Posts Tagged ‘courage’

Break Away From the Herd

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Leave it to my dad to find enlightenment from a herd of one-track rabbits. Eons ago when he drove one of those open-car, hand-cranked railcars for the Milwaukee Railroad (Hello, Elmer Fudd?!), he said that rabbits would get on the track in front of him, and once they started running, they couldn’t seem to figure out that all they had to do was jump off the track to avoid their demise. I don’t know if my dad realized what a powerful life lesson he imparted with this story, but it’s about the best metaphor for life a dad could share with his daughter.

Just as life never pans out for rabbits running from trains, it doesn’t fare too well for us when we’ve got railcars of pettiness, negativity, and — well, you fill in the blanks — heading our way. I don’t know what motivates rabbits to continue in their folly, but I have an inkling of what compels us as people. Long before wheels and railcars were invented, group survival was where it was at, and I still fall prey to its siren song of ‘there’s safety in numbers’ as well as that strong desire to be ‘included’ and the fear to change.

In that sense, it takes a brave bunny to break away from the herd (especially when that herd is its family of origin!). But I’ve found life is so much sweeter when we take a daily look at the track we’re on, our traveling companions, and what we have stuffed in our brain’s baggage compartment. Over the years, I’ve learned that if it looks like a train, sounds like a train, and smells like a train, it’s my cue to take the nearest exit. There’s no need to hurl insults at the rabbits who choose to remain, or throw rotten eggs on the railcar, track, or conductor. Just get yourself off the track now. Refuse to spend one more minute of your precious life huffing and puffing in order to stay out of harm’s way. You’ll never out-run a moving locomotive, and it’s no fun trying.

Truly, life is too short to settle for being steamrollered by anyone or anything. It’s a new year. The next time someone in your life wants to engage in drama, trauma, or just plain petty meanness, choose to get off the track! You can do it. A beautiful world of unlimited possibilities awaits you. Wishing you all a Happy New Year and Happy Trails!

Saddle Up

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

From the time I can remember anything at all, my burning passion was to be a cowboy. Not a cowgirl, a cowboy. There were plenty of cowgirls in all the westerns I grew up watching, but they seemed to always be waiting for the cowboys to get back to the ranch. I wanted to be where the action was, ropin’ and ridin’ and living life out on the range. Unfortunately, growing up at the beach in southern California, I didn’t have many opportunities to test my wrangling skills. I set my dreams of spurs and campfires aside and got on with the business of living: finishing school, marrying the man of my dreams (although, not a cowboy), and raising two beautiful boys. Life is good, really good, and I honestly would not change anything about the way things have turned out.

As my 50th birthday looms ever closer and I ponder all the experiences that go along with living for half a century, I still think about being a cowboy. Granted, my focus has changed a little. I am no longer very interested in sleeping on the ground using my saddle for a pillow. Now the appeal of the cowboy life is really all about the horses and riding and being out in the open country, but the dream, the passion, is still there, as strong as ever. The only difference is that now I can do it, I can live my dream. I don’t have to compromise because of my age or my gender or my circumstances. Whatever I want to be, I can still be; we all can.

May we all live our dreams, whether it is one we have carried with us since childhood, or a newly discovered passion we are itching to explore. Is there a college degree in the future, or a musical career put aside because life happened? Whatever your dreams, big or small, practical or fanciful, go ahead, saddle up; I’ll look for you out on the trail.

Don’t Just Stand There. Do Something!

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

On a flight to New York last month, I experienced the wisdom in the phrase ‘Don’t just stand there. Do something!’ By the time we were over Omaha, nature called, so I joined some fellow passengers waiting in line for the bathroom. TSA would not have been happy with how many of us were standing in the aisle. I wasn’t happy either, as the line seemed to be at a standstill. When I noticed one of the lavatory doors said ‘Vacant,’ I pointed it out to the woman next to me, and she said the last passenger who used it had said it was ‘dirty.’ That was that. End of story. We continued to patiently stand in silence. Finally, my curiosity (not to mention impatience!) got the best of me, so I sought out a flight attendant and told her what I just told you. Within three seconds, we had two working restrooms, and the line began moving again. (It turns out the last user just didn’t know how to flush the toilet!)

