Unbounded Spirit (Inspiration Series “Week” 33)


As long as I can remember, Seema has been a source of light in my life

When I was young, but no longer little, life often felt like a jumbled mix of pain, worry, and the darkness that goes along with having an alcoholic parent. I spent a good amount of time alone, especially after elementary school, when reality sort of came into focus and then began falling part. Though there weren’t a lot of places I wanted to turn, one weekly event could be counted on as a space to lay aside the “stuff” and just be around people.

The MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) group at my church was pretty healthy, with a mix of kids from junior and senior high. At the center of it, at least for me, was Seema Christie. She was just three years older, but to me, she was like a movie star. Gorgeous, with bronze skin and black hair (not to mention a cute boyfriend) she seemed perfect. And to top it all off, she took an interest in this kid who was spending half her time fumbling around trying to figure out how to get through each day.

I came to look forward to those Sunday nights as a time to get away from it all—my own personal Calgon bath—and became closer to Seema. She’d include me in parties, relieving some of the loneliness and giving me hope that the future could somehow get better. When Mom died she was there to give comfort; I found myself turning to her as my family worked to regain its footing.

I loved being around hers. Joel, her dad, was always kind to me and her mom, Kusum, was the kind of gentle, nurturing woman who could always be counted on for a great hug. As a family they seemed to embody friendliness and stability. I was hooked.

As things often happen, Seema and I lost touch as high school ended and everyone went their separate ways. I would think about her from time to time as one of the bright spots in a childhood that was still painful to remember.

And then came Facebook. I think I became friends with her brother, Neal, first, but it wasn’t long before I’d connected with Seema. I scrolled through her page and saw that not only was she still helping people, she had made love, peace, and bringing light into the world a mission of sorts.

She’d become a massage therapist. But not *just* a massage therapist, one who travels the world to work with vulnerable children. The organization she works with is called “Buds to Blossoms,” which tells you all you need to know about their purpose. The pictures of smiling kids, the hugs, reminded me of the kid I used to be and how Seema embraced me, confusion and all.

She painted these big, beautiful canvases filled with color and light. Swirling images that radiate peace, forgiveness, calm. It’s as though her spirit flows through piece of art. In the photos of her, there was that smile I remembered, the dark brown eyes that told you it was safe to come out.

Every post was filled with the same love and warmth. Though we were separated by a lot of miles and time passed, it was as though I could feel her.

And then came learning about Ben, now her husband. I know nothing about him except two things:

1) He may be one of the luckiest people on Earth, to spend his days with Seema, and

2) He must be incredible himself to have won her heart.

They smile like teenagers in love. They hug, they kiss, they lift each other up in the most captivating way. Now remember, this is just from what I can see on Facebook. In real life, I imagine it’s even better.

As I have worked through my past, the decisions and actions taken (and not taken), I’ve come to value those who set an example for me early on of the simplest things, like friendship and caring. I may have not have had all a kid should, but I also had some people—like Seema—who were even more special than I knew.

My goal for the coming years of life is to do more than admire Seema, which is easy; or is to follow her example. To use my gifts to serve others. To find ways to express myself and my soul in ways that reach someone who may need an extra dose of hope.

I want to look at a sunrise, a painting, a meadow, and people in need with Seema’s eye and her unending supply of love. With all the filters we use every day, it would be something to have one that shows us the world the way she experiences it.

So today I am giving thanks for her and doing my best to be a student of all she teaches.


Courage & Convictions (Inspiration Series, Week 32)

Malala was just 17—the youngest recipient ever—when she received the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, with Kailash Satyarthi, for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.

When I was 15, my biggest concerns were how i would get through another day of chemistry, learning all the words to Total Eclipse of the Heart, and if I’d ever have a date.

When Malala Yousafzai was 15, she was recovering from a bullet that went through her head and neck after an assassination attempt by members of the Taliban.

The reason? She wanted girls to be educated.

Born in Pakistan into a Sunni Muslim family, Malala was greatly influenced by her father, Ziauddin, a poet, school owner, and educational activist. He recognized early on that his daughter was special and took the time to encourage her thoughts and learning. It was a difficult time, as the Taliban began to move across all areas of Muslim life.

