My chosen city.


Since meeting my very best group of friends after the most disastrous beginning in a 'new' city, I've always proclaimed that 'Cleveland saved me." I've learned much of my enthusiasm from Cleveland's (the city, not the teams') first raving fans– Kate, Gina and Genna. I hadn't met anyone with even close to the amount of unwavering dedication to a city that desperately needed it except for these three. And maybe me. 

Cleveland did save me. 

It delivered me the lessons that I needed for myself to evolve. 

It allowed me to burn down a life that no longer served me (in a spectacular blaze that probably rivaled the river catching fire) and spared only the things that were absolutely vital– myself and my city. This place that needed love as much as me. The fire illuminated things I could not previously see. It brought light and energy to forgotten corners, and much of my life eagerly went up in flames- it had been ready for combustion for quite some time.

Fire has a way of bringing what's most important into immediate clarity. And the memories of watching everything burn have lasted a very long time. They serve as reminders. As thoughtful safety controls nudging me toward personal vigilance. They help me put out tiny fires before they become threatening. I know the signs now. I can smell the smoke.  

The charred remains of my old life would luckily become the fertile foundation on which I would ultimately rebuild a new version of myself- as someone who coaches dreamers to become doers. Dreamers who look fear straight in the face (with love just beyond), and move forward anyway. Maybe for them, without all the fire. Maybe with it.

I was lucky. From this destruction blossomed friends who inspired me and loved me with abandon just for being me. I gained a career. A direction. A purpose. A true connection with what I'm ultimately here to do. And the people I've met because of it have made it all worth it.

Now, I sort of wish I didn't have to actually burn the thing to the ground. But with my previous thoughts, pushing the self-destruct button seemed the only viable option for overriding my strong tendency to stay safe. To play small. I know better now.  

Sure, there was immense loss. There were many years of mourning. For many years streets felt like cemeteries and buildings like gravestones. And there are still some places thats will always remain as monuments to a girl who was lost in that fire. But through time and by living again, I was slowly able to create new memories that began to co-mingle with the old, eerie ones, and buildings and streets sprang back to life. Leaving a life might feel like losing a limb. It did to me. The apartment and pets and people are all still out there somewhere. But they no longer belong to me. There is real pain with that realization.

But if I'm honest, I look back at that girl, standing with match in hand- ready to strike. And I cheer for her to do it. Every single time.     

I chose Cleveland. But it also chose me. It was the only city capable of baptizing me by fire.

Stephanie Sheldon