Praise Song For The Day

Photo by TJ Parker
Praise Song for the Day
BY ELIZABETH ALEXANDER

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration


Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.



All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.



Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.



Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.



A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.



We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.



We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what’s on the other side.



I know there’s something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.



Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,



picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.



Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.



Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?



Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.



In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,



praise song for walking forward in that light.



Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.

Source: Praise Song for the Day (Graywolf Press, 2009)

Our Best Selves

People talk about things in such a black and white way.  Let’s use the hot button topic of climate change as an example.  There’s a lot of talk on both sides of the issue about how the other side is ignorant and “our way” is the best way.  Our truth is the only truth.  Bullshit. 

The climate is changing.  We can all agree on that.  What is also true is that there are many factors that are causing the climate to change.  There is a cycle, we’re in it.  The sun influences it as well.  And… the way we live, how we pollute, also affects it.  It’s not any one thing.  It’s all things together, contributing.

My point isn’t to start up a debate here about climate change.  My point is to say that, as with all things, black and white thinking gets us nowhere, but divided. The truth, as I’m always saying about little life things, is in the middle.  Parts of both are true.

We’re such a landscape of extremes.  Putting our dukes up, getting our feathers ruffled, pointing fingers, talking trash.  So many people talking trash.  And here’s the thing about that.  Talk trash in your own homes, or out to your friends, but do it amongst yourselves.  You don’t agree with something, fine, don’t agree with it.  You think something or someone is stupid, fine, think they are stupid. Keep it to yourselves, or your circle.  I don’t want to hear it unless you’re my wife, or friend, or family member and we’re having a debate or discussion or bitch session in person.  

I hate to say it, but people make themselves look bad.  They don’t show us anything about the person they are deriding, they show us their own backsides.  I get the frustration with how things are.  I do.  I get being disgusted, upset, angry even.  I get that.  But c’mon people.

I used to work with at-risk kids.  I did the job well.  I did it for a long time.  I had many talks about bullying, about common decency, about respecting other people because we don’t know their stories, or why they believe what they believe.  About how we aren’t always going to understand another person, but they are people just the same, with hopes and fears and upsets we know nothing about.  So be respectful, be kind, be generous of spirit.  Be your best selves.

I’ve tried to say this in many different ways on this and my other blog.  I have.  I’ve tried to say it and know I’m shouting in the wind.  People are passionate, they feel they must say something.  Anything.  They feel they can.

But I guess I’ll say this again as well.  Would you talk like that in public?  To actual people?  Would you call names and talk down to and be disrespectful to people in person.  If so, I guess it’s not surprising you’d do it in public on social media.  But if not, if you wouldn’t call people names or use derogatory slurs, then what makes you think it’s OK to do it on Facebook?  

I want to believe we are all people who love and want happiness for ourselves, our friends, our families, and our neighbors.  I want to believe we are all, most of us, kind and caring people.  

Not one of us has all the answers.  To think our way is the only way… well, that’s arrogance.  And isolating.  And just… sad.

The truth is in the middle, people.  Right there, in the middle.  Life is never black and white.  Look at your fellow humans with love, with kindness, and with the understanding that you don’t know someone, or why they think and believe the way they do.  Everyone has a story.  Before calling names, why not ask?  Why not try for understanding?  

Be our best selves.  We can.  It’s possible.

To use a Star Wars reference, because why not, stretch out with your feelings.

from Tumblr https://breakopenthesky.tumblr.com/post/189493019026

Our Best Selves

People talk about things in such a black and white way.  Let’s use the hot button topic of climate change as an example.  There’s a lot of talk on both sides of the issue about how the other side is ignorant and “our way” is the best way.  Our truth is the only truth.  Bullshit. 

The climate is changing.  We can all agree on that.  What is also true is that there are many factors that are causing the climate to change.  There is a cycle, we’re in it.  The sun influences it as well.  And… the way we live, how we pollute, also affects it.  It’s not any one thing.  It’s all things together, contributing.

My point isn’t to start up a debate here about climate change.  My point is to say that, as with all things, black and white thinking gets us nowhere, but divided. The truth, as I’m always saying about little life things, is in the middle.  Parts of both are true.

We’re such a landscape of extremes.  Putting our dukes up, getting our feathers ruffled, pointing fingers, talking trash.  So many people talking trash.  And here’s the thing about that.  Talk trash in your own homes, or out to your friends, but do it amongst yourselves.  You don’t agree with something, fine, don’t agree with it.  You think something or someone is stupid, fine, think they are stupid. Keep it to yourselves, or your circle.  I don’t want to hear it unless you’re my wife, or friend, or family member and we’re having a debate or discussion or bitch session in person.  

