Viva Las Vegas

It has taken me a long time to write this post. I originally had a different post written to share this week but in light of what has happened, I just can’t find it within myself to share a blog post about overcoming fear just yet.

Because the truth is… I’m scared. In a way that I don’t think I have ever been scared before.

Last weekend I flew to my hometown of Las Vegas to attend my 30th high school reunion. It was the first reunion I had been to and it was amazing. I was still riding the high of that event the next day as I was getting ready to go see a show at the Luxor with my friend and her husband. The show was awesome, and nothing out of the ordinary happened. Being the old lady that I am (ha ha), we went back to my friend’s house and I went to sleep .

I was awakened the next morning around 6 am by a phone call from my mom. She immediately asked me where I was and I asked her what was wrong. After a pause she said, “ You obviously haven’t watched the television” and proceeded to tell me that the previous night 58 people were killed and over 500 were injured at a concert. A concert directly across from the Luxor.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Las Vegas Strip, the Luxor sits directly across from the Mandalay Bay on one side and the concert venue was across the street on the other side. We left the Luxor around 9:45 or 9:50 pm. The shooting started at 10:05 pm. If we had stopped to get a drink, ice cream, or even gamble or walk around, we either would have been driving directly through the path between the Mandalay Bay and the Harvest Festival or we would have been in lockdown at the Luxor.

That entire Monday was filled with text messages from friends asking if I was ok and various posts on my friends’ Facebooks pages about classmates and/or their friends whose loved ones were still missing, shot, or were killed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The news provided a constant barrage of information about the shooting. At some point in that day I was hit with the sudden realization that truly nowhere is safe. The irony is not lost on me that I have felt safe walking down the street at night in countries such as Spain, Ireland and even Morocco – and yet I would hesitate to walk down many streets at night in my own country. The fear I felt further embedded itself in the pit of my stomach as I realized my son was scheduled to go to Disneyland the following week with his high school’s jazz band.

For the first several days after the shooting, I alternated between feeling sick to my stomach, crying and feeling stunned. It wasn’t just the fact that I was in such close proximity to the site of the shooting right before it occurred, it was also the fact that Las Vegas is my hometown. I grew up there. I have been all over that stretch of road and up and down the Strip more times than I can count. Every similar tragedy that has occurred in our country has affected me and brought me to tears. But this one? This one cut even deeper.

I have multiple family members who own guns and thus don’t have an issue with guns in general, assuming that they are not utilized irresponsibly or to hurt innocent individuals. Yet, I found myself getting angrier and angrier at those who insisted that we shouldn’t consider tighter gun laws-even for semi- and full assault weapons whose sole purpose seems pretty much to be killing large amounts of humans in a short period of time. I grew weary of people throwing up their arms and basically stating the equivalent of “If someone is going to kill someone they will find a way to do it so instead of trying to prevent them from using assault weapons we should just accept this reality and move on with our lives”. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the definition of insanity to do what you’ve always done and expect different results?

Furthermore, we don’t choose to not make laws in this country based on hopelessness and/or the chance that a crime may still be committed. Unfortunately, people steal, vandalize and commit sexual and verbal assault on a regular basis in this country but we still have laws against these crimes. In some cases, we also take precautions to make it more difficult for individuals to commit these crimes. Isn’t it bizarre as well that our government requires individuals who wish to drive a vehicle to do things like take a test, purchase insurance, and attend driving classes (in some areas) but there are individuals who balk at having to follow similar requirements to purchase guns?

Political rant aside, I believe that there were two worlds reflected in the Vegas tragedy.

The first is a world wherein a seemingly sane man felt no compunction about indiscriminately shooting at thousands of innocent victims. A man who planned methodically to kill weeks, months, possibly years without anyone knowing. A man who, instead of trying to get as much visibility as possible for his heinous act, actually hid things so well that we have yet to find out what his motive was. In this world, no one and nowhere is safe. In this world, it is not odd for one to look twice at everyone he or she comes into contact with and wonder what truly lurks behind those eyes and that smile. It is a world where mass shootings such as this one happen so often that my child, my grandchildren, and the generations to come after them are numb to the horrors that exist. This is the world I fear living in. This is a world that I am terrified for my son and grandchildren to inherit.

But there is a second world as well. A world where the worst possible situation brings out the best in humanity. A world where strangers help each other to survive and where individuals value the lives of other people as much as if not more than their own. In this world, strangers risk their own lives to shield others, help those who have fallen, even lay with a stranger who is dying so that he won’t die alone. People rise to the call for help in this world, without even being asked. They form seemingly endless lines to give blood, arriving as early as 4 the next morning. Thousands donate their hard earned money to help victims and their families. Corporations set aside reverence of the almighty dollar long enough to offer rooms, flights, and other resources to families affected by the tragedy. Community members provide food, transportation, even a room in their home to anyone who might need it as a result of the shooting.

This is the legacy I want my child, grandchildren and generations to come to inherit. This is a world I am proud of, a world which instills in my son not apathy but deep compassion. This is the best of humanity. It is a world where love perseveres and overcomes.

This is the Las Vegas I grew up in.

This is the world I choose to focus on and find ways to contribute to.

Vegas Strong.

Viva Las Vegas.

Descent

The darkness is calling me again
Mysteries creating a hazy veil
I dive into an ebony sea
And am plunged into midnight waves
I gasp for breath
And desperately struggle to ascend back to the safety of the surface
Slowly, subtly, my fears turn to fins
And I am swimming through the darkness like an undine
Singing to my demons
Calling them to attention and then soothing them to sleep
Sifting through the shipwrecks of my past
Excavating the wounds of my soul
Salty tears merge with the saline sea
The water gets darker and darker and yet
My irridescent scales flash like lightning, offering brief moments of illumination
I go down and down
Knowing that the further the descent, the greater the bounty
Having sought my prize
I emerge from the icy waters
And bask in the light on the shore
Confident that next time
I will be able to swim even further
Go even deeper
For I am a siren of the shadows
Self sovereignty is my treasure

A TASTE OF YOUR OWN MEDICINE

Have you ever thought your love could save someone, despite evidence to the contrary? Maybe you found yourself in love with that bad boy/girl with the heart of gold and even though you knew they weren’t good for you you tried to convince yourself that your love could change them. Perhaps you have felt the bone deep feeling of despair when someone you cared about was hell bent on self destruction and no matter how hard you loved them or how much you tried to relieve their pain there was nothing you could do but watch them self destruct. How many times have you been disappointed and disillusioned when you learned that your love -as beautiful and amazing as it was- was not enough?

I used to think that love was the most powerful force in the universe. Some might call that naive but I never felt embarrassed by it. I didn’t hide my belief; in fact, I rather wore it as a badge of honor. My younger self was quite the romantic dreamer as it was. Yet, back then – and even now, though to a lesser extent-I was very careful who I gave my deepest love to. You see, I have long thought of love as being both my greatest strength as well as my greatest weakness. I have usually been friendly and open to a point…and most people never suspected that there were subtle yet powerful walls in place.

