Just Because You Can’t See it, Doesn’t Mean It’s Not There

Whenever I see the photo of the New York City skyline with the two lights stretching upwards to represent the twin towers I am filled with a mix of emotions. It ignites pride in me to see that after thirteen years this city and this country still see the significance of 9/11 and illuminate the skies as a tribute to those who were lost and their loving family members who have felt this void in their own skylines since that tragic day. That photo also makes me question, “Without those two lights, would we still know what’s there?” Undoubtedly the answer is yes.

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Of course one reason is that many of us have the NYC skyline engrained in our memories with those two twin towers standing tall against the horizon. So since we are so used to that image, our brains automatically build them back in that space where there is now a void.

But furthermore I think that even if we didn’t have these imprinted memories of what used to be, and even if NYC decided against shining those two bright lights into the sky, we would still know what’s there.

As human beings we have often difficulty believing in things that we cannot see with our eyes. To us, this is often what makes things real. But what about things like love and compassion? Can you see those things? No. You can’t pick up a piece of compassion off the floor and hand it over to a friend. You can’t grab a slice of love. But does this mean those two things don’t exist in our world? I know this is not true.

abraham lincoln believe in unseen

A classmate and I recently went on a trip to Japan and worked in a few children’s hospitals. While there we had the opportunity to observe the true power of compassion. And on this significant day I want to share a story from Japan with you to show you that just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

We were brought to the floor where the most severely handicapped children lived and visited the room of a little girl who was two years old and had been hospitalized her entire life. She had very limited mobility, the most of which was being able to move her right eye from side to side and one of her thumbs. Sadly in the past people may have written her off as not needing interventions from people like hospital play specialists because of the possibility of not being able to see if their work was doing anything significant to help the child (ie. “You’re wasting your time in there. How is reading a book to her going to help anyway? It’s not like she can understand you. We’ve never even seen her smile.”) We know this not to be true and that human touch and connection is necessary for the well-being of all children, regardless of their ability to communicate or show emotion. But of course, it’s still nice to know that what you’re doing helps.

The HPSs (hospital play specialists) told us that we may not be able to go in and see her because they had been informed by the medical staff that she wasn’t doing very well that day and her heart rate was very high. We ended up being able to enter and observed the HPS in wonder as just the mere sound of her voice made the girl’s heart rate drop immediately. As time went on and we stood in that room, watching the specialist as she read a book about fireworks to her and seeing the kindness in her eyes as she sang her songs, we saw the girl’s heart rate drop from 170 bpm to below 100 bpm in less than ten minutes. I got shivers.

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The words in the book were not what helped lower her heart rate, it was Izumi’s presence that did this. She poured her true self into this little one’s heart and that compassion helped her heal. We did not physically see the compassion travelling through the room, but we felt it, and we knew without a doubt that it was there. To be able to witness the power of compassion was an experience that I will never forget. It left us with tears in our eyes knowing that our work has meaning, it has worth, and most importantly, it transforms the suffering of children.

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Just because we couldn’t see that girl smile, doesn’t mean her smile wasn’t there.

So I will leave you with this: If tomorrow NYC went through a power outage and those 88 bulbs were unable to shine in place of the twin towers, would their light still ignite the sky?

9/11. Never Forget: To Leave a Light On.

The Starry Night

When we hear the name Vincent van Gogh our minds often race to thoughts we’ve heard buzzing around us throughout the years like “the tortured artist who painted The Starry Night” or “that crazy guy who cut off his ear.” Most of us don’t know anything about his life except for these small little facts—most of which aren’t even factual. Descriptions like “tortured” and “crazy” are opinions of others, not embodiments of the true van Gogh. Yes, he did paint The Starry Night so that’s one truth, but did he actually cut off his own ear? Historians have discovered that this “fact,” this piece of information that has defined van Gogh to us for so long, is much more complex than the story we’ve all come to know.

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In fact, it is now believed that van Gogh’s ear was severed by a friend, Ganguin, who he had gotten into a heated argument with when he found out he was leaving him for good. To read more about this hidden story follow the link below:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=7506786

The point of bringing all of this up was because I recently saw a video that captured the essence of what The Starry Night means to me and how I interpret what van Gogh was thinking and feeling when he created it. But, I needed to know more about him before coming to any true reading of the piece. Through discovering that a single story has been told about him throughout history, one that came to define him but was not how he defined himself, I realized even more the depth of meaning in those swirly skies he once painted. Watch the video below and remain in touch with your reactions throughout to see if you feel the same way I do:

The section of the film from 0:54-1:04 was the first section that made the connection in my mind to The Starry Night. Throughout that short period of time you see the night pass by and can see a plant travel across the bottom of the screen, much like the cypress bush featured in the forefront of van Gogh’s painting. The cypress bush, a typically unobtrusive funeral plant, is at the forefront of The Starry Night, a black smudge in an otherwise wondrous painting.

