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.)

Playing with Bombs

Driving down the street at night, headlights aren’t all that’s glowing at this time of year.  Icicle lights adorn dozens of houses, while inflatable Santas ride sleighs, merry-go-rounds, and even motorcycles.  But as the lights atop the bushes blink that bright red and green, we know deep down that the ‘Peace on Earth’ we aim to achieve each season is simply a distant, seemingly unattainable goal.

The holiday season is a time to celebrate life, yet young men and women are thousands of miles away from the friends and family they serve to protect, fighting a war to preserve the freedoms thousands have already died defending.  Local television channels and radio stations play recorded messages from soldiers as a way of keeping them connected to their loved ones at home.  Charitable foundations work to compile care packages that show our support.

Even Facebook users have come together with the group Project Red Shirt, which at the time of writing, has garnered over 731,000 members.  This initiative is based off the story of a businessman on a plane headed to Chicago.  Seated across from a sergeant, this businessman asked if the man was going home only to find that the sergeant, with a folded flag on his lap, was actually escorting a fallen soldier home to his family.  The businessman thanked the sergeant for what he and every other soldier does for our country, and upon landing, his presence was announced and he was allowed to deplane first so he could receive the casket.

Now, as a way to honor those serving in our military, those who have served, and those who have fallen, the group calls for all those showing their support to wear red shirts every Friday as a way of celebrating the soldiers who have shed their blood to protect our liberties.

While some speculate whether or not the businessman’s story is real, the point of the matter does not lie in its possible falsification, but its universal truth.

Troops are falling.  Families are mourning.  Many go to war, overflowing with the vigor and ambition of youth, only to return in a casket, robbed of the future that had once filled them with life.  And if they do return alive, they are surely forever scarred, left to readjust to society despite the horrors and atrocities they have seen.

And while these men and women fight for ideals, thousands are sacrificing their own lives so that we may continue living as we already do.  They give us peace of mind, but until such conflicts cease, we will never achieve peace on Earth.  As Stevie Wonder sings in his Christmas classic, ‘Someday at Christmas’:

Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth

Lives are not expendable.  Whether one or one million people die in combat, any number is too great.  And though they have willingly put their lives on the line to preserve their country’s future, we must value each and every member of our military as if they are a member of an extended family we all share.  Every man or woman is someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s husband or wife.

Coincidentally, Christmas Day falls on a Friday this year.  So, while you’re looking for ways to spread some cheer, put on your favorite red shirt – something both festive and meaningful.  Remember to take those family members in your presence into your arms and into your heart.  Give them a little extra squeeze in honor of those who can’t hug their loved ones this holiday season.  And remember that the red you’re wearing not only represents the bloodshed, but the love we send in our prayers to soldiers overseas.

Stupid is as Stupid Does

Every person is connected to everyone else.  All human beings – past, present and future – share one far-reaching characteristic that serves as a common link, intertwining even the most different of people.  It has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or religion, though it has become an integral part of how societies have come to function over the passing centuries.

This bond hinges on one specific attribute: stupidity.

Foolishness has become commonplace in every detail and aspect of today’s world.  This folly lies in the leaders we choose to run various aspects of our government.  It lies within the man texting while driving the car next to you on the highway.  It is the vulgar words mumbled under your breath, the women with suitcase-like pocketbooks that rudely whack you as you peruse the mall – the bigot who used the word “gay” in a derogatory manner.

No matter what your claim to stupidity is, there is no one on the planet that can deny they haven’t done something even remotely ridiculous or dumb in their lifetime.  Theses missteps, stumbles and falls are all a part of what makes us human and connects us on a deeper level than what we look like or what we believe.

And at this time of the year, idiocy levels are running high as vultures of all faiths flock to the malls in order to mercilessly scrounge for whatever they can dig their claws into during this gift-giving season.

The holiday season is no longer represented by “peace on earth” or “goodwill toward men”.  Now, it is all about competition.  Who can get the best presents?  Who can get the most for their money?  Who can get the best parking space?  Instead of caring for other individuals, we push past them for a better spot in line.  Others avert their eyes from the volunteer ringing the Salvation Army bell.  Some scramble by others as they trudge through the overcrowded malls, hitting into them with their bags of loot, not even an “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” uttered.

There was one instance this season where people were waiting in line at a local Best Buy to get a jump on their Black Friday deals.  These customers lined up at 3 o’clock the afternoon before, sitting themselves against the side of a building instead of alongside loved ones at their dining room table for Thanksgiving dinner.  With only a hunger for the best prices, these people were insane enough to give up precious time with their families, failing to celebrate one holiday in lieu of another.

The most precious thing we can give each other is our time.  We can never show each other how much we truly care for one another with a great deal on the hottest gift item of the year.  The time you spend – not the money – will be what those you care for remember, and believing otherwise is just sheer stupidity.

So instead of wrapping that newly-attained gift the moment you get home, wrap your arms around a loved one.  Redeem the season by spreading joy in place of contempt, for we all have another attribute in common – our capacity to love.

So I Play the Numbers Game…

It is like driving through the fog at night. All you can see is the light emanating from your headlights. Yet these beams barely stretch out a few feet, only illuminating what is immediately in front of us. And, no matter where you look, even the faintest objects have a haze surrounding them.

Sounds a little bit like life, wouldn’t you say?

We can only predict what will happen in the near future. Nobody knows for sure what is waiting for us down the road amidst the darkened fog. Something can dart out in front of the car at any moment, causing us to change direction forever. But, whether we put the brakes on or not, the road must eventually come to an end.

So, if this road is life, then how should we proceed? Should we follow the strict lines of the pavement? Should we change lanes without signaling? Should we risk getting lost on the winding streets?

To live life is truly the greatest gift we can give ourselves. “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all,” according to Oscar Wilde.

Without vision, without dreams, without love, we are merely empty souls, just cruising the highway of life. To live is to treat every day as if it may be our last.

Do not speed up, do not slow down. Forget what speed you are traveling at and take things as they come.  Do not fear the occasional speeding ticket or parking violation – there are going to be a few minor setbacks here and there, but one person’s judgment of your journey should not discourage you from following your own path.

And if you find the need to stop once in a while, feel free. Pull over to the side of the road or visit the nearest gas station. Take in the view, grab a candy bar, refuel – there is nothing wrong with refocusing your vision.

Then, when you are ready to take off once again, set your own pace and your own destination. There is no taxi driver in the front seat – you are the navigator of your own life. So throw the map out the window and unplug your GPS – just because there are already plenty of predetermined paths to follow does not mean you can’t create a new one of your own.

But most of all, do not hesitate to honk your horn. Don’t let someone block your way. Feel free to make a little noise.

Life shouldn’t be about sitting in traffic, waiting for the crowd to move just the slightest bit. It’s all about squeezing into the breakdown lane and sneaking off the nearest exit. Don’t just wait for the opportunity, seize it. Maybe the back roads are exactly where your true passion lies.