An Instrument Of Peace

I keep a copy of my grandmother’s funeral card in my journal, which I forgot about until I opened it to write my thoughts on the horrific Orlando nightclub shooting. It’s a laminated copy, making it seem as new as the day in 1997 that she was laid to rest. The back is an angelic depiction of Christ with his arms wide, head delicately tilted, and eyes to Heaven- a real “bring it in, homie” kind of feel. The photo my family chose of her is her nursing photo; young, hopeful, she was born to help people. Most importantly, though, is that below that is her favorite prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi; “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

The card epitomizes everything she stood for; she was the embodiment of love, something I see in my mother as well. Hugs that enveloped you, that I have woken up from dreams of her still feeling, as though she were really there with her arms around me, that made me feel whole. “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” she would say. And though I can’t with good conscience consider myself Catholic anymore (don’t tell my grandfather that, though!), I still say that prayer to myself on a fairly regular basis, simply for its universality and ego-checking ability.

And now more than ever I needed to find it. My grandmother- no doubt- is weeping in Heaven for the souls of everyone affected by the indescribable tragedy of the Orlando shooting. She- no doubt- aches for the lives lost.

But I know she would never react with anger- only love. We MUST love. We must. We must, every day of our brief existence on this planet, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, teach and practice only love. I cannot speak as an expert on gun laws, only how humans treat other humans. What are we leaving for the next generation, the youngest members of our current society, to learn about humanity, when all they see is hatred, violence, petty bickering, and insults?

But what do I say, that we haven’t heard a thousand times this last decade as violence and hatred escalates exponentially? A society and a culture do not change overnight, I can tell you that, but in the long term, the single most effective thing we can do is teach our children NOW that they must always curb their anger and never give in to fear and hatred. We must teach them to love. They must love. Our greatest weapon in the face of fear and hatred is patience and acceptance and love, even in the smallest of ways and in our daily lives and actions and behavior.

We do not do that by pointing fingers, laying blame, name calling, and electing a president that thrives off of the belittling of others. We do not do that by blaming an entire religion for the fault of one group, one person’s hatred that has seeped into others.

War is often inevitable. War is often a response to a direct threat. War is often a country’s best defense- but hatred CANNOT be. We must love our neighbors. We must respect our neighbors and their opinions. Like I said, I’m not an expert on gun laws, but I have fired one, learned basic gun safety, and I know many people who are gun owners- respectable, disciplined, intelligent people who understand that there is a problem with this country, people who, in an event such as a mass shooting I WOULD feel safer being near. However, that does not describe ALL gun owners. In the same way that we cannot put everyone of the same religion in the same category, we cannot put all gun owners in the same category, whether good or bad.

I have seen the posts from many good friends of mine saying that our problem is not with guns, but with a Godless society. Is it not a society that used God as their “guide” during the Crusades? Is ISIS not using God as their reasoning? There are millions of truly GOOD God-fearing people out there in all religions, and millions of bad people using God as their excuse as well; just the same there are millions of wonderful, caring, and loving people who don’t believe in a certain religion, or any at all. I cannot believe that our problem is a Godless society. If anything it’s a goodless society.

We need level-headed, intelligent, patient discussion, and intensive scientific study of the issues in this country, and not this childish he-said-she-said avoidance of any real acknowledgement that perhaps this is BOTH a gun control issue AND a cultural issue; a problem with self-righteousness.

I feel deep in my gut that my grandmother wants me to pray and to love. I was always taught that love is a verb; to love is not to feel love, but to practice actions of love. It is not to be held on to, but is something to share. Love is selfless. Love is strong. Love takes time to cultivate.

I laid in bed with my grandmother’s card in hand, reciting her favorite prayer again and again, softly weeping and trying to make sense of what’s going on in this world. I can’t make sense of hatred. I- we- will always need love, God, whatever you refer to Him as (sometimes I call it “the Universe”) and as a 25-year-old young woman with a lot more life to live, I will need it more and more every day if this is the path our country must continue on. But I won’t give up.