The great thing is that when I do love, I don’t love small. The not so great thing is that when I do love, I don’t love small. I don’t know how to love half-assed. No, I have typically been all in, with no boundaries and all of my “stuff” laid out on the table. Perhaps on some level my silent, subtle yet strong walls were the result of realizing how my tendency to feel with great depth could cause me enormous pain if I let the wrong person in. In some ways I suppose that my belief that love was the most powerful force in the universe was a natural one.

I believe there are points in everyone’s life where our most dearly held beliefs are challenged- often in a big way. These crossroad moments in our lives don’t happen just when we are young but also as we progress along life’s journey. Often the older we are, the less prepared we are to re-evaluate those beliefs. After all, we did all of that learning and personal growth through pain stuff in our teens and early 20s, right?

Perhaps that’s why my moment of having to re-examine what I thought were my personal truths blindsided me and brought me to my knees. I found myself in a situation where someone I deeply cared for was on a path to self destruction. My natural tendency has been to fight for the person I care about, to hold on, to love harder. And so I did everything I could to remind my friend of who they were at their core, to express my concern as well as my belief in them, and to offer a shoulder to cry on. I asked them constantly how they were doing and what I could do to help and subjected them to my love over and over again.

At first, there were little successes and moments where this person accepted the balm of love and friendship that I had always offered, but these moments were short lived. I upped my game again and again until things reached a boiling point… and both I and my love were rejected in a most devastating way.

Stunned, angry, sad and confused, I folded into myself and licked my wounds within the shadows of my own being in relative silence. I mourned what seemed like the loss of a friend and I grieved for what could occur….the loss of a beautiful, brilliant individual with an amazing soul. Eventually, I got through these initial reactions and the sharp, excruciating pain transformed into a dull throb which both hurt and was numb at the same time. At least, I thought I had gotten through. But as I replayed the scenario again and again in my head, suddenly my demons whispered a question in my ear.

“What if love ISN’T the most powerful force in the universe?”

This shook me to the core. After all, the power of love was one of my most deeply held beliefs. One day (after ruminating over this for the umpteenth time), I had an epiphany- and not a good one. It is true that what hurt me the most in this situation was watching someone I loved drown in their own quicksand of pain. Yet, when I was really honest with myself, I realized that part of my hurt also stemmed from what my inability to “save” the person I loved said about me. Why wasn’t my love good enough or powerful enough to provide salvation?

I am now able to acknowledge that a small part of myself, perhaps my shadow self, was selfishly making the situation about me and my failure. The truth was that it was never about me. My friend’s predicament had nothing to do with me and in hindsight my need for reassurance and validation from someone who was obviously in no position to provide this was ridiculous at best, and harmful for both parties involved at worst.

These realizations allowed me to let go, in a loving way. To hold a space for the person I cared about without feeling the need to be their salvation. I let them know that I loved them unconditionally, and I was there for them if needed me and then I was mostly silent. I refused to enable their illusions but I also never gave up on them. Furthermore, these realizations allowed me to recognize the more “human” parts of myself with self compassion and without feeling like a victim or martyr.

Now, more than ever, I believe that love can be the most powerful force in the universe, but what that looks like has evolved for me to some degree. It is subtly seductive to believe that love can cure all. Yet I have come to understand that love is a lot like medicine. You could have the most powerful cure in the world but if someone isn’t willing to take it then nothing will change. If you believe in the concept of free will, then while we can offer consenting adults a salvation, we don’t have a right to make the decision for them as to whether or not they consume what we offer. It has to be each individual’s choice, and it has to be made freely.

This doesn’t mean that we should give up on those we care about who are struggling – quite the contrary. You can be there for your loved one, offer your love, empathize, and hold a space for them thus creating a safe environment in which to heal, but ultimately the choice is theirs.

These days, I still love hard. But I also love myself hard. I try to only give those things that I can truly give freely without resentment. When I know resentment will rear its ugly head or that I am venturing into an area that will likely cause me pain (especially if it has in the past), I set boundaries. As Danielle LaPorte asserts, “Open, gentle heart. Big fucking fence.” It is much more practical and comfortable to build fences than to build walls. It is much safer and healthier to build a fence with someone or something you are unsure about than to give them an all access pass to your heart- at least until trust has been built.

As for my friend, he eventually made a choice to step off the path that he was on and several months later reached out to me. In his own way, he acknowledged what had happened between us and thanked me for being his friend. Things aren’t the same as they used to be, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I feel much freer and more loving knowing that I am respecting myself and my boundaries and that love does not demand that I solve someone else’s problems.

And what to do with all of the love you have built up in order to save the person you care about? Give it to yourself. Drink down that heady, intoxicating brew and allow yourself to receive all of the love that someone else did not want or could not accept. Revel in your own beauty, recharge from within, and be your own confessor, your own shoulder to cry on, your biggest and most ardent cheerleader. This might be one of the few times that a taste of your medicine is a really good thing.

REVOLUTION: HOW TO FIGHT FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN WITHOUT SACRIFICING YOUR HEART, YOUR SANITY, OR YOUR SOUL

I am mad. No, I am enraged. Fist clenching, teeth gritting, seeing red, about to blow…enraged.

You might think that’s an odd way to start off a blog post on a page with peace and love in the title. But then, these are odd times. I typically try to limit my political posts or not to talk politics except with the closest of friends and family members. In most situations I am usually quite empathetic, overly so in fact. I strive to be open to different viewpoints and understand where people are coming from. I listen. I bite my tongue when employees, volunteers, donors, or elected officials that I work with as part of my job say something that is in stark contrast to my beliefs. I try very hard to fight my battles with love and compassion and I am a firm believer in a nonviolent approach.

I am really struggling to continue in this manner.

I have friends, some whom I have known for a LONG time, who supported Trump. Some because they believed in him, others because their options were limited and they distrusted and disliked Hilary and feared for the direction she would take this country. I can attest to the fact that these are good people. They aren’t racist. They aren’t uncaring. These are people who have devoted their life to helping others and/or would give the shirt off of their back to a stranger in need. Friends whose parents were immigrants who risked their lives to come here and worked their asses off to build a life and legacy for their families. I am not naive enough to believe that there isn’t a contingency who voted for Trump based on racist views and/or a desire to strip certain groups of people of their rights. But these people are very much the minority when I look at the Trump supporters I have come into contact with.

After the election, and leading up to Trump taking office, I heard many Trump supporters say that those of us who were concerned should stop being so afraid, wait and give him a chance. Fair enough, I suppose.

I didn’t have to wait very long to see what Trump would do with his “chance” and how he intended to lead this country. With just two weeks in office, Trump has said and/or done things which:
*Have been personal attacks on other people
*Have been out of alignment with facts. Not “alternative facts” but REAL facts. You know, the kind that are proven to be true?
*Are borderline if not actually unconstitutional
*Appear to be illegal
*Demonstrate a conflict of interest
*Could be considered censorship
*Strip people of rights
*Could easily be seen as discriminatory
*Question the validity of the democratic selection process this country was founded on without any evidence or credible data to support his claims and without a willingness to redo an election which he, himself, claims was rampant with fraud and did not provide an accurate vote count.

