7 min read
9/11: Looking Back and Moving Forward - 9/11/2016
Today is one of those days that I do not anticipate very well. It's a day that, ever since the attacks, has been marked with such a kaleidoscope of emotions. Pain, fear, terror, confusion, loss, anxiety, heartbreak...anger. So much anger.
But on the other side of that, in the quiet moments, in-between, we found... strength. Resilience. Coming together, comfort of strangers, we bonded...in our sadness. We found peace and connection with each other, strangers on the street, in the peak of terror and tragedy.
And isn't this what it's about? Isn't this what we're promoting, building, trying to create? Harmony, oneness, kindness. We have it, friends. It's there, it's within us, always. We are a people capable of great Love, compassion, and altruism. But we only let it out, we only see it in others...when we are faced with great odds, turmoil, pain, and tragedy. Why reach out, why offer kindness and comfort...for "no reason?" Why extend ourselves, why become vulnerable...if there is not trouble? Why let that out, if it's "not needed." Perhaps, this is how we've gotten to this place. And perhaps, that's okay. Maybe...how we do it is OK. Maybe we find our greatest, most compassionate selves in our most difficult hours. I don't have the answers. Today, I'm just feeling...out loud.
I tried to stay off social media today, in order to not let it all in. I went to the water, I sat, I reflected, I remembered. I drank an iced latte. I watched the ferry load up and disembark. I wandered through an adorable crystal/metaphysical shop that smelled of intoxicating incense, and it was lovely. But I knew what I was doing. Ducking. Hiding from the Mack-truck of emotion that this day represents for me. I didn't want to feel it, so I built up a fortress of invisible middle fingers, extended all around me, in a protective circle. Not today! I won't feel it!
(Psst...this doesn't work.)
September 11 is one of those things that hits NYers especially, but many others, very hard. We all know or know of a volunteer or a worker who perished that day. Or at least, had a close call. Or still suffers with COPD from the inhalation of toxic smoke. It was here. At home. It was the first time that my generation witnessed anything like this. Our parents would go on and on about where they were when Kennedy was shot. Our grandparents told us all about Pearl Harbor. But that was all far away, distant, in a story. Intangible...not real. But this...my skin still crawls and puckers when I remember. Because it was...real. Too real.
What came back, as I sat by the water:
I was at SUNY Old Westbury. I remember being amazed at myself, that after all those years, after academic probation, after barely graduating high school...being a "lost in my head" n'er do well... I was doing it. And I was proud. At 26 years old, I was back in school, and I was doing it. The future seemed bright and sparkly and the world was my oyster. I was smiling on the inside...I believed in myself for the first time in a very long time.
The first class was wrapping up. Professor came back in. Her face sunken and pale.
"One of the twin towers was hit with a plane or something...I don't know, there's something going on." She seemed nervous. Class one ended. In the break between my first and second class...I sat in the car and turned on the radio. I heard it all, in live-time: radio tower hit, no big deal. No...wait. OH SHIT, A PLANE HIT THE TOWER, ITSELF! Smoke, sirens, confusion, yelling, panic...from the DJs, on the radio. ON Z-100! I was nervous, to say the least...what did this mean? How does a plane hit the tower, isn't it a no-fly zone? That means...it was...intentional? No... I went into my second class...had the same professor.
"The second tower has been hit," she said later. "I don't know what's happening...we could be going to war...I just don't know, I don't know." She was unglued, in a panic, and sent us home. "Find your loved ones..."
I drove home in silence. Shoulders in my ears. My heart racing, my palms sweaty. I was having my first-ever anxiety attack, although I didn't know it at the time. I needed to know what was happening. I would pass other drivers, stop at red lights: vacant stares, intense foreheads. They were listening. Waiting. Just like me. We were all scared, all of us. In a daze. I got home and looked for someone, anyone. Family. Dad was on the golf course. Brother was...I still don't remember. Working? At the firehouse? I know that I was alone, so I started calling people. Finally, my father got home and we watched the news. We watched it all unfold. Again and again...the same footage, again and again.
I found my old journal, from that day. I had a list of "buzz-words." Things that repeated over and over, that were etched into my memory, permanently.
The terror is still palpable, after all this time. "Will all the buildings fall?" "Will they attack us, here?" "Is this what it's like...on the other side of the world? All the time?" My heart broke over and over and over that day.
