Remember the Dream Again

A year ago, I wrote about Martin Luther King and what a hero he was, not only to black people but to all of us. I am re-posting this again this weekend, because it is more important now than ever. Americans have spent a year feel assaulted by the bully we have in the White House. We already know that Trump is sexist and racist, but his horrible comments this week about not wanting people from s*** hole countries is disgusting. I feel ashamed to be American, and I can only imagine what Martin Luther King would have thought. I hope that we all find the courage to start marching in protest against all the dismantling that has been done already, from our environment to foreign policy.  It is ironic that these comments were made on the eve of MLK Day, given that this day honors a man who stood up for the poor and the oppressed and who understood the power of language to unite or to tear down.  He cared about justice and building a better world for everyone, not about making more money at others’ expense. In honor of Martin Luther King, here is the post I wrote exactly one year ago, celebrating one of my heroes. May we all remember that freedom is not something we can take for granted, and we must fight for it every day.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and none of it was planned.  The night before, King asked his aides for advice about the speech, as to whether he should use the “I Have a Dream” line, which he had used a few times before.  His advisor, Wyatt Walker, said, “It’s trite, it’s cliche.  You’ve used it too many times already.” The next day, King did not plan to use it.  He wanted something as powerful as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address but just couldn’t seem to nail it.  When he reached the podium, it was almost 90 degrees and the crowd of 250,000 people had been standing in the heat for hours.  King was 16th on the program, almost at the very end.  As Norman Mailer wrote, “there was… an air of subtle depression, of wistful apathy which existed in many. One felt a little of the muted disappointment which attacks a crowd in the seventh inning of a very important baseball game when the score has gone 11-3.” King delivered a rather staid address, reading from his notes, but it clearly wasn’t as passionate as other speeches he had given in the past.  As he neared the end, Mahalia Jackson, who was behind him, having sung earlier, cried out: “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King paused, put down his notes and decided to preach like the Baptist minister he was, and the rest is history:

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” (The Guardian: Aug 9, 2013.)

Over 50 years later, some of the dream has come to fruition, like having a black president in the White House the past eight years, but racial tensions continue, with white cops killing innocent blacks and blacks retaliating.  Most recently in the news, there was a very sad and disturbing story of four angry black teens kidnapping and torturing a disabled white teen to seek revenge on all white people.  The ordeal was videotaped by the teens and posted to social media because I guess getting noticed for their hatred was far more important than not getting caught.  Still, it makes me so sad and angry that all these years after the Civil Rights Movement, there continues to be more racial hatred and violence.  Dr. King would be so disheartened to see this, and yet I’m sure he wouldn’t be surprised.  Racism is taught at home and anti-racism has to be taught as well.  Children don’t just grow up knowing the importance of not judging by the color of one’s skin. It has to be taught.  Children aren’t born racist.  Babies love all colors; they love people who play with them.  It is adults who teach them to be mean and judgmental and afraid of people not like them.  And we should be ashamed.

My family is fortunate in that we can afford to live in a town that is very racially and religiously diverse, with 30% Jews and many Asians and African Americans.  My son’s classroom last year was 50% non white, his teacher was Indian-American and his aide was African-American.  The year before, his teacher was Costa Rican. My daughter’s school is an international school with 75 countries represented. At her birthday party, half of all the girls spoke another language as their first language.  My husband’s best friend is Japanese, and our kids have grown up thinking that “Crazy Uncle Dave” is somehow blood related, even though we are pale white people.   My kids know that discriminating against people because of the color of their skin is like choosing friends because of the color of their tennis shoes– it’s pretty random and unfair. But not all parents teach this.  Some white children are taught to hate and fear blacks and visa versa, and that’s sad, because the cycle will never end until all of us learn and teach the right thing.

