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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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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The Greatest Lessons of 2015

This last year was tough on my health (mental and physical), so I was forced to look really hard in the mirror and learn to accept a lot of things. It’s a heavy word, “acceptance.” Is it easy? No. It’s taken me 24 and a half years to finally realize it, so I don’t expect it to be easy for you either, but it’s those idiotically simple truths that are the hardest to really accept. Earlier in the fall I started to realize that I was getting nowhere by constantly trying to remake myself. In fact, I was digging myself deeper… So I took a real, hard, excruciating look at myself in a way I’ve never done before (I “take a look at myself” quite often).

In a way, I guess you could say I gave up. I gave up the constant self-criticism and downgraded to occasional self-criticism. I gave up trying to be someone I’m not. I gave up thinking I’ll never be happy. I gave up a lot of negativity. I looked at myself in the mirror and faced the facts: I’m overweight, I’m on a tight budget that I’m constantly pushing, I don’t have the social life I thought I’d have, my job is extremely stressful… I’m pretty, I’m experiencing my mid-20s exactly the way I should be, I have two awesome roommates and a number of good friends, I’m independent, and I have my entire life ahead of me in an ever-changing world.

This December was a series of seemingly unrelated events that caused me to realize those latter facts- the positive ones. Once again, God/the universe/the Great Spirit has thrown me some hints and I’ve picked up a lot from them. To save you time I’ll jump over the explanations of each event and instead offer, as we face the New Year in just a couple days, what I have learned:

  1. I’m not fat. You’re not fat. Fat is what you cut off your chicken before you cook it. Fat intake is something you monitor when you’re trying to be healthy. Fat is a part of the body just as muscle, bones, and flesh are, and you, therefore, cannot BE fat, because YOU ARE NOTHING ELSE BUT YOU.
  2. Being attractive means being the kind of person that others want to be around. It means being a good person, kind to others, and always thoughtful of your impact on the world. It means making people laugh. It means being able to laugh at yourself.
  3. We have limits. We must recognize when something or someone we love dearly and deeply is no longer right for us.
  4. Boondock Saints is one of the greatest movies ever made.
  5. Miracles do happen.
  6. There is much hate in this world, but there is greater love, and the moment we give up on love is the moment we lose. And the people who love us- our family, our friends- are the ones who will comfort us and cry with us when we feel there is too much bad, when we think hate has won. They will save us in our endeavor to save the world.
  7. We must never give up on saving the world.
  8. While it is important to take note of ways we can improve ourselves, we cannot do so without first taking inventory of the ways in which we should never change. If we are forever focusing on what’s missing or wrong with our lives, how in the world do we expect to one day be happy?
  9. Tight budget, big appetite? Pasta, hot dogs, frozen veggies, alfredo sauce, all mixed together. It’s where childhood and adulthood meet in perfect harmony… in your mouth.
  10. Laughter, as always, is everything. Be a goof.

So this New Year’s, please remember to smile, to laugh, to love, to let the bad roll off and the good sink in, and to look hard in the mirror. Watch good movies. Spend time with friends. Remember that everything changes- the hardest thing we can ever accept. Make your resolutions, but knowing first that you are already a wonderful and beautiful creature to begin with. Be a Calvin (see cartoon below).

Laugh on, my friends.

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Why Do I [You] Write

This isn’t a widely read blog and many of my followers are friends of mine, so I found myself asking “Why do I write this?” You know, what? Good question. Why do you?

Is it because you have a lifelong dream of being a journalist? Is it because you write poetry? Short stories? Are you an activist? Photographer? Traveler?

I came to realize that I’m writing for me. Sounds a little weird, I know. Why not just keep a diary? Well… when I was younger, I had a mentor who inspired me so much that I decided that I wanted to inspire others and what I’ve found is that what I need to hear, everyone needs to hear. We need reminders everyday to smile, to laugh, to cry when you need to cry. We need reminders of what makes this world worth saving, what we can do for others, what makes us wonderful people. For a while I thought I’d make a pretty dope public speaker and I wanted to be able to reach and inspire large numbers of people, but that might be a stretch goal. This questioning has caused me to really think about what I can do- both for myself and for others. I need a laugh to keep myself going and I know that sometimes you, whoever you are, need to as well.

So I challenge you to question yourself. Not for self-doubt, but for personal insight. Get to know yourself and the reason behind why you do what you do. Maybe, just maybe, it will help you do it better.

And because I started this endeavor of blogging because I wanted to make people smile, here’s a little humor for you.

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I’ve already posted this one a while ago, but it’s so relevant.

“I Never Knew”

I want to share this experience I had last night:

After ordering my sub at D’angelo’s, the young man behind the counter asked, “So are you like a Girl Scout?” After a moment I recovered from my confusion, realizing I was in my Scout uniform, and I said “Actually the Boy Scouts. I’m a professional with the Boy Scouts of America.” The normal questioning expression fell over his face, followed by surprise as I explained that, actually, a lot of women are involved, especially considering we have a co-ed program called Venturing. What he asked next really surprised and pleased me.

Instead of asking, “So what do you do?” he asked, “So what do the Boy Scouts do then? Like, as their mission?”

I was SO happy to hear someone ask that! I summarized the mission of the BSA, the Scout Oath and Law, and explained all the different kinds of programs and activities we use in order to accomplish that (thank you training for drilling the Aims and Methods of Scouting into my brain). And when I finished, his reaction gave me so much hope! In everything- the youth in this country, the world, humanity as a whole, why I do what I do.

He said, “You know, I always thought of the Boy Scouts as those kids that just go camping and learn how to tie knots, but I never realized how many different important life skills and lessons you guys taught. I REALLY could have benefited from that as a kid, and if I ever have a son he’s totally going to join the scouts. I bet this world would be a whole lot more caring if everyone was a scout.”

People care. People care about their children growing up to be responsible, caring, upstanding citizens who can take care of themselves and others. People care about character development. People care about the effect they have on the world. And considering how much hatred we are trying to fight right now, I’m starting to believe more and more in the value of Scouting for our youth. People say to only surround yourself with caring, positive people with good intentions, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 90% of those people in my life are those I know through the Boy Scouts (for Pete’s sake, both my roommates are Eagle Scouts!). They are the funniest, most caring young men and women I’ve ever met. They keep me laughing, and hopeful, which, as you know is pretty much the entire point of this blog here.

I’ve been saying that I need to figure out a way to change the world, not realizing that all along I was doing it just by going to work everyday. It’s an incredibly stressful job and sometimes my exhaustion tears right through me, down to my core, but the Boy Scouts is,when you get down to it, a program that can change the world. And I’m pretty darn proud to be a part of an organization that can help with that.