December 8th, 2012
What Makes Me The Person I Am Today
The common core at Sacred Heart University teaches us about ourselves. It is a way to make us think about our lives, what we stand for, and also what important and life changing experiences have made us into the person we are today. As we get older, we go through experiences which help us to grow in maturity. We realize what our purpose is in life and figure out what parts of our lives are important. We also weed out the parts of our lives that are neither worth the time nor the dedication. This is essential because no person should waste their time with things that are not going to give us a sense of learning or a sense of accomplishment. The common core at this school “provides the students with a way of learning which is value driven and expresses the moral framework needed to think critically, solve problems, better understand the diverse world in which they live, and wrestle with the fundamental and enduring questions of humankind.” This quote from Sacred Heart University’s website breaks down what is important about the common core and what must be done for students to get the most out of their education. The common core enforces the four fundamental questions which are brought forth in each of the human journey classes. It is these specific questions that help to expand the mind of students by giving the task of thinking about them in perspective to each specific class.
The first question is “What does it mean to be human?” This question gives each student a chance to describe their opinion about what they believe a human stands for. But what does it mean to be human? For me this has to do with heart and mind. When you are human this means that you have strong feelings and opinions. You are dedicated and look for self-improvement. When I say self-improvement, I don’t mean getting good grades in class, or going to the gym to get stronger. What I mean is more of an internal sort of quality. It is about becoming the best person you can be and striving to attain the highest possible level of experience you can. Being human is about understanding the world around you. It is about experiencing all that you can so that you can obtain the knowledge to make the right choices. This knowledge can only be found by living. Every experience you have in your life teaches you something. Something which can help you to figure out what you need to do with your life. This understanding of how life works and what it entails is important to the way we live as humans. This is what it means to be human. Not being made up of bones and skin, but rather finding out what the meaning of life is and what your purpose is. The only way to figure this out is through experience.
The next question is “What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose?” This question is asking what makes life worth living. What I’ve found it that there doesn’t have to be a particular reason why you lived a meaningful life, but instead an understanding of life in general. What this means is that you have made an impact in the world and especially in the hearts around you. You don’t have to start a fortune 500 company or play a sport for a professional team. You just have to live a life where you feel that you have lived a significant life. Most people believe that you have to do something extraordinary to live a life of meaning and purpose, but from what I have experienced in my life, you simply don’t have to. The key to a meaningful life of purpose you have to be happy in your life. You must feel accomplished of what you have done throughout your life and accept to yourself that you have experienced so many wonderful things and met so many unique and important individuals that have made an impact on you and you have done the same for them. This is a life of meaning and purpose.
The third question is “What does it mean to understand and appreciate the natural world?” To appreciate the natural world includes that of nature but it is not limited to this. To appreciate the natural world you must appreciate all of which comes with life. This means that everything that you go through as a human being whether in the physical or the mental must be appreciated. Every experience you have, every moment you spend with other people, and every little thing that makes up being alive. What I have come to learn is that appreciating the natural world doesn’t just mean appreciation of what is positive. Yes, we are grateful for the happiness and love that we experience in our life, but we must also be thankful for the negative and misfortunes that we experience. These things may knock us down and make us feel absolutely terrible, but what we must understand is that even the negative experiences in our life teach us something. They teach us how to be better the second time and give us the knowledge on how to become better human beings. So we must also appreciate the downfalls of the natural world, because they may bring us down at first, but they also make us stronger and have the will to start back up again and live.
The last question is “What does it mean to forge a more just society for the common good?” I believe that it is hard to come up with one single justification that works for every society. Everyone operates in different ways and on different levels. One way of living could be perfect for one individual, and be completely undesirable to the next. What you must look at here is not how you are going to create a just society, but instead figure out what you want the end result to be. When you figure out where you want to go in life, you will find a way to get there. You can’t just start your journey without knowing where you’re going. You will find yourself lost. You must instead figure out what you want to accomplish and when. If you have a goal and a time frame for anything, you will eventually reach it. So when thinking about how to create a just society for the common good, you must not solely think about making yourself happy. You must instead think about how you are going to make the whole world happy including yourself. How you are going to coexist with your roommates without fighting. How you are going to impress your professor while still enjoying the simple aspects of life. How you are going to show your parents that you are an accomplished person while still having that fun side of life you will always crave for? So what does it mean to forge a more just society for the common good? It is all about balancing out your life. The key is keeping yourself happy while keeping your friends, family, classmates, professors and neighbors. That is how you create a just society of common good where everyone is comfortable living in.
