Years ago when I volunteered for a startup international homestay program, I met a woman by the name of Kelly Patterson. Over the years, she and I became friends and travel buddies. Some of our antics have been detailed on this blog.
We attended a gender-bender rewedding, which I blogged about.
We hitched once between Homer and Anchorage.
She challenged me to skinny dip in Chico.
She invited me along for the fun of a painting party.
We also lived together briefly in an illegal attic space in a frat house in Berkeley, California. Both of us knew nearly instantly the living arrangement wasn’t a good fit for us, and we saw one another in the midst of some of our greatest messes. It was, to put it mildly, an interesting time. During a road trip to the Grand Canyon, the stress of it all brought on a mad case of shingles for Kelly. Me, I was just a wreck, and left it all behind to hitch to Las Vegas with friends, then crash at my parent’s place in Tucson for half a year. Eventually we both got ourselves back to good.
She once encouraged me to participate in open mic night at a coffee shop, under the theme, “I should have known better.” Now, I know I write just fine, thank-you-very-much, but reading it in front of people? That I don’t do. Not easily. Not ever. Especially when it’s personal. Though I carefully penned my entry and read it to a positive–even enthusiastic–crowd, she spoke off the cuff at open mic. We tied, and entered a runoff. For me the whole ordeal was terrifying. I’m not so good at extemporaneous speaking, much less coming up with a topic on the spot, so she took the top prize with a crowd-pleasing story about curiously strong peppermints and road head.
Most importantly, Kelly challenged me, and everyone she came into contact with, to live life to the fullest, with joy, with courage and with a healthy dose of goofiness.
About six years ago I had a persistent, nagging feeling that I should visit Kelly. At the time I was living in Wisconsin, and she was in Chico, California. Though she and I hadn’t talked much since our startup days, she warmly welcomed me into her home. For a month. It was profound. She introduced me to some of the most fascinating people I’ve met in my life: healers, teachers, thinkers, energy workers, intuitives and entrepreneurs–people who are so very good at shifting the camera…many of whom I’m still lucky enough to call friends today. It was also during that time that she introduced me to a shaman who changed my life, or rather, helped me change it myself.
That fall, Kelly revealed on Facebook that she was HIV positive.
In my life I’ve never met anyone else like Kelly. She was always creating, frequently glam, and always open to new adventures.
She relentlessly pursued being in the flow, and when she found herself swimming upstream, she’d shut down, put on some headphones and get into what she called her vortex (often a baby pool), where she would try to shift herself back to good.
There was a song she’d listen to, “Kelly, Watch the Stars,” which she said always reminded her to enjoy every minute of life, to be mindful and grateful.
She didn’t care much about convention or the judgement of others, and she wasn’t perfect. But while so many of us are moths, she was the flame, magnetic and warming. Get too close and you’d run the risk of getting burned. She was unafraid to tick people off and call out B.S. as she saw it. But she’d also give you the shirt off her back, literally, if you needed it more than she did. Even if she didn’t have another shirt. She survived largely on the kindness, generosity and forgiveness of others–which, when you are unafraid to tick people off by speaking your truth–can at times be hard to come by. Yet many stood by her, and many of those who couldn’t still loved her and were transformed by her influence.
Through it all, she seemed fearless in the face of everything, and she truly entered every day as if anything was possible, as if life were a buffet from which you could choose whatever you want. She always believed that the road ahead was like a blank notebook, waiting for the story you were ready to write–but you had to do the work. Nearly every greeting, every email, hinged on a single question, “What are you manifesting?” It was a lot of pressure. I remember once telling her, “I’ve been working on myself for 48 hours straight, I’m exhausted!” To which we both had a good laugh.
Kelly passed away this week.
I know she was long ready to go, at least on some level; she’d talked about it openly, even wondered aloud why she was still here.
But I know why.
Because people like me…well, we needed her. We needed someone to show us that there is nothing to be afraid of. That life is meant to be lived on your terms. That it is okay to follow your bliss, and to rail against what isn’t. That you must, must, must leave your comfort zone as often and thoroughly as possible, so that you can become the person you are meant to be. That, screw it, we get one go around in this life and we should make it ours–not some quality-controlled creation of whatever everyone else thinks we should be doing.
That even, and especially in the face of challenges, we should all get into our vortex and watch the stars.
Thank you, Kelly. For all of the profound changes you’ve helped me forge in my life. For weathering some of life’s greatest storms with me. For pushing me outside of my comfort zone and showing me that anything is possible.
I know you are no longer watching the stars, but instead living among them.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Next stops: Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.