Category Archives: Civility

Newtown, Connecticut Shooting Puts the Year Behind, and the Year Ahead, in a New Perspective

It’s usually at this time of year when I write my yearly round-up.  I mean, not that anyone gives a lick, but I like to write it.  It makes me feel better about things, and it always helps to get some perspective going into a fresh 365 days.

There’s nothing wrong with that, right?

And, after all, the Mayans are telling us the end is near (it’s not–it’s actually a new beginning) this December 21, 2012, so…I felt like it was time to do it.

But I held off for the last few days.  I didn’t write it until today.

Why?

Well, the December 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  26 killed.  I realized that the year behind, and the year ahead, were already squarely in perspective.

I read an article about the global outpouring of support for the victims’ families and the Newtown community and it really got me thinking, again, about the line we walk in our world between global animosity and global togetherness.  We are so close to being a world community.  The reason we seem so far apart is likely not due to your average person’s difference of opinion, but more to do with unfortunate leadership around the world.

People on their own are generally good.  At least, that’s what I choose to believe.  If you need help in a parking lot or at the side of the road, most good Samaritans won’t ask your political affiliation or your view on the Second Amendment, abortion, or the last election.  They’ll just assist.  If you drop a dollar, many people will pick it up and yell, “Hey!  Wait!”

Most people.  Not all.

We don’t generally have litmus tests for basic assistance or casual acquaintance.  Some do, yes.  Many don’t.  If you’re American and dining in Canada, the service will be like it is for any Canadian.  At a resort in Mexico, it’s okay to speak Russian.  Indian curries are fine to cook in Italy, and I had darn good roast beef in Kenya many years ago even though I’ve experienced it in an NYC deli as well.  We share religions across borders, appreciate or take on foreign customs, and see movies about events that take place many miles, or countries, away.

Not everyone is on board with this.  Some are.  That’s fine.

So, when I think about Newtown in what Paul Simon might call this “deep and dark December,” I prefer to think about the outpouring of support from around the globe.  Of the prayers that go out to those we don’t know.  Nobody I know really cares if the victims were Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or whatever.  We all turned on the TV to see the shock of lives lost.  Not Christian lives lost, but lives.  Not Buddhist children lost, but children.  Tragically.  And worthy of memory.

As I sit here now and reflect back on this year, I see it was full of ridiculous stars full of themselves saying ridiculous things.  There were new launches of more TV shows about people famous for being famous.  I encountered darkness in the least likely of places, but then again, also saw light in unexpected corners of my days.  There was work in places I never thought I’d return, but then there was another job waiting right where I’d left it last January 1.  There was a third job that came from nowhere.  All around there was a bad economy, racism, hatred, bigotry, a hotly contested election, people living lives with bold attachment to lies when the truth was just a simple channel click, book, or class away.  There were those that screamed, and still insist, we should never help others, even in circumstances beyond their control, but there was also a policeman that put shoes right where they belonged and people pulling together in the aftermath of a terrible storm.  Some came down from the ledges of hard life.  Some jumped into a new adventure.  Some moved on for new adventures and some stayed firmly entrenched in their old prisons while the keys to freedom were dangling just outside their self-imposed cells.  I learned some new things, let go of some old, read new books from friends and discarded old book ideas of my own.  Blood, tears, death, and taxes all made their appearances, but so did new nieces and fresh ideas.  I wasn’t always happy.  I wasn’t always sad.  I helped.  I sat idle.  I received help.  I prayed.  I sent prayers.  I knew I was on a good road even when others thought I had somehow missed a really important turnoff.  Thank goodness I kept driving.

But then, there is Newtown, Connecticut.  And it all snaps into place again.  All possibilities collapse into one moment in December when fame, fortune, freedom, and fallacy don’t matter.  It’s all about a different energy.  I can’t describe it yet, but it was clear while watching the news last Friday.

I’m going to move into the new year the same way I always (try to) do.  With a sense of optimism, confidence in my decisions, and a desire to do a little better.  No, not how someone else with an agenda of their own thinks I need to do better, but how my gut tells me I need to do better.  Usually, people who tell you how you’re mistaken or screwed up are only trying to sell you their own version of events or brand of regret and…well…no thanks.  You can put that advice in your pocket!

So, let me leave you with this: A happy holiday season.  A happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers.  A blessed Christmas season for my Christian readers.  A happy Kwanzaa for my readers who celebrate.  And a happy travel down your chosen paths, whatever they are.

Let’s remember the most recent tragedy in America so we can figure out how we might move into 2013 with a different energy.  Let’s take a look at an event that matters, so that we know what we need to be in a different mindset this coming 365…a mindset of support, regardless of personal characteristics that, quite frankly, pale in comparison to what we have that we can share.

All Candidates, Including President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, Can Encourage New Thinking on Civility…and Incivility

As election season approaches, think of the history of these United States.  Think of the proud American spirit.  Think about living in a country that takes the time to have debates before an election, and encourages its great citizens to vote, and take part in the democratic process.

Then, think about how it must feel to live in Ohio right now.

Imagine watching TV in Cleveland and then seeing every attack ad ever made.  Imagine trying to live in that key election state.  Now, where I live, it is still pretty bad, due to hotly contested local elections.  But the presidential candidates have pretty much give up here, so I’m insulated from the presidential ads.

But Ohio?!?  I can’t even imagine.  Of course, I’m a Browns fan, so I’m trying to picture watching a Browns game (argh!) with attack ads throw in (double argh!).  Do the ads work?  Who knows?  The latest CNN.com poll shows President Obama up by 4%, but you know how that can go.

The only tally that matters is the one on election night.

But this Nobody’s thoughts today are not with the Browns or percentage points.  They’re with the question of civility.  If you’ve seen the debates between President Obama and Governor Romney, you’ve seen a strange mix of incivility and civility.

There is fire and brimstone flying at debate time, then, at the end, the families gather on stage for some hand shaking and pleasantries.  One could almost get the idea they were all going to leave the studio and go for ice cream afterwards.  Can you see that?  The Romneys and the Obamas ordering hot fudge sundaes at a local Dairy Queen and talking about…well…who the heck knows?

