Cupid, Pull Back Your Bow

Walking into a card store at this time of year will make you do one of three things:

A) Depress you, because the array of reds and pinks remind you that blue is the only color you’ll be thinking of on Valentine’s Day.
B) Frustrate you, because the beloved 14th of February is looming ever closer and you have no idea whether you should get your valentine a simple card that won’t give away your deep, undying devotion just yet, or go all out and get them that lovey dovey, sentimental card that proves they are the one you can’t live without.
C) Make you want to scream and hide, because you just can’t believe how sappy some of the poems are and you’re absolutely flabbergasted as to why they get printed, let alone bought. (These are the kinds of cards that cause Wilford Brimley mustaches to grow and cavities to appear, the only cure being medical supplies delivered directly to your door and a good ol’ root canal.)

But while Russell Stover and 1-800-FLOWERS are basking in the scent of fine chocolate truffles and dozens of roses, men and women alike are pulling their hair out just to prove their love for one another on a specific day each February. What most don’t acknowledge, however, is that Cupid doesn’t take a 364 day breather between shifts – his arrow-shooting gig is a 24/7 commitment.

Love doesn’t always wait for 30 degree weather so you’ll have something to warm up to, nor does it hold off until February so it can melt snow as it melts hearts. Love is in the air, as they say, it’s every sight and every sound. If two people really love each other, and make sure each other knows, with or without having to say the words, then they don’t need a specially designated day to tell them when to dote on one another.

Valentine’s Day, instead, has become the ideal occasion for the insecure. While men dread its approach, women use the day as a barometer to gauge exactly how much their significant other cares about them. The barrage of jewelry advertisements is enough to make you realize that Valentine’s Day has fallen into the commercialized gutter, like most other occasions and holidays. If your kiss doesn’t literally begin with Kay (Jewelers, that is), you’re more than likely going to be digging yourself out of the doghouse for failing your Valentine’s Day responsibility to make your lady friend feel like the queen she is… or thinks she is, anyway.

But forced acknowledgement of one’s feelings for another completely negates the point of showing such feelings in the first place, for feeling trapped by obligation doesn’t exactly scream undying devotion.

What we need to do, instead, is take our own cues and attempt to perpetuate the special sentiments of holidays and occasions the whole year through. Every year, we wish we could keep the Christmas spirit alive throughout, yet we rarely see any effort made. Like Christmas, Valentine’s Day is an occasion that carries with it a beautiful message that has become distorted through the passage of time.

Forget the roses, chocolates and jewelry. Ignore the cards and bring Valentine’s Day back to the bare minimum, when it was not the quality of the gift, but the gesture that mattered. Do not reserve your affections for one or two occasions a year, and don’t limit your love to your significant other. Spread love every day, in every way, to everyone. Surprise a loved one with a gift, perhaps something you randomly came across at the store that reminded you of them. Call up a relative you haven’t heard from in a while. Donate a few dollars to a charity you support and show your love and care for humanity as a whole. But whatever you do, don’t postpone these actions. Start shooting some love arrows of your own and give ol’ Cupid a run for his money.

The Little Engine That Could Still Can

When a drop of water falls, gravity pulls that molecule quickly toward Earth’s surface until the tiny speck becomes one of the thousands that form a puddle. When a drop of water falls upon the windshield of a moving vehicle, it defies the norm and travels upward, far from the puddle its peers have all joined. This drop inches toward the roof, eventually evaporating, but not before leaving a trail of smaller droplets behind.

For some, life takes the same route as the windshield’s drop – they touch down at an accelerated rate, moving nowhere but upward, blazing a trail behind them. But for many, life is like landing in a puddle. Blending with the masses, these people fall to the ground, remaining stagnant. Many fall once and give up, but even rain drops get a second chance. Sooner or later, each drop evaporates, returning to where it once began, starting the cycle all over again with hopes of landing somewhere amazing the next time around.

We spend all our lives falling, literally and figuratively, but getting up again is the only way to stay standing on our own two feet. If we never fell, we’d never have a reason to pick ourselves back up again – we’d never learn how to make things right.

