Now Is The Time

We have this idea that there is a perfect time to do everything and that the key to doing the things we want to do in life is to wait for that perfect time when all the stars are aligned and then everything will be wonderful.  I thought that way for a long time about having kids.  I knew I wanted children, but after spending a lot of time with friends who had kids and were exhausted and their marriages frayed, I kept putting off having kids, thinking something would magically happen and I would be ready.  In fact, what happened was that I turned 36 and thought, “If we don’t jump in now, we’re going to miss our window.”  I’m so glad we did take the leap because we have two amazing kids. I was scared jumping into something so permanent, but I knew that it was now or never and I chose now.  But how many people feel that sense of urgency with their other dreams?  How many of us wake up and decide that we have to act now or it’s never going to happen?  The fact is, there will always be some impediment: maybe you don’t have enough money, or your boyfriend just dumped you, or your child is going through teething, or you just moved, or you have health issues, or your family doesn’t approve, or you don’t know what you’re doing.

What I’ve come to realize is that there is literally no perfect time, and most times are very imperfect as a choice.  Right now my daughter has a broken finger that is not healing, my son has the flu, my husband is overwhelmed by work and badly needs a haircut, and I have a sore throat and feel guilty I’m not spending time with my sick child (who just wants to be on his iPad anyway because he feels so lousy.) But my dream is to get my writing and coaching out more fully into the world, as well as relaunch my performing career. I have some important deadlines, so I am at my desk working.  Have I washed my hair?  No.  Have I been to church much in the past few months?  Um nope.  Are dinners starting to look strange again, because they consist of odds and sods from the fridge?  Yes.  But I feel alive in a way that I would not have if I hadn’t insisted that NOW is the time to commit 1,000% to work that matters to me, even if I drop some balls. Now is not the time to rearrange my spices or spends hours on Facebook or offer to volunteer for something.  Just as going to Target is, what my husband calls, “death by 1,000 paper cuts,” since all those cheap items add up to A LOT at the register, all of the little things we do on our “to do” lists add up to a whole lot of nothing unless we’re careful.

It helps me to remember that Mozart wrote beautiful music while mostly broke, and he didn’t wait to get all of his finances in order to compose.  Beethoven wrote while deaf, and he didn’t wait for a cure to get going.  He sawed the legs off his piano to hear the floor vibrations.  Louisa May Alcott didn’t wait until she recovered from mercury poisoning or had found a suitable husband in order to write.  Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t wait until she was pretty or had others’ approval before she became one of the greatest stateswomen of our time. And, great artists ranging from Alvin Ailey to Jackson Pollack to Nina Simone to Frank Sinatra all had bi-polar disorder. But they did their art anyway and the world benefitted from their genius.  Instead of hiding, they did what Carrie Fisher advised: “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”

The fact is, someday when we die, are people going to comment on how organized your desk was or how detailed your packing lists were?  Or, are they going to remember that your face lit up when you saw your kids and that you took that trip to travel the world and that you started that business and wrote that book and got back onstage and sang? To find your world stage, remember that the time is now, even though nothing is ever perfect about right now.  Grab this moment anyway, in all of its messy imperfection, and don’t let go.  This is your chance to make your mark.  Now go do it.

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Safe Spaces

Yale University, my alma mater, decided this week to rename one of its existing residential colleges, from Calhoun to Hopper, changing the name from a male 19th Century slavery proponent to a 20th Century female computer science expert and rear admiral.  I think it’s important not to glorify slavery or white supremacists and I think it’s great that women are finally getting recognized at Yale.  The fact is, Calhoun should never have been picked by Yale as a name for a building in the first place.  Nonetheless, I am concerned that we are starting to erase history that doesn’t sit well with people, until we someday get to the point that new generations don’t believe that evil things ever happened. People have petitioned to change Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, for instance, as well as other school names, and many have argued that there should not be a memorial for Washington or Jefferson, because they held slaves. In addition to Yalies fighting to change the name of Calhoun, they are also demanding that the early Western Civilization literature classes, which include writers like Chaucer and Shakespeare, should contain more female and minority writers, even though there are more modern classes that include those groups.  Do we really want to reinvent history so that it suits our narrow world views? Reading Shakespeare is pretty important.  Even though he was a white male, he was one of the greatest writers who ever lived.  Should we just toss him aside since it doesn’t make us feel good about ourselves?

When I was traveling in Vietnam with my family a few years ago, we took a tour of the Mekong Delta and ended up having lunch with some young adult women from East Germany, both of whom were born right around the time the Berlin Wall came down.  I remember backpacking through Europe in 1990 and staying in a youth hostel in the Netherlands with various girls, including one from West Germany and one from East Germany.  The East German girl had never been allowed out of the country until then and she was small and malnourished.  She told us what a nightmare it was to live on that side of the country; they had no freedom and were scared all the time.  The West German had grown up healthy and free, just like me.  I never forgot that night at the youth hostel.  So when I met these East Germans, who were almost a generation younger, I was assuming their response would be the same.  But in fact, the girls told me that having the Berlin wall come down had zero impact on their parents or grandparents, because they had grown up healthy and happy with lots of freedoms.  I was shocked. When I told them what my history books said about that, they were offended and replied that our history was wrong, and that is not what they had learned in school.  They also added that their parents never mentioned anything terrible happening. Clearly, the bad history had been erased, so that future generations could forget.  It’s scary that this could be happening here by erasing, building by building, anything that reflects an uncomfortable time in our history.

