“A person that is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” [Dave Barry]

Kindness is “the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see,” according to Mark Twain.  Random Acts of Kindness is a place to find ideas on how to be nice, just in case you can’t come up with any on your own.  A highlight of the site is ideas on how to practice kindness — after all, “you can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.” (John Wooden)

The Human Kindness Foundation thinks kindness is critical for the modern world: they acknowledge that “in the midst of global crises such as pollution, wars and famine, kindness may be too easily dismissed as a ‘soft’ issue, or a luxury to be addressed after the urgent problems are solved.”  But kindness is the greatest need overall. They stress that “until we reflect basic kindness in everything we do, our political gestures will be fleeting and fragile.”  After all, Emerson reminds us that “you cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon will be too late.”

It’s important to remember the essence of kindness.  “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not,” says Samuel Johnson.  That is because we are called to be nice to people because of who we are, not who they are.  And who we should work to become is a kinder, gentler version of ourselves, engaged in helping each other and the world.

 

The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
Nelson Henderson

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“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” [Christopher Reeve]

CAUSE OF THE WEEK!

I am always right, and you should probably just agree with me — but I don’t want everyone to blindly follow me and do what I do.  There are a lot of problems; we should probably split up.

Every week, I will show you something to get excited about!  If you don’t get excited, hang out until next week.  Different strokes, folks.

Even better, if you or someone you know is doing something the rest of us should know about, leave me a note and let me know.  Maybe you’ll get me excited, and I can help.  I would love to help!

*                         *                         *

Anne Lamott says that “hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”  This is the story of an organization doing just that.

[Confession:  This post feels like cheating two-fold.  First, I’m cheating by making my post on the virtue of “hope” the story of Project HOPE.  Second, I’m cheating by making another Cause of the Week something I am intensely passionate about.]

Project HOPE “delivers health education, medicines, medical supplies and volunteer help where needed.”  Since 1958, they’ve worked to make healthcare available to people around the globe.  Committed to long-term sustainable healthcare, they educate health professionals and community health workers, improve local health facilities, fight diseases such as TB, HIV/AIDS and diabetes and provide humanitarian assistance through donated medicines, medical supplies and volunteer medical help.  They’re “dedicated to providing lasting solutions to health problems” and believe in helping people to help themselves.  They are reaching out to more than thirty-five countries.

So why do I care?  Well, I’m not sure if you know it or not, but I’m actually pretty passionate about providing medical care to underserved areas.  Domestically and abroad, many people don’t have access to quality medical care.  Part of the reason I am actively pursuing health care education is to be able to effect positive change in this bleak situation.

You can help by donating, volunteering, or simply spreading the word.

 

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.
Lin Yutang

“Love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence.” [Eric Fromm]

Love has been defined as an intense feeling of affection.  William Carlos Williams calls it “the response of our deepest natures to one another” and Zora Neale Hurston says it “makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”  You’re hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t interested in romantic love — teenage girls drawing hearts around the name of their crush, college-aged ladies obsessing over finding the perfect mate, women of all ages packing the theaters to watch The Notebook (confession — I’ve never seen it).  And romantic love is important.  Love, romance, passion — these are things that make life seem full.

But love is a broader topic, as well — meant to be extended to not just everyone in your life, but to everyone you encounter and to humanity at large.  In fact, as David Byrne notes, “sometimes it’s a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence.” 

It’s critical to remember that every person in your life craves love; it’s crucial to give love as freely as you wish to receive it.  Mother Teresa wanted us to know that the “hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”  You can, and should, have an active part in helping to spread as much love in the world as you can, because love “unlocks doors and windows that weren’t even there before” (Mignon McLaughlin) and “is never a waste of time” (Astrid Aluda).

Once you’ve acknowledged that you should love everyone, it may take some practice to learn how.  I am one of those people who believes that loving yourself is essential to loving anyone else.  Loving yourself and loving others is one of those things that should be a lot easier than it is.  The link provided will give you a lot of awesome insight into getting started.  Among my favorite tips (at the bottom) are loving genuinely, accepting who you love for who they are, and not being ashamed to love.  The ultimate tip provided, however is this: Recognize that any feeling of jealousy is a clear sign of fear. Therefore the most appropriate response is to begin loving again (since we cannot love and fear at the same time).

