Keeping History Alive  (Inspiration series, Week 4)

Elie Wiesel: Author & winner of the Nobel Peace Prize

I’ll be honest – I didn’t immediately realize that January 29 was Holocaust Remembrance Day. And yet, as I looked for my next inspiration during this past week, my eye was drawn to a slim volume on my bookshelf. It had been years since I first read “Night,” by Elie Wiesel, and at a time when the world seems to be in a huge upheaval, it seemed like a good place to turn to for thoughts about the human condition.

Born in 1928 in Transylvania, Wiesel was just 16 when his family of 5 was taken from their home, along with their village of faithful Jews. Separated quickly from his mother and sisters, he and his father became part of the horror that was Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

His descriptions of the camp – from the crusts of bread to the torture of beatings – are at once journalistic and surreal in their brutality, as they reveal the extent of man’s evil. I would not attempt to describe them with any but his own words:

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all of eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Never.”

– from Night, by Elie Wiesel

The gate at Auschwitz – Arbeit Macht Frei (Work will set you free)

So what, exactly, is my inspiration from Wiesel? Survival? I was certainly struck by the ability of these prisoners to adjust to the horrors of their new existence. But many of them did not survive, and as Wiesel himself suggests, much of that was pure luck. When in 1944 his foot was injured and became swelled, it could have been the end for him – but he recovered. He made it through “selections,” he was able to do enough right things to avoid death, while others, including his mother, little sister, and ultimately his father, did not. 

So while his story astounds me with the recognition of just how much the human body and spirit can endure, it is something else that drew me to Elie Wiesel. 

His determination to tell the story.

Since the time we learned to communicate, humans have relied on gifted writers and archivists to record what has happened. To relay the ugly truths that, along with triumphs, have marked our days on this planet. We look to these historians to tell us about how slavery became an entrenched labor system; how people who thought differently became persecuted; how, in a land right in our midst, men and women were forced to dig their own graves before being shot into them, as part of a Final Solution. We depend on them to provide the gruesome, firsthand details so that we cannot pretend it was all just a tale. 

Not all who experience horror can talk about it, let alone use it to fuel a life focused on teaching new generations and speaking out for those who were forever silenced. People like Elie Wiesel, combining their will to survive with a gift for language, deliver a service whose value is immeasurable and survives far beyond their time on earth. They inspire us to speak out, to tell what happened, rather than assume the worst cannot, will not, happen again.

I end this week with a question: How will we bring our own stories into the world? We may not all be bestselling writers, but each of us has a gift to share, a way to communicate the lessons we’ve learned. Are we bringing our wisdom to each encounter? Teaching from our tragedies, as well as from our victories? Lighting the way for others? If so, we might truly say that we are making the most of our time here – as Elie Wiesel did his. 


Fighting the good fight – and passing it on (Inspiration Series, Week 3)

Lifetime Legacy Award recipient from the American Conference on Diversity, Theodora Smiley Lacey

It seems appropriate to take a look at a woman this weekend, as all over the world groups gathered, filled mostly with women, to express concern, hope, and yes, at times, anger. There are enough opinions to build a mountain, but one thing rang clear to me – women know how to get things done. In that spirit, I’ve chosen one who was an actual influencer from my childhood. 

I knew Theo Lacey as a teacher. A warm but insistent elementary school teacher who commanded respect and gave it back. Even as a fifth grader I could sense she was different somehow. And she was, a lesson we kids would learn year after year when it was time to hear about civil rights.

For Mrs. Lacey did much more than teach from a book – she taught from experience, as an activist who not only had met Martin Luther King Jr., she called him a friend; he even baptized her children. 

Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, she was constantly confronted with injustice and bigotry. In stories published in national newspapers marking the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Lacey would recall her mother tracing her feet onto cardboard because she couldn’t try on shoes on the store. And then, organizing rides for fellow blacks during the bus boycott in Montgomery in 1955. Her husband would sometimes drive behind MLK to help ensure his safety.