As you begin this new year, committed to finding and living your world stage, remember the brave preacher that one hot August day, who had a dream that someday black children would be equal to white.  This is also a man who took a chance, against the advice of his aides, and put his speech down, knowing he had no other words to read from, and followed his heart in order to inspire a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people looking for direction and hope.  Remember to ask yourself how you are helping Martin Luther King’s dream to live on in the way you live your life.  And ask yourself what your “I Have A Dream” speech is, and what would happen if just once, you lay down your notes and spoke from your heart.  You might just make history too.

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Do the Hard Thing

I saw a documentary recently on middle class teens who became addicted to heroin after taking pain killers for a sports injury. After the prescription meds became too hard to find or too expensive to pay for, they switched to heroin and even ended up using needles, entering into a life that neither they nor their parents could ever imagine. What struck me most was the number of teens who described their surprise at how good they felt the first time they took the pills. One guy said, “It felt so amazing that I figured it had to be good for you.” This was an college-educated guy saying this.

I thought of all the things that feel good and are good for you, like snuggling a child and eating blueberries hot from the sun, or watching a sunset in explosions of orange, and going for a walk. But then I thought about how many of us find it easier to bury ourselves in our phones and not snuggle, or eat a bag of chips instead of the blueberries, or decide we’re too busy to watch the sunset and miss the colors that only last for a few minutes before they’re gone. There is a reason that so many people increasingly throughout the world, in first world countries, are overweight or addicted to alcohol or drugs or gambling. If you go to an American mall on a given weekend, it’s shocking how many people are fat, wandering around eating fast food and drinking soda, with tons of packages on their arms, for a day of shopping as sport. I’m curious how many of these people are in debt and can’t afford to be shopping for fun.

The fact is that the key to being successful is being willing to do the hard thing day after day after day, while everyone else seems to be having endless fun, if you believe social media. Tony Robbins once said, “Every successful person did what no one else was willing to do.” We read about Olympic athletes who train for hours per day in grueling weather conditions and through physical pain to get where they want to go. Entrepreneurs have been known to work 80 hour weeks. The Pixar creators apparently worked so much in the early days to launch their films, that they slept in their offices to save time. There are stories all the time of obese people who finally got up the courage to lose 100 pounds or more, one step at a time.

For me, the hard thing is eating healthy foods instead of junk food and sugar, and getting out there to exercise most days. It’s writing my blog every single week no matter what, for almost 2 years and with over 100 posts at this point. It’s showing up 100% for my coaching clients every single session and coaching some days beginning at 6:30 for Australian clients. It’s the discipline of meditation and chi gong. It’s being there for my kids when they are sick or struggling or need help or comfort, or just want to have fun, and putting other things aside. It’s tracking every penny that we have spent for the past 25 years, budgeting every month, and not wasting money so that we can spend on what matters to us– a nice home, private schools, international trips, and things like camp and skiing. I say this not to brag but to mention that many friends with similar income have asked how we can afford this, but they forget that we don’t go shopping for fun, or go out to eat often, or spend $30 at the movies, or buy fancy cars. (We have one car, an 8 year-old Subaru, which works great for us.) We do the hard things so that we can have what we want. It’s definitely not easy or even always fun, but it’s so worth it.

To find your world stage, ask yourself what easy comfort you rely on, like watching too much tv or eating fatty treats or shopping all the time, that you will need to give up to become well-read and fit and fiscally responsible. It is definitely not fun in the moment, but the rewards are so great. Remember, nothing that is that easy is usually good for you, particularly in the case of addictions. Life is not meant to be smooth sailing all the time.  It’s meant to be rewarding, and that comes from doing the hard thing that many people can’t or won’t do.

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Happy New Year!

As 2017 comes to a close and we look forward to 2018, I wanted to remind everyone that the answer is not a long list of resolutions to try to stick to, but instead a short list of Absolute Yeses for the new year. There will always be a lot of noise and distractions in the world, as well as family and friends with their own agendas insisting you do what they want. But in the end, it’s your life and your choice. You get to choose what works and what doesn’t. You get to decide what brought you joy this past year and what didn’t. You don’t have to follow the crowd and mindlessly do what everyone else does.

