lgTvSiSa5lPopkLEuEKtv3BToJdizTjEy_xxj965MPoDavid Bowie, Alan Rickman, and now Glenn Frey. January is a little more than halfway over and we’ve already lost three amazing artists. Like you, I’m sad they’re all gone, but while they were with us they took risks, worked hard and never squandered their God-given talents. They also changed and touched many, many people’s lives, like my friend Russell Dula did.

Yesterday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I attended Russell Dula’s funeralRussell in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with my daughter. I met Russell four years ago when he took over the ownership of the Unvine’d Wine Bar in Cary, where I later held several open mics with my poet friend, the late Harry Calhoun. Upon meeting Russell it was like we had known each other forever. During the reading, Russell recited his own poems and made sure that Harry and I had complimentary wines. Later, after Russell was the gallery manager of Manifestationz Art, my son, daughter and I would visit his gallery on Final Fridays, the monthly art walk in Cary. I looked forward to these gatherings to see Russell and catch up on each other’s lives. Russell showed my daughter a really cool magic trick with a nickel and invited my son to play with his dog in the back room. He also loved to show us all of the new art. Both of my children are grieving he’s gone, but they are both grateful they knew this kind and generous man who took time to talk and play with them. I know they will carry Russell in their hearts as they walk through their lives.

Russell never played small and you could definitely see that by the love and praise shown at his service. How the stories shared repeated over and over again how Russell made people laugh, how he shared his gifts, talents, compassion and love with friends, family and community. And how he went above and beyond, like the time he was a Kinko’s manager and helped a friend down on his luck make copies and cut them into fours—on the house. I joke that you know it’s going to be a good funeral when you have trouble finding a parking spot an hour before the service begins.

Russell wrote a beautiful poem called “What Are You Going to Do Today.” The first line says, “The year is new, / what are you going to do? Lament the transgressions from our past / or live for those moments we hope will last?” 2016 is a Leap Year–how are you going to leap?

Thinking small is easy to do because it’s so easy to stick to your comfort zone. I know that one of my “leaps” will be to send my writing out to larger markets, and not just poetry ones. I plan to send out guest posts/articles to national blogs/magazines, and to also send out my fiction to journals and anthologies I’ve been afraid to send work to. I also plan to take new risks with my poetry subjects. Because you just never know. With my music, I’ve already taken a leap by learning a new song and performing on a stage with a full band just a few days later. I’m also applying to farmer’s markets in the area to be their local musician. This is big for me. I have a new guitar and violin teacher and I’m sure both will give me new challenges to further my musical growth. I’ve been also advised to video my classes and get them online—I’m working on this as well, along with creating the draft for my memoir.

Through practice and intention, I know I’ll push through my discomfort to reach these goals. And I also know that when I have a setback, it could mean that God has other plans for me to make a comeback somewhere else. I saw this when I got let go from teaching 9th grade at Raleigh Charter, which gave me the time and energy to dive deep into my business, which is now 10 years old. I saw this when I was no longer teaching in the schools as a writer-in-residence—I decided to work on retreats, which also led me onto new paths and new friendships. That’s when I also decided to become a Reiki master, which then led me to pursue music and dance (those meditations are powerful, I tell you!).

So before “you lay down your soul for God to take / can you inspire and help a few? / Can you start over with this year that’s new?” Thank you, Russell, for reminding us to leap in 2016 and stop playing small.