Fear and Hope

This past week has definitely been painful and upending; a week of learning and adaptation in our lives. Our humanity has been tested, angered, loosened and tightened. We have felt our world of certainties, our ease, freedoms and entitlement slowly disintegrate and give in to the “nothingness” that is left when the pandemic of fear eats into the very certainty of our lives. And if there is one thing that can spread faster than a pandemic, it is fear. With increasing interconnectedness of world panic specifically due to the COVID-19, it is easy to get caught up in the contagion of fear that surrounds us. But hope is equally contagious though perhaps harder to communicate.

We can choose to be huddled in a boat of fear with all the turmoil we see today and in so doing we can bring down others on this downtrodden road, or we can rise above our fear and anxiety and focus our feelings on hope and faith in our humanity. Fear and hope are opposite motivators. Hope creates space in our minds and hearts because it asks to believe in something that could be, while fear, more often than not, restricts it. But they both have the capacity to promote growth in us. If we don’t give in to panic, fear shows us what we are afraid of losing which, in today’s turmoil, is life of loved ones, perhaps our own life, or control of a lifestyle. Once we recognize what we are most afraid of losing, (our health, our lives, loved ones), we can go about nurturing it and keeping it strong and safe with Hope. Hope asks us to have faith; to believe in ourselves, in our own senses, our creativity, and our ability to overcome adversity. In order to believe it, we must have faith in the possibility that we can make things better than what is. And in this equation, Hope should be the greater force.My hope is that in these times of turmoil, we see opportunity; we see signs of unity, of goodness and faith. If we could just look at how we come together across the globe with a sense of collective purpose, as humans showing compassion with hearts and minds of collective souls of goodwill — (in Italy, people singing across balconies and open windows; in Greece, playing the bouzoukis to share in each other’s pain; in the UK buying soap and hand sanitizers for distribution among those who don’t have the means; in Ohio, children playing cello on front porches of elderly neighbors)—our lives will not be severed but joined anew, and our joy will not be halved but doubled.

My hope is that we show our families, our neighbors, the strangers among us that it is worth working together with compassion and empathy to become stronger and safer together in a world where we put aside greed and live not for ourselves but for each other.

My hope is that with forced social distancing, and a disruption in our lifestyles we reinvent our priorities — to connect with the most basic of what sustains our souls—our loved ones, (spouses, children, sisters, brothers) distant families, the elderly, friends, neighbors and acquaintances. Engage in conversations in the intimacy of our own homes and use phone and virtual social media to stay in touch with those for whom we did not make time in our busy schedules.

My hope is that as we spend the days in our confined spaces we find creative ways to share our skills whether we are playing board games, cooking pasta, or divvying up an instant cup of noodle.

My hope is that we recognize the gratitude that pours out of our hearts as we return to focus on the blessings of family, shelter, a slice of bread, a sip of water, a ray of sunshine. We can make much out of little when we embrace the perfection of what we have in the moment.

And if we look deep inside,
Hidden in that place where we once recited
The Lord’s Prayer with faith as children,
We will see light.
There is light there. Look for it.
Look for it shining over your shoulder on the past. It was light where you went once.
Look for it in your heart. It is light where you are now.
Look for it in the horizon. It will be light where you go again.
Have faith. Spread hope.

Posted in faith, family, gratitude, humanity, life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Shamefully, I Urge You

The month of March marks International Women’s Day as the global celebration of women recognized widely throughout the 20th century after its official launch by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977. It is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities. Yet, the day isn’t simply a celebration — it is an international call to action for everyone to continue to push for complete gender equality.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2020 is “Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” Last year, it was “Think Equal, Be Smart: Innovate for Change.” In 2018 it said, “Time is Now: Rural & Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives.” In 2017 it was “Be Bold for Change.” In 2016 it reminded the world that to the benefit of humanity “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” was essential. In 2015 it was “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It.” In 2014 it was “Equality for Women is Progress for All.” In 2013 it was “A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women.” The year 2012 claimed to “Empower Rural Women: End Hunger and Poverty.” 2011 demanded “Equal Access to Education: Pathway to Decent Work for Women.” 2010 promoted “Equal rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All.”

Need I continue?

Shamefully, it feels like a broken record. The fact that we are still fighting a battle for equality and for the recognition of the value of women’s contributions to society is indeed a shame.

There is ample evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies, and even countries. Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous.