As we move forward in what seems like bleakest of times, I am begging you to not give up on others, on God, on love. I am begging you to live with an open mind and an even more open heart. Alone, you cannot change the world with love, but together, perhaps we can. And I don’t mean only when tragedy strikes, but every day, with every stranger, with every friend, loved one, those who have hurt you, those who have stood by you, acquaintance, every social interaction you experience. Love is a powerful action, and the more you live it, the more it will catch on. Live for others, love others.

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A Post-it Note

Over a year ago, perhaps even 18+ months ago, on a normal Tuesday morning in my office, a post-it note had appeared on my work computer. It said quite simply “Jonesy, take a second to smile today!” Aside from the fact that the words seamlessly fit into the message of this blog, journal, whatever you want to call it, it just so happened that on that particular day, I REALLY needed it. There was no name, but I knew that it must have come from one of the boys who attended a monthly youth meeting at the office the night before; this group consisted of quite a number of my camp staff from the summer, so I figured it was one of them. I publicly posted my appreciation on Facebook to the young mystery man, and every month they just kept coming.

I kept them. I taped them to the cabinet across from my desk so that they would always be in direct view- a reason to keep going through all the stress, the moments of hopelessness. Though they slowed down and it’s been a few months since my last one, I came in today- a Monday, which is unusual- and found three especially kind ones. Written in red marker on hot pink post-it notes, they stand out from the rest: “YOU ROCK,” “Have an amazing day!” and “Do what’s best for you.”

I like to think that I’m a very mindful being. I occasionally meditate. When bothered, I try to breath, center myself, and get to the bottom of it. I try to take a step back as opposed to falling deeper, but sometimes you just need that external reminder. Sometimes you need someone cheering you on, regardless of how far away they may be, or how well you know them. Sometimes you need just three kind words.

And sometimes you need to be the one to give them.
If there’s one thing I’ve always tried to teach the youth I’ve lead, it’s to always support one another. Sometimes you give, sometimes you get. Life is a cycle of giving and receiving, ups and downs. I’m so proud of them for giving back.

So here’s my post-it note to you:

You’re amazing.
You’re wonderful.
I hope you have a great day.
Everything will be ok.
Life is laughter and tears- keep smiling.

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Just Speaking Up

I’m gonna sound like that chick from Mean Girls who “doesn’t even go here” when I say this- especially because it’s a little heavier than my usual- but…Why can’t we just love?

How many times have we been told that evil triumphs because we let it? How many times must we stay silent when hatred consumes those around us? In my haste to speak up, I’m blanking on what song it is, but one line of its lyrics says “the opposite of love is indifference.” Am I saying that when bad people threaten and kill others and cause the destruction of entire cultures that we shouldn’t use military force? No. Am I saying that we SHOULD? No. At this moment in my life, I am not qualified to make that kind of a sound decision. But…

I AM qualified by the sheer fact that I am part of humanity to say that all this hatred, this name-calling, this fear of others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sex/gender, sexual orientation/gender identity, and so on, all this evil needs to stop!

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For real, though…we are watching city after city get bombed, we face a higher possibility of being the victim of a mass shooting every day and instead of practicing love in our own daily lives in the hopes that this value will grow with future generations, we are criticizing those who mention Brussels, but not Ankara, or Paris, but not Pakistan. We accuse them of being selfish, of merely following the crowd, as if noticing only what is most widely covered by the media is some sort of crime against humanity. I’ve avoided saying anything about Belgium BECAUSE of that- because I’m afraid that mentioning one country and not another will attract anger from someone. I’m walking on eggshells- and that’s TERRIFYING.

It’s as if the hatred that we are hoping to fight is winning, because we are allowing it to seep into our lives in even the smallest of ways.

We should not belittle someone for expressing love and support. We should not judge someone for not knowing the death toll in Iraq off the top of their head. We should not show such negativity in the same way that we should not judge one group of people who share the same race or religion as being evil by default; in the same way that we should not expect all who are one specific race to be criminals; in the same way that we should not prevent a woman from using a public restroom because she does not anatomically match the gender she identifies as.

