“Those who tell the stories rule the world.” — Hopi American Indian proverb
I love striking up conversations with people from all walks of life, especially those who have walked down paths I know nothing about. I try to have these conversations as often as I can, because I am always struck by the wisdom I discover in each and every one.
Earlier this week as my family vacationed at Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains, I met a forest ranger named Dwight. Dwight taught me the history of the forests, the wisdom of the plants, and how to remain calm if I ever lost my way in the woods. (He’s got a book called “Lost!: A Ranger’s Journal of Search and Rescue” that I look forward to reading.)
I also met a vegetable gardener named John. John fell in love with vegetable drawings when he was a young boy and parlayed his interest into becoming one of the greatest gardeners in our country. (He’s also got a new book coming out that’s all about his journey to preserve our roots.) Ask John about tomatoes or garlic or seeds and he will give you a history lesson on each and tell you what to eat, when. (Only eat tomatoes when they’re in season, which is right now, he said. Otherwise, you’re eating engineered food.)
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” — Maya Angelou
My friend Clay wrote me the other day to tell me about a book he’s reading. It’s called Seven Ages of Paris, and in it, the French writer Colette is quoted as having said the following just before she died in 1954:
“What a beautiful life I’ve had. It’s a pity I didn’t notice it sooner.”
That quote landed on me like a thud. I hope you’ll stop and absorb it, too. Make a silent vow to not be Colette, like I did.
Now, to be honest, I’ve been in Colette’s heels before. When I was younger, I was constantly running through life as I juggled work, my children, my parents and all the other obligations coming my way. My to-do list was pages’ long, and it was all of my own making. I wasn’t noticing anything along the way because I was just trying to get everything done and start all over again.
Thank God I came to my senses.
“I have spent my whole life judging the distance between American reality and the American dream.” — Bruce Springsteen
The other night, I was having dinner with a friend when she said something that really struck me.
She said: “I just want less. Less stuff. Less to worry about. Less to do. Less of everything, really. I’d be willing to give up a lot just to get less.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about her words as I walked back to my hotel that night.
As we head into our nation’s birthday, this concept of “less is more” is very much on my mind. What do we need to feel peaceful, joyful and happy? Do we need more, or do we need less? Perhaps we already have enough, and should instead focus on giving more to others.
I know I share my friend’s feeling that less is more. I want less, too. I want less of what keeps me from getting closer to what my heart and soul crave. I want less of what robs me from getting more of what really matters.
Now when I say “more,” I don’t mean more stuff. I’m wise enough these days to know that stuff doesn’t bring happiness. I’m also wise enough to know that busyness doesn’t bring peace and that outward success doesn’t bring joy.
True happiness, peace and joy come from spending time in connection with those you love and care about, and one of those people in my life is my friend Eddie.
Every time I’m in New York for The Today Show, Eddie is the one who picks me up in in the wee hours of the morning and drives me to work. He doesn’t just pick me up in his car, though. He also picks me up in life. Eddie is a hard-working man who loves his wife, loves his family, loves his job and—guess what?—also loves me.
“Reaction: a boat which is going against the current, but which does not prevent the river from flowing on.” — Victor Hugo
My entire life, I’ve always been that person who says to the doctor, “I’m not allergic to anything.”
I’ve also been that person who reads the potential side effects of a medicine and declares “not going to happen to me.”
Well, lo and behold, this week I got an adverse allergic reaction to something that was supposed to help me, and it landed me in bed for two days. Of course, it also got me thinking…
Initially, I was mad at my doctor. I have a pattern of doing this, and I know I’m not the only one. We look for someone to blame or get mad at when something doesn’t go our way.
On the first day, the doctor was calm and said, “Maria, I mentioned this had side effects. Perhaps you didn’t listen.”
I replied, “Um, no you didn’t mention this kind of side effect because if you had, I would have listened.”
By the second day, my condition had worsened and my doctor said, “Well, there are always some people who have adverse allergic reactions, but we don’t know about them until they happen. So now we can tell others about yours and that will help them.”
“Um, great.” I thought. “Glad I could help.”
As I sat holed up in my room looking like something I can’t even describe, I started looking for the lessons in this experience. (Yup, I’m always trying to find lessons.)
For one, all this is yet another reminder that there is a severe lack of knowledge about women’s health in America. We’re in the midst of a massive gender research gap in medicine and science, which in turn leads to a massive gender gap in knowledge. Meanwhile, the women on the ground are the ones dealing with the ramifications.
“Make of yourself a light.” — said the Buddha, before he died.
The picture above is a space in my yard where I go when I need to center myself. It is my sanctuary. It is where I come when I feel overwhelmed. It is where I sit when I can’t figure out what I think about, well, anything.