At this crucial moment for women’s rights, it is time for men to stand with women, listen to them and learn from them and fight for gender equality in their communities. As real fathers of daughters, men should share the vision of a world where every human being is equally respected. Men should share the vision of a world where women and daughters are protected, defended and nurtured. If we are ever to defeat the systems of oppression we are all subject to, men must be involved and must work together with women on these issues.

Tomorrow, March 8, women will come together and pat each other on the back to celebrate International Women’s day; we celebrate the day with flowers, and praise each other for work well done. And truly, there are many women whose work is selflessly well done and recognized for their courage. However, those of us who have the opportunity to celebrate have the responsibility to speak for those who cannot. There are women out there who are under restrictive rules dictated by a culture that prohibits them from health care, or pursuing an education, or participating in their family’s economic progress, or in politics and worse yet, endure violence and abuse.

As an Armenian, I speak to those of my culture and heritage who must not ignore the violation of human rights that goes on in and among our culture and our homeland. We cannot turn a blind eye to the atrocity when only two days ago a 43 years young mother was beaten to death in Gyumri and her 13 years young daughter was beaten to a pulp and left to die. We can celebrate the day of the woman, but we will never enjoy the dignity deserved as women, as mothers, sisters, daughters, unless human rights of all women are respected and protected. Government and law enforcement in Armenia (and around the world) must accept their responsibility to protect and promote internationally recognized human rights as set by the Vienna Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, appointed in 1994.

I urge you, not to remain silent for fear of your professions, for fear of political or religious persecution by your peers. Let your this day of celebration be the day when you give voice to the girls and women whose words are unheard and whose presence is unnoticed.
Do the right thing.
Speak up.
Challenge the status quo and become the agents of change.
We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society. I urge you. Break the Silence. Speak up to stop the violence. Enlist women and men to step forward and join the drive toward a world in which women feel safe at home (and at work) and enjoy freedom to pursue their dreams and their potential.

I urge you.
If not now, When?
If not us, Who?

Posted in accountability, equality, gender, gendercide, international women's day, justice, women | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feminist–Dreaded ‘F’ Word

At the conclusion of one of my speeches advocating for women’s rights as human rights, a young woman scoffed at my use of the word feminist saying, “That ‘f’ word, ‘feminist’ is so passé. We’re beyond that now.”

Are we? Really? This young woman needed some ‘womansplaining’ about the definition of a feminist.

To be a feminist is to acknowledge that women are people who deserve the same social, economic, and political rights and opportunities equal to all other people on this earth. To be a feminist is about acknowledging fair and equal recognition to all sexes in this world. To be a feminist is to understand that equality is not just a woman’s issue, it is a global human rights issue.

There is long history in this much feared “f” word. It began with the women’s suffrage movement  that started with the Seneca Falls Convention, the first Women’s Rights Convention of 1848. The first wave of feminism gained momentum after 15,000 working women of the garment district marched through New York City in 1908 demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. As a result, National Women’s Day was decided upon in 1910, but the tradition of celebrating it wasn’t observed until 1914. Which is not surprising considering it took over 42 years for the US Congress to finally ratify in 1920 an amendment that was introduced in 1878 proposing a woman’s right to vote. This year we celebrate it’s 100th anniversary.

In the early 1960’s through the 1980’s a second wave of feminism unfolded amid the anti-war and civil rights movements and brought about many of the entitlements previously denied women. Among those were the Equal Pay Act of 1963Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which banned discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion in employment), the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) at the Third National Conference of Commissions on the Status of Women in 1966, legalized birth control, and Roe v Wade, (protecting a woman’s right to choose). These women courageously lead and empowered others to create and build a sane, soulful culture beyond today. They did not relegate their abilities to simply secure a better life for themselves, but put the vision of a better world above their own personal journeys, and in doing so secured a better life for millions. It wasn’t until 1975, when the United Nations drew global attention to women’s concerns declaring it the Year of the Woman which marked a turning point in policy directives.  The first UN International World Conference in Mexico City was held to focus solely on women’s issues and claimed March 8 as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace in 1977.