There is a new phrase on college campuses these days, called “safe spaces.” Students who feel marginalized are demanding that their administrations provide separate safe spaces for them to feel comfortable and to spend time only with people like them.  I wonder if these students ever studied the famous case, Brown vs. Board of Education, which ruled in 1955 that “separate but equal” led to inequality.  Students are also asking for “trigger warnings” before difficult lectures so that they can prepare for any information that might hurt their feelings or challenge them.  At Yale last fall, students protested the fact that other students were wearing Halloween costumes that offended their culture or background.  They wanted the administration to step in and insist that no one wear upsetting costumes.  When one of the professors wrote a thoughtful email reminding students that they were in college (not preschool) and that they were there to be challenged and that it wasn’t Yale’s job to police costumes, the students held a protest, shouting horribly disrespectful things to the master of the college, and then pushing to have him and his wife step down. Six months later, they in fact resigned.

There is a new term for college students, called “Snowflakes” in that they are so delicate that they melt with any heat.  There are a lot of theories about why this is happening, particularly helicopter parenting and trophies given to everyone, but the administrations cave into this.  College students today feel that they shouldn’t have to be exposed to ideas that bother them or people who don’t support their world view.  After Hillary Clinton lost the election last fall, many colleges offered special services to help students get through the trauma.  Cornell offered a special “cry in” for students to vent, and Michigan Law School offered its law students a gathering with bubbles, playdoh, coloring and snacks so they could feel better.  Many professors caved in to canceling exams for these traumatized students.  I wonder if anyone mentioned that at other points in history, exams weren’t canceled because of difficult news. Vietnam was raging for most of my early childhood and anyone lucky enough to be in college and not at war, was taking exams because if they didn’t get a B or higher, they could lose their draft deferment.

As you find your world stage, remember that the world needs you, whatever your background or race or religion, and the most impressive thing you can do is to be open to every kind of person and every view point, eschewing things like trigger warnings and safe spaces.  The world needs you to pass on the history you’ve learned, as well as what you’ve lived through so that we can never forget.  As we stand for justice and peace, remember that erasing history or hiding from others’ views isn’t the answer.  We are all stronger than we know.  And together we can create a better world.

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The Game of Life

Last Sunday’s Super Bowl was one of the most exciting endings to a game that I’ve ever seen.  We had friends over, and after it was clear that the Patriots were getting creamed, we turned off the tv and just hung out. Thankfully, we checked the score on our phones from time to time.  When we realized that the score was 20-28 with three minutes left to go, we turned the tv back on.  Since we knew the Patriots would have to score a touchdown and complete a two point conversion, we were a little doubtful.  And even Tom Brady, who is normally very even keel, looked nervous.  But in the end, he and his team focused on the goal and didn’t think about the crowd or the ticking clock, and they made history. What struck me, however, was not that they managed to pull it off in three minutes plus overtime, but that they were able to remain hopeful after such a disappointing game. A lot of people were writing on social media afterwards about what kind of quality allows a person to focus and keep trying when all seems lost. The fact that the Patriots ended up winning, in my mind, is nice, but it’s not the main story.  What was amazing to see was a team begin to rally after defeat, remain focused, keep trying, and still believe that it was possible.

This is, of course, a great metaphor for life.  How many of us, if we had been on that field, would have believed that it was possible to turn the game around as the Pats did, when no one in Super Bowl history has ever come up from 25 points in the final quarter, with eight points in the last three minutes? How many of us would have just gone through the motions since there was no point anyway? The fact is that so many of us use the ‘story’ of our past failures or mis-steps as proof that we should just stop trying and give up.  And we have a culture that supports the idea of giving up, that looks for opportunities to bring others down, and to remind people that dreams don’t come true, that it can’t be done, and that we don’t have what it takes.  (Just notice how often people put each other down online and focus on negativity in real life.)

I noticed a lot of the commentary focusing on Tom Brady and how impressive he was, but it was the entire team that had to shift into action and change their mindset to bring that win.  We want to believe that there is a certain magic surrounding famous, good-looking, athletic and rich people like Tom, who is also, of course, married to a beautiful, famous, rich super model. But I think, more than anything, it was a belief that they might have a chance and they would give it their all no matter what.  Think how amazing our lives would be and the world would be if we all lived by that same belief, that anything was possible, even when it seemed like we had run out of time and the odds were stacked against us?