Now, as amusing as that image is to ponder, it gets me thinking about the frontiers of civility in our country, and around the world.  Nobody’s view is for the rest of us.  Not the candidates, but the voters.  Not the prime ministers, but their people.

This isn’t just about politics.  It’s about societies.  We tend to vilify people from other places, or candidates from other political persuasions, but have you ever really thought about that?  I mean, really thought about it?  Think of your friends from different cultures or the guy at the side of the road you helped when his tire was flat.  Did you check their politics?  Their backgrounds?  Or did you just help?  People are, generally, people.  And we usually believe that as regular citizens.

The problem is that, quite often, bullies and despots rise to power.  Then, in acts of “leadership,” these rulers create often hateful or vengeful policies, kill their own people, and do all sorts of horrid things, and we lay blame at the feet of their subjects…subjects whom we would gladly help if they crossed our paths in the everyday.

I’m not wise in the ways of politics, but something does not seem right about this.  Yes, we see people marching angrily in the streets supporting some horrific action, but don’t forget–in the great bell curve of humanity, there will always be those who agree with hate and rage.

But what about the rest?  What about the mother clutching her child in a bombed-out apartment, praying that the violence will end, or that her child can grow up someplace safe.  What about the masses who work their fingers to the bone for almost no pay under regimes that don’t care whether they live or die?  What about the student who has to look over her shoulder every day walking to school, lest a would-be policymaker will do more than simply discourage education for her gender?

Civility is courtesy.  Civility is tolerance.  Civility is respect.  Unfortunately, so many times, those who lead do not lead with a civil mindset, but with anger, hate, and rage…with selective agendas and desperation.  The grab for power is ultimate, all else, subordinate.

Now, in America?  We’re lucky.  For all the horribleness of election-season ads, we generally vote in peace and the sun rises in peace the next day.  However, I mention the seriousness of incivility because as the election season comes to a close, I am saddened to see how quickly civil words are replaced by bile.  How easily candidates are able to destroy others’ reputations, families, and good names.  How, without so much as a care, people insult sitting statesmen and stateswomen in an effort to unseat incumbents so they can move into their offices, readjust the chair, and get about the business of reversing the other person’s policies.

As you watch the elections come to a close in our country, remember, this is not an “American” issue.  This has nothing to do with one country or another or one candidate over another.  It’s simply about all of us.

However, we can teach our children differently.  We can use election season not as a time to hit the mute button on ads that most people find annoying.  We can take this opportunity to set a new example.  A civil example.  An “if-you-don’t-have-something-nice-to-say…” example.

Call this Nobody an optimist, but I am hopeful that within a few generations, we can reduce the acidity in the world and promote a more tolerant and civil atmosphere. I believe it starts with us.  It starts with hearing candidates on the issues and ignoring them on the incivility.

It begins with common sense.

But I will say this: if this optimist is wrong, he will certainly be thankful for the mute button.

Entrepreneur Sean Belnick Is in New York as the Newest Secret Millionaire; Who Will Benefit in the Big Apple?

Young millionaire Sean Belnick, founder of BizChair.com, is the newest Secret Millionaire, and he’s in New York.

Welcome to the write-up here at Nobody’s View.  Of course, the London 2012 Olympics closing ceremonies may get in the way for a bit, but we’ll have it.

In the meantime, if you want a laugh for the day (I hope you’ll find it funny), click here and let us know what you think of the Olympics and about one-name nicknames!

[You already know we blog America’s Got Talent here, because we believe that regular people living their dreams is worth a few words.  Heck, that’s sort of why we exist!  And, this season, we’ve decided to again blog Secret Millionaire.  Why?  Well, first, we’ve noticed some of you coming back from last season looking for the write-ups.  So there’s that.  But we also like the idea of people giving back.  And, we notice that sometimes people check in here for names and information on the groups that benefit.  So, if we can help you find some information, then that’s fine by us.  Enjoy!]

So, Belnick is 24.  Tonight, he’s traveling to NYC to face the ongoing effects of 9/11.

The show opened with a shot of the Atlanta, Georgia denizen driving his Porsche and talking about BizChair.com, his multi-million dollar business.  He got a computer at age 10, and he was supporting the family soon thereafter, via the website.

His mom’s advice?  Eat well.  Good advice!  You can never go wrong with eat well. Love that.

NYC.  Eight million people.  Lots of needs.  Especially the 9/11 aftermath.  Belnick was off to Brooklyn.  I’ve been to Brooklyn.  But not to the place Belnick was going.

His apartment was…sparse.  Small.  Not his Atlanta digs.  He met some hostility with his camera, but…well…that’s probably to be expected.  On his wanderings, he saw a memorial to 6 firefighters who died at Engine 235, Battalion 57.  Then, he recalled where he was when it happened.  In class.  I remember, I was getting ready to go to class.  I turned on the TV at my friend’s call and was stunned.

We get so used to our routines, and when we see something like that, well…to call it jarring is an understatement.

———————–

The next day, he went to the Friends of Firefighters, founded by Nancy Carbone.  She founded it initially to feed rescue workers.  Now?  It’s therapy and counseling for the firefighter community, from the firefighter community.  Belnick was introduced to firefighters renovating the place, and the conscripted him to work.  Carpentry wasn’t his forte, but he learned.  One firefighter, struggling with the 9/11 experience, said that Friends of Firefighters has really helped him and changed his life.  He “can’t wait” to get there on Mondays.  That’s the best compliment any counseling center can get.

Over NYC pizza, Belnick learned about firefighting culture.  That any meal could be the last for a firefighter.  He described firefighting as a calling.  I used to be a therapist and I worked crisis with a fire department, so this story really resonated with me.  It really rang true to what I saw.  Even though where I am, there was no tragedy on the scale of 9/11, I saw the camaraderie firsthand.  The family feeling.  The importance of support for the profession.  Any profession.

Belnick wandered the streets until he found Children Of Promise, NYC and founder Sharon Content.  The only program in NYC that provides tutoring and counseling for children of incarcerated parents.  The narrator said that children of incarcerated parents have a 70% chance of repeating the cycle.  Sharon left Wall Street to establish the organization.