I hate to say it, but people make themselves look bad.  They don’t show us anything about the person they are deriding, they show us their own backsides.  I get the frustration with how things are.  I do.  I get being disgusted, upset, angry even.  I get that.  But c’mon people.

I used to work with at-risk kids.  I did the job well.  I did it for a long time.  I had many talks about bullying, about common decency, about respecting other people because we don’t know their stories, or why they believe what they believe.  About how we aren’t always going to understand another person, but they are people just the same, with hopes and fears and upsets we know nothing about.  So be respectful, be kind, be generous of spirit.  Be your best selves.

I’ve tried to say this in many different ways on this and my other blog.  I have.  I’ve tried to say it and know I’m shouting in the wind.  People are passionate, they feel they must say something.  Anything.  They feel they can.

But I guess I’ll say this again as well.  Would you talk like that in public?  To actual people?  Would you call names and talk down to and be disrespectful to people in person.  If so, I guess it’s not surprising you’d do it in public on social media.  But if not, if you wouldn’t call people names or use derogatory slurs, then what makes you think it’s OK to do it on Facebook?  

I want to believe we are all people who love and want happiness for ourselves, our friends, our families, and our neighbors.  I want to believe we are all, most of us, kind and caring people.  

Not one of us has all the answers.  To think our way is the only way… well, that’s arrogance.  And isolating.  And just… sad.

The truth is in the middle, people.  Right there, in the middle.  Life is never black and white.  Look at your fellow humans with love, with kindness, and with the understanding that you don’t know someone, or why they think and believe the way they do.  Everyone has a story.  Before calling names, why not ask?  Why not try for understanding?  

Be our best selves.  We can.  It’s possible.

To use a Star Wars reference, because why not, stretch out with your feelings.

from Tumblr https://breakopenthesky.tumblr.com/post/189493019026

Small Craft Talk Warning

All poetry is about hope.
A scarecrow walks into a bar.
An abandoned space station falls to earth.
When probing the monster’s brain,
you’re probably probing your own.
A beautiful woman becomes a ghost.
I hope I never miscalculate the dosage
that led to the infarction
of my lab rabbit again.
All poetry is a form of hope.
Not certain, just actual
like love and other traffic circles.
I cried on that airplane too,
midwest patchwork below
like a board game on which
mighty forces kick apart the avatars.
I always wanted to be the racecar
but usually ended up a thumbtack.
When I was young, sitting in a tree
counted as preparation and later
maybe a little whoopie in the morgue.
So go ahead, thaw the alien, break
the pentagram but watch out for
the institutional hood ornaments.
It’s not a museum, it’s a hive.
The blood may be fake
but the bleeding’s not.

~Dean Young – 1955

Eight Years

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Photo by TJ Parker

Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.

Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself.  Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why.  There is no why.  It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable.  It just was.  So the question isn’t why, but who.  Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?

I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you.  But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.

I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love.  But, I’m not always the best at those things.  And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am.  I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment.  Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have.   It still means we have to try and do better, be better.  We owe our people that.  But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done.  This is where apologizing comes in.  Sincere apology.  We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it.  The apology is freeing for both people.  So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it.  Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?

Kindness.  Have I been kind?  To my people, to strangers, to myself.  Am I moving through the world as a kind person?  Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are?  Am I kind to myself?  I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always.  So I need to be more kind.  We can always be kinder.  I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for.  I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people.  If I am, I’m kinder.

Joy.  It’s easy to get discouraged in life.  About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world.  The enemy of joy is fear.  So the key is to not be fearful.  But, that’s a tough one.  Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown.  Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning.  This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time.  It just comes with large amounts of anxiety.  And when it comes it eats my joy whole.  Like a kipper snack.  So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy.  I’m innately a silly, joyful person.  I’m a dork.  I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid.   So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives.  In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all.  I try to remind myself to be present.  Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now.  Be alive now.  Be joyous now.  This is a tough one, but I’m trying.  The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.

Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out.  But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception.  We see what we want.  Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time.  It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”  At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys.  But the point isn’t that part of the quote.  The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes.  So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies.  I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying.  Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow.  Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility.  It is hopeful.

