Dream On, Dreamer

The theme of today’s inauguration was “Faith in America’s Future.” Whether or not you support our president and his opinions, you can support our nation. After all, you still live here, you still reap its benefits of freedom and equality, and so you, as a citizen of the United States, take what you want from our country and therefore can take what you want from today’s inaugural speeches. But the most important thing to remember is that life is not about taking, but giving. So give back what you get out of these speeches. Maybe it’s just one line, maybe it’s a feeling or an opinion, but whatever it is, use it. We are fortunate enough to live in a country where we can have a voice. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and it is our jobs as citizens of this country to let our voices be heard and to help people of other nations, who may not be as lucky, find and free their own voices.

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We can certainly see the obvious significance of holding our first African-American president’s second inauguration on a day that has been set aside to honor a man who is arguably one of the most famous African-American leaders of all time, Martin Luther King Jr. But to me what is more important to observe is the idea that Martin Luther King Jr. had a story that affected the lives of so many others and this will be evident for years to come. As I said in my first post for this blog, “Your story is theirs. Theirs is yours. We are constant page-turners in each other’s lives.” I wanted to take the time to intertwine quotes from today’s inauguration with words from Martin Luther King Jr. to notice how much of a page-turner he continues to be and how we can have hope for America’s future if we continue to incorporate his dreams and virtues into our lives for generations to come. It truly is all one story and Martin Luther relayed this when he said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t great because he had all the ideas he preached about  in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech before anyone else. He was great because he used that pedestal to let his dreams be heard. He was just one man, but his voice will forever echo in the hearts of Americans as well as anyone else striving to work towards creating a better future. He had faith in his ability to make a difference even though he was just one person. But, he also said this: “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” The reality of the matter was that even though he had a dream that he voiced beautifully to the world and even though this dream of his did ignite change in America, the fire would have just as easily died out if he didn’t have other people, other page-turners, willing to gather around him and add more fuel to the fire to keep it burning strong. We are all woven into a “single garment of destiny” and individual threads have the ability to stand out, let’s say by creating a zig-zag pattern, but all the other threads must do their part in order for this new, bold pattern to hold its shape and continue to create new possibilities for the future look and feel of the garment.

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Nothing comes easy and change takes time. Besides acknowledging that he could not change this country on his own, Martin Luther King Jr. also knew that after making his speech, America would not simply become an entirely new nation overnight. President Barack Obama highlighted this idea today when he said, “We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and 40 years, and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.” We are so quick to demand immediate results in all aspects of life. I don’t want that car in two years, I want it now. I don’t want to see that band in concert over the summer, I want to fly two hours so I can see them next weekend. I think our president should be able to make sure we have a thriving economy in a matter of four years. What we must learn is that it is going to be a constant struggle. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. He didn’t expect there to be no more racism in the country after his work was done. Change is an ongoing process, not an end result. The most important thing to do to promote change is to seize opportunities as they come to us and to be continually moving forward and taking strides towards making our nation and this world a better place. It is not up to one person to make these changes for our country and for the world. It is up to all of us.

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In a country with two political parties who hold lots of opposing views, there is always a constant struggle for control. But, when it comes down to it, there is only one person in this world who you can control and that is yourself. What we don’t realize is that this is also the most important thing to have control over in life. Although you sometimes may not feel this way, you do affect everyone around you and the little actions you make every day indirectly touch the pages of others. This control is the only one which enables us to persevere through difficult circumstances. Why? Because we have the power to choose how we will react to the things that happen to us which are out of our control such as a giant superstorm or a tragic shooting. These were events that indirectly affected all of us in this country as well as around the world. Why? Because one person decided to react to their house being knocked down by going around town to make sure everyone else was okay. Which then inspired another to do the same. Which then led to a committee being formed in a small town to join together and rebuild what had been lost. And so on. Another person chose to honor her child’s life with dignity and courage. To let his short-lived time on earth become an inspiration for people in states that don’t even touch hers. And in countries across vast bodies of water. These people chose to stand up in the face of destruction. They saw something within themselves. Myrlie Evers-Williams’s prayer at the Obama inauguration included a reference to a hymn from the early 20th century which goes, “There’s something within me that holds the reins, there’s something within me that banishes pain, there’s something with in me I cannot explain, but all I know America there is something within, there is something within.” As a country we have been faced with a lot of hardship and devastation in the past year. The reason I say “as a country” is not because we each lost a child in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting or because all of our houses were destroyed in Hurricane Sandy. I say it because the individuals who were directly affected by these events hold threads that tug on the garment of our country as a whole. When they looked in the face of evil and decided to stand tall, we were there to support their backs. We live in a world that is so limitless, so unpredictable, so ever-changing, that it is impossible to prevent every bad thing from occurring. What is possible, however, is to control the way we react to these events when they do happen.

