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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are You a Life-Giver or Life-Taker?

Today we lost a beautiful voice. Maya Angelo died. Twenty years ago, I read her autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Her story of abuse and survival invoked both pain and hope. While a child, she suffered abandonment by her parents, sexual abuse, verbal and physical abuse from racists, homelessness and becoming a mother. All before the age of 16.

One of her most famous poems is "Still I Rise." In it, she proclaims:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

I write this not only as a tribute to a beautiful soul, but in honor of someone who endured so much but embraced hope and strength. More importantly, she embraced empathy. I once heard her interviewed and she spoke of the importance of how you make people feel. She said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I think of this everyday. Because of it, the first time I see my children in the morning, I hug and kiss them before saying a word. During the day, every time they leave my presence, I make sure that the last thing they hear is "I love you." To be kind, grateful and empathetic, they need to first know that they're loved.

I was introduced to Maya Angelo 20 years ago through a book and her words have grounded me over two decades. Her experiences and perspective despite them have molded me. I recently heard that every encounter with another (either in person or through knowing their story) either feeds you or takes from you.

In spite of an excruciating past, she touched generations in a way that will outlive her for decades. I can only hope that my interactions with people leave them feeling loved instead of drained, and inspire a small measure of peace.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Embracing Change is Embracing Life.

The TV show, "Criminal Minds" always opens and closes with a quote. Last night's episode closed with one by Joseph Campbell: "We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."

I'm a planner by nature and necessity. I like order and organization. Systems and structure. And living with three people with ADHD requires this. Nurtures my OCD by giving it purpose.

When I was 19, my college advisor told me I had enough credits to graduate a year later. I knew I wanted to be an attorney, specifically a prosecutor. One of the best traits of teens and twenty-somethings is the optimism and ideology that allows for unbounded dreams. Belief in the knowledge that you can change the world. You've severed the bonds of childhood but not yet tethered to the reality of adulthood's responsibilities of family, mortgages, retirement and college planning, and all of the other things that abruptly slap us in the face.

At first, things went as planned. I went to law school. I graduated. But when I sent resumes to over 20 District Attorney's offices, nothing happened. So I waited tables while studying for the bar, confident that I would soon be putting bad guys in prison. Making the world a better place. For me, becoming an attorney wasn't about making money but about making a difference.

But then reality set in. I didn't get a job in a DA's office, and my over $100,000 in student loans became a monthly payment. The legal career I'd planned wasn't going to happen, so I had to adjust. I joined a civil litigation firm in Miami. My new plan: make partner by 30, become a judge by 35.

Yeah, that didn't happen. I hated the practice of law. After some soul-searching, at 30 I realized that the life I'd planned over a decade earlier was not the life I was meant to lead. And now, over another decade later, at 43, my life has taken yet another abrupt turn. Twenty years ago, I'd never have imagined that I would be a producer for a Student Ministry in a church. Yet, here I am. And I am loving it. Every aspect of what I've been doing excites me. It never feels like work. Instead it liberates me and gives me a purpose beyond myself.

The life I'd planned for myself is behind me. And I'm embracing the life that is waiting for me.