Defeat, harsh words and rejection are a part of daily life. We all cannot soar to new heights on our first attempt. Sometimes we just need to flap our wings feverishly and wait until the wind is right. But never should we let failure overpower the possibilities of success.

From a young age we are taught to believe in ourselves, an important lesson at a time in one’s life when individuality is not a blessing, but a burden. We learn that, despite what others may say or think, if we believe in something and try hard enough, we too can leave a trail of greatness behind. “The Little Engine That Could” is a classic children’s tale about a small locomotive asked to lead a long train over a tall mountain. Though small, he repeats the optimistic phrase “I think I can” and succeeds despite all odds.

Of course, as we grow older, the lessons of childhood are no longer as clear cut as they once seemed because the bitterness of reality sets in. We begin to notice that things don’t always happen the way we’d like them to work out and a hint of pessimism flavors every one of our decisions. But a wise man once warned that such thinking will lead us nowhere:

“All I ask of you in one thing: please don’t be cynical. I hate cynicism – it’s my least favorite quality and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing thing will happen.” – Conan O’Brien

Having been dealt a serious blow, and as a notably popular figure amongst the younger generations, O’Brien’s brilliant speech given upon his departure from The Tonight Show sets a high bar for all those who have unexpected curveballs thrown their way. Acting out and showing disdain for those who have hurt you only breeds hatred. Instead, we must look at failures and setbacks as lessons and those who hurt us as the teachers who unknowingly put us on a new path to opportunity and exploration.

Those who hurt you and bruise your self-confidence are merely like tires running over the puddle, sending the collected drops splashing in all directions. Though your position may have been unfulfilling, at least the water was calm for a time. But this raucous interruption may just be a blessing in disguise, for you may just land somewhere unexpected – the place you were always meant to be in the first place.

Eye of the Beholder

As the green movement progresses, America and much of the world are making the effort to return to nature’s basics and preserve what still remains of the earth. Yet when it comes to ourselves and the façade we hide behind, the image we choose to preserve could not be further from what nature intended. In a world where girls aspire to look like models who have literally had portions of their bodies photoshopped from sight, and mothers who dress their toddlers like My Size Barbie dolls only to parade them like cattle, we have to question where our values lie. Beauty isn’t always what you see, and what you see isn’t always what you get.

For instance, despite the fact that we’ve known the way nature and the weather works for years, we continue to partake in the Groundhog Day tradition. On February 2, a designated person is required to coax the poor little animal, whether it be your state’s resident groundhog or good ol’ Punxsutawney Phil, out of its little den six weeks before it would ever consider emerging simply so we can satisfy our need to perpetuate a tradition we’ve single-handedly flushed down the toilet anyway.

As the groundhog is lifted to face the inquiring masses, spotlighting blazes upon his weary body, while cameras flashes in his sleepy eyes, making it impossible for the poor thing not to see his shadow. (If you can remember the last time the groundhog predicted an early Spring, please share.) No matter the weather conditions, the gathering of media hounds will always ensure that Winter will be hanging around for six more weeks. But you can’t believe your eyes in this case, for we all know Spring doesn’t begin until the third week of March regardless (and even a Flea would see his shadow while surrounded by such a crazy circus).

Human beings are the gullible type, willing to believe anything that is deemed acceptable by the majority, whether our instincts tell us such things are a mistake or not. We are the kind that pride ourselves on diversity and individuality, then kick off our Ugg boots and hop into a tanning bed in the middle of January. We long to be accepted, praised and loved, even if it means blending with the crowd.

Yet we rarely bother to think about exactly who decides what constitutes the various “socially accepted” trends and beliefs suitable. Popularity and styles can be looked upon almost as if you are colorblind – what may look terrible to someone else may be the most gorgeous thing another person has seen. Things that appear one way to one person may not look the same to another.

The years go by and society becomes more and more sheltered, like a coddled baby. With so much terror in the world, we’d much rather concern ourselves with the hottest fashion trends or a rodent’s weather predictions simply so we can ignore the things that so desperately need our attention. Like a child curled up in the corner, ears cupped until their parents’ fighting ceases, we have selective hearing, only listening to what will benefit ourselves, not humanity.