At times, I have to remind myself that these things are really happening.

I am angry, and anger is not always a bad thing. Whereas grief and fear often immobilize us, anger lights a fire within us and spurs us into action.

What I am afraid of sometimes is losing touch with my center and my power and succumbing to my anger and allowing it reign over my heart. I am usually a gentle person but when you threaten people I care about (and that’s a lot of people) and/or mess with human rights, the dragon in me comes out and I will do anything I can to protect those I care about and fight for those without a voice. Sometimes, I am afraid that I will become so overwhelmed by what I am fighting against and the hate that it unleashes that I will no longer have a willingness to listen, to be respectful, to consider other viewpoints, or to find common ground. If I allow myself to be changed into a version of myself that is not in alignment with who I truly am at my core and the beliefs I have long held dear, I lose and they win.

Yet, I do have hope.

I have this theory that countries (not just ours) go through cycles. There comes a point when the Universe (or whatever you want to call it) sees that there are things, dark things, exponentially growing in the dimly lit corners of our society and yet -whether out of fear or lack of knowledge- so many of us hide it, ignore it, and/or try to pretend it’s not real. The Universe finally says, “Enough of this shit” and sheds a spotlight on every dark thing we’ve tried to hide or have been too afraid to face. All of it is brought to light in a way that it can no longer be ignored. When this happens and the chaos and confusion sets in, the Universe says, “Now you can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. You MUST confront it. The question is, what are you going to do about it?” Sometimes enough of us band together and fight to make it better and amazing things happen. Sometimes, too many of us are afraid to take a stand and the darkness engulfs us. The Holocaust is just one of many examples of this. Good does seem to typically triumph in the end, but the casualties can be enormous.

So, what are we going to do about it, and how are we going to do it?

There are those who try to ensure our silence by making us think that we are weak, powerless, and that there is nothing we can do. We must remember that if they truly thought we had no power, they wouldn’t need to expend so much effort in silencing us. ALL of us have a voice. ALL of us have power. We just have to be brave enough to use it.

I am inspired by the millions of people who peacefully marched – in 7 continents no less- to make their voices heard and to fight for basic human rights. I am encouraged by the fact that our current state of affairs has lit a fire in so many women (and men) who may have not previously had their voices heard or thought that they had power to impact change. I am elated that this movement runs across many generations and is represented by people of all different races, religions, ethnicities, genders, abilities, and sexual orientation. Protests are what this country was founded on and a fundamental component of what led to our independence.

Last week I testified at a state Senate hearing to support a bill that would help reduce and possibly even end homelessness. There was testimony given by a woman who had experienced homelessness due to being kicked out of her housing because mold was found in her home. (She did not do anything to cause the mold). She is now separated from her homeless teenage son who has Type I diabetes and they are still trying to find housing so that they can reunite. There was a Lummi Nation tribal council member who bravely admitted that he caused homelessness in his community because a policy that he enacted which was meant to do good had unintended consequences. He said he was there to remind elected officials that this could happen, to take ownership for his mistake and noted that he sleeps at a homeless shelter one night a week to get a better understanding of the needs of his tribe’s homeless so that he can find ways to rectify his mistake. I have testified before and know how to give compelling testimony, but no matter how many facts and stories I share it will never be as compelling as the stories told by individuals such as these who have directly experienced the issue at hand.

Furthermore, I have had legislators tell me over and over again of their fear of voting for or against a bill that is in strong conflict with the other party’s ideologies and there is an ongoing fear that these type of votes will be used against them when they run for re-election. What gives them the strength to do so is knowing that the majority of their constituents want them to vote a certain way and back them. I don’t just mean the constituents who have money; but all voting constituents. There is strength in numbers and every voice matters. This applies to legislators at local and federal levels.

While I know that there will always be legislators that say or do things that baffle and disturb me, my experiences have shown me that there ARE good people in BOTH parties who sincerely want to help others and are there for the right reasons. So, please, don’t lose hope and think every legislator falls into the same dark category or that only one party or the other contains people with integrity and people who care and want to do what’s right.

What about the “how”? It’s easy to let anger and fear take the wheel, particularly when you or someone you know has been impacted by the injustices of the world we live in. I believe it is natural for even the kindest person who has been hurt and pushed past their limit to want and/or choose to counter attack in hurtful ways. I can see how in some circumstances it would be effortless to give in to violence, particularly when you feel that your power has been taken away from you, your voice isn’t being heard, and you have nothing left to lose.I know that in certain situations it may feel like a more extreme approach is one’s only hope. It is said that riots are the voice of the unheard.

I personally am committed to fighting with love. That’s not so easy. By fighting with love, I am NOT referring to being silent, weak, and/or refusing to fight. On the contrary, fighting with love is much harder and requires far more skill than responding with pure anger and/or hate. It takes a great deal of strength and unwavering focus.

Some would laugh at this because we typically don’t associate love with power in our society. Yet, as Martin Luther King Jr. said in his book Where Do We Go From Here:

“One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as opposites…What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

There are times when I am tempted to lash out at those who seem to be operating from a base of hate. There are times when I get sucked into an argument and I want to react from a place of indignation and ire. Yet I know, deep down, that not only is this a losing proposition but if I go down this road I risk becoming a pale version of myself. I risk becoming the very thing that I am fighting against.

Finding my center and ensuring that I am fighting from a place of love in the face of so much hate is extremely challenging at times. I remind myself that if I want to fight from a place of love I must ensure that I focus on fighting for the people and principles I love rather than fighting against hate. To me, it’s the difference between actively holding a space in your heart for who and what you love and letting that feed you instead of letting your rage blindly take over to the point that you begin to allow that which you hate to eat away at your heart and soul.

So, I will find the ways that I can be most effective in fighting and making my voice heard, not just at the federal level but also at the local level. I will cast a light wherever possible on the things that my opposition may be trying to keep in the dark. I will be brave enough to venture into the darkness- including the darkness within society, others, and myself- for that is necessary as well.

I will also do small things. In an environment that is hostile and filled with darkness and uncertainty, I will continue to perform random acts of kindness for both loved ones and strangers, regardless of where they stand in the political spectrum. I will be a sanctuary and offer a safe space for those who need it. I will create, making beauty through instruments of art be it my violin, my guitar, my voice, or my writing. (Truly, the role of an artist in a revolution cannot be understated. An artist’s duty is to reflect the times in brutally honest ways, to inspire people to think for themselves, to show the beauty that exists and to imagine what could be.) I will call people out (in a diplomatic and loving but firm way) on any statement or action that threatens to harm someone or take away their freedom, that could be viewed as discriminatory, and that improperly inhibits anyone’s ability to enjoy our constitutional promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (For someone who as a child was a “people pleaser” who valued harmony over all things and was scared to rock the boat, this is no small feat 🙂 ).

I will, above all, take care of myself. Not only is it ok to retreat for a bit when the world gets too crazy and you feel that there is not much more you can take, it is imperative. We must first and foremost love and care for ourselves if we are to be able to help others and continue fighting to win the war, not just a battle.