Their plight continued into the third-wave of feminism, which began in the late 80’s/ early 1990s. We lived those momentous times when Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas, a man nominated to the United States Supreme Court, of sexual harassment in 1991. Her case did not win, but alerted women to the legal rights and protections that had been obtained by first- and second-wave feminists. Feminism also saw many new triumphs for women–astronauts, prime ministers, secretary of states, attorney generals, scientists, athletes, and Girl Power burst onto our radar with the Spice Girls. Feminist icons such as MadonnaQueen LatifahAngelina JolieEmma WatsonBeyoncé, and Lady Gaga, as well as fictional characters such as Buffy and Mulan hit the stage to actualize change, to gain power and equality within their own cultures and their own communities and with their own voices. The use of internet and technology became instrumental in enhancing the movement.

Today, the fourth-wave of feminism is characterized by a focus on the empowerment of women and the use of Internet tools, however, this phase was incubated in academia with women’s centers and gender studies becoming a staple of universities around the world. This wave furthers the agenda by calling for equal pay for equal work, for bodily autonomy, and justice against assault and harassment with campaigns that include #Time’sUp, #Now, and #MeToo movements.

Many from a younger generation may feel that ‘all the battles have been won for women’ while  feminists from the 1970’s know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy and women’s plight. Fifty two years ago, we landed on the moon; 40 years ago we eradicated small pox; 30 years ago we created B2 Bombers and seedless watermelons; in the last decade we discovered new human ancestors; and just last year, we photographed a black hole for the first time. The world has made unprecedented advances in science and technology, yet achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls remains the greatest human rights challenge in our world, and the unfinished business of the century.

The unfortunate fact remains– women still are not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally, women’s education, health and violence against them is worse than that of men. I would love to see the day when feminism becomes a passé word wrapped in the history of our progress, but until then, I am deeply committed to the issues important to the movement. I have strong opinions about misogyny, institutional sexism that puts women at a disadvantage, the inequity in pay, the cult of beauty and thinness, labeling a woman for her looks, the attacks on reproductive freedom, violence against women, and so on. I am as committed to fighting for equality as I am committed to disrupting the notion that feminism is passé.

Be educated. Know your facts. Speak up for gender equality. Be feminist.

Posted in empowerment, equality, gender, justice, women | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Love You

“Love you, love you,” I said in Armenian, as I ended a phone conversation with my sister, while waiting to pick up a cup of coffee at a local joint. A beautiful elderly woman smiled and asked if I had just said I love you in Armenian. She said it was the one phrase that as a young girl 70 years ago she had learned to say because she had had a crush on an Armenian boy in middle school. I gave her a puzzled look. She said, “You never forget how to say I love you in whatever language,” she said. The telescope of her memory brought out my own.

Somewhere in every person’s heart is the memory of at least one young crush. I can still remember the many crushes of my middle school years. It was a time of fantasy and romantic imagination; a potent mix of idealization and infatuation. It didn’t require being well acquainted with the person I found attractive. It meant wanting to be around that person, creating a fantasy world of excitement while scenarios of “I love you” in different languages danced in my head. I wasn’t alone in these idealizations. It was the rage then among my closest friends and me. We attended schools that had an international population of students from so many differing countries and cultures that we each wanted to know how to say, “I love you” in as many ways and languages as we could. Each of us took on a language, or two or three, that we were convinced would forever be our way of saying “I love you.” I took on nine, (oh yes, I had nine crushes). Each language was more beautiful in rhythm and sound than the previous. I learned how to say the words and then spelled them out phonetically in English and repeated them throughout the day in school as though I was chanting a mantra or the rosary.

As children, we grow up with the romantic ideals of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White thinking that true love is the happily ever after of fairy tales. As early adolescents, we move onto the corny sentimentality of crushes and infatuations. By mid adolescence, we experience young love, the Romeo and Juliet kind of love with its wild and impetuous, skyrockets and roller coaster rides, where we think we know true love.  At the end of adolescence we begin to understand that love reveals over time as we grow in maturity and experience. And when we do learn to love and know true love, we fall in love with love. We surrender to it, because “The heart loves who it loves. The beauty of giving our heart to another, and having that heart love reciprocated is a gift from God.” (John Three One Six, Kristi K. Mendoza).