Children Of Promise tries to infuse therapy into all program aspects.  Lots of sharing.  Lots of talking it out.  The kids were sharing heartbreaking stories of their lives while having a parent in prison.  The injustices to the children of the justice system, and how hard that can be.  Simple things like being together?  Well, we may take that for granted, but these kids can’t.

That night, Belnick admitted that the experience is overwhelming, and that he was having trouble processing it.  But that’s a good thing.  Like ripping off a band aid.  Just jump in.  Experience it.  Let it wash over you.  Sometimes, great things come out of that.

———————–

The next day, Belnick was back at Friends of Firefighers.  Cooking.  Ham and cheese omelettes.  Coffee.  And stories.  Stories about the aftermath of 9/11 and how Nancy was helping the firefighters who kept heading into the danger zone to save and help others.

Friends of Firefighters also provides help for those who lost loved ones in the rescue efforts.  And for those suffering from the long-term after-effects of essentially living in that rescue area for days on end.

A lot of the people working in Friends of Firefighters talked about the “brotherhood” and the family atmosphere of rescuers.  How they stick together through the tragedies and healing.  It’s moving to see emotions become real, when shared.  Especially in groups not known for expressing emotion.

———————–

On Day 4, he returned to Children Of Promise, to work with teens.  That’s a hard group work with, but it can be incredibly rewarding when the teen are on board.  One boy talked about Children Of Promise as a “savior.”  A place that shows a different path.  Another boy said it’s a place where he knows others understand what he’s going through…and that care for him.  That’s the essence of good therapy…it makes emotional expressions safe, in a non-judgmental atmosphere.  In a place where expression is encouraged, and people are safe to be.

Take care when you judge.  There’s always someone on the other end.

———————–

On Day 5, Belnick is heading back to Friends of Firefighters, where he seems to be  accepted as part of the culture there.

Nancy took him on a walk and showed him some of the memorials painted on the firehouses where she’s worked.  She admitted that she can’t go down to the site, as it’s just too hard for her.  But she and Belnick went to a lookout and gazed at the site.  It was hard for Nancy, but she did it.  She confronted it with Belnick.

———————–

The next day, Belnick was up for his reveal.  He went back to Children of Promise and shared his admiration for an organization that helps a forgotten population.  He presented a check for $60,000.  There was a lot of clapping and some tears, but most importantly…more services.  Including plans for a van so the kids can visit their parents.

Belnick was then off to Friends of Firefighters.

———————–

Belnick told the firefighters at Friends of Firefighters how much he appreciated being part of the brotherhood of firefighters now.  He made a $65,000 donation, and it was clearly appreciated.  He also made out a check to Nancy for $5,000 so she can take a vacation with her family.

———————–

Belnick said he learned a lot on his trip to NYC.  He found it incredibly rewarding.

Children of promise was able to get a vehicle to transport kids to see their incarcerated parents.

Friends of Firefighters still provides free counseling to firefighters and has renovated their kitchen.

And Nancy?  Well, a vacation is in the works.

———————–

So this week?  Well, this week we learned that there is a very large, invisible population that suffers for the sins of others.  May they never suffer at our hands.  They deserve support for the lives they are living, and not the lives their parents have lived.

And that heroes often do their work quietly.  We don’t see them on a regular basis, but when we need them, there they are.  The firefighters in NYC are just a snapshot of the heroes in your own town.  Heroes I was fortunate enough to work with for one great year.

See you down the road, Nobody Nation.

7/15/12 Secret Millionaire Jeff Usner Will Help Out in San Antonio…Who’ll Benefit?

On 7/15/12 Secret Millionaire, self-made millionaire Jeff Usner will give some money away in San Antonio.

We have the write-up here at Nobody’s View, so if you’re looking for more information on tonight’s show, well…look below!

[You already know we blog America’s Got Talent here, because we believe that regular people living their dreams is worth a few words.  Heck, that’s sort of why we exist!  And, this season, we’ve decided to again blog Secret Millionaire.  Why?  Well, first, we’ve noticed some of you coming back from last season looking for the write-ups.  So there’s that.  But we also like the idea of people giving back.  And, we notice that sometimes people check in here for names and information on the groups that benefit.  So, if we can help you find some information, then that’s fine by us.  Enjoy!]

Interesting quote at the start about the pursuit of money taking over a life.  Boy, if the world had a nickel….

So, San Antonio, Texas with Jeff Usner, an Internet marketing guy.  Married with five children.  Usner says that early on he was focused on money, until…well…his family had health problems.  And then, Usner said he had a wakeup call.  He had a stroke and apparently, that really made him shift his priorities.  Passion first, people.  Then money.  You can have both.  It’s okay.  Just because you don’t put money first doesn’t mean you “hate” it (I hate when people say that to me).  It just means that you have it categorized.  Like everything else.  It gets a rank.  Period.

Anyway, Usner was off to his own backyard.  Thirty minutes from his own door.  Interesting house.  Not the cleanest.  Not the coolest (he complained at first that it was hot…difference between Texas secret millionaire and other places.  In Texas, the first concern is A/C).

On the first morning, he got into his old (Carpice?) car and saw a billboard for TEAMability Learning Center – The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation (that’s a mouthful).  He found the headquarters and wandered in.  He met executive director Barbara Goldman, who founded the place in 2003 along with Nancy Swanson and Mari Garza.  TEAMability helps serve the profoundly disabled.  At TEAMability, the parents are part of the therapy sessions with the kids, so that they can be there for support and to see progress.  TEAMability showed Usner a child, Orlando, who is benefitting from a harness the place uses, to help kids learn in an upright position–not a normally easy feat for a child with CP.  Apparently Jeff has a cousin with a similar disability to Orlando.  Orlando’s mother became visibly emotional when discussing TEAMability and the women who work with her son.

When Usner discussed the loss of his child and the difficulties his cousin faces, he was very emotional…noticing the spark of patience and empathy upon those who do, and receive, this work.

