“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” — Barbara De Angelis
The other day, I woke up to a text from my friend Matthew DiGirolamo.
Matthew and I worked together for many years. He’s a bright and creative writer and thinker, so I pay attention when he sends me a message.
Matthew said: “I think we should create an ‘Inner Peace Corps.’ Our world is in a mental and emotional health crisis and I feel like we need a corps of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, meditation coaches, etc. to be organized in a massive and coordinated volunteer effort. In times of tragedy and grief, they can help people process their pain, trauma, grief, and stress, and help them connect to their core emotions in a healthy way.”
“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” — Deepak Chopra
As I watched the news unfold on Thursday about the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, here in California, a woman on the treadmill next to me at the gym said, “You know, you can’t go anywhere in this country anymore. Nowhere is safe.”
I’ve always known life is fragile. As someone who grew up in a family where two uncles were gunned down, I had that message drilled into me at a very young age. It’s one I have never forgotten.
But the idea that nowhere is safe anymore is a terrifying reality, isn’t it? How does one “live” when one feels that nowhere is actually safe to live? That’s a question each of us must ask ourselves these days.
For me, it’s all just another reminder to get my house in order. I don’t mean my physical house, per se. (Although getting my house in order over the summer really did help center me.) No, I mean my house of relationships. Because the truth is, you just never know.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Guess what Tuesday is?
Yep, it’s Election Day. But it’s also my birthday! Yippee!
Every year as my birthday approaches, I like to take stock of my life. I like to drill down and assess where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.
I ask myself, “Am I in connection with those I love? Am I spending time with them? Do they feel supported by me? Do they feel my love?”
I also take stock of my work. I ask, “Do I feel like it’s bringing me meaning? Do I want to get up every day and dive into it? Does it satisfy my curiosity? Am I learning and growing? Do I feel like I have a mission larger than myself and that I am giving my all to achieving it?”
Then I ask, “Am I in connection with God?” Truthfully, I find myself relying a lot on this relationship, especially as life moves forward.
When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I heard the words, but it took me several years to accept the realities of the disease.
I’ll never forget one moment when we were sitting outside in his backyard together. It was just a few years after he was diagnosed. There was traffic racing by on a nearby highway, but he thought he heard water flowing.
“Don’t you love the sound of that water?” my father asked me.
I corrected him. “No daddy, that’s traffic.”
He shook his head and insisted that he heard water. I corrected him several times until finally, I accepted his version of reality.
“Wow, Daddy, I hear the water, too,” I said. “It’s so calming.”
He smiled and nodded, relieved that I had met him where he was.
My friend Martha said something to me the other day that stopped me cold. “I have an idea for you,” she said. Having no idea what her idea could possibly be, I said, “Go for it. Tell me.”
Now, Martha knows me well. She knows my strengths, my weaknesses, my fears. She’s stood beside me when it was dark and she has constantly and consistently pushed me into my own light. When a person like that says they have an idea for you, pay attention.
Martha went on to tell me that a mutual friend who had recently been in a meeting with me remarked, “I didn’t know how smart Maria is. I didn’t realize who she was until that meeting. Why is she holding back her power?”
Martha continued, “Why don’t you take a week and walk into every encounter – personally and professionally – and say exactly what’s on your mind? Why don’t you take a week to feel your own personal power? Don’t be afraid that you might offend people. Don’t be afraid you might scare people. Don’t be afraid of your own intensity. Step into it and see how you feel.”
“If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.” — Chinese
I’ve been thinking so much lately about what can bring us together and what can bridge our deep divide. All kinds of ideas have come to mind.
Some are so very basic, like “vote! vote! vote!” It’s a gift and it’s our civic duty, so let’s exercise that right on November 6 (which just happens to be my birthday).
I’ve also thought about the importance of seeking out our neighbors. It’s such a simple idea, and yet, it’s an important step in building community, connection and common ground.
So are Sunday dinners. I’ve talked about the power of them before and it’s an idea that I’m really hoping will catch on. Invite people from all different walks of life — people from different races, people who hold different political views, people who have different life experiences than yours. After all, if we want to bring people together, then starting in our own homes is a powerful place to start.
I know many of you are waking up feeling enraged, angry, frustrated and disillusioned this morning. Meanwhile, others of you feel this process ended fairly and are probably just relieved that all this Supreme Court drama is over.
In fact, I heard some say yesterday, “I’m glad this is over. It’s time to move on.”
Yes, the news cycle will move on. It always does.
But, I believe the soul of our country is forever altered. So are the souls of all those people who shared their stories. Who confronted long, buried and painful memories. Who testified and spoke up. Even for those who stayed silent, I imagine their souls are also forever changed.
“The ego seeks to divide and separate. The spirit seeks to unify and heal.” — Pema Chodron
I had been looking forward to this past week for months.