The goal is to be yourself. Those who make history are never the ones who agree with the majority, but who oppose it. See what you see and accept it as truth, no matter what everyone else says is right. Take a stand and embrace who you are because individuality should be a characteristic we embrace, not a trend, for beauty is all in the eye of the beholder, and the future is in your hands.

Mental Block Party

Yes, this self-proclaimed hater (okay, maybe ‘hate’ is a little strong) of the first person perspective is officially giving in and using it whenever the mood strikes… Because sometimes it’s just the only way to write something.

When you think of all the stories on the news, or the people you pass by in the mall, one has to wonder if the majority of the population is actually thinking – or is even capable of such a task. Our world has become so pathetic that we have to enact laws that make texting while driving illegal because common law now reigns supreme over common sense.

But, every once in a while, I feel myself slipping under the same blanket that appears to be suffocating the rest of the world. For a brief moment every now and again, I simply cannot think.

I sit and I stare at my computer screen. I close my eyes with the intention of focusing on one thing but draw a complete blank to the point where I don’t even remember what I was planning on thinking about in the first place. Perhaps it’s that there is so much on my mind that my brain takes a self-induced vacation. Or maybe it’s the onset of 20-something year old Alzheimer’s, who knows. And though it’s always good to refresh and clear your head, wiping the slate entirely clean is not recommended.

Often times, when in such a stupor, the only activity my brain can process is refreshing my Facebook or Twitter page so I can at least stalk people who appear to think. The only problem is that after about five minutes of such mind numbing clicking, I feel that rush one feels when they see the seconds of the day flying by, knowing nothing has gotten done.

It is the same panic that washes over someone who has only written one paragraph and is a half-hour from deadline. Suddenly, I realize that, if the end of the day comes and I have nothing to show for it, I will feel like a failure and ultimately lose my ambition for the next day because playing the catch-up game is such a daunting task. Luckily, I’m the girl who always works best on a deadline, the kind that used to wait until the day before a 24-page, semester-long research paper was due on the basis that I could never think that far in advance (and still get at least a B).

As a result, I end up thinking more than my brain can possibly handle. The ideas flow freely and much too fast for them all to make it out alive. My thoughts spin so fast, I often feel dizzy just because my heart is racing too quickly and my mind is headed in all directions. It is almost as if I’m behind the wheel of an out of control vehicle, stomping on the brake pedal but only speeding faster.

No matter what, eventually everything comes to a halt, I take a deep breath and head back out on the road again. The daily grind is restored to its natural balance and typical thinking can commence once again. The path has cleared, the route’s mapped out, and the gas tank is full. Where I’m headed, even I don’t know.

Observations While on a Train

Though I normally do not write in the first person, this occasion is a tad different since I am not writing this while seated in front of my computer. Instead, I am gazing out the window as I wait for the Amtrak train to leave New Haven’s Union Station and make its way to Springfield, MA. (We are already three minutes behind schedule).

With the last of the daylight slipping under the horizon and the city lights coming on, Carrie Underwood’s voice is singing in my ear from the same device I write this upon. The words “Just a fool to believe you can change the world” keep repeating, reverberating in my head long after the song has finished.

But as the song points out, the only foolery comes from thinking what you do in this world will never make a difference.

Anything we do to better this world is a worthwhile endeavor, whether it helps only one or one hundred. For instance, if nothing – or no one – ever changed how I live my life or see the world, I would not be pulling up to the next stop on my hour and a half journey to see the bright spot in my life. It’s the simple love and care we show each other that makes the greatest difference in the world.

There is a woman behind me on the phone talking about her ailing mother. Determined to make the rest of her mother’s time on this earth as peaceful as possible, she is working damage control to keep angst and arguing out of her home as she journeys to her mother’s side.

This woman is not a celebrity, nor is she is an activist. She is simply a loving daughter who is caring for her dying mother – the same unconditional love her mother must’ve shown her as she grew up. Her actions will not help the hungry or the poor, but she will be helping the woman she has known and loved her entire life.