———————–

The next stop was Habitat For Safe Seniors, which provides services for those 55 and older and, according to their sign, provides a ramp program, home repair program, food delivery, and a senior center.  There he met Rhonda, who explained that Habitat For Safe Seniors hosts a food fair for all people and home repairs to keep seniors safe.  Rhonda explained that it’s often seniors who are forgotten in charity, even though they are often the most vulnerable.  Along with Phil, Bubba, and Toby, Usner helped build a ramp for a senior couple.

Back at the center, there was chicken and collared greens cooked by a volunteer who has benefitted from Habitat For Safe Seniors’ charity.  The talk was about charity, giving, and community, and Jeff seemed to really appreciate it.

———————–

On day 4, Usner was back out on the road for Habitat For Safe Seniors, helping at the weekly food drive for seniors in need.  For many people, this is their only food for the week.  The trunks opened and the food went in with no questions asked.  It was difficult when Rhonda had to tell people in line that there might not be enough food left.  Who knows how much change one more bag of food could make?

Usner next found The Advocates–Social Services Inc. (if you can find an official website, please let me know in the comments), founded in 1979 by Charlie Mata to help needy families.  They also do a youth boxing program to help unstable youth to help them succeed and find self esteem.  They asked Usner to help put up a boxing ring.

Jeff met Cyrus who started boxing at The Advocates at 12.  He was doing well, until he was stabbed.  But The Advocates’ Jason Mata became a mentor to him and helped him pull through.  Mata’s son had a lot of nice things to say about his father and his commitment to the youth of San Antonio.

And, right before the break, Usner had some nice things to say (again) about money.  It’s not whether you make a million or a thousand.  It’s what you do with it.  But, as we always say here at Nobody’s View–even if you don’t give money, you can give time or a smile.  Even if it’s time to a friend in need or a smile to a stranger.  Doesn’t matter.  Do something.  Anything.  Change a life.

———————–

On the final day of volunteering, Jeff headed back to The Advocates to meet some of the fighters.  He asked Jason about the place and Jason said it’s hard to train at certain times of year because of the facilities, and the problems with limitations of fund.  When a charity has problems, it means they can’t alleviate as many problems in the community.  For one young boxer, he said The Advocates helps him stay healthy and stay off the streets.

Usner went from The Advocates  to Orlando’s home where TEAMability was going to deliver a homemade learning center for Orlando to help Orlando connect with the world around him.  Barbara set up the apparatus, made of everyday items, and Orlando was in heaven.  Jeff had a few words with Orlando’s father, who said he hasn’t had a chance to be at Orlando’s therapy because of work, and seeing him with the apparatus today made him happy.  That hit home with Jeff, who said his long hours took away a lot of time from seeing his kids do certain things.  I think that’s a common problem today, but it can be alleviated with some priority shifting.  Nothing has to be abandoned or forgotten.

Just shifted.

———————–

After the break it was time for Jeff’s reveal.

He said it was hard keeping the secret from people who needed his help immediately.

Jeff’s first stop was TEAMability.  He thanked them for allowing him to volunteer and told the group how much they inspire him.  He presented a check to TEAMability for $40,000.  Barbara admitted she was in shock and said it was a “fantasy” to have things like this happen.  But fortunately, it did happen.

The next stop was The Advocates Social Services.  Jeff walked up on a fight in progress and told everyone what a positive impact they were having on the community.  He presented them a check for $35,000.  Jason said that the group was on the verge of closing their doors, but the money would help keep the place open for the youth of San Antonio.

———————–

The last stop was Habitat For Safe Seniors.  Jeff shared how much he’s appreciated being allowed to help the group.  He presented a check for $85,000.  The group kind of broke down emotionally at that point, but in the best sense….

Jeff called the week “life changing” and he said he was now motivated to give more.

———————–

TEAMability is using Jeff’s funds to create a new program to help youth with movement and exercise.

The Advocates are using their donation to upgrade facilities and build and indoor space to serve at-risk youth.

Habitat For Safe Seniors is building a food storage facility to hold 30,000 pounds of groceries to feed the community.

———————–

So, what did we learn this week?  We can work and work and work and work, and the more we work the more we can forget what matters.  No, placing money second doesn’t mean hating it.  It simply means keeping it in perspective.

Tomorrow, try something.  Give away one dollar.  Just one.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a handout to a homeless person, added to a server’s tip, or a gift to your grandchild.  Just part with one dollar.

And then?  Well, then let it go.  Let it do its work.

And think on that dollar no more.

Hilary Decesare Heads to Long Beach, California as the Newest Secret Millionaire…Who Will Benefit With a Donation?

Sunday’s 7/8/12 Secret Millionaire featured Hilary Decesare, CEO of Everloop.

To whom did she give?

We have the write-up here at Nobody’s View.  We’re a day late (and more than a few dollars short!) but it’s here.  Check it out!

[You already know we blog America’s Got Talent here, because we believe that regular people living their dreams is worth a few words.  Heck, that’s sort of why we exist!  And, this season, we’ve decided to again blog Secret Millionaire.  Why?  Well, first, we’ve noticed some of you coming back from last season looking for the write-ups.  So there’s that.  But we also like the idea of people giving back.  And, we notice that sometimes people check in here for names and information on the groups that benefit.  So, if we can help you find some information, then that’s fine by us.  Enjoy!]

A mom from LA going to Long Beach to do some good.  Learn some things.  Meet some people.

Who benefits tonight?

Hilary Decesare is from California.  A mom of three.  A son and two daughters.  She’s the CEO and co-founder of Everloop in the Silicon Valley.  Made her millions early and went on for more.

The show sort of opened with Hilary and her kids in a vineyard.  Obligatory shots of nice cars and house.

But that didn’t last too long.  Soon, it was time to leave the money and phone behind and go to where one hour of her salary could feed a family for a week.  Off to Long Beach, 30 miles from Beverly Hills and an eternity from luxury.  Over 4,000 homeless, 17% are children.

She pulled up to her new digs and, well…it wasn’t Kansas anymore.  Graffiti, glass…sharp things.  Then, into the streets of Long Beach to meet her new neighbors.  Hilary met young Antonio (very young) who said he didn’t like his neighborhood because of all the drugs.

