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.

Bringing In The New Year With Some Good Ol’ Fashioned Cheer

If you love something, set it free. It’s something most of us have heard; this year has taught and reinforced for me many things and that is one of them. A few months ago, I wrote in a poem :

“It isn’t until you’ve been fully rejected that you can begin to fathom the possibility that you might be worthy.”

And ever since then I find that I keep coming back to that idea. Admittedly, sometimes I’ll put something out there without being totally convinced I have it right. Yet the truth–my truth–is that my whole life I’ve wanted to be made to feel by everyone I tried to love that I am worthy of also being loved. And too often I’ve been disappointed.

They say love is blind. But I don’t think it is love that blinds us.  It is need that distorts our thinking and ability to see things for what they are. After finally accepting being rejected by people I care for, I began to feel a sense of liberation. I don’t need anyone to tell me I am worthy. Love–pure love–can only exist where there is no need. My worth is inherent. And anyone who can’t see that is the one who is blind.

This year has been a series of losses, let downs, crises, and failures; full of moments and experiences that made me stop and think and feel quite a bit. I’ve fought, I’ve lost, I’ve moiled, and I’ve mourned. I’ve been challenged in so many unusual ways I never could  have prepared for or expected. I’ve had to let go of the life I envisioned for myself and my family in preparation for a life that was meant to be mine.   I’ve endured rejection and hardship so that I could discover the true meaning of love and freedom.

So many people I know have been going through the same things.   The struggle to accept our lives as they are, without need, without regret… this is one that few fail to fall into.  We all long for something.  We all look in all the wrong places before stumbling onto something right.  We all get desperate when a sense of control is beyond us.  We all want to belong.

But we also have to relinquish whatever it is we cling to if we are ever to experience pure peace. pure bliss. pure love.  We have to remember the light that is inside, even in these darkest of days.  I belong to myself.  And, I belong to something much, much greater than me.  I am a part of it.  You are a part of it.  It unites us in so many mystical and magical ways.

There will always be dark as long as there is light.  2016 was a dark year.  I’m hoping 2017 is accompanied by a lot more light, despite the cards stacked against it.  But I think no matter what challenge lies before us, loving our way through it is the only way to wholly overcome anything.

And so it is, as we reach the brink of both an end and a beginning, that I resolve to love and to let go.  May we all learn to embrace our dark side even as we welcome the light.  May we cherish the winter in spite of its storms while remembering the warmth that is promised.  And to the New Year… Cheers!

All The Love In My Life

This morning shortly after arriving to work I became fixated on something my 8-year old made for me when he was in preschool. To think that that was just over 3 years ago is bizarre. On the one hand it feels like just yesterday. But on the other it’s as though it were so long ago. Who I was then, where I was, what I was doing was completely different. And in that time my son has grown in so many of his own brilliant ways most assuredly.

heart

What the message reminds me of is a lesson I have found myself sharing with my son over and over and over again. Because yes, there are times when I’ll catch him feeling sorry for himself; he feels he’s been cheated out of something that someone else got and he didn’t. And what I’ll tell him is how important it is to focus on what he has instead of what he hasn’t got. It’s amazing to watch those little wheels turning inside his head as a shift in perspective begins to take place on his face and in the way he proceeds with his life. He moves on. He gets over it. He learns to appreciate what he already has instead of clinging to feelings of jealousy and insecurity. He remembers the love in his life.  (And the ice cream I just treated him to perhaps!)

There is something for me to take away from this, too. How often have I pined away for a love that couldn’t be reciprocated? How often have I wallowed in sorrow, loneliness, and discontent?  Or wondered why other people get to fall in love and live happily ever after and I don’t?  All the while forgetting–even deliberately–that I am already surrounded by so much love in my life.  And who am I to expect more than what is already given me?

harrower

I assume too much. It’s a shield I wear to keep out all that can hurt me. Because when I bleed, I bleed for all; it’s not just my pain, but other’s suffering as well that I feel.

I bear too much. What a plight for one person to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. What a burden to know the sins of the pure; the shame in waking up to one’s consciousness.

Some choose to sleep. I wake to forget.

The delusions and solecism of yesterday are no match for what love has in store for this moment. And guilt is just a useless tool to keep us confined to the hasty habits of our blindness.

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.

today’s quip

Let love be your only intention.

I suppose that’s not enough to be blog worthy perhaps. But it’s enough to fill your heart with an exuberance of warm fuzzies. And really, isn’t that what it’s all about? Life is hard.  We are all trying to overcome it in some way. Let the love in. Let the love out. Feel the warmness.

love incarnate

The only thing that keeps me sane is the belief that only love will remain. When all is said and done, what was left unspoken will come down to one word: Love. That’s all there ever truly was. That’s all that will be left behind. Whether with me in form, they’re engraved upon my soul. Mates at one time at least. Lovers no more. But still so much a part of me; their stories becoming my own, an interwoven tapestry. Dreams of what we could be soothed by gratitude for all that we were. And for what it’s worth, what we were was Love incarnate.

insatiable insecurity

I don’t need to wear my sexuality on my sleeve; I’m not a tease or a sleaze, unless you’re in bed with me and even then I prefer to be quite selective because I happen to believe some things are meant to be sacred.

I will strip down to my soul leaving me vulnerable, naked. You will know my love is real, I won’t have to fake it. I’m everything you could ever want or need because alone I am complete.

I do not seek their nods of approval; don’t need such strokes to my ego to assure myself, the world my life is full. People like that are really quite hollow, empty inside. Because all that exists for them is what one feasts with their eyes.

And, my love, you love to stroke their ego; somehow it feeds the insecurity you bleed. Each one interchangeable with the next but just as titillating nonetheless. I’m afraid you’ve been cursed not blessed with such an availability of beauty. Because that which you crave is that which will leave you eternally hungry.

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.

Lessons Learned on a Rainy Tuesday Morning in the Midst of Winter

I’ve given it some thought on this rainy Tuesday morning and it seems to me that the key to sustaining a nourishing relationship is being able to answer ‘yes’ to these four things: 1) Do I love this person? 2) Do I love them so much that I would be willing to be dragged through the mud in a torrential thunder storm with them?  3) Do I trust this person to be honest with themselves in addition to being honest with me? 4) Above all, do I feel respected and important? 

I really feel that if you can answer ‘yes’ to those questions about another person, and they can say the same about you, you’re probably destined for truly amazing things.  You are probably on your way to becoming your best version of yourself because it is through our trials with others, especially with those we love and trust more than anyone, that we gain the power (if we allow it) to rise above even ourselves instead of becoming wrought with fear.  And by rising above ourselves, we can know the beauty of true love.  It really is quite simple, and yet so complicated.  But then, I believe we all too often make things harder than they really are.

I think we have to recognize that times are going to be tough.  Insecurities will arise; they’re part of what make us who we are, each one telling a story about where we’ve been, what we’ve done, things we’ve seen.  And they’re also part of what make us so uniquely divine.  In those insecurities are opportunities for strength and vulnerability;  for it is by admitting our vulnerability that we actually gain strength.

Allowing another to see us… really see us… opens up the path to love and enlightenment.  It is frightening and full of uncertainty, yet still, this is the path I choose.  Which one do you choose?