Love is a nutrient essential to living. It is real. It is delicate and tender yet tough and passionate, and when it pours into the heart, love cannot be stopped or denied. But often I hear that the phrase “I love you” has lost its meaning because of overuse. Where love once stood for a strong emotional attachment or a deep spiritual connection, it is now a substitute word for a temporary feeling. Even I carelessly toss the phrase “I love you” around. I once told my Uber driver ‘I love you’ because he weaved me through seemingly impossible traffic. The other day I went to my hairdresser of 15 years and when she cut my hair I exclaimed, “OMG, I look amazing. I love you. I can’t wait to show myself off!” On Saturdays and Sundays I frequent my favorite local coffee bar and I take my first sip of coffee for which I’ve been dying and tell the barista, “This is perfect. Love you for making my day start just right.” My aunt ends a phone conversation with me and says she loves me. A best friend departs with a swift trill of her fingers and says “love you, friend,” as she walks away. I see my neighbor cuddle his dog and utter loving words acknowledging her (the dog’s) never-failing ability to make him smile and cry at the same time, and I’m convinced that any reason to keep on living for him would disappear if he lost this bond of love. “I love you,” I whisper to my grandchild as I put him down in his bed for the night. That sweet phrase “I love you,” exhausted and abused, forms the foundation of our lives. To love abundantly is to live abundantly.

I’d be silly to think that saying “I love you” means the same thing to each person to whom it is said. My mom didn’t give me or get from me the same kind of love that I give to a best friend, husband, hairdresser or kitty cat, and that doesn’t mean I care for one more than the other. So, no matter how you say it or to whom you say it, keep passing on the love — even if those words accidentally slip out when you’re talking to the bartender on a fun girls’ night out as I did the other day. I’m convinced there’s nothing wrong with verbalizing my feelings on a regular basis. This world can always use a little more affection, a bit of extra magic. So go ahead, love others, and love yourself because Love begets Love.

As for my corny sentimentality of an adolescent, in the words of the beautiful elderly woman, “You never forget how to say I love you in any language.”

 

 

 

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Thread of Permanence…Love

Celebrity deaths and the grief that accompanies them prompt the collective question about the purpose of life. We start to think, “What is a life well lived? What imprint are we leaving on the world? What do we fear most about our own death? How will we be remembered? What is our legacy?” Untimely deaths like that of basketball legend Kobe Bryant remind us that all of us will die someday. Neither fame not wealth nor talent will shield us from that inevitability, but how we live our lives and how we do everything with love, in love and for love is the thread of permanence that runs through everything from the beginning of time.

The power of athletes, or musicians, artists, actors, comedians, and celebrities is that they do have an impact on a large group of people and within that, the impact becomes personal. Most of us feel connected to them whether it is through their champion athletics, the music or entertainment factors, their art or their skills as influencers. We follow them on social media, we latch onto their thoughts, we share their tweets, and watch them on the courts, studying their every move regardless of whether we are Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennial or Gen Z. I can remember exactly where my college self was when I heard Elvis Presley, the king of Rock ‘n’ Roll, had died. I remember distinctly the moment of disbelief and collective grief on the street at the news of princess Diana’s accident and death, or the moment of shared sorrow at a Starbucks, when I heard Robin Williams had died. Celebrities, though we may not personally know them, we DO know them. They are a regular part of our lives, in shows, movies, and arenas, creating music or scenes or shots that define moments that make memories in our lives. If their music touched us, or if their champion good hearts inspired us, or if they became an unforgettable part of our youth, we feel their connection. We mourn their loss and weigh in on the grief with candlelight vigils. We share posts on social media and celebrate the cultural benchmarks that define and identify us through our generations. The connection is not just about how much we love, appreciate, respect and admire them, but oftentimes it’s because they bring us to a realization of finiteness. Ideally, that realization of finiteness will help us to pursue mindful living and appreciate the love that is exchanged to sustain us in the now, and in the hereafter. Goodness, creativity, passion and a mindful sharing of the richness of our lives through love are the thread of our permanence…the legacy we leave.

The idea of leaving a legacy is the need or desire to be remembered for what we have contributed to the world. In some cases, as in the late Kobe Bryant, that contribution can be so special that peoples’ lives are unalterably changed. Kobe grew and transformed his life, made changes where he needed, found his truth, inspired others, became a leader and spent time and money influencing youth. Touching lives and exemplifying a truthful path is paramount to a life of purpose. His legacy will live on.

However, for most mere mortals like me walking this earth, I hope to leave a more modest legacy that doesn’t necessarily change the world but does leave a valuable thread of permanence or lasting footprint that will be remembered by those whose lives I’ve touched. That valuable thread is love. It is my hope that family, friends, associates and community, will remember me not for what I accomplished, but instead, for what I helped them in their lives to accomplish. They will remember how I cared for them and loved them.