But as the days went on, as I returned to school...we had vigils. We prayed together. I witnessed first-hand, what concentrated energy and focused good intention, could do...to heal. I was forever moved by it. I encountered an older Black woman, on the way to an assembly, she was wandering around, seeming so lost. I could see it, in her face: scared. I reached out to her, "let's go in together." I merely offered my arm, as I would to my own grandmother, were she still alive. This older woman just pulled me into her and hugged me, hard. Like she's been searching for it for days, hours, sleepless nights. We talked and comforted each other.
Even years later, reuniting with people I hadn't seen in a long time...it was the first thing mentioned: "how did your family come through 9/11" It was hardwired into us. We are not invincible; we are vulnerable. But...we are resilient, we are compassionate, and we come together to aid each other like nothing you've ever seen.
We rise. Always, we rise.
Human beings are by nature... altruistic, loving, compassionate creatures. It is who we are, by design. Hate - is taught. Fear - is learned. Racism, bigotry, and cruelty, are taught. How about that? We teach it to our young, to perpetuate a cycle. Generation after generation. When is enough enough? When do we change what we bring forward? What generation, says...this far, and no farther? Or are we doomed to constantly repeat and repeat, without altering the course. Is it just a record, a flat circle, around and around? Revisiting, without changing? Shall we throw up our hands and just get drunk?
Fuck that. Kick the machine! Skip the record, disrupt the cycle! Dare to impart kindness and benevolence in your actions, to lead by example. Show compassion when it's easy to hate. Forgive when it's easier to hold a grudge. Live in love and kindness, engage in empathy, until it becomes a new habit. We can change our behavior, collectively. We can, one person at a time. This...is what we are doing. This...is our evolution.
Breaking the shackles of rigid belief and limiting, narrow ideologies. Embracing wholeness, oneness, unity, compassion, integrity, Love. [Perhaps we ought to] step into a time, live in a new world, that favors *humanity* and moral, ethical behavior.
We must lead with our minds, with our hearts, with our souls. Intelligent solutions, felt with compassion, with good intentions, for a greater good. It starts inside. With us. <3
<3 Dedicated to all the rescue workers and office workers who lost their lives, nineteen years ago. You are NOT forgotten. <3
I changed a few words that sounded bitter. But every bit of this still rings true for me.
Lead with Love. <3
4 min read
Repost from earlier blog, 2018.
Crisis. Chaos. Urgency. Demands. Anxiety and fear. Social change.
There's been so much, lately... and while I unapologetically let myself wander into flow-zones and creative bliss and write into inspired mindscapes, I work - daily - in public service. My career has been in the study, tending, and serving of humanity since I was young.
And the two greatest gifts that working in service of others can give - are perspective and empathy.
And I love what it does for my writing, I love the deeper dive it gives me, into humanity. I love the widening lens I have on myself, on my relationships, my life, as I learn more about human behavior. But I've also become better and more adept at crisis management, in times of trouble - and more precisely, communication during crisis.
Energy can rage high during times of crisis, and we've been hit with crisis after crisis, lately. The fear, pain, grief, and tension all come to a head over wrongdoing, inequality, unfairness, crime, acts of hate, personal loss, environmental devastation, petty disagreements, perceived hurt, lasting uncertainty, you name it.
It's so easy to get swept up in the fear - and it can distort the way that we communicate, even when our intentions are good and just. It's easy to react with anger. It's harder to respond with compassion. It's a practice, and a worthy one. Anyone that works in service - at any level - ought to be practiced in responding with awareness, compassion, and a calm-assertive mindset.
Confronting someone from a place of grounded awareness is often uncomfortable. It's tempting to shout and rage and blame, though it comes with regret and a handful of misjudgments and mistakes and even unintended harm, sometimes.
We've all been there, in our personal and working lives - there comes a time when we all must speak up.
Personal situations put us in the center of confrontation so often in our lives: it comes up when we have to share sad news, like an unexpected health crisis or the loss of a loved one. It comes up when there is a betrayal of confidence, or a wicked misunderstanding. It comes up when we grow and want more for ourselves - and we need to voice it. It comes up when we have to speak out against something immoral that we witness.
As we journey through life, opportunities to practice confrontation pop up constantly. The minor ones come and go, easily:
But it's the big ones that shake us and make us uneasy - it's the ones we don't like to think about. The confrontations that may cause change.