Decesare seemed to be having some second thoughts…as I’m sure most of the people on the show do…but, y’know…it’s a commitment, right?

———————–

After the break, Decesare headed to the library.  She found Love In the Mirror, a group founded by  6-year-old Jonas Corona and his mother, Renee.  According to Jonas, the organization helps the homeless and needy kids.  Apparently Jonas has been helping out and feeding the homeless since the age of 4.  His moment came when he saw kids in a food line without their parents, and it upset him enough to take action.  When he was told he had to be 10 to help…well…he knew better than to take that for an answer.  While making sandwiches with Hilary, Jonas said that he thinks it makes you feel good if you make other people feel good.

That’s pretty much the whole ball of wax, Jonas.

How big is the commitment?  Renee actually put law school on hold after one year to help Jonas make his dream into a reality.  He gives up so much of his youth to give something back to others.

They were off to Precious Lamb, a school for homeless children.  Jonas handed out toys and books to the children…children who have no real anchor in their lives.  A stuffed animal can be an anchor.

After that?  A park by the library to hand out sandwiches to the homeless.  Now, watch that scene carefully.  Jonas didn’t give a “test” to the people or ask about why they were homeless.  He didn’t care about their religion, past, or future.  He just gave.  He gave because it was the right thing to do.  He gave because he needed to give.  Plain and simple, right?

He told Hilary he wanted to do this forever, and Renee was very supportive.

Now, at one point, Hilary stated that she has a website that encourages kids to go out and make a difference, but she said she felt like a hypocrite because she didn’t feel as if she was doing much to make a difference.  But I have to differ with her (not that I’m an authority on Hilary’s life or anything).  The mere fact that she makes difference-making available on the web?  Well, that’s something.  Just because a marriage counselor has never been married or an OB/GYN is a man, doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer.

But that’s just Nobody’s view.

———————–

Jonas lit a fire under Hilary and it was off again to find new people.  She found New Hope, founded by Wayne Twedell and Susan Beeney.  New Hope helps the grieving find hope and healing.  At any age.  Apparently, Sue was a hospice nurse, so she saw grief firsthand on a daily basis.  Hilary took a tour of the facility and saw their resources, including programs for kids.

The group was off to a home that had faced a tragic loss a few years ago.  The Alonzo family was making a memorial in their yard for their son Christian.  Apparently, Christian got the car into gear while it was off, and then he tried to jump out, and was killed.  Luckily groups like New Hope exist to provide some comfort to those dealing with severe grief.  The family created a beautiful space in their yard where they can remember a child with love.

Back at the office, Sue gave Hilary, who has a family member in hospice, some good advice–the last thing to go is hearing.  So, say what you need to say to the person, and say it to them…even if they’re in a coma.

Just something worth remembering.

———————–

Shoestring City Ranch was up next.  Horses, goats, and founder Karen Thompson.  It’s a place for children 5-21, where they can come and be off the streets and learn responsibility.  Nothing to teach that like caring for animals.

Hilary met Benjamin, and helped him groom a horse.  Benjamin said that being near the animals makes him “happy.”  Animals don’t generally ask about our past or our baggage.  Often, they just sort of…give.  Many of the animals at the ranch were hurt or abandoned.  Karen said the ranch is completely volunteer, and Karen helps make ends meet from her own monies.  One volunteer said she’s been working there for 10 years, because it was her safe haven from a difficult childhood.  When she was 18, she moved in with Karen, who “saved me.”

The end of the day brought homesickness, but also a sense of purpose.  That’s not too bad a combination, right?

———————–

The next day?  Another visit to New Hope where clients were making plates to sell at auction to raise money for New Hope.  The plates are meant to be visual representations of how New Hope helped each person.  The clients shared their stories with Hilary, and told her how important group support can be.  But they also showed how special memories can be.  And tears…tears can be special, too.  Listening to them describe their plates, I was once again amazed at how quickly people grow when faced with tragedy.  How so much that is clean and pure can come out of darker times.

Upon reflection, Decesare said her time in Long Beach, and meeting the folks there, was something she would never forget.  I’ll bet they’ll remember her, too.

But then the time came for the reveal.

Her first stop was with Jonas and Renee at Love In the Mirror.  She gave the group a check for $15,000.  That can buy a lot of peanut butter and jelly.  Jonas was clearly blown away, but he had a big smile.

———————–

Next up was Shoestring City Ranch.  She gave a gift of $50,000.  Karen couldn’t really speak, but she cried.  And, I guess crying is speaking, isn’t it?

Last was New Hope.  Hilary got emotional as she talked about getting older and thinking about taking time to smell the roses.  And how we don’t do that enough.  And we don’t!  In celebration of an organization that encourages people to do just that, she gave $75,000.

Y’know?  Sometimes new life comes from loss.

———————–

Back home?  Recharged.  Ready to take a few more moments to smell the roses.

With the donations?  New Hope hired a new employee and is producing videos to train others on how to host grief support groups.

Jonas bought backpacks and other goods for homeless youth, and Love In the Mirror is seeking non-profit status.

Shoestring City Ranch is building new animal shelters and looking to keep its doors open to those who really need it.

———————–

Look folks, I have to say this again: just because you can’t give thousands of dollars or hours, you can give something.  A smile.  Try that.  Start there.  And you may find a life changed.

A Terrible Accident Brings Us Together on Purpose–No Matter Who We Are

Something interesting happened yesterday evening.

I had been working on a lazy Saturday and decided to meet some friends for dinner. So, I started out at one friend’s house, we called in an order at a local restaurant, and got ready to pick it up.

Interestingly, we had been playing a video game, and decided to turn it off and leave a little early.  We hadn’t planned on it, but it just sort of worked out that way.  We dallied for another moment, then got out the door.

We pulled away and made a left and started toward the restaurant.  We were talking.  Minding our own business.  Chatting about some issue or another.  All of a sudden, I hear my friend say, “He’s gonna run the…”

And just like that, a car barreling full speed through a red light smashed into another car proceeding on the green.  But smashed.  T-bone.  We saw it all.  Solid red light.  Go-ahead green.

