Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas (1963P2001), a heroine of United Flight 93, began "You Can Do It!" more than a year before her death on September 11 on her way home to the San Francisco Bay area. Jam-packed with practical advice, here is step-by-step instruction and kick-in-the-pants encouragement for achieving 60 exciting "merit badge" activities.
Realizing a sister's vision
Our sister, Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, passionately pursued a dream: the creation of a book called You Can Do It!.
The book was a distillation of the way she lived her lifewith creativity, courage, and an infectious exuberanceand the way she hoped to spread the words of the book's title to other women. Her message is best summed up by a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, a quote she stuck on her fridge: Get busy living or get busy dying. The quote is especially poignant because we lost Lauren, a passenger on United Flight 93, on September 11, 2001.
But while tragedy ended her life, it far from defined it. The Lauren working on You Can Do It! was a woman in her mid-30s who loved learning, having new experiences and facing down fears. A married career woman, she knew that daily to-do lists made it next to impossible for women to think about, let alone get around to doing, the things on their want-to-do lists. But she also knew how wonderful she felt when she made the time to dream and dare and do the things on her own such list, and she felt she had a surefire way to invite other women to experience the thrill of accomplishment.
Lauren was inspired by the concept of Girl Scout badges. She envisioned a book that would offer a tantalizing menu of the kinds of things women so often say they're too busy, tired or afraid to try, broken down into fun and doable steps and capped at the finish line with a tangible, ta-da reward: a badge.
Lauren bubbled with excitement when she talked about her dream book and in her can-do style, she took it very seriously, going so far as to quit her job to work full-time toward its publication.
So after Lauren's death, even in the midst of shock and grief, we wondered, what about Lauren's book? We knew nothing about book publishing, had resolved as a family to keep our grief private and were extremely wary of anyone exploiting Lauren's life story in any way. But the book had meant the world to Lauren. Was there a way for us to finish what she had started?
We made contact with Caroline Herter, the independent book producer Lauren had teamed up with. Slowly and carefully, we all moved forward, spending more than two years creating the 500-page book covering activities from acting to activism, surfing to singing, growing a garden to growing a business. Lauren's vision was realized in 60 chapters, complete with full-color, peel-and-stick badges. To make it a true women-helping-women book, accomplished women in many fields provided real-world mentoring. These busy women (including the executive editor of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, the leader of the first women's ascent of Annapurna, and the founder of Shepherd's Garden Seeds catalog) gave a first glimpse of how the book would be embraced by donating their time and talents.
The resulting book is exactly what Lauren imagined. Practical and inspiring, it's a bit like a great cookbook. You pick it up thinking that you are looking for one thing and wind up finding 20 other things you can't wait to try!
Every step of the way, we have tried to be Lauren's eyes and ears, and now, her voice. This isn't always easy. Doing this on Lauren's behalf (and on behalf of the Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas Foundation, where a portion of proceeds from the book will go) feels right, but there's no way around it: on some days the deep sorrow that Lauren isn't doing this comes to the fore. Working side by side, as sisters for our sister is comforting, and we've also found that the book has been positive for our whole family. The book is Lauren, and working on it together has, in a very real and meaningful way, kept her close to us.
We remember talking to Lauren about how amazing it would be to someday see two women sitting at a café with a copy of You Can Do It! on the table between them. That's no longer a dream. Now, women can hear Lauren say, "C'mon! Live the biggest, boldest, best life you can while you can." The publication of You Can Do It! means that Lauren's dream has finally come true, which doesn't really surprise us; Lauren always knew we could all do it!