An unflushed toilet really isn’t a big deal. What kind of is a big deal, though, is that nobody spoke up to find out what was going on, let alone what could be done to help the situation. It was the old herd mentality in action — accept the way things are, don’t question it, and don’t rock the boat (or plane). Because it was a long flight, I had plenty of time to think about how this shows up in our everyday lives and how easy it is to allow little annoyances to grow into big annoyances or even life-threatening crises when nobody speaks up or takes action. Albert Einstein said, ‘The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.’

Since this is a Dear Friends letter and not some political editorial, I’m not even going to bring up how this ties into global warming, poverty, or educational issues. I’m thinking more about looking at what’s not working in our personal lives. While summer is the perfect time to chill, it’s also the perfect time to get off the couch and take action. It’s a wonderful time to ask ourselves, ‘What’s wrong with this picture’ and then take steps to make it right. Sometimes it’s just a matter of knowing where to go to get help.

This summer I encourage us all to not just stand passively, unquestioningly, in the aisle while summer 2010 slips away. If there’s something not quite working in your life or something you’ve always pictured yourself doing in the summer months, let this be your time to not just stand there, but to do something about it!

Taking That First Step

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but I am hooked on all the home decorating shows that are so popular now. Whether it is a do-it-yourself show, or a have-someone-do-it-for-you show, I’m there. Maybe part of the reason I am so into these shows is that my family and I have been living in a perpetual state of remodeling for the last several years. We bought our house 11 years ago, knowing that it would take ‘quite a while’ to get it into the state we wanted. The house was built in the early 1970’s, with the shag carpet and redwood siding to prove it. The kitchen didn’t have any cabinet doors and the floor was a cement slab, but the multi-levels and huge windows in every room captivated us. Even the lack of an oven didn’t dissuade us. You’d be surprised how well cookies turn out when baked in the barbeque. Well, after several years, we were finally ready to get started. The boys, of course, were convinced their bedrooms wouldn’t be finished until after they left for college, but I am happy to report they are now moved into their rooms and the oldest won’t graduate from high school until later this year. Ha!

One of the reasons we were so hesitant to start on this massive undertaking was that we were terrified of doing it ‘wrong.’ How would we know if we picked the right colors for the walls or the right flooring? There were so many details and so many choices for each thing that at times we were paralyzed with indecision. Finally, we just started. (I use the term ‘we’ rather loosely. I didn’t offer much in the way of physical labor; I was busy trying to regulate the temperature in the barbeque, but I did offer a lot in the way of support and ideas.)

Now, when I stand in my gorgeous, magazine-worthy kitchen (thank you, Scotty and Dad) and inhale the delicious aroma of dinner roasting in one oven while dessert bakes in the other, I think back on how uncertainty limited us for so many years, when all we had to do was take the first step. We finally stopped worrying about what anyone else would think of the choices we made. We weren’t doing all of this work for anyone other than ourselves and we needed to make it work for our family and no one else. I am trying to apply this lesson to other areas of my life as well. Some decisions are more critical than others, but when I remember that I am unique and that what is best for me and my family may not be best for someone else, it is easier to take the first step. Even if I have to pause and change my course a little, as long as I listen to my heart I know the end result will be beautiful.

Choose Love, Not Fear

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Recently, I stayed at the house of some friends to take care of their animals while they were on vacation. I was working away when I heard their cat’s cries coming from the garage. The garage is Muffin’s private place where she can eat in peace and not have to worry about the family’s two dogs wanting to sample any of her feline fare. She was now signaling me that she wanted to rejoin ‘the family’ in the light and warmth of the house.