In the workplace, it comes up in the form of professional disagreements. When a supervisor must correct staff, or enforce a rule or regulation. When staff must speak up to a supervisor. When changes sweep through an organization, and staff must be re-educated. These are simple bubbles of change that rise up, anywhere.
And these dynamics occur in all sorts of relationships. In romantic relationships, friendships, work relationships, and larger scale relationships, as well. Government officials and the citizens who elect them. Between country leaders and other country leaders. Race, gender, ideology, religion, anything that denotes a kind of belief about oneself, their community, and the greater world engenders an idea of relationship. We are constantly in relationship - with ourselves and with others. We fight often, within ourselves, until we seek peace and find a resolution, and continue on down our path - and so it is outside of us, as well.
Any conversation that might result in an unpleasant emotional state, for one or both parties, can be unsettling. It's just the way of things and feeling nervous before a confrontation is normal. Not wanting to hurt someone's feelings is a normal, healthy reflex. It doesn't make us weak. But the truth must always come out if we want to ensure healthy relationships, on all levels. We must always say what needs to be said - sincerity is paramount, overall. When we swallow it down and over-accomodate others, we internalize and stifle ourselves, which is never healthy in the long run. And when truth must be spoken, those emotional soft spots should be respected, but not allowed to run the conversation.
"Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes..." Maggie Kuhn
When the moment comes to deliver the news or ask the question or raise the issue, a series of things can happen:
But stay with it. Speak the truth, deliver the goods, even if you tremble or turn red. Your body will have a reaction the first time you do it, as the rush of energy pours out, it won't feel good. You might sweat or cry afterward or feel anger or want to withdraw for a while. Sharing truth is vulnerable. But know that truth - most times - is always better on the outside, and that the waves of emotion that rush in for both parties, should subside quickly. Nerves will settle. The anxious feeling doesn't stay long and the liberation of not holding it in anymore will leave room for something new - for some growth, for some forward momentum, for some new inspiration in the relationship.
4 min read
A young man came into the library today. He was looking for some books to read over the summer.
"What grade level?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm done, I graduated," he replied.
"Oh, so you were in the parade through town, celebrating..."
"Yep. Sure was..."
"OK, so let me see what I can pull up, here..." I looked up the reading lists for the school and found some AP suggestions. "Are you going to college, are you gonna work, do you have plans, yet?"
"Oh, I'm going to college, for sure. I'm not sure of my major..."
We chatted a bit more. Then he took Dubliners, by James Joyce, thanked me, and left. Great kid, polite, kind, curious. I'm excited for him. Glistening with potential.
After he left, I began to think about these graduates and the world that they are walking into, right now. As freshmen.
To the College-Bound Graduates:
I wish I knew what to tell you about all of this. About the state of the world, of the pandemic, and politics, and climate, and social injustices, and the economy. I wish I knew what to tell you to major in so that you'd soar, in these shifting times. I wish I had a clue... I don't.
And see, that's the thing. Even us, as adults, aren't sure of things day to day. We do our best. We just show up, stay kind, work hard, take care of ourselves, and do our best.
But I would tell you to try things. If you don't know what to major in, then don't. Take an assortment of classes, they're all for credit. You can major in Liberal Arts for two years and then decide. You can switch over. You can always take a class or two later to make up some credits, to round out a major. Don't feel that you have to know it all up front and then go in. Many students don't. It's okay not to know.
Some students know early on what they want to pursue. Medicine. Law. Biochemistry. Nursing. Psychiatry. Veterinarian. Political Science. Teaching. And many, many students don't have a clue, and they see college as a necessary step in their lives, that they want to take, but aren't exactly sure what courses to take. And perhaps, for them, it's the experience itself that grants them what they need...
The exchange of ideas with your peers, in a new and expanded setting. Healthy debate. New perspectives. New worlds of inspiration and reading and research. New friendships and clubs to join. Many students have the soul of an artist or philosopher and just need to try a lot of disciplines out, before they choose. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Try things.
This...is life. Not knowing, and having the mindset to just... start... despite not knowing, is what great success stories are made of. Diving in without a map shows a bit of adventure and curiosity and ambition, a desire to learn by doing, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It's a perspective that you can take further in to life, not just with school. This is the creative mindset and it's incredibly valuable, especially in the world that you'll be joining. Flexibility, creativity, adaptability will all be essential mindsets to hold onto.