By the time she was 10, Malala had declared her desire to be a doctor. With the support of her father, she also became a public speaker—in a 2008 speech before a local press club that was covered by regional media, she declared that the Taliban had no right to keep her from an education. She would go on to be a peer educator, encouraging other young people to get engaged in social discourse and journalism.

in January 2009 the Taliban set a new edict that girls would not be allowed in school; the ruling was accompanied by the bombing of more than a hundred girls schools. The harsh mandate did not go unnoticed, and the BBC came looking for someone be to cover the group’s increasing influence from a girl’s perspective. The dangers were real and after original bloggers bowed out, Ziauddin recommended his daughter for the job.

In her first post (published January 3, 2009), Malala wrote about a scary dream she’d had, with military helicopters and fighting, and noted that it wasn’t a new one. She was relieved when the girl’s schools were reopened in March. The fighting was far from over, though, and when their hometown was evacuated the family became separated. That May, Ziauddin was the subject of a Taliban death threat for criticizing the military.

It was around this time that she and her father were approached to be part of a documentary. In it, Malala talked about how her career plans had changed.

“I have a new dream… I must be a politician to save this country. There are so many crises in our country. I want to remove these crises.”

The documentary led to new visibility and even celebrity. Malala began to publicly advocate for women’s education on global platforms. She was still only 12.

In 2011, as her profile file continued to grow, she was awarded two peace prizes for youth. By 2012, she was organizing an education foundation. She also became, at 15, the target of a Taliban assassination attempt. Malala was on a school bus headed home when a gunman shot her; the bullet went through her head and neck.

She was moved to hospitals in Germany and England, where she was treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which specialized in treating military personnel. She was in a coma for several days before speaking on October 17; miraculously her prognosis was for a strong recovery.

The shooting had prompted worldwide outrage that included protests in Pakistan and a petition, signed by more than 3 million, that led to Pakistan’s first Right to Education bill.

Her work was not yet done. She met with world leaders and activists and in July of 2013 spent her birthday addressing the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education. The occasion was named Malala Day; the teen used it to further her message:

“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”

In 2017 Malala would receive yet another honor as co-recipient (the youngest ever) of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian child’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. The following year she opened s school on Lebanon for Syrian refugees.

She had already written her autobiography by then, an accomplishment that is particularly resonant with this writer. It’s almost impossible to truly take on how much life she has lived in her now 20 years.

There are a dozen things that make Malala an Inspirer. What strikes me most is her unending commitment—despite threats, despite an actual attempt on her life—to speaking truth to power. Her dedication literally put her in the line of fire and yet nothing could stop her from spreading her message.

I have to think that some people are just born with a different kind of core, a brain and the kind of integrity that supersedes fear and allows one to push past challenges no matter how difficult. To accept danger and seek truths and fairness anyway.

But while we may not all have the physical and emotional courage of Malala Yousafzai, it is undeniable that in every life there are opportunities to act in ways that reach beyond ourselves. We may not influence world-thinking or make it to the stage of the UN, but we can look at our own beliefs and find what matters to us, then fight for it. As we approach another new year, it is time to put up, stretch those integrity muscles and follow the example of the girl who refused to listen to those who would tell her no.

For some of us it means figuring out what matters most and where we want to spend our energy. Which talents can we bring to the table, what gifts can be put to use? How do we overcome the doubts that try to tell us we can’t really have an impact?

We can start small—hell, we can stay small, as long as we are in the mix, doing something. We can find those who push us to be better and to live up to our fullest potentials. And with the example she’s set, can all look for the Malala inside ourselves.

The world would be a much better place.

Feeding the Soul (Inspiration Series, Week 31)

When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Chef José Andrés wasted no time getting food to its people.

Chef Andrés brought his skills as a chef and inspired together to feed the people of Puerto Rico in their greatest time of need.

Back in Week 21 I wrote about Fred Rogers and his advice to “Look for the helpers.” And when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, in September, it became all too clear that some very special helpers would be required to respond to tremendous and unprecedented needs.

Enter Chef Jose Andrés, world-renowned restaurateur and hero-in-waiting. As politics and bad management hindered progress on the island, the Chef and his troop of workers swept in and did what they do best. Feed the hungry.