Starry Night

To me, this represents the idea that things like grief and desolation can sometimes block our view at certain times in our lives and keep us from seeing the larger picture. The important thing to realize is that we all have these obstructive bushes in our lives. Trouble only arises when we feel like we are the only ones who do. That’s probably how van Gogh felt, which may be a reason for why his life ended in his own suicide.

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Van gogh was a post-impressionist, someone who believed that art is not meant to imitate form, but to create it. But, his society didn’t allow him to create his own form and so he was alienated by the art world and believe it or not, was only able to sell one painting in his lifetime. He painted The Starry Night while in a mental hospital and you can see his entire life painted on that canvas. The beautiful, mesmerizing, starry night sky is what your eyes are drawn to first. Its brilliance is evident but the lights in all the little houses below are out, showing that this part of van Gogh is not seen by those around him: there is too much ignorance, too much denial of truth. Those townspeople in their own little world, unaware of the brilliance surrounding them, remind me of a quote by Albert Einstein which goes:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

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Do a test with yourself. When you focus on the cypress bush in the painting, it becomes all you see and its sinister shape consumes your thoughts. But when you look at the beautiful stars depicted, you see so much more and the bush fades into the background. The same goes for life. When we focus on just ourselves, our problems seem bigger. But, when we focus on others, our lens expands and those worries don’t seem so big anymore.

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Post-impressionism in itself is a way of escaping from the prison of confinement the impressionist movement created for artists. It was a way of saying, there is not only one way of doing things, not just one viewpoint from which to portray the world around us. Van Gogh sought to teach this to those around him but unfortunately never achieved this feat in his numbered days. But, The Starry Night will always live on and the swirling vortex he created to represent those stars coming together creates little infinities within the painted universe. These infinities show us that we all must work each day to widen our circle of compassion and realize that each star has a story and each story makes a difference in the brilliance of the night sky.

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In my eyes the entire concept of infinity is a way to define the unknown-to define that which really needs to be left up to faith. How can you use math to place restrictions on something so broad and unfathomable? You can’t. But I’m happy for infinity because it’s the only way to begin to describe the feeling you get when you look up at the stars.

Like this: “Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns it calls me on and on across the universe.” –John Lennon

And this: “Love many things for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” -Van Gogh

Love is the only infinity that really matters in the end. As long as there’s love, there’s life. And once life ends, love continues.

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This post has been written in tribute to Reat Underwood and his family members. You can read about Reat’s story in my last post, “The Song Heard Round the World.” Please help me support Reat and his family by donating to the fund that has been set up in his honor. Reat’s mother said that their intent for Reat’s fund is broad at this point and they would like to touch areas that Reat loved (theatre, singing, debate, Scouts, eduation.) But, they would also like to make a difference in changing minds to choose love and not hate. This family defines infinite love. Let their story widen your circle of compassion:

https://gkccfonlinedonations.org/give/unde01.asp

The Song Heard ‘Round the World

Just as knowledge is power, music is nourishment. It feeds our soul in a way that the spoken word cannot always satisfy. It transgresses cultural barriers and is a force that makes us feel unified and connected to one another. As with kindness, love, and spirituality, music is a universal bridge and something that we can all relate to and can all strive to have more of in our lives. There have been days while volunteering in the hospital where I am at my wit’s end in a room with an inconsolable child and the second I start singing they stop. (Mind you, I have a terrible voice and I’m truly not even trying to be humble. Yes, I had a solo in my fifth grade play but that was only because everyone had a solo.) Music has the power to heal.

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But, God, how much do I wish I could have the chance to invite Reat Underwood into the hospital to share his magical voice with the children? How much do I wish I could see their mesmerized stares as he belts out songs and shares kind, encouraging words to help them through their struggles? I never even had the opportunity to meet Reat and I know for a fact that if I had been able to ask him that favor, he would have done it. But, maybe this wish of mine can still be fulfilled.

