Life Belongs to Those Who Dare

Stacy Hope Small
5 min readJan 23, 2018

Two weeks ago, a day after I’d landed back in LA to prep for an upcoming move to San Diego after a full year of self-care and soul-searching and deep healing on Maui, I got a text that rocked my world. A childhood friend of 43 years was dying. As in, any moment. Not exactly the news I was expecting while standing in line at Bed Bath & Beyond telling the cashier that no, I don’t have any coupons and my dead mother would be pissed to know this. My phone ironically buzzed with that urgent text from one of my mom’s closest friends, the mom of my dying friend. None of it made any sense. I half-listened as she explained that his chronic leukemia which few people knew he had been battling had led to untreatable infections, a six-week hospital stay and ultimately, his destiny of leaving this planet any minute…at age 48.

Howard J. Natal: 1969–2018, loved by so many of us.

Speechless. Shocked. Sad. Mad. I felt nauseous and helpless and knew the only comfort would come via connection with other longtime friends who had to be feeling the same. This wasn’t the guy anyone would have ever expected to die young. He was the star athlete, super dad, everyone’s friend, the nicest guy most of us knew. And, he left us all way too soon. Or, did he? As I’ve had time to reflect on how Howie’s death has been affecting me and those he was closest to, it’s pretty obvious that this is a big fat wake up call. To those of us who think we are in alignment and living our best life, it’s a reminder to do it even bigger, better, stronger, happier and to love our friends and family like there’s no tomorrow. There may not be. We have no clue.

To those who are not living their best life and desire to make changes, the death of our friend is a reminder that change is always optional but time to do so is never guaranteed. Living a life that’s anything less than the one that feels fulfilling and passionate and fun is kind of pointless. It can all end, anytime. Why die unhappy? The message I keep taking away from this, and hearing from my now-angelic friend is “Those who do not change will never grow, those who do not grow will not find peace and joy. Leave behind what isn’t working and know that life belongs to those who dare.”

That quote, “Life belongs to those who dare” was uncovered in a friend’s high school yearbook as one that Howie wrote as a prophetic reminder. Who knew he knew so much back then? He was way more evolved than I was, clearly. It took me about four decades to get with the “love your life” program. Take risks. Choose Joy. Trust the universe. Do all the things you want to do, now, while you are healthy. Don’t wait until you’re told you have a short time left on this earth to make life-changing decisions that are good for your soul. Be healthy. Eat well. Have fun. Don’t worry about the small things or the BS that used to seem to matter. As my friend’s death keeps reminding, none of the BS matters.

Tell your loved ones how much you love them. Tell them what you love about them. Brighten people’s days. A smile, a compliment, an unexpected text just to say hi will go a long way in this time of uncertainty. There’s always going to be uncertainty. People are going to hurt us, and we can forgive and love them anyways. When you die, you don’t want to be the one wishing you’d told people how you truly feel, or that you are sorry for hurting them. If you have something to resolve with someone, do it sooner than later. It can always end without you getting that chance to do life differently. Be kind to everyone.

Live gratefully. And graciously. As I think about what Howie’s friends and family were all saying about him and his life at the funeral, the common theme is just that. He was a beautiful person with a presence and smile that lit up the room. He was nice to everyone. He was charismatic and funny and fun. Those of us who knew him as a kid had the same things to say about him as his college fraternity brothers, colleagues and his own kids. He was one of our favorite people, and his death has really rocked our world.

Two weeks later, I’m still in shock at how and where and when I got the news, but I’m accepting of the bigger picture and the positive legacy it’s already leaving on me and many who knew my friend Howie. I’m thinking more consciously about my actions and reactions and truly trusting that there is a force much bigger than me guiding us all along. I am not supposed to have all of the answers how life is supposed to look, I am just supposed to go where I am guided, spend time doing what I enjoy with people I love while following the signs from the universe that can’t be ignored. In the meantime, I’ll keep taking the cues from my friend and know that I am totally on the right path and that life truly belongs to those who dare. Dare to live your best life, as Howie did: it feels like the least we can do for our beloved friend who left us all way too soon. #ChooseJoy xo



Stacy Hope Small

Founder & CEO: Elite Travel Club | Author: Why Not Me?!? | Santa Monica, CA