And despite our political leanings, we should never, and I mean NEVER, support a candidate who uses fear, hate, and violence, to secure votes, regardless of however skillful he may be in business. WE MUST NEVER ALLOW HATRED TO WIN. Opposing this kind of a man for me is NOT a political decision, but a MORAL decision. There are bad presidents, good presidents, decent presidents, but the moment we elect a hateful president is the moment this country has officially said to the rest of the world that we cannot love them.

Humans will be humans. Some will be mean, some will be nice. There will always be saints and sinners. There will be those who identify as both within one life span. There will always be white people, black people, Asian people, tall people, short people, healthy people, unhealthy people. There will also be Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics, Pluralists (as my father calls his and my particular beliefs). There will always be humans. My definition of a human: an imperfect person of the homo sapiens species possessing characteristics, including, but not limited to, emotions, thoughts, and opinions generally unique to themselves and the ability to be both right and wrong, sometimes simultaneously.

I am definitely trying to be a little humorous in this post (life is laughter and tears, after all), if that’s even coming across here, but full disclosure…. my heart is breaking…. immensely. I feel and I pray and I cry for every single innocent soul lost across the globe everyday. Those I know of and those I don’t. I pray for those who have found their way into the clutches of evil, who have been convinced that this world needs fixing and that a particular country, culture, or religion is to blame and must be punished. I feel for those who are judged by their peers. I cry for those who are judging.

I was lucky enough to have been raised by a mother (and indirectly a grandmother) who believes with all her being in the power of unconditional love, who does nothing but love, and who cries at anything remotely emotional on TV, in movies, and yes, even during commercials, because of the amount of love in her heart; I recognize now that I need to do this as well. I do not have children, and perhaps I never will, but I can guarantee you that I will always unconditionally love, because it is the VERY LEAST I can do to fix this world and I implore you, I beg you from the bottom of my heart, the depths of my soul, to love as well.

If the least I can do is just to speak up, then I will. Love may not always be the sole answer, but it will always be a part of it. Please show love. Please show compassion. Please care. Every day and in every way possible.

And with that, I’ll sign off for now, go back to my regularly scheduled life, and hope that my time was well spent.

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An Open Invitation to Laugh

At me. At your friend. Yourself.

This is an open invitation to laugh at anything that makes you. Or even just smile. I have a very stressful job, but you know what gets me through the day? The laughs between coworkers. There has, at times, been sadness in my life, but what got me through it? The family and friends who make me smile.

Today’s post is just a reminder that we need that. We need the laugh and we need the smile, and what better time for that reminder than Friday afternoon, going into the weekend (perhaps for some a long weekend), so that we can enter that time in a great and joyful mood, full of laughter and life. So think of whatever it is that makes you smile or laugh and do just that. Whether it’s a memory, a joke, a picture, at your own expense, or someone else’s, take the time to laugh today 🙂

But just in case you’re having trouble thinking of anything, here are some examples of what puts a smile on my face:

-You know I fell off of a moving golf cart once? Like, full on running in place trying to keep myself from falling only to slam into a couple rocks (I still have a bump on my thigh 2 years later). Yeah… that hurt.
-I have a scar above my eye from stitches- because I got whacked (accidentally) in the face with a wooden baseball bat when I was three… by my sister… She still maintains that I should have been watching where I was going and I still maintain that I WAS THREE YEARS OLD.
-If you’re from Boston, watch the funnyordie.com video of Tom Brady in a sporting goods store: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2CA0_UE4yU
-I snort (unapologetically) when I laugh really hard
-A joke: So there was this dyslexic guy who walked into a bra.
-and the following images:

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And in honor of President’s Day:

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Laugh on, my friends.

One Life

One person may own many cars and houses, but even the richest person in the world cannot possess more than one life.
-Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Transform Your Life

I very recently started getting back into meditation, a practice I initially got into while in college. “Life” got in the way, however, and I let up on my practice until a long series of events pulled me back into it. Now more than ever, perhaps because of my time in the “real world” so far, I’m seeing the lessons to be learned far more clearly, especially the one quoted above.