There is so much to think about these days. There is so much to fret about. There is so much to get angry about. (How about Jon Stewart testifying this week to a near-empty Congress with all the families from 9/11? His message was powerful and should fire us all up.)
There is also so much to be excited about. So much to be hopeful about. So much to be grateful for. When I sit in my backyard and look at the calm statue pictured above, that’s where I end up—in a place of peace, a place of calm, a place of gratitude. “Make of yourself a light,” said the Buddha in Mary Oliver’s poem “The Buddha’s Last Instruction.” (You can read it in our Sunday Paper Reflection section below.) So, that’s what I want to focus on this morning: making myself a light.
That invitation goes out to each of us every day. It’s also a challenge that each of us can decide to answer take on, regardless of what’s going on in the world. You can make yourself a light for yourself, for your family, for your community, for an issue you care about, or for injustice in the world.
On this Father’s Day, I want to shine a light on all the men who step into this role with light, joy, purpose and passion. I want to shine a light on those who take it seriously. Who show up to their roles, regardless of whether or not their fathers showed up for them.
A father’s positive involvement can change a child’s life. It can build character, instill values, and inspire hopes and dreams. Fathers can make themselves a light in their children’s lives. So today, I want to honor those who have thought deeply about this role. I want to shine a light on the men who do the work. Men who father their own. Men who father the fatherless among us. May we honor those who have stepped into the lives of those who need a father and said, “Let me make myself a light in your life.”
“To be awake is to be alive.” — Henry David Thoreau
There are some days when thinking gives way to feeling. This is one of those days for me.
Today, I am getting out of my head and into my heart. Why? Because my heart feels full. I feel grateful. I feel hopeful. I feel blessed.
This morning, I wanted to share with you a poem I recently wrote called “Blessed.” It’s called that because it’s how I’ve been feeling.
Now, I haven’t always felt this way. Even when people told me I was blessed, I didn’t always feel it, even though I knew intellectually that I was lucky and fortunate in my life. I’ve had to feel my way into feeling blessed. It’s taken time. It’s taken practice. I had to get there on my own.
So, if you woke up this morning feeling down — or feeling anything but blessed — trust me, I get it. I know it can be hard to feel blessed if you’re working paycheck to paycheck, if you’re fighting to put food on the table, if you’re getting over a break-up, if you’re battling a sickness, etc. Life can throw a lot of things our way that make us feel anything but blessed. I know some people in the Midwest may not be feeling blessed after the tornadoes and floods, but I hope they have had moments where a total stranger’s generosity has made them feel blessed in recent days.
I’ve learned along the way that feelings come and go. One thing that’s always helped me when I’ve woken up feeling down about life is to put my hand over my heart, take several deep breaths, and honor the feeling. Then, I ask it to leave.
So today, my wish for you is that you can take a step away from thinking and step into feeling. Ease your way into it. Feel your way into feeling blessed. I share my poem in hopes that it will help you get there.
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” — Maya Angelou
It was early evening when it happened.
I was walking back to my car after a boxing session (yup, I box!), when I turned the corner and encountered a homeless man lying face-up on the sidewalk. He was motionless. Quiet. Had little sign of life. I wasn’t sure what to do or how to help him. So instead, I just kept walking with my head down.
A moment later, a thought flashed through my mind. “Did I really just walk past a man lying on the ground and keep going?”
I got into my car and felt a deep sense of shame.
“Have fun is my message. Be silly. You’re allowed to be silly. There’s nothing wrong with it.” — Jimmy Fallon
A few days ago, a friend said to me, “Maria, you have got to start going out more! You have got to start having more fun!”
Her words landed like a thud because I knew she was right. I love my work, but for the most part, it’s pretty serious stuff. I’ve also noticed that if you’re not careful, your life can end up drowning in all sorts of seriousness as you get older.
So, I decided to take my friend’s advice to heart and make fun my goal for this summer. I know fun can seem kind of trivial when the world feels like it’s falling apart, but it’s actually an important tool that we can use to recharge. It’s also an ingredient to a life with purpose and the optimism we need to keep moving forward.
At my dinner table this week, I asked my daughter Christina and her friend Claire (both who are lots of fun) about the role of fun in their lives. Christina said it’s important to have friends who can make you laugh at just about anything. Claire said she enjoys going out, dancing, and talking to all kinds of different people.
Now, I don’t go out dancing, but I do have a monthly poker night at my house that’s pretty fun. I also go to New York once a month for The Today Show, and when I’m there I try to hang out with my cousins and friends who make me laugh. And when I’m back home, I also hang out with my kids a bunch, which I always find to be great fun.