One final thought worth noting is that many people are familiar with the feeling of love.  What might be even more necessary to familiarize ourselves with is the action of love.

 

Love doesn’t sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread;
remade all the time, made new.
Ursula K. LeGuin

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

At this time of year, it’s particularly fitting for most to talk about the virtue of peace.  After all, we are supposed to find within ourselves goodwill to all men throughout this season, in order to create peace on earth.

One of the most poignant tales of peace is the story of the Christmas truce.  If you’re not familiar with the story, you should definitely review the page in depth.  December 24, 1941 was the thick of World War I.  But 100,000 or so British and German troops on the Western Front thought it might be more important to honor the spirit of the season through a cessation of hostilities.  “The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across the ‘No Man’s Land’, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. The fraternisation was not, however, without its risks; some soldiers were shot by opposing forces. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but it continued until New Year’s Day in others.”

If these men could find peace within themselves during such troubled times, can’t we find it today?  Baruch Spinoza wants you to know “peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice.”  Find ways to bring peace to your life.  Here are some places to begin, if you can’t come up with any on your own.

Peace
United For Peace
Peace Action

 

It isn’t enough to talk about peace.  One must believe in it.  And it isn’t enough to believe in it.  One must work at it.
Eleanor Roosevelt

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” [Joseph Campbell]

The fact that the first virtue mentioned in the the tale of the two wolves is joy does not escape me.  As far as I’m concerned, joy — having it and spreading it — is one of the true meanings of life.

Joy is defined in the dictionary as an emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good.  It speaks to living, as I like to say, the depth and breadth of your life instead of just the length of it.

If you are not especially familiar with Buddhism, you are probably at least familiar with the concept that life is suffering.  However, click here to learn what they have to say about finding joy among all the pain life can inflict (hint: you have to open up fully to your experience, not close down).  Charlotte Davis Kasl, who wrote Finding Joy, notes that “joy comes from spontaneity and going where the spirit leads us.”

It’s not as easy as it sounds, but actively pursuing joy is important.  Joy is “the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow,” according to Helen Keller.  There is evidence that the path to joy can help relieve depression (which I have been known to suffer from), so maybe it’s pretty clear why I think it’s important.  The thing is, it’s not just me.

Soulful Living has an excellent series on finding joy, each article about how to bring happiness into your life.  And if you are truly intent on harnessing all the joy life has to offer, you can find more helpful tips here — because “when you’re happy, you feel better, look better, and live longer.”  They make it sounds like joy really is serious business, and they’re not making it up!  Studies show that simple activities really do increase joy, and joy increases your life span.  Progressive muscle relaxation increased feelings of joy and relaxation in a study of 42 students published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology last year.  Children who exercised aerobically for 15 minutes felt significantly more joyful afterward than those who watched a 15-minute video, according to a study published in Perception of Motor Skills last year.  Recent evidence also suggests that grown-ups find joy in brief bouts of aerobic exercise.  And last year, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed a correlation between longevity and positive feelings in the diaries of a group of nuns. Those who lived the longest expressed the most joy about life.

Among my favorite tips on the list: get outside, pat a pet, know you’re loved, revel in simplicity, sleep in (quite possibly the ultimate pleasure in life), take a detour, croon in your car, and get active instead of watching TV.  Which ones are your favorites?

 

Let a joy keep you.  Reach out your hands and take it when it runs by.
Carl Sandburg

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. [e.e. cummings]

If this blog is to be my true voice, it’s important that I never stop fighting to be myself.  An important part of that is to take a very warts-and-all approach to letting you into my life.

I am seeking a meaningful life, but I don’t have all the answers.

Re-read that if you wish, because I’m not likely to ever say it again.

Even more than not having all the answers, I have often let myself lose sight of the few that I once held so dear.  In college, I thought that the world would open like a flower as I stepped out into it; I fervently believed I could and would leave my mark.  Needless to say, as I sit here now, I don’t feel that I have.