Love.  I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection.  Life is about love.  Who we love, who loves us.  It’s about how we love.  Do we say it?  Do we show it?  Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them?  For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude.  To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it.  I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it.  Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life.  But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing.  And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there.  Who we have and what that means to us.  Love is all around us.  It’s all around me.  So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me.  Hold me up.  It did when I was sick.  It’s what got me through.  Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me.  Lifting me up.  Holding me.  I felt it.  And luckily, I feel it still.  If I sit with it for a few moments I cry.  Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways.  That’s where I want to live, where I try to live.  Even when things are tough, the love is there.  I have it, and I try to give it back.  We’re responsible for giving it back.  For loving, and loving well.

Eight years.  If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all.  It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love.  And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock.  Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life.  But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy.  And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?

Eight years.  Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

52 Thoughts: Sixth Thought

Kindness. Hope. Love. Joy.

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Photo by TJ Parker

 

“I am fundamentally an optimist.”

15687_10152719002115802_6021182418323168144_n“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
― Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

The world will never starve for wonder, but only for want of wonder. ~ G.K. Chesterson

Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope

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Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope

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Words to Live By (Part 2)

In this second installment of the life lessons learned/what’s important to me at 50 I give you joy.  And many other things.

“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.” 
― Elizabeth BergThe Art of Mending

1935760_142466440801_985538_nJoy is such a hard thing to define.  Elation, delight, pleasure.  All those things, and something more, something intangible.  I live for moments of joy, mine and those of the people I love.  It’s where pure experience meets an overwhelming feeling of YES!  It’s the ultimate ah ha moment.  I’m always wishing the people I know, and actually even people I don’t know, could experience more joy.  There’s never enough.  Simple moments of overwhelming joy bring light and life.  Joy is the nexus of a meaningful human experience, of meaningful relationships with our fellow humans.  Joy radiates hope.  It’s electric.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” 
― W.B. Yeats

Magic is everywhere.  In smiles and light and the taste of a fresh strawberry.  It lives in music and the wings of a butterfly.  It flies on the wind and crashes with the waves.  Everything around us is a miracle, full of magic.  Most especially our family and friends, but also in the breath of our pups, and the swaying of a daisy, and the glint of the sun in a rain drop.  There are amazing things all around.  We just have to see them.

“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.” 
― Philip K. Dick

Perception is key.  We have opinions and ideas and see things with eyes that were formed from our own experiences.  When circumstances happen to us or around us we look at those circumstances with those same eyes.  We tend not to look outside of our own box of opinions and ideas.  This means we only look at things from one angle.  Our own.  But looking and seeing are two different things.  Perhaps it’s just a matter of perception.  If we can somehow change how we view a situation that situation changes entirely.  I’ve done this myself and been surprised by it.  There’s always another way to look at something.  We move around a beautiful sculpture to get a view from all sides if we truly want to see it.  We need to learn to do that in our own minds.  It would open us up to others, it would create connections where they might not have existed before.  We have to look with our best eyes.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” 
― Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Brothers Karamazov

Truth can sometimes be so hard, but it’s as necessary as breathing. The more honest and open we try to be with ourselves, with others, about who we are, about what we think and feel, the freer we are. Lies constrict our lives. When we tell the truth, we can leave that moment behind without another thought. When we lie, we live with it, carry it with us, forever. Telling the truth is much less burdensome. Telling the truth opens us up, makes us vulnerable, it puts us out into the world fully, as we are. It says, here I am, take me, or don’t. Risky, but with so much reward. We honor ourselves when we tell our truth. We bring integrity into our lives. We also bring trust, from ourselves, and from those we love. Telling the truth, truly, sets us free.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” 

― Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth

Silence is golden.  I used to hear that a lot from my Mom.  One of those Mom sayings that stuck with me, and so true.  Quieting oneself, learning to enjoy and live in silence once in a while is wonderful.  It allows you to hear the world in a more profound way.  A few moments of silence can breathe life into a day filled with too much noise.  Listening to the quiet of the world around us helps us to find the quiet within ourselves.  Finding the quiet within ourselves helps us to center our minds, our souls, and our hearts.  Silence opens worlds to us we might otherwise miss.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” 
― Shel Silverstein

Hope, remaining hopeful, is as necessary as breathing.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is or has been or the worry about what could be.  We’re human, we struggle with this all the time.  But it’s so important to remember that anything can happen, and that anything can be good as much as it might be instead be frightening.  We focus too much on what’s not right, not enough on what is.  Hope is a big part of what’s right.    There’s always room for it, and it can be cultivated.  Trying to think positively, starting with one small thing that is right in your life, is good, can begin to grow a larger garden of positive ifs inside of you.   That’s where hope lives.  Hope leads to joy and laughter and an energy to get up and live life to the it’s fullest.