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For those of you who don’t know, fourteen-year-old Reat Griffin Underwood (Losen), and his grandfather Dr. William Lewis Corporon were shot and killed in the parking lot of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City on the 13th of this month. Reat was being taken to a singing audition for KC Superstar (an American Idol type competition) at the center by his grandfather when a gunman, a former affiliate of the Ku Klux Klan, ambushed them in the parking lot, attempting to carry out a hate crime during Passover. Ironically, Reat and his grandfather were not Jewish, but Methodist, yet hatred like that knows no logic.

Their family members have presented themselves with strength and dignity in every single interview and memorial over the past week and a half despite the horrifying circumstances. In fact, matters became worse when Westboro Baptists decided to protest the victims’ funerals, believing that, “God is not mocked. He sends curses to this nation such as the shooter at the Overland Park JCC to remind this nation that she has sinned away her day of grace.”

A hero-Christoper Reeve

Instead of choosing to react to this with anger, which would have been justified and understandable, friends and community members decided to join together to create a force so strong that no level of hatred could surpass it: love. An “angel wall” formed by over 2,000 people was created to surround the funeral service and block out any protesters from the family members’ sights. More than this, it stood as a symbol that from this tragedy, something good was beginning to happen, which was evident in the signs that people held saying, “Love Wins.” The only way to flood out the darkness of hatred is with the light of love.

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At the funeral the priest spoke to the audience about how unkind words and jokes and the nonchalant use of racial slurs are prevalent in our own communities everyday, and sometimes without knowing it we may be the ones hurting other people. He went on to say, “There’s about 3,000 people sitting in this room right now. What if these people walked away from Reat and William’s service and said I’m committed not to say those things about other people again. I’m committed to standing up for people when they’re being teased or abused or made fun of. How the world would change if 3,000 people said that’s who I want to be.”

(If you would like to watch this portion of the funeral, follow the link below and go to section 5 along the bottom. However, this was truly an inspirational service and I urge you to watch the entire thing.)

http://www.kshb.com/news/region-kansas/overland-park/full-video-reat-underwood-william-corporon-laid-to-rest

The priest also spoke about how the line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being and we all have to choose what our defining story is and which side we will choose to carry out our lives in. This is really what all1story is about. If we are conscious of how much our actions, even the smallest, both good and bad, can affect those around us and in turn affect those who those people come in contact with, we know that treating one another with kindness and respect is the only way to sustain the goodness in the world. We are defined by our actions and our reactions. There are many things we cannot control in life such as incomprehensible acts of violence and hatred like the one that took both Reat and William’s lives. But, we can control how we react to these things. The family and friends of these two victims did not choose to combat sword with sword. Instead, they created a shield of love and this light and their example will continue to block out evil from our world as long as we are all willing to do our part in expanding the armor’s reach and building on its strength.

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We know that even before this tragedy, Reat and his family members had defining stories of love. How do I know this? One way is to look to something we are all very much tuned into today: social media. The bio line underneath Mindy Corporon’s account (Reat’s mother) is “Boy mom. Passionate about helping others.” And Reat’s? “Live life to the fullest and never give up!”

I began this post by speaking about the power of music because Reat was a singer and performer and loved to share this gift with other people. When I was writing this post, a song came on the radio that I’d never heard before. The lyrics speak to the type of person Reat and his grandfather were, as well as the amazing family members they have left behind. After listening, I decided to look the song up online and found out that Alternate Routes is a Connecticut-based band who wrote this song in support of Newtown Kindness. This is an organization that was started by the parents of a Sandy Hook victim in order “to promote kindness as a guiding principal of humanity.” Talk about music speaking to you. I was shocked and happy at the same time that the song that tapped on my shoulder and told me “I’m the one!” when I was trying to work through this tragedy, was one that was written specifically for the same exact purpose following another tragedy that has hit so close to home.

Nothing More Reat Collage

As we are all trying to figure out our defining story, let this be our defining song to guide us along the way.

And here is Reat’s defining song:

Now Reat has his wings and he can fly. He went from an unsung hero to a boy whose song was heard around the world, and in our hearts he is the true KC Superstar.

God Bless you, Mindy, and the rest of your family during this incredibly difficult time. Your strength and the spirits of your son and father will live in us forever as a reminder that love is the answer.

Start the Evolution

Aimee Mullins is an American actress, athlete and fashion model. She became famous for her athletic achievements in softball. Her TED talks are among the most-viewed of all time. These are the things that define Aimee. When we hear this name the first thing we think is empowered, not disabled. 

