Finding Strength and Inspiration In The Life and Words of Leaders Worth Looking Up To

“I know that my country was not made to be a land of hatred.  No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin,  or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”  -Nelson Mandela

Just days after my country honored the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who devoted himself to the abolishment of segregation and discrimination against people of color, we will be handing over the reign of power to a man who would prefer that we go back to those times when “America was great”; that is, when certain people were not regarded as human beings with inalienable rights, but as ‘things’ that could be dishonored and dispelled of.  That includes not only people of color, but anyone who is ‘different’ or unfavored; that is, not white, cisgender male, heterosexual, Christian, American, monetarily well off, and physically able.  Members of society have fought long and hard to force those with privilege to see the humanity in each and every person and therefore, to share what for them has never had to be earned but has merely been freely given.

It is a battle we are still fighting.  And now, with the new presidency, it seems we will have to contest even harder to ensure that the victories hard won by the likes of MLK, Jr. and countless others are not overthrown in the name of hate, fear, and ignorance.  But hear this: hate begets more hate; that is, hateful people do not respond to hate with love.  Hateful people, like the one elected to be Head of State, only respond to hate with more hate.  If those of us on the other side want our values of equal rights and respect to prevail, we must put those ideals into practice even when our adversaries decide to take a dump on them.

If we are to continue along the path of progress, we must ask ourselves: what can this presidency show us?  What can the government teach us about ourselves even when it doesn’t care to represent us or show compassion for its people?   How can we, mere citizens, become leaders of our own lives, our own families, our own communities?  If we cannot depose the regime, perhaps we can affect change on a micro level and thus be the change we wish to see in the world.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”  -Mahatma Gandhi

Sometimes people we don’t agree with can be like a mirror put in front of our faces, forcing us to see what we don’t like about ourselves.  How can we use that reflection to become a stronger, more consolidated nation?  How will we grow to become better having been put through the worst?  Will human kind ever evolve to see only the spirit that unifies us all, making us one; not the skin, or the body parts, or the body type, or the clothes, or the sexual preferences, or the beliefs, or the language, or the money, or the abilities that serve only to make us seem not of the same?

Nelson Mandela began his leadership on a very different path.  Initially, he thought the only way to vanquish the tyranny over his people was to conquer violence with violence.  But after 27 years in prison, Mandela came to the notion that the weapon needed to end the war against South Africans was forgiveness.  And sure enough, a peaceful resolution was finally brought about.  Similarly, as Americans, if we are to win the fight against racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, social injustice and discrimination of any kind, we –the people– cannot use the same ammunition employed by the new majority of leaders of this great country.    We must err instead on the side of love, peace, and hope.

At the same time, we must also be courageous and vigorous in the face of bigotry.  We must make our voices heard.  We must stand united against those who try mercilessly to divide us.   We must march in the name of what is right and just.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Man or Woman, how do you measure?  Black, Brown, or White, how do you measure?  Straight, Gay, or anything in between, how do you measure?  Rich, Poor, Young, Old, Able, Disabled, Native, or Immigrant…. how do you measure?  We cannot allow ourselves to become or remain complacent.  The time to act is now.  The place to start… is in your heart.

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renegade

I have been in the belly of the beast,
I have braved the greatest of storms;
both spat me out, sodden and worn.
I suppose my flesh wasn’t quite the feast
they were looking for–
Too tough, perhaps, not enough chew
in their bite;
it comes from being hung over the fire
and left there to die.

Many a time I have sat and I’ve waited;
night after night
I have cried and I’ve cried.
Overwhelmed by fright but certainly,
not overcome.

For here I stand before
my darkest hour,
face to face
with the death it assures me of.
Ready for another fight
because it’s my only option
as long as life
still promises the light
of day.

Intentions: Bringing Us One Step Closer Or Taking Us One Step Back

Good intentions don’t always yield the results we had hoped for. I found myself spouting this tidbit to a fellow comrade this morning, realizing the relevance it has had in my own life lately.