“Yes. We both have a bad feeling. Tonight we shall take our bad feelings and share them, and face them. We shall mourn. We shall drain the bitter dregs of mortality. Pain shared, my brother, is pain not doubled, but halved. No man is an island.” 
― Neil GaimanAnansi Boys

Sharing ourselves with others speaks to the essence of what life is about.  Expressing our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our fears to another person, to other people, makes those hopes grander and those fears smaller.  Opening up our true self to someone else makes our world larger, grander, and fuller than we could imagine.  Letting someone know you, the real you, the whole you, is frightening and vulnerable, but also brave.  It’s an act of reaching out and of letting go.  It’s beautiful and fulfilling and it brings us closer, creates connections that last.

“It’s okay to be absurd, ridiculous, and downright irrational at times; silliness is sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.” 
― Richelle E. Goodrich

Being silly, risking the ridiculous, is fun.  It’s enlivening, life affirming, corny, dorky, wonderful, and beautiful.  Not being afraid of being ridiculous and possibly absurd, while being out in the world, is a gift.  I say this because I’m a total dork, and can be totally ridiculous.  Singing in public places, dancing in the grocery store, putting on funny hats, doing a funny little walk because you’re trying to make yourself or someone else smile.  Those moments of totally letting go bring so much joy, so much fun to life.  And acting in a way that says we don’t care what other people think of us, only of what we feel like doing in the present, brings a strength and certainty in us down to our bones.  Silly can generate confidence, and confidence generates silliness.  It’s a beautiful relationship.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” 
― Lao Tzu

Love is everything, having and giving it.  Not just the love for your partner in life, but love for friends and family.  I can’t stress enough how very important it is to let the people in your life know you love them.  The most important thing in life is who we love and who loves us.  It brings meaning to everything.  Nothing else really matters.  Love is everything.  Breathing joy and hope and compassion into everything it touches.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 
― Stephen R. CoveyThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Listening, and not talking, is central to having great relationships with people.  When you listen, actually listen without just trying to get your word in edgewise, you let people know what they have to say is important to you.  That they are important to you.  When you don’t really listen, when all you do is wait for the moment you can speak, you let them know that what you have to say is more important to you than actually hearing them.  Listening engenders trust, true companionship, and warmth.

Words to Live By (Part 1)

“The greatest wisdom is in simplicity. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.” 
― Carlos Barrios, Mayan elder and Ajq’ij of the Eagle Clan

IMG_2198

I’m 50 now.  The big 5-0.  It doesn’t freak me out, worry me, or make me feel like I’m old and getting older (though I am).  It has however made me reflect a bit on the life I’ve lived.  There are things I thought were important when I was younger, when I was more self-conscious and filled with angst.  Very dramatic.  I wrote a lot then.  Prose, poetry (some OK, mostly not), letters I never sent, some I did.  Now, at 50, I’m much more certain of myself, much more comfortable in my skin, not as self-conscious.  I’ve grown.  Most of us do.

Through the course of this time I’ve spent reflecting lately I’ve made a mental list of the things I think are important in life.  Obviously the people in our lives are the most important, but this list of things/ideals are what I believe make a life more fulfilled, the things that can actually make a life extraordinary.  I strive to put them into practice every day.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.  But life is in the trying, and I try.

In honor of my turning the big 5-0 I’m going to throw the list out to the universe, as a gesture of good will and safe keeping.

I got a little carried away when I actually sat down to make the list (which is in no particular order by the way, just written as it came to me) so I’ve decided I will post it in parts.

Welcome to part 1….

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa

Compassion is paramount to living a fulling life, without it we are acting alone in the world, separate from our fellow humans.  We cannot pretend to know another persons story, or how they came to feel and think as they do, but we can honor them as human beings and wish the best for them.  We can be open to the fact that they have had different experiences than our own, not expecting them to then act and think as we do.  Compassion fills our hearts with love instead of animosity, it elevates us.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama

Kindness is the most important tenet, to me.  Above all things.  It’s so important to me that I have the above quote about kindness on every email I send out – you might have gotten one.  Kindness is always possible.  We have to be kind to others, and to ourselves.  I’ve learned a little kindness takes us everywhere we want to go.  It soothes souls, can make a persons day, and costs us nothing.  A smile, a kind word, a thank you, a simple acknowledgement of someone all work toward the common good, and good in ourselves.  It is beyond valuable, beyond priceless.  Kindness is key.