Aimee was born with fibular hemimelia and had both her legs amputated when she was one year old. 

During this TED talk Aimee allows the audience to peek at the 1982 version of the word “disabled” that she stumbled upon in an old Thesaurus and the words are frightening to take in: “helpless….useless….impotent….mangled….”

Immediately she went to look up the 2009 version, expecting to find a revision worth noting. But sadly, not much had changed. The last two words under “near antonyms” were particularly unsettling: whole and wholesome. 

In a world that has progressed so much, especially in terms of technologies that allow people to move beyond the limits that nature has imposed on them (such as Aimee’s prosthetic legs), it is sad to think that these words still exist to define them. 

As Aimee believes it, and as I do too, the only true disability is a crushed spirit. Our language affects our thinking and how we view other people. Let’s evolve with technology and use social media as a way to change our way of viewing the world. 

“Many ancient societies believed that to utter a curse verbally was so powerful because to say the thing out loud was to bring it into existence. What reality do we want to call into existence? A person who is limited or a person who is empowered?”

START THE EVOLUTION. Prosthetic legs, cochlear implants, all of these innovations in technology have shown us that those limits once thought insurmountable were just deemed so because of language. “Limit” is just a word. A word like “disability.” These words are powerless until we use them to reshape someone’s view of themselves. 

“If instead we can bolster human spirit to keep hope, to see beauty in themselves and others, to be curious and imaginative, then we are truly using our power well. When a spirit has those qualities we are able to create new realities and new ways of being. “

Use the power of technology to pass along this message. It deserves to be heard.

http://www.ted.com/talks/aimee_mullins_the_opportunity_of_adversity?awesm=on.ted.com_qiyL&utm_medium=on.ted.com-facebook-share&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_content=awesm-publisher&utm_campaign

The Purest Form of Love

“Handle with care.” That’s the label society tells you to place on anything pertaining to love. And it’s true; sometimes love is fragile. Fragile like glass. There is no question that there is great beauty in glass. Glass, like love, often gives you the ability to see your own reflection. Sometimes you like what you see and sometimes you don’t. That’s how you can tell when it’s true love. When you see anyone other than your purest self in that reflection, it’s time to move on.
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Speaking of pure forms, most of you Romcom fans can probably recall from the film Sweet Home Alabama that when lightning strikes sand it fuses into glass. So, in a way, sand is one of the purest forms of glass. But, what’s the purest form of love? Watch the video below to find out:

Bill and Shel have a love that’s like sand. They’re just like us, except that they’re not. Their love is as pure as it gets. It does not worry about appearances. It does not collapse under life’s pressures. It seeks no approval and fears no judgment. It is not rigid. It flows freely and moves with the wind. It is not transparent; it is out for everyone to see. It is simple and plays no games. It gives us joy to see and experience. It relaxes us and helps us realize what’s really important in life.

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Their love is the sand by which our love is made. So whenever your love is cracking under life’s pressures, think of Bill and Shel and bring yourself back to that place before the lightning strikes: the place of pure love. As Bill said, “Our marriage is the same to us because of undying love. So if you’re in love, go for it, whether you’re disabled or not.”

Snow Day

As I sit here listening to the symphony that is New York City on a snow day: beeping horns, slammed-on brakes, frustrated voices, I am ever so aware that I am not living in a small town anymore where snowfall beckons tranquil words like “tiptoe” and “flutter.” No, no, I will not be able to hear the tiptoes of my fellow people, nor even their stomps, but I can hear their raging horns, those unremitting reminders that I live in a city where patience is about as hard to come by as a cab on New Year’s Eve. And yet, although the disparities between city life and life in suburbia are evident, it is not these variances that my mind seems to be narrowing in upon at the moment.

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Earlier today I sat in my bed hoping to get the news that my first two classes of second semester graduate school would be cancelled. I’ve been flu-stricken and bed-confined since Friday and the thought of trudging through the battlefield that is Manhattan in a snowstorm to get to class was too much for me to handle. Not to mention my brave hero Seamless had been slower than usual today at heaving my ten gallons of soup and orange juice up the four flights of stairs to my apartment, so I was not fully fueled and ready to face the challenges ahead. You would think this waiting would have reminded me of all those nights I’d stayed up waiting as a child watching the TV screen scroll through the surrounding townships to see if I could find my school’s name on the cancellation list. The thought of a snow day excites every child I have ever known…even the nerds like me who would cry when they had to stay home sick because they didn’t want to miss what was going on in the classroom. Yea, I was that kid.