But after a long journey through very dark times, I believe again that I will.  And I’m starting now.  Well, I started a couple of years ago when I began the arduous task of intense self-exploration.  In that time, I reclaimed my favorite childhood legend and created this blog.  Now I am going to explore the legend (and why it means so much to me) more closely in a series of posts on the virtues I am trying to open myself up to and embody more on a daily basis.

While you’re waiting (on baited breath, no doubt) for my posts, check out this one on the Top 10 Ways to Start Living a More Meaningful Life, especially if you agree that “too many of us live like goldfish, swimming in the same orbit day in and day out feeling uninspired, tired, bored and sometimes worse.”

I will let you find your own highlights, but this was mine: Make an effort to release the negative aspects of your past.  Try not to be imprisoned by your past.  Do not define yourself by your past.

 

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. 
~e.e. cummings

Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man. [Benjamin Franklin]

I will soon begin a series of posts that will illustrate fully the meaning of this blog.  The point is, after all, to have a meaningful life in the most literal sense: a life brimming with purpose, overflowing with meaning.  The virtues of the good wolf will be highlighted in these posts one at a time, and we will explore each topic in full.

In case you’ve forgotten what they are, you can re-read the tale…or check out this nifty little cheat sheet I created just for you:

  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Love
  • Hope
  • Serenity
  • Humility
  • Kindness
  • Benevolence
  • Empathy
  • Generosity
  • Truth
  • Compassion
  • Faith

Stay tuned for a closer look at each of these topics — what they mean to me, to you, and to the future we are now creating and occupying!

Also, a return to the Cause of the Week is in order shortly.  Please let me know if you have any causes you believe I should be highlighting.

In a time when nothing is more certain than change, the commitment of two people to one another has become difficult and rare. Yet, by its scarcity, the beauty and value of this exchange have only been enhanced. [Robert Sexton]

CAUSE OF THE WEEK!

I am always right, and you should probably just agree with me — but I don’t want everyone to blindly follow me and do what I do.  There are a lot of problems; we should probably split up.

Every week, I will show you something to get excited about!  If you don’t get excited, hang out until next week.  Different strokes, folks.

Even better, if you or someone you know is doing something the rest of us should know about, leave me a note and let me know.  Maybe you’ll get me excited, and I can help.  I would love to help!

*                         *                         *

 

Okay, not every week is going to be something I’m particularly active in or passionate about — but it’s only fair that this first week be something I am wholeheartedly pursuing: the National Marriage Boycott.

Billing themselves as a “youth-led grassroots movement determined to create a world where everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, can live with dignity and security” who ” usher in a national culture of acceptance by pledging not to marry until there is full federal marriage equality,” the NMB has one goal: repeal DOMA.

DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, may be something you don’t know much about.  Fair enough.  I don’t really need you to know that it became law on September 21, 1996 or that it passed in the Senate by a vote of 85-14 and in the House at 342-67 before President Clinton signed it into law.  Here is the take-home information about DOMA: the federal government defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman; no state needs to recognize as a marriage a same-sex relationship considered a marriage in another state (eg, these hippie states letting people who spend their lives together make it as official as any of the rest of us).

If you don’t have an opinion on gay marriage, you haven’t been paying much attention the past few years.  I’ll be more than happy to tell you mine, which you can share, as it’s the rational and reasonable one.

DOMA offends me on several different levels.  First, it offends me as a citizen of a secular society — civil marriage is a civil right.  Then, it offends me as a  libertarian — the government should let us worry about our relationships and personal lives.  And finally, it offends me as a human being — as NMB states, this “lack of legal equality, in addition to lack of societal acceptance, contributes to an increased rate of suicide among youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. These youth are up to four times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.”  Paying attention now?

This is important enough that I will say it again, now that I’ve got your undivided attention.  Civil marriage is a civil right.  DOMA denies 1,137 federal rights to same-sex couples, including partner benefits such as Social Security and sponsorship for bi-national couples.  The civil rights struggle has been long and arduous in this country, and I know there are people who don’t agree with me, but I feel that this is the next great frontier on this battle.  This isn’t about the various religious groups, for example, recognizing gay marriage (although if you know me, you know I just. don’t. get. the. big. deal.) — gays are simply asking for their civil right to marry.