Mrs. Lacey didn’t leave her beliefs in the South when she moved to Teaneck, NJ. The town was known as the first in the U.S. to voluntarily integrate its schools following the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision, but there was plenty of work to do.  Mrs. Lacey was soon helping driving efforts to integrate housing and ensure access to good schools for all children. 

And of course, there were those talks to students about the famous people she knew, about the struggle I couldn’t always understand. That willingness to participate in the battles, along with the desire to pass on what can feel like old history to those of us who would never experience it, was an immeasurable gift. I didn’t know, at age 10, how special it was to have such a direct link. I sure know now. 

It is the willingness to stand up that I recognize in Theodora Lacey’s stories and life. The determination that comes along with staking one’s position despite huge odds; joining the fight, and speaking out. What takes her a step beyond, for me, is bringing those stories to a bunch of kids living in a very different place and time. She provided context to a history that is usually read about, not listened to, live. Voices like hers will always be essential to making better tomorrows, because they bring past events into the present and keep them from fading away.

For the end of this story, I give you two quotes. First, from the lady herself, discussing progress in 2012:

“There’s still a presumptive privilege I think that many enjoy that blinds them to the inequality that we suffer daily,” she says. “We must continue the dialogue and we must be more open and honest in righting the wrong.”

And from Dr. King:


May we all heed the guidance of these two very smart people. 

For a 2010 video of Mrs. Lacey speaking about her memories of Dr. King: https://vimeo.com/8880108

USA Today story: https://www.google.com/amp/amp.usatoday.com/story/2646013


The Best Medicine

It was a memorial service unlike any I’d been to before. The church filled quickly, and the tears you’d expect to see were plentiful. But there was something else – in every story, every remembrance, there were these big bursts of laughter. It was as if the focus of our grief was in the director’s chair. Because boy, did he know how to make a crowd laugh.

Sanborn. Born. Shakey. Ron Sanborn was called all of these by various groups of his admirers, friends, and family. To some he was a fellow actor, to others a lifelong buddy. And while many hadn’t met before this day, it was as though Ron himself had made the introductions. There were guys who could imitate his laugh – a goofy giggle that came out of a booming body – with such perfection that I almost did a double-take. There were hugs upon hugs between people who hadn’t seen each other in too many years. The love and laughter mixed in with the sorrow to make for a unforgettable day.

My initial encounter with Ron was unlike any other of my life. An avid follower of the Actor’s Shakespeare Company, with whom Ron did lots of his work, I wanted to be more than an audience member. I wanted to get to know the actors. Because he was so friendly, I’d always introduce myself to Ron and say hi. But he couldn’t remember my name.

After a couple of times, I came up with a solution, telling him I’d give him $20 the next time if he remembered who I was. At the end of the next performance he spotted me. 

“Paula!” he boomed. I grinned and handed him the money, over his (slight) protest. He never forgot again, and I made a connection that will never leave me.

Ron was one of “those” guys who enter a room and take it over. He would joke, he’d sing, do voices… a quintessential entertainer who loved seeing people happy. Everything he did was big; his life seemed to be a reflection of his huge heart. He talked big, he drank big – his neighborhood bar was a big part of celebrating his life. The combination of booze and friendly faces was made for Ron Sanborn.

I hung out with him in a bar once. It was during my “Hemingway phase,” when I’d determined that with a trip to Key West and consumption of whiskey, I could channel his creative spirit. Three of us sat in a local pub, and while I can’t honestly say I remember much after glass number 3 (or maybe it was 4) – I know that Ron sang karaoke and I can pretty much guarantee it was great. The next day was not so fun, but the memories made were worth the pain. Ron was worth it. 

When he died, so, so far too soon, the stories poured forth. Friends with little kids posting videos of Sanborn reading Green Eggs & Ham, cracking himself up. Tales of his flirting between scenes during shows in the park. And flirting nearly everywhere else, too. He was irredeemable, in the very best sense of the word. 

His irreverent personality was complemented by a reverence for his duty to his fellow man. As a treasured member of his church he cooked meals for the homeless and built houses – he was one of those people who Mr. Rogers told us to keep an eye out for:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Ron was a helper of the highest order.