Although to the rest of us he seems like a natural at all this, he didn’t start out as a philanthropist. By 2011, Chef Andrés had earned a top reputation for his signature minibar and é restaurants in Washington DC and Las Vegas, as well as for a string of eateries (everything from steakhouses and seafood to casual dining and Spanish fare) across the US. He served as Dean of Spanish Studies at the International Culinary Center and taught a course in how food shapes civilization at George Washington University-–the school would have him as commencement speaker and award him an honorary doctorate degree in public service.

His first big foray into disaster relief came in that year, when he created World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit association of chefs set up to help Haiti recover from the earthquake that killed more than 220,000 of its people. After getting nutritious meals to the most needy, he went beyond the basics and educated Haitians about things like clean cooking fuels that don’t harm the environment.

The experience gave him some preparation on how to handle challenges. He arrived in Puerto Rico on September 25, 2017, just five days after Maria hit, devastating the island and wiping out access to food and water for many. He quickly learned that there was no one in charge and took $10,000 of his own money, as well as credit cards, to get the balls rolling. Soon Chef Andrés was feeding 50,000 people a day; FEMA, whose response to the crisis has been questionable, gave him money to prepare 20,000 meals over a week’s time, and a second contract for two weeks, before declaring they couldn’t give more.

Andrés would grow publicly frustrated with the bureaucracy and lack of urgency he faced from FEMA, but even as the agency pushed back on the criticism, he and his team continued their work. In fact, they delivered more meals than the experienced relief organizations—by opening bottlenecks they were able to get supplies to where they were most needed.

There would be no skimping on the meals they cooked. In an interview with 60 Minutes, he noted the difference between providing packaged MREs and fresh food:

“Americans should be receiving one plate a day of hot food. That’s not too much to ask in America. An MRE is very expensive for the American taxpayer. A hot meal is more affordable, it’s cheaper. It’s what people really need, it’s what people really want. They feel all of a sudden that you are caring for them, that America is caring for them.”

This notion of food not just as nourishment, but as a symbol of commitment, shines through Chef Andrés’ work. At the peak of the crisis he ran 18 kitchens across the island, leading his team in the effort to get meals to every resident he could reach.

He reminded interviewers more than once that those being helped were not just our neighbors—they are, in fact, U.S. citizens who deserve the full support of their country. And so he returned with World Central Kitchen in November for that most American of holidays to serve Thanksgiving meals to 40,000 people, including volunteers who have worked tirelessly since the storm.

Like many of the best Inspirers, Chef Andrés is quite effective in balancing his roles as a master organizer and eloquent spokesman with his job as a cook. He can talk inventory and supplies, then switch effortlessly to nutrition and human dignity. His hands are capable, his spirit seemingly ready for any challenge.

In a world where news—even the most tragic sort—is only relevant until the next headline, it is all too easy to lose track of stories and suffering. It’s tempting to remain wrapped in our own lives and challenges, with the presumption that surely, someone else will step in to help.

And so we count on those better angels among us to keep us engaged and be a voice for those without one. We look to the leaders who see a problem and move quickly to address it. Although not all of us have the expertise to make soup for a thousand, heroes like José Andrés can inspire us to dust off our own gifts and put them to good use.

The Welcome Wagon (Inspiration Series, #30)

David (on the right) has spent a lifetime making connections that count, including with husband Robert.

David Kilmnick first entered my orbit (or perhaps more accurately, I entered his), in my second year of college. Of all the things I’d thought about doing, pledging wasn’t one. But most of my friends had joined this co-ed fraternity, and though i didn’t exactly meet the qualifications, I was invited anyway. After a lifetime of feeling unsure about where (or whether) I fit in, the idea of joining a group gave me a hope for belonging like I had never felt before.

At the heart of the experience was David, who led our little group through the trials and tribulations of pledging. It was all very hush-hush, more than a little stressful for a girl with more than her fair share of insecurities. 

He had a laugh unlike any I’d ever heard–it was loud and silly, a signal that fun was about to start. During the first few weeks, he seemed to recognize my nervousness. I was far more anxious than was reasonable, but throughout the stretch of 8 weeks or so, I could count on him to talk me down off the ledge. I got more than one calming note and advice to relax. 

Once we had passed all the tests, I entered a time that to this day, holds some of my fondest memories. As one of the main leaders of this merry troupe, David played the roles of organizer, pep squad, and all-around fun-maker. Nearly every party included something that he got going – his irrepressible personality was made to engage people and bring them into the action. For someone who’d been craving a community their whole life, it was incredible to feel this kind of connection to people. If we were a small town, David was definitely the Mayor. 

