If you are a human being it is possible that:


  • you will make a mess of things, multiple times
  • you will find yourself on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro
  • someone you love will break your heart, crush your spirit, and make you forget who you are for awhile
  • you will water ski on perfect, glassy water singing “American Girl” as loudly as you can
  • you will live in a country where heavily armed citizens massacre innocents in schools and houses of worship 
  • there will be a true hero in your lifetime, a Nelson Mandela or Malala Yousafzai or Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old who swam from Cuba to Florida after four failed attempts; someone who reminds us what we are capable of, a talisman against cynicism and apathy
  • you will do a back handspring on a balance beam
  • you will pull on your jeans and a cockroach, trapped inside, will run frantically up your leg
  • you will hear media coverage so tragic that you leave your workplace, sit outside, and cry for people you’ve never met
  • you will canoe for five days in the Canyonlands, four kids and four adults in three boats, sleeping on a tarp under the starriest sky 
  • you will learn to play guitar on a Friday, two chords, and have a gig with a band on Sunday
  • you will travel to more than 60 countries 
  • you will be so depressed that your mind will feel foggy, your body heavy, your heart detached from even your closest ones for weeks, sometimes months, while you no longer feel a sense of possibility about anything
  • you will share a hotel room with four strangers after you all get bumped from the same flight
  • you will move to a country where they speak a different language; you will learn it and what life is like on less than $2 a day
  • you will laugh so hard playing a game with friends that one fat tear will slide down your face and splat onto your notebook
  • you will live in a world where people flee home for the safety of their children, endure a terrible trek to your country where they seek asylum, and are forcibly separated at the border, tormented by fears about their children and the trauma of not knowing whether they will be reunited


  • you will tiptoe nightly into your child’s room so you can pat on her while she sleeps, your heart breaking for children and parents denied this instinctual need and their right to be together 
  • you will wipe out on the ski slope on your 25th birthday after your boyfriend has left you for another woman, lie on your back looking up at the snow-laden pines against a backdrop of sunny, bright blue and think, This ain’t so bad
  • in the aftermath of 9/11 you will let a stranger spend a night in your living room because he is low on cash and because you need to remember that people are kind and that we are here to help one another
  • years after eating them, you will crave that shrimp burger from the Shrimp Shack, oyster po’ boy from the French Quarter, lobster roll from Key West, and taco at the end of the road in Baja
  • life will bring you to your knees with devastating losses, and friends will help you up
  • at 49, you and two friends will get your noses pierced on a girls’ weekend in Chicago after you say in a hot tub, “I hope I have the guts to keep trying new things and not think I am too old,” and they reply, “Like what?”
  • and maybe, just maybe, at 5:11 on a Thursday morning, while you wait at gate B6 to fly to Las Vegas, a middle-aged couple will turn up in matching fire-engine red outfits looking like they are about to take the stage. He will wear a double-breasted suit with suede Zoot-suit shoes and carry a garment bag. She’ll sport a Cossack faux-fur hat, a neckline plunging to a lace bra and tremendous cleavage, silken chandelier-style earrings, and go-go boots 
  • and you will laugh with gratitude at the reminder that we can always bring our A-game and that there are a million ways to live.

E. LYNN HEINISCH’S career has included reporting from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East for humanitarian agencies, and working as a journalist, speechwriter for CEOs, communications director, and high-tech media relations officer. Now she’s writing her own stories.


  1. Love that your essay encompasses so many possibilities, and that the accomplishes, like life, are not in a ranked, “ have to do it” order. You have accomplished so much and experienced many cultures. Great writing! Thank you for sharing!


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