Here are some things I did in 2017 that I loved:

  1. I took on more wonderful coaching clients and really enjoyed being able to connect with and help clients from all over the world.
  2. I continued to write this blog, and got to guest blog for Live Your Legend, which was a great experience.
  3. I started performing again, after a long break, and now have several gigs.
  4. We hosted a French girl here for 10 days and then my daughter went to Arles, France for 10 days, all of which made me feel so hopeful about the world.
  5. We visited Seville, Spain and fell in love with it.

Here are some things I let go of this year:

  1. I stopped putting up with doctors I didn’t like. I switched my internist, OB, dentist, and my daughters’ pediatrician, all of whom are much better.
  2. I stopped giving endlessly to one-way friendships and raised my standards for what I expect in a relationship.
  3. I set up boundaries around my work hours, so that I could be more productive, and screened carefully for new clients, so that I work with clients I enjoy.
  4. I didn’t host Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, and my family had a simple staycation this holiday. And next year, we will be traveling at Christmas, so I don’t have to spend hours buying and wrapping gifts that frankly none of us need.
  5. We quit going to church, after bouncing around various churches for the past 10 years, realizing that we feel more religious when helping others or hiking in the woods or traveling.

As you think about this next year, with 365 new days waiting for you to experience them, remember that how you spend your days is how you spend your life. And if you don’t have a clear plan for how they are spent, others will decide for you.

Here are my Absolute Yeses for 2018:

  1. Spirituality: connecting with what matters to me on a daily basis
  2. Health: putting my diet, exercise and sleep front and center
  3. Family/Friends: making sure I spend time with family and friends who matter
  4. Creativity: making my music and writing a top priority
  5. Coaching: growing my business and serving more clients from all over the world
  6. Adventure: making sure that my life is full of fun, travel and new experiences.

What are yours? As you seek your world stage, think about what you have to say no to in order to make room for your yeses.

Happy New Year to all of you.  Wishing you a new year filled with joy and peace.

 

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Merry Christmas!

Wherever you are in the world and whatever holiday you celebrate, I want to wish you a Merry Christmas in as many languages as possible.

This season, remember that we are more alike than we are different, and that the answer to having peace in the world is to be a light for others. Practice love, show joy, extend kindness, and be of good cheer. As you find your world stage and claim your voice, use your gifts to brighten the world. It needs it now more than ever.

Wishing you all a very joyful season. With love and gratitude,

Melinda Stanford

World Stage Coaching

 

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Let Go of Perfect

In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson wrote that it’s easy for many of us to find fault with everything, to the point that we miss the joy of life. I think this is very easy to do during the holidays, when expectations are sky high and yet so many things can fall short of our expectations. For those of you who are like me, who tend to be perfectionists and want everything just so, it’s a great lesson to let go and not hold on as tightly to how things have to be. Last night, for instance, my family and I went to see the old movie It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen in an old movie house. When we arrived, there were almost no seats, the place was run down, and my daughters’ arm rest, which was covered in gum, actually fell off. We could have gotten upset, but instead we just laughed about it, and remembered the slum we lived in when we spent time in Sydney a few years ago, that was falling down like this movie house, and then we enjoyed the movie. And today, when we went to my son’s choral concert, we ended up surrounded by people who were either chatting or texting or checking their PayPal accounts during the concert as soon as their own children weren’t singing. I just gently said “shhh” to a few people with a smile and let go of the larger fact that they were acting rude. I was able to enjoy the concert and they got the message. I didn’t have to get drawn into analyzing other people’s insensitivity.