When I feel the rage start to get out of control, I will stop, take a breath, and take care of myself. I will remind myself of who I am, who I wish to be, and my purpose and mission in this life. I will remind myself of the people throughout history who accomplished amazing things just be being willing to take a stand and who did so without resorting to violent or immoral tactics. I will take heed of Nelson Mandela’s wisdom in knowing that no matter how much pain we experience, if we don’t leave our bitterness and hatred behind we risk imprisoning ourselves.

I will let the words and actions of Martin Luther King Jr., Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and so many other powerful adherents of nonviolence act as a touchstone thus ensuring that I am using my power to implement justice and ensure equity and take a stand to correct everything that stands against love without losing myself in the process. I hope you will join me in using your voice, your talent and your power in a way that only you can to fight for what you believe in as well.

MACLEOD’s TABLETOP (Adapted from a story told to me by Pete, our tour guide in the Highlands of Scotland)

In the Highlands of Scotland, an impressive flat topped mountain rises to overshadow the valleys and loch below. This mountain is known as MacLeod’s Tabletop. It is said that the flat summits were created after St. Columba visited the island on which it sits. According to local lore, St. Columba was not greeted with the hospitality he expected and God therefore created the mountain so that he would have a bed to sleep on and a table to dine at. Yet, that is a story for another time.

This story is about the MacLeods, a Scottish clan who ruled for hundreds of years in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye where the flat topped mountains are located. MacLeod of Dunvegan (at least the MacLeod featured in this story), was a clan chief who prided himself on his hospitality as well as the beauty of his land. A well respected chief in his realm, he was pleasantly surprised to be invited as a guest of King James V, to attend a feast in Edinburgh at the King’s request. It was not a secret that those in the city tended to look down upon the clans of the Highlands and more remote rural areas as being perhaps savage, or at least quite a bit more “simple” than city folk, let alone royalty. MacLeod felt that his reputation must be of a higher standing than he thought in order to have secured such an enviable invitation. Chest puffed up with pride, he began the long journey to Edinburgh and eventually arrived at his destination.

Dressed in his kilt with his clan tartan draped over his shoulder, sporran gleaming at his waist and his sgian dubh tucked neatly into his socks, MacLeod made quite a striking figure. MacLeod was announced as he was ushered into the King’s castle, and his eyes took in the ornate luxury that surrounded him. The King greeted him personally and walked MacLeod through his palace, stopping at intervals to point out the various riches and indulgences at his disposal.

“Ahhh,” said the King, “I am sure Dunvegan is a beautiful land. Yet, I bet you don’t have such a grand palace in your realm with so many wonders for your eyes to behold.”

MacLeod did not reply, but simply smiled politely and nodded.

The King then walked him over to the banquet of food laid out on a long table in the dining hall. The King remarked, “Look at this amazing array of culinary delights! You have probably never encountered a table large enough to contain a banquet as ample as this. This must be quite a bounty compared to the fare that you enjoy back home.”

Once again, MacLeod silently smiled and nodded.

The King pointed overhead to a grand chandelier, which was near to drowning in opulent gold and crystals. It’s many candles emitted a radiant, blazing light which encompassed the entire room.

“Look above you,” the King said. “Just look at that wondrous chandelier. Why, it illuminates the entire room!I am quite sure you don’t have anything like that in Dunvegan, do you?”

For a third time, MacLeod silently smiled and politely nodded.

MacLeod indulged his senses at the feast. He ate and drank heartily. He impressed the men in attendance both with his strength and his intelligence, and there was not a woman in the room – be she young or old- that was not enchanted by MacLeod. In fact, it is rumored that those married women who encountered MacLeod that evening were found by their husbands to be quite a bit more amorous than usual. (Not that these men were complaining, mind you. Although a bit perplexing, most felt it was a pleasant change to be pursued by their wives. Their manly egos suitably stoked, they walked around town the next day with shoulders broadened and head held high as though they themselves were the kings. Of course, whether or not it was their husband’s face that their wives were imagining or that of a certain Highland clan chief was a secret that no wife was willing to divulge).

As he was leaving the grand event, MacLeod approached King James and thanked him profusely for inviting him to attend. MacLeod insisted that King James come and visit him in Dunvegan so that he could return the favor of the King’s hospitality. Amused and charmed by the imposing Scot, the King agreed that he would make his way to Dunvegan in the near future.

In those days, of course, a journey from Edinburgh to Dunvegan could easily take a month to complete. As soon as MacLeod heard that the King had embarked upon his journey to the Highlands, he began ordering his men to make preparations for a feast on the flat topped mountains of Skye. Using just about all of the resources at his disposal, MacLeod arranged for all of the best culinary delights from the Highlands to be brought to the mountain, and for the mountain to be laid out as exquisitely as any grand hall. When King James finally arrived, MacLeod met him at the summit plateau of the mountain. The view from the mountain was unparalleled, as one could see valleys and the ocean down below stretching out for miles and miles. The sun, in all of its splendor and glory, lit up the entire sky as though the sky was on fire.

MacLeod and his people offered the King every courtesy and Highland delight that there was to be had. As day began to fade into dusk, MacLeod’s men bore torches to light the way to the evening’s feast and as the night wore on, the infinite stars of the Milky Way twinkled brightly. Towards the end of the evening, MacLeod took King James aside.

“I hope, my King, that you have enjoyed your visit today.”

Grinning from ear to ear, the King nodded vigorously his assent.

“Of course, I am sure that what rudimentary pleasures I am able to provide in my small little corner of the world are quite different than what you, as royalty, are used to.”

The King, jovial with a full stomach – and perhaps his fill of ale as well- reassuringly told MacLeod that he certainly couldn’t be expected to match what could be found in the capital city of Edinburgh but that he was quite impressed with MacLeod’s offerings and found the feast to be quite enjoyable.

“We have brought to you delicacies that are unique to our region, unlike anything you have tasted I would imagine?”

“Oh, yes,” the King replied. “Quite true.”

Macleod smiled.

“This is my bounty and I am sure that you don’t have food like that in Edinburgh. And look, look at this beautiful mountain! This, my king, this is my banquet hall and my tabletop. Have you ever seen anything quite like this?”

Smile fading a bit, the King politely nodded and agreed that he did not, in fact, have a comparable “banquet hall” in Edinburgh.

MacLeod continued. “You have seen the sun blaze through the sky, lighting up the entire island. You now see the stars laid out before you, sparkling like diamonds in an indigo sky. They are indeed more beautiful than any painted palace ceiling that I have seen. No offense, of course, your Highness.”

King James, slightly embarrassed, quietly replied, “Of course. No offense taken”.

“This,” MacLeod said, with his arms open wide and his eyes pointed towards the sky, “This is my chandelier. The light which it provides is more brilliant than that of a thousand candles, wouldn’t you agree? I would imagine that you don’t have anything quite like that in all of Edinburgh…do you?”

The King, realizing he had been upstaged in a most unexpected and unusual way, somberly nodded.

