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Friday, August 18, 2017

The Power of Light

As children, we feared the dark. Our parents said goodnight and closed the door, shutting out the light and allowing our rooms to fill with darkness. A darkness that scared us because of what we couldn't see. A darkness that forced our minds to fill in the gaps with fears that were shoved aside in the light of day. Some imaginary, some real. I was afraid to step off my bed or let my feet dangle because the monster lurking would snatch them and pull me under. 

As adults, these same fears exist. We might not worry about imaginary monsters under our beds but we have palpable worry about the real monsters in our lives. Some of them we fear but are confident that we can overcome. Others seem larger than life and impossible to conquer. Most of these are personal and we battle them in silence. Sometimes daily. Sometimes hourly. Sometimes every minute. And we either win or lose each day.

In life, we're often confronted with the monsters of others. Monsters created by hatred, ignorance, misinformation, upbringing or simply fear. Monsters that crawl out of the darkness and become real. That wield weapons, spew hateful rhetoric and feed off of anger. 

In the movie, "Hacksaw Ridge," the father, a World War I vet, abuses his wife and children. When one of the sons asks, "Why does he hate us so much?" The mother responds, " He doesn't hate us. He hates himself." Anger and hatred projected toward others is actually just a deflection of anger and hatred of oneself. When you truly love yourself and who you were created to be, it's impossible to hate someone else. You might disagree with their beliefs, actions and words but you don't have a vitriol hatred for their existence. Because to love yourself requires the greatest grace, patience and understanding. I'm not talking about narcissistic, self-absorbed aggrandisement. I'm talking about a humble, forgiving love of self. Once you've achieved that, you lose your ability to judge anyone else because you've let go of the deepest, most personal judgment.

Regardless of where you are, you can "fake it until you make it." No matter how much darkness surrounds you or swells within you, you can choose to be a light. 

Think about the darkest cave. The darkest room. The darkest night. The kind of darkness where you literally can't see your hand in front of your face. If, in that darkness, you simply light a match, turn on a flashlight or switch on the smallest lamp, the light overcomes the darkness. Light eradicates dark. It's so much more powerful.

Our country is in a dark place. The political and social climate in the last several months has cloaked us with a darkness we haven't experienced in over a half-century. As you walk through these next few weeks and months, you can choose to let the darkness weigh you down. Dishearten you. Feed your own internal monster. Or you can choose to embrace the power of light by being a light. By choosing kindness over anger. By choosing grace and belief in our inherent goodness over judgment. By choosing random acts of generosity and forgiveness over self-interest. 

But to be a light--to give kindness, grace, belief, generosity and forgiveness to others--you must first give it to yourself. Be a light in your own heart. Once you do this, you'll be unable to contain the light within you. If we each take steps to do this, we can chase out the monsters fed by the darkness. We can be a light to ourselves and to this world. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Fight to Excavate Joy

There's a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness tends to be a fleeting emotion triggered by something external: a promotion, a surprise gift, an Auburn victory, all green lights when you're late to work. Joy, however, is a state of being that exists even in the presence of worry, stress and conflict. It's a condition of your heart that allows you to find peace and gratitude in the hardest of times.

In my life, I've experienced so many happy times. Moments of elation that bubble to the surface because of what's happening around me. When I got my driver's license, when I graduated from Emory, when I met my husband, at my daughter's first birthday party, when my puppy greets me when I walk in the door. Happiness feels like little bursts of laughter in your heart. It's wonderful but fleeting in the next moment.

Joy is what sustains us. Yet, it's the most difficult to cultivate and hold on to. Joy requires being in an abyss and finding the flicker of light. It requires closing your eyes not to shut out the world and what's happening but to instead force you to look inward for strength.

How do you cultivate joy? It's not easy because you can only cultivate joy by understanding pain. It's like love and hate. Two extremes that require you to experience one to have the other. It's riding the waves of life that push you down under the engulfing tide, requiring you to hold your breath and fight for the surface, so that when you reach it the breath of air that fills your lungs is the finest breath you've ever taken.

Unfortunately, joy can get buried sometimes. It exists deep within us having been built over time from our experiences. But sometimes life is relentless and throws brick after brick, situation after situation, moment after moment to the point that we throw up our arms for protection. Pull into ourselves in an attempt to deflect the bullets. And our joy gets covered in the rubble of our circumstances. There but covered in so much pain, guilt, shame, anger and hopelessness that it's quieted.

But if we close our eyes, take a deep breath, and look inward. Focus on the flickers of light that brought us to the surface before, we can push ourselves out of the rubble and back into that place where we can breathe. That's joy.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

How Do You Exhale?

Last night, someone asked me if I've been writing. It's been months since I've tapped  into that part of myself. The creative who can put fingers to a keyboard and effortlessly put thoughts down on paper. Often subconscious musings that I didn't realize were brewing inside my mind until I saw them written down. I replied, "No, I'm not writing." And I realized in that moment that I've neglected a part of myself that is essential to who I am. I see the world differently when I'm writing because, ironically, I look outward instead of inward. Writing is vital to me. Like breathing.

When I look back, I remember writing poetry as a high school student after my brother, Derek's, tragic car accident. Poems about pain, faith and grasps at figuring out what the future could possibly look like. I didn't write prose until law school when my poems morphed into free-flowing expressions of existentialism, fueled by my reading Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Nietzsche.

When I left the intellectual cocoon of Emory and started working six-hour days as a young attorney in Miami, I continued to read books by Milan Kundera, Kahlil Gibran and Daniel Quinn. But I didn't write down the thoughts inspired by them. Over time, I stopped expressing myself through words and simply absorbed those of others. I didn't know why at the time, but I now realize that writing is a catharsis for me and not simply a form of expression.

I didn't write anything of substance again until we lost our daughter, Abby. Her death sparked a need to capture her short life and I achingly did so by writing a memoir. In that memoir, I renewed my intensely vulnerable and personal expression of poetry by peppering it into the book before each chapter. In looking at it now, 10 years later, I see the chapters as filled with memories and emotions. But the poetry reveals the raw pain that simply telling the story couldn't express.

After Abby, I lost my little brother to an overdose and my mom to her battle with dementia. My novels In Search of Solomon's Wisdom and The Beauty of Grace allowed me to process and come to peace with those loses. Exhaling the pain through my fingertips.

Over the past couple of years as I've faced yet another crisis, I've neglected writing. I've blogged sporadically about other things but by not allowing myself to just sit, process and write about this crisis, I've bloated my heart with pain that keeps forcing its way to the surface. I realize that the reason I've felt lost and unrecognizable to myself is because I've been stuck. Frozen. Holding my breath.

It's time to exhale.