Trust that you'll find your way and things will speak to you and teach you, as you go. You may figure it all out in college, and you may not. It's just a step, but walk ahead with enthusiasm. We are learning are whole lives through, and college is a wonderful stop along that road.
We're all fools on the road of life. Some of us didn't go to college. Some of us went out after high school and plunged into the world of business and never looked back. Some went head-first into their artistic dreams, and never looked back. It can be nice to have a passion, to know exactly what you want to do with your life. But it can also be a lifelong adventure to not know... to show up and continue to learn and grow and explore. And many of us who live in this way, become teachers, in one way or another. Life teachers. Way-showers. Leaders. Trust your choices as they come up and keep checking with yourself. And remember that you're living a story and don't get too mired down by one moment, because moments come and go that challenge us to the core.
Remember when those moments come - doubt, fear, paralysis, pain, loss, heartache, confusion - that they are temporary, and that you can get up and dust your pants off and keep going forward. And figure things out.
I know that you'll make the world a better place, in your own way. Take your time and explore yourself and how you feel about things. About life. And how you'd want to improve it or document it or enhance it or entertain it. And just start. Read voraciously. Educate yourself about what fuels your passions. Try things, over and over again. Just try things. Live your youth.
And we can't wait to hear what you have to say.
4 min read
I was in a mood this morning. I did record a video about it for you, while I was walking, but the gods of sound weren't having it. The mic cut out, constantly. I should get a new phone, the XR has never worked right. C'est la vie. Moving on.
So, here's what happened:
I signed up to become a seller of a bath and body brand that I love. It's an MLM thing, I know you know. "Why not," I figured. I LOVE the stuff.
I read up, and all I had to do was click this and send that and I'd be good.
However, they tried something new. Relentless phone calls all week. I had to verify my identity if I wanted to proceed. I finally got around to checking my messages and they had deactivated my account.
Their customer service team would be offline the day that I wanted to correspond via email.... this was strange and unprofessional. I looked into my service rep and there was a filtered photo of a child with bear ears talking to me with typos.
Assuming I was punk'd or that this was some sort of spam racket, I bowed out. Strangest customer service experience I'd ever had.
"You have to talk with us on our terms or not at all..."
Usually, since I've been alive, service was always about the customer or client. So, as someone who's worked in the field since I was a teenager... I was disenchanted.
Also, of note, I had just received a congratulatory email for being a valued member of the team!
At this point, I am confused. This is the epitome of mixed messaging, if this were me and a fella, I'd lose his number by now. But this is a business.
Here are the things I'm thinking about:
I found the whole thing odd. I thought it was a joke, because where I come from and how I work that's not how it's done. Kindness makes sense. I'd always wanted to make everyone feel at home, like they belong, and that they should always, always come back - if they wanted to.
And today's customer service - and not in all cases, but many - falls so short. There's an air of entitlement. I'll get to it when I see fit. I'll respond when I choose to. You're just a number to hit on my form. I'm not working that hard, today. This is just a job.
And I wonder if these companies know about the level of service and how much better it could be. And I wonder if these younger generations are being trained in the ways of "the customer is always right," and "service with a smile," and "my job is to make your experience great." How as customer service workers, they are the front door, the foyer, the welcoming center for all guests and clients. They represent an entire firm, company, business, or brand.
Playing hard to get with a client is just bad business, it seems. Granted, I've been in the nonprofit sector for a long, long time now, and it's different in many ways. But at the core, it's the same. Service, in all forms, is about people. Sales is about people.
I feel like I've just left the Twilight Zone. And I'm not put-out or distressed about it, but questions come up, as they do... like how are we training these people? Your brand, your name, your reputation and success are really only as good as your customer care workers. And if they don't care about their customers, they don't really care about your business, either. Fun fact.
Consumers will build generational brand loyalty with a line of cars... if they receive great customer service with just one first purchase. Buying a car is a big deal, and if they feel safe, heard, respected, they'll come back. Their kids will often be back, too.
Kindness is not just about being nice, although it should just be inherent in people... but it's also about strategy. It just makes sense to build relationships with people that you want to come back.
Happy people stick around. Just as happy and well-trained workers...stick around and work harder for you.
Is this a generational thing? Or...did I wake up in the wrong universe again?
Going to my garden, now... xoxo