In our current climate, as much as we want to, it is very difficult to focus on gratitude. We live in a divided country, neighbors and family no longer speak to each other, the news around us reminds us constantly of how dire things are,. All of this while we and our friends around the world face a pandemic no one thought possible. At times, it seems like we are all actors in a movie living in some alternate reality. When we think it can’t get any more weird, well….it does. More than ever we are left to tap into our inner strength, faith and compassion, just to ensure that we make it through another day.
However, the human spirit is a beautiful and wonderful thing. During these unprecedented times, we have found a way to tap into our compassion for our fellow persons and replace the angst and darkness of the outside world with love and caring that lies within each of us. In our darkest hour it becomes most necessary to focus on gratitude for that which is good, rather than that which is bad that surrounds us. I call it “baditude”.
A funny thing happens when we mentally express gratitude for those things that we have. As we start to count our blessings, one by one they fill our mental thoughts with the positive, which makes far less room for the negative to affect us. My friend Linda is so good at this. She gives thanks for the food that she eats, the beauty of a new day, her health, the gas in her car, the roof over her head, and the list goes on. When we give thanks and show gratitude for all that we touch and have, our ability to shut out the negative around us starts to expand considerably.
When we are in the mire of bad situations, it becomes very difficult to get ourselves out of it. It’s much easier to wallow in self pity and maintain our “woe is me” attitude in those moments, than to force ourselves to think positively and attempt to bring ourselves out of what we are feeling. However, baby steps often lead to bigger steps that, if we allow it, lead us to running towards a brighter outlook that can greatly enhance our well being, and even our lives. Focusing on gratitude can make “baditude” a thing of the past, if only we take the time to do it.
For many of us, these times that we face are causing us to reevaluate our lives and find ways to draw on the inner strength that we possess, in ways that we would not have thought necessary. In an effort to keep the negativity around us from infiltrating the journey of our life path, we find ourselves making alterations to a life that we previously thought “normal”. While those alterations may get us through the moment, what we don’t realize is that they are helping us build a new foundation for how we deal with that which is to come. We are finding new ways to cope, motivate, navigate and live.
They say that life will never deal us more than we can handle at any given time. In some ways I believe that. But it doesn’t mean that we are not often dealt a hand that seems impossible at the time we are going through it. Losing a loved one, a job, security or a sense of self worth, in a time when it could have been prevented or was unnecessary, can easily take us to a dark place that seems to be all encompassing. Yet, somehow we find the inner strength to get us through. We are often aided by those around us and sometimes by finding that which is deep within us that we didn’t even know was there.
We are a resilient people. In times of adversity, we find solace in those near, draw on the wisdom of those that came before us, and harness the strength that lies within us. When we think it most impossible, it suddenly becomes possible as we maneuver that which we are facing. When we start to harness that collective power of the individual and combine it with the power in those around us, the “power of we” becomes evident and we are able to change not only ourselves, but the world as well.
It is often difficult to see the dawn through the storm, the forest through the trees, but they are there. Because of the strength that we possess, even if we don’t realize we have it at the time, the storm eventually clears and the forest become visible. Each and every one of those experiences are what makes us stronger and provides us an additional piece of the map that we use to guide our life path. We are amazing people and our power and ingenuity are endless, if only we believe that no matter how hard it gets, we are worth the work and effort needed to get to the other side. Our inner strength is one of the most powerful tools we have to navigate life events. When we harness its power in all its might, only then can we make life as full as it was meant to be.
It has been a while since I have put fingers to the keys, which is surprising for someone who loves to write. I tried several times, but every time I did so, the heaviness of the world seem to hold me back. As I attempted to put the “positive on paper”, I found myself reaching for just the right thing to say, in a world that has made it more difficult to express how you feel without offending someone. As I thought about it more, I began to realize that expressing yourself is part of who you are. You may not always say the right thing, in the right way. However, if you are true to yourself and your beliefs, while respecting that others may have a differing view, then that is the best that you can do.
For most of us, 2020 seems to be a year where we are living in some alternate reality. We have struggled to find our new normal while attempting to have pieces of our life go on in ways that made us comfortable and secure. Dining out has been replaced with dining in. Going to movies has been replaced with watching them on television. Going to church has been replaced with watching live streams. Traveling has been replaced with perusing through old photos and taking “memory trips”. While we all know that the situation is temporary, experiencing it in real time has been quite an adjustment for those who have been following the rules and doing what we are supposed to do to keep ourselves and our families safe.
