Monthly Archives: May 2011

Never Alone

“All I can tell you today is what I’ve learned, what I have discovered as a person in this world, and that is this: You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own…You’re all here today because someone gave you strength. Helped you. Held you in the palm of their hand. God, Allah, Buddha, Gaga—whomever you pray to.  They have helped you get here, and that should make you feel less alone and less scared.”

Thanks for sharing, Jack Whitty.  And thanks to all of you who have walked with me.  You certainly know who you are…and if you’re wondering if this refers to you, that most likely means you’re in there somewhere, too.

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Paper-free Deposits

A very special hand-made napkin depicting a scene from Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree.

We explored the value of making “deposits” in relationships. Our connections with others are defined more by the smaller, daily interactions, and less by the “big stuff.” I’m hoping you can seek some “opportunities for kindness” this week with friends, co-workers, and strangers…Kindness provides a feeling of tranquility that transcends the difficulties in our lives and reminds us once again that there is, in fact, as much good in the world as there is in our hearts.

–Paul Wesselman, The Ripples Project

I Just Wanna Feel

Seriously, I don’t know if I would be aware of anything going on anywhere outside of a 15-foot radius of me if I didn’t use social media as heavily as I do…

Thanks to a facebook status from a Missourian, I became aware of the sweeping storm that caused copious amounts of damage and death in the southern part of the state last night.  News reports are likening the state of the town to a post-WWII location, and the photos are just unbelievable.  My heart goes out to so many people, and I hope that neighboring areas move quickly to offer assistance and help meet the needs of the residents.

I finished reading a book for 26books last night called Say You’re One of Them, and I’ll use my own words that I’d sent to the person who gave it to me:  “My heart hurts.  But it was so good in its unrelenting sadness.”  I read 350 pages of people hating people, killing people, deceiving people, and instilling fear into those around them for various reasons.  I was thankful to have read the book (and to be reminded that the stories in there are based on some people’s realities), but I was also left asking myself why there were not more people who were able to feel for their fellow humans, based on that humanity and nothing more.  We spend so much of our lives, our time on earth, making labels and categorizing and stigmatizing to trick ourselves into thinking we’re different.  I both went to bed and woke up with an appetite for compassion, empathy, small unexpected acts of solidarity.

And then, when I went to check the 10-day forecast on weather.com (probably to complain about how 8 out of those 10 days have rain/storms forecasted…which is true), I saw this on the front page:

http://www.weather.com/outlook/videos/emotional-reaction-to-pure-devastation-20705

Video description: “Meteorologist Mike Bettes is overcome as he reports live from Joplin, Missouri. Bettes and his crew arrived on the scene of this devastating tornado less than an hour after it hit.”

GMH.

Unhastening to Rehope

“If you’re too busy to reach out to people in your neighborhood or community, you’re too busy.”

“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and change their pain into joy.  And may God bless you with the foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done. ” –A Franciscan Benediction

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Those are two selections from 5: Where Will You be Five Years from Today? that moved me in particular (though I liked many, many parts of the book).  It was graciously given to me by JSho, one of our fellow Senoritas, last weekend.  They really struck me because they really counter 2 principles of American (midwestern? first-world?) cultures that I have struggled with over recent years: the need for incessant busyness that stresses individuality over community, and the belief that what one person does to change the problems of the world does not make a big enough impact to make it worth our time, energy or hope.

I am so thankful these were shared with me.   I am proud to declare that I am slowly learning the ways of slowing down in the name of people and community– and goodness knows I am CERTAINLY foolish enough to think that my deeds and thoughts change the world.

Happiness is…

“You make people happy. It’s weird to think about—the idea that your presence could brighten someone’s day—but it happens. You being you makes other people excited and giddy. Cool, right? Now step away from the ledge…”

Things that Make People Happy

It’s a VISTA Life for Us

This post was written this month for the blog of the organization I have served as an AmeriCorps VISTA to for the past year, UGIVE.ORG.
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My year with VISTA reinforced my belief in small kindnesses and change that happens bit by bit.  Mother Teresa once said, “if you can’t feed 100 people, just feed one,” and VISTA is a passionate group of people whose small, focused deeds weave into a beautiful quilt of volunteerism and civic activism that blankets the country.  I didn’t end poverty as we know it in the US, but I also didn’t choose AmeriCorps thinking it was a 1-man show of fame or glory or magnificent acts that will go down in history books.

UGIVE enabled me to spend time with high school students of all backgrounds, and the responses students had to us/UGIVE were not always palatable (to say the least).  But one thing we were able to do as VISTAs—beyond practicing what we preached when trying to get them excited about volunteering—was to encourage them to dig deeper within themselves to understand why they are expected to serve in their communities.  It’s beyond feeling good or earning school credit; our conversations often wrapped up with students deciding that we as human beings volunteer to create change surrounding something we dislike or disagree with.  VISTA provides its members with the tools and network they need to get innovative and start breaking down the wall of systemic, generational, pervasive poverty one brick at a time by empowering and inspiring eager citizens of a community.  Many hands make light work, right?

As with any experience, I came into a lot of self-awareness.  I prefer direct service more than indirect (the latter tends to leave me feeling drained).  I am also TERRIBLE with personal budgeting, and while there isn’t much to bank as a VISTA, I am certain I could have been a bit more resourceful in my finances.  Thankfully (on several levels), many of my friends are also AmeriCorps members/post-grad volunteers, so spending time with them made me feel supported and encouraged in finding sweet deals without eliminating small luxuries.  The blogs, emails, and social media outputs of those friends also reminded me of la lucha I had chosen for the year and why I should continue to build capacity, even if I was feeling discouraged or unmotivated or bored.