But, no, this wait was different. Because as I listened to the loud noises outside, I thought not of the soft patter of snowflakes on a cold night in my hometown in Connecticut, but rather of the gunshots and bombs heard outside a home in a small town in Pakistan. I thought of Malala.

It’s strange to think about this. Two people waiting at different times in two completely different worlds for an answer to the same exact question: Will I go to school today? Except, the difference here is, my question went a little more like “Will I have to go to school today” and Malala’s was “Will I be allowed to go to school today?”

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At about one o’clock today I got the news that my school would be closing and I wouldn’t have to make my way through the blizzard to my classes. Five years ago, Malala Yousafzai sat in her home and heard the Taliban deliver the threats over her radio that girls were no longer allowed to go to school. 50,000 girls would lose their education because of this broadcast.

Now my worries don’t seem so large because outside my window I am hearing horns, not gunshots. And if I was going to have to walk to school today I would have been concerned about slipping on ice, not having acid thrown in my face. I wanted my classes to be cancelled despite knowing that regardless of the fact that I may have the flu and live in a noisy city, I would still be safe walking to class. Malala did not want her classes to be cancelled despite knowing that she was not safe walking there and that she could have been targeted at any moment, just like the corpses strewn across her village, left out there by the Taliban as an “example” for her people.

MALALA-i am afraid of no one

From this moment on I will never take my education for granted. Not that I have in the past. And not that I think it’s wrong to get excited over snow days. We live in a different world. Our worries are different here. But, after watching the documentary below and hearing Malala say at the age of eleven, “In the world the girls are going to school freely and there is no fear. But in Swat when we go to our school we are very afraid of Taliban. He will kill us. He will throw acid on our face. He can do anything,” I really appreciate what I have so much more. I am a woman and I am able to go to school freely, and not only that, but I am able to pursue the career that I want through higher education. This is how it should be for everyone.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/10/world/asia/teen-school-activist-malala-yousafzai-survives-hit-by-pakistani-taliban.html?pagewanted=all

When I say everyone it reminds me of a post I wrote almost a year ago today, on MLK day, where I said this:

“It isn’t until we all believe that the change that we want to see in this country and this world, and which we demand from all of our presidents is not the responsibility of one person, but EVERYONE. This is what I see when I look at that word: Every person becomes one. Every individual affects the oneness of our nation and our world. Think of a synonym for every: “each.” Take away the “one” from eachone and you get “each.” Take away the “each” from eachone and you get “one.” Each=one. They are equal. “Each” does not mean two or more. It means one. It means ONE person can make a difference. Now that we have a better grasp on the equivalence of “every” and “one,” let’s go back to the actual word, “everyone.” Replace “one” with “I am.” We use this phrase in order to convey our individuality and inform others of our relation to the world as a whole. I am Kelly. I am female. I am here. Saying “I am” means we are going to reveal something about ourselves. Now, reverse “I am” and put it back into the word. Everyami. Reverse the whole word. I may rêve. Rêve is the French word for dream. I may dream.”

Malala-Dream

At just eleven years of age, Malala Yousafzai had a dream. She had a dream to become a doctor. This dream has since changed due to the violence inflicted upon her home in Swat Valley, Pakistan. She has become a symbol of peace and hope for her people. She spoke up for the right of girl’s education in Swat Valley when even adults in her community were too fearful to raise their voices. And this bravery almost cost Malala her life as relayed by her in a speech to the UN below:

“Dear friends, on the ninth of October two-thousand and twelve, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullet would silence us. But they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions. But nothing changed in my life—except this: Weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born.”

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Malala has a dream: “let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.” And a means to achieve it: “let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.” So as I spoke of before, I may dream, because I am part of the “everyone” and so is Malala. Our worlds may be different and I am deeply saddened by that, but that doesn’t mean our thoughts have to be. Education is power. The more we learn about the world around us, the more likely we are to achieve our highest ambitions. As we hear stories like Malala’s, our minds become aware that our dreams are not the only ones that matter. And it isn’t until we start helping others work towards their dreams, that ours will start to make sense.

I don’t know about you, but those horns are sounding pretty melodious to me right now. And I’m going to stomp happily to school on Thursday, so that my stomps can be heard. Because I am proud to be a female studying hard every day to achieve her dreams. And that’s a privilege that not everyone in this world is given.

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So, dream on, dreamers. We’ve got a whole world to change.