My hope was that this experience would be that which made us all closer and kinder. In a way it has. We have found ways to reconnect with those of our past as well as those in our present, in ways that we would have never imagined. Seeing someone we have been missing on a Zoom call fills the void that we felt when they were removed from our lives. Parking lot social distance tailgating and visits across the lawn have helped us feel that sense of normalcy that we all seem to crave.
For all the unpleasantness that 2020 has brought, there have been good things that have come out of it as well. We have spent less, cared more and found our creative side that had been replaced by technology. We are once again learning to actually have a conversation with each other, sit together at the dinner table and rekindle our relationships that may have gotten stagnant. We have found a way to keep a sense of hope and optimism in a world that has made it harder to do so. Many have even embarked on a journey of self discovery that is very likely to change the person we were into the person that we always wanted to be.
On December 31st, the clock will strike twelve, and a new year will usher in. As we continue to deal with that which is around us, much of what we experienced in 2020 will carry into the new year for a period of time. However, if we muster the compassion and willingness to do what is right for the population as a whole rather than we as an individual, we will come out the other side a better person, a better society and a better world.
In some of my previous writings, I have said that one of my favorite times of the day is when I go to bed at night. Not that I am trying to escape from the day, but because it is my time to contemplate on my life and where I want it to go. To focus on my dreams, desires and work on the adjustments that I need to make in my life path to see those dreams come to reality. That allows me the opportunity to go to sleep and wake up with a purpose when I begin my new day.
With the sunrise, comes the time for me to put my plans that I have formulated the night before into action. Step by step, I begin to enact the behaviors necessary to ensure that I put plans in place that are necessary to see my dreams and aspirations come true. This doesn’t mean that I am always successful. However, if I use the failures as stepping stones to necessary alterations, it is easier to course correct and get back on the path to that which I desire.
We often give up on our dreams because they do not materialize in the time frames we desire. Dreams often come true because we are willing to put in the work and follow the necessary path that will eventually make them reality. Impatience, lack of will and determination are often why achievement of our dreams fail. Understanding that there are a myriad of reasons why our time frame may be faulty, helps us have the patience we need to see our path to dream realization more clearly.
When we have purpose and passion for that which we desire, we arm ourselves with the tools that we need to be successful. Make a plan, be open to course corrections, solicit help from those that are willing to give it, and be all in. Understand your purpose with clarity and never allow yourself to believe that your dream is impossible. With faith, diligence, desire and passion, all things are possible if we just believe and are willing to put in the work necessary for success.
As we are growing up in our teen and early adult years, it is often about the quantity of friends that we can amass. The quality of those friendships is not in the forefront of our minds, as we believe that we need approval from others to validate our own lives. What we fail to realize is that those individuals from whom we are seeking validation are usually in the same situation. It is possible that their search for friendship and self acceptance comes at a cost to us, as they negate our feelings and needs as they try to fulfill their own.
In our middle years, we start to realize what is happening and begin to learn what it takes to make true friendships meaningful. However, we do not understand this in totality. While at this point we have likely formed bonds with people that will be a part of our lives forever, we continue to allow individuals into our lives that sap our life energy rather than feed it. Often, rather than lifting us up, they tear us down as they fulfill their need to make their lives seem better, by making ours feel worse. Because they “need us”, we allow them to remain a part of our circle simply because we believe that eventually they will change.
As we enter the second half of our lives, finally we start to see through those individuals and start to question what value they are bringing to the life path that we are trying to live. Their “need” for us becomes irritation and we begin to evaluate all our friendships to determine which are enriching our lives, rather than draining our life energy. Those who are doing the latter quickly rise to the top. Once we find the courage to sever those ties, those that lift us, rather than tear us down, begin to show us why it is quality not quantity that counts when it comes to friendships.
It would be great if we were to discover this much earlier in life, and some actually do. However, for those that learn that lesson later, the moment come to that realization the friendships that matter most to us become more meaningful and nurturing. Suddenly, we have more time for those who lift us higher and in turn we can reciprocate. Although smaller, our friendship garden becomes the garden that it was meant to be.
Do you cringe when you see a video or news clip of another person that has gone off the rails and chosen to show the worst side of humanity? That there are parts of this beautiful life that have gotten so dark and ugly that it is almost impossible to see the human race that we were supposed to be. The very fabric of who we are and who we should be is challenged each and every day as we navigate those who have chosen to make the world a harder place to live for those who just want to do good things and live lives filled with compassion and caring, rather than hate and animosity.
