Communities are a wonderful and powerful thing.

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I complain a lot.

I’ve tried blaming it on my nationality and its heritage which, in my defense, is something the French have become rather famous for, but I do have to take responsibility in admitting that I have some personal work to do on my end. Little did I know, however, that such attitude would one day work in my favor and lead me to one of the most impactful and inspiring communities I have ever been a part of. Through that community, I learned to take a step back and appreciate everything and everyone around me, and in the process I have witnessed what genuine friendship truly looks like.

I felt the true power of all those communities the night of my birthday party, where everyone I hold dearest came together to celebrate and where I, unfortunately, also broke my face.

In order to understand where I’m going with this (I am going somewhere, I assure you) let’s journey back.

What the hell is a burpee?

Coincidentally, a woman named Katie was sitting a couple of tables apart from ours and approached us after overhearing our conversation to introduce a community known as FitFam which, in a nutshell, brings a bunch of early-rising people of all fitness levels and from all walks of life together to exercise outdoors at 6 AM — for free. Intrigued by the concept and the fact that my wallet could remain warm and cozy in my apartment, my friend and I jumped on the opportunity to give such madness a try. Barely 8 hours after meeting Katie, here we were standing in pitch-black Shanghai feeling cold AF and wondering whether a burpee was an explosive movement or a disease you wouldn’t wish on your worse enemy.

One sweaty hour later, we came out of our first FitFam workout alive and with brand new friends (as it turns out, burpees are in fact an explosive exercise… phew.) Fast forward months into the year and I have attended well over 100 workouts, made lifelong friends and best of all I have found a family away from my own.

Which leads me to the face-breaking part.

I’m never turning 26 again. Ever.

Two nights before my actual birthday, friends from all communities and different parts of the world surprised me with a party so ridiculous I felt as if we were taken part in the sequel of the movie Project X. Inappropriate contests were organized, laughs were shared and lifelong memories were created. This was, by far, the best of birthdays.

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Evening of October 14, 2017. Shanghai, China

A few hours into the night, several friends and I took the party to the venue’s balcony (I later found out that the bar we were at is known to many for selling fake alcohol). After a few drinks and a lot of dancing, I decided to rest on a bar stool where suddenly my entire consciousness went blank. Blacked out and unable to use my reflexes, I began falling off the stool to the point where I ended face down on concrete, unable to move nor comprehend what was happening. It’s fair to say that at that particular moment, the night took a drastic turn for the worst.

Lucky enough to have been surrounded by friends, we all rushed out to a local hospital for emergency care. The diagnosis? Severely cracked forehead followed by a small concussion, a badly cut upper lip and fractured front teeth — three of them, to be exact. I had gone from smiling and laughing hysterically to not being able to recognize myself in a matter of two hours.

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Surgeon stitching up my upper lip, sometime in the morning of October 15, 2017. Shanghai, China.

The strangest part in all this is that I managed to remain unconscious for over 7 hours, from a few minutes before the accident happened to the moment I woke up on the operating table at the hospital. Wasn’t that a pleasant surprise…

The following weeks — especially the first 11 days leading to my first dental surgery — were remarkably difficult, not just physically but mentally as well. Although I am certainly lucky to have walked away from this accident with nothing more than a few “fixable” injuries and cannot come close to comparing what happened to some of the atrocities people around the world suffer on a regular basis, this experience did nonetheless take a massive toll on my ability to see a quick and easy way out of it. I was lost and confused, and yet never for one second felt what I would have otherwise felt if I had been in a different city.

Thanks to all the wonderful friends I have in Shanghai, I was never scared.

Too much care to handle for one’s heart.

Approximately two weeks later, friends began to share stories of the accident across social media (mainly on WeChat, by far the most popular and widely used mobile app in China) asking for financial support to cover part of the excruciating cost of the dental surgeries. The help generated from it came from all corners and people, many of whom I had never met nor heard of until recently. This experience and the individuals who came with it warmed my heart.

With no intention to generate pity or anger from anyone reading this piece (I can already see comments in the form of “That’s what happens when you drink too much you dumbass”…), the point I am attempting to make is the following:

Never take any friendship for granted, as some may resurface as being the most genuine and legitimate one could ask for. Take a moment to look at and appreciate every single person around you, whether close or distant. Be grateful for being a part of their lives, as there is something about you that they, too, appreciate. The power of communities is best felt in times of hardships, when a tragedy felt by one person is simultaneously felt by everyone else.

Thank you.

Thank you for staying with me at the hospital and for helping the surgeon stitch me up (seriously); for lending me your jacket when I had nothing to keep warm while waiting for the operation to start; for bringing fruits to my apartment when I could barely get myself out of bed; for ordering a box of juices to be delivered to my door when I couldn’t use anything else to feed myself; for being honest with how terrible I looked and assuring me that things would be okay; for cooking dumplings, eggs and noodles; for bringing a cake on my birthday which, thankfully, I was able to eat; for sending donations to help cover some of the costs for the first dental surgery; for keeping our Thursday runners active when all I could do was bike along to avoid too much stress on the teeth; for bringing homemade porridge kindly prepared by your mother; for getting me out of my house when all I wanted to do was hide; for helping me choose a dental clinic after so many appointments at various establishments; for taking time off from work to go see dentists with me…

Thank you for being my friends. I wouldn’t be in the much better state of mind and physical condition I am in today if it hadn’t been for every one of you.

I love you all.

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Constantly experimenting with life.

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