It’s almost impossible to place a value on someone who makes you feel the kind of joy he did. It’s as though Ron was put on Earth to do just that. The laughter that followed him around wasn’t polite. It was huge, from the belly, the kind that leaves your sides aching. 

The older I get, the more clear it is that having fun should always be at the top of my to-do list. The time spent worrying has done me little good and I am looking more closely at the joyous people around me for guidance. Not because they are perfect, but because their overriding instinct is to smile, and to make someone else do the same. The outpouring of love for Ron, both when he fell ill and when he passed away, was proof of how much value a laugh can leave behind. 

So, my three takeaways for my own life, courtesy of the wisdom of Sanborn:

  1. Laugh loudly, and laugh often. Fear not that others will think me mad, and invite them to join me in the merriment instead.
  2. Follow my passions – Ron held a corporate day job, but infused his life with creative pursuits that fulfilled his soul. I must muster the courage to do the same.
  3. Love freely and with gusto. Give big hugs, let people know how happy they make me. Read to little children, travel with friends. Make every day count. 

And flirt, as often as possible.

    To end, I give you a quote from Herman Melville, which sounds just like something Ron would say:


    Little Package, Big Inspiration (Week 1 of a series)

      

    On the day she was born, Olivia’s 1.5-ounce body weighed less than a small guinea pig. Her skin was translucent, her fingers like matchsticks; she was about as long as a dollar bill. In the hours after she arrived (naturally, as doctors prepared for a C-section), a well-meaning priest offered last rites, which Olivia’s mother declined. And so her life began, 15 weeks earlier than expected.

    By the time she was a few minutes old she had been hooked up to tubes and machines in the NICU, while her shell-shocked family tried to take it all in. She would spend the next stage of her tiny life in the company of nurses, monitors, and other infants with varying challenges. Each day brought new hope, and many brought new fears.

    After 100 of those days – which included multiple surgeries and a premature trip home – Olivia left Englewood Hospital weighing 6 pounds and was welcomed into her family to live a miraculous life. 

    Reality set in quickly. Olivia was going to need a lot of help to do what most babies do naturally. When I took on the role of caregiver, she was about 10 months and hadn’t hit any of the normal milestones. And so, a team of therapists came in and taught her to sit up, accept food. There were days I couldn’t stay in the room, listening to her scream in protest as the PT specialist worked her legs back and forth. Slowly, she began to move and grow.

    It was a bout with pneumonia when I first recognized the quality that I would come to identify with this little girl. After a few days in the hospital, it became clear she was recovering when she took to throwing things at the nurses. A small act of defiance that declared, “you haven’t got the best of me.” 

    I couldn’t figure out where it came from, but it was breathtaking. As she’s continued to grow, beat odds, face down challenges, Olivia’s spirit of survival, of thriving despite an impossible beginning, still moves me to tears. Changes never came easy to her; talking, learning – even eating was an ordeal  – but she trucked on. It was as though everything I’d hoped the human spirit and body was capable of was manifested in this little girl.

    And that’s what makes her story so visceral to me, and why I chose Olivia as my first Inspirer. It’s not always about choosing how to be, or making a grand statement about what we’re capable of. Sometimes, pure will and innate strength can be called upon to power through the challenges. 

    As a ruminator, I tend to think about what’s possible in every situation – I can often wonder my way right out of taking the next step, no matter how positive. Olivia reminds me that at our core, we have the instincts and abilities needed to overcome just about any obstacle.

    I used to wish that Olivia could walk around with a picture over her head of when she was in the NICU, so everyone would understand how amazing her journey has been. But it’s become clear to me that a big part of the miracle is how her tough start on life didn’t keep her from where she is now, a regular pre-teen with all the anxiety and fun that entails. That normality may just be the ultimate proof of her victory. 

    As to my goal with this blog series – how to bring these inspiring qualities into my every day life? I’ve come up with three reminders:

    1. Drop the doubt, along with the aversion to change that too often stops progress.
    2. Accept that I am here for a purpose, and that fighting to fulfill it is a noble task. 
    3. Stop underestimating myself, saying “I can’t” to so many things. Take my cue from the Olivia of today who, despite her shaky beginnings, is pretty darned confident of her place in the world.