From the beginning of time, the quest for power and desire to have it all has been one of the major barriers to ensure that we all enjoy life equally. The division of the have and have nots in societies has prevented us from being a world that is for all people, not just some people. Things that should be our inalienable rights simply because we are part of the human race, no matter our race, color or creed, have been held back simply because we want to live our true life equal to everyone else.
One does not need to equate these issues simply with politics. There are moral fabrics in our society that are so ripped and torn that when we look in the mirror it is difficult to even see a remnant of the people that we were supposed to be. It is these failings that make it of the utmost importance that we who desire to live a life that is honest, good, compassionate and caring, set the example that others who are lost and wanting something different may follow. We have a responsibility to lift up those that are less fortunate, break down the walls that separate us, heal the world that so desperately needs healing, and become a new stitch in the fabric of that new world.
Changing the world is like a stitch in a quilt. Once that stitch has been sewn, the quilt doesn’t come together unless the sewing continues and each piece is added. As the quilt begins to take shape, the foundation is established for a fabric that will cover and comfort, with warmth and compassion. Such is our opportunity in life. We all have the power in us to enact change, one act at a time. Whether it be something small or large, when combined with the effort of others, it is then that we can truly realize a meaningful social fabric and become the people that we were meant to be.
There are mornings when I wake up where I just want to conquer the world. I want to solve every problem, lift every person and take away every ill that the world is currently experiencing. I want to see people without pain, ensure there is more love and compassion, and do what ever I can to make this a better world for future generations. Actually, I do that almost every day, until I realize that the task I have laid out for myself is far greater than one person could ever handle. Then I remember that I am not alone. I realize that together we affect change, one act at a time.
I am very fond of a wonderful organization that we have partnered with in the Bring Smiles to Seniors program called Small Acts Big Change. It is run by Carolyn and Gracie out of California. When I am feeling overwhelmed because I can’t affect as much change as I would like, I always go back to the name in their program. It reminds me that small acts do truly become big change. When combined, they all culminate to provide the kind of momentum that the world is so desperately in need of.
Picture this example from the Bring Smiles to Seniors program. A person wakes up one morning feeling like they need to do something to give back. They go on the internet and search for something that fits with their passion for seniors. They discover Bring Smiles to Seniors, and decide they want to start to send cards to the program. They are so excited they tell their neighbor or friend and they too decide that want to be involved. The cards come in, are prepped and then go out to senior communities. One particular community receives them and they enjoy them so much, they decide they want their seniors involved. Their seniors make cards and send them back to the program. We now have seniors giving back to seniors. A social media post tells what happened and other senior communities see it and want to get their seniors involved. You start to see the power of that one small act by that initial person. From there the snowball effect continues.
We do not have to conquer the world all at once. Every single act that we perform has the potential to become a part of other acts that combined have the power to change the world. It is within those possibilities that we get the strength to continue our journey to make the world better for ourselves and future generations. We should never be afraid that what we are doing is not enough, not good enough, or simply not effective. Every step we take to conquer the world puts us on the path to do exactly that, conquer the world one act of kindness at a time.
The events of the world have been weighing heavy on my mind lately. Our senseless inability to simply share love and compassion with all those around us, no matter who they are, makes me sad for a world that we could be living in. Recently, a question popped into my mind that continued to expand the more I thought about it. I asked myself this, “If we had never been taught that there was a difference between black and white, would there ever have been a difference?”
As I began to ponder this question, the ramifications of the answer to that expanded far beyond simply black and white. I started to apply the same question to all the things that we have come to believe as different, simply because society has deemed them so. The prejudices that are taught to us from an early age, influenced by our surroundings and socioeconomic influences, ultimately determine what we ourselves believe. That which we experience along our life path continues to effect beliefs that were established in our early years. We start to see why it is so difficult to change that which we have been conditioned to see as “normal”.
Think for a moment what the world would be like if we had not been conditioned to judge, hate, discriminate or compartmentalize. Think what it would be like if we were not separated into black, white, brown, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Gay, Republican, Democrat, and the list goes on. What if we all simply fell into one category, human beings all doing our part to navigate our life path the best that we know how. The world would immediately be void of prejudice, hate, suicide, self harm, mental illness and all the things we force on people simply because we try and make people who we want them to be, or fail to accept them simply for who they are. If we had never been taught that they are different, then different would have never existed.
