Monday, September 26, 2016


Words have meaning. They have power. With them, worlds can be created or destroyed. And so can the humans within those worlds.

When my third son was three, he began to bring up death-and-dying subjects. A lot. It was a bit out of the blue, I thought, though it wasn’t overly concerning to me. Yet. One day he asked when I would die. Another day he asked me if I was going to hold his baby brother when he died. It all became clear to me when he posed this question: “So, after Easter, then we’ll die?” He asked so honestly and openly, without any sign of concern. And it hit me. For the past couple of weeks we’d been talking about dying eggs for Easter. He had been hearing our words and making his own interpretations based on his knowledge experience. He knew about death. He didn’t know about this holiday tradition. Feeling horrible, I explained that we meant we would color eggs for Easter, and that none of us were going to actually die.

We come into situations carrying our past. Simple words can morph into an entirely different context, based on whatever we’ve faced in life. This is why it is so important to slow down and really understand what is being said. To understand the intent as well as the message, before responding. It’s easy to feel defensive, belligerent, or hurt. It’s easy to hold onto past grievances and form grudges. It’s easy to act on those feelings. But what if we took the time to find out where the other person is coming from? What if we could separate our prejudices and preconceived ideas from the person standing in front of us, and base our communication within the context of “now” balanced against the knowledge of “before”? 

We have so many words thrown at us over social media, within news platforms, from political persona, sports players, movie stars, and the average Mary and Joe. Everyone believing in their own story, and wanting all of us to follow their lead. Well … what is the reality? Isn’t it always more than one-sided? When we don’t question the source, when we don’t know the intent, when we make assumptions, we are missing an opportunity. With understanding and knowledge, we can break through biases and fears.

Taking the time to listen and understand doesn’t mean we have to agree with one another. It just means we don’t get to jump to conclusions and be mean to each other. Using our words to build our relationships and add more truth and hope to each other’s stories will strengthen our communities. With stronger communities, we have hope for a peaceful and respectful coexistence. One where people can live fearlessly, dream endlessly, grow exponentially, and love absolutely. Regardless of backstory. Regardless of disagreements. Regardless of differences.

Take the time to listen. Words matter. The humans behind the words matter. And sometimes all it takes is understanding to change death to life.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Do we measure up?

Every year around the anniversary of 9/11, my daughter’s school does a “Patriotic Chapel.” The choir sings songs like God Bless America, America the Beautiful, Proud to be an American and, of course, The Star Spangled Banner. I attend this chapel every year as my daughter is one of the singers.
I have to admit that I love it. I love the music, the pictures, the symbolism, and the message of pride in our country that fills the auditorium. I love the stories from our history that are told, even when they’ve been slightly embellished. I love that for one hour, our children are reminded why they should be thankful for the lives they live and to not take a single moment for granted.

I love all of that. What I didn’t particularly enjoy this year was another message one of the speakers put forth. Perhaps it was unintentional, I can’t say one way or the other. Regardless, it came across loud and clear.

Image result for teenagers saying pledge of allegianceThis speaker discussed how she felt that the younger generations weren’t as patriotic as the older ones. She gave examples of young people in schools mumbling through the pledge of allegiance as though it meant nothing, and of an Olympic athlete not placing her hand on her heart during the playing of our National Anthem.

First, when did it become okay to measure another person’s love for their country based on symbolic gestures? Teenagers will mumble through anything that doesn’t involve a video game or their latest crush. That might mean that their priorities are askew, but it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t love and respect their country. 

Image result for gabby douglas hand heart anthemAs for the Olympic athletes “disrespecting our anthem” by not covering their hearts with her hands (Gabby Douglas wasn’t the only one), I’m more than a little tired of hearing about it. The hand-over-heart gesture is required when saying the Pledge of Allegiance, but standing at attention is the norm during a rendition of our National Anthem. Some choose to also place their hands over their hearts, and I think that is beautiful. I don’t think, however, that it means they are more patriotic or respectful than those who don’t.

And second, since when is this kind of lack of symbolic gesturing something only the younger generation is afflicted with? There was a whole lot of gesturing going on in the 60s, and I don’t recall any of it being particularly patriotic.

I guess my point is this: Perhaps we should place less importance on symbolism and more on what’s in a person’s heart. If we are so hell-bent on measuring people, let’s do it based on their character, on how they live their lives, and on how they treat others.

Come to think of it, that last bit works for far more than measuring patriotism.