Like so many others, I lost touch with all but a few close college friends after graduation. I wasn’t one of those people who went back for homecoming or got involved in a lot of alumni activities. So when Facebook came into my consciousness almost 10 years ago, seeing the old faces who were such a big part of the best years of my life was especially fun. I’m not sure who friended who, but suddenly, there was his face again. And after all those years, it still made me smile.

David had continued his path as a welcomer, and had found a way to do it that was beyond what I could have imagined. He was the founder and leader of a Long Island-based group dedicated to helping LGBT youth. Over the last two decades LIGALY has provided support and services to hundreds of thousands. The larger LGBT Network he currently directs runs programs focused on health, employment, housing for seniors – if it’s an issue for someone, David’s likely got it covered. 

It’s a huge responsibility and his role encompasses more than just being the guy welcoming those who need a place to be heard and helped. And yet, as I watched his interviews, his speeches, and read his posts, what struck me most is how he radiated that same acceptance I felt as an unconfident college kid desperate to fit in.

He’s been all over the country – the world – as a speaker on LGBT issues and has won multiple awards for his efforts. David is often who networks call for reaction to events and he has worked with high-profile public figures to maximize the impact of his group’s initiatives. 

Among his accomplishments is putting together the first suburban prom for LGBT youth in the US. I don’t know if he attended, but I can see him out on the floor urging everyone to have a great time. Another recent event was especially close to my heart. Anyone who knows David knows he loves his his sports teams, so when he coordinated with the Mets on a Pride Night at Citifield, I imagined him cheering on his team with the boisterous glee of a kid, even as he celebrated such a momentous occasion. 

In a world where we are tempted to stick to our safe spaces, folks who make it their mission to be that friendly face, who let us now we’re not alone, are like a gift from the Universe. Those of us lacking in natural self-esteem often count on them to not only be nice, but to accept and encourage us to be more than mere observers in this life. 

One of the many amazing people David has known is the late Edie Windsor, whose role as plaintiff in the case United States v. Windsor, which successfully overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and was a landmark legal victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States. While it doesn’t surprise me in the least, I am still a bit awed by David’s proximity to such incredible leaders. 

The world needs as many people as possible looking out for and lifting up others. Using their gifts to show the less brave among us that despite how it may sometimes feel, we are not alone; that there are folks out there waiting to be the outstretched hand that says “Come on in.” Those who know David can rely on his to be there. 

I leave you with a quote from Ms. Windsor, whose personal victory was one for so many she’d never meet:

Getting it Done (Inspiration Series, #29)

Finishing her book wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but Deidra Parrish Williams saw it through.

In another lifetime, I might not have gotten to know Deidra Parrish Williams. We didn’t grow up together, or attend the same college, or hang out in the same places. But social media, combined with a few interactions, put her into my orbit.

I’ll be honest. At first, I simply saw this gorgeous gal with a beautiful family and passions for many of the things I cared about, too. She was open with her feelings about things going on in the world, and the kind of person who seemed to naturally boost up those around her. 

She shared the journey when she moved from the northeast down to North Carolina–including encounters that seemed to be straight out of an old version of America, but is still all too real. Deidra is one of those rare people who is honest about her doubts and frustrations with the world while still exuding a sense of calm and optimism that I am sure enlightens everyone around her. I know it does me.

What I didn’t know about Deidra was that in addition to her many roles, she was also working on becoming the thing that sets my spirit afire. An author. Yep, in addition to everything else, the woman can write.

I watched this past summer as The Current’s Whisper came into being. The Facebook posts went from the “It’s coming!” To “It’s here!” It was, quite simply, a wonder to behold; even more so when I learned that behind this incredible achievement were some familiar feelings of nervousness and self-doubt. 

Because you see, this was not a short-term project. What I imagined had been a straight road was actually a winding one that had taken 15 years to travel. Deidra told me about how, while the idea for the story had come pretty quickly, the mechanics of putting it together were not so simple.

“I wasn’t exactly sure how i was going to get the basic storyline to develop into an entire book,” she says. “I put it down a hundred times over the years. I was intimidated at times and I questioned whether i could pull off the kind of story I wanted to deliver. Something rich and evocative.”