The car heading southbound flipped up, landed on its side, and skidded into the curb.  The other car spun around.  It all happened so fast, and yet so slow…like in a dream.  Dust.  Steam.  A faint scream.  There was no time to think.  I jumped out of the car, called 9-1-1, and helped the dispatcher determine injuries.

And would you believe?  Everyone walked away.  A full speed T-bone and everyone was safe.  One minor injury, but safe.  Alive.  By the way, it was an Audi SUV and a Lexus sedan, so I think maybe I’ll be looking into those cars someday.

Anyway, the reason I’m blogging this horrific event is this: everyone that witnessed it jumped out of their cars and rushed to help.  Out of the SUV they pulled a man, woman, and child, and out of the other car, three more adults.  Nobody asked if people were Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.  It didn’t matter if a Democrat was behind the wheel, or a Republican.  It was all hands on deck as people pried doors open and gingerly helped the people in the cars.

We all waited patiently to give our statements to the police and asked if there was any way we could be of assistance.  After some time, we all went our separate ways, melting back into the world and moving our wheels down the streets once again to take our own chances.

As my friend and I got back into our car, the woman who’d been in the SUV only minutes before, trapped sideways by her seatbelt, was walking with her son to get into a car with friends to go see her husband who went to the hospital with some broken ribs.  On her way by, she smiled at me and said, “Thank you!”

I didn’t do much, mind you.  Just barked out at the scene on the orders of the      9-1-1 dispatcher, “Is everyone okay?  Are there any people trapped?”  Now, I did that with authority and with the intent of determining if they needed to bring the Jaws of Life, but then I faded into the scenery again.  Just a dude with a phone under a tree at an accident scene.

But it got a “thank you” from a woman who’s dreams tonight will be more difficult than mine.

Anyway, life is full of so much that is terrible.  And we in Nobody Nation gather every day to go to work, pay our bills, and eat anonymously at restaurants.  But sometimes…well, sometimes, we are called together to be more than the background to everyone else’s lives.

Sometimes we have to pull together to pull people out.  We have to make a call to get help.  We have to just be present to witness others as they are carted away on a stretcher.  We ask if we can help.  We do what we can.  And we don’t care about the other person’s beliefs.  We just want to make a difficult time a bit easier.  Our problems suddenly don’t matter…or, shrink down in the face of a larger issue.  All gains perspective and we realize that what was so important is only so until something else envelops it, swallowing it whole in the need to take action on someone else’s behalf.

I won’t forget this accident anytime soon.  It was horrifying.

But then again, I won’t forget that “thank you” either.  Perhaps that is the best part about the difficulties of our anonymous lives is this: we occasionally recognize each other for who we really are, instead of who we assume ourselves to be.

Men Touched by a Wild Mountain Gorilla Give a Touching Lesson to Us All

A friend forwarded me this video today from YouTube called Touched by a Wild Mountain Gorilla.

It’s an encounter had by two men in Uganda.  They found themselves, literally, amidst a band of gorillas.  It was out of the blue and, according to the video narration, not staged (it looks too real!).  Click it and see.  It’s pretty amazing.

I have to hand it to the subject of the video.  He is a brave, brave man.  I have no doubt he is a calm, collected man in real life!  But even if he wasn’t before, then after being touched by a gorilla?  Well, what fears could possibly remain for him?

The interactions are amazing.  I won’t wax philosophic about the comparisons between animals and people…the subject of the video takes care of that.

But as we come into the holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas, and look ahead to a new year of new possibility, maybe there is a nice lesson in a video about these wild mountain gorillas from Uganda.  We are under absolutely no obligation to like everyone in the world.  We certainly don’t have to be liked by everyone in the world.  We don’t “owe” people a smile or a conversation or any other contact (touch?).  And, we certainly don’t have to put ourselves in positions where we are abused or belittled.  Nobody deserves that, and no touch is worth it.

But 99% of the time, we aren’t meeting abusers or belittlers.  We’re meeting people.  Strangers.  Groups.  Troupes.  Regular folks on the way of life.  People who just wander into our little encampment.  If we have a little trust, then who knows!  It’s possible that we can come to new understandings and have a few new adventures.

In my travels around the world I’ve met some really nice people.  They aren’t celebrities, famous authors, great sports heroes, or trend setters.  Nope.  They’re just owners of little shops, peddlers of burgers, teachers, parents, and others trying to make their way.  I have wandered into their stores, restaurants, classrooms, homes, and other places–many times quite without invitation or expectation.  And you know?  Most of the time, I’m welcome.  Most of the time, some pleasantry or another ensues, even if it is just a smile or a “thank you.”

As my feet travel from one place to the next, I am very aware that not everyone on this earth likes me.  That’s a hard fact, but it is significantly softened by the truth that not everyone on this earth hates me.  That’s comforting!  Not everyone on this earth thinks I’m living the right way, but luckily I have some support for the life choices I’ve made.

But I figure it this way.  The sum total of a person and a life doesn’t come about only by adding up the pleasings the people who have expectations of you.  I know that can be an important ingredient sometimes, but no.  Reliance on that alone is a dead-end sure to lead to all kinds of horrible.

The better measure of a life well lived is in how many times you make a connection with someone who has no expectations of you at all.

Those who expect from you will always find a reason to be let down.  Those who don’t expect will find reasons to be pleasantly and unexpectedly surprised.  For them, a smile will be enough.  An extra dollar tip will be enough.  Holding that door open will be enough.  Who you are as you will be enough.

There is the jewel.

The men in this video where touched by wild mountain gorillas who had no expectations.  They had an amazing encounter.  Start paying a little more heed to the people in your own life who have no expectations of you.  And there, you might find something amazing awaiting you.  Therein will lie the true beauty of the gentle touches you never expected.

Seven Billion People and Counting. Change Can Start With Seven (Or One!)…

Just saw that we reached 7 billion people on the planet.

That’s right.  Seven billion bodies bumbling about on this rock, flying around the sun.  Seven billion adventures.  Seven billion stories.  Seven billion pieces of potential.