Now, I’m not a Buddhist. I was raised Catholic and still recite the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, though I went to more Jewish services in college than I did Christian, started going to a few Unitarian services here and there after I graduated, read many books on Buddhism, and meditate. My dad calls it being a “pluralist” haha. I find the general message in all religions to mainly be the same: life is all about loving and respecting yourself and others and not wasting your life away on material objects, hate, greed, and all those Sunday school seven-deadly-sin-type teachings in order to achieve some sense of spiritual awakening- whatever that is for you. This is our only life and we must use it wisely.

Even if you believe in reincarnation, you only get one life at a time and when you worry it away on petty things you find yourself unable to enjoy it.

Worrying about and focusing on material objects will always, in one way or another, leave us disappointed. In the book from which I quoted by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, he also brings up the following point: Imagine you have a week to live and someone gives you a gift. Does it make sense to receive the gift of diamonds or a big house or a fancy car, etc? This life is fleeting, we could pass at any moment, and focusing on these things only takes time, energy, and focus away from the things that will truly allow us to get the most out of our time here.

I meditate in order to remind myself of this. I meditate to focus and clear my mind of the worries of everyday life that we fall so easily into. Why do I say that life is laughter and tears? Why did I name this blog that? Because life is a roller coaster ride that we have no choice but to go along on. We can enjoy it, or we can fight it. We can choose to cultivate the mind and prepare it for the bad times (by meditating), like strapping ourselves in for safety, or we can let ourselves be thrown at every curve and upside-down twist. Isn’t it so much better to laugh at the end of the ride? We had our moments of fright, our tears, but ultimately we made it, and still in one piece.

True happiness comes from within and is not dictated by outward circumstances and material objects.

We can cry and cry, or we can cry, refocus, and decide to laugh instead. Happiness is a choice- Wow. I think I’m really just realizing that as I type it… and that’s coming from someone with a mood disorder, so I *understand* how hard that is to come to terms with. Learning to be content with where we are in life, no matter what it may be, is the key to a happiness. Happiness comes from spending time with those you love most. Happiness is a good, deep belly laugh in the face of fear. Happiness is that overwhelming warm sensation you get when you’ve done something good for someone else, expecting nothing in return. Happiness is knowing you’re doing something to leave the world a better place. It’s watching the sun rise or set in perfect quietness, experiencing what it is to be with the moment. It’s feeling true joy for someone when they’ve had a wonderful life event, like the birth of a child, marriage, graduation, or a new job. Happiness is not a new car, house, or clothes. Depending on your job, living circumstances, etc. they are necessities, but they do not dictate your happiness.

How wonderful would it be, how wonderful would your life be, if you did not worry about those things, if you did not worry about being happy, because you already were? How wonderful would it be if you were content and happy from the inside, living in a loving, respectful manner always with a smile on your face and a laugh just waiting to emerge from your lips, regardless of the tears that might fall from the sad events that are inevitable in this human life?

I’m not telling you to convert to Buddhism. I’m not telling you to give up all your worldly possessions or quit your job. I’m just asking you to consider how wonderful life could be  by reconsidering what you think makes you happy and perhaps by simplifying the material aspects of your life.

May all beings have happy minds.
-the Buddha

The Lindor Truffle: A Laugh

Sometimes we remember random little events from our past that were seemingly irrelevant to the course of our lives, but upon further reflection we may find that they had a profound effect on us.

For me, that little event involves my favorite high school teacher, a fight with my best friend, and a Lindor truffle:

I had just opened my locker to find a note from my best friend (because that’s how you communicated with your friends in 2007) that left me feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach on a day that already felt like the worst of my life. I was very good at hiding how I really felt and had been carrying on quite an impressive positive face despite the darkness inside. That’s how most of high school passed for me. But I did my best to keep up that face and headed down to my sophomore English class with my all time favorite teacher. I was early and she was the only other person in the room.

