For a Better World

We are called to be Salt. Shakers in this World.

Back in college, I was the girl with plans to change the world.

I shoved up my peace sign and pummeled my friends with bits and pieces of the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child before trotting off to some 180-page report on sustainability in Malaysia that needed my reading eyes before bed.

And so, it only seemed appropriate when a girl like me, on fire and ready to rattle the cages of Injustice, trotted off to start my new job at the United Nations.

I basked in that first day, the flashing of my bright blue, holographic pass, and marveled at the building where Change Happened and Things Got Done.

No turning back.

The United Nations was my cake. And I was so darn hungry. So I gobbled, gobbled, gobbled: trafficking for breakfast & girls' edu for lunch & microfinance for dinner. And then got sick. To my stomach. From eating too much. And not knowing. Just. How. To. Digest.... that change was a slow thing and not always an overnight slumber party buddy.

"This place only works for the ones who can be o.k. with baby steps," a woman told me one morning. And she left to be angry, wringing my fists over orphans who needed me and an Unchangeable World.

And so, slowly & so sneakily, Doubt pulled out a stool and ordered a coffee in the cafe of my soul. And then another. And another.

But let's be truthful. It was really Mark Zuckerberg who kissed me on the forehead and sealed my silence.

Yes, six girls. And my own Facebook status that shut me up for good:

"If I have only one quality for the rest of my life I hope that it is foolish... Foolish enough to think that I can make a difference in this world and then go out and do the things that others say cannot be done.."

They mocked it one by one. Skittering from page to page to laugh & "like" & make fun of me before defriending me. One. By One. By One.

And I decided then that Silence was better. Indifference was easier. And if you said nothing at all then no one would expect anything of you. And if you just shut up then the world would never know that your skin once thought it was made for World Changing.

I'd forgotten all of this until tonight. Until the preacher on the stage. Until his message on Salt. Of all things, salt. Leaving my mouth watered with a severe ache for french fries, he spoke of the Bible Days when Salt was more valued than petroleum. Where salt was so very good and people never took it for granted. To have salt in one's home was a Very Big Deal.

His hands rose up as he spoke of how we, as Little Pencils in a Far Grander Love Letter, are called to be salt. Shakers in this world. Hungry for justice. Hungry for a difference. Hungry to Change the World.

And I licked my lips and thought: Yes, I am hungry. For girls with arms full of textbooks. For boys who put down their guns and run back to the schoolyard. For college students who emerge out into the world with an ache to change it and then get ambushed by the Doubt in the cafe. And the Doubt in the cubicle. And the Doubt in the media. And so they listen to statistics and they do a job they never grew a passion for, and ten years or twenty years later, they're still thinking, "I would have really liked to change the world."

And sincerely, I've grown tired:  of not talking about it enough. Of not filling more notebooks with the hope of it all. Of not wanting to call it "World-Changing" because the very word has felt narcissistic & self-absorbed & impossible since the day I placed it into a Facebook status and then ached to wash it away with a swift backspace.

But no more, cause we're talking. No more, cause we're seeing and we're saying that this world is very broken. Her legs are mangled. Her mind is messed. And Once Upon a Time, we wanted to be doctors so let's just pull out the plastic stethoscope, get real close to hear Beating, Bleeding Heart, and listen for a while.

And no more, cause we're meeting. Gathering in tea shops & brunch on Amsterdam Avenue. In pools of social networking sites where we've all convinced once another that the Waters of World Shaking feel just fine so you better dive in. Doggy paddle if you got to, but Just. Jump. In.

And no more, cause I'm ready. To be a girl who doesn't look back. And a girl who leaves her salt all over this whole place. And her breadcrumbs. And her Whole Entire Being if it means that someone Gonna Find the Light. Gonna Go to School. Gonna Break the Chains. Gonna Do their Part.

Baby, baby, I'll pull up a stool. I'll sit right beside you and I'll ask you out loud, "Do you want to change the world?" And if you answer yes, I'll finally find the words to say it.

"Yes... Me Too."

That last line was inspired by my BOMB.com, space cadet of a friend who isn't really a space cadet but rather a poet who has stood by side in learning the art of butt kicking. Her name is Azure Antoinette. #Cupcake. She was just signed into a contract with ABC Family yesterday. I am more proud than a mother watching her triplets graduate from Law School. And Azure, this post is for you. I'm not tired anymore.

 

 

Kaleidoscope Lifetimes: 9/11. We Remember.

I spent precisely 73 minutes, curled up on the tile floor of the New York Library-Bronx Branch, crying yesterday. Book Propped In Front Of Me. Knees Folded. Pages Playing Tear Catchers.

I half expected a librarian to approach me, befuddled by my sinking the library with Titanic-like tears. Ok, maybe not Titanical Tears. But certainly rowboat tears.

"Excuse me, are you alright?" She would've asked. Clearly feeling awkward upon the sight of me.

"Oh, yes... Don't worry," I would've replied. "I do this all the time, no need to be alarmed. I always plant myself in the nonfiction section when I am having a bad day."

I wish I were kidding but we all have quirky ways to remedy our bad days. I am just more open to admitting mine. Something about the nonfiction section of a library holds me at hard times. The Shelves Quake as I envelope myself in stories that are not my own. Stories that remind me the word "Alone" can disintegrate with two steps in nearly any direction. We are not alone. We are not the only ones having tough days. We are striving so hard to be Individuals that we lose track of Sameness. Sameness Matters. Oh yes, it does.

I cried for a silent waltz between Individuality and Sameness bound up together in a hardcover. 1,901 portraits.1,901 Individuals Who Lost their Lives in September 11, 2001.

Mothers. Husbands. Teachers. Students. Fathers. Brokers. Aunts. Business Men. Fiances. Waiters.

All Different Lives. One Common Ending.

A day when Two planes Took To the air. Took down Two Towers. Took Too many.

If our lives look more like a waiting room than a kaleidoscope today then we are doing something wrong. If we are hoping life will begin someday soon then we are wasting time. If we are allowing words inflated with Doubt, Negativity, Hatred and Defeat take the reins in our vocabulary then we need a new dictionary.

Because 2,996 lives never found tomorrow after September 11, 2001. Over 200,000 lives lost the chance for a better life when the Earth Quaked in Haiti this past year. More than 4,000 soldiers gave up any form of a future to fight a war in Iraq. Why? So that we could have the future. Planted in our Hands.

We need only stare at a cover of the New York Times to slap our own wrists with reality: We have been given a gift. Gifts are never required. Nor guaranteed.

A volume full of single stories, each one begging to burst from beneath their byline, reminds me of the great nobility of everyday existence. In riding the 4 Train to work daily, where Doug Jason Irgang met his future bride-to-be after seeing her daily on the commute to work, reading her paper. They were set to be married in December 2001. In the pots of rice and beans cooked by Jorge Velazquez every Saturday for the homeless and hungry of Manhattan. In the spaces between the breaths of Janet Alonso as she called her husband to tell him That The Office Was Filling With Smoke. That She Could Not Breathe. That She Loved Him.

And then the Buildings Broke.

I am reminded on an every day basis that it will never matter which titles we held or the amount of money that our bank accounts digested. The fibers of our existence are counted then accounted for in the hands that we hold. The well intentions we wish. The prayers we send Upward. The compassion we sent Outward. The love we welcome Inward.

I hold a thousand secrets and I cannot share them all. But here's one. Lean in closer. Open your ears: The only promising promise exists in this very moment and what we make of it. Ready. Set. Go.

 

There will be them days

There will be them days when all that will seem reliable is a sapphire blue dress hanging in your closet that, to your knowledge, has never let you down before.

On them days, pull the blue over your head, tie the sash on the side and invest faith in stitching and cool cotton on a summer day.

There will be them days when you wish you could pull sentences from the sky, make words out of treasures you've found while sifting through the Lost & Found bin, to tell a person how you really feel. But all that will come out are fragments.

Incomplete.

Sentences.

You.

Don't.

Know.

How.

To.

Complete.

On them days, find a sweet rhythm in the stuttering and the stammering. Delight in the person who makes the simplest syllables--I miss you, I love you, I need you-- the hardest to recite. Maybe even say this: You Make All the Letters In My Alphabet Shake. The Q's Quiver. The R's Rattle.

There will be them days when the only adoration you get is from a John Mayer song that he recorded seven years ago about daughters. And you'll think to yourself, Wouldn't it be lovely to be the girl who puts the colors inside of the world? On them days, keep your earphones plugged in until the end of the song, until Mr. Mayer tells you straight, "boys would be gone without warmth from a woman's good, good heart."

There will be them days where the Missing gets thick.

Thicker than molasses. Thicker than the chocolate current that took Augustus Gloop down. You'll curse songs on the radio that bring him back. Your bones will ache for conversations where his name sits beside more than just some past tensed verbs.

On them days, let the Missing keep you.  People will tell you not to look at old photographs or cry over love letters;  I say, get your salty groove on but promise to let it go at the end of the night. For your own good. For the doors that need to close before God props open that window people always talk about. We are human beings... looking back is laced somewhere in our DNA, even if sometimes it holds the nutritional value of chewing gum.

There will be them days when all you will wish for is someone who knows your name.

You'll grow tired of being The Girl on the Train. The Young Woman in the Cafe. On them days, give people a good mystery. Find that man with the notepad and glasses. Sit down right on his lap, swipe a hand across his cheek and put a pencil between your teeth. And then get up. And walk off the train.

Give people a reason to write you into story lines and poems that gets recited in the underground coffee shops of Chicago. Make him wonder if your  name is Clare. Rita. Siobhan. Rachel. Anything but the letters your mother stacked alongside one another to call you home when the street lights came on.

There will be them days when all you have the strength to do is sit--square in the middle of the kitchen table that still holds your initials from childhood-- and pair spoonfuls of peanut butter with a carton of vanilla bean ice cream. One more bite, that's it. Just one more bite.

On them days, go for creamy until the gentle reminder pushes inward: Food won't heal you. Food won't fix you. Put the Big Spoon down, Little One. I love you too much to watch this pain.

There will be them days when you'll scrape the polish right off of your fingers. Freckles of Gold and Blue falling to the floor of the car. And you'll look down at your hands in discouragement. What do you want of me? The question will sit in your throat. What am I here for?

On them days, take out a piece of paper and write it down. All The Places Your Hands Have Been. The letters they've written. The wrists they've touched. The wounds they've bandaged. The children they've held. The stories they've grasped in their Tiny Palms.

And marvel... just marvel at the good Two Hands can bring to a world in need.