From that day forward it is said that the King had a newfound respect for MacLeod and for the Highlanders over which he ruled. MacLeod worked hard to replenish the food and other resources he had allocated to the feast, his pride and delight in elevating the Highlands in the King’s eyes overriding any feelings of regret he might have had about spending so much to do so. Despite the many changes in rulers throughout Scottish history, the MacLeods continued to rule for hundreds of years and still maintain a castle near Dunvegan.

Adventures in Scotland: The Highlands, Day 1

Give me but one hour of Scotland,
Let me see it ere I die.
-William Edmondstoune Aytoun

If you had asked me why I had such an earnest desire to visit Scotland, I don’t know that I could have attributed it to any one thing. Perhaps it is the reputation that Scotland-and the Highlands in particular- have for beauty. Perhaps it was my desire to connect with my roots as I am a member of the Scott clan on my mother’s side. More likely, I think I felt the pull of a land where the old ways mingle comfortably with the new and where fact and fiction engage in a cordial, silent dance, each recognizing the other’s contribution to what is an enchanting performance. As a person who has always had a love for stories and whose imagination is boundless, how could I not love a country whose national animal is the unicorn?

We arrived in Edinburgh in late July and immediately departed for a tour of the Highlands our second day there, with our final destination being the Isle of Skye. Within the first hour of traveling, it was easy to see just why and how Scotland has long had a unique talent for sparking the imagination. We drove past George Heriot’s School, said to be the inspiration for Hogwarts, and viewed the magnificent statue of the Kelpies. Towering above the Forth and Clyde canal, the incredible, gigantic metal heads of the Kelpies stand at almost 100 feet high. The Kelpies were said to be water horses that haunted local bodies of water such as the lochs. They were so exquisite and wondrous, that humans would at times attempt to ride these water spirits only to have the Kelpie gallop away and descend into a loch or the sea, sending the rider to his or her watery death. Like the myth that inspired them, the artistic representation of the Kelpies invokes in one a sense of both beauty and awe.
kelpies
Statue of Kelpies in Falkirk

Many of the places we drove through on our journey to the Isle of Skye were noted by our tour guide as locations where movies or televisions shows were filmed. At one point, I lost track of all of the movies and shows mentioned, but know that the list included Highlander, Outlander, Star Wars, Stardust, Snow White and the Huntsman, Made of Honor, Rob Roy, and various Harry Potter movies. It’s not surprising given that the Highlands appear to be straight out of a fairy tale, with mystical emerald green glens and forests and lakes that lap gently against the shore but which are unusually deep, holding secrets that have yet to be discovered. The fact that castles are not at all an uncommon site here only adds to the country’s appeal as a desirable setting for any number of visual productions steeped in fantasy and/or history.

lochlevenmountain
Mountain in Lochleven

lochlomond

lochlomond1
Loch Lubnaig

Our tour guide, Pete, was proficient in enchanting his passengers with historical stories and myths of the area. Some of the stories he told not only provided insight into historical figures but had an almost allegorical feel to them. The Scottish outlaw and folk hero Rob Roy was known for being a fearsome fighter. According to Pete, Rob the Red was put in a position where he had to fight a local 16 year old young man. The fights typically went on either until first blood was drawn or until one of the fighters died. Although Roy could have easily bested his opponent, he didn’t want to hurt or humiliate him. He therefore made a deep cut in his own hand so that the young man would prevail. Unfortunately, as per our tour guide, the cut became infected and Rob Roy died from the infection two weeks later. I guess it’s true in some cases that no good deed goes unpunished.

We stopped for lunch in a cute little village whose name escapes me. Perhaps that is because many of the villages and towns en route to the Isle of Skye looked the same, with their cobblestone streets and quaint shops. What was surprising was the volume of local tourism due to events such as fishing season and Highland games. The remainder of the day was filled with viewing a multitude of lochs, waterfalls, and mountains as well as having many encounters with sheep. The population of sheep in Scotland exceeds the number of people living there! With roughly 6.57 million sheep, it was not at all an uncommon occurrence for our tour guide to have to bring the bus to a stop while sheep cavorted in the road with little care for our timelines or itinerary. We finally arrived at Portree in the Isle of Skye shortly before sunset.

townwherewestoppedforlunch
Village en route to Isle of Skye

waterfallkinlochleven
Waterfall in Lochleven

sheephighlands
Sheep grazing in the Highlands

Portree is a harbor town and the main town in Skye. It’s known to some extent for its colorful houses lining the harbor. According to Pete, the houses were painted this way to confuse the spirits known locally as the “blue men”. Local legend conveys that the blue men were known to start storms and endanger sailors and fishermen. The houses along the Portree harbor were initially painted in a kaleidoscope of vibrant pastel colors in an effort to confuse these water spirits and thus deter their mischievous acts. I can’t attest to how well this effort has worked on a regular basis, but fortunately for us when we arrived the weather was calm and there were no storm clouds in sight. We settled in to our room at a cozy bed and breakfast called the Balloch which had large picture windows from which to view the harbor. I fell asleep to the sound of the waves gently lapping against the shore and the sight of thousands of brilliant silver stars shining in an azure sky.

portree

portreehouses
Houses in Portree, Isle of Skye

portreeharbor
Portree Harbor

portreeviewfromfhotel2
View of Portree from Balloch Bed and Breakfast

mountaininportree

portreeviewfrombnb
Portree, Isle of Skye

I Am Not The Girl

Usually when you ask people who they admire, they will give you a list of various lengths completely or almost completely comprised of individuals over the age of 18. There are many adults that I have admired and/or tried to emulate over the years, but my list also contains a few members of a younger generation who have inspired me and have taught me more than they probably know.

There’s my son, who has taught me the importance of play and humor, who has helped me to appreciate the present moment rather than focus on the past or future, and who has- in more ways than I have room for in this post- helped me to be a better person. There is my younger niece who was recently diagnosed with a very rare and serious condition which is very similar to a condition I have. She is the contradictory embodiment of both a sensitive, old soul and a strong and brave warrior. She reminds me a lot myself at her age in some ways, but that too is a story for another day.

This post is about my older niece, who at the time of this writing is 15 years old and a freshman in high school. She shares my middle name and some of my physical characteristics, but that is where our similarities at that age end. I certainly did not have anywhere near the level of self knowledge and maturity that she exhibits on a regular basis.

You see, my niece recently had her first experience with dating and relationships. Like most high school relationships, this one did not end well. There were many ways in which the relationship soured but there was one particular situation which really stood out for me. The boyfriend in question began telling my niece what he thought girls who were hot would or should do, how he thought she should act, and what he thought she should (or shouldn’t) wear.

When you consider all of the mixed messages society gives young women about who they should be and how they should act combined with the very daunting and real pressure that teenagers face to fit in and “be cool”, it would not at all have surprised me if she had attempted to sacrifice her truth and values to conform herself to his desires or if she had at the very least not said a word. However, that was not what she did. With a confidence and a sense of self that I never dreamed of having when I was 15, my niece calmly and kindly told this young man, “If that’s really what you want, then I am not the girl for you”.

I am not the girl for you.

All I could think about was how much pain and heartbreak I could have saved myself all of those years ago if I had simply had the self worth and courage to say those 7 little words.