The common core here at Sacred Heart University certainly enforces life experience and knowledge in the required courses. Some things just cannot be taught though. You must learn from life’s trials and tribulations and be able to clearly understand what everything means. You must also be able to apply it towards your past, to figure out what you did wrong; and to your future, to figure out what your plan is and how you are going to get there using the knowledge you have accumulated through your life. In order to show how my life was shaped I am going to tell a short story. This story will clearly show why I have become to person I am and the misfortunes I have experienced which have made me into the person I am today.
When I was a senior in high school I was excited. Excited to be graduating, excited to be going to college, excited to be starting a new part of my life. I knew that going to college would be a good experience and help me mature and live a life of meaning and purpose. Leaving the comfort of home, family, and friends to find a new home, meet new friends, and develop a new kind of family. As the days went by, graduation was coming closer and closer. There was only three weeks left of school until we would begin commencement. That is when May 23rd, 2009 came around. This will forever be a day that stays in my memory. This is the day I lost my best friend. On this day my best friend Matt got into a fatal car accident which ended his life. He was going down a bumpy and narrow road at excess speeds when he lost control of his car and flipped it several times into a tree. He was declared dead on impact.
This was my best friend, my ‘brother’. I had grown up right up the street from him playing backyard football, riding bikes and playing video games. We used to hang out every day before school, in school, and after school. It was a brotherly bond that we shared from the beginning. I became good friends with his friends and he became good friends with mine. We had a group who would stick together no matter what and would always be there for each other. As we grew older it was always the same. We would still hang out every day and go out at night together. There was nothing that could separate the bond that we had with each other, except for death. This hit me hard. You feel as if your heart has shattered into a billion pieces because the pain in your chest is that heavy. You would see and talk to that person every day, but now the days go by slow because they are not there. You feel like the day is dragging on because you go from a life of comfort, feeling like your lives are invincible, to nothing but grief, sorrow and emptiness. You know you’re hurt when emotional pain feels like physical pain. It is a type of pain that comes from the heart, but it feels like you were punched in the stomach, stabbed in the heart, or even burning alive. This was the worst day of my life and every day after kept getting worse.
The first couple days were full of confusion and shock. I had no clue in the world what to do with myself. My family understood my pain, but they couldn’t do anything to help me. The only thing to do was be with friends. Our friends were going through the same pain. We would get together with friends in the high school parking lot. We would play some of Matt’s favorite music, light candles and pray, and just be together in sharing each other’s grief. Being together with friends was the best thing for me at this point. It was the only way to ease the pain and not feel alone. We did little things to show Matt how much we were missing him. We spray painted his parking space in the lot with his name and nobody was allowed to park there. Every one signed the telephone poll in the lot with messages to Matt telling him how much they missed him. There would be hundreds of us just congregated in the parking lot at school sometimes until midnight, just staying together and being as positive as possible. School and work were no longer priorities. I’d sit in silence in school just thinking about what I could have done. I’d sit at work going over memories of him in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking that I could have done something to prevent all this from happening. I thought to myself, why couldn’t I have been with him that day. I would have told him to slow down. I could have been there to change what had happened. But every one told me to stop. “Don’t blame yourself for his decisions”, they would say. But when you lose someone so close to you, it is so hard to accept it. Every night I would cry myself to sleep just thinking about what had happened. I would think about how I would never see or hear from him again. I would wake up in the morning and be in pain. It was an everyday struggle. I no longer was excited. I was not thinking about my graduation from high school, summer vacation, or future college experience. All I could think about was why my best friend had to be taken away from me at only 18 years old.
Then the summer came. It was hard driving past his house every day and him not being there. I would go over his house to check in on his mother and sisters to see how they were doing. We would share memories and cry together. Sometimes there would even be a few laughs if we were bringing up a funny moment in time. The summer of ‘09 was a huge growing point for me. I had to suck it up and be a man. I couldn’t let this bring me down forever. I had to live for my future. My friends got me through that first summer without Matt. We would hangout every day and night just sticking together. Strength in numbers is what you’d call it. Whenever I was alone I would start to think, and then thinking would lead to crying. We used each other for support in this tough time. Staying active was the only thing keeping me going at this point. I needed to keep my head held high and stay positive. Over the summer a walk for Matt was organized. Everyone who knew Matt or wanted to show that they cared went to the high school and walked around the track in support of him. This was a sad time, but it was nice to see how many people cared. That really made a difference for me. Seeing that people were there to give respect for Matt made a difference for myself. During this rough time our town stuck together. I know that anyone, especially those in my graduating class would agree with what I am about to say. Matt did something very special. He brought us all so much closer together. After what had happened there were people in my class that otherwise I would have never thought to have talked to or hung out with in my life. Not for any negative reasons, just because they didn’t run with the same crowds as I did. I was amazed at the amount of people who came up to me and said how sorry they were. How people who I may have only said a few words to would come up and offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on. This meant so much to me. I had never seen my graduating class so close knit in my entire life and this was all due to Matt.