My teacher seemed to know something was up, though no words were exchanged. She simply offered me a Lindor truffle- a rare treat, which I immediately accepted with gratitude, unwrapped with excitement, and opened my mouth to plop it in….. only to have it immediately plop right back into my hand after bouncing off the elastics on my braces that prevented me from opening my mouth even remotely wide enough to insert that delicious chocolaty goodness.

Pausing for the slightest moment, I looked up at my teacher apprehensively, afraid that she saw how idiotic I must have looked, and found her suppressing the slightest smile, causing me to let out a stifled giggle that resulted in a snort, followed by a full bellied laugh in reaction to the snort, so that when the first of my peers came in and asked why I was laughing, I was laughing too hard to explain. Every time I’ve eaten a Lindor truffle since that day, I’ve always thought of that moment and still find the corners of my mouth curving ever so slightly into a smile.

After composing myself, my best friend came in and took her usual seat right behind me with a shy smile of acknowledgement. I smiled back, knowing eventually we would be OK (and we are still close to this day). My teacher shot me one last smile before beginning class, but I never thanked her for the truffle and the lesson it taught me, because I didn’t learn it until now:

We cannot let pain prevent us from smiling. We cannot let hard times keep us from laughing. We must laugh in the face of it all- in spite of it all- because one day the memory of the smile will be worth 1000x more than the tears. The smallest moments can save you.

PS. I did eventually eat that truffle and it was heaven to my taste-buds.

Stand Up & Live

In a journal entry in August, 1851, Henry David Thoreau wrote:

How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live.

This is a new quote of his that I hadn’t read yet, and, having been minorly obsessed with Romanticism and Transcendentalism in high school (I’m sure my English teachers can attest to that), it brought on this wave of a full spectrum of thoughts. I’ve watched Dead Poets Society about 30 times and can quote Mr. Keating practically from memory when it comes to carpe-ing the crap out of your diem: “Sieze the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” I used a Thoreau quote in my high school year book. I based my AP Studio Art final project off of various Romantic authors’ quotes. And the fact that I live probably only an hour from Walden Pond and have never been baffles me (field trip this weekend?). Yet, despite what I have learned from my “minor” obsession, I face life in terror, almost frozen, waiting for the courage to jump into a world of opportunity and adventure- as I sit down and write.

We live our lives in the comfort of what we know, hoping one day to travel, hoping one day to see something rare, hoping one day to do something that scares us, hoping… We hope as we sit in the familiarity of our own living room, under the safety of our favorite blanket, next to our friends, family, roommates, or others who know us well. And we sit and we hope and we wait and we wait and we wait until suddenly life is passing us by and we wish we had done more when we were younger.Thoreau also wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” (Civil Disobedience and Other Essays)

I enter 2016 utterly blessed with a certain freedom that most mid-20s don’t have and I find myself swimming in chances. The words of a thousand adventures are waiting for me make them known, but without the experience, what justifies me to do so?

I enter 2016 wondering why it took me until now to realize that I need to stand up for my own life.

I enter 2016 hoping to make a difference in the world and inspire others, but how vain to do so without taking advantage of my own opportunities to grow? It is important to note that “vain” here doesn’t mean to be narcissistic, but to be futile or useless. Worry is vain. Excuses are vain.

I enter 2016 terrified.

I enter 2016 with one goal: stand up. The biggest thing that has been holding me back is no longer there to strap me in. So, I will stand up and live. Even if only in my own city. I will go see parts of Boston I haven’t visited before. I will venture to Walden Pond. I will explore every option available to me so that when the opportunity comes to travel farther, I will be ready to jump. I will save my money so that I can stand up in Ireland, Montreal, Rome, New Orleans, and other, farther places I’ve yet to see. I may not get there this year, but someday I will, because I will not experience life sitting down anymore. I will go to my grave knowing my song is out there for all who wish to listen; a song about laughter and tears.

Will you stand with me?

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