My point is that my life isn’t short on joy, but I still know that I could do a better job of getting out of my house and consciously adding more fun into my life.
“We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.” — Anne Lamott
Earlier this week, I had dinner with my friends Martha and Ro. They used to live just a short drive away from me in California, but they recently moved back to the East Coast.
It’s always great to catch up with them when I’m in New York, and this week was no exception. Like always, we had a deep, meaningful conversation about all the important stuff in life: family, love, loss, health, politics, changing careers, etc. We also talked about the world at large and the unknown path we feel like we’re walking along these days.
This dinner was my favorite kind because it was fun, funny, light, deep, and thought-provoking at the same time. (The only thing I didn’t like was that no one seems to want to order carbs anymore.)
Later that evening, I went back to my hotel and found myself really thinking about a question that Martha and Ro had asked me. It was one of those questions that’s good for all of us to ask ourselves at different points throughout our lives.
“Why do you do what you do?” they asked.
“When the world is complicated, the simple gift of friendship is in all our hands.” — Maria
I’m so happy May is upon us because it’s a month that feels like spring. It feels light. It feels joyful. It feels full of possibility. Everywhere you look, you can see nature unfolding, blooming and becoming.
I’m feeling joyful myself this week because I feel centered and grounded in my life. My work brings me meaning and I have a mission that feels larger than myself. My children are healthy, kind, thoughtful and hard-working. (A day doesn’t go by when I don’t thank God for them.) I’m also feeling blessed that I get to meet so many inspiring and amazing people along the way. This week was no exception.
At the beginning of this week, my travels took me to a summit in Las Vegas to talk about women’s health and Alzheimer’s (I was the first woman to ever speak there!). Then, I traveled to San Francisco for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards ceremony, which honored 21 incredible female entrepreneurs who are driving change through their development of impact-driven businesses around the world.
“It is the ability to choose which makes us human.” — Madeleine L’Engleakes
The other night at my Sunday dinner, my friend Chelsea asked me if I had read the book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”by Greg McKeown.
When I told her no, she said: “If anyone needs to read that book, it’s you!” By the next morning, the book had arrived at my front door with an inscription to “get reading!”
I love when friends suggest books or articles to read because I love to learn. I am constantly searching for ways to be a better, more evolved human being, as well as a more focused and effective leader at work.
Chelsea told me that “Essentialism” resonated with her on many levels, but that there was one point in particular that really stayed with her. It was the author’s message that if we want to rise from “good to great” in our work and our lives, then we must identify what we’re most passionate about and apply the bulk of our effort and energy there. If we get focused and pick the things that matter most to you, then it will empower you to say “yes” to opportunities that align with your priorities and say “no” to everything else.
“What are two areas you want to be great in?” Chelsea asked me and others at dinner last Sunday. “I want to be a great skier and a great writer. Maria, what about you?”
“We may stumble and fall, but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle.” — Mahatma Gandhi
Sunday marked the beginning of Holy Week.
As a child, I used to love going to church on Palm Sunday and trying to turn my palm into a crucifix or some type of animal. I also loved Holy Week because it usually meant I was out of school for Easter vacation.
These days when I go to church on Palm Sunday, though, I find myself really thinking about the significance of the day. I also find myself thinking about how fast the court of public opinion can change someone’s life, just as it did for Jesus Christ.
On Sunday, he was met with adoration. By Friday, he was dead on the cross. I mention this because if we spend our whole lives working for other people’s admiration and validation, it’s worth remembering that external validation can change on a moment’s notice.
External validation is fluid, fragile and ever-changing. What isn’t fluid, though, is one’s relationship with a higher power. That is what allowed Jesus Christ to say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” — Rumi
The other day, the priest at my church said something that caught my attention. He spoke about becoming what he called an “Ambassador of Reconciliation.”
“Are there individuals you have chosen to walk away from?” he asked. “Are there individuals you have chosen not to walk toward?”
If so, he said, then perhaps you should see yourself as an Ambassador of Reconciliation: a person who can bring reconciliation to a person or a situation that needs healing.
This got me thinking. Where can I bring healing to my life? Where can I be an Ambassador of Reconciliation? Who have I walked away from? Who have I not walked toward?
I am a big believer that we all need healing. I believe we are all walking around wounded, and that those wounds play out in all of our relationships.
Whether we care to admit it or not, sometimes we don’t even know why we are so angry, why we are so hurt, or why we have such a strong reaction to a certain person or situation in our lives.
“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.” — Thurgood Marshall
After my daughter watched the documentary Finding Neverland the other night, she wrote me a note that landed deep in my soul.
She said, “Thank you for such a wonderful childhood. Thank you for loving me. And, perhaps most importantly, thank you for always protecting me.”