Tonight my daughter celebrated her 15th birthday with 25 of her friends, including boys. Since many of her friends are from all over the world, because she goes to an international school, half of the parents didn’t RSVP.  My daughter texted her friends as well, but even as we were heading to the party, we didn’t really know who would show up; texts were coming in, asking where and when the party was again. I had to accept that even though I was raised to respond to invitations promptly and write thank you notes, that this may not be important in other cultures. So I just took a deep breath and accepted that whatever happened would be okay. In the end, we had two last minute no’s and one last minute yes and two people arrived late and one person left early and everyone had a great time. We did have a party room that only sat 16 people, so the other nine had to stand, but we squished them in by the door and handed them cake and soda and they were fine for the brief 10 minutes we were in there. One dad couldn’t seem to find the venue to pick up his daughter so I had to talk him through using Google Maps, and another boy hid in the bathroom since he was feeling socially awkward, but my husband and another kid were very kind to him and made him feel better. We also got kicked out of the skating rink since it closed at 9pm, so we stood in 15 degree weather outside, waiting for the late parents to pick up.  We ended up hanging out with a  bunch of kids in our car until those parents had arrived, which ended up being fun.

It always amazes me how wonderful life can be when we let go of needing to seek perfection, when we let go of rigid rules and expectations, and when we accept that cultures are different– not everyone values responding or being on time, and that’s okay. When you let go of that, then the magic appears. You enjoy the concert and don’t worry about why the audience is so inattentive. You enjoy the birthday party and don’t worry about not having enough chairs, or getting kicked out of the venue into the cold. You come up with a Plan B, which is more creative and fun. You realize that you don’t have to be the perfect hostess and follow all the rules, which frees you up to notice the dynamics of your daughters’ first boy-girl party. You get to notice the joy that these kids felt just being together, and you realize that they didn’t care if they had a seat or were kicked out in the cold, as long as they could hang out longer.

To find your world stage, try to soften your rules, expectations, assumptions, and judgments. The world is large and we are all so different. If we let go of what needs to happen, we start to see the magic of what does unfold, for better or for worse. This holiday season, remember that you don’t have to be perfect, but instead be open to whatever comes.

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Oh Christmas Tree

I remember walking my daughter to her first day of kindergarten when she was five. Since she felt like a big girl, she walked alone ahead of me, with her big sparkly princess backpack which she chose. I held her brother’s hand, which was tiny at the time because he was three. I remember that I could fold my hand around his little hand to get a good grip, since was a busy little guy who tended to dart away from me when I wasn’t looking.

Today my son’s hand is almost my size. My daughter still walks ahead of us but not because she’s a big girl with a shiny backpack, but because she’s a teen and we are embarrassing.

Every year my husband and I get smaller in comparison to our kids. My daughter is now 5 feet 6 inches, which is my height.  My son isn’t far behind. Every year their hands are bigger and less likely to hold mine. But they still snuggle us and call us “Mommy and Daddy” which my husband and I definitely did not by their age.

Last weekend, we put up our Christmas tree, the lovely fake tree we bought 14 years ago as a temporary tree since my daughter was putting everything in her mouth and we didn’t want her eating the tree. We kept it through my son’s oral stage too. And then the tree became part of the family, since every year the kids would beg to keep it and not chop down a live tree. Even though each year more of the bottom branches have fallen off, it still looks amazing after all the ornaments are on. So every year, we get down the four dusty boxes from the attic, we unpack all the ornaments, even the fragile ones now that the kids are old enough not to break them, and take turns putting up the ornaments.

The first year that we had the fake tree, my daughter was one and my husband hoisted her up to put a few shiny ornaments on the tree and then she was done. We finished up on our own later. That went on for a few years and then by the time the kids were four and two, they wanted to decorate the tree all by themselves, which meant one very small section of the tree and that was it. (We had to shift things around after they went to sleep).

Then there was the year my son was having a terrible three’s tantrum and pulled the head off my favorite ornament from my childhood– a lady with a purple shiny dress. He pulled her head right off and threw it across the room. The preschool years meant a lot of art and homemade popcorn ornaments that graced the tree. Then there was the “let’s buy some new ornaments every year to add to the ornaments from our parents and grandparents” until the tree was bursting at the seams.

Every year, my husband and I argue about how to hang the lights and why we forgot to get new Christmas lights since the bottom rows never work and start flashing or just stop shining if you move too quickly near the tree.  So we tiptoe around the tree, like it’s a sleeping giant or some old man we don’t want to wake.