Vanessa Bryant, wife of Kobe and mother of daughter Gigi, wrote on Instagram, “there aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved.” Ultimately, for those whose lives we’ve touched, the love we take with us and the love we leave behind in their hearts is all that matters and all we have to live by. (May all our untimely departed rest in peace and be remembered with fond love.)

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” — Shannon L. Alder

 

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“Game of Life”

One of the oldest American board games is the “Game of Life.” Players spin a wheel on the board and travel along charted roads in small plastic automobiles according to the number on which the spin stops. Each car has six or eight holes into which pink or blue pegs representing people are added as players “get married” and “acquire children”. Throughout the game are spaces that emulate life, and require players to choose college, career, buying homes, cars, insurance, stocks, taking out loans, paying taxes, among others. Money is constantly exchanged, and when players reach the end of the game and retire in either Millionaires Estate or Countryside Acres, they must repay any loans and add up their assets and cash. The player with the most money in hand wins the game.

When I was a child I played “Game of Life” with siblings and friends. It was the air of being a grown up that enticed us. We could choose a job, college, buy a car and within a few turns get married and have kids — so many kids they didn’t fit in the car. Being an adult was effortless, and life was a game — literally.

Recently, I played “Game of Life” with the grand kids. With some modifications and updates to the game, it still has an attractive appeal to children. The game pulls them in. They are drawn to the two-option choices, the roll of dice revealing their fate, the purchase of properties and pricey items, the spin of the wheel, the trivial decision of a second home between the Dream Villa or the City Penthouse and the final measure of success… winning with the most amount of money.

As an adult, something about the game bothered me. It felt compulsory. I realized that even with all the choices available, I didn’t feel like I had much input into how I went about living. I was simply following preset rules of doing what I was supposed to do at the times I was supposed to do them. What if I didn’t want three children? What if I wanted none at all? Did I really have to buy a yacht on my modest teacher’s salary just because that’s the space I landed on? What if I didn’t want a yacht? In the game, I already owned enough things I couldn’t afford, including two homes, a business, a horse, and apparently all of my great uncle’s antiques. When I reached the end of the game I had a family of five that had been assigned to me, a collection of ridiculously pricey items, and a life insurance policy to cash in on which didn’t give me any sense of triumph or accomplishment. But this is a game with a set of rules.

As a grown woman and in the real world, I know I have more say in whether or not to buy a yacht, but there are still plenty of stops along the road of life where I’m expected to acquire or do certain things just because that’s the accepted general blueprint for living, and most of us follow it without thinking twice. In real life, if all I do is choose to follow the charted blueprint path, how will I ever open myself to moments of discovery? Those moments of spontaneity like walking in the rain, noticing the shedding of bark on the eucalyptus tree, or sitting on a sidewalk and marveling at the one seedling growing in the dirt between cracks in the concrete. And what about the show of kindness and love by people who influence me and build on my journey in the real world? Friends? Family? The “Game of Life” is fun as a child, but the underlying motivation that drives the player’s actions is money. (Perhaps that’s why I seldom won the game, as I am not of the conviction that “whoever has the most gold, wins.”) No amount of money or material validation will ever take the place of what you can achieve out of pure love exchanged in real life.

In the real world, you have roughly 33,000 days to play the “game” of life. When the end of the day rolls around, how will you decide whether you won or lost? By money amassed, or by who and what put a smile on your face and lit up your heart to keep the embers of your soul on fire? Will you measure your wins by money? Or by the beauty of human connections that help build on your journey through life?

How will you decide?

 

 

 

 

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Rejoice, Rejoice

This Christmas,

I pray,

For humanity to simply hold the hand of God
And with humility on bended knee
Feel the wonderment in the force of His sovereignty

He is parent, you are child.
The creases in His palm speak to say
Be kind, be gentle; don’t dismay.
Prove loyal in word and deed,
Rise up against malice; make it your creed
To discourage complacency;
Forgo strife, and forgive an enemy;
Celebrate the heroes in your life.
Keep a promise to seek forgotten friendships.
Express gratitude. Listen, and mend relationships.
Trust more. Don’t keep score.
Encourage youth and let go of envy.
Brighten the hearts of children
For they are the treasures of heaven.
Laugh with a roar. Share more.
Speak of love.
Speak it again
With faith, with hope and peace in your heart.

Parent and child, Rejoice, Rejoice,
For God the Word is man in Christ.
Revealed to us on Christmas day.

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

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