My niece has a self assuredness and strength that awes me and that is far beyond her years. When I was 15, I was so desperate to have my self-worth validated through the demonstrated interest of a male peer that I was ready to be an emotional chameleon at a moment’s notice. I was an awkward, insecure kid. My self confidence was so underdeveloped that most of the time when a guy liked me, I liked him back as though I was somehow obligated to be attracted to someone who saw something in me that I did not see in myself. Mind you, I still had a strong inner moral compass and didn’t do anything too crazy but I was willing to transform my interests, choice in clothes or music, and my expressed opinions in order to interest and/or hold on to someone I liked. (Not to mention that I was very cognizant of the fact that having a boyfriend in high school majorly upped what limited cool factor I felt I had).

As embarrassing as it is to admit it, sadly this type of thinking continued when I was into my late teens and early 20’s. There were the boyfriends that I repeatedly spent money on because I thought that would keep them in my life. There were the times I didn’t stand up for myself because I was too afraid of rocking the boat and having the relationship end. While it’s both sad and funny, more than once I feigned an interest in or a liking for something that was so far out of alignment with who I was and what I liked that it was ridiculous.

There was the time I tried to find a leather skirt because my boyfriend thought chicks in leather skirts were cool. (If you saw how I dressed when I was in my late teens/early 20’s, you would understand why this is so amusing). There was the time I met the jock at the bar who was obsessed with exercising and asked me where I worked out. At barely 100 lbs with a body more similar to a 12 year old boy’s, I don’t think I could have found a muscle on my body if my life depended on it. In addition, I had never EVER been on, near, or around any kind of exercise equipment let alone a gym. I therefore mumbled a made up gym name. Fortunately the guy was new in town so he didn’t know any better but needless to say that relationship went nowhere fast…

I never thought to take the time to think about not only whether I was truly the girl for him but also whether or not he was the right guy for me. It wasn’t just in my intimate relationships that I failed to consider my standards, and desires and sell myself short. I also often didn’t take the time to consider whether friendships, jobs, areas of study, or personal paths were mutually beneficial and something that I truly wanted and/or offered opportunities for my success. Eventually of course, I became stronger, more confident, and operated from a greater sense of self to the point that the choices I made in all of these areas began to more closely align with my own values and interests, what I thought I was worth, and how I felt I deserved to be treated. But oh the pain of those years in between.

Had I known then about myself what I know now, things would have been very different. Had I possessed the incredible self assuredness and courage that my niece has exhibited, I think my conversation with many of the men in my life would have gone something like this…

If you are looking for someone who is…
Submissive
Constantly serious
Detail oriented
Satisfied with mediocrity and/or routine
Unwilling to spend time alone
The life of every party
Focused primarily on wealth
Easily able to conform with society’s expectations and demands even if it doesn’t align with what she knows in her gut to be true
A financial wiz
Complacent
Not at all interested in dreams, adventures, taking risks, helping others, and reading every book one could get their hands on
Chomping at the bit to go sky diving or bungee jumping
Dogmatic
Predictable
Beautiful in a cover model/Victoria’s Secret angel kind of way

Then I am not the girl for you.

But if you want someone who is….
Imaginative
Impish
Intelligent
Empathetic
Loving
Spiritual
A believer in possibilities
Adventurous
Committed to personal growth
Loyal
Honest
Tenacious (or stubborn, depending on your viewpoint) beyond reason
Dedicated to helping others succeed
Inquisitive
Funny as hell (or so I’ve been told)
A damn good friend
Not always the first person you notice but typically hard to forget once you notice her

Then step right up.

In some ways, I don’t regret those things which caused me heartbreak due to my own lack of courage and self worth. After all, they taught me necessary lessons and contributed to who I am today. But who wouldn’t want to avoid or at least mitigate the pain and disappointment of failed relationships and ventures while still being able to attain the wisdom necessary for happiness and self actualization?

I worry sometimes about the ways in which our society expresses to girls who they are, what role they should play, and what they must do in order to be valued in this world. While our society has progressed by leaps and bounds over the past several years in regards to how women are viewed and treated in this country, we still receive a hell of a lot of mixed messages which makes it particularly difficult for young women still learning about themselves to navigate relationships and tricky societal waters in general. I worry about the implications our young women face trying to know and be true to themselves in a world that at a minimum doesn’t always value, support, or encourage these efforts.

Yet the very fact that young women like my niece exist gives me such tremendous hope for the future. The 45 year old me is bursting with pride at the wonderful independence, self love, insights, and the beautiful, strong and courageous heart that someone I love so dearly exhibits in the most humble of ways. The 45 year old me is also awed by and admiring of this young woman who demonstrates on a regular basis that she possesses wisdom far beyond her years. And the 15 year old me? She is looking into the future, heart bursting with excitement and satisfaction at finding her passion and talents and the manifestation of exciting opportunities for friends, education, career, and spiritual and personal growth as a result of getting to know herself better, believe in herself and align her actions and choices to the truth of who she is and what she knows she is worth. The 15 year old me is looking into the future, smiling and taking notice, knowing that once she figures out who she is and is brave enough to stay true to that, the man for her will come along and will love her so deeply and so intensely for who she is – the good parts, bad parts, and all. He will revel in her uniqueness, help her see herself more clearly, and encourage her heart to fill to overflowing with love, and her life will never be the same.

Enchanted (A Brief Homage to Catherynne Valente’s “The Orphan Tales”)

Days like this
I wish I could be
With St.Sigrid, sailing the seas
With a crew full of women (pirates they be!)
Led by a “foxy” lady named Tommy
Oh, to be so wild and free!

Days like this, the Leucrotta I’d like to meet
Along with the Marsh King
I’d sit at their feet
Listening to them slightly bicker
As they share stories of the past
And worlds within worlds, brilliant and vast

I’d travel with the wolf monks
To a city of splendor
See the satyr and selkie
With their love so tender

Days like these I wish I was in the garden of night
Moon shining down, our only light
The fragrance of jasmine and roses perfuming the air
Safe and secure in this secret lair
While the mysterious orphan wth eyes marked by ink
Weaves tales so intoxicating, each one a link
To a story within a story…oh what I would give!
To listen to her magic, a willing captive
As doors open to worlds I’ve never before seen
My heart and soul soar as my mind starts to dream

On days like this as I sit at my desk, I am working and listening to what is said
But in my mind I am traveling on an adventure
With my monster sisters aboard The Maidenhead…

The Girl Who Could See

There once was a little girl (for lack of a better word) who was born…different. She was born with shocking white blonde hair which was was a light blue at the tips and eyes that were so light blue they almost looked transparent, as if they were made of glass. She was beautiful, in an otherworldly way. Concerned about her appearance, her parents took her to doctor after doctor yet no one could come up with an explanation that made any sense other than that her unusual hair and eyes must be the result of some freak genetic mutation.