My youngest son turned 21 on Thursday, and months ago, I made plans to fly out to see him in Michigan and celebrate. After all, 21 is one of those landmark birthdays. With him being the baby of the family, I was excited to go visit.
First thing Thursday morning, I called to tell him that I loved him. Then, I got on a plane to head his way and ended up spending the entire travel day watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s testimonies. It was a day I will never forget.
By the time I landed in Michigan, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, even though all I had done all day was listen. But, I guess I had also absorbed everything that had transpired. I absorbed and related to Dr. Ford’s terror and her fear. I believed her story and I understood her reticence to step forward. I admired her sense of civic duty, her bravery, her courage and her honesty. I felt her pain. As she spoke, I wept. I wept for her and for all the people who have experienced sexual assault and who continue to deal with its lasting trauma.
“The moment a woman comes home to herself, the moment she knows that she has become a person of influence, an artist of her life, a sculptor of her universe, a person with rights and responsibilities who is respected and recognized, the resurrection of the world begins.”
“You have found your voice.”
That’s what the subject line of the e-mail said.
I stared at it for the longest time. I didn’t really even think that I wanted to open the note. The subject line was a gift in and of itself.
As I stared at it longer, my eyes welled up with tears. I had waited a long time to hear a message like that, much less read it in print.
Think about that phrase in the context of your own life. Think about someone saying that to you. How would it make you feel?
Do you feel as though you have found your voice, and if so, are you using it the way you want? If you haven’t, do you know what’s keeping you from finding it?
For many (and I’d put myself in this category) it can take a long time to find your own authentic voice. Over the course of my life, I’ve used my voice in a myriad of ways. I’ve used it to tell other people’s stories. I’ve used it to advocate for people running for office or causes I believe in. I’ve used it on behalf of those I love. I’ve used it lovingly, sternly, timidly, and assertively. And, somewhere along the way after using it enough, I’ve finally found my own true voice.
“Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.” – Thomas Edison
This week, I’ve been thinking about how many of us spend our present lives stuck in the future.
“When I make this much money, I’ll finally do x, y or z…”
“I’ll travel one day…”
“When my kids are older, that’s when I’ll really get to living…”
“I’ll vote in the next presidential election, but I won’t this November because it’s not as important…”
The list goes on and on.
Needless to say, I’ve certainly done a lot of that kind of projecting in my own life. But I was reminded this past week that our present is all we have.
We have today. That’s it. We don’t get to decide about tomorrow. So the question we should all be asking ourselves is, “What am I doing today with the time I have, right here, right now?”
Dear Friend (a.k.a., you, the Sunday Paper reader),
How have you been? I’ve missed you over these past few weeks. Even though I spent August taking a spiritual break, I found myself missing our weekly connection.
I must confess, there were moments when I found myself wondering whether you missed me as well. But as I stepped back from work for the month (which was way harder than I anticipated), I found that I was better able to realize what I was seeking in my life. (Remember, I said that I wanted to make good on Rumi’s quote, “What you are seeking is seeking you.”)
Turns out, I was seeking less busyness. Less intense thinking. More calm. More connection. More wonder.
Wonder gets you out of your head. It feels less intense than thinking. It feels more stream of consciousness and more creative. It actually feels freeing and it allows one to connect more with oneself and others.
As I set out for Africa with my youngest son Christopher at the beginning of August, I decided that my month would be focused on that concept of wonder.
A few weekends ago, I went to visit my brother Bobby and his family in Wyoming. He left LA about two years ago, and at the time, his departure really hit me hard. I liked having him as a neighbor and so close by.
But my essay today isn’t really about why he moved or how his move affected me. Instead, it’s about something he said to me on my first day in his new home.
He said: “When I woke up this morning, I heard your voice downstairs and I said, ‘Everything is good.’ Your voice sounds like home. I’ve heard it my whole life and it makes me happy.”
I was taken aback by his words. The idea that my voice could make another human being feel content and feel at home deeply moved me.
Before this week even started, I knew that I wanted to write my essay this Sunday about inclusion and unity.
I knew that I wanted to write about pushing for change. About staying the course. About the power that one voice and one idea can have in making a difference. About how people can mobilize around that one idea and work together to change families, change futures, change lives, and change our entire society for the better.
I wanted to write about all of this because, this past week, the Special Olympics — the program that my mother started in our own backyard – turned 50 years old! My family and the larger Special Olympics family came together to celebrate in Chicago, the site of the very first games. We were joined by many familiar faces, as well as lots of new ones who showed up to lend their voices and support to this important cause. It was a wow on every level. (Thank you, Chance the Rapper, Smokey Robinson, and all the other artists who performed at the celebration concert last night.)
Love. It’s that four-letter word that makes our world go ‘round.
Artists sing about love. Writers write about love. Painters paint about love. Protestors take to the streets carrying placards that plead for more love. And, every once in a while, a political leader stands up and speaks about the importance of leading from a place of love. (I wish this happened more often than it does.)