The government has better things to worry about than who I marry.  There is a crippling recession that everyone is saying we are putting behind us even as the unemployment rate in parts of the country reach record numbers (beating out their previous record numbers).  There are soldiers abroad who need to come home to their families.  There is the fact that we are too fat to fight for our country (The Week has noted that “48,000 would-be enlistees were rejected solely for being overweight between 2005 and 2009, and about 12,000 soldiers leave the U.S. military prematurely each year because they can’t pass the annual physical fitness test.”)  Even though I embrace classical libertarianism and I think our government should pretty much leave us alone, any of these would probably be better projects to busy themselves with than the determination to keep people who love each other from marrying.

Finally, this argument has never made any sense to me on a very basic level.  It makes no logical sense.  Most of our parents were born in a country where interracial marriage was illegal (check the record book, kids — interracial marriage was officially legal in 1967).  That is 43-ish years of interracial marriage, and it seems silly to anyone in my generation to ask if that’s okay.  Of course it’s okay.  Maybe it’s not for you, but who are you to tell someone it’s not for them?  To me, this is an extension of the same argument.

I know you cannot change people’s minds for them; people have to be open to new ideas and to change.  And I know there are die-hard campaigners against gay marriage.  The thing is, I just don’t know where their ground is to stand on. 

For the most part, heterosexuals in this country are desecrating the old-fashioned idea of marriage all on their own.  People go into marriage knowing that if things get tough, they will use the escape hatch called divorce — the rate is around 50%.  Single parents abound, and Divorce Magazine says only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents.  That’s sad, folks.  That’s “the lowest figure in the western world.”

I am not saying that gay people would be any better at marriage if they were given a shot, but they really can’t be any worse.

Anyway, all that said, what can you do?  The National Marriage Boycott would be happy to tell you, on their Facebook page or their website.

Me?  I signed the pledge.  I got the ring.  And I wear it every day.  I wear my ring to remind myself, and I wear it to spark conversations with people who are interested.

I dream of a day where people won’t have a debate about gay marriage being legal, the same way there is no debate about heterosexual marriage being legal. 

Do you believe in gay marriage?  Well, it’s not Santa Claus.  It’s marriage.  People are people, civil marriage is a civil right, and we should all work to repeal DOMA.

 

 One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again. 

[Judith Viorst]

 

 

 

And to those who really want to know, I believe in gay marriage more fervently than I believe in heterosexual marriage.

Who I Am and Why You Should Care

Who I Am:
There is a lot to say, lots of work to be done, and we both have to get out and change the world.  But I understand that the most important thing right now is the relationship we are going to build together — so I would like to introduce myself.  Here is what it says in my dating profile:

— I have lived all over, but I’m a Jersey girl at heart.
— I have a few pets (so if you’re allergic to/don’t like cats or dogs, sorry…)
— I’m very family oriented and fiercely devoted to the people in my life.
— I’m unashamed to like cheesy music and awful, but entertaining, TV shows.
— I’m dying to go skydiving, and also interested in taking flying lessons.
— I would love to learn to ride a motorcycle, and to get one of my own.
— I read voraciously.
— I love classic car shows, bowling, guns, Renaissance faires and campfires.
— Travel is very important to me (some must-see spots include Alaska, Greece, Prague, Japan, Trinidad, New Zealand, and Disneyworld!).
— I don’t have any children or tattoos. Eventually, I want to have both – and I don’t mind if you have either.
— I am not one of those girls that believes there are “no good guys left” and I’m not desperate to meet “the one.”

My tastes in everything run to extremes.  Musically, I love acoustic/folk anything — but nothing cheers me up faster than someone singing in Spanish (salsa/reggaeton/etc.), nothing sounds more like home to me than country music (and I have always believed you can’t beat a good country love song); and sometimes I turn into a white rapper in my car.  I love everything from action movies to indie flicks (top 5 of all-time are The Princess Bride, Kung Fu Hustle, Chasing Amy, Office Space, and American Psycho).  I like to read poetry, historical and political nonfiction and some (well-written) fiction. And I find something I like in every person I meet.

After a few years of nothing but trouble, I am thankful to be alive and determined to live to the fullest and I’m very invested in the fresh start that began when I moved to SC.  I am working earnestly to improve life and move forward from here.  I never take myself or life too seriously, but I always keep an eye on what’s important — I try really hard not to lie to myself, and likewise I won’t lie to you.  I live by the motto that life is a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves: I love adventure and excitement, but not drama.