“Tears are words that need to be written.” ― Paulo Coelho

Sadness happens to everyone in life, let yourself be sad when you are, but don’t live there, wallowing in it.  It’s a tough balance, but necessary.  You honor the feelings by letting yourself feel them.  You don’t let it take control of your life by remembering that there is more to life than just the thing that’s created your feeling of sadness.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 
― Maya AngelouLetter to My Daughter

Inhabiting yourself – feel your body, know your mind, feel your presence.  Things will happen to us in life.  Things we cannot control.  Things terrible and strange and lovely and warm and awful and on and on.  We get through it.  We get through it best when we know ourselves, when we feel our own presence and our own power.  That knowing helps us to understand that life will happen, but we can bear it, we can step through it. We can move beyond whatever it is that’s happened and into something new, something that could be wonderful in its own way.

“Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter, is Mozart’s Twenty-third Piano Concerto about?” 
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

Beauty is everywhere, if you look for it.  Noticing the wind moving the trees, the sun glinting through a fence, the way the dogs have that little walk they have, a phrase, a painting, a blade of grass, my honey breaking into song, in light and love and kindness.  Beauty is everywhere.  We choose to see it, or not.  Life is so much better if you look for it.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” 
― Herman Melville

Connectedness  Connection is everything.  We are not islands unto ourselves.  Our actions effect those around us, just as the actions of others affects us.  It’s so important to remember that our ideas and ideals are ours and to dwell in the knowledge that other people, other creatures, have their own ideas, wants, needs.  What we do, every day; the words we use when speaking to others, the actions we take in kindness, to our fellows and to our planet, all ripple out.  One kindness generates another, one word of anger generates more anger, one positive thought spills out to create more positivity in the world, a negative thought spreads negativity.  Everything we do has a consequence for others in small, and sometimes not so small, ways.  Everything is connected.

“But I can hardly sit still. I keep fidgeting, crossing one leg and then the other. I feel like I could throw off sparks, or break a window–maybe rearrange all the furniture.” 
― Raymond CarverWhere I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories

Anxiety.  I have it.  Everyone experiences it.  It’s not always rational, but it’s a natural part of living, of caring about people, caring about the world, caring about yourself.  There is no getting rid of it entirely.  The question is, does the anxiety control you, or do you remember to breathe, look it in the face, and try to keep stepping forward.  Sometimes I succeed in that.  Sometimes I don’t.  That’s OK too.  We can all wish for a little less anxiety in life, but we have to be careful the wishing doesn’t just lead to more anxiety.  Acceptance, stepping into and through it, instead of constantly denying and fighting against it, helps.  We have to remember to breathe.

“No one needed to say it, but the room overflowed with that sort of blessing. The combination of loss and abundance. The abundance that has no guilt. The loss that has no fix. The simple tiredness that is not weary. The hope not built on blindness.” 
― Aimee BenderWillful Creatures

Temperament and trying to keep oneself on an even keel is important.  The energy we give out to the world matters.  Not that we should live for others, we shouldn’t, but it’s important to be aware of our impact on others.  That we do have an impact.  It’s not easy when you’re in a bad mood, but it’s so important to try to be your better self, to try to remember not to inflict that mood on everyone around you.  Conversely it’s important to remember that if someone you meet in your day is in a bad space, they may have had a terrible day, or be battling demons you don’t know or understand.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 
― Frank HerbertDune

Fear, or the lack of it, is one of those constants in life.  We are afraid of what is happening, or what could happen, or what did happen.  Fear eats at us and taunts us and reminds us that we have a lot in life we don’t want to lose.  Fear is.  I love the line in the quote above about letting it pass through.  That rings true to me.  We have to face the things we’re afraid of, as best we can, and then let that fear pass through us.  We have to let ourselves look at what we fear, look it in the eye.  Only then do we begin to take the reins back from it.  We can never live entirely without fear.  We love, we dream, we hope, and so, we fear.  It is a part of living.  A part of caring.  But we can try to keep it from taking control of us, we can try to be its master, instead of letting it be the master of us.

“The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” 
― Louis C.K.

Empathy is central to living a full life.  Kindness, compassion, and love all come from a place of empathy.  We don’t have to know or have lived someone else’s circumstances to ache for them or to hope for them.  We tend to live in our own little worlds, sure of our ideas and opinions, secure in the thought that what we think, the way we think, is the right way.  Sometimes we even believe what we think is the only way.  We’re wrong.  We have no idea what another person’s experience is, where they came from, what they’ve seen, what they’ve lived through.  To have true empathy is to say that you might not understand someone, but you want to nourish their souls anyway.  It is to admit that you don’t know everything, and that you shouldn’t judge what you don’t understand.  To empathize is to step outside of your own set of rules and to say that you feel for another human, regardless of the presumptions you have about them.