Be The Change

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.

We are all one. We may all dream. Our dreams are what make us unique. They are what keep our lives going and help us connect with one another. So, what we dream about may ultimately affect the “every.” There is something within us that holds the reins. There is something within us we cannot explain. What is that something? The ability to dream.  Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. A dream that made history. A dream that turned into a reality. A dream that came from the lips of one, but ultimately affected everyone.

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So dream on, America. Dream of an equal nation. Dream of a better life for our posterity. Dream of a cure. Dream of hope.

Hope is the origin of all dreams. And dreams ignite hope. The poet Richard Blanco ended his poem at today’s inauguration with the line, “Hope, a new constellation, waiting for us to map it, waiting for us to name it together.”

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We all look up at the same night sky every night. We seek its guidance when we are in prayer and we look to the stars when we think about our dreams. Hope is up there too. Hope is the reason our eyes make the decision to turn towards the sky when we are searching for answers, instead of staring at our feet on the ground.  To have hope is to be looking up towards something better. It is a gift that everyone has the ability to harness and far too many throw away very early on in life. So hold onto your hopes and dreams because you never know where they may take you or others around you.

from the blog www.stuckincustoms.com

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Try a New Perspective

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Sometimes all it takes is a different perspective to completely change our outlook on the things we encounter in life. Just as with photography, we have the ability to see the world from many angles, through different lenses, and at varying distances. It is through these little tweaks in perspective that we are able to discover many different facets to seemingly simple people and situations. A new perspective can help you make a new friend, sympathize with someone you are arguing with, or see life in a completely new way. We are lucky to be able to explore so many new views on life simply by just stopping to think.

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1. Look at something from the inside-out: This is a photograph of the inside of a raspberry. To me this almost looks like caviar. It glistens and catches the light in a way that the waxier outside of a raspberry never does. It is also more chaotic, flattening out into some sort of amoeba-like entity that looks like it’s slithering along the napkin. So, something that seems rather uniform and lackluster from the outside, may actually turn out to be quite intriguing on the inside. This idea can be applied to everything around us, including people. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” would be another way to say that it’s important to learn about someone’s personality, likes and dislikes, past experiences and outlook on life before judging them instantaneously upon their physical appearance. Taking this idea a little further, outward appearances can also apply to actions and fronts that are put on. Someone may appear grumpy, but may end up being lonely and hurt. At the same time, someone may appear constantly happy and confident, but may actually be really insecure on the inside. It may not always be as easy as inverting a malleable raspberry. Some people are like coconuts: tough to crack. However, if they truly want you in their life and vice versa, you will eventually be able to find a way through.