Of course, I happily came to her ‘rescue’ and opened the door for the now nearly frantic cat. Judging by her plaintive cries, I expected her to leap into the house the moment I opened the door. Instead, she stopped crying and just sat there in silence. ‘Come on, Muffin,’ I encouraged her. But it was a no go. So, I shut the door and returned to my work. Within minutes, the cries began again; this time, even more fervent. Once again, I stopped what I was doing and went to open the door. And, once again, Muffin just sat there, motionless, not making a sound. I began feeling annoyed, but not as annoyed as when we had done this dance perhaps another four times. There seemed to be no logic to the steps in this dance. Clearly, the cat wanted to be in the house instead of in the garage. Who wouldn’t? The garage was cold, dark, and musty smelling. The house was warm, cozily lit, and a virtual haven for any self-respecting cat in need of an honest catnap. After the third go-round, it became apparent that Muffin’s reticence was due to her fear of the dogs. Mind you, she lives with these dogs day in and day out; they have never harmed her in any way (well, except for their innocent curiosity regarding those little cans of Tasty Trout Dinner). But the point is these were not wild dogs from the Barrio — they were family.

Finally, Muffin made a run for it and settled down on an easy chair in the family room. The dogs hardly even acknowledged her entrance, and I thought, ‘All that time wasted on an irrational fear!’

I can’t tell you how many times I experienced the ‘Muffin Dance’ this past week. There was the woman in my support group who had been complaining about her job since I joined the group six months ago. The scenario seemed all too familiar to me: to remain in the cold garage and complain about it or to take some action that would enable her to experience light and warmth. Amazingly, like Muffin, this woman chose to stay in the garage. Her wild dogs came in the form of ‘not being able to deal with rejection right now,’ which might occur if she were to look for another job.

With the New Year approaching, I began exploring the musty garage experiences in my own life. What ‘wild dogs’ are holding me back in fear? And, more importantly, what choices will I make in response to my fears? What thoughts will I choose to enter my mind? What thoughts will I choose to release? And, more importantly, what action will I take in hopes of enhancing my life experience? I can choose to be a victim in the dark or I can choose to live abundantly in the light. One thing I know for sure is that when doors open before me in 2010, I’m leaping inside at the first opportunity.

40th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Landing on the Moon

Monday, July 20th, 2009


Video from NASA (edited by USA Today)

“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” — Neil Armstrong

Keeping an Open Heart in the Presence of Pain

Friday, July 10th, 2009

I can remember my father sitting at a restaurant table, years ago, quizzing my husband and me about current events and voting issues. We were young and absorbed in our new life together, and keeping up with the news was the last thing on our minds. More accurately, we’d made a somewhat conscious decision to not keep up with the news because it all seemed to be bad and what’s the use and how could our votes really count, anyway? Much to my poor father’s horror, we actually articulated this opinion to him, sending this very politically knowledgeable man into a tailspin of incredulity and, I would guess, disgust.

Since then, in fits and starts, I have become more politically aware and attentive to the news. I know enough of what’s going on to be conscious of the fact that there’s a lot more going on than what we’re being told. I don’ t think anyone would argue that unless a sensational spin can be applied to the latest current event, it’s generally not considered to be newsworthy. It ’s that ratings thing, you know. For some weird reason, the bad news, not the good, tends to get our attention and so we’re dished up even more and more of it. A twenty-minute dose of current events is sometimes enough to make you want to crawl into a hole and wait out whatever it is we, as humans, are collectively going through right now. Or would it be saner to just opt to remain ignorant of these happenings over which we have no direct influence?

I don’t know for sure, but I do know that lately I don’t have to turn on the news to hear of sadness. It seems as if there are tragedies hitting closer to home and to loved ones than ever before. And I know that I’m not alone in my opinion. Friend after friend expresses the same sentiment. There is just a lot of grief not only “out there,” but “here” as well. It’s strange. And I often find myself struggling to stay balanced enough to keep on keeping on. If I allow myself to linger under whatever dark cloud is floating above me, I somehow find myself merged with that dark cloud, which then, I believe, in some way gets bigger because I am now part of it.

In the midst of what seems like a steady barrage of stories that could break my heart or make me angry, I have found that being active is so much more helpful than being passive. The bottom line is that I must make a conscious decision every day - sometimes every few minutes - to soften my heart and refuse to partake in judgment and hate. I’ve always known - but have to remind myself more often now, it seems - that I have a choice. I can just dwell on what is horrible. Or, I can be aware that there indeed are unspeakable tragedies going on even at the other end of the block (not to mention on the other side of the world) and keep my heart open and light and always ready to find joy, no matter how small that joy may seem.