On Being Better People, One Film at a Time

I have always struggled to articulate what it is about film that appeals to me so much, what it is that moves me about the movie going experience. I have always loved movies. From a very young age I’ve found the stories told by others to be wonderful, and silly, and profound, and touching, and exhilarating. Story telling, of any kind really, has been something very important in my life.

This year, during Ebertfest, a short trailer was shown before each movie. It was the same trailer every time which is, in my experience, common for the festival, but this year’s trailer struck a chord for me, every time. I was moved by his words and found and understanding there. This is one of the best, if not the best, explanations about what going to a movie, or watching one at home for that matter, can do for us as people. Listening to the stories of others opens the world in ways we can’t possibly imagine. It broadens and enlightens, provides connection and commonality.

Here is the clip. The transcript of the speech is below.

Ebertfest Trailer 2014 from Michael Mirasol on Vimeo.

“One of the marks of civilization is to be able to somehow step outside your own mind and your own experience and understand what it is like to be a person of another race, another age, another gender, another nationality. To have different physical capabilities, to have different beliefs. And when I go to the movies, I have an out of the body experience. If a movie is working for me to some degree I am that person on the screen, I forget my social security number, I don’t know where I parked the car, I am having vicariously an experience that happened to someone else, and that makes me a better person, or it can make me a better person. And I sincerely believe that to see good films and to see important films is one of the most profoundly civilizing experiences that we can have as people.” – Roger Ebert

Put One Foot In Front Of The Other

When I was growing up I watched, like many of us, the holiday film “Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town”. I was five the first time it aired. It’s amazing how something so simple as a young kid watching a fun holiday movie can stick with a person all these years later, and yet it has.

For some reason, unknown to me actually, whenever I’m facing some difficult time in my life, and there have been a few of those, I hear the words of the song “Put One Foot In Front Of The Other” in my head. It pops in there, all on it’s own. Most specifically the chorus, “put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walkin’ cross the flo-o-or, put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walkin’ out the door”. It’s meant to be a song about trying and making a change. For me it is those things, but it’s also a song about moving forward, one step at a time. It says to me that as long as you keep taking one step and then another you will move through whatever it is that’s hard into somewhere new and beautiful. It’s a song about fortitude and perseverance, it’s about looking forward instead of backward. To me it’s a song of hope.

Putting one foot in front of the other gives me comfort and reminds me, in the larger scheme of things, that though life can be hard, inconvenient, scary, and awfully painful sometimes, it can also be magical and beautiful and full of wonder and love.

Today I thought I’d share the little song that’s had such an impact on my life because I love it, but also because maybe there’s a person out there who will feel the message, get inspired, get up, and put one foot in front of the other. It works for me.

It’s a New Dawn, It’s a New Day

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me… and I’m feelin’ good, to once again quote Nina.

I woke up this morning changed, the world around me changed as well.  It’s almost as if my eyes see more clearly, my heart beats more deeply, my mind is more open.  And what’s great about this feeling is that I know I’m not alone in it.  I look into peoples eyes and they look back at me, hopeful.  They look back with joy, with possibility.  There is the feeling that a collective sigh has risen from this place and spread across the world… a sigh that says… finally, at last.  We can breathe.  We can reach out and know we might find a hand or hands reaching back.  We are no longer afraid.   We have said yes, instead of no.  We can, at last, hold our heads high and be proud.  Love has replaced suspicion and doubt.  Peace has replaced unease and anxiety.  All because one beautiful, inspiring, electrifying, genuine, good man has stepped forward, taken the lead, and reached out his hand in expectation to us.  He’s said… I’m ready, come along with me… we will change ourselves, we will change our country, we will change the world.

I’ve included below the text of the inaugural address in it’s entirety.  It’s beautiful.  Words from a poet who believes what he says… who means what he says.  This is a wonderful day.  It’s the first day of a new beginning for us all.  A new beginning for the world.

My fellow citizens:  I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers … our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

Words

I read this quote today in the Sierra Club’s Daily Ray of Hope e-mail. I loved it and thought I’d share.

The forests are the flags of nature. They appeal to all and awaken inspiring universal feelings. Enter the forest and the boundaries of nations are forgotten. It may be that some time an immortal pine will be the flag of a united peaceful world.

— Enos A. Mills