Every year, we listen to our Christmas albums, which include Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. But this year, my almost 15 year-old daughter, pulled out her phone and her play list and introduced us to R&B infused pop songs that vaguely resembled Christmas songs.  Even she agreed ultimately that the music sounded more loud than festive, so we finally got to put our usual songs on.

Every year, we vow that this year, there will be no fighting when the tree goes up. In the early years it was, “It’s not fair that she got to put up more than I do.” Now it’s, “I can’t believe I had to put up so many since I have a lot of homework!” It’s easy to feel like we’re doing it wrong, and that everyone else is in a Norman Rockwell painting that has come to life, as they patiently unwrap each ornament and laugh and compliment one another.

I think what our little fake Christmas tree has seen over the years.

What really helped me to enjoy our rambunctious, slightly complaining tree decorations this time was to realize that how we show up is how we show up. The main thing is that we do. Someday soon, before we know it, our kids will have moved out, and we’ll be lucky if they help decorate the tree when they’re home from college or grad school, maybe still insisting on the same old fake tree that was part of their growing up. And maybe later their kids will decorate it so that they don’t get real tree stuck in their mouths. And then they can decorate one small part since that is what they can reach, or pull the head off the doll, or fight over who does what. And the cycle continues.

As Joni Mitchell wrote so beautifully in her song, Circle Game, which is about growing up:  “…And they tell you take your time/ it won’t be long now/Til you drag your feet/just to slow the circle down.”

As you seek your world stage, relish the imperfect gatherings you have with your family- whether it’s your kids, or your parents or other relatives and friends, because the end of the ride comes too soon, and you will wish you had dragged your heels to slow the circle down.

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Hope Is Alive

This morning I woke up to the news that one of the largest tax cuts in American history was passed, during the night while Americans slept. The cuts will fill the pockets of corporations and the wealthiest 1% to please the donors who will contribute generously to future campaigns. We no longer have a government by the people and for the people, and it is very scary. The timing seems perfect because Americans are in fact asleep at the wheel of democracy. We have become consumers and not citizens. A large percentage of Americans actually get their news from Facebook, much of which we have now learned is in fact fake. We voted in a reality star for president, because we were more mesmerized by the size of his bank account than by the content of his character. We got the democracy we deserve.

My son is studying the American Revolution and trying to understand why a ragtag group of colonists, with not enough money or training, could overcome the massive British Army. There are a lot of reasons, including learning a form of guerrilla warfare that the Indians had taught George Washington in the French Indian War. But the main reason, I believe, is that colonists had a lot to lose; they had a why. They were not asleep.  They were not wasting time doing the colonial equivalent of watching the Kardashians.  They didn’t believe in taxation without representation and realized that they were going to have to fight to gain their freedom.

Today we think that freedom is our God-given right, but it’s not. We have to fight for it every day, given that it is eroding as we speak. But we also have to reconnect with that sense of purpose that the early colonists felt. We have to find our WHY, because without it, we won’t have the energy over the long haul, for all the lost battles that can still add up to an ultimate win if we are patient and persistent.

The same, of course, applies to our lives. We have this idea that things should come easily and if they don’t, they aren’t meant to happen. (I blame design shows that renovate a house in 45 minutes.) As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” And doing anything that matters doesn’t happen in a day or a week or a month or even in a year necessarily. It takes a lot of years of hard work to be a surgeon or a concert pianist or a great teacher. It takes daily grit and patience and humor to raise kids and/or to start and grow a business. It’s a leap of faith for so many things that matter, since in the end there are no guarantees.

In spite of the bad news, however, it was a great day, because I helped out with my son’s school’s Model UN conference, in which 600 students from all over greater Boston took a day out of their busy lives, shut off their phones and computers, and took on the biggest issues the world faces, from poverty to women’s rights to nuclear weapons. My son represented Turkey in nuclear arms issues, and others represented countries ranging from the US and UK to Myanmar and Nigeria. I heard conversations about water rights and hunger and disarmament. I took pictures and was impressed how serious all the students were, ranging in age from 11-14, dressed in their business suits and negotiating resolutions. I couldn’t put my finger on what made me so happy today, and then I realized what it was. I felt hopeful for the world and for our country.  600 students, representing the next generation, made fighting for human rights and democracy their number one priority today.