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2. See the world upside-down: The second is a photograph that I have rotated 180 degrees, so that it appears as though I am free-falling into an upside-down room. Sometimes it’s fun to look at things in a way you normally wouldn’t. The phrase, “my world was turned upside down” usually means some great change occurred. At times this feeling occurs in a negative way, as when your child is diagnosed with terminal cancer or your husband dies suddenly. Neither of these events are things that are anticipated or can be prepared for, which is why it is easy to understand why these people would feel like their lives have been upturned and nothing seems to be right anymore. For those of us on the outside of events like this, it is important to take the time to turn our heads upside down and try to better understand where they are coming from. A child’s bed which once tucked in a precious life is now barren with sheets thrown back and a mother’s tears and perfume soaked through the pillow. A toothbrush which once cleaned the smile that showed a wife she was loved has now been dry for weeks. Life will never be the same. We can only hope that as time goes on, with a little help from family and friends, their lives will slowly begin to rotate back to on upright position. Of course life will never go back to normal, but at least this way they can feel more like the tower of Pisa than a yogi doing an ongoing headstand for months on end.

Good events can also turn someone’s world upside down. People who are in love often describe it as “falling head over heels” or feeling like they are walking on air. In this way, they are meeting someone who they feel has changed their life. Maybe they did lead a good life to begin with, but always felt something was missing. Love is a wonderful thing and I do believe this kind of love exists in our world. But you must also be careful of those tornados that are going to sweep you up and knock you on your butt before you even have a chance to process what is going on. Make sure to stay grounded enough to know when you’re ready to let someone pull your life in an entirely new direction. This way, even if he/she makes you feel like you’re walking on air, you never lose sight of your own ambitions and desires.

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3. Take a closer look: This is zoomed-in photograph of a shoelace. It’s pretty cool how you can see the different fibers that make up each lace. Sometimes we miss important details if we don’t take the time to look more closely at things. Similar to taking the time to look on the inside and gain that perspective, getting a closer view often allows us to see the intricate details that we may otherwise overlook. For example, you can see a tiny piece of grass in the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph. This detail tells you that I wear my sneakers outside (shocking, right?) and perhaps that I don’t always stay on the sidewalks and like to explore places off the beaten track. Okay, so maybe you think I just like to roll around in the grass instead of thinking I like to take the road less travelled by, but it was worth a shot to get you to think I’m super cool like Robert Frost. Anyway, regardless of your own interpretation of the grass, this is definitely something that would be missed if you were to simply look at my sneakers from a normal distance. This just goes to show that if we don’t take the time to look more closely at things, we may miss details that could reveal something important about the person or object. I’m not saying the next time you go to Central Park you should get down on your hands and knees so that you can have a better view of people’s shoelaces as they walk by—I don’t want you to get arrested…or kicked in the face. But instead, take the time to explore this perspective in a safe and sane manner. You’ll be surprised at what you find!

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4. Get to the bottom of it: This is a photograph of the bottom of a chandelier. Looking at the base, where something originates from, can often give us a better idea of why that thing is the way it is. For this chandelier, we can see that the star-like shape of the iron base it what keeps it from falling apart. If this was thinner or made of a different material, it may not be strong enough to hold up the lights or jewels hanging from it. The same concept can be applied to people. When we know where someone came from and how they were brought up, it gives us a better perspective and we are then more able to understand them on a deeper level. You can tell a lot about someone from their base—it is where they grow and expand from. It is also what constitutes balance. So, if the base isn’t strong enough, the entire structure can be thrown off. This isn’t always necessarily true. There are a lot of people in this world who rise out of dire circumstances and grow up to be very successful and happy people. However, it is still important to use this perspective and consider the influence one’s upbringing has on molding each of their personality traits, fears, habits, and goals in life.

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5. Try seeing life through a different lens: This is a photograph of my kitchen seen through a ginger ale bottle. It gives the room a nice green tint, don’t you think? This reminds me of the saying “looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.” That particular lens reflects optimism and pretty much means the person wearing the glasses is seeing the best in things and has a cheery perspective on all things in the world. It is nice to approach life with an optimistic attitude. However, it is also important to make sure not to glue these rose-colored glasses to you face because, let’s face it, no one likes a person who steps in dog sh*t and goes, “Wow, this is so great!!” Laugh it off. Make a sarcastic joke about it. It’s really not a big deal. But, don’t pretend you enjoy having that nasty stuff on your shoe and plaguing everyone around you with the stench. Because, for lack of a better word, that’s a load of crap. The lesson that can be taken from those people sporting rose-colored wayfarers is that approaching something with different internal feelings and a different attitude makes all the difference. If you go into a situation telling yourself that you’re going to have an awful time then you probably will. However, if you switch your lens and tell yourself you are going to make the most out of whatever happens to you then you will probably end up having a much better time. It’s all about perspective.

