40 years of a life well lived

Tomorrow is my 40th birthday! As I reflect on those 40 years — 14,600 days — I have done so many things I could have never imagined when I was little. Here are the top 40 things that I remember fondly and am grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of and contribute to:

  1. In 1977 — my twin sister and I were born 2 months early at just 3.5 lbs each. We defied the odds and grew up to be healthy-ish adults!
  2. My sister and I grew up in a loving family with parents who taught us the values we live by today: to selflessly help others and to show respect and equality to all.
  3. When my sister and I were growing up my mom would go out of her way to make sure every Christmas was full of magic. Though I am very anti-materialism now, looking back, those are memories I cherish; my dad reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve; coming downstairs Christmas morning with Bing Crosby’s White Christmas playing on the record player, making us hot tea, while my mom lite the Christmas tree and made sure all was perfect.
  4. When my sister and I were in middle school we created an animated series about the Presidents of the United States and copyrighted it — we still have plans to publish at some point. Chalk this up to long-term goals.
  5. My material grandmom was straight off the boat Italian. She was an amazing cook and her and my aunt (her daughter) would go out of their way to spoil me and my sister — my aunt would have us sleep over for what she called “munchin night”. She would buy every type of food we loved and we would mangia all night long. We continue that tradition now with our annual Pumpkinfest!
  6. My sister and I played softball our entire younger lives through to young adulthood. I have the fondest memories of my dad coaching us when we played in the “pee-wee” league, of making amazing plays to win championships, and then of my sister pitching in our recreational league as young adults being cheered on by our friends.
  7. In high school my sister and I started volunteering for the Philadelphia AIDS Walk organization, From All Walks of Life — and my life forever changed. I met the most amazing, dedicated, selfless group of friends who I love and cherish to this day. One of the best moments was during the early years of Gay Bingo — my dad was awarded the “straight person” award for all his help and acceptance of our community.
  8. In my later teens I volunteered with many AIDS service organizations and was a member of ACT UP Philadelphia. This started me on the path to activism in a way I had not known existed before and opened up my eyes to what it means to fight for social justice for all.
  9. When I was 17 years old I came out to my family and friends.
  10. When I was 19 years old I moved to Boston and met a group of empowering women who helped me grow in a way I would never have been able to had I stayed in Philly. While there I joined a rough-touch flag football league which started my love of playing that awesome, awful game.
  11. While in Boston I worked at a residential program for people with HIV/AIDS, mental illness and drug/alcohol addiction. It was a trifecta of complex issues everyday. It was also the first time I saved someone’s life.
  12. After Boston I moved back to Philly and began producing events for the City of Philadelphia and local non-profits. I still remember fondly driving around Center City in a golf cart on a Starbucks run with my sister and BFF Chumley Singer…good times!
  13. In 2000, at aged 22, it was literally love at first sight when I saw my now wife of almost 15 years. We had our commitment ceremony in 2003, and then in 2013 with our kid by our side, we were legally married.
  14. Scout the dog. She was not so much a dog as a higher being trapped in a dog’s body. All other dogs will have a hard time living up to Scout.
  15. In the early 2000s, I got to unite the Philadelphia LGBTQ community once a month with the first of its kind Gay/Lesbian roaming dance party. To say that was one of the most fun times in my life, dancing the night away with friends, would be an understatement! G-Room will live on in infamy!
  16. In my early twenties I played women’s professional football — first for the New York Sharks, and then for the Philadelphia Liberty Bells. I was a second string running back — my sister a cornerback — with the Liberty Bells. I was on injured reserve with my third concussion when we won the first Women’s National Football League championship at Tallahassee.
  17. While at Temple University in my mid-twenties I decided to do a study abroad in London. It did not go well and I ended up not staying — it was just not the right opportunity for me at the time. I don’t regret the decision to come home at all, my life changed dramatically after that and I would not be doing any of what I do today had I stayed.
  18. It took me a really long time to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. Though I never thought of myself as a nurse (and I still don’t), I went back to school and completed my Bachelors of Science in Nursing at aged 26. It felt like an odd decision at the time, but as it turns out, it has led me down a pretty cool path.
  19. At aged 28, in my senior year of nursing school, my kid was born. I am not really sure what else to say other then I love that kid — and my wife, our family— more than anything in any universe. The fact that I get to share my life and experiences with her makes me the luckiest person in the world. Plus it has lead to some cool stories, such as the now infamous Hillary Clinton photo!
  20. After nursing school I worked in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at Penn — I hated every single minute of it. But, working in the MICU prepared me for my career as a resuscitation scientist; I coded more people in the MICU than I care to remember. It also afforded me more opportunities to help save more lives. Thank your nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physicians, unit clerks, transporters, environmental service workers etc. on the daily for the work they do!