Freakish was a good word to describe how the girl felt. You see, it wasn’t just her appearance that was extraordinary, she also had abilities that she quickly discovered that no one else seemed to have. She was able to to not only feel but also see what was inside a person, what was hidden in their heart. Most people looked at each other when they interacted. The little girl looked at each person’s body as it became a moving canvas betraying what lay inside. Some were straightforward, such as the accountant whose canvas showed numbers, glorious numbers, as he delightedly chased them as though they were bubbles. The girl discovered though that many times appearances lied. There was the big, burly biker whose alter ego ran through fields and lovingly tended a garden. There was the restrained, professional, conservative businesswoman whose canvas was comprised of a rainbow of colors within which she danced, uninhibited. The old, seemingly fragile man who was a sailor at heart and still strong enough and clear enough to navigate the ocean as he loved to do.

There were those, too, whose pictures were illusory. Mired in their own pain, their canvases appeared nearly blank or they showed dark creatures with mouths gaping and terrifying terrains in deep reds and smoky grays. There was often a strange kind of beauty in their darkness and she wanted to help these lost souls, but her attempts were never quite successful and often left her feeling like she was drowning in their inner storms. In addition, she could never truly articulate to them that what they thought existed within them was a lie, that they were so much more. At best, they never listened, and at worst, they drew away from her in disgust or fear. She learned to feel these souls before she ever saw them, characterized as they were by feelings of being pierced by jagged glass or a sense that she was being suffocated.

The canvases she most enjoyed seeing and feeling were those of children. While not yet fully formed, their pictures were so vibrant and straightforward (as most had not learned the necessity of guarding their hearts and thoughts) and typically full of a natural attraction to and belief in possibilities and an unbridled joy. As time wore on, the girl slowly began to observe that while she could see everyone else, no one else could truly see her. This realization caused her to feel melancholy and as though there were a void within her. She knew that people such as her parents loved her, but they couldn’t really SEE her and if they couldn’t see who she really was how could she be sure that their love would endure? This fear that she would never truly be loved began to rapidly blossom inside of her.

As she progressed through her adolescence, the loneliness that had taken root became pervasive and grew like a weed. While she would sometimes linger near people who unknowingly presented beautiful canvases and emanated energy that was peaceful or warm, for the most part she was socially isolated. The novelty of her gift began to wear off until she encountered a most unexpected mystery. She was sitting at table in Starbucks, studying for her high school history exam when she noticed a boy walking towards her. He was attractive in all of the ways that she wasn’t. Whereas her appearance evoked the splendor of ice sculptures and the distant, still beauty of snow, he was all warmth. With his wavy ebony hair, luminescent dark eyes, olive skin and captivating smile, he could have been the sun. She wanted to bask in his energy but she also felt repelled and confused and she wasn’t sure why. As he got closer, she searched for the living art that was his and for the first time she saw…question marks. Nothing but tons and tons of question marks. Some were moving rapidly, frenetically, while others slowly sailed along.

Her stomach clenched in knots and for some unspeakable reason she was terrified. Part of her wanted to be near him, talk to him, drink him in while another part of her told her in no uncertain terms to RUN. Just as he reached her table and began to speak, she gave in to the latter part of herself and jumped up, grabbed her books, and fled. She allowed herself one glimpse back and she was stunned to find that he was simply watching her, smiling.

One morning as she awoke from a dream, she remembered. She remembered why she was here. She remembered why she was different. It was a knowing she couldn’t explain but she knew without a doubt that she had been sent here to find her “other” – the one who was her exact match. Someone with gifts like hers; someone with the key to her heart. Although she didn’t completely understand it, she sensed that finding her exact match would somehow set in motion a positive change for humanity in her little corner of the world. Time was of the essence, and if she didn’t find her match she would be sent back to where she came from, wherever that was. Just as certainly as she knew what her mission was, she also knew that she was running out of time.

Her quest took on a sense of urgency. Not just because she now realized she had a mission to complete but also because she didn’t want to leave this place without ever knowing what it was like to be loved by someone who saw her clearly and understood her. She began putting herself out there, trying to meet new people as often as possible. Given her tendency towards introversion, this was not especially easy or comfortable. Yet her driving need to find her match overrode all of her natural instincts and she pursued her goal with a tenaciousness that she didn’t know she possessed.

Oddly enough, as she began her search she suddenly began seeing the boy with the question marks everywhere. On the street, in the same store, in line at the restaurants she frequented-she did her best to make sure that he didn’t see her. When he did see her, he turned on that charming smile and gave her a little wave. Her heart always did a little flip whenever she saw him and she felt herself drawn to him almost magnetically. She wanted so badly to talk to him, to find out more, and to solve the mystery of the question marks but she wouldn’t allow herself to consider that for even a second. She had seen what was inside of him and she had not seen a key. She continued frantically searching for someone whose inner canvas held a key that she knew to be a match.

Despite her almost heroic efforts, the day came when the girl was forced to face her worst fears. She was walking in the forest, taking a shortcut, when twilight fell. The darkness creeped in at an unnaturally rapid pace and every path she took as an escape route only led her deeper and deeper into the forest. She stopped, bent over and out of breath from trying to run, and noticed that even though it had been a warm day, the air had suddenly taken on a chill and she could see her breath rising up as if it was smoke from the mouth of a dragon. She felt a hand on her shoulder and she knew her time was up.

Burdened by the loss of her failure and even more so the deep sadness that she would never be seen by another like her and therefore would never experience unconditional love, she shrugged her shoulders and slowly turned to face her sentencer. As she came full circle and began to lift her head and her eyes so that she could see that which terrified her, she was stunned. This was not some grim reaper looking creature in dark robes. This was not someone who wore their authority as a mantle. Rather, she found herself looking into the eyes of the question mark boy.

Before she could fully process this information, she sensed an energy of barrier separating the two of them and saw his question marks start to frantically move around. She could tell by the look in his eyes that he was seeing the very same question marks swirling around her body as well. She was both overjoyed to be seen and surprised that her inner canvas was the same as his. She didn’t have much time to revel in this feeling though as suddenly two question marks, one from each side, stilled, positioned themselves horizontally so that they were facing each other, and began to move with arrow-like precision to the barrier between them. In synchronicity, each question mark fitted themselves into an invisible lock and turned at the same time.

The impact hit them both like a sonic boom, as infinite vibrant colors broke free from them. Sounds like a siren’s call with their otherworldly tones and melodies filled the air around them both. Roses of all colors bloomed at their feet and a rush of loving energy filled their bodies as the two question marks twisted and turned, changing form to become an entwined heart. In awe, the girl and the boy noticed that suddenly colors were brighter, sounds were clearer, and they felt a sense of peace and joy that they had never experienced. The boy smiled at the girl and an ecstatic giggle escaped from her mouth as he enfolded her hand in his.

