Dear Ishmael,

You don’t know me, yet I feel like I know you.  I recently had the opportunity not only to read A Long Way Gone, but I had a chance to experience its pages in a way many people do not.  My co-teacher in the SITES program chose your book in his study of global issues.  Having never read the book, I chose to read it with our students, so that I could engage in conversation in class.

As a child of literature yourself, you may know that sometimes, a book can speak to us in a way we do not expect.

For me, maybe it was that I had just finished teaching Paul Rusesabagina’s Ordinary Man and I found the parallel between the two stories haunting.   Maybe it was the moment in our first discussion when one of our students pointed to a passage that I myself could not shake, “We must always strive to be like the moon,” and a ten minute discussion followed analyzing the truth and wisdom of these words.  Maybe it was the fact that you wrote so poignantly that I was able to transcend the delicate refinements of my life to see what I think you want everyone who reads your book to see: even though mankind can terrorize one another and bring pain and hardship, what matters is what we do after the experience.  This book, your book, stays with me because by the end, I felt strengthened by a feeling that already existed in my heart: if I only allow myself to experience man when he is at his worst, I may never know man for the potential he has: for his beauty, for his amiability, and for his love.

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear you speak.  As someone who is constantly analyzing my own place in the world, I felt like a child in a classroom.  Your story and strength of the first book were inspirational, but the limitlessness of your spirit is profound.  You are correct in your theory that happiness should not be measured by stretches of time.  It is not to be measured, but it is to be experienced.  Ultimately,  you were the victim of childhood captivity; without an alternative, you were forced to be a soldier. Yet, despite the reality of your past,  you have allowed yourself to heal, you have allowed yourself to eclipse a world speckled with hatred so that you can live again.

Standing in line with my students eagerly waiting to get your new novel Radiance of Tomorrow signed, I felt renewed.  I felt that within the hour of listening to you speak, my understanding of mankind deepened.  Ishmael, for me you rejuvenated truth:  Many people will enter our lives and they will see the flicker of our eternal flame.  Some of those people will want to extinguish it, and if given the opportunity, they will.  However, others will see us for what we are, for what we can be.  These people will take one of two actions: They will either do everything in their power to relight the flame, or seeing that it still flickers, they will protect it, nurture it, and wait for it be what it was meant to be.  Each of us has a light inside, and with the proper guidance and nurturing, it will blaze and we will live to our full potential: hopeful creatures, dedicated individuals, and spiritual heroes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not only signing my book but for touching my life.


The Most Overused Word in the English Langauge

I have been thinking a lot about the word “love”.  It is the most overused word in the English language (and probably in most of the almost 6900 languages in the world).

Why do we find the need to describe every feeling with the word “love”?

I love that show!   I love my shampoo.  I love Bradley Cooper.

Really?  Is it really love I feel for television, products, and actors?

Seemingly, I find some programming to be well-written, comical, or thoughtful, and so some shows outweigh others.  But does that mean love?  No, it would probably be more accurate to say I am partial to certain programs because I feel a sense of pleasure and enjoyment while I am watching them.

As for my shampoo, I mean it really does make my hair feel soft.  Because of its quality, I think I feel an allegiance to my brand.

And, most women would agree that Bradley Cooper is a hottie, and most men would agree that he is a good actor.  However, I do not know Bradley Cooper personally, I know the characters he plays in films, and the way he portrays himself in interviews.  Yet, I do not know him know him, and so I think what I feel is fond of his abilities.

Love.  I feel it is important to use this word sparingly, and only in a context when I mean it.  If I say “love” it should come from my heart and be real.


Case in point: When we were younger, my brother and I were ridiculously close.  He is five years older than I am, but we were best friends, and the love we felt for each other was clear to anyone who knew us.  However, we ran into a hiccup in our twenties.  We began experiencing life differently.  We used to seem to have everything in common, and then suddenly we didn’t.  One day I realized that my focus in life was vastly different from my brothers, and instead of accepting each other and our individual outlooks on life, we developed a clear resentment for each other.  For no apparent reason, we didn’t really like each other as much as we did in the past, and I found that as siblings do, we worked hard to push each other’s buttons.

After my parents passed away seven years ago, we both realized that we needed to reconcile or our immediate family would be gone.  We were all that we had left.  For the first time in years, we made efforts to see each other and talk on the phone.  I found that we were both trying and when two people make an effort, what evolves is a ripening relationship.  Nonetheless, in all of those years, I still found it difficult to say “I love you,” although the love I felt for my brother had definitely began to return.

This past Christmas Eve, leaving his house, we engaged in the same awkward embrace that we always seem to share.  This time, it was different.  As I hugged my brother, for the first time in years, I said, “I love you.” I felt a sudden flush of emotion.  I blinked hard so as not to cry because what I said I meant and what I meant made me emotional.

You see, I think that is what should happen whenever I say “love”.  I think love should make me feel something deep in my core, and if it doesn’t, it’s probably a liking, amity, fidelity, or affection.    All of these words are important to emotional well-roundedness, but they are not love.  Love is a powerful word that should not be abused.  When I say it, I want it to mean something.

January 1st… Here We Go Again!

I am a fan of beginnings and I am not a fan of endings.

I find endings to be anticlimactic.  Walking across a stage, walking down an aisle, walking away from a job– I always think that something should materialize in these auspicious occasions– an orchestra or a parade.  Yet, nothing happens.  It is just… over.  All that anticipation, all that anxiety, and that was it?  I “walked” and it was over.

But beginnings!  Beginnings are magical because the future is unknown, and I know deep in my heart  that I have the power to influence what is to come.  Lucky for me, January 1st comes once  a year, and with the new month in the new year, I can start over.  I can make changes in my life and start fresh.  The year is a tabula rasa, and I am the ink in the pen stroke.

What will this year be?

  • Healthy: mentally, emotionally, and physically.
  • Energetic: anyone want to race?
  • Rewarding: time to take charge of my life.
  • Enterprising: maybe it’s time to stop being afraid of failure.
  • Whimsical: play more/worry less.
  • Eleemosynary: this word mean generous, and I like new words.  Oh, and generosity is the freedom from possession.
  • Gratified: thankful for all my blessings.
  • Observant: of those around me and of their needs.  A kind word goes a long way.
  • Accepting: forgive and forget, and then really forget.
  • Good-humored: I do like to laugh!
  • Affectionate: kisses, hugs, and compliments for all!
  • Imaginative: dream in color, live inspired!
  • Non-judgmental: who am I to judge?

Yes, 2014 is upon us, and I have a pretty good feeling about what will materialize this year.

To you and your families, I wish you health, happiness, and love in 2014.  May all of your dreams come true!  Happy New Year!