Like during a storm, one rain drop falls, colliding with the ground, collecting with other drops, forming a puddle. Soon, so much water has built up that one cannot jump over the gaping pool. Love, like the drops, comes in small increments, slowly accumulating, until we cannot ignore its presence any longer.

Let the love pour out. You may not think it is much, but someday you may be able to see just how much you’ve given as it is returned to you. The woman’s mother may not have thought her love was life-changing or earth-shattering, but her daughter’s actions speak otherwise, for she is simply returning what she’s received over a lifetime.

So don’t fret when you come upon this deep pool of water that has formed – this is one puddle it’s okay to splash in; get wet.

No Laughing Matter

Most are still in awe at the atrocity that occurred this past week.  And as the aftermath continues to unfold, people remain glued to their preferred media outlets to learn the latest breaking news.  No matter where you go, one name is on the tip of everyone’s tongue: NBC.

While thousands upon thousands are dead or dying as they await aid after the devastating earthquake in Haiti nearly a week ago, Americans continue to announce their support not for those in desperate need of medical attention, food and water, but for late-night talk show hosts whose livelihoods have been jostled at the hands of NBC.  The American lexicon has gone from promoting ‘Team Edward’ to exclaiming phrases like ‘Team Conan’ and ‘I’m with Coco’.

But as America continues to heckle Jay Leno for a decision NBC made, let’s get things straight once and for all.  Maybe then we will be able to put aside our selfish need to stand behind a man who has plenty of money, a roof over his head and opportunity at his feet, and instead spread the word about the ruin and devastation facing those in Haiti.

Everyone insists on blaming Jay Leno for the uproar at NBC, yet he remains just as much a pawn in their desire for ratings as Mr. Conan O’Brien.  Practically forced to resign from his spot as host, Leno left ‘The Tonight Show’ last May, making room for O’Brien to move up one time slot.  But NBC must’ve been having second thoughts before their first thought was even complete because they soon scheduled Leno to star in his own talk show in primetime, airing before the rest of the late-night TV line up.  Having been one to reel in the ratings in his 11:35pm time slot, NBC began to shake in their boots as neither Leno nor O’Brien’s shows were garnering the same attention they previously did before the ol’ switcheroo.

To save their ratings, NBC is attempting to take back their decision, as if treating two fantastic comedians like pawns will get them out of the rut they’ve so nicely dug for themselves.  Instead, they have lost one talented comedian, O’Brien, who will surely have plenty of offers thrown his way, and have tarnished the good name of a long time fan favorite, Leno, who now seems to be the bane of every late-night host’s existence.  Go ahead, support Conan all you wish, but don’t point fingers until you take the time to realize who’s to blame.

Thankfully, during tonight’s airing of ‘The Golden Globes’ on NBC, the jokes about this week’s TV host turmoil were simply casually addressed here and there (as expected since it was airing on the network in limbo).  Instead, the stars who walked the red carpet not only wore sleek suits and gorgeous gowns, but ribbons that showed their solidarity in helping Haiti.  The majority of the stars present brought grace and elegance to the evening, making us realize that the true desperation and need of others weighs heavily on all.

During such unexpected and horrific times is when the world, despite all hatred and prejudice, comes together to show the love and compassion we have for humankind.  When the biggest speed bump of the week centers on the fate of two well-respected comedians, we prove once again how privileged our little bubble (also known as the USA) truly is.  We may have our own struggles as a nation, but we are certainly fortunate compared to many of our fellow human beings.

And no one could have said it better than Meryl Streep in her acceptance speech for her role as Julia Child in ‘Julie & Julia’:

I am honestly conflicted how to have my happy movie-self in the face of everything happening in the real world. That’s when I have my Mother’s voice come to me, shoot some money to Partners in Health, be damn grateful you have the dollars to help, put on your dress… I am really grateful…

If you, too, would like to donate and help the victims of Haiti’s earthquake, take a look at the following links:

The New York Times News Blog (The Lede) – For a list of links to various organizations accepting donations.

Partners in Health – Mentioned in Streep’s speech, this organization has already been helping provide healthcare in Haiti for over 20 years.

iTunes – Donating to the Red Cross is as simple as buying your favorite song.