One of my favorite sites, worldometers.info, confirms it.  In fact, according to the folks at worldometers.info, at the time of this writing we’re at 7,000,078,000.  Amazing, huh?  The ol’ humanity count just keeps going and going and going.  As long as people are people, then we’ll have babies.  I wonder who the actual 7 billionth kid was.  That’d be interesting karma, huh?

While we’re on the subject, think about the people you know — the family you have, the friends you see, the co-workers with whom you spend so much time.  Out of 7 billion people, your network is probably composed of somewhere between 50-100 people.  If you’re good at Facebooking (I’m not), then you may have thousands of connections.  And those connections link you to connections.  But still, no matter how masterful your social networking skills, it’s hard to believe you can connect to all 7 billion folks currently on the planet.

Then again, maybe we all connect in other ways.  Maybe there is something to that whole web-of-energy thing, or maybe our thoughts connect us.  I’m no quantum physicist, but maybe there’s a clue in that somewhere (a clue that’s safe from discovery from the likes of me).

I don’t know.  I’m just waxing philosophic here.  The point is, even if you don’t know everyone on the planet, you can still make a pretty big impact in your own little circle.  Share a smile.  Give a dollar to charity.  Break for humans.  Spare a moment.  You don’t have to help seven billion people.  Start with seven!  Heck, start with one!  You’re unique because you’re you.  You have an impact because you choose to.

As for that seven billionth kid?  Well, by the time he or she is 18, s/he’ll have the opportunity to write a blog about that eight billionth kid.  Imagine that!

Don’t Just Walk in Circles — Sally Quinn’s Encounter in the Labyrinth is a Clue to Better Dialogue

I was taking an early morning cruise around the Internet and decided to check the latest headlines.  I surfed over to CNN.com and found an article entitled, “My Faith: How walking the labyrinth changed my life.”

The author, Sally Quinn, is a Washington Post journalist and EIC of an online religion conversation called “On Faith.”  I was happy to find that conversation, because it’s something to which we here at Nobody’s View aspire!

In her article, Quinn discusses an experience she had walking a labyrinth — a maze-like structure around which one can walk to calm the mind, concentrate, and, as Quinn says, “be found.”  The experience can mean different things to different people, and labyrinths are apparently constructed in all sorts of places — churches, parks, and spas for example.

Out of curiosity, I Googled the phrase “where are labyrinths” and happened upon a very interesting site called labyrinthlocator.com.  This site, sponsored by two groups — Veriditas and The Labyrinth Society, features a search tool called the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator.  I typed in some information about my city and voila!  Up popped a list of local labyrinths.  One was located at a retreat center not far from my home (run by a group of monks) and another was located at a mainstream Christian church.  There were a few others, both public and private.  The information section for each labyrinth features date of creation, size, and construction material.  The pictures were quite beautiful, and they looked quite serene.

For Sally Quinn, the experience of walking the labyrinth helped her come to terms with her son’s struggle with leaning issues.  In fact, when she shared the experience with her son, his life transformed.  He has since written a book about learning issues, started a website, and is now, apparently, doing quite well.  Quinn says she can’t necessarily attribute all of her son’s success to her labyrinth walks, but she believes that whatever the experience was, it has helped her.  To this day she continues to walk labyrinths, enjoying their positive effects in her life.

After reading through Quinn’s article, I scrolled down to the “comments” section.  As a teacher of religion (when budgets allow and the phone rings!) and having produced some manuscripts and articles on the subject of religion, I have an interest in these discussion strings.  What I got was an eyeful of some stark opinions (no surprise!).  Apparently, the broader social dialogue concerning faith vs. reason (or, according to some, religion vs. science) is alive and well in the comment section of blog posts.  There was the obligatory “hateful” comment calling Ms. Quinn all sorts of names.  But then, right on cue, other readers jumped to her defense, and to the defense of spiritual practices in general.  As of my reading, there were 11 pages of back-and-forth, all leading to some flavor of these conclusions:  labyrinths are nonsensical, people who walk them are nonsensical, Ms. Quinn is being duped by “magic,” spiritual people are being duped by spirituality, religion is duping us all, religion is good, spirituality is good, scientists are short-sighted, religion is a con job…and on and on and on.

What exactly is going on here?  Is this all really about Sally Quinn’s labyrinth?  I don’t think so.  Is this really a discussion of science and religion, or is something else at work?  I don’t know where I come out on the whole issue of labyrinths, but what I do know is that any time dialogue can begin around such an issue, it can only be for the good.  Now, I can hear you asking, “How is this good?  Isn’t it just a lot of Internet partisanship masquerading as dialogue?”  Not necessarily.  The discussion is valuable because it thrusts the issues of religion, spirituality, tolerance, and civility into the spotlight.  It forces people to confront their views on something that is central to humans as individuals, life in general, and politics in particular.  Whatever your view on these subjects, you must come to understand that there is someone across from you on the train who may have a diametrically opposed viewpoint.  You think the labyrinth is bunk and he walks one daily on his lunch break at some big corporate campus.  This group finds religion in general distasteful, but that group uses it as an impetus to feed and clothe the hungry.  You meditate and pray to find your heart of relaxation, while that other person looks down on your whole enterprise, insisting what you are experiencing subjectively is objectively not possible.

Now, you might read that and say, “I’m not convinced!  You say dialogue around this is good?”  Well, yes!  Whatever your views on these things, they are your views.  And, like any good views, they must be able to stand up to criticism and opposition.  If you think religion and spirituality are bunk, yet your friend’s life was transformed in an instant at a Christian or Buddhist retreat, then you need to think more about the purpose of religious or spiritual practices, instead of the mere trappings.  If you had a bad go of it in your house of worship years ago, perhaps you need to challenge the enterprise of judging a whole category by one experience.  Is it a distaste for religion you have or a distaste for your unique, one-time involvement?  I don’t know!  I don’t have the answers.  Have that talk with your friend.  If you are a spiritual person, and you meet a psychologist who believes spiritual experiences are the delusive play of the mind, then perhaps you need to sit down to coffee and get into that conversation.  Does it matter whether or not the phenomena can be defined?  Perhaps their value lies in their effects and not their descriptions.  Again, I don’t know.  I’m not an expert in these things.  You are.  They are your experiences and they are yours to examine.