    If each day, I confront one thing my mind tells me I can’t do – whether it’s vacuuming or working on my novel – I can honestly say that I’m moving forward. “Pulling an Olivia,” if you will.

    To end, a quote from an expert on survival:


    May we all be responsive to change, and use it to live our best lives.


    Back in the Saddle… and looking for inspiration 

    I’m a huge fan of real-life stories  –  I remember being mesmerized by Laura Ingalls Wilder and her adventures on the frontier, transfixed by the tragedy of Anne Frank. To read about these girls, so far removed from my world yet somehow very much like me, was to journey into possibility.  

    Over the years my interest in subjects has expanded to include Presidents, explorers, teachers. As I read their stories I find myself looking for the sparks that illustrate those unique qualities – courage, wisdom, creativity – that distinguish them from the many who shared their space. What is it about them that speaks to me? What lessons can I take from those I admire and bring into my own life, into the world? 

    Thus, my 2017 blogging adventure, “Inspired.” Over the course of the year I’ll present people, both well-known and known-to-me, who, through their actions, beliefs, or simply through their living, have helped me to look at things differently, think in new ways, aspire to create a more meaningful life. 

    Commitments tend to scare me –  yet this one  feels like the right way to dust off my writing wings and pretend I’m a Wright brother, or even Yuan Huangtou, who in the year 559 survived an experimental (and forced) glide by kite. Sure, he was  executed afterwards, but first he soared! My hope is that this journey will also serve as a reminder that inspiration can be found everywhere, as long as we keep our eyes and minds open. 

    My first Inspirer will be a person, young as she is, who has shifted my life more than almost any other. A girl who from the very moment of her birth at less than 24 weeks began showing the strength that lies within the human body. Anyone who knows me knows about Olivia and her journey. There is no better person to kick off this series. 

    2016 was a crazy, exhausting year. If my resources were greater, perhaps I’d spend the coming one meditating in the mountains of Asia, hiking through the Alps with my St. Bernard, or writing in a Paris cafe. Times being what they are, blogging is a better fit for the budget. 

    But just you wait, you mountains – you haven’t heard the last of me.

    I’ll end each of these posts with a quote. Often by my subject, other times by people whose words touch me. To start, wise words by an inspirer who went to be alone in a cabin in the woods, and left us all better off because of it.

    I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”

    – Henry David Thoreau

    May we all be inspired to elevate ourselves, as high as we can go.


    A picture is worth a thousand….

    Would you rather your resume have this vibe...

    Would you rather your resume have this vibe…

    ...or this one?

    …or this one?

    After 7 years of writing resumes, it surprises me a little when – usually after a conversation with a client – I gain new insight into the process. This happened recently with “Janet”, a successful marketing executive with great experiences and much to offer an employer. From the start, Janet was concerned with taking up too much space on her resume with information that she wasn’t sure was needed. We went back and forth on a few things, such as why having an address/location, both her own and the companies for which she had worked, was important and a way to let hirers know she was local.

    We had started off planning on one page, not totally unreasonable given her limited number of long-term jobs. Janet was definitely the “to the point” type of client – but trying to fit all the information in meant a crowded page. Towards the end of the process, she mentioned her belief that the résumé shouldn’t be exhaustive, that it was more like a snapshot. She didn’t want people to be bored by a lot of details.

    A snapshot – the image stuck with me. I actually use a similar metaphor when working on clients’ job descriptions. I tell them the goal is to create a “picture” of them on the job, so that employers can easily see the scope of their knowledge and experience.

    Don’t get me wrong – Janet’s instinct to not bog the résumé down in minutia is a good one. But as I explained, using her snapshot metaphor, you want to be sure you’re not shortchanging yourself.

    When we think of a family photograph, the image is often Mom and Dad, seated on a sofa in an outdated living room, surrounded by children and maybe extended family. It’s sweet, may make us a little nostalgic, but it doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the people in the shot. In fact, you can almost swap out another group and there wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference.