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6. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes (or, in this case, skin): I like to call this photo, “Life through the eyes of a clementine.” Looks pretty crowded and caged in, right? And here we are thinking cuties are small because cuties are for kids. No, cuties are small because they starve themselves so they can try to squeeze through that plastic prison cage to freedom. It’s sad how the media portrays things these days. In all seriousness, sometimes it’s beneficial to put yourself in other’s shoes. It helps you think outside your own little bubble and consider how someone else feels for once. We live out each and every one of our days thinking about our own feelings: what we want to eat for dinner, our opinion on the book we just finished reading, how we feel when our boss constantly dozes off onto her keyboard…” But what about all of the people we interact with every day and those living in a world we never knew existed? How do they feel today? How do they feel about the things we say or don’t say to them? What would it be like to live in a village in Africa where travelling 10 miles to find clean water is a daily routine? If we think about how much time we use to think about ourselves each day and use even a quarter of that time to think about others, our world would be a much better place.

So, the next time you go to bite into a clementine…..haha, no…the next time you complain about having “no food in the house” when really there’s just not new and exciting food, think about the girl who has been eating canned beans for the past two months because that’s all her family can afford. Or, the next time you’re mad that you twisted your ankle and have to sit out of a soccer game at recess, think of the child in the hospital who would give anything to be sitting on that bench right now because it would mean being outside in the fresh air. We all have our bad days, but stopping each day to think about the lives of other people around us, people we may not even know, really puts things in perspective and makes us realize just how lucky we really are.

Taking the Cow by the Horns

I want to share a story with you that I find to be truly inspirational. It is a story about a woman named Anna Marie Quinn. Born and raised in Ireland, Anna Marie knew nothing beyond the rolling green hills of the Irish countryside. Though the country bequeathed much natural beauty to its residents, during the nineteenth century it was a very difficult place to live. As we all know, during this time Ireland faced great economic difficulties and devastations including the Great Famine in the 1840’s. Ireland was a male-dominated agricultural society so during the Post-Famine Period, Irish women faced even more restrictions than they had seen prior to the destruction of the typical rural lifestyle.

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Anna Marie and her husband were among the many rural families struggling in the post-famine stage and she was asked to go to town one day to sell their cow so that they could make some money from it. However, Anna Marie had a different plan for her life. She decided to do something that may even shock the modern day woman. Following her husband’s instructions like a dutiful wife, she sold the cow in exchange for money. And then she went straight home and delivered it to him, right? Well, not exactly. She took the money, bought a ticket to America, and marched straight onto the boat, not stopping to look back for even a second. It wasn’t until arriving in America that Anna Marie sent a message to her husband, telling him that she was in America and that she hoped he would follow her there one day.

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Talk about taking the bull (or should I say cow?) by the horns, right? I mean here she is, a woman living in a world where the most important decision she was granted was when to feed the chickens, taking the family cow and selling it to buy herself a ticket to an unknown land, halfway across the world. Something like that was just unheard of. But, here’s the bottom line. She wasn’t happy with her life in Ireland, so she decided to take charge and do something about it. So, she physically and metaphorically set sail in pursuit of a new life, not knowing what was ahead for her, but embracing the ocean breeze as it whipped through her newly freed hair. That’s what life is all about: diving headfirst into the unknown and figuring the rest out along the way. When she arrived in America did she find that the streets were actually paved with gold? No. However, what mattered was that she made this decision for herself and that’s worth more than any amount of precious mineral.