These discussions don’t have to take place, of course, but how are we to know the sturdiness of our convictions, whatever they are, unless we occasionally erect them in the winds of debate?

I seriously doubt anyone is going to read Sally Quinn’s article with one lens, then change views because of the comments section.  Instead, what seems to happen is that people strengthen their views in response to others’ comments.  People get their dander up.  They go on the defensive.  Many of the non-believers insist that because they can’t kick Sally Quinn’s experience, it doesn’t exist.  Others say her experience is genuine because it takes place away from the prying eyes of five-sense scrutiny.  There is some anger.  Some hate.  Some intolerance.  But at least there’s dialogue.

And that’s a start!

Let me say this to you, Nobody Nation: you have a point-of-view.  In fact, we all have points of view.  A viewpoint is what gives us depth and contour.  It’s what makes us more than a bunch of human straight-line stick figures.

Come to think of it, points-of-view are what make us labyrinths.  When we get done walking the mazes of our minds, we must emerge and engage.  In that way, we don’t just walk in circles, but instead, forge more tolerant paths toward the future.

On October 7, 2011, Yom Kippur 5772 Begins — Will We Messy Eaters Do the Laundry?

So, our Jewish friends give us yet another great holiday about which to blog here at Nobody’s View.

This Friday, October 7, 2011 marks the start of Yom Kippur.  Or, in terms of the Jewish calendar, it is Yom Kippur 5772.  The holiday is ensconced in the Hebrew Bible in Leviticus 23:27 where God instructs the Hebrews that on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishrei), the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, is to be observed.  Other readings, including Leviticus 16, provide instructions to the priest according to the day, including the preparation of the scapegoat in order to atone for the sins of the people.  Offerings, abstaining from work, and sincere repentance are the order of the day.  This is the price for release from sins.

It’s a Day of Atonement — “at one-ment.”  In religious terms, the day bridges sinners with the One who does not sin.  The holiday that is just past, Rosh Hashanah 5772, was the start of the Jewish new year.  The Book of Life was opened and the great pen was set to parchment to inscribe names for the coming year.  On October 7, 2011 (5772), Yom Kippur, the book is sealed.

Let’s go back to that word “atone.”  What does that mean?  Perhaps it is the forgiveness of sins or the act of making amends.  On Yom Kippur, our Jewish readers come before God, admitting the wrongs committed in 5771.  They abstain from work, food, and the delights of the outside world and steadfastly appear before their Creator, seeking forgiveness and a place in the coveted Book of Life.

But now we have a different question on our hands — Where exactly are sins?  To put that another way, where is a ‘wrong’ located?  Does it become part of our body?  Is it jotted down on a Post-It note somewhere?  Is it blogged on some great and holy blog on the Internet?  (I haven’t found a blog like that so far, although there are a few that fancy themselves such a thing.)  I’m sure there are tons of theories on this, but I tend to favor a suggestion that sins do not reside in the soul, per se, but on our human clothing.

A few years ago, I was fortunate to hear a particularly interesting talk concerning sin and atonement.  The scholar compared these times of atonement to doing one’s laundry.  How?  Well, we of the messy eating crew know that stains very often appear on our pristine white clothing.  Come to think of it, that’s always when they appear — when we wear white.  And, it’s usually a colorful food we spill when draped in white — grape jelly and mustard come to mind.  Now, when someone wearing pure white returns to the office from lunch, their stains stand out, you see.  It’s true.  What is the first thing you notice about them upon their return?  The stains!  Admit it — you call it to their attention and rib them about it, don’t you?  “Nice shirt, Frank!  Did you get any in your mouth?”  Poor Frank.  That guy needs to wear more black.

So, in our example of atonement, through repentance, fasting, earnest prayer, or good will, we can, literally, do our laundry and wash ourselves clean.  Holy bleach!  Divine detergent!  Perhaps the memory of the stain is still with us.  Perhaps we regale our co-workers with the tale of the giant meatball sub.  However, the stain itself is gone — erased from memory and no longer a source of terror or embarrassment.

That interpretation (just one of many from only one scholar of many) had a profound impact on me — not as a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, or Atheist, but as a person.  It redefined the nature of sin and repentance, casting it into a much gentler sea.  Sure, we all know that it’s easy to judge other people.  It’s easy to define someone by a casual (or intentional) deed or error.  But think about this — it is quite likely that the people whom you value most are those that look past the faults and see a shining core.  They don’t judge based on the passing acts of a human life.  They forgive us our foibles and earnestly believe in our better natures.  They don’t see only the remnants of pizza sauce on our white shirt.  Instead, they know our clean soul and better nature.

I’ve often used the following as my measure of judgement (I said often, not always!): If my life was in danger, would the person with the stained clothes rush to save me?  The answer is probably yes.  If his life was in danger, would I save him despite my stained clothes?  That answer is probably also a yes.  With those two propositions on the table, do I really have time to judge?  Probably not.  A life, not a deed, is on the line.

Become a multi-tasker: learn to love, assist, and do the laundry all at the same time.

5772 is on its way for our Jewish readers here at Nobody’s View.  For the rest of us in Nobody Nation, this can also be a time to get something good going — something that applies for all of us, whether we are Jewish or not, famous or unknown, exalted or plain, rich or poor.  Imagine that this Friday, October 7, 2011 will be your last day.  How do you want to be remembered — for the times you judged another or for the times you forgave?  For the damage you inflicted or the fences your mended?  For the fear you harbored or the courage upon which you sailed forth?

The Book of Life is in its last stages of editing.  It’s up to you.  Will you wash away or forgive the stains of the last year or let the stains blemish you?  Will you point out the stains upon others or let them eat in peace?  Don’t be fooled into thinking this post is only about God, sin, religion, or Biblical injunction.  It’s about common humanity.  It’s about all of us — all of us and our clean endings….

All of us and our clean beginnings.