Then place those Hands of Yours upon your hips. Straighten out the creases in your sapphire blue dress. Go outside. And face the world.

Wronging Wolves with Weighted Words

I toted a serious Little Girl Crush for the Big Bad Wolf.

Something about all that huffing and puffing as a seven-year-old must have riled me up to the point where I slid Elvis Presley and Arthur the Aardvark over to make ample heart space for my “bad boy crush,” or should I say wolf?

The day I learned to love the Wolf was the day my fellow second graders and I sat down on our magical carpet and opened our ears up to our librarian as she told us the Other Side of the Story.

The side of the story where those three wretched swine were really the nasty ones, not allowing their neighbor wolf to borrow any cups of sugar. And poor, poor Wolfy had an awful case of allergies; the guy couldn’t help knocking down all those houses with such uncontrollable sneezing.

Sweet Mother of Holy Cows, I cannot tell you the guilt that sickened my stomach the day I realized I had gotten the Big Bad Wolf all wrong. Guilt that glopped up in my stomach like cheap icing from dollar store cookies.

I don’t think I knew the word “repent” at the time, but goodness, if I were Catholic I would have spent a couple days cooped up in a confessional feeling sorry for the ways in which I wronged the Wolf.

And that’s the point I want to go with today. So we really don’t need to delve further into the countless number of times I checked that storybook out of the library just to take Mr. Wolf away from the mean, mean dictators of Storybook Land who sneaked and slithered among the bookshelves and plastered him with unkind stereotypes, from his sharp teeth down to his hairy toes.

It’s how we wrong one another, no matter if that Other is a wolf or a classmate. A friend or a coworker. It’s how we get careless with Words (Words are quite powerful, don’t you think they should just make them a proper noun and get on with it?) and we use them in a way that forces others around us into teeny, tiny boxes. (And I want to talk about those miniscule boxes one day soon!)

I am firm believer that it took a brave, brave man to pile up all the Words of the world and slop them into a dictionary. So that, forever and ever, people could Use Them and Know Them and Learn from Them. But, on the adverse, Use Them Against One Another. Use Them to Cut and Kill and Cripple.

Yikes, we just got far deeper than my love affair for the Darling Wolf.

Alcoholic. Predator. Homo. Spinster. Anorexic. Homeless. Deadbeat. Dyke. Freak. Cracker. Addict. Pervert.

Jeepers, these were NOT the Words I wanted to plaster all over this post but we use these Words, and other crude combinations, to break a person’s back. To Make Them Less with Our Own Few Syllables.

I can admit it now: I’ve used the words all bunched up in my cheeks to staple someone to the ground before. Someone that I love very deeply even though I’ve often dropped the word “Addict” to force him below me. Under me. Put him right beside Dirt & Scum & gave him a Lower Life than he ever, ever deserved.

I called him an Addict out loud. And proclaimed it to people over and over again, as if to hand them the rope and ask them to help me tie the awful title to his back.

And you know what? It never propelled me any higher. It never made me any kind of Better than him. And it certainly didn’t deliver Goodness. It just built a wall higher, as these Words often do, that hindered me from loving him beyond the label.

When what I really should have done is used the time & space to tell others about my love for him. My prayers for him. The ways in which I know he can dribble and shoot better than the crowd. His passion for crime shows. The immense capacity I think he holds to get it all together and kick some ass one day soon.

Those are the kind of Words we need today. Not more hate. Not more discrimination. Not another Stupid Sentence Said to Ruin Someone Else’s Day or Week or Confidence or Ambition. Who am I to think I got planted on this earth to add more Ugliness to that pile that grows higher and higher. Over the internet. Twitter. Classrooms. Chat rooms. Lunch Tables. Highways.

I’d rather have Good Words for Ammo. Kind Words that Strike. Strong Words that lift & push & pull a person higher.

About the same time I learned about the Big Bad Wolf I must have learned the phrase: If you haven’t anything nice to say, then say nothing at all. That’s a lesson we all could learn over and over again. Don’t bring those Words around here. You take those Words outside and leave them there, leave them like a houses made poorly by Little Pigs… Walk Away and Let that Wolf Blow Them Down.

“Look,” she told my mother. “It’s me and Fred dancing.”

I wonder how we’ll dance. All of the time. I wonder if we’ll fox trot or side step. Shimmy or Waltz. If the music will come endlessly. If the record player will turn.

I picture a pearly floored ballroom. Mozart revived and stunning on the piano. God showing off his hidden talents with the strings of a cello. Mr. Blue Eyes Sinatra himself, captivating all of heaven’s dance floor with his debonair swagger and the alto roar of his voice.

But, if I want to talk about Heaven and the epic chance to finally toast my glass with Billie Holiday, I need to rest my fingers on this keyboard and tap out what comes first, the very thing that we may never come to understand for as long as we sink our feet into earthy ground.

Death.

I’ve thought a great deal about death lately, as he seems to be coming up in conversation more than I would like. Linking arms selfishly with people I believe still needed more time.  I don’t even like typing the word "death" because it seems to come weighted down with all sorts of tragic connotations. As if Sadness & Stuffiness & Discomfort are all sitting down on my keyboard, refusing to get up.

It is always when I see someone pass away, someone who seems too young or too needed in this world,  that I find myself attempting to slip into God’s shoes. Try as I might, my feet don’t even take up an inch of space in his massive Converse sneakers. I cannot even pretend to clunk around for a mile in his shoes as if I were back to the days of being Little and Girlish, playing dress up with Grandma’s night gowns and chalky, burlesque lipstick.

But, ironically, it is also always when a beautiful soul takes her leave on this earth to swoop across clouds up to Those Gates that I feel God coming up behind me-- clomp, clomp, clomp--in his converse sneakers, to whisper in my ear. “I made you for many things, child. Understanding the way my world operates was never one of them.

And once again I fall back under His Unmistakable Power. Knowing little. Understanding less. But still wishing I could explain why several Grandmas get pulled back up to the clouds before lunchtime.

I'll never know why God plants the best grilled cheese makers and advice givers all over the planet. I don’t know why he sews us into daughters and sisters, lovers and friends. Why he pulls us off this earth when our work is done. It’s a glorious thing, but it leaves holes in the human hearts, of those who loved us all the days of our lives; the ones who seem to need us here on earth, sitting beside them, holding our hands. Seeking our shoulders.

A dear member of our church passed away this week. Sitting in pews on Sunday morning, a thick layer of sadness rose up to the rafters and rolled down the aisles. Suddenly there was no denying that the world gets heavier with one less mother, one less grandma, one less distinct laugh to fill the space that calls us all to worship.

My mother visited her in the hospital a few days before her passing . She showed off her favorite photograph.  A picture of she and her husband diving and dipping across a dance floor. “Look,” she told my mother. “It’s me and Fred dancing.”

She passed two days later. Some believe she was a victim to a broken heart, her husband passing away ten months prior, but everyone knew for certain that she was ready to dance with Fred again.

Ready to dance. Beyond this world. Because standing here in heels that hurt my feet by the end of the day,  I have no choice but to believe that we were made for something more beautiful, beyond this. That, up there, somewhere over those Rainbows and all that Judy Garland once sang about, exists a place for us to dance. And jig. And wear the best red shoes. And take the hands of ones we loved and lost to finally be found over & over again. For all of eternity.

And perhaps this is the reason, poking up like sunlight from the cracks of tragedy, for being here. Maybe God shuffled us down here so we could do our best, and learn the etching of our own footprints in the sand. So we could stumble and fall and lean on him when we lose all stability. And search this life all over like blind men on the boardwalk, looking for dance partners to know our steps. Know our shuffle. Our hop. Our skip.

To practice dancing on the ground. To learn the hands and eyes that we'll go searching for long after we've parted on this earth when we get to that pearly dance floor. The piano cuts. The crowd clears. And finally, the word “forever” will exist like we have never known it before, as we are reunited with those familiar hands. They'll clasp our cheeks and pull our faces close to theirs and dip us down to touch the ground, whispering softly, "I told you darling, we'd be dancing again."

One hour before the world is destined to end, a girl will find the courage to call a boy after six years.

Some fiction to flesh out the stories that are often true.

“Hey... it's me. I hope you still know who 'me' is. I think you do, but its been a while. Almost six years."

Five Years. Nine Months. Fourteen Days. But who's counting, really?

"And normally I wouldn't call you, because we haven't talked... and you'll think I am crazy for even trying. But the world just might end in an hour and I thought this might be the best time, or the only time, to catch up. You know... Before it all ends.

And nothing that I am saying right now is making much sense at all but I just called to ask how you are doing. It's funny, I've been waiting to ask you that for nearly six years and it takes an 89-year-old preacher predicting that the world is going to end in an hour for me to actually find some kind of spine to call you up and just ask you." I play over what I will say in my head.

I am getting ready.

I am going to call you at 5p.m. today. 

May 21, 2011. 5:00p.m.

One hour before the world is destined to end a girl will find the courage to call a boy after six years. Before earthquakes tumble through hometowns and destroy playgrounds from childhood and take  down old oak trees that still play home to abandoned tree houses crooked up in their branches.

And I am going to ask, “How are you?”

How. Are. You. Three anvils coming off the tongue.

"I feel kind of silly, just blubbering to your voicemail. But I have been telling myself for the last three months that the world would end today because, well, if I didn't then I would probably never call. I wouldn't search for a reason. And I think one of us has really needed to call the other. I could be wrong. But...but..."

For the first time in 22 years, my mouth will fail me when I finally call. Completely fail me. For I know I'll want to say Ten Thousand Things all at once but I am already stuck with the task of saying them One by One.

"I don't listen to the Beatles on Sunday anymore; that was kind of your thing. And my hair color has changed three times since I last saw you but maybe you saw it on Facebook. Most people still keep in touch on Facebook. That's how I find out about all our friends' engagements and baby showers at least. Crazy; thought that might be us.

And I haven't forgotten your birthday. I know I haven't called or said anything but I never forgot it. To be honest, I still get these nervous rashes sometimes when someone even brings up your name.... I finally learned how to kayak."

I watch the numbers on the clock skip forward. Past five. Half Hour until the World Ends.

"I hope you are doing well. Really. I have only ever want the best for you but I think that wish got lost somewhere in the last few years. I hope you'll know it now. I saw your Aunt Marge last month. She might have told you that though. I really should have called years ago; that fact is not lost on me."

But a boy can cast a crazy spell on a girl's fingers when it comes time to gather up bravery by the arm load and make those fingers crawl toward the keypad and tap out his number. An area code is suddenly heavy. The number itself is nearly impossible to dial.