    Now compare that to a photo of a family hiking up a mountain, or standing at the edge of a lake with fishing poles in hand. Maybe it’s Grandma and Grandpa cheering like lunatics at one of the kids’ Little League games, or the whole group participating in a hot dog eating contest. Suddenly, there’s action, and we get a sense of who these people are, what they enjoy, and where their focus may lie. It’s like going from a fuzzy Polaroid to a clear digital photo, and our interest is peaked.

    To be sure, there IS such a thing as too much detail in a resume. There’s no need to chronicle every function at every job, particularly ones you don’t want to do again. It’s critical to find the balance between what needs to be communicated and what just might be too much. No one wants to work through pages and pages of stuff to find what’s relevant to them. But once your resume is complete, it should paint a compelling picture of you, the professional, that gives readers a full picture of your experiences and achievements, as well as a glimpse of what you might be able to do for them.  That’s when you’ve hooked them and have the opportunity to reel in your next great position.

    To getting the job of our dreams – Cheers!


    Week 9 – The Perfect Match (btw, does anyone have an energy bar?)

     

    Match-Game

    Even though Wayne’s analogy wasn’t quite right, I rather like the idea of “matching” with Intention as though it was a young Richard Dawson

    So here I am, more than 9 weeks into The Power of Intention, and ummm… well…. I haven’t exactly been a standout spokesperson for the concept, considering that I’m only on Chapter 4. Theoretically (in my mind, that is), I should be well on my way and telling you all about the amazing results I’m seeing. I’d love to do that, but the one thing that I’ve gained through this haphazard and stumbling journey so far is a commitment, if not yet to Intention, to honesty. And so I sit here hoping that there are still folks out there listening, pulling for me to take the next step.

    I shouldn’t have waited so long to begin this chapter, because it’s right up my alley. Wayne titled this one “The Obstacles to Connecting to Intention”. It’s a subject I can speak to – I know a thing or two about obstacles, having both overcome some and inadvertently creating others (no outsourcing needed!) for myself.

    I’ll admit, I got a bit distracted from the start of it when, to show how we are disconnected from Intention, Wayne brought up a an old game show called “The Match Game”. He then then proceeded to describe not the classic Gene Rayburn show featuring luminaries like Brett Somers and Charles Nelson Reilly, but rather a distorted version of what’s more like The Newlywed Game, even through that comparison wasn’t exactly accurate, either. But I got the point—Wayne was going to talk about what has become a mainstay of so many self-help tomes.

    Acting as if. “Matching” what we want to how we think and what we do.

    Surely we’ve all heard the philosophy by now. Think and behave as though what we desire has already been attained. We focus on our inner speech and say/do things from the perspective of the finish line. So rather than, “I am fat and lazy,” we are instructed to tell ourselves, “I am shaping my body and mind to achieve optimal health and energy.” That second statement is how we confront the negativity and “match up” (thus the show analogy) with Intention; and then, well, the world realigns to make it so.

    My cynicism climbed a notch—I’ll admit it. If there’s one thing about getting older it’s that there are fewer things you haven’t tried. I’ve been aboard this boat before, and watched as we set set sail, excited about the river and where it might take me. I’ve even had it work – I once “intended” a job in writing, and 6 months later I was in my first gig at a newspaper. But overall the track record wasn’t so great. I’d spent more time struggling than achieving, and seemed to often find myself starting over from scratch. And yet, the fact that I still remember and even honor that one instance tells me it was important. Perhaps, in the timeline of my life, it was there to be a kind of beacon; no matter how rough the waters, there was that knowledge that I had successfully navigated them once and could again.

    The Match Game continued, taking on what we tell ourselves about the circumstances of our lives, what has always been (“I’ve always been poor,” “I’ve always thought this way”), and even how we get waylaid by what others expect or want from us. I’ve gotten caught up in this last one, especially in my writing, telling myself that a certain memory can never be told, or that it could bring rejection. To counteract that, I remind myself of author Anne Lamott’s wise words to writers. “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

    Not quite Wayne Dyer’s style of egoless-ness, perhaps,  but worth remembering as I strive to be more true to myself and my story.