She says it was about 10 years in that she felt something different–the story started to come together and she became invested in finishing. That’s when she put herself on the line, began telling people about her goal and asked those closest to her to keep her accountable. She also read other books to remind herself that she too, could do it.

The support, combined with Deidra’s determination, worked. She brought her characters–especially protagonist Kyle, who deals with a veritable trove of family secrets and personal pains–to life, weaving a story of past and present that isn’t always comfortable to read. It is, above all, honest and real. 

As a writer who dreams of creating such things, holding her book was like what a minor leaguer must feel like holding a World Series ring. I could almost hear the voice saying, “You can do it too.”

And that, I think, is a key to Inspirers. The dedication they show–whether to a craft, to a dream, or to making a difference–speaks to those of us out here still doubting that we have it in us. They remind us of the value of our gifts by sharing theirs.

Deidra passed along a quote from her grandfather that has stayed with her.

“Constant drippings make impressions.” 

I’d like to think that’s a lesson for anyone who has a hard time seeing how their little efforts will ever pay off. 

I take extra hope from the advice Deidra has for those of us still on the fence about our ability to tell our own stories:

To learn more about Deidra and all she does, visit her website at www.DeidraParrishWilliams.com

Keeping it Real (Inspiration Series, Week 28)

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, made his expectations clear after a racial incident at the school.

There’s no such thing as a slow news day anymore. One of the challenges, as things seem to move ever-faster and feel ever-crazier, is to sift among the latest headlines and pick up the stories that resonate beyond the latest person to say something nuts.

I don’t know a lot about General Jay Silveria’s past. His Air Force bio and online snippets talk mostly about his military career – 32 years of service and leadership in some of the world’s most dangerous spots. He was Vice Commander of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and previously served as Deputy Commander USAF Central Command. He’s logged more than 3,900 flight hours and received numerous honors, including the Pentagon’s highest award for service outside combat.

My guess is that the General didn’t expect to make headlines – the high-ranking men and women of the military seem to share a humility that doesn’t seek attention. They put their troops first, their country first. And so, when he confronted an incident at the Academy’s preparatory school, he likely wasn’t thinking about how far his response might reach.

“Incident” is a nice word for the racial slurs that were scrawled on the dormitory-room message boards of five black students. As he gathered all 4,000 cadets, along with 1500 faculty and staff members, the 3-Star General was blunt. 

“That kind of behavior has no place at the prep school, it has no place at USAFA, and it has no place in the United States Air Force. You should be outraged, not only as an airman, but as a human being.”

It was a 5-minute speech that didn’t shy away from recent events and the racial tensions they represented. He mentioned the NFL protests and Ferguson, and referenced a talk by the Dean following the march by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Silveria was very obviously angry. His tone relayed the seriousness of what had taken place and he was in no mood to do anything less than condemn it. And yet, even with the classic military gravitas in place, the General spoke to higher goals. 

“But I also have a better idea, and it’s about our diversity . . . It’s the power that we come from all walks of life, that we come from all parts of this country, that we come from all races, that we come from all backgrounds, gender, all make-up, all upbringing. The power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful.”

It was striking. With no exposure or real understanding of the military, I’ve always simply seen it as this narrow place of rules, regulations, and prescribed behavior that allows no deviation. They say, you do. But even as Silveria denounced what had happened, he took the time to openly acknowledge wounds that have become a national topic of conversation and communicate a vision for the academy that looks forward.

So much of the time, we look to eliminate the things that make us different. I know that as someone who yearns for a conflict-free life, it is often most comfortable to quietly urge peaceful resolution at all cost. It has made me a generally nice person, but too often, it leaves me hesitant to speak out or make waves. 

By not just reducing a racist act to an ordinary infraction – and by actively extolling the very diversity it tried to destroy – Silveria took center stage as a leader who could be trusted to value each cadet’s history and the strengths that come from their individual life experiences. The goal is not simply to melt everyone down into a monolith, but to create a team where each person contributes to a greater whole.

Putting a point on it all, the General advised his audience to take out their phones and record what he had to say next. It was a simple message for those who couldn’t deal with his vision. For me, the get-along girl, it was a ln important reminder of the impact a few unambiguous words can have:

“If you can’t treat someone from another race or different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

No further words needed. If you missed the complete speech, check it out here. 