As you seek your world stage, whatever country your passport comes from, don’t forget that anything that matters is worth working hard and fighting hard for. Remember your WHY for whatever you’re doing. If it’s not strong enough, think about what will inspire you to go after what matters to you. If a group of scruffy colonists could defeat the greatest power the world had ever known, we have a model for how to do it again, whether to defend our democracy or our dreams.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

For those of you who are American, I want to wish you a happy Thanksgiving. For those who are from other countries, it’s a great time before Christmas comes to remember to give thanks for all of our blessings, both large and small. It’s so easy for many of us to get caught up in the endless wave of consumerism and to crave more, when in fact the greatest lesson is being happy with what we have.

Chelsea Dinsmore, who took over her husband’s organization called Live Your Legend after he died two years ago, posted recently about the importance of gratitude, particularly in times of grief. Her husband was killed from rock falling as they were nearing the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Chelsea had to spend days climbing back down the mountain while her husband’s body was carried down with the group, and yet she chose even in the darkest time to look for whatever gratitude she could find. She shared this poem, which I am in turn re-posting here. I love the idea that not having everything we desire allows us to have something to look forward to, and that going through hard times enables us to build character. It may not feel that way in the moment, but we can often see it later looking back.

In a world of presidential tweets, airbrushed models, sound bites, fake news, and false social media images, it’s a good reminder to know that there are no short-cuts. Instead, we need to remember the basics: Show up, work hard, do your best, be grateful, and be kind to others. In Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Richard Carlson once wrote, “Be grateful when your mood is high and graceful when it is low.” I think of that often when things aren’t going as well. And these days with all the bad news, from horrific shootings to natural disasters to nuclear threats, it’s a test sometimes to be graceful. But gratitude makes that possible.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, take some time this holiday season to be grateful for all you have. As you seek your world stage, remember that there is nothing more attractive than a grateful person.

Be thankful that you don’t already have everything you desire,
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?
Be thankful when you don’t know something
For it gives you the opportunity to learn.
Be thankful for the difficult times
During those times you grow.
Be thankful for your limitations
Because they give you opportunities for improvement.
Be thankful for each new challenge
Because it will build your strength and character.
Be thankful for your mistakes
They will teach you valuable lessons.
Be thankful when you’re tired and weary
Because it means you’ve made a difference.
It is easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are
also thankful for the setbacks.
Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles
and they can become your blessings.
~ Author Unknown ~

 

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Let Us Give Thanks

It’s hard to believe that the holidays are once again upon us. It seems like just a few months ago that I was making New Year’s Resolutions and committing to brand new goals, when in fact here we are with six weeks left to our year. I must admit that I do love this time of year, with golden leaves, crisp air, mittens and pumpkins and dressing up, gathering with family, twinkling lights and shiny ornaments.

My kids aren’t little anymore– my younger child will be a teen in 3 months, so I’m no longer doing the snow suit dance in which you get both kids in all the layers and then someone has to use the bathroom. They listen to music that consists of lots of breathless men playing the ukulele and I long for some Elton John or Aretha or even Queen.  We’re not going on “hikes” in the neighborhood anymore to collect leaves in our buckets to make into pretty pictures. We still pick apples most years, but really fall has become the backdrop of a busy back-to-school season, with dances and sleep-overs, homework, soccer practices and games and lots of scheduling and logistics. We don’t have anyone dressed as superheroes with capes anymore, but my son did volunteer to go to a diversity conference today so that his classmates would know that white guys care about diversity too. My daughter no longer dresses as princess who can change bad to good with her wand, but she helped a woman this fall who had collapsed by the road. She didn’t have a wand, but she had her cell phone and called 911, waiting until the EMT arrived.