There’s another part of the story that was equally compelling.  My daughter attends the British International School of Boston, which is where Tom and Gisele’s children attend.  My daughter and her friends, who are seven years older than Benny Brady, are friendly with him because there are a few Brazilian girls in my daughter’s class, and they love to speak with other Portugese speakers, including the Brady kids.  A few days after the Super Bowl, Benny excitedly told everyone in Portuguese about how awesome it was to see his dad’s team win and to get to ride on the float. (My daughter’s friend translated what Benny said.) I love that this little boy, who has a famous American father, was describing one of the most American traditions through the filter of his Portugese native language.  He was so excited, as any 7 year-old boy would be, about this amazing experience and couldn’t wait to tell his friends.  How wonderful that at a time when our president is trying to close our borders, we can remember that even the most “American” hero has a son whose first language is not English. And there’s one more layer to the story too. At the same time that Benny was getting ready for the Super Bowl last Sunday, one of this classmates, a little Turkish immigrant named Ali, who had battled cancer for two years, died. Two boys, same school, but very different backgrounds and outcomes all on one day.

As you find your world stage, remember that the moral of the story is not to give up when you think it’s too late and you don’t have a chance.  Let yourself be excited about your life and share with your friends.  And remember that life, in the end, is game, just like sports.  As much as we can control our attitude, we can’t always control our fate.  When you’re feeling that all hope is lost, remember the little boy from Turkey who battled cancer in a strange land for two years and gave his all.  In the end, he is the biggest hero of all.

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This Land Is Your Land

When I was little, I used to love to listen to Pete Seeger’s album, in which he sang “This Land Is Your Land.” It was the seventies, so even as a young child, I understood that this song had meaning, and that we all shared land with fellow Americans. Since it was during the last part of Vietnam, with ongoing peace rallies taking place, I was aware that we had a responsibility to others beyond our borders too. I was also learning about Native Americans at the time, realizing that they were here first and that we took their land.  We were the immigrants arriving to find better a land, whereas they were already here.  Around that time, I remember my father coming home, annoyed with a coworker who complained about all the “boat people” coming to California.  My father, who is a descendent of the Robber Barron and Stanford University founder, Leland Stanford, responded: “I was a boat person.  Weren’t you?”

In these very divisive times, it’s hard to remember that if we are not descended from Native Americans, then we came over as immigrants.  Some of my family came over on the Arabella, ten years after the Mayflower, but they were still boat people. My husband and my family both have ancestors who fought in the American Revolution, so technically my daughter could be in the Daughters of the American Revolution (not that we care), but does it make her more American?  We are white, upper middle-class and Anglo Saxon, but that doesn’t make us more worthy of being an American.  We also have relatives who escaped from Ireland after the potato famine and found their American dream by having children who were better off than they were.  My maternal great-grandfather only had an eighth grade education, but his daughter (my grandmother) got a PhD, which was no small feat for a women of that generation.

The United States has always been a melting pot of immigrants, coming to this land to create a better life for their families.  Even though my ancestors mostly immigrated to America by the mid-19th Century, before Ellis Island has opened, my husband has some family who did arrive that way. I grew up hearing about the fact that my maternal great-grandfather only spoke Swedish when he arrived in first grade. There was no bilingual education in those days, so he learned English within a short time.  Whereas I have a friend who teaches English at a public high school in California, and he complains that some of today’s immigrants refuse to learn the language. I do believe that language is what unites a country, as well as common customs.  But I also believe that Americans should be free to practice whatever religion they believe in, since our country was founded based on the notion of religious freedom.

There was a poll taken recently by the Pew Foundation asking Americans, as well as citizens of other countries, about what makes someone American (or Danish, etc).  How important was having a similar language or religion for national identity? The Washington Post stated: “About one-third of all Americans think that you have to be a Christian to truly be an American — despite the history of religious pluralism that dates back to the nation’s very earliest days…Americans were far more likely than residents of other countries included in the survey to say that religion was key to sharing in the national identity. Thirty-two percent of Americans said one should be Christian to really be American, compared to just 13 percent of Australians, 15 percent of Canadians and 15 percent of Europeans who felt the same way about belonging in their homelands…Religion was the only question on which Americans were an outlier.” (Julie Zauzmer, Feb 1, 2017)

We currently have a president who married an immigrant but doesn’t see the irony and hypocrisy in viewing other immigrants differently– maybe because she’s beautiful, and white and Christian.  We are not comfortable as a nation with head scarves and dark skin.  But when my daughter collapsed on a flight, it was a Muslim doctor who helped her.  When my son had a serious health issue as a baby, it was a Chinese specialist who changed his life.  Borders are not as important as they used to be, since we are all one global economy. The sooner we realize that we benefit from being in a melting pot and learning from other cultures, the better.

To find your world stage, remember that whatever nationality or color or race or ethnic background, the world needs you.  We benefit from diversity of experience and background and thought. This week, find someone who is not like you, and remind yourself what you have in common.  And for something truly inspiring, watch this amazing Danish video, which explores the boxes we put ourselves and others in, and what we all, in fact, have in common.

https://www.bustle.com/p/this-video-unboxing-peoples-stereotypes-sends-a-powerful-message-in-2017-video-35039

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