  21. I only stayed in the MICU for a short time — I went into nursing to be a researcher and as soon as I had the opportunity I took it. Ten years later I have worked my way up from Nurse Research Coordinator to Nurse Researcher and Assistant Director of Clinical Research to the Director of Innovation Research for the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania. It has been an amazing career so far and has yet again allowed me to work to save more lives and hopefully change the paradigm of how we train people to respond to emergencies.
  22. Not only have I been able to save lives but I have also been able to help bring life into the world. While sitting in an office one day, which happened to be on the first floor of the hospital, I heard a scream for help. I went into the public restroom and found a woman in labor. Me and another nurse who happened to be walking by delivered her baby. The cord was wrapped around its neck, I removed the cord, the rapid response team came, and the mom and baby were whisked away.
  23. I get to write and submit and execute my own research as Principal Investigator.
  24. I get to invent things — submit patents — and innovate in a way that allows me to be creative and cerebral.
  25. As a part of the work I do with the Center for Resuscitation Science I have been afforded the opportunity to participate in national and international guidelines, scientific statements and summits.
  26. I get to speak nationally and internationally on the topics of resuscitation, innovation, and emergency response.
  27. I founded Sink or Swim Philadelphia, a non-profit who’s mission was to help people who were uninsured or underinsured pay for medical expenses using social media and crowdfunding. Yet another opportunity that helped me literally save lives.
  28. I am not only the first of my immediate family to go to college (outside of an aunt and cousins) but I now have 2 Master’s degrees and just recently applied for a doctoral program.
  29. Having never thought I would go to college, the fact that I now get to teach at an Ivy League university is a surreal thought every time I allow myself to have it. I get to educate young minds through the Penn School of Nursing and the Master’s of Public Health program — which is a crazy and amazing opportunity.
  30. All of these things have afforded me some cool opportunities over the years including being featured on the Melissa Harris-Perry shown when she was on MSNBC, going to the Gates Foundation, being interviewed by Ira Glass for This American Life, talking with the cool folks at the Undiscovered podcast, and WHYY’s The Pulse and a number of other local news organizations.
  31. I get to spread my good word in other areas as well including my many endeavors into science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM). I produced one season of a podcast called STEAMrollrs, which featured women who were paving the way in STEAM. I get interviewed for other STEM podcasts. I am an active participant on social media and in the rotating curator movement for science communication Twitter accounts. I make #sciart and #scicommics etc.
  32. I volunteer — over my life I have volunteered with a number of organizations, some for longer periods and some for shorter including: From All Walks Of Life (aka The AIDS Fund), Philly PAWS (no longer in existence), MANNA, the American Red Cross, Start Talking Science, the March for Science, ACCT, and Liberty City Democratic Club.
  33. I also get to write. Writing has afforded me a voice I didnt even know I had. I write about different topics for Huffington Post and Medium. I was a guest contributor to Generocity and Geekadelphia and the Philadelphia Social Innovation Journal. I am even going to get to perform a few of my writings as monologues at a Philly Improve Theater show this weekend — which is crazy for someone who HATES public speaking! All of these things are posted on my website if you are interested: marionleary.strikingly.com
  34. It is safe to say, 2017 has been a difficult year for a lot of people but it allowed me personally to reexamine and reinvest in my activism, something I haven’t done since my late teen years with ACT UP Philly. This year I went to more protests and rallies than I can count and I loved every second of it, because it truly does make a difference!
  35. I have founded 2 startup companies: the first failed miserably, but was a good learning experience. The second has taken off fairly well so far…fingers crossed.
  36. I was honored to be a co-organizer and speaker at the 2017 March for Science PHL.
  37. I have been awarded a number of accolades over the years including the KYW Women’s Achievement award, along side my twin sister, the Hometown Hero Award and the Quarterback Award from the Philadelphia Eagles, and a number of local Philadelphia community awards. Just this past August I was named Philadelphia’s Geek of the Year — an honor I will never, ever stop thinking is the coolest thing ever!
  38. Throughout my life I have been fortunate enough to travel the world — not as much as I would like recently, but a lot more than others. Some travel was with my parents when I was young — I have fond memories of visiting Kennedy Space Center for the first time, I think my mom was as excited as I was! Some travel has been with my wife, some with our friends, and some with my in-laws. All of these trips helped me see the world in a different light. I am grateful for those opportunities.
  39. I never went to sleep away summer camp when I was little, so at the ripe old age of 38 years, my BFF asked me to go away to summer camp with her — for a long weekend — it was one of the best experiences of my life, where I met people I hope to stay friends with for a long time coming. I look forward to going back to this adult summer camp every year.
  40. Most importantly though, this year I get to celebrate my 40th birthday with my twin sister and my wife (who is celebrating her 50th birthday on the same day). We will most certainly be surrounded by an amazing group of family and friends. We are so fortunate, and I am so grateful for all I have and all I have done, and all I am able to do. I will spend the next 40 years doing more of the same, dedicating my life to saving more lives, being creative, and continuing to fight for equality for all. #404050