The other day, I logged into Facebook and read some devastating news. Marnie Schulenburg, who I had the pleasure of knowing during our time together at DeSales University, had passed away at age 37 of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Marnie was a presence, a force, a magnet that you were just drawn to. We were not close friends, but had many friends in common, and she was an important part of our little circle of theatre and dance nerds. When she was diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago, she started graciously sharing updates and insights in a Facebook group that was set up to support her, her husband Zack, and new daughter Coda. The strength, positivity, and sheer bad-assery she demonstrated in these posts was inspiring. It seemed like no matter what challenge the universe through at her, she’d meet it – and smash it – with grace.

It feels weird to write a blog post about Marnie, because I wasn’t half as close to her as most of those who are grieving right now. I’m tempted to hold back so as not to step on the toes of those who knew her better than I. But for the last 24 hours, I’ve found myself thinking about a dinner that I had with Marnie and our mutual friend Ashley in New York some 15 years ago. I met up with them after rehearsal one night when I was commuting to the city for my first real dance “job” (read: unpaid apprenticeship with a small ballet company). We ate at what seemed at the time like a very swanky Thai restaurant, polished two bottles of wine, and talked for what felt like hours. It was all very glamorous and Sex and the City to me, as a new college grad who had moved back home with her parents in the Philly burbs a few months before.

What stands out in my memory is how very kind and genuine Marnie was that night, as always. She was already a soap opera star by then, but you’d never know it. She was so interested in (and legitimately seemed excited about) my dinky understudy contract with that blip-on-the-radar dance company, as well as other mundane details of my recent grad life. I had walked into the restaurant feeling like I’d never compare to her, but I’m pretty sure I was 7 feet tall when I walked back to the subway station that night. That’s just how she was – whether at a party on “The Street” in college or at a wedding or wherever our paths would cross – she was a light, and she made you feel like one too. 

And so, I’ve been doing a lot self-reflection in between the waves of sadness for Marnie’s family and friends that have been washing over me. Do I make people feel the way she made me feel that night in New York so many years ago? Do I shine – not in a way that is self-magnifying, but in a way that makes others feel the light that is in them? Do I let my insecurities or circumstances extinguish my light, or do I do my bad-ass best to shine regardless of what the universe throws at me – thereby pushing back some of the world’s darkness? It is those questions that inspired me to write this post.

We all have the capacity to be a light for others. It is an innate part of who we are in humans – think of the way that babies bring a smile to our faces, just by being their squishy selves. Yet so often, we let our circumstances define how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to others – whether it’s something as silly as being embarrassed about our job, or as devastating as a stage 4 cancer diagnosis at 35. We let the world dim our light, rather than shining back brightly in defiance.

That wasn’t Marnie, though. And it doesn’t have to be us. We can recognize and celebrate the power of our own inner light, and let it shine proudly. Because when do we so, we give others permission to shine themselves.

You never know whose life you are touching when you smile at them in the subway, listen to their story, or share part of your journey with them. You’ll never know the impact of how you treat someone during a dinner with mutual friends, or at a house party surrounded by dozens of theatre nerds, or through a social media post. So, if you are able to – and I truly believe that you are – remember to shine In doing so, I think we can set off a ripple effect that will light up the entire world.