I don’t know why I’ve changed. Maybe it’s because my children are older now and I have seen some of the ways life has challenged them, and I’ve seen how strong they are when they stand up to face these challenges. Or maybe it’s because life has changed me through trials of my own, honing me, polishing me, and gentling me in the process. It’s hard to tell. But what I do know now is that when all else falls away, one thing remains: the fundamental human need we all have to be connected to each other. And through consciously seeking this connection, I am learning to make space in my heart to hold the pain I meet in life and to embrace every ounce of joy that comes my way. My goal is now to enlarge my cup, so I can hold all that the world has to offer and greet each experience with compassion. The larger my heart gets, the more I can experience. It puts me at risk (for the world does hold tremendous pain), but without that risk my ability to seek and choose joy is severely limited. And without joy in my heart, how can I face the day?

A Billion Simple Acts of Peace

Peacejam: A Billion Simple Acts of Peace

Peacejam is an inspiring book/DVD about young people who teamed up with Nobel Laureates to create projects of real change and healing for the world.

Words of Wisdom From Cynthia Copeland Lewis

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009


“If you wait until you are really sure, you’ll never take off the training wheels.”

- Cynthia Copeland Lewis, Author

Adventurous Eater Jumps Right In

Friday, April 10th, 2009

Adventurous Eater Ian

Adventurous Eater Ian

Last night I took my son out to dinner at an All-You-Can-Eat Chinese food buffet. Generally buffets like this are wasted on me because I just don’t eat enough food to justify the price. However, my 5-year-old Ian is a bottomless pit so buffets are right up his alley! As we perused all the food choices, I piled his plate with Lo Mein noodles, sweet and sour pork spare ribs, and crab wontons. One of the food trays caught my eye and I read the label out loud, “Frog legs.” “Frog legs?” said Ian, “Frog legs! I want frog legs!” Okay, onto the plate went one frog leg. Back at our booth, the frog leg was the first thing in his mouth and he proceeded to eat every little bit and requested more.

As someone who was an extremely particular eater as a child, having a son who will happily eat frog legs is oddly interesting. When I was three years old, I told my mom, “I know I don’t like it because I’ve never had it before.” In elementary school, I would actually turn down dinner invitations to friends’ houses because I was afraid they would serve something I wouldn’t like and then I would get that dreaded label…”picky.” Oh, how I hated that word! I wanted to like everything, to be able to eat whatever crossed my lips without the gag reflex kicking in, without worrying what I was going to eat at a big event, without fear of getting labeled a picky-eater. In my early twenties, I noticed a list tacked to the refrigerator of my boyfriend’s mom. She’d been writing down notes about what foods I didn’t like so that she wouldn’t cook them when I was there for dinner. The list was at least 3 pages long. I was so embarrassed that I became determined to try new things without prejudice, even foods that I’d tried as a kid and disliked. I discovered that there were quite a few things I’d been missing out on, foods that my adult taste buds liked and my childhood taste buds had previously rejected.

Back to Mr. Frog Legs, when Ian was born I was set on having him try foods without the pressure that I’d gotten as a child. I offered him a wide variety of flavors and textures, encouraged him to try new foods, but never pushed the issue if he turned it down. If he didn’t care for something, I’d offer it to him again on another day. I think I just lucked out with a child who is more adventurous than most because it’s obvious that he didn’t inherit his gourmet taste buds from me. When he offered me a bite of his frog leg at dinner last night, I refused with a polite “no thank you!”

Real Super Heroes

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Sakura (Ali's daughter) as firefighter

Sakura (Ali's daughter) as a firefighter

Children need heroes. If we fail to give them real heroes, they will gladly seek out their own in the form of rock stars and superathletes with questionable morals. One of the most powerful things we, as parents, can do (besides be living examples of what we hope to teach) is offer them stories of real heroes. Offer them stories that will give them a model of courage so that when it comes time for them to be heroes in their own lives, they will have the inner fire and fortitude to do so. Stories of saints, freedom seekers and ordinary people doing extraordinary things all feed the soul fire burning in our hearts. This is what makes us strong in times of adversity and keeps hope alive.