The wave of energy reverberated throughout their corner of the world. People everywhere stopped what they were doing, stunned. Little by little, they began to see with their heart rather than their eyes. They began to listen to the wisdom present in the stillness. They began to awaken as if from a dream and remember who they were. They looked down and were surprised to see that they could see their own canvas. Vividly painted pictures danced along the surfaces of their bodies and reminded them of what they had forgotten, freeing what had been hidden within. Even those who had been lost and in pain looked at themselves to find colors bleeding together to create images of hopes and dreams that had long ago been abandoned. Slowly but surely they began to also see pieces of the pictures that comprised the canvases of others and they started to feel a compassion and affinity for those around them-even those they’d never met. Despite their confusion, a feeling of warmth rushed in which overrode any lingering doubts or worries. The walls that they had spent eternities building were suddenly starting to slowly come down. Instead of seeming like a never-ending list of “have tos” and “shoulds”, life began to feel like a gift offering volumes of unspoken promise and delight if they could only find the courage to let go of their doubts and bring their canvases to life.

The girl and the boy could see all of this happening in their mind’s eye. They were astonished. Recognition bloomed within them and suddenly all of the pieces of the puzzle came together. They had been sent here to model and exemplify unconditional love and acceptance, to show others another way. The girl and the boy knew that their quest would not be easy and that they would be tested repeatedly. They knew that helping others in this world to overcome years of conditioning would take far longer than they likely had in this lifetime. But they also knew that a seed had been planted. A spark had been kindled in people’s hearts, reminding them of the pure, unadulterated joy and freedom in letting love rather than fear be their guide. This in an of itself was a gift, and the knowledge of what could be would sustain them.

The boy and the girl looked deeply into each other’s eyes for a moment and then, grinning, they turned to make their way out of the forest and into the world that needed them.

Is It…Alive? (A Miraculous True Story About the Power of Perseverance and the Belief in Possibilities and What It Means For All of Us)

Earlier this week, I spoke at a GED graduation celebration. In addition to congratulating graduates, I always like to share some story or quote that will honor all that they’ve been through to accomplish their goals. You might not realize it, but the 4 tests required to pass the GED are very difficult. Preparing for them academically is daunting enough, but imagine trying to find the time and/or confidence to do so when you are working multiple jobs, being a parent, dealing with family or medical issues, dealing with homelessness and/or living with the perception that because you did not get a diploma you are not smart.

The story I told speaks to the qualities of resilience, courage, vision, and perseverance these students exhibited in pursuing and achieving their goal of getting their GED. As I spoke to these students, I realized that that what I was sharing really applied to all of us in some, way, shape or form. The story is a true one, and was included in Paul Harvey’s book “The Rest of the Story”.

Several years ago in a small town just outside of Tokyo, a group of men was working on a farm. They were digging into the muddy land, presumably to build or rebuild some type of property. One of the workers dug roughly 18 feet below the ground when he suddenly spotted something buried there and realized that despite having been there for thousands of years it might still be…alive.

He called out to his fellow workers and after some discussion they decided to call in a team of archaeologists. The archaeologists arrived and one of them climbed into the hole to see what the workers had uncovered. Now, this archaeologist had been on many digs and had uncovered various prehistoric specimens including fossilized remains of reptiles and other creatures that had once roamed the Earth but yet what the workers described was something that the archaeologist had never before seen. The archaeologist saw that there was a fossilized canoe in the hole. However, that was not what caused him to jump back in shock. It was what was in the canoe that had stunned him.

The archaeologists believed that the only way to deal with this was to call one of the country’s top scientists, Dr. Ohga. Dr. Ohga arrived and he, too, descended into the ground. The archaeologists and workers heard his sharp intake of breath when he found the specimen. In a shaky, disbelieving voice, he said, “Is it dormant? Can it truly be…alive?”

Dr. Ohga believed in possibilities, so he and his team rushed what they had found to his lab where he created a climate controlled environment which incorporated all of the things he felt the specimen needed if it was going to have any chance of survival. Dr. Ohga and his team watched the specimen in the lab day and night. They had cameras watching the specimen day and night. Finally, after four days, there was perceptible movement from the thing that they had found.

This thing was an ungerminated seed, one that should have been dormant and lifeless. Given that this uncultivated seed had been buried under the Earth for 2,000 years and had not been given the resources that it typically needs to grow, this seed should not have lived. It should not have awoken. And yet, after 4 days, the seed sprouted. After 14 months, the seed blossomed into a beautiful, delicate, pink lotus flower.

You might be wondering how this story could possibly connect to the GED graduates I was speaking to, and how it might possibly connect to all of us in some way. I believe that we all carry seeds around in our heart. These are seeds of dreams that we once had, goals we wanted to accomplish, and/or visions of what could be. Yet, for many of us these seeds get “buried” under the day to day demands of life. Whether it is due to lack of time, lack of courage, or lack of belief, these seeds lie dormant within us. Occasionally, we might take them out, dust them off, and look at them with bittersweet emotions but even then we tend to bury them right back where they were…sometimes we even bury them deeper.

Every single graduate that I spoke to had a seed in the form of their desire to get their GED. Instead of letting that seed remain buried, they believed in its possibility. Through that belief and a great deal of resilience, courage, commitment and vision, they made that seed bear fruit. Like Dr. Ohga, every person that came to that graduation to support a graduate worked with the graduate to create an environment where possibilities became realities and where that seed could grow and thrive.

Everything, every single thing that takes root – be it a tangible thing, an accomplishment, or an idea- starts out as a tiny seed. Like many people I know, I am bewildered, angry, and extremely saddened by recent world events. I keep pondering what I can do to make a change and yet it is seductively easy to be overwhelmed by the scope of and scale at which change needs to occur. This makes it daunting to even begin.

But I can plant a seed. In fact, I can plant several seeds. I can also create an environment in which these seeds grow.

As I will be soon embarking on a trip to Scotland, I recently began researching my heritage. In looking up the crest badge (similar to a coat of arms) on my maternal grandfather’s side, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the motto on our badge, “Amo”, translates to “I love”. Why this touched me so deeply, I cannot say for sure. Perhaps it is because I believe love is the most powerful force in the universe. Perhaps it is because it is inherent part of who we all are deep down in our soul. Or, perhaps it is because I have come to realize that this is the gift I want to share with the world…to awaken others through unconditional love. Ghandi once said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Love prevailing over fear and hate on a regular basis is what I wish to see.

So, these are the seeds that I will plant. I will plant seeds of love both with others and within myself. I will create an environment where these seeds can flourish as can the seeds of others with like minded visions and goals. I will believe in the possibility of my dreams and visions of what could be and will act accordingly. It may seem like a small thing, and I suppose it is. Yet, it is often the small things that we do that have an unseen butterfly effect which resonates and results in major transformations. Even if I never see the impact of my actions expand beyond my little corner of the world, I can find peace in knowing that I have, at least, tended my garden well. The fact that a 2,000 year old seed deprived of light, nutrients, and an opportunity to thrive could survive and ultimately grow into something beautiful is a miracle. The fact that someone believed in the possibility of this seed flourishing is a miracle. I believe that if even one seed which I plant takes root and manifests, that is a miracle as well.

What dreams or visions of what could be do you have? What seeds lie dormant in your heart and soul? What will you do to tend your garden? What will you do to provide fertile soil for others’ seeds? What beautiful flowers will you and those around you manifest?

A woman by the name of Mary Cantwell once said, “Gardeners, I think, dream bigger than emperors”.

This world could use an abundance of gardeners right now….