As my freshman year at Sacred Heart approached, I was hesitant to leave my friends behind. They were the ones who had kept me so strong and I didn’t know what I would do without them when we parted ways and went off to different schools. When September came I was still a mess. It had only been about three months since I had lost my friend. When I got to school here in the Fall of 2009 I loved every second of it. I met new friends and called this place my home. But at the end of the day when I got into bed to go to sleep, my mind would start wandering and I would think about how much I missed Matt. I would cry myself to sleep at night and one day my roommate asked why. I told him my story and to my surprise he had gone through a rough experience as well. After we realized that we had something in common we would share stories, memories and experiences with each other and became close. I began to find other close friends who had also gone through similar experiences. I met one of my best friends at this school that had lost his mother around the same time I lost my best friend. We would talk and share stories and it would bring us that much closer together. Even this year I met someone who had lost their best friend. We immediately connected because we knew that we had found someone who understood the exact same thing we were going through. Even the most negative circumstances could be turned into a positive outcome. I met people who are now some of my best friends because our similar experiences brought us together.
Until now I still have not forgotten my best friend. I know for a fact that I will never forget. He will always be my best friend and things will never change that. After my first semester at college I came home for break. I decided that I wanted to get a tattoo for Matt. I drew something one day in class and decided then and there that I was getting this permanently on my body in memory of him. I still stay in touch with Matt even though he is gone. I like to think that a little piece of him lives on through me. My friends and I make trips to the cemetery to visit Matt’s grave and give our respects. This consists of us sitting around on the grass and just praying and talking to Matt through our hearts. Sometimes we even tell stories just to have that memory in our minds. Nobody has forgotten about Matt. Every year there is a 5K race at my old high school where people of all shapes and sizes come to support the cause. “Matt’s Mission Fund raises money to aide local students in need. It encourages everyone to slow down and drive safe while raising awareness to the consequences of destructive driving decisions. Matt’s family feels it is important to give back to their community through Matt’s Mission Fund by donating to other local organizations and by speaking at local driving schools attempting to help other teens. Every family situation is different. Some students need clothes, a coat, shoes, school supplies etc. Many families struggle to afford the basic necessities and the extra’s at times can be overwhelming. Matt’s Mission Fund was established to help those in need.” This is another positive thing that has come out of this negative situation. We are happy to see that nobody has forgotten Matt. He will forever be in our hearts.
I can’t help but to spread my experiences to people who give enough time to listen. People always ask me, “What does your bracelet mean?” I don’t get angry or sad. I just share with them that I wear this bracelet in memory of my best friend and to spread the words “Slow Down – Drive Safe For Matt Picciuto” which is the inscription on the bracelet. When people ask me what my tattoo means I tell them that it is a permanent mark for my best friend. I went through pain for his memory, and I did it proudly. I look at it as part of my healing process. Everyone always says, “You’re going to regret that tattoo when you’re old and wrinkly”. I won’t ever regret it because it means something to me and no matter what, from now until my dying days, when people ask me, I can tell them the story of my best friend.
This story is not about showing my weakest point or telling stories of my worst days. This is about how I came to be the person I am today. Matt has made me into the person I am today. I believe that this experience has made me a stronger person. I’ve learned what loss feels like. I know what pain and agony can make a person undergo. Matt’s death may have been the worst thing that happened to me and I wish every day that he was still here. But, this experience has taught me so much. It forced me to grow up and not take life for granted. It has showed me the unsheltered life, which needs to be seen. You cannot live life being protected and kept in the dark. Life is not that simple. There are parts of life which are fantastic, but there are also parts that are absolutely miserable. Just like the positive should be experienced, so should the negative. Because everyone must know what it feels like. So they can always be ready, so they can expect the worse. Matt taught me that life isn’t always peaches. Life isn’t all good, you have to make it that way. This experience has made me tough. Tough enough to where I can deal with pain. I will not break down at the smallest of signs of weakness. I have learned to be a man, and that is what life is all about. I talked earlier about what it means to be human. To be human means being man enough to cry when your heart is broken and the pain is too much. I talked about what it means to live a life of meaning and purpose. You must overcome the negativity in your life, learn from it, and move on to become a better and stronger person. I talked about what it means to understand and appreciate the natural world. Understanding and appreciating the natural world means understanding that death is a part of life. You must accept that and appreciate the time and memories that you have shared with those people. I talked about what it means to forge a more just society for the common good. If you can connect with people, share in their life stories, and find a mutual understanding then you can live in harmony with one another. So I guess the common core can teach you about something. It teaches you about life. The real knowledge one must gain. You can learn all the math equations, biology terms, and significant dates in time that you want. But only experiencing life’s everyday challenges can prepare you to be the person you need to be for the future.