"I haven't decided if I want you to call me back when you get this. There will probably only be a few minutes left. So don't bother. Or maybe bother. If you feel like it. But promise me, promise me, that you won't say you miss me. Don't find a way to plop that sentence into one of my seven inboxes either. Because suddenly you'll be filling all my spaces again. And it won't last ten seconds before you pull away and begin apologizing for the mess."

This Muddy Mess called You & Me. Sometimes Us. Rarely We. Lately, these days, They & Them. Two People wandering far, far away from You & Me.

The minutes sprint towards 6:00p.m. I close my eyes. I wait.

"And please don't call me back asking to know what happened to Us ten minutes before the world goes ending."

6:00, 6:01, 6:02,

"I can tell you how it all began: We were young. We knew nothing at the time but everything in the moment. We tried. We fought. We stumbled. We didn't know better. We wanted it to work. We wanted it so bad."

6:03, 6:04, 6:05,

"Life got harder. Time taught us lessons. Pain. Jealousy. Foolishness. Resentment. Don't you remember? They all showed up to throw a Bon Voyage party for the two of us.

You chose south. I needed north. You were moving. I was shaking."

6:06, 6:07, 6:08,

"We really shouldn't spend the last ten minutes before the world ends tying all the reasons behind our own ending to red balloons. Letting them go. Watching them float up to the Solar System. We'd be left with only one reason."

6:09, 6:10.

"We both needed exits. And they needed to be graceful. I would not cry this time. You would not call. We'd grow bigger someday. But we had to learn to do it on our own."

Silence. Nothing. No ground shaking. No world crumbling. I was going to call you at 5p.m. today. An hour before the world ended and I was going to call you. 

I was going to ask, "How are you?"

I am sorry I never called. I am still wondering how you are.

This will give us enough of a good feeling, a right feeling, to go on knowing nothing at all.

My best friend smells of leather ballet slippers and lavender hand soap. 

The scent mingles with the highlights in her hair as I hug her, taking me back to the nights spent sharing secrets on hardwood dance floors while nursing the blisters that came from uptight tap shoes.

And though I file away people I have met, placing their name beside a concordance of eye colors within my head, smelling my best friend became a new addition to daily routines only after I met Maggie.

Maggie was the queen bee of the nursing home I was forced to visit during a day of service in college. Truth told, I didn't want to be spending my Saturday morning playing gin with old folks sharing stacks of Aces and Spades with the dentures sitting on both sides of me.

I made the Macho Mistake of checking my phone beneath the table while waiting for Maggie to make her move.

"I don't understand all you young people," Maggie spoke, directing her comment right at me without a tinge of hesitation. "You are always talking to one another on a screen. My grand-daughter talks to all her best friends on a screen. That is not a best friend! You need to be able to see your best friend, touch your best friend, smellllll your best friend."

Maggie will forever be the reason why, when my first child asks me for a cell phone, I will retreat to a cedar chest settled beside my bed and pull out a chalkboard like the ones the pilgrims used to practice their ABCs upon.

"Here," I will say, stringing the small board up with a bright red cord and saddling that little sucker right around my child's neck. "This is even better than text messaging. You just write that message down and pass it your friend."

Presto, handwriting practice and social interaction all in one swift swipe.

And then I will pull six more chalkboards from that cedar chest and plop them onto the table beside my child. "Here's more, in case you need to send out mass messages."

Yup, this conversation will take place right after I buy my girl her first petty coat and teach my son all the Right Ways to walk along the Yellow Brick Roads that Pave the Hearts of Young Girls: Tell her she is beautiful. Always.  Never tell her she looks big in those jeans. Buy her flowers even if there is no occasion. Admire her and do not fear being in awe of her; there is nothing more radiant to watch than a young woman who knows her way. 

But, in all seriousness, I am already fearfully watching from the car window as my children scurry onto the school bus; already pleading endlessly with the gods of socializing that they will sit beside Someone. And that they will like the bus ride adventure beside that Someone so much that they decide to share lunch with that Someone.

Their feet will grow bigger. Their hands will grow bigger.

But still, they will itch to sit with people and find Someones. And call before texting. And just show up even before calling. And know how to use those ten fingers of theirs.

Lesson Number One, my little kiddies: Your hands will never feel so full and so well used as when they find themselves enveloped and interlocked with those of another soul in need. 

Another Restless, Itchy Soul who needs Love. Well, don't we all need love? We might not know much of what we want in this life, nevermind what we actually need, but we know enough to distinguish how it feels to rest our heads on Certain Shoulders or to be wrapped up tight into Certain Arms. And let's face it, no one told us we had to know everything so I think that sticking to knowing Shoulders & Arms & Ten Fingers and the power behind them is plenty.

Because that will give us enough of a good feeling, a right feeling, to go on knowing nothing at all.

No, I don't want my children to miss out on that. To miss out on Certain Shoulders and Life Changing Conversations because their noses are super glued to Kindles or their minds are surfing the Internet ten thousand miles away from the dinner table they are sitting at. Their Faces Illuminated by the Glow of the Screen from Beneath Them. 

I want them to know certain things that will never be unearthed from a pile of mobile devices, certain things that I believe will define their lives and leave them without worry as to what this life is actually for: the way it feels to say sorry in person instead of cowering behind an email address. The way it feels to gush over another human being without fear of being cut off after 140-characters. The way it feels to sit beside someone with Palms Sweating and Heart Racing; feeling so awkward, so uncomfortable, so anxious but so incredibly alive. 

Lord knows one day I will be sitting in the same spot as Maggie, preaching to a restless youngin' of the days when we still received letters in the mail and we trotted over to the neighbors to borrow a cupcake tin.

Cupcake tins, neighbors, and handwritten letters may all be extinct by the time I play gin with young college students.

But perhaps they will learn from me what Maggie so graciously taught in her preaching of smelling best friends: we have precious time upon us; spend it with friends. There is laughing to be heard, names to be learned, manners to be used and friends to be pulled in after a long spell of "Missing," transporting you right back to the days of lavender soap and sitting on dance room floors.

I’d string the trees in Central Park with Yellow Bows for you.

She was fidgeting with the elevator buttons when the tears for you rolled through.

I knew upon the first slow trickle, down blush-applied pink cheeks,

that the herds of salty soldiers marching from my eyelids

were all for you today.

Untamable tears. Terribly Untamable, Mysterious Tears.

They might be my only offering to this world.

They might be just the start.

I let the tears scamper for a moment,

like restless children tumbling to see the first gleam of spring.

Propelling down over humps that were once

the bane of a chubby cheek existence.

Searching in my mind for ways to turn

Each Drop of Salt into Characters that sit Metallic in Blank Word Documents.

Because crying doesn’t solve anything,

(my mother taught me that one)

but words can do some good.

You held up a piece of cardboard two days ago and I knew it then.

Homeless. Veteran. Iraq.

These three words would call me to my knees one day soon.

Black Tights on Tile Flooring Praying for Men with Foreign Soil Beneath Their Boots.

My mind left stirring over a cup of coffee we never had.

Envisioning you taking me from start to finish.

Tell me the story of how a young man,

waking only to lie down for his country,

encounters that same sleepy-eyed country when its time to cradle him home.

When he fights well. Does Good.

Shouldn't "thank you" be a phrase that

Drops Endlessly Off Our Tongues?

Thank. You. You. You.

I’m no politician. No picketer. No rebel.

My combat boots are all for show. Fashion, really.

No agenda. No protests. No Crude Words for Magazines.

I cannot talk Libya or Japan when I just want to talk humanity.

I cannot banter over military industrial complexes

when I simply want to know, adding sugar as you speak:

How did the air feel in your hair over there?

Whose arms folded you inward during tented dreams at night?

Whose laughter are you longing for? I know it’s not mine.

When did you start missing it?

Tell me the pitch.

Verbalize the tone.

You'd speak and I'd categorize your eye color into the

running concordance in my mind. Maybe the Blue Files.

Perhaps the Ambiguous Hazels.

Scripting you deep into the front line in the notepad memory

of a Syllable Seamstress with Untamable Tears.

It’s not much but sometimes we need that:

for someone else to remember our eye color.

Remember something about us.

And let their minds return back to it after longer days.

I’m going back today.

If I see you, I will ask you out to coffee.

Knees sunk into the floor of a 43rd street office space.

Turning tears into syllables for you. Asking words to be

brave enough to speak for a hero like you.

Wishing those Words Would Unravel into

Miles Upon Miles of Yellow Ribbon.

I’d string the trees in Central Park with Yellow Bows for you.

Fresh Yellow Bows. To remind the World that a Foot Soldier Came Home.

That a Foot Soldier with Blue Eyes Came Home.

And so who will fetch the water to clean the mud from his tired boots?

Relearning Loveliness: Not ten pounds lighter. Not two weeks later.

You would think a girl who spent childhood making collages with pass out literature from UNICEF and annual global poverty reports, wouldn’t find her most disturbing discovery at the United Nations in the bathroom of the main headquarters.

I am trying not to stare over as I pump a thick layer of neon soap in the palms of my hands and dip them under the soapy water.

One by one, the women stop and pause in front of the full-length mirror.

Tug at their shirts.

Suck in their stomachs.

Turn at a few different angles.

Leaving a disdained look upon the mirror as they turn away,  disapproval plastered on the mirror like a lipstick kiss.

 

I click clack my heels daily around a monumental place where genocide, malaria, peace, war, girls’ rights and primary education are all the basic words you need  in order to have a substantial conversation over coffee. And yet, I wonder the most about the women who walk around here and all over New York City, and All Over Every City, not satisfied when they greet a full-length mirror.

The women who cringe over fitting rooms and racks of skinny jeans.

Some days I want to study it. Pull up a chair into the center of any fitting room and take field notes. Or hear the story from start to finish as if it were bound and scripted for bedtime purposes. I could curl up on blue carpeting and find some librarian to read the picture book out loud to me.

Once upon a time, there lived a young girl. And as she grew older the world grew harder. Her thighs were always too big. Her nose to long. Her ankles too fat. Her skin too blemished….

I don’t know what the pictures might look like.

Maybe watercolor paintings of sad girls in princess dresses. With pocket-sized mirrors. Maybe Eric Carle would do the illustrations.

If I had two extra hours to my every day, I would surely dedicate the 120 minutes to tracking down a scholar who could point out to me just where women started missing parts and cutting themselves off at the knees. Where it began... Where he believes it might end...