    Most of the rest of the chapter talks about energy, otherwise known as my nemesis. I may be behind on my reading, but at this point, I’ve written enough posts that I don’t recall if I’ve brought up my … let’s just say my sometimes questionable level of get-up-and-go. More often than not, I can be found looking for a spot to sit and rest. Park benches, empty spots on the subway—they are like little oases in a world that too often seems to be holding a giant Standing Room Only sign. It suddenly occurs to me that this could be part of my ongoing problem. I’ve been trying to keep hold of the trolley strap while remaining seated.

    Wayne says that all around me (in materials, sound, and light) are the waves of energy that make up our world, and that lower energy is converted when confronted by a higher one. Darkness, for example, disappears when a match is introduced, and becomes light. Moving up the scale are the energies of our thoughts—when running at higher and faster levels, our minds can move beyond what seems possible and into that next sphere where intention takes over. I assume this is what athletes experience as they train and get stronger. On the other end of the spectrum are the negative thoughts. My history with them is much deeper and I can easily recall having bad days that turned worse because I refused to let go to of feelings and fears that held me down. In fact, there have been times when I almost embraced them, if only because their familiarity kept me feeling safe.

    “You project onto the world what you see inside and you fail to project into the world what you fail to see inside.” This explains those people that seem to radiate from someplace deep under their skin. The ones who, like the match, can brighten a room just by entering it. The thing I love about Wayne is his insistence that this capability is in ALL of us. That we can CHOOSE this way of being at any time. So I—Paula—who has failed to reach so many goals, who has given up time and again, I still have the spark, just waiting for the go ahead to ignite.

    On a scale of one to 10, I’d say my life has faced challenges that are about a 6. I was born with a disability (I can hear my friend Sandy saying, “Who wasn’t?”) that made things that should have been fun stressful. Things like kickball and ballet, where my limitations seemed to me to be proclaimed by an invisible neon sign. I was never picked on, but the quiet anguish found a spot inside me and could be counted upon to reinforce my feelings of inadequacy. I’ve already talked about my mom in a previous post—I won’t go into it all again, suffice it to say that watching her fall and not be able to get back up confirmed to a younger me that the one truth in life was that happy endings are not guaranteed. The insecurity these experiences left me with led to some monstrously poor decisions. I will be forever grateful that despite everything I did and felt, no one has been permanently harmed in the making of this thing I call my life.

    This Chapter 4 is a long, long one. In the next part, there are suggestions for removing barriers and syncing with Intention – everything from meditation and eating right to being conscious of the music, people, and activities that surround us. I’m not necessarily on board with Wayne’s choice to abstain completely from foods and drink that may lower energy. If I can’t look forward to a glass of wine or a scone every so often, it’s gonna be rough. There has to be a line in the sand somewhere—mine, I’m afraid, is dessert. The advice moves up a notch though—I can certainly place the recommended affirmations around the house and work on forgiveness in order to rid myself of the energies that don’t serve me.

    Finally (or almost finally), there is advice for letting go of ego-driven ideas of self-importance. Being offended, needing to win (winning? What’s winning??), needing to be right and needing to have more are all there. My favorite is “Let go of your reputation”. Not THAT reputation, but the desire to control how others see you. It’s amazing, the censoring that goes on as I try to craft my image – don’t risk this, or say that goofy thing, what will they think? How much of our lives do we spend (waste) worrying about the reaction of others? Time to stop doing that.

    We end, as always, with suggestions for putting the Chapter’s ideas into action. Monitor the inner dialogue, practice shifting it to match Intention. Bring light to moments of doubt and depression—be aware of low energy and work to replace it with a higher vibration. View obstacles as opportunities and be sure to tell the ego to get out of the way when it tries to take control.

    At this moment, though I still feel weird about the lapse between posts, I choose gratitude for finding the page over disappointment in getting to it late. Intention has yet not taken deep enough hold to keep me on schedule, but it has become entrenched enough to not let me give up completely. I bid all readers adieu, with a promise to keep moving and reporting from along the path. May all of our journeys be fruitful and help us to fulfill our destinies.


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