An Appreciation for Empty Seats

August 24, 2009. It was my first day of classes at Canisius College and my second class of the day was Advanced Introduction to French in Old Main at 10 a.m.  I picked a seat at the back table closest to the door, but making sure to put an empty seat in between me and anyone else.

My plan for college was simple: get in and get out. Go to class, get my degree and get out of there as quick as possible.  Sure make a few friends, but get in and get out. My plan was like that empty seat, it was my wall up between any outsider.  I didn’t feel like I had the time or the effort to make friends.  All I was focused on was that piece of paper:  my degree.

That was my plan and it was all blown to hell by one particular person. A young girl who loved to dance, had a carefree spirit and a passion for Crash Bandicoot. Her name was Erin, and when she asked if she could sit in the empty seat next to me, I couldn’t help but say, “Sure,” moving my bag off the table and onto the floor next to me.

What followed was an unexpected friendship of studying French, which was more time spent playing video games, exploring Buffalo’s night life, laughs, conversations and memories that eventually lead to us two signing a lease and becoming roommates our senior year of college.

Erin went and messed up my plan and I, a person who plans everything out, could not be happier that she did.  Erin did more than just be a great friend, she showed me new possibilities for life.

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I was told by a number of people that I should travel more (Erin included) and after hearing of her stories of traveling to Ireland, Jamaica, Brazil, New York and New Orleans I began to want to see the world that existed beyond Buffalo. I’ve appreciated my conference trips to San Francisco, Orlando and Pittsburgh, but I have a desire to do more and see more and am considering a service trip to Poland next summer. I’m even brainstorming places that I could possibly relocate to, but I probably shouldn’t plan that out just yet.

Erin has also inspired me on a personal, spiritual level.  She embraced Kairos, a spiritual retreat known to Jesuit campuses and along with several close friends, she pushed me to go on the life-changing journey myself.  The experience was more than life-changing, it was life-fulfilling. I began to find purpose in everything I was doing. I began to see the good in everyone that crossed my path and saw that they had a reason for being in my life. And I had faith that no matter what happened in my life it happened for a reason and was taking me where I needed to go.

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It seems like the last year of college in particular was where my life took a complete 180.  I was no longer commuting. I was more involved than ever–climbing my way up to a top editor spot at the college newspaper. I even won the title of Mr. Canisius (there I go again). I was even back on pace with my faith and with my potential career.

Now looking back on all the changes that have happened in my life, I see how incredibly closed-off to the world I was.  I was willing to settle, not jump out of my comfort zone, quitting if it meant not failing–basically I was playing it safe. Erin showed me how to be reckless, in a very good way.

She taught me that if you fail, you can just try again and maybe even give it a better attempt.  She taught me that its okay to open up because that openness allows you to grow deeper by great conversations with others.  They learn from you, and you learn from them.

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But most important of all, she taught me an even greater meaning to love.  I just thought love was romantic, or familial.  But she showed me how love runs deep into everything we do.  From something as big as what career to pursue to where we travel, to as something as simple as the food we eat, or the music we listen to.  Love is apart of everything we say and do, and I never quite realized how deep love ran.

Now that I do, I see how I love writing, and even more so now that I write with a purpose. I love to explore new places, whether its a vacation, or just a simple adventure around Western New York. I love people and really see that everyone has a story to share and everyone has an impact on your life, whether it is teaching you a lesson, helping you through a difficult time or giving you countless hilarious memories.  I “feel the love” everyday when I wake up. Love for my family, my friends (who are a family all in their own), love for my potential career, love for what I’m able to do, love for myself and love for the all the empty seats that I may find myself next to someday.

That empty seat that Erin took was a huge symbol for me.  It was a symbol of the uncertainty life gives us, but the beautiful blessing that uncertainty is.  If someone would’ve told me five years ago I’d be where I was today, doing what I am doing, I’d say they were nuts. But I have never been happier with where life has taken me.  More so, I have never been happier that God blessed me with Erin Kelly, a friend I will have forever, I know, for all the meaning she has given my life. Not to mention the power she has instilled in me to see my own potential in changing the world.

So appreciate the empty seats that pop up throughout your life.  Especially the ones that will become occupied, and just think that the person who sits down next to you, can be the one person who changes your life forever.  It sure did happen to me.

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I love you, Erin! I know this next year in Maine is an uncertain year for you.  But I know you will change so many lives just as you have mine.  I also know there will be many people who enrich your life, too.  I will miss you, but everything you have given mine places you right in my heart! If you see an empty seat, take it!

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