Where we learned verbs like “comparing,” “despising,” and “sizing.”  And started using our adjectives to belittle our bodies and devalue our worth.

Then perhaps that same scholar could take me on a walking tour, as if we were catching a new exhibit at the MOMA on a Friday night. Here is the woman who turns to peanut butter and wine, he would show me. And down the line you will find the young girl who rummages through clothes racks to look for self worth, only in even numbers, less than 6. Size 0. Size 2. Size 4.

I really wouldn’t need a pamphlet or a tour guide.

I wouldn’t need to plug a set of headphones into a wall to hear a young woman’s story to know “why.”

The thing about most of us is that we understand why she isn’t eating and she is eating so much. Because we all grew up together in a space that taught us every aspect of being Thin, Pretty, & Desirable for any and every occasion.

We never grew up reading beauty magazines with glossy spreads teaching us the goodness of our birthmarks and the sweetness to our gap teeth. From time to time we would find the declaration of love, but really we were just reading up on how to fix this part of ourselves, or lessen that part.

How to be smaller in the world. Take up less space. Be quiet and play pretty.

And though we grew up with a rare right to preserve and protect our bodies, we struggle to find much value in them. Little time to value the Birthmarks, the Curves. The Freckled Elbows. The Grey Hairs on Heads.

I always wondered, while flipping through the pages of different monthly issues with all the same issues on the front cover, how will I ever learn to love something that constantly needs changing? How I could ever learn to adore a body when it needed altering always. Hemming always. Trimming always.

Where there was always an end goal that a scale would define.

Where I would always be a traveller, a nomad, looking for that point of peace in the mirror.

Geneen Roth, one of my favorite authors, first planted the words of poet Galway Kinnell into her book and I read them, suddenly wishing this single verse could have been my lullaby growing up.

Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.

Loveliness… It could be a new favorite word. A great new leather jacket of Loveliness to wear around. And zip our hearts inward tightly.

Roth goes on to write about wings. And how we have all been given wings. And how we learn to fly, from wings.

And it’s a pretty thought.

A better ending to the picture book story with a very grim beginning, with watercolor girls fading as if they and their pages were left out in the rain. The thought of us all flying. Soaring. Above it all.

The thought of us all running into a conference room breathless, clutching lined paper and digital cameras. Throwing a pile of colored crumpled sketches and black and white photographs into the center of a table that I decided would be round.

And the thought of sifting and sorting for the very best stories of love. The very best images of self worth.  The most wonderful ballads of acceptance and pacts with our bodies.

And we would send that collection off to the printing press. Binding some new magazine. Some new spread. Some better way to relearn our loveliness right where we are. Not ten pounds lighter. Not two weeks later.

Relearning loveliness. Just as we are.

 

 

A guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, once wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket.

I spent two years stealing love notes from my brother's bedroom just to admire the handwriting styles of his girlfriend.

I may or may not have contemplated stapling the letters to my trendy Unicorn sweaters of the time and wearing them around with my jacket unzipped. Not to expose any juicy secrets, of course, but  to show people what eloquent handwriting looked like. The kind of stuff Hallmark Illustrators gnaw on for breakfast.

Instead, being the slightly neurotic ten-year-old that I was, I took out my Lisa Frank planner and scheduled a time slot from 4-5p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Handwriting Practice.

Yes, yes. While other girls read Tiger Beat Magazine and gushed over the Backstreet Boys, I holed myself up in my bedroom, unfolding love letters from their paper football form, to master the technique behind a round & full lowercase “a” and the precise swoop of an uppercase “Y”.  The anticipation of one day seeing these same delicate letters parade on my very own book reports and love notes was enough to keep me diligent for two entire years. Close to 300 hours or so of handwriting practice.

I've grown up keeping this notion closer to me than I would my purse on a packed subway car: If we want something then we need to work hard for it. Every Single Day. Every Single Day we carve out time for that Dream of ours. We don’t merely coo at it or coddle it, we bring it into this world. Loud & Rapturous.

I also grew up cursing the God who put a great deal of distance between Point A & Point B.

Why not connect them closer, God? Why not give me what I want right this very moment? It would probably make His Sky High To-Do List much shorter. More manageable.

It would be much easier this way, if we could pick up our deepest desires from the racks of the department store & plop them into a cart.

Chances are, a lot more dreams would live to see their realization if we were able to skip right from Point A to Point B. If Time, Energy, Hard Work, Rejection, Struggle & Discernment were not so adamant in demanding a seat in our Ambition-Covered Wagons.  

I’ve written it before but I still believe that our dreams are very much like infants. We conjure them up in diaries and during long commutes but we have to then step up to be teachers to them. Teach them to Walk, Talk, Sing, Dance, Shake, Shimmy, Move, Be. Understand their weak beginnings. Understand their wobbly legs. Covet the progress. Smile at the Baby Steps.

But the one thing we cannot do if we ever hope to find them as a reality, sitting across from us like a familiar stranger who knows how we take our coffee, is belittle them. Degrade them. Find small boxes to shove them in. Let them collect dust on a shelf within our memory.

You see, one day our dreams being labeled as "unreachable" won't cut it anymore. They will grow stale. They might fall apart. They will tire from us putting “Cannot” and “Should” in front of them in line. And they will slink into a slot just as forgotten as the lone sock, abandoned under the bed and left praying for some sort of companion who understands their wool & texture.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, one wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket. I don’t know about you, but I have some tickets to buy… some dreams stored up inside of me that need to start sending their resumes out to reality.

So here’s to taking some coins, sunk deep from our pockets, and listening to the sounds they make as they clink on the counter.

 “One ticket please,” I say. “Matter of fact, make it ten.”

Here’s to finding Point A together, no matter how opposite our directions are from one another.

Here’s to kicking Struggle & Rejection, Doubt & Animosity, out from the cradle that our dreams slumber in at night.

Here’s to picking back up that piece of chunky purple chalk and writing our dreams out to the world. Fine Handwriting Practice or None.

Here’s to placing Point A down on the map and finding one way today to make a sudden movement.

A Baby Step.

A Crawl.

Even just a shoulder shrug.

On our way.

To Point B.

I am on a mission to spin clichés into a whole new context right before your eyes. Spin them finer than a web made by Charlotte. Spin them tighter than a track laid down by Drake.

I reached my hand into the fish bowl full of “Buddy the Elf Meets Martha Stewart” clichés this morning, the very jar that sits on my bedside table, and pulled out “people should smile more.”

What a fine cliché for a cloudy Wednesday morning, don’t you agree?

Someone reading this is bitter over today’s cliché, I just know it. Well, proceed to take five minutes to place yourself in someone else’s cuticles. Just imagine how disgruntled my fingers felt over this selection. My left ring and index fingers were really pulling for “everything happens for a reason.”

But alas, we have the concept of smiling more.

First Thought on Clichés) I really would adore meeting the man (yes, I think he is a man) who decided upon the concept of clichés. What kind of upbringing did he have that made him start huffing and puffing over people saying things like, “every cloud has a silver lining.” Poor boy, he should probably digest this blog post as well. Chances are, he didn’t smile as often as he should have. I can totally picture him kicking and screaming in the middle of aisle 8, "Mommmmyyyyy, Stopppppp telllllllingggggg meeeee thaaaatttttt currrriiiooooosssiiittttyyyy killllledddd theeee catttt!!!!! I ammmmm nottttttt takkkkinggggg onnnnneeeee fooooorrrrr theeeeeee teeeeaaammmm annnnymmmorreeee!" Poor boy.

Second Thought on Clichés (to make the first one feel a little less lonely))  Making clichés relevant is a favorite past-time of mine, sitting right next to attempting to create peanut butter coffee and the great pleasure I get from burying myself in sociology textbooks. I delight in a mission to turn the overused rhetoric of an army of Mrs. Field's Cookie Bakers into a tangible text that is hard to put down. Clichés are far more than stuffy words that bear the burden of Cranky English Teachers. Clichés, in my experience, have the potential to walk, talk, carry a scent and serve a phenomenal purpose. So yes, I am on a mission to spin clichés into a whole new context right before your eyes. Spin them finer than a web made by Charlotte. Spin them tighter than a track laid down by Drake.

Professora con sonrisas, I wrote to him in the first letter. That is what they have decided to call me, I continue writing.

I hadn’t pulled out a sash and a crown and titled myself all on my own. The name had come from a three-year-old who met me eye to eye, his eyes having been quite careless in granting his eyelids to let the wild clan of tears loose.

"Professora con muchas sonrisas," he whispered to one of his classmates a few days later and before long, the Little Ones were gathering around me anticipating the magic trick.

An old trick I had honed back in the days of teaching hysterical tiny tots at the ballet barre.

The Little Boy stepped through the crowd of his classmates and Fixed a Fabricated Frown on his Face.

“Did you forget your smile today?” I asked him.

“Si.”

“Again?” I asked, letting out an overly exaggerated sigh. “Will I have to give you mine?”

“Si,” he repeated, nodding his head.

“Ok, but you better take really good care of it. I don’t have many left.” And with my fair warning, I covered my mouth with my hand to wipe the smile from my face. Replacing It With A Fabricated Frown, identical to his.

With caution, I cupped the smile in my hands and allowed the audience of preschoolers to peek in. Peek In & Giggle.

“Here we go,” I said, opening my hands and plopping the imaginary smile right onto his face.

Instantly, the Little Boy Laughed & Laughed, causing me to wonder if it really was possible to lend smiles.

From that point forward my duties as a preschool teacher consisted of wiping noses, pumping hand sanitizer, introducing letters of the alphabet and passing out smiles as if they were candy. The Little Ones often check me at the door to see if I am wearing the dress with the big billowing pockets. The Ideal Dress For Carrying Extra Smiles. Extra Ammo To Fight Off the Fabricated Frowns of Four-Year-Olds.

La Professor Con Muchas Sonrisas. The Teacher With Many Smiles.

It’s a good name. It’s a good skill to have. It’s a good magic trick to know how to perform. I just wish it worked beyond rooms with walls covered in finger paint and paper snowflakes. I wish I could take my magic trick out at parties or that my little black dresses had pockets to fit some extra smiles into before a night out with the girls.

To be very honest, I am 22-years-old and still fighting the urge to don a bright red hooded cape and sling a wicker basket full of smiles over my shoulder to skip through the subways of New York City and pass out joy in the form of curled lips and toothy grins.

Not only do I think that red hooded capes are way underrated on the runways these days but a lot of people in this world are looking to smile more but they need that nudge. As if we need a cue to smile these days. That Beautiful Image in the Park. That Familiar Face. That memory that shows up to greet them in the middle of a long day at the office and a pile of unending paperwork.