I believe in love big time. I also believe that we can all get better at loving ourselves and loving each other.
Love is easy and love is hard. Even if you’ve been burned by it, you still want to put your heart back in the fire. It’s just that good. It’s just that necessary. It’s just that vital to your health.
Because love is such a big topic, I talk to my kids about it a lot. I talk about what I’ve come to learn love is, and what it isn’t. The truth is, I don’t think we talk enough about the reality of everyday love. So often it presents itself to us in small moments, but we’re too busy to stop and notice that it’s there, much less give gratitude for it.
The other day, my brother Timothy spoke to a packed stadium as he opened the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.
As he talked about “taking a stand for inclusion,” everyone in the stadium rose to their feet. Tears filled their eyes. Hearts burst with inspiration. A friend who was there even told me that he left the stadium feeling more hopeful about humanity and our country than he had in ages.
Meanwhile that same night in Los Angeles, my friend Suzanne took her kids and a few friends to an open-air revival of the musical “Grease.” She said that she, too, was struck by the joy that filled the amphitheater. She, too, was moved by how easily everyone came together to enjoy themselves, to be kind to one another, and to be in community.
The other morning when I sat down to meditate, my mind was bouncing all over the place and I struggled to access a place of calm.
One second, I was thinking about my children. The next, I was thinking about the children who have been separated from their parents at the border. I could feel myself feeling their fear and anxiety and I shuddered at the thought of what they must be going through.
Then, I found myself thinking about the terror inside the newsroom in Annapolis. I felt terror inside me as I thought about how unsafe everyone seems to feel these days. In fact, just the other day, I cautioned my kids not to get into a fight with someone on the road (or anywhere else for that matter). I cautioned them that everyone has so much rage and anger these days that you have to be careful in every circumstance. You just never know.
I’ve changed this column numerous times over the past few days.
Why? Because words matter, and I wanted to convey a message this week that is hopeful, yet still has just the right amount of indignation to it. After all, this is a moment that requires some indignation.
Over the last few days, I have found myself stopping, staring, shaking my head, and getting upset at what I’ve seen. My friends, this is not a moment to scroll by. This is a moment to make your voice heard. I’m not just talking about the important issue of immigration. (I think we all know that immigration reform is needed, and I do believe that we can come to a conclusion that is both compassionate and respectful of our borders.) I’m talking about making your voice heard on all issues that we face today, and that we’ll continue to face in the days, weeks, and months to come.
This is not a moment to lose your mind and rant and rage. I don’t believe that ranting and raging works. What I do believe works is using our voices in a forceful, confident, and collective way. What works are voices that express just the right amount of outrage, just the right amount of shock, and just the right amount of care — as in, capital CARE.
I’ve been thinking about how to make each and every day matter. How to make each and every day memorable and meaningful.
If the last week or so has taught us anything, it’s that people are super fragile. All of us are, at one point or another. It’s hard to know what’s really going on inside the hearts and minds of others, including those we care about most. So, the most important thing any of us can do with our lives — and with the minutes of our days — is to try our best to make them matter for ourselves and for those we care about.
On this particular day, Father’s Day, I’m thinking a lot about my father and the memories we shared during the time we had together. I’m also thinking about all the other fathers I know who are stepping up, showing up, and trying to be as present as possible in their children’s lives. Happy Father’s Day to you!
Like motherhood, fatherhood is the job of a lifetime. And, like many mothers, there are fathers who also doubt themselves and struggle with their role as a parent. They wonder about their importance and their influence on their children. They wonder if they’re getting things right, or if they’re messing up. They ask themselves, “am I better at this than my own father was?” So many men tell me that’s their hope and their desire. They also wonder, “What will my children remember about me after I’m gone?”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of shifting your thinking.
I’ve written in the past about shifting my own thinking from “I have to…” to “I GET to…” I also wrote last week about my shifting my thinking on time from “It’s happening to me…,” to “It’s happening FOR me…”
Shifting your thoughts can shift your perception of a person, of a place, of an event, or most importantly, of yourself. How you view yourself is truly dependent on how you think about yourself and your life.
Do you see yourself as a victim? If so, try shifting to survivor. Tell yourself, “I am a survivor.” Just use the word over and over again.
Do you see yourself as weak and indecisive? Then tell yourself that you are brave, clear and confident instead.
Not too long ago, someone asked me why I hadn’t published my book, “I’ve Been Thinking…,” sooner. After all, I’ve been writing these essays and sharing them in The Sunday Paper for years, so I could have easily published it a year or two ago.
But, as I told that person, and as I’ve told others on this journey, I honestly couldn’t have put it out any sooner. This book came out when it was supposed to for me. It came at just the right time.
I think so many of us are in a rush these days. We’re in a rush to get on with things. A rush to get over things. A rush to be where we think we are supposed to be.
But, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that stuff happens when it’s supposed to in our lives, not always when we think it should. At least that’s been the case in my life.