Rejection tends to leave one feeling broken, weak, and powerless. Instinctually, out of the pain and betrayal I feel, I want to hide behind my fear and anger. And I have done this. But once the dust has settled, once the storm is passed and I am back in touch with the deeper meaning of my life, I choose instead to express love, kindness, forgiveness. Because I believe those are the only things that last; certainly, they triumph over every misguided or ill intention I may have at one time harbored. And unquestionably they are what give my life meaning. I could choose to remain bitter, I could choose to disown those I feel betrayed by, to cast them out of my life like a thorn in my side. But all that does is increase the likelihood of eventually stepping on said thorn, creating more agony and turmoil for me down the road.

Ignoring someone who has hurt us isn’t facing our fears; it’s running away from them, especially when that person is trying only to show us the healing power of love and forgiveness. When we run from fear we run in circles, ending up always right where we started. Progression, growth, these things imply a linear movement forward or upward. They are also impossibilities unless we relinquish our fears and reach towards the light that is the extension of someone’s merciful hand.

Some motivations to express kindness are self-serving. Behind these acts there is a desire to get what we want, to feel better about ourselves, to feel less rejected. I’ve been rejected in love plenty. I now have what you would call a thick skin. You could set me on fire and I’d probably not bat an eye. And yet, to those who I have been hurt by and regardless of whether the same generosity is rendered to me, in the end I will always choose to extend graciousness and benevolence, not with my ego, but with my heart where the purest of intentions coexist often with the deepest well of sorrow and discontent.  And in this way, I’d like to think I am destined for growth and for true love.

Throwback Thursday #3

Happy Thursday y’all! Time to throwback to 1997 once again…

******

Angel Falls

Look upon a sea of doubt;
of pain,
of fear,
of sorrow that lingers even after the tears–
Not one being lives without.
Nestled inside us each
there is a struggle within reach
awaiting a stronger hand
to carry all we hold.
For we’re bound by intimidation,
needless to say,
searching in darkness
without any light to help us grow.
What must there be
then to at last be free?

There are so many angels wandering around
hoping through life’s miracles they will be found.
To see them, you must look up high
for angels do not fall, they fly.
If ever you get discouraged by all of life’s mistakes,
just look to an angel for greater strength.

******

Whoever holds the key to her heart knows the depths of her soul and the inescapableness of her beauty that resides there.

Q:What’s In a Name? A: A Chance For Freedom

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” -Chinese proverb

How frustrating it is to have good intentions only to be misunderstood in the end. But sometimes the way we act, the things we do convey meanings we didn’t aim to project.  Through our behavior we communicate an unspokenness; a hidden truth to us; something buried so deep within that it often remains impenetrable even to ourselves.  And so it becomes easy to do things that are out of line with our true nature as long as there remains this part of ourselves longing to be named.

But it’s not enough to label a behavior as ‘good’ or ‘bad’; in fact, this is inimical.  As long as we carry on simply accepting certain conduct as acceptable or not acceptable, we cannot get to the nitty gritty of what our actions say about us in order to give a voice to all that we’ve been stifling throughout the course of our lives.  This state of reticence creates drama and problems for us.  It interferes with our ability to ask ourselves whether our behavior is in line with our core values.  In fact, it can even prevent us from being able to identify what our values are.

We all know the importance of naming.  There is a name for nearly everything under the sun.  Expectant parents can have discussions that go on for hours regarding nothing more than what to call their child who is about to enter the world.  Just think what would happen to that child’s sense of self if their parents simply chose not to name them.  I imagine it would be confusing, disparaging, and lead to a host of insecurities and personal dilemmas for that person.