This holiday season I want things to be different for me.  I will not rush or overspend or eat until I’m stuffed. Instead, I will try to be present and more moderate, to spend time enjoying the season, to take my time. It’s not easy to do, but a great start is gratitude, remembering that most of us are not escaping war-torn countries, many of us have enough to eat and a place to sleep, and some of us have work that makes us happy.  Today I went to the mall with my family to do some evening shopping and realized how easy it is to pull away from gratitude when you are surrounded by excess– store after store with beautiful things to look at and buy and own. It takes really presence not to get sucked into believing that you will be happier if you own all the shiny objects that are for sale. I tried a few things on in a horrible dressing room with unflattering light and three- way mirrors. It’s a wonder that I bought anything and left feeling at all good about myself in that light and with those angles.

When my kids were little, we used to spend time in the car talking about what we were grateful for. My kids came up with the most wonderful ideas. Here is an excerpt from a Christmas letter that I came across recently, describing the year when my kids were 4 and 2: “Will talks so constantly that Isabel can’t get a word in edgewise. He also loves to shout, “thank you, God!” whenever we’re driving. When we ask what they are grateful for, Isabel tends to be practical, mentioning her house and her friends. Will is more specific—“I’m grateful for blackberries, rocks and gourds. And peaches and mouths.”

So this holiday season, remember that a big part of finding your world stage, is realizing the parts of it that you already have. Let us be grateful for our own version of “peaches and mouths” and shine a light on a world that so needs our joy and our peace.

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In Praise of Soldiers

Last fall my son was asked to sing the 6th grade solo in which he sings from the perspective of a boy soldier in World War I: “My name is Francis Toliver/ I come from Liverpool/ Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school. To Belgium and to Flanders/to Germany to here/I fought for King and country I love dear.” The song called “Christmas in the Trenches” relates the events that happened the first Christmas during the Great War, when both sides stopped fighting for a brief period, left their trenches and met their enemies unarmed, trading chocolates and cigarettes, and showing photographs of back home. They sang and played instruments and even exchanged a game of football. Once daylight returned, however, the men went back to war. I worked with my son as he prepared to inhabit this character to have him understand what it must have been like to be just a teenage boy not much older than he is, stuck in the trenches, cold and muddy and wishing for a real Christmas. That one night of rest from fighting must have been magical.

It’s easy to forget on Veteran’s Day that this is not just some random holiday that allows us a day off, but is the anniversary of the signing of the armistice, which ended the Great War that boys like Francis Toliver slogged through. It, of course, includes other soldiers from other wars, but the date is tied to the end of the Great War, which was called that because it never occurred to anyone that there would be another war. Once we had World War II, the term World War I replaced the term Great War.

Today’s boys have no idea what it was like for those who were the right age before these big wars. They didn’t have a choice in the matter. It was their duty to sacrifice their lives to defend our freedom. Today’s soldiers choose to go to war. They are not drafted, but decide to devote their lives to our country, because they want to make a difference and/or because it’s their chance to do something important and see the world. Whatever the reason, I am grateful for their sacrifice.

I think of my grandfather Horace, who left his young family to volunteer for World War II in his thirties because he felt that he had to fight for our freedom. He was among the early boats that landed at Normandy in June 1944, and described years later the terror of arriving on that beach, knowing that the Germans who were planted up the hill would just be shooting at them non-stop as they tried to make their way from the water on up. Many didn’t make it, but my grandfather somehow did. When I was twelve, I visited Normandy and I couldn’t believe how steep the hill was and how unprotected that beach was. It’s amazing that anyone made it out alive. And yet that landing was a key turning point in the war. With over 150,000 soldiers, the Allies’ successful attack created a victory that became the turning point in the war.
So today, I honor all the soldiers who have served our country throughout time.  I am grateful for your sacrifice and for the freedom you fought for, so that we could all be free. America is great because of all the soldiers who shivered in the cold, in trenches and huddled in boats, waiting for boredom to switch to terror. To all the Francis Tolivers out there, you are my heroes.
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