Embrace fear to live life to the fullest

Last Wednesday night, I nearly crashed my car into a palm tree. I was on my way to emergency chapter when I received a text that read, “Did a girl in your sorority just die?”

I’d known that my friend Melissa Ribeiro had been sick in the hospital. But I’ve always looked at life through rose-colored glasses, so I truly thought she would get better and everything would be okay.

In the 60 seconds it took me to get to the DPhiE suite, I dreaded hearing the worst imaginable news as I still held on to a shaky mix of denial and optimism. But as I found myself crying on the floor of a crowded room, surrounded by nearly 200 of my tear-drenched sisters, I felt devoid of any hope.

That night, my rose-colored glasses shattered. I had the realization that life isn’t always sunshine and flowers, a discovery that I believe every person makes in their lifetime. We grow up thinking the world is a perfect place where nothing could go wrong, until the one day it does. But I found that this realization is also a blessing.

I learned that just because we’re young and free and hold the world in the palms of our hands, that doesn’t mean we’re invincible. Death and tragedy can happen to anyone, and we need to be aware of that.

Understanding the fragility of life makes us appreciate it more. Petty fights with friends and stressing over grades seem so small in the grand scheme of things. Instead, we should focus on our relationships, helping the people around us and finding bliss in little things every day. Life is too short to hurt others and hold grudges, to have regrets and keep feelings inside.

As I sat at the vigil to celebrate Melissa’s life, I saw people gather there to cherish her and all that she stood for, and I saw them lean on others for support. Everyone held on to each other that much tighter. And as I watched the sun come down and cast a pinkish hue over the lake, I found some meaning in this senseless tragedy.

Life is short and fragile and fleeting. Life is scary. But that doesn’t mean we should live in fear. Instead, we should remember that life is also exciting and fulfilling and beautiful. We should embrace that fear in a way that pushes us to be the best versions of ourselves. Melissa’s passing was horrible and unfair. But we can learn from it. Living our lives in the fullest way possible is her legacy.

Melanie Martinez is a sophomore majoring in journalism.