Grace Under Pressure: Olivia Wise And The Roar of the Butterfly

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

Author’s Note: Grace Under Pressure is an ongoing series of posts honoring everyday people who courageously make positive differences in their own lives and consequently in the lives of others. It is my own personal affirmation that unexpected heroes live among us and that their service is quiet but unshakable proof that virtue really is its own reward  – and ours, too.

131102080405-olivia-wise-story-topI think it was master poet John Keats who wrote “I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.” Keats understood that life’s value is not truly measured in days or years but in the depth of feeling and magnanimity of spirit we demonstrate.

I thought  a lot about that line when I read about 16-year-old Olivia Wise who died last week from inoperable brain cancer. There is always tragedy in the death of one so young and beautiful, but the loss was made double after learning about the sparkling spirit we lost. Olivia,  despite her pain and despair, somehow found the courage  to rail against her fate with a viral YouTube video portraying her version of pop star Katy Perry’s hit, Roar.

Olivia made the video in a Toronto music studio in September just after learning that no more treatments were available, according to her mother. She didn’t “want people crying at her funeral,” her mother said, “She wanted people to celebrate her life.”  The touching version emanating from the tiny figure in a wheelchair starts out softly as she struggles for breath but then reaches a crescendo as she sings, “‘Cause I am a champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar.”

The video touched a million people on YouTube including one especially qualified critic. That’s right Katy Perry was touched, too.  In her reply, the international celebrity said, “I was very moved and you sounded great. I love you. A lot of people love you and that’s why your video got to me. It moved everybody that saw it.”

“In many ways, Olivia has lived a shortened, but full life,” her mother wrote in the letter to CNN. “Every day, she wished for a cure, and rarely succumbed to negative thoughts.” Olivia was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer following a seizure in 2012. She lived less than a year after her diagnosis.

I can’t help but wonder about Keats’ butterflies. Are their days like our years; or are our years like their days? Olivia’s story tells us plenty about the human condition and the need to live every day as if our lives were to be judged by it. And she tells us something else, too. Even though our fates are not always in our hands, how we face them surely must be. “To tell the truth, her diagnosis didn’t change her personality,” her mom said. “It only enhanced it. She took the news in a mature, reasonable, responsible way. … Even in the most difficult moments, she managed to bring laughter and friendship to all that were caring for her.”

Grace under pressure,indeed, from one so young.  And such a remarkable legacy of love and courage for her family.  This little dancing butterfly rising aloft gently to the heavens reminds we connoisseurs of the mind that, in the end, it’s only those indelible impressions of the heart that really matter.

As Olivia sang:

“Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero


You’re gonna hear me roar…”

My  hero, too. Keep Roaring Olivia!

Source: CNN

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

13 thoughts on “Grace Under Pressure: Olivia Wise And The Roar of the Butterfly”

  1. Mark,

    I am so very grateful for your investment in the good, the hopeful, the inSpiring. Thank you for your gift to me and to those with whom I share your line of articles.


  2. I hear Olivia roar, and it is a beautiful sound.

    My condolences to her family.

  3. Mark,

    Looking at the picture of this beautiful girl and hearing her sing brought tears to my eyes. The sad simple fact of life is that it is at best bittersweet.


    Knowing a little of your personal experiences I can comprehend the effect of this piece on you. There is something about the “pipes” that captures the mournful dirge of humanity completely.

    In truth, I had delayed reading this post for several hours because I knew it would have this effect on me. If somehow on a larger scale we could engender the emotions stirred by this little girls story, knowing the effect her life has had on those closest to her, than perhaps we could understand the need we all have to be filled with empathy and compassion for all human beings.

  4. Sad, and her life seems to illustrate that the candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long. It illuminates how living can be wonderful yet it has an ending often too soon for those so bright with life.

  5. Mike E, OS,

    I can always tell when I’m in good company. I’m grateful I can see your works.

    If one can’t work up a tear on this msg bb then they must have no heart.

  6. In Olivia I hear the voice of an angel! I feel blessed to have learned about Olivia’s spirit and to have witnessed her sweetness. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Mark,
    I have been sitting here struggling with this story. I wanted to write something, but nothing seems to fit….this is a bit close to home. My youngest was diagnosed with inoperable terminal cancer at age seven months. After multiple surgeries and many chemotherapy treatments, she beat the monster. But of all the kids who were at the clinic at the same time she was, she is the only one left. The rest are all gone.

    My grandson only made it to his seventeenth birthday. He was a remarkable kid. I wrote about him here.

    Cancer in kids seems to make them tough. Olivia Wise was no exception.

    The piper in this piece is Eric Rigler, one of my daughter’s friends, playing the Uilleann (Irish) pipes . When she first met him, she was in remission, but we had no idea whether it would last or not. Eric has played for many movie soundtracks, but this is what she wanted him to play for her, and he did. He lost his young daughter as well, not too long before that. This is for all of them.

  8. Wow! Fantastic story about an amazing young lady.
    We can all learn a lot from her strength! A very touching story Mark.

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