It is equally important to give name to the motivations behind our actions, avoiding judgement in labels like ‘positive’ or ‘negative’.  We must really delve into the dark waters of our kaleidoscopic beings and ask ourselves those tough questions, such as: What or who does my behavior remind me of?  What was I feeling when I chose to do this or that?  Did my behavior feel like a choice?  What are my biggest fears, where did those fears stem from, and how might my behavior be simulating those fears?  What has brought me the most pain and suffering?  Have I recreated that pain and suffering in someone else’s life?  Forget right or wrong.  Forget good or bad.  This is you getting real with yourself.  This is you giving a name unto yourself, one that you have chosen for yourself.  Because once you can name the root of your pain, you can set yourself and those around you free from it.

 

 

 

 

Sacrificial Heart

Valentine’s day is upon us again.  And as I find myself sitting here, alone, I can’t help but think of what I was doing last year on this hot or cold, take it or leave it holiday.  Last year I was lying in bed with someone very special.  And as we were lying there, naked and nervous, we said the thing you say to someone when they make you feel unlike anyone else makes you feel.  We said, “I love you” to each other (for the first time).  And then we laughed at ourselves because….Valentine’s Day?!  How cliche can you get??

But it was true.  We both felt it.  And we had both been holding out, but agreed the words and the feelings had ignited a fire, burning deep within our souls for quite some time that we simply could not contain any longer. It had started before we even had a chance to meet; before my hand could reach out and touch his hand; before I could know the relief I would feel in his presence.  It was alive; a spark followed by the most brilliant light.

I loved him and he loved me.  We loved each other and became a family.  His. Mine.  We moved in together and things became “Ours”.  It was great. …And then it was not so great.  It was great again.  It was… not.  I still loved him and he still loved me.  That was never the issue, so then… what?  Because here we are, on the “not” side of things which finally turned into the “never will be” faze of our now non-relationship.

Perhaps the what was an unwillingness to let our hearts get broken; an unwillingness to be completely vulnerable, to let go, move on, sacrifice.  In addition, an unwillingness to sweat, though if he came to me and said, “You’re worth it” I’d roll up my sleeves and say, “Let’s do this”.  There is so much work to making relationships work!  There’s a lot of work to just life in general.  Is that why people give up?  Is that why people resist pushing their limits?  They settle in to themselves and just decide, “Well… this is the way I’ve always been.  Guess this is who I’m going to be forever.  Take it or leave it?”  Because to that I say, “Oh, bugger off then!”

You see because, I don’t take what starts as a tiny spark and grows into sheer luminosity very lightly.  In fact, I take that shit quite seriously.  But I also take myself seriously, as well as my family.  I demand a lot of myself and therefore, I demand respect from my partner and I demand a man of integrity.  This means that when the woman you love is asking you to sacrifice for the betterment of your relationship, you get down on your knees and offer up your best metaphorical lamb.  You do NOT saunter off with your tail between your legs because you’re worried the lamb isn’t enough.  Or because you want to keep the lamb for yourself.  NO!  That is not what appeases the gods and goddesses of eternal love.  And let me tell you, that is NOT how committed relationships survive and flourish.  (All of mine have failed so trust me, I’m an expert!)

Interestingly, it just so happens that Valentine’s Day coincides with another holiday: Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of a 40-day religious practice, Lent, also known as a process of reconciliation to the Body of Christ.  During this time, people are called to render their hearts to God by giving up something that is sacred to them.  For some, this is ice cream; chocolate!; coffee (please don’t take away my coffee).  But really, what this time is meant for is to reflect on how one can be a better person.  In the Bible I believe it is referred to as  “conversion” which literally means ‘to turn around’, or in other words, to turn back to your true nature.

Hearts are meant to be broken.  And broken hearts can be made even more whole than what they started out as being, as long as we allow ourselves the time to reflect on who we were born to be and why we sacrifice for a greater sense of belonging.

“To change one’s way of living is the sign and fruit of this broken and reconciled heart by a love that surpasses us.”  –Pope Francis (formerly Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio) in his 2013 Lenten message.

I want a love that surpasses; one that’s worth sacrificing for. When I find it, I will step up to its alter and offer up my fear of a broken heart.