Deeply Rooted: Advice from Herbie, New England’s Oldest American Elm Tree

According to Frank Knight, nothing lasts forever.  But even in death, the examination of a life well lived can teach the greatest lessons life has to offer, especially when the life is that of a community’s 235-year-old beacon – a tree named Herbie.

Knight, the volunteer tree warden of Yarmouth, ME, has been fighting to keep Herbie, New England’s largest and oldest Elm tree, alive for the last 50 years, according to an article written by The Boston Globe’s Jenna Russell.  Now age 101, Knight will have to see the life of his beloved tree come to an end on January 18.  Herbie, a tree believed to have been planted in 1775 – a year before our country even declared its independence – fell victim to Dutch elm disease decades ago.

Now, as the community comes together to mourn the loss of Herbie, they have instead chosen to celebrate his life by creating the Yarmouth Tree Trust to preserve and renew the treasured trees that line their streets.  Items will be made from Herbie’s trunk and sold to help aid this investment in the future.

However, the Yarmouth community is already selling T-shirts designed with Herbie in mind.  As a campaign to raise money for Herbie’s removal, as well as the Tree Trust, Yarmouth created shirts featuring “Advice from Herbie”.  This advice conveys many universal truths – truths as beautiful as nature itself – and it makes us realize we must take some time to learn from the life on this earth that we so unknowingly take for granted.  Here, we honor (and expand upon) the life lessons taught by Herbie the Elm tree.

Stand tall and proud.

Be who you are and don’t care what others think of you.  Be confident with your individuality because no one else can ever be you or take your place.  You’re special and you have something very important to offer this world, whether you realize it yet or not.

Sink your roots into the earth.

Find yourself and never let go.  Remain steadfast in your beliefs and never let others sway you from remaining true to who you are.  Standing behind your morals will give you a kind of strength not many attain.  Knowing what you want and what you believe in will keep you strong and dignified as others may waiver in their uncertainties.

Be content with your natural beauty.

Stop obsessing over those minor imperfections that cause you to dwell on your appearance in the mirror for hours at a time.  It doesn’t matter if every hair is in place or if the circles under your eyes are a little bigger than normal.  The beautiful person you are inside shines through in everything you do, completely overshadowing those physical flaws you keep trying to conceal.

Go out on a limb.

Take a chance.  The worst thing that could happen is failure, but who cares?  We can only learn how to do things right when we recognize what we’re doing wrong.  So do something crazy, make some mistakes, or speak out above the crowd.  Eventually standing under those leaves are going to cast a never-ending shadow on who you want to be.  Climb to the top.  Maybe you’ll only find clouds, but the chance the sun may shine is more enticing than never knowing what might have been.

Drink plenty of water.

Stay healthy (and drink those suggested eight glasses a day)!  Taking care of yourself – mind, body and spirit – is your first priority.  You will never be able to do any good for anyone else or the world if you don’t make yourself your first priority.  Only then can you pursue your goals and make this world a better place.

Remember your roots.

Spread your wings and fly.  Explore faraway places and distant lands.  But no matter how far from the soil you may reach, always keep a piece of yourself grounded.  Remembering who you are and where you came from can be details that get lost in the shuffle of pursuing your dreams, but it is those roots connected to where your story began that keep you humble, honest and connected to the values and truths that you hold dear.

Enjoy the view.

Ignore the ugly things in life that cloud your vision.  Forget the rundown houses in the poorest section of town; focus on the families thriving on each other’s love as they struggle to make ends meet instead.  Pay no attention to the latest homicide reports on the news; revel in the beauty of a child’s first cry as they enter this world.  Not everything in this world is ugly, and if we can even see this beauty in the face of death, then there still may be hope for this planet yet.

To read The Boston Globe’s complete article about Yarmouth, Frank Knight and Herbie, click here.  To learn more about Yarmouth’s Herbie Project, click here for a countdown to Herbie’s removal as well as ways you can contribute to the Yarmouth Tree Trust and keep Herbie’s memory alive.  (Photo courtesy of the Yarmouth Community Services website.)

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