Let me guess, the person who read the beginning of this post and got bitter over my cliché selection is the very person who wants to jump right in with a comment about the fact that smiles are stupid and too simple. Smiles don’t help broken hearts. Smiles don’t make my student loans go away. How very right you are, jeepers, want to write a guest post?

Oh goodness, an unexpected visitor is knocking at door number three. About as endearing as the bachelor who was kicked off the show in episode thirteen but comes back to wow America in the finale!

The Third Thought on Clichés!

Welcome to HannahKaty.com, what words do you have to offer my fine friends and blog readers?!?!

Third Thought on Cliches) People are always going to tell you that the simple things will never matter. The verbs that don’t take much time will never make the difference they will say. Smiling more. Talking less. Listening more. Whining less. Those same people will tell you that small acts will go nowhere in a Very Big World. They are the very ones who neglect to open the door for others or string gratitude into their sentences. They are the ones who will criticize you for even thinking to fill your heart’s filing cabinets up with the prospects of being the change you wish to see in the world or getting people to smile and laugh a little more.

Don’t listen to them. Don’t give them your breathe.  Don’t give them your attention. Don’t give them your energy.

You…. You just go on searching the clothing racks for that perfect red riding hood cape and head off to Pier One for a great wicker basket. Fill it with your smiles and get on to working this world in a way that those with the Not-So Fabricated Frowns never could. You just keep working because you know the truth behind those little acts and the good they deliver. And still, even if those same people refuse to take one, make sure to offer them one of your mystical magic trick smiles anyway.

He had this Dream of turning the Jangling Discords of this Nation into a Beautiful Symphony of Brotherhood.

Wade in the water, Wade in the water children. Wade in the water God’s gonna trouble the water

I gather my Strength in a place where people have no choice but to come through the door wearing a full armor suit's worth of it.

I fold the Strength up into my arms like a little child, his legs dangling over the sides, as I stare at the front door and envision it three hours from now. Swinging. Swinging. Bringing in Hope, Carrying Out Heartache. Bringing in Heartache, Carrying it Out Again.

Right now the space is deserted. Empty but Loud. Creaking with its Emptiness. Let the King Hand of the Clock Round the Courtyard and 60 Royal Seconds Three More Times and then watch as this place fills with a Concordance Of Faces that know Promise, Angst and Hard Work but very little English.

It has become almost ritualistic. My slipping from beneath the white covers at 5a.m. to walk down 2 flights of stairs and find a spot to sit, Curled Up, in the middle of an Immigration Center. Not many people can say that their living room doubles as a heartbeat to hundreds of people within the inner city.

The center pulses at this time. The Sun has not even begun to stir or think about hitting snooze on her alarm clock but already the Immigration Center & I are drawing up Strength for the morning. Strength for the sun and the way the door will swing in just a few hours. Even the walls are beginning to speak; I am certain that if I hold my ear up to just one of them I will fall deep into the telling of Ten Thousand Stories.

I did not fully meet Strength up until this year. Only heard about Strength from other people but never really saw it in action so fully until I began calling this borough, "home." Strength does anything but take up a resting spot in this place. It sits in the classrooms of this Immigration Center, upon the faces of individuals who are trying desperately to remember Letters on a Chalkboard. They know full and well that Language has Edges & Angles in this Country, not so much like the cushioned space in their mothers' arms. Strength sits in the classroom, and in a church, and in a line for the food pantry or the seats of the 4 train that carry these people and their Tired Soles to their Jobs.

Jobs.

Jobs that pay $7.50 an hour. Not enough to feed the family of five or keep a mother from the fear of teetering over into welfare. The people of the Bronx are still rallying like in the days of Dr. King to fight for a living wage. A Living Wage. A Wage That Allows Them To Live.

There is so much that I don't understand. A lot that makes me uncomfortable. A lot that I will never again be able to hold my cheek away from. I guess we reach a point where we can never turn away again. Never Walk Away Again. But Still, There Is So Much I Cannot Change. So Much I Cannot Process.

It makes a girl wonder, as she sits cross-legged in the middle of a Immigration Center that Pulses So Loud: What am I to do today? Why am I here? How come I am the one who will get to walk away?

Pack up my bags come June. Wave farewell to a Borough that Learned to Burrow A Break In My Heart, and sink back into a life that doesn't yield a $25 a week stipend. But a Career. A Career that Provides Much More than Just a Living Wage.

It is here, in these quiet moments when the Bronx is still stretching her arms and readying herself for the day, that I realize that Love is my only option. It's not technologically savvy. It is not resume worthy. It doesn't take experience in HTML or CSS Coding. It is not something we even want to mention anymore unless we are standing knee-deep in the card aisle at Hallmark. But its all that matters. Loving. Loving until it hurts. Until it shatters our souls into a million little pieces. Perhaps it is not the desired solution of this world, but it is what keeps me intact, what keeps me holding the hands of preschoolers that I want so much for, what keeps me staring into the eyes of young children on the UNICEF posters whispering promises to them that one day they will be So Much More than Just Poster Children.

Love until it hurts. Love After it Hurts. Keep Loving, even when it would be so much easier to just walk away.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, he had this dream. It was Deeply Rooted in the American Dream, the same one that is still not within the grasps of each body that claims this soil as home. He had this dream to turn the jangling discords of this nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

One day,  I think to myself.

One day we might just hear that Symphony.

Together will begin with the slow start-up of a cello. Equality will join in with the violin. An Acceptance Trio will begin to hum. Acceptance of Color. Acceptance of Religion. Acceptance of Sexuality. Justice will enter in on the piano. And Peace will sit atop the piano that Justice plays and she will look around and smile. She will shimmy from the side of the piano and step up to the microphone after a few chords.

"Brothers and sisters," she will sing. "Get up, get up, it's time to get up."

The microphone spans a couple thousand miles.

"Get up and dance. Get up and swing, children." Peace will Sing. Peace Will Sing.

And we all will stand, lace up our shoes and begin to shuffle towards the dance floor. Shuffling. Shimmying. Holding Hands.You with Me. Me with You.

Fox Trot. Box Step.

Shaking Our Hips to a Symphony of Brotherhood.

Once Upon A Time Someone Gave a Little Girl with Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu a Chance: Girls' Education & a Chance to "Be the First."

She stood before the class today and formally introduced herself. They’d all seen her before but this was the first time they would call her by name. Sitting tall with her back straight, she seemed poised and ready. A younger but practically identical version of her sat to her right.

This is the letter ‘J’,” I tell the class, using a pencil to accentuate her long and slender trunk. “Can everyone make the sound of the letterJ’? Juh… Juh… Juh…

A chorus of juh’s circulate the classroom.

The letter J continues to reveal to us all of her closest friends:  Jungle. Joke. Jump. Jenny. Josue. Jelly. Friends that would be Nowhere without Her.

After we count nearly 36 comrades of the ever so popular Letter J, the Little Ones scurry back to their seats and practice drawing portraits of our New Friend. Happy are they to be tracing her trunk and filling in her curves with Gold & Silver Glitter Paint.

Every time I introduce a new member of the alphabet family to my preschool class it feels as if they are another step closer to unearthing a treasure they have no idea they are scavenging for. They might not know it yet, rightfully consumed with their dolls and action figures for now, but one day letters and the ability to use them correctly could be the greatest gift that they have ever received. One Day, 26 Precious Letters Could Open Many Doors For Them.

Some days a child goes home not knowing a ‘J’ from a ‘K’ because they spent their day fixed on a double T word: Tattle Tailing. Some Days They Chatter. Some Days They Look Away. And on these days, where the attention spans fly out the window quicker than the holiday season, I am tempted to put down the pointer and fire up a lecture, “You don’t know it now, but these letters are important. So Important. They will be the base of your education. The key to opening up a world where you can get lost in a classic novel. The key to having a voice in this world that is articulate, powerful and purposeful.” They are only four, they will get it eventually. I can only pray that someday they will look back and realize they were not merely painting the letter ‘J’ with a palette of glittered golds and silvers. They were painting a future for themselves. They were learning to paint this world better. Paint this World, Not Only to Look Like a Better Place but to Be a Better Place.

It's hard to say where these Little Ones will go as they grow up or how they will learn. I am often forced to wonder if they will be inclined to stay in a Classroom as this Borough gets harder on them. I feel as though I could plop down a younger version of myself into this Bronx Preschool and she would adore the sandbox and the Mr. Potato Heads with all the other children but I cannot help but think that the Little Me would still be holding something tight in her hands. Something given to her that was not guaranteed to all of her Preschool Pals or to millions of other children scattered across the continents.

You see, Once Upon A Time Someone gave a Little Girl with Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu a Chance. Over and Over again, she received a Chance. And she didn't know it at the time but a Chance was a pretty big thing. A Pretty Rare Thing.

A chance to color code her outfits to her highlighters. A chance to pull out a tiny piece of plastic from her jumper and, with it, pick out any library book of her choosing. A chance to turn Alphabet soup into sacred stew. A chance to play construction worker for a good two hours until her "Encyclopedia Fort" was built at long last. And there she would sit as the Little Hand of the clock lapped the Bigger Hand several hundred times. Never Looking Up. Soaking Up the World and Everything in It, in Perfect Alphabetical Order.

The Little Girl with the Chance grew taller and swapped her Cowboy Boots for Platform Sandals. Her Tutu for a Tankini. But still, she held the Chance to fall in love with Rhett Butler several times before she ever even glanced at the boy with the locker next to hers. She had the chance to plaster her walls with the Editor's Letters from the pages of Seventeen Magazine and draft up dreams of one day working there. Of one day having a Career.

And still the Little Girl Grew, and she was given even more chances. A chance to write her personal statement in a College Application and walk through a door into Higher Education. A chance to Brood over Fine Literature with her Fellow English Majors.

And then there came a time when she held tight to the word "Young" but swapped out the "Girl" for a more suitable title, Woman.  And once again, she recognized the Glory in a pair of Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu. So Vintage.

She moved to the City of her Dreams and Walked into the United Nations only to find herself fixated on learning of the Little Girls who were not always given the same Chance. Over and Over again, she Uncovered these Chance-Less Girls. Sudan. Indonesia. El Salvador.

They are virtually everywhere. A Population of Beautiful Girls Without Grammar Lessons. Children who Deserve to Meet All the Luscious Letters and to Hear all of their Sounds. To Have all the Words Bow & Curtsy Before Them at the Front of a Classroom and then Grant Permission for the Children to Use Them. To Fill Blanks in Stories. Plots. Conversations. Notebooks. Silences.