I sat and stared at those last two words.
Protecting my children has always been a huge deal to me. I know it is for most parents. It’s our job to keep our children safe. It’s our job to be on guard against people or situations that might seem appealing, but are actually dangerous. It’s our job to build resilient children who can pave their own way and stand on their own two feet.
Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about the role of “the protector.” I’ve thought about how, when I was young and naive, I thought it was a man’s job to protect. Now as a seasoned protector myself, I no longer hold onto that childish view.
“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion.” — Simone de Beauvoir
In my time in Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics World Games, I was struck by a few things.
1) How vast the world is and how small we all are in it;
2) How diverse the world is and how little we know about each other’s cultures, religions and customs;
3) How similar we actually are, regardless of the color of our skin or the God to whom we pray; and,
4) How much we all need inspiration and examples of courage and dignity in our lives.
These things have the power to lift us all up. They should give us hope that we can find common ground and that we are each capable of being the inspiration that we seek.
“Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people?” — Desmond Tutu
Sometimes you are lucky enough to take a trip at just the right moment…
I have been in Abu Dhabi this week for the Special Olympics World Games and, everywhere I’ve looked, I have seen the good of humanity.
Athletes from all over the world have traveled here with coaches, parents and volunteers. They have gathered together because they believe in the power of sports, the power of inclusion and the potential to move humanity forward.
Within this community, I find myself enveloped in goodness. I find myself surrounded by people who are giving themselves to others and who speak about unity, tolerance, respect and love. Those are the values that matter to them. These are the values that matter to me.
The Special Olympics World Games have been soul-lifting for me because I’ve met people of different nationalities and faiths who are committed to building a more inclusive world together. These are people who believe in a world where we lift each other up, not tear each other down. These are people who believe in a world of positivity and possibility. These are people who believe in a world where discrimination does not exist, and where the word disability is replaced with determination.
All of this has brought me hope this week as I have absorbed the tragic news out of New Zealand. It’s also brought me hope as I’ve digested the stunning story of wealth, corruption and deceit behind the college cheating scandal in the United States.
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” — Chinese Proverbour fears.”
Last week, I wrote that things are going to get better. This week, there were several examples that I was right!
For one, there was a huge breakthrough in the global race to find a cure for AIDS. News outlets reported this week that a London man was cleared of the HIV virus after doctors successfully replicated a stem cell transplant procedure that cured another man 12 years ago.
This news is huge, and it gives me so much hope. It gives me hope for those who are still struggling with the disease. It gives me hope for the scientists and researchers who have spent endless weeks, months and years working to find a breakthrough. It gives me hope for all the advocates and activists who have been pushing hard on this issue, as well as on other diseases that still have no cure, like Alzheimer’s. (I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll find a treatment or cure for it soon.)
This story is just one example that breakthroughs happen when you stay at it. That’s good news not just for doctors and researchers. It’s good news for all of us who keep grinding and striving to do better and get better for ourselves.
“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” — Nelson Mandela
When I read that ratings were up for this year’s Academy Awards—the “no-host Oscars,” as they’ve been called—I have to admit that I wasn’t surprised.
It also got me thinking. If the Oscars can succeed without a host, then what else can we live without that we haven’t considered before?
Well, this week’s news gave me plenty of ideas.
For one, I can really live without the Catholic Church’s response to clerical abuse. It’s pathetic. I can also do without their ridiculously outdated stance on women. It’s absurd.
And while I’m on the topic of religion, I can also do without the United Methodist Church’s ruling this week to keep its ban on same-sex weddings and the LGBTQ community. I mean, are you kidding me? “Shame on you,” as my mother used to say when she saw someone acting in a less than noble manner. Shame on both of these religious institutions for their lack of inclusion, love and acceptance.
“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sane future.” — John F. Kennedy
How does one stay in the know, without getting lost in the noise?
This is a topic I touched upon in my essay last week, but I want to raise it again because it’s a question that I think about almost every day.
It’s a question that I’ve started to pose to my friends, to thinkers that I admire, to our Sunday Paper columnists, and to those who actually are awake to what’s going on in the world. I want to know what they think and how they’re dealing. I want to know how they are balancing the weight of the world with the need to stay focused on one’s own life and inner world.
“Happiness depends more upon the internal flame of a person’s own mind than on the externals of the world.” — George Washington
National emergency! National emergency! National emergency!
After the news broke, the TV pundits started chattering nonstop about the president’s impending declaration. They haven’t stopped since. I can feel my anger rising every time I hear the noise.
Then, I let their words fade into the background and I stop to think about all the other issues that I believe actually are national emergencies. These are emergencies that, for one reason or another, don’t get mentioned in the State of the Union, much less on the nightly news.
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