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Anna Marie Quinn was my great-great-grandmother. I am proud to say that I come from a long line of strong, independent women and I can only hope to live my life in reflection of their countless leaps of faith and displays of courage. My late aunt was the first (and still only) appointed female District Attorney of Delaware County, PA. That was after being a history teacher for years, raising a family, and then deciding to go back to school to become a lawyer. Was it risky to go to law school and try to begin a completely new career at the age of 40? Absolutely. But, was it worth it? I am positive her answer would be “yes.”

As for me, I’m still working on living up to the family legacy. I will, however, say that I am still, to this day, the only female who insisted on playing “Bunny Foo Foo” instead of the “Good Fairy” in the Playmate’s Nursery School class play. And if that isn’t something to be proud of, then I don’t know what is! In all seriousness, I have been taking tips from my go-getter female relatives my entire life and am proud to have those genes in my makeup to fuel my tenacity and fight for what I want out of life.

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I graduated from college with a degree in English and originally thought I wanted to be a copywriter, particularly in the fashion industry. I got a job in NYC fairly soon after graduating at a big fashion company, thinking I could test out the industry and see if it was really where I wanted to be. Soon after moving to the city, in addition to realizing that fashion and furthermore sitting at a desk all day was not for me, I started volunteering at a cancer center in the pediatric unit. This was something I had always wanted to do and I am glad I followed my gut with this decision because it ended up bringing me to a career I never would have known about otherwise, which is “child life.” After doing endless hours of research on the field, talking to child life specialists at the hospital I volunteer at and attending open houses for graduate programs, I was left with a cow of a decision to make. Should I trade in my stable career at a company that most girls would die to work at, for a ticket to an unknown land? I decided to take the plunge. I left my job in New York, knowing that there was no way I would be able to save enough money for graduate school while paying the rent there, basically threw all my eggs in one basket, and had to have enough faith in myself to know that I would get into one of the only two schools I applied to (there are currently only about ten schools in the country who offer a graduate degree in child life rather than a concentration, and even fewer who make it possible for career-changers like me to enroll). Well, I’m glad I got the risk-taker gene because just before the holidays I was accepted into the graduate program which was my top choice and I will begin my journey towards becoming a child life specialist this upcoming fall.

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Just as my great-great-grandmother embarked on a journey to America to make a new life for herself, not knowing what she would face when she got there, I have gone forth with my dreams like an immigrant seeking new opportunity. The decisions I have made along the way have been difficult and I will undoubtedly face many more of these throughout my lifetime, but that is what keeps life going. If we aren’t willing to take risks, then our lives will turn into broken records. It is called the circle of life for a reason. What goes around, comes around. What you give out, you get back. These are all phrases we are very familiar with. But what if we just stopped making changes in our lives? Would life still be a circle? Probably not. It’s like we’re all discovering our own America. The first people to journey to the New World weren’t sure if the world was round or flat, so they had to take a leap of faith and risk the chance of falling off the face of the earth. But, they discovered that it was indeed round and that there was a world of opportunity waiting for them around the bend. Be a pioneer in your own life. Take chances. Jump. Plunge into the unknown. Think big. Our time on this earth is limited, but what we choose to do with that time is not. Maybe the decision you make today will not be as monumental as selling the family cow to buy a ticket to America and hoping that your husband will someday follow you there, but it will still be a decision and those are what will keep your record spinning.

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As we embark on this new year with our minds packed with resolutions, goals and desires, think of Anna Marie Quinn. Whether it be something as big as changing careers or as small as gathering up the courage to ask your secret crush out for coffee, take a chance. What is there to lose? Anna Marie went to America with no set plans, no job lined up, no family to comfort her on the other side. She took a colossal risk. If she could do it, so can you.

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Anna Marie Quinn is located in the center of the photo, surrounded by her five daughters. PS: Her husband chased after her.

To learn more about the immigration of Irish women in the 19th century please visit: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2546070?uid=3739864&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101613745277

For more information on the child life profession, please visit: http://www.childlife.org/