I don't think I ever looked down, opened up my palms and noticed the Chances I have been given all of my life until this year when I was asked to write a letter to my 10-year-old self about why I wanted to join the organization, instead of a cover letter. It was the Best Letter I was ever asked to write.  Only then did I realize that My Chance is a Beautiful, Beautiful Thing. Not to be ashamed of, not to be belittled or discarded.  But to be treasured and used. I can use what I have been given to pass forward chances to the future of this world. Children. To promote something I believe can fix a lot of brokenness in this world. Education.

Because of that letter, I am now wrapped up in a glorious .org that I would like to introduce all of you to.  She's the First is a media campaign dedicated to giving Girls the Opportunity and the Chance to be the First in their Family to receive an Education. I am lucky and excited to be a new researcher for this organization, linked up with schools and girls' sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia.  I recently became a researcher for the organization and I am excited to be linked up with schools and girls' sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia.

Here's to Sweet Syllables. Here's to More Dreams Upon Chalkboards for 2011. Here's to More Chances for Little Girls to put on their Blue Tutus and Cowboy Boots and Run to Greet the Alphabet.

The Grinch was a smart one, he got this whole "shrink your heart down three sizes" thing long before any of us did.

You are actually really quite silly, didn't you get the memo? If you would like I will email it to you, put it in bold festive green and red letters so you can read it for yourself. Read it Out Loud.

You Cannot, Will Not, Change The World.

You won't. I promise you this. Stop trying. Give it up. Bury it. Let's move on...

If someone has already told you this, that you are too small to make a difference, then good. Great. Made my job a lot easier.

Ok, so since we have established that this world won't be better because of our presence, where do we go from here? What's next?

Well, you can stop holding the door open for people to start. Quit being on time to those coffee dates, close your ears when that other person is talking. Give up that whole "treat others as you would want to be treated" cliche. Seriously. If you are going to forget anything, forget those words. Or better yet, forget smiling. Practice pursing your lips in public. And don't talk so much, don't clog the world up with your dreams that will never come true and your "visions" for a better tomorrow.

Now we really need to discuss this living out loud notion. It's Christmastime. Lucky for us we are in the perfect position to find a box to stuff ourselves within. You heard me, we need to find the smallest, most compact box to shove our dreams and souls inside of. Why? Well because that is where we belong in this world that will never be different. Why try to convince yourself that you were born to live outside of the box that the world wants to put you in? Who are you to believe that?

You see, we need to shift the focus. It is time to start talking about ourselves. We have some egos to pump, people. You really should think about a better wardrobe. I really should get a haircut before I leave the house. We both really should devote more time to our imperfections and our flaws if we ever want to be productive. That energy no longer belongs to sculpting the world, right? Take Looks and obsess over those for now. You can actually touch that kind of stuff, we cannot exactly say the same for poverty or literacy. So let's just focus on what we can touch...

And speaking of ourselves (which we need to be doing a lot more of), make sure that your friends and family know exactly what you want for Christmas. Don't let them mess up your holiday by screwing up the colors or the sizes.

I think I should have called a meeting for this one. To lay down the rules. To suggest this better way of life where we stop focusing on making this world a better place. The Grinch was a smart one, he got this whole "shrink your heart down three sizes" thing long before any of us did.

I have a better idea, we could have a meet up after two weeks or so and see how we all feel.

But I am going to warn you, there will be someone there to wreck the meeting. There is always someone to wreck the meeting. She will run in a few minutes late, apologize profusely before she sits down to gather herself. She will look Frazzled but Happy. Wild but Glowing.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry," she will say a few more times. "I was volunteering for the morning and it ran late."

"Didn't you get the memo?" we will ask her, "You cannot change the world."

"Oh yea, I got that memo. I hear that stupid memo every single day. It doesn't mean that I actually listen to it. They weren't right when they said happiness was a pair of size zero jeans or that a guy would complete me, why would they be right now?"

We will want to say something but we will be too entranced by her liveliness, the way she fuels the room with her energy. Energy we are all dying to have at this point.

"Y'all might have stopped but I just picked up the pace. I opened more doors for others, I listened more intently to stories, I offered better advice, I poured my heart out all over the place."

"But it makes no difference," I will finally speak up. "You cannot change the world. We already established this. Why bother?"

"Maybe I won't. Maybe I won't. But how will we ever know if we never try? We don't really get to decide how long we will have on this earth and we only have one shot to fill it all in. All that I know is that I have a blank to fill. A Song to Sing. A Poem to Write. A Hand to Hold. A melody in my heart that I never needed to learn the words to, I have known the song all along. And this is how I decided that there is no point in figuring out how you got the words or where the words came from, all that you should do is sing the song. That is what the world needs most from you. To Sing The Song That Only Your Heart Knows."

"If you listen to that memo all of your life you will certainly find your soul to be sunken. Haven't you realized by now, the second you become a firework people will decide whether they want to follow your spark or put out your flame. Hopefully the naysayers will one day see, you made a bigger impact by putting your energy into lighting the fireworks of others. Far bigger than the energy they wasted in trying to put out your flame."

We will all be taken aback by this Girl who never listened to the Naysayers of this world. The Girl who decided that people would criticize every single day for the Small Efforts with the Big Impact. And she could either listen and drown in a sea of negativity or learn to float while teaching others to swim in the very same sea. She could have very well listened to all the cruelty but she chose to live a different way.

For when we all stopped. She Started. When we all blinked, she Opened Up Her Eyes. When we all found tomorrow to be a good day to change the world, she had already started yesterday.

Maybe she will never change the world but she would feel very silly if she never even bothered to try.

I am one, among a tidal wave of individuals, who is looking for self worth in a cellphone under her pillow, set to vibrate.

I used to put my cellphone on silent, hide it under my pillow and leave it there for the entire day. It was my way of convincing myself that I was a worthwhile person.

I would go about my day, looping in and out of items on my "to do" list and would come back, only after I reached the bottom of my list, to retrieve the hidden cell phone.

My worth, for  a very long time, depended on the number of missed calls and text messages I had received.

It sounds silly looking back, probably the most ridiculous way to tabulate my relevance in this world. But for a girl who hinged her life on other people? Oh, it made perfect sense.

I have long placed my worth upon the comments, compliments and words of others. And it is not such a good thing. One person can tell me that I am amazing and I will be amazing for the day. Another can tell me that I need to work on this article or that piece of work, and I will translate it in my head: You are not good enough. You need work. Try again, fall short again. I am honest in saying all of this because of one simple truth: I am far from being the only one.

I am one, among a tidal wave of individuals, who is looking for self worth in a cellphone under her pillow, set to vibrate.

I want to challenge our culture to a fight sometimes. Tap it on the shoulder and tell it to suit up, or we could go MMA style, in which case I am ready to throw the first punch right now. I can picture myself fighting our culture, yelling at it for convincing us that if we are not moving every second of the day then we are being lazy. Irresponsible. Not on our A-Game.

Left Hook. Sucker Punch. Jab. Round About Kick to the Face.

No wonder the self-help industry has such a big ol' drum to beat, every 5 minutes another battered soul falls out of the ring. Punched square in the face with the reality that they are not perfect. Will never be perfect. And will never save the world.

It's really very sad to feel like no matter how much we accomplish in a day, it is never enough. We cannot please the world and yet we are hellbent on trying.

We chalk our worth up to boxes we can check off and meetings we can attest to having attended. We monetize our worth. We hand our worth over to other people so that they can twist it and contort it and spit back their feedback, to let us know whether or not we matter. Or if we will make it far in this place. Or if we should just give up and find a new craft. A new hobby. A new life.

Some nights I fall asleep wondering how heavy the world is. Surely it is so heavy that we each could hold a decent chunk of it on our shoulders. We could walk around tired, constantly wondering if we will drop the world. And if we do, how will it shatter? How will it break?

What will happen when our Little Chunks of Africa & Australia, Texas & Peru come falling from our Shoulders?

I think this is precisely the reason that people go fleeting to find God, wherever He may be, because they realize that they are Too Little to battle this World and they need someone with a better Right Hook. A Stronger Left Kick.

The more we are taught to believe in ourselves, the less we feel the need to believe in something outside of ourselves. And that's o.k. That's fine. That will work for about 10 minutes. But eventually we all fall down right? We run around in our circles, getting quite dizzy, holding tighter to the hands of others. But We All Fall Down.

And then we do one of two things. Either we pick ourselves up and we begin to spin once again. Or we turn away from the spinning, the clutching onto others for self worth, and we realize we are already in the perfect position. On the ground. The perfect position.

We take off our capes. We take the world from our shoulders as if it were heavy football padding. We fold onto our knees and we pray.

We pray for new self worth. We pray for something besides a superhero status to convince ourselves that every single day, as we wake and put both feet on the ground and start walking forward, we are worth it. And we are wonderful. We pray for a rumination in our hearts to keep our inner working warm.

And then we find the strength to get up. One Knee to One Foot. Other Knee to Other Foot. Standing. Yes, Standing. Two Legs Strong. And We Begin to Walk. And We Begin to Talk. And we Begin To Live Life by Our Own Standards. And we Adopt Words like Better, Happier, Fuller. Not Invincible but Stronger. Not Perfect but Perfectly Imperfect.

You know, the whole world gets a lot easier when we realize that it is not one big boulder made for our shoulders.  The world was never meant to stand upon us, for if it was, it surely would. We were meant to stand upon the world. And here we are, holding hands and spinning gently, Slowly but in not hurry, Up On Top Of The World.

Yes, yes, I am a Broken Hearted Young Lady but don’t come near me with a hammer & nails.

I am legitimately the easiest girl in the world to date. No, but seriously. Any guy would be lucky to date me.

Before I start sounding like the prototype of some half-dressed tween on the cover of Bop! Magazine let me explain.

A guy could sleep soundly at night knowing that he can never and will never break my heart, that my heart was been broken so many times before. By a Slew of Sad Commercials and Painful Truths Littered on the Fronts of Newspapers. Black & White & Tragedy all over them.

If I want anyone to know anything about me, it is this: My heart is broken. Very Broken. Quite Shattered.

And before I write further with this blog I think it is important to put this out in the open. I bathe my words in tones of optimism and joy, and I believe fully in all that I write. But at the core of it all, I am broken hearted and that is the sole reason for my writing to you all.

Yes, yes, I am a Broken Hearted Young Lady but don’t come near me with a hammer & nails. I could not stand it any other way.

