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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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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Welcome To The “What If” Nation

I’ll be real with you for a moment… If there were any kind of “What If” nation.. I would be their Queen.

What if I fail at [my job, this task, that race, organizing this, building that]? What if I can’t handle the stress? What if I hate it? What if I can’t decide what I want to do or what’s best [for me, my career, my loved ones]? What if I get sick? What if [my family member, my friend, my loved one] gets sick? What if I run out of [time, money, resources, space]? What if I don’t get any support? What if they don’t like me?

If any of those sound like a familiar daily occurrence in your mind, welcome to my nation, we will have our first mayoral election next Wednesday…

Wait.. What if all the candidates suck?

All joking aside, this is a severe problem for far too many scared people out there. For some it’s just a mental habit, but for others it’s a symptom of any mental illness from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder to ADD and everywhere in between (because we all know that these labels are not a one size fits all kind of bad hand dealt by life). And I’ve been going through a lot of those thoughts myself lately. Your early twenties are a HUGE “What If” phase, whether you have one of the previously listed disorders or not. Just getting your feet on the ground, you haven’t had enough experiences in life to know exactly what you like, don’t like, hate, love; what are you good at and what makes you feel fulfilled?

The answer to that is another question: So what? So what if you don’t know what you want to do? You try new things- as many new things as possible- until you someday do figure it out. So what if you fail? You get back up and you either try again, or you try something else. So what if you hate it? You’re not required to like everything in the world, so go find something you do like.

Trust me, I know from experience that it’s not always so easy to pick yourself back up and trudge on. It seems easier to wallow in your own self-pity and stay in bed all day, but you know what? That only makes it harder the next time around. What IS easier is baby steps. As early twenty-somethings we’re not only going through this phase in our personal lives, but the world as a whole and the society we live in is going through enough changes that all expectations we had for our lives could be blasted to bits in as little as a day from now. I could spend hours on that topic alone. But that is exactly where baby steps come in. If you’re not the throw-caution-to-the-wind kind of person and you suffer deeply from the “What Ifs”, you can exercise your bravery by simply leaning in to life rather than shrinking back from it.

And if you have any of those emotional, mental, or mood disorders or difficulties, your very first step is simply to take care of yourself and get the help you need to take on your daily emotions. You should NEVER be ashamed simply because some people may see you as weak. Quite the opposite, in fact, because when you have to try five or ten times harder simply to get out of bed and get yourself going every morning, you have already proven how strong you are. You have already succeeded and proven those naysayers wrong. And when you put your mental health first, you’ve actually taken, not a baby step, but a giant step forward. Farther than anyone who doesn’t struggle with their own mental health can say. And once you do that, you can truly begin to take the rest of the world by storm… one step at a time, of course. No one, and I mean NO ONE, can change the world without beginning with themselves. Take pride in who you are, and the struggles you go through; allow it to make you a better person and your baby steps will bring you farther than you ever expected.

Until the real apocalypse takes place, nothing is the end of the world. Take baby steps forward, leaning ever so slightly in the right direction, and all your “What Ifs” will transform into “So Whats.” You will never know the answer unless you trudge on.

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