We as post-grad volunteers come out of unemployment/“poverty” because we are among the 1% of college-educated persons in the entire world.  We have work experience and references.  We have built professional and social networks during the year.  AmeriCorps shines the light on poverty but doesn’t recreate it, and that is because poverty is far too complicated to simulate for just one year.  I think my understanding that my temporary void-of-a-bank-account was just that—short-lived—really allowed me to ask the more intimidating questions about poverty, like what I will do in my life to continue actively combating it once June 20 rolls around.

So now, my advice to you:

  • REFLECT. Release your experiences.  Reflecting can turn the best AND worst moments into lessons that can stay with us without eroding away our souls (and our willingness to take action—BOO cynicism!).  Reflecting can be a vehicle for sharing your perspective with others not experiencingVISTA.  Revisiting your tasks and results will also increase the likelihood that what you’re doing is effective and necessary in your community.  If it’s not those things, why are you wasting your energy?
  • LOOK AROUND YOU. UGIVE VISTAs (and many in AmeriCorps in general) are lucky—it’s part of our jobs to know of local resources so that our community can learn to sustain itself based on its needs and assets.  There are endless numbers of awesome organizations in Cleveland that I’d never even known of (even as someone who grew up here); my pride in northeast Ohio since discovering so many has
    skyrocketed.  Good things are happening—you simply have tochoose to have the eyes to notice them.
  • LEAVE A LEGACY.  What are you doing that will actually make a difference to a client, a student, a high school course, or a coworker?  Legacies do not always mean your name is in blinking lights to claim credit for a finished product, but if you’re doing what you are good at, you will undoubtedly touch someone or something with your authenticity and the courage you have to really put a piece of yourself into the work you do during your year of service.

 
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
–Howard Thurman

School[ed on the] Bus

“Who used to be a k-5 teacher? Me, the man who silenced a group of 12 year olds and got them to stop cussing & sit down with just one word. Clark 22 bus now in session.”

A status from a kick-butt former Loyola employee.  I laughed out loud and shared it with other Chicagoans with a similar sense of humor.

I really need to get a tumblr for stuff like this…

Tumblresque

When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world.  My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here.

It’s a wonderful life and I love it.

-JH

You pull me closer to love.

He might have been naive, but he didn’t care; he said he’d rather die with his heart on his sleeve than end up another cynic.

That line, originally from Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, was featured in one of my first 26books blog entries back in January and it is still one of my favorite lines I’ve read in 2011.

As a select population of you are aware, this week was my birthday.  So much of the last month has been a roller coaster for me, but my trip to Chicago and my few days back at home since flooded my celebration with such wonderful love and reminded me of how lucky I am to have so many people who will go out of their ways to celebrate with me, spend quality time together, and even spend money on ridiculously beautiful wigs for une fête des cheveux. 😉

Simply the best.

Britt graduated from grad school over the weekend, too– WOOHOO!!! I am one step closer to fulfilling my lifelong dream of having a sugarmama/daddy. (Just kidding…a little bit.)  She had the pleasure of hearing Mitch Albom deliver an address to the Utes, and what she said really reinforced what I was feeling about the people surrounding me:

His overall message was “giving is living,” and when you come to the end of your life you are not wanting to hug your television goodbye– you want the people you love, so live your life that way.

I’m still waiting to see/hear the commencement in its entirety, but for now I’ll survive off the wonderful sneak peeks floating around the interwebs.   One article cites him as saying, “Don’t let people tell you to ‘get real,’ if real is a code word for getting cynical or too busy…Giving is living: Remember that lesson.”

His words were just the affirmation I needed to kick off an incredible year 24.
Here’s to love…and lots of it.

P.S.– A neverending and unadulterated thank you to anyone and everyone who played a role in my celebrations.  While I’m not a crazy self-birthday fanatic, I thrive off people like you who are intentional about being present with others.  I am so, so blessed to have people like you. 🙂

Brisk Walk in the [Rogers] Park

Two  posts in a matter of hours?! I am really on a roll.

There isn’t much better in the world than waking up after a full night’s sleep and being with 2 of your favorite personal “fearlessness tribe” members.  I poked around for a short while and took my time waking up (and blogging), then contacted an old advisor from my LUC days for a quick morning chat at Kitchen Sink.  In an attempt to both soak in city life and save a few bucks, I took to the sidewalk and started my Friday morning with a brisk 2 mile walk.

I FEEL FANTASTIC.

The conversation that ensued was so delightful and I am so thankful to have people in my life who not only urge me to ask the right questions but who also confide in me and affirm that my presence is worth something to them.  This person managed to do both of those things very, VERY well in 75 minutes.

I think this morning has served as a great reminder of the things that are important for me to live a fulfilling life and what really is the “excess” that doesn’t necessarily make my journey more enjoyable as much as it makes it more cluttered and burdensome.  Traveling lightly will hopefully become something I am more comfortable with on my adventures in packing from now until August.  And I am thankful that the Universe constantly reminds me (very politely) that it unfolds very brilliantly if I choose to seize the opportunities waiting for me along the way.