It sounds strange but I have always had other people’s heartbreak pinned to my own heart. As far back as I can remember I have been writing the tales of other people’s tattered souls.

My family members would sit perplexed by stories that I wrote as a nine-year-old about tragedy and death, poverty of the spirit, cancer and separation from loved ones. Here I was, 4’6 and probably 60 pounds or so, click clicking away on my typewriter, pouring my heart, the same heart that beat for Aaron Carter and the Backstreet Boys, into the tragedies of the victims of suicide and Holocaust survivors.

I am surprised I was not in therapy for writing with a constant tone of morbidity at such a young age. I cannot explain it. I don’t think I ever will be able to. I just have found better ways of coping with it.

I take stock in the truth that just because a heart is broken does not mean that it is incomplete.

bro·ken (brkn) v.Past participle of break. adj.

  1. Forcibly separated into two or more pieces; fractured; cracked: a broken arm; broken glass.

I have written about broken hearts before, about how I think that people spend too much deeming what should and should not be broken. At what time. For how long. By who.

We spend too much time thinking that heartbreak does not have a place in this lifetime. That heartbreak should not fit into the equation. That, if one is heartbroken, they surely need to be fixed. Call the love doctor and stitch this baby back together.

To imagine a world that lacks any fractured hearts is unrealistic. I could spin this sentence into so many eloquent sentiments but I think it is better in its simplest form. It is unrealistic to think that when our own hearts our fixed, the hearts of neighbors won’t be broken next.

I feel bad for God in that sense. I imagine that up in his Big Armchair there is a soundtrack playing of the ripping and tearing all over the world. There is just no time to listen to Justin Bieber when your ears are in charge of taking in the symphony of shattered hearts from every space of green on this Grand Earth.

Perhaps a board exists that allows Him to keep track. A light up board. Oh, another heart just shattered in India. Yikes, seven hearts crumbled on the East Coast. Woah, 38,000 hearts in pieces before my morning scone?

Tough job. He should probably pass some of the work onto Santa. Santa could at least carry some super glue for the cracked messes in our chests within his sack of toys.

But I also bet God knows a thing or two about those hearts. The Purpose They Serve. The Good They Do. The Change They Erupt.

If our hearts were never broken over the cries for literacy then no pencils would come to be. If our hearts were never broken over the longing for clean water then no wells would be dug. If our hearts were never broken over the cries of our loved ones, then no hugs would be hugged. No Kisses Kissed. No Secrets Shared. No Promises Made.

I have found great comfort in a quotation by Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision: "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." Stearns wrote this message upon a piece of loose leaf after witnessing the suffering in South Korea in 1950.

I don’t believe that I will reach a point in my lifetime where this ticker of mine is unbroken. It is not going to happen, I know enough of that already.

Better to make use of it, and rearrange the fractured shard to make new pictures. New. Bright. Arranged. Pictures. Be it listening to a story. Sending a love letter. Donating My Time. My Energy. My Life. To Others.

Trust me, it isn’t a resume builder nor a good icebreaker to a conversation. “Hi, my name is Hannah. My heart is severely fractured by the injustices of this world, want to grab some coffee?

But if anyone inquires about the humility of a broken heart, I think it is quite worth it at the end of each day. To extend one’s own heart and allow it to be ruined completely, in hope that through the wreckage, someone else’s heart will dance today.

I am attempting to love the whole world and it is harder than I anticipated.

Tears crowd the corner of my eyes as I practice saying it in my head. "I love you," I want to tell him. I want to sit right next to him, hold his hand, and tell him that I love him.

The train lurches forward, I practically lose my balance.

This is 175th street.

The doors sweep open. People push in. People push out.

Stand clear of the closing doors please.

It took a mere five seconds for him to get up and push out of the crowded train, leaving me standing by myself. I didn't get to tell him that I love him.

Most of you won't be phased by the fact that this man was a complete stranger to me, Hands Caked with Filth, Face Hardened by Life. I knew almost instantly that he would return home and probably no one would ask him about his day. Was it hard? Was it long? Why ask the obvious?

And here I am, 5'4 and 120 pounds, attempting to love the whole wide world on a New York City 4 train.

The last time I tried to love strangers was in traffic court, before moving to New York City. I tried my hardest to love the Rude People deeply. The Dirty People instantly. The Arrogant People fully. While others were biting their nails over the ticket they would not get out of paying, I was nervous about the fact that it is so very hard to love all of your neighbors. All seven billion or so of your neighbors.

I wish so furiously that Mother Teresa was still doing her thing in India. I want to ask her: How did you do it Mama T? How did you manage to keep a broken world still spinning off of your love? How did you love the lepers and the sick people?

Well I cannot meet Mother Teresa. But I did meet Lindsay. One of my roommates here, exotic and Californian. And Lindsay has introduced me to a beautiful five-letter word. Her favorite word. And it is really something wonderful to not be told about a word, but to be shown it.

"Agape means that we love a person for what they are. Every person has an infinite mystery within themselves. Agape means that we never confine the person to what we know of them.  To love anyone is to hope in them always."

I officially want to go on a picnic with the person who wrote these words. We would have a great time, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and spreading agape all over one another. And then we would invite the homeless man from the corner to come have some hot chocolate and agape with us, as well.

In all seriousness, Agape is a great concept but terribly hard to practice. We are human beings, it is our innate want and desire to put each other into boxes and duct tape those boxes up with all sorts of labels.

Can we just please stop taping for a day? Take people out of their boxes and allow them to run around? It will probably be very similar to the Cat and the Hat, when Thing 1 and Thing 2 break out their box. But it might be fun. We would learn more about one another. Thing 1 & Thing 2: Agape Pros.

Some may say that giving my year to a volunteer program, splitting my days between the United Nations and my duties as a substitute preschool teacher, is enough. I say, "This is just the beginning to the ways in which I want to rattle this world."

So I put my agape on everything these days. Rest assured, I put my agape on everything.

(I know this is not the proper way to use the word, I just adore misusing words sometimes because it sounds prettier. More writer-ish)

I wish all of you could pack up your day bags and take a field trip to my apartment, situated nicely above an immigration center and attached to a church. But be warned: I would not take you into Manhattan. My stipend is $25 a week. We cannot afford much. But a lack of money makes you realize: we never really needed money to do the work that we came here to do anyway. So you would come, and we would sit on the "stoop" and probably eat animal crackers and share stories. And people would  come right up and talk to us. The Dominicans from across the street would wave. The homeless man from the park would salute at us from across the street and then make his way over.

He carries a whistle and refers to himself as "sargento." He does not speak much English but I listen to his stories, swept up in fluent Spanish and I nod my head. Che Guevara. Fidel Castro. Muy Guapo. We don't need to know another language to hear the stories of others. We just need to open our ears to the Tone in One's Voice, the Look in One's Eyes, the Passion in the Sweeping of One's Story Telling Hands.

People might call me crazy for spending my time conversing with this man, but he is quite endearing and he has so many stories. Better than People Magazine. Better than Cosmopolitan. Seriously, magazines should come here and write some feature articles. This man puts James Franco to shame.

I want to close with saying this, I have gotten swiped up in turning As Simple as That into a blog that is not about me. I have tried to eliminate myself from the picture in so many ways. But what I am doing here this year, serving others and living simply, is worth typing on this page. I do have stories to tell. Stories that I think you might want to hear. Stories that will fit quite nicely on this blog. Stories that will further my only mission for this blog: to show the world that we are not all that different from one another. We are really pretty similar. Me and the sargento in the barber shop? We are one in the same. And it's as as simple as that.

So let the story telling madness begin. Go grab the animal crackers and meet me on my stoop.

Keep painting the world, dipping all your brushes into the same big bucket called "A Better Place."

I learned at sleep-away bible camp in the 5th grade that God had messed up in making me. One) It is beyond me why a bunch of camp counselors would make a bunk full of homesick, Bible-toting adolescents draw pictures of what they missed the most. Two) While others around me struggled to capture the soft features of their mothers and the shades and shadows of their fathers, I learned I was a real artist. But it was only because my bunk mates were drawing their families and I had drawn a bed. Drawing a bed is pretty hard to mess up.

As the pictures were hung up, one by one around the cabin, it was then that I saw how screwed up of a human being I really was. Susie's family, Rachel's dog. Alyssa's teacher. Hannah's bed. I contemplated taking a canoe out to the middle of the lake (even though I failed my swim test) and just waiting. Eventually some author would come along and write a book about me, place me in the character realm right next to the Grinch who stole Christmas and Ebenezer Scrooge. Two other individuals who didn't know how to handle other people either.

Contrary to popular "Hannah Katy" rhetoric, I have a very hard time letting feelings show. I have never been a hugger, I am not used to being touched and (I will just admit it right now) I don't like animals in the least bit. Believe me I tried to adore the furry friends on the front of folders in elementary school, it just was not happening. Phrases like "I love you" and "I miss you" often lose their way to detours put up by my own insecurities.

I sometimes wonder, if we were to read the description and qualifications of being a human off of Craig's List, would we apply for the job? We would never be guaranteed to know if the position was short term or long term. We might find it appealing to experiment with abstract concepts of Love and Happiness and Loss, we might wonder why a position as extensive as this is unpaid. We would more than likely question why no manual exists to help us out when things fall apart. We might wonder why, when we grow older in the position, we will move miles and miles away from ones that we love. And we will label it life. And Living. And Becoming Masters of the Art of Missing Others.

I genuinely used to believe that I could skip this whole "missing" business, if I did not get too attached to anyone then I would never have to miss them. I could go on missing my bed, not my family.

We could get rid of missing each other altogether, why not do that? The whole thing is pointless. It's hard. It's not fun. It's quite heartbreaking. But  it might be better to miss someone deeply then to miss out on ever knowing them, in fear that "Goodbye" might one day emerge from their lips.

Te Extrano, as the barbers across the street might say. I miss you. I miss you when the subway pulls up but you are not waiting alongside me to take the ride into Manhattan. I miss when the world falls asleep at night but I am used to your laughter as my bedtime story. I miss you when the coffee pot drizzles in the morning, when my "real laugh" comes out. I miss when you when I see a big white van and I think to myself: We should all be riding together in there again, singing songs about changing the world. I miss you when a little child asks to hold my hand; I gladly outstretch five fingers but I know your five fingers don't stretch back.

I miss you as the leaves start changing their wardrobe, blushing a luscious shade of red before falling to the ground. I miss you as the world begins gathering closer, stores begin hanging wreaths before Halloween candy even leaves the shelves, and the holiday season tip toes towards us.

