When I was growing up, my mom’s friend, Zdenka, would often come over to babysit my sisters and I. She was in her 50s at the time, but had a spunky youthful spirit. She had a thick Czech accent and later I would learn how she immigrated to America from Czechoslovakia when she was a teenager to escape the Soviet military. Whenever Zdenka came over it was an adventure to say the least. She was the most free-spirited person I’ve ever met. Though her professional career was dentistry, she was also an artist and outdoor enthusiast. The hours she would watch us consisted of covering the kitchen with art materials, teaching us yoga, going on long walks down to the ravine, picking apples off the neighbor’s tree and trying to make apple sauce with them.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she let us four girls cut her hair since it was going to fall out soon. We didn’t understand the gravity of the situation then, but had a blast pretending to be hair stylists. My parents refused to let us have a dog, saying it was a money issue, so she bought us one. She always brought us gum and let us play with her lipstick. She survived breast cancer 3 times, but died in 2011 from internal bleeding in her brain.
I was a freshman in high school at the time, and the news was crushing. Her life story alone was inspiring, but while I don’t remember all the details, the way she impacted mine is unforgettable. No story I could tell about her would do justice to actually meeting her. The memories have started to fade, but I am continually reminded of one of her qualities I most admired: how she chose to live intentionally. “Intentional” in the dictionary is defined as “done on purpose, deliberate; with awareness; determination to act in a certain way.” One of the best role models of this type of living who’s timeline crossed mine was Zdenka.
Some of the ways she lived intentionally was choosing to react to whatever life threw at her with a positive outlook and/or turning it into an adventure. I can’t imagine being diagnosed with cancer three times, but she still found a a way to laugh at having silicone boob inserts, pulling them out every once in a while to freak us out. She never compromised being herself in any area of her life, including fashion. She made time to have fun and pursue careers she loved.
From reflecting on her life and this concept of living intentionally, I realized that it is not trying to control everything around you, but rather responding to life, engaging in dialogue with it. By living intentionally, we are mindful of time spent, we are fully immersed into experiences that matter. Our everyday actions are the most impacting factor of this lifestyle. When we consistently choose to live intentionally each day, no time is wasted. Choosing to live intentionally is the only real choice we have in being alive.
We either live with intention or exist by default.Kristin Armstrong