived and the way they loved me that saved me from the darkness and saved me from giving up on myself.
It was the way they made me feel accepted and normal, two feelings that haven't been so frequent in my life, that reinforced the lessons I've been struggling to learn about what I'm worth and what I deserve.
It was the way they made sure I knew they were always there for me to talk to, the way they listened, that kept me from thinking I had to do everything that year on my own.
It was the way they asked me how I was feeling any time we saw each other that kept me from forgetting that people genuinely cared about what I was struggling through.
It was the way they kept me smiling without even trying that helped me remember that the bad days wouldn't last forever.
And now, looking back, because there weren't a lot of specific actions they can point out, they underestimate the power of the way they lived their lives, and that's why I'll never stop reminding them of all the good they are capable of without even trying. They saved me from the darkness and from myself just because of who they are and the way they lived. Because of that, any time I tell my story to people, they have always been and will always be a part of it because they made me a stronger person and a better friend.
I know they're not the only people like this, but they are the most obvious example of it in my life.
To me, it seems like we're surrounded by so much bad stuff in the world that we forget the power of choosing to care, choosing to listen, choosing to be present, choosing to love, especially when other people don't or won't. These are things you can't always put words to, but they are the things that can radically change lives. They are the things that beat the darkness. They are the things that can save people from themselves. That there is often the best gift you can possibly give someone.
Two years later, and my boys are still teaching me about what unconditional love looks like. To this day, I have my soccer ball sitting on my desk that serves as a constant reminder of the army of brothers I have at my back every step of the way, as well as a reminder to pray for them. Hundreds of miles may stand between us, but those boys still help keep me going, and if I can just help them understand the power they have, then I feel like I have succeeded.
So if there's one thing I can say to those of you reading this tonight, it's this: the way you live holds great power. It can be used for greatness and help strengthen people, teach them, and change their lives for the better, or it can be used to break them and shatter already fragile hearts. Choose the former. Beautiful things will happen.
To my boys (because I'm hoping at least some of you will read this): You are more powerful than you know. You are capable of more good than you can imagine. I'm serious when I say that you saved me, and the gratitude and love I feel for you exceeds words, and you know how hard it is for me to be out of words. Keep being you, keep living the way you have since I met you, and mine won't be the only life you change. Trust me on that one. You are influential and mighty and fierce in the best possible way.