There is no question that these are thoughts of a utopian world. However, we all have in us the power to make that world a reality. When we see the world through the eyes of love and compassion and accept all people for who they are, we begin to influence those around us to do the same. If we can plant those seeds now, we offer future generations a chance to live in a world far different than that which we are currently experiencing. We see signs of that happening already. If we nurture and grow those seeds, the possibility of a much different world could actually become a reality. Plant your seed today and begin to make the change that world so desperately needs.
When we are born, our lives are a clean slate and the possibilities for what we can become are endless. The early foundations that are set for us can either put us on a path to realizing our potential or hinder us from achieving our true greatness, depending on the circumstances. Fortunately for me, I experienced the former. Throughout my childhood, I was supported by my parents and grandmother in whatever endeavor I chose to pursue. Whether it be writing, music, theater, public speaking or band, there was never a time that I looked out into the seats and didn’t see a smiling proud face looking back at me.
As we grow through our teens and adult years, the responsibility for discovering our own self worth and purpose starts to lie within ourselves. We have made mistakes along the way that have caused us to alter our life course, to attempt to become the person that we believe that we want to be. From those mistakes we build foundations, one brick at a time, that will see us through to adulthood and beyond. As we search for our purpose in those years, opportunities will come and go until we eventually find the place where we are supposed to be. When that happens we know it, because we feel it in our hearts and it consumes the very fiber of our being.
For me, that moment was walking into my grandmother’s senior community for the first time. It had taken me 53 years to get to the point that I discovered my purpose. When it finally arrived, it showed itself with no reservation. From the first delivery of cards I made to my grandmother’s community, I knew that my reason for being was finally showing itself and the path that I was supposed to take became very clear. Along the way there would be trials and tribulations, but every step of the journey would make the endeavor stronger and better than the year before.
When I founded the Bring Smiles to Seniors program, I said that I had a little dream that I hoped would one day become a big reality. I remember being so excited in our first year when we delivered 7,719 cards to senior communities all around the Tampa Bay area. When that number grew to 18,180 then 40,515 and eventually 71,586 in subsequent years, the validation of my purpose become even more clear. Then the year 2020 came.
This week the Bring Smiles to Seniors program delivered its 100,000th card for the year. More than we did in the first three years combined. Along this journey, I have met some of the most amazing people that have shown compassion, love and caring. They are the epitome of the kind of selflessness that makes the world a better place. I assembled an incredible team of people who give tirelessly of their time to run the program. We have made almost 1,000 deliveries to senior communities across the county and in other parts of the world. All along staying true to our purpose to bring smiles to seniors, one card, one smile at a time.
I am lucky that I discovered my purpose in the middle of my life. That means that hopefully I get many years to continue to experience the joy of that purpose. No matter what stage in life we discover it, when it happens we know. Our heart and mind will tell us and we will feel it in our soul. Never give up your dream of finding your purpose. When you do, and I know you will, it is then that an abundant life really begins.
There is no question that life looks different for most of us right now. The inability to go to restaurants, theaters, stores and many of the places that we we normally frequent, have altered our norm. We feel like life has come to a standstill as we struggle to remember the current day or hour, as each looks a lot like the other. Those of us that are lucky enough to have people at home have it a bit better than those that are home alone. However, we all struggle to find our new normal.
Yes, things may be a little different in our life garden. But, in that entire garden of different are new sprouts that, if cultivated, provide us the nourishment that we need to continue to work towards the person that we want to become. Never have we had more time to focus on ourselves, who we are, and who we want to be, than now. The extra hours in a day that we often wish we had, now provide an opportunity for us to steal a little time for ourselves and do those things that we may have only dreamed of.
Working full time and running the Bring Smiles to Seniors program often left little time to ensure that I was doing all the things that I needed to do to nourish my soul. Now, if I want to sit outside with a book for a bit, I can. If I want to meditate in my pool, I can. If I want to focus on my body and health, I can. If I want to spend more time focusing on the things that matter and not the frivolous things that don’t, I can. Each and every act progress towards the person that I want to become.
All of us have our laundry list of things that we want to accomplish in our lives. Don’t let these times of isolation create opportunities for despair. Our lives our only on hold if allow them to be. Dust off that list and check off the boxes one task at a time. Make this unprecedented time your time and continue on your journey to become the person you really want to be.