Superheroes Never Sleep   (Inspiration Series, week 27)

Take the imagination of George Lucas and mix it with the stamina of George Washington and the whimsy of Jim Henson, and you get Marcus Stricklin.

The first (and only) time I saw Marcus Stricklin was in a Vegas hotel. It always surprises me a little, realizing that though it feels like I’ve shared many experiences – wonderful and tragic – with him, we’ve shared the same air space just once. Despite the brevity of our meeting (which, in fairness, included the most kickass wedding of the 21st century), i don’t exaggerate when I say he’s had a pretty profound affect on me. 

I won’t give a bio on Marcus – he’s a brilliant storyteller and doesn’t need me for that. In fact, he’s written about his past, including the challenges of a childhood spent as a self-professed geek who sometimes caught the attention of 6-foot-plus dudes that could only be thwarted by genius. I highly recommend finding him on Medium, where he’s told some of the best tales – he reaches back into his life and makes you feel like you were with him through each experience. 

I don’t think I saw him without a smile during the wedding weekend. When we got back home and did the requisite friending on Facebook, I soon realized that this guy, this writer, was the real deal. 

He seemed to put out copy as if it was the easiest thing in the world. I’d wake up at 7:30 in New Jersey and be so proud of myself for an early start until I saw that Marcus – three hours behind in Arizona -had already begun. I worked on never-to-be-completed stories as he developed scripts, then cast, filmed, and produced them. I’ve always been a bit of an Eeyore, but suddenly there was this long-distance Tigger, bouncing around and doing everything I said I wanted to achieve. 

And then, Marcus hit a slump. For reasons I didn’t yet understand, he was sad, and seemingly unable to shake the demons. A mutual friend let me in on the fact that the happy guy I’d met was, in fact, a much more complicated man with dark shadows that threatened to overtake him. His beloved brother had been killed. He lost his mother way too soon, and “enjoyed” the kinds of fraught relationships with other family members that tend to send us writers to the page or to the bottle. 

I can’t say whether Marcus has been on any benders, at least not that kind. But he has shared the traumas of depression, of loss, and of feeling as though there are no good things left to say. There was a time when it seemed that despite being adorable and brilliant, he might not find his way forward to the kind of life his brother and mother would certainly wish for him.

And then, like all good superheroes, he rose back up, even finding the girl. But she lived across the country – and came with three young kids! My inner self, schooled on the art of not taking risks, watched in both amazement and fear as Marcus’ relationship with Natasha (who I’ve never met but kinda adore), grew and grew some more.

He was moving. She was moving. I could barely keep up, but next thing I knew there was a wedding coming! The guy who a few years earlier had lamented his singlehood was now not just going to be a husband, but a father of four, giving his son Jordan a gaggle of giggly girls to love and to adore him. 

They married. They moved their new family to Arizona. And Marcus began to chronicle the craziness of his newfound joys – from a near-disaster at White Barn to YouTube cooking videos with the kids. Life seemed to have reached a high point. 

But all good superheroes have an equally persistent nemesis, and Marcus’ demons did not go quietly. He actually quit writing during his engagement, and it took more than two months to get back, when his creativity decided it would no longer be imprisoned. And back he roared –  he was soon writing, directing, and once again serving as a mentor and role model to his many fans, friends, and partners. 

That’s another strength – encouraging everyone around him. Whether as a script doctor, producing partner, or director, he stands by those willing to take the leap. From dusk to dawn, he’ll be on set or online with ideas, motivation, and an insistence on getting the work done. 

I’d already pretty much confirmed Marcus’ greatness when word came that he and Natasha were adding on to their family of six. As if part of a movie script, these two incredible families, already bonded, would now share a tiny new soul that connects them at an even deeper level. It should surprise no one that when Finnegan Mario (for his father’s beloved brother) Stricklin entered the world, he was toasted and feted as the son of a superhero should be. 

Many of my inspirers have been people who choose. While huge swaths of us mortals wait for the sign, for the right time and circumstances, the brave ones forge ahead. Not just though blue skies or across green fields, but through the mud of disappointment, the valleys where darkness pervades. They may take a moment to wallow, but there is always a next step back onto the path and into the light.

As I work to become one of these people, I give a toast today to the ones, like Marcus,  who remind us that superheroes are not just in the movies – they are in our lives and ready to help us uncover our own best selves. 

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