I miss you. And some days I want to take up topography so that I can rewrite the maps. Put Timid Towns of Massachusetts Next to Burly Boroughs of New York City. Draw the Confident Coast of Cali Next to the Vibrant Villages of South Africa and Peru. Take the Chicago Skyline and Sew It Right Above All Our Heads.

It does not work that way, in the same way that we cannot keep every person we love by our sides forever. My best friend gave me a card on the day I left for New York, it reads quite perfectly: "In the end, I think that I will like that we are sitting on the bed, talking & wondering where the time had gone."

You are There and I am Here and, as hard as it is, I will resist chopping off the T from There to place you Here. I am becoming fine with missing you, I even believe I am lucky to have you to miss. So maybe I don't inherit your smile or words on a daily basis but I trust that someone else does, someone who might need it more than me right now.

I trust the world enough to know that we are separate for a reason. We go to our own corners of the world to spread Love & Influence. Compassion & Radiance. You take Chicago and I will take New York. We'll all meet up somewhere in the middle, missing each other wildly, but with a collection of stories that we could have never found if we had chosen to never part.

From Worcester to South Africa, Chicago to Peru, San Diego to Lawrence and back to North Haven: Be safe. Be strong. Keep painting the world, dipping all your brushes into the same big bucket called "A Better Place."

Millennium Campus Conference 2010: “Together we are a brigade of red pens, ready to edit this screwed up yet brilliant word document of a world.”

It began with a whisper. Nearly 1,000 students faced one another, divided down the middle. The two sides chanted separate words.

The right side, "stand." The left side, "up"

Louder and louder, the voices propelled outward to fill ever crook of the Roone Arledge Auditorium. Stand Up. Stand Up. Stand Up.

What began as a whisper ended as a unified challenge. A challenge that will ring in the ears for a very long while. A challenge to one another. A challenge to the world. A challenge to stand up against poverty.

This weekend I am attending the 2010 Millennium Campus Conference at Columbia University. Students come from almost every colored quilt patch of the USA, each carrying a different story, a variety of titles and, undoubtedly, a bundle of causes. From the fight for clean water to the AIDS crisis in Africa. But with the word "different" set aside we all quickly found the same purpose.

To create and spread a student movement through an interwoven dialogue between student groups, CEOs, entrepreneurs and youth leaders. To Own the Heavy Hearts We Have for International Development. To Turn Those Heavy Hearts Into Torches and Set the World Blazing.

On Monday, the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals will blow out ten birthday candles, with little to no celebration. With ten years down and five more to go, there is much to be done in order to make these eight goals any more than a set of naive ideals. Statistics still belabor every inch of this planet. 759 million people worldwide are still illiterate. 22,000 children still die every single day.

I have to shield myself from a lot of negativity as of lately, especially when I explain to someone that I am the liaison for a NGO at the United Nations. Immediately I am informed that the UN is doing something wrong, that the goals are ridiculous, that the UN had better speed it up in the next five years. In return, I wish to say: If you are able to tell me exactly what is wrong then use your next sentence to tell me what you are doing to make it right.

We can talk about what is wrong for days and days. Honestly, we don't even need to exhaust ourselves with talking about it. Just look around, do one Google search, talk to one person outside of your comfort zone. It is enough to make anyone curl up in the corner of the subway and just give up. Just Give Up Because There Is Too Much. Too much poverty. Too much disease. Too much genocide & infanticide & gendercide.

It is as if the world has been handed to us, but when we stop to look closer we realize that it is full of misspelled words and incomplete sentences. And there is no red pen in sight.

I found the red pens this weekend. An auditorium full of them. I can tell you that sitting next to my peers--the passion echoing louder than the sound speakers-- I had instant goosebumps. "Here are the red pens," I thought to myself. As I looked around the room I had a hard time picking out any one individual who would fail to the change the world one day, if they have not already changed it already.

The red pens don't exist only on college campuses. Each and every one of us is a red pen, geared with ink to splatter this world and leave it never the same. We hold the compassion & the drive, the skills & the power to take the word "change" and make it stand on its own.

Alone, we are a single voice in a world that is far too noisy.  Alone, we are only attempting to solve grand problems and finding out quickly how it feels to hold a paper towel against a tidal wave. Together, we are a brigade of red pens ready to edit this screwed up yet brilliant word document of a world. We are called to edit this world and bring new statistics into being. Statistics Of Gains. Of Leaps. Of Bounds. Thousands being educated, millions sipping on clean water, billions living to hear a bedtime story tonight.

We each have choices to make at the end of the day. We can shield our minds from tragic stories and we can simply turn a cheek. We can certainly place blame. Pointing fingers is easy.

Or, we could stop, stop sitting and waiting for change to arrive in our inboxes or at our doorsteps. We could meet change halfway.

And if we all start walking towards change, together instead of one by one, we can shake the world.

Honestly, after this weekend, I can already feel the world shaking beneath my feet.

The City is a Living Lullaby: Before & After. Me to We.

I have not needed a lullaby in seventeen years...

Last night the strident sounds of an insomniac city pulled at my eyelids and slid me into safe slumber. Those same sounds-- the rhythm of a basketball dribbling in the distance & the tails of amplified conversations--  climbed through my third floor window shortly after the sun this morning. Oh, how I adore my new lullaby.

People ask for a paragraph synopsis of how my life is in the Bronx since moving here on Tuesday.  Well, in order to attempt to deliver justice in this description, Life needs to be personified. Perhaps she is a young girl, ready with a restless heart. You see, the only way to describe this experience to anyone is through imagining that Life is a living, breathing person.

Life snuck up from behind me and handed me a black Sharpie marker last week.

"Here, here, take this," Life says.

"Why, what is this? What should I do with it?"

Life rolls its eyes. "Draw a thick black line down the middle of me. From now on you are going to look differently at me, as if I am two people. One part of me exists as Before and the other now exists as After."

Before & After.

We all stumble into instances when we realize that we have crossed a threshold that will forever cause us to refer to life as Before & After. Before the Divorce. After the Break Up. Before the Car Crash. After the Degree. Some of us sink upon our knees and wish that the After had never come. Others embrace the change and hold hands with the After. Before suddenly seems so Young. Naive. Outgrown. Worn.

Our lives before a certain experience have great difficulty fitting all the emotions and thoughts that we pull from the trial or the stepping stone. And so we pack up our suitcases full of Awareness, Compassion, Understanding & Knowledge and we move over into the After.

For the longest time I heard the perfection in three letters, side by side: NYC. Automatically my mind would turn with 3,000 or so ideas. Broadway shows and fancy dinner parties. Devil Wears Prada Lifestyles & Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But over 300,000 New Yorkers live a lifestyle that consists of Poverty. Bills that cannot find the pathway to Paid. Schools that fall below state standards.

A lot of this poverty echoes in the place that is now considered my home: The Bronx.

I have long grown tired of people's stagnant set of stereotypes that cover this borough like a thick layer of ashes: Guns. Food Stamps. Sirens. Fighting. Gangs. A place where your one hand belongs next to your pocketbook and the your eyes are meant to stare at the ground. And while the Bronx does certainly have crime and areas of urban decay, more than that, it has people. Beautiful People. Stretching Means to Make Livings. Learning English to Work in this Country. Taking Their Dealings and Dealing With It.

And what breaks my heart is this: We were all called here to live but no one ever wrote in the rule book that acceptance of how we make a living was necessary. Some people don't know trust funds and others have been slammed by the "system" but can we turn our backs on those who are different from us? Just because we have More, if More is even a legitimate word... So what if we have more Paper Money, More Titles or More Security. I want More Simplicity, More Spirituality, More Connections with this City and the People Who Speckle Its Concrete.

My computer broke a few hours after arriving on Tuesday. A Large Crack Etched the Face of Her Screen. And normally I would cry and scream and need a new one immediately. But perhaps it should stay broken for a while, perhaps I need the simplicity that will come from not having this luxury. And my mom said it best, miles away but sitting next to my soul, "Better your computer be broken then your heart." I am already learning, Mom. I want to take so much from this year... but all of the things, "for granted" is not one of them.

I am confident that these next ten months in New York City will mold my life like Play Dough. I am dedicated to a volunteer program centered on Community and Simple Living. I have close to 25 dollars a week for my own spending. I live by a food budget with three other individuals. And I am finding pretty quickly that this is not the Minority, but rather, the Majority. I will work within the community on a daily basis until I am meshed into the community. I am giving my Heart, my Gifts, my Talents and My Self to this year.

Before pulling up to our apartment, situated across from a discount grocery store and a barber shop, it was all about Me. Me Growing. Me Living. Me Loving. Me Wanting. Me Hoping. Me Dreaming. Me Stringing Together Lullabies To Put My Dreams To Rest At Night. But something happened... A shift took place... The ME grew restless suddenly and the M wanted to move away, sick of the E. And the so the E let it leave and set off on a quest for another letter to accompany its side. And oh, what goodness, a W showed up... It may have trailed off from another word: Wonder, Wild or Wisdom. But no matter its origins, it took its place next to the E and the WE was formed. More perfect than the Me. More fitting to be We.

We Grow. We Live. We Love. We Want. We Hope. We Dream.

We String Together Lullabies with Our Own Unique Sounds.

Share with me your Before & After Moments...

As a Drop A Love Bomb Partner, we have a new mission at hand. Please take a few moments to drop a love bomb... This mission is dear to my heart, seeing as I now have four familiar faces taking up the Chicago area. Miss you AVs.

Love Bomb Mission: Chicago Fire Department

Hey Team!

This week we are doing something just a tad different.

Typically we drop a Love Bomb on one person, but this week we are dropping a Love Bomb on the entire Chicago Fire Department.

Chris Wheatley, one of their firefighters, died in the line of duty on August 9th.

Nate and I would like for this Love Bomb mission to be two-fold:

1) To encourage, support and comfort the Chicago Fire Department as they've lost a brother in duty.

2) To thank the Chicago Fire Department for serving their community so faithfully.

As most of you know, Nate (@ItStartsWithUs) runs our parent organization, ItStartsWith.Us - their 15 minute mission for this week is to help out a service worker. Every now and then the ItStartsWithUs team helps us drop our Love Bombs, so I thought it would be awesome if we could do our part by supporting a service worker (a lot of them!) while we drop our Love Bomb at the same time!

You can leave a comment on the Chicago Fire Department's blog here: http://cfdblaze.com/2010/08/cffu-local-2-tom-ryan/

Lauren

Much Love and Light from New York City,