And here’s what it does not say, but these are important things for you to know, to get the whole picture.  I am an empath to the extreme, feeling  what everyone around me feels.  I want to make a difference in the world.  I want to enjoy my life.  I believe in sending cards.  I love the sense and feel of community.  I believe in hugs and touching.  I don’t believe in big pharma.  I eat meat.  I don’t eat bread; I am struggling to give up sugar.  I drink a LOT of water.  I love my dog, but I prefer my cats (and other people’s dogs).  The sound volume must always be on an odd number, which drives my little sister crazy.  I cannot flush a toilet unless the lid is closed.  I can’t seem to stop biting my nails even though I know it’s a disgusting habit.  Recently I resolved to curse a lot less.  I am quick to frustration (especially when people aren’t on my page or with bad drivers), but also quick to laughter.  I believe in expression, in love, in art.  I believe in religion, but not in oppression.  I am a natural judger with a constant internal struggle not to judge.  I am probably the least patient person I’ve ever met.  I have really strong opinions, and I don’t believe in editing them for various audiences.  In all instances where an important conversation is required, I am basically incapable of having one.  I have not always believed I am a good person.  I am almost thirty, and what I want to do more than anything else is something that matters.

 

Why You Should Care
The more important thing to tell you is why you shouldn’t care.  For example, if you believe the world owes you anything, you should not care.  If you get off on outranking someone, if you buy a new car every year or two, or if you are more interested in the results of The Bachelor than the recession, or the war, or something worth caring about, then don’t bother.  (Full disclosure: one of my favorite train wrecks is The Jersey Shore.  The point is, there are other things to care about, too.)  If you never ask why and never look deeper, we will probably not be friends. 

But you should care if you’re anything like me — weird.  Imperfect but passionate.  Maybe, like me, you have felt all of your passion drain slowly away since you left school.  Maybe you woke up one day, even today, and realized that there has to be more.  If you did everything the way you were “supposed” to and feel like you’ve gotten nothing out of it, if you have been searching for meaning or just yearning for it, then I hope you will share my journey.  I have recently come to the conclusion that my life has not been what it should — but that I have complete control over where it goes from here. That is the most important part. 

In high school, we were told that we’d get to study whatever we wanted in college.  In college, we were told that we were going to get “real jobs” and be productive members of society.  And now, here we are: doing what we’re supposed to do, and feeling like there has to be something more. 

Specifically, here I am: I was told growing up that I am brilliant, that I would be amazing one day.  My senior year of college, I started to make my life and goals smaller.  My entire life was a roller coaster that completely jumped the track at 21.  Since college, I have moved seven times trying to feel settled.  I have been a gypsy for a long time, but always seeking to get in line. 

My mother used to tell me that the two best jobs to do when you’re young is waitressing and reception, so you will always have something to fall back on.  She also stressed education, almost without purpose.  Education for education’s sake.  I waitressed for a day when I was sixteen, and spilled a man’s soup in his lap.  I tried graduate school, but my life was a mess and I was bored, and dropped out.  Two years later, after I saved my own life by leaving an abusive relationship, I tried to apply for a job in an office (at 23, with the resume of an honors college graduate, but very little practical experience).  The lady looked me in the eye and asked why I was qualified to answer her phones.  I lucked into a different office job (after moving from Pennsylvania to Texas), and worked for the company for two years — with a one year break in the middle to accomodate the emotional breakdown I had following the death of my grandfather.  I am working for that company now, and I’ll probably never again be asked why I’m qualified to answer someone’s phones.  But do I want to be 27 and qualified to just answer phones?  No.

I have begun to read The Art of Nonconformity after a series of revelations and nudging from people in my life and the universe itself, and decided to make some unconventional choices to change my life so that it matches my ideals more.  I don’t want to be so busy that I don’t have time to live, and I never want to look back and realize there were things I should have done.  I am deeply committed to the idea of a life with no regrets.

The story behind the vision of this blog is on its own page, so I will briefly summarize my point in all this: I am setting out to change my life and the world, and I hope you will too.