this is how it happens

tim-gouw-165094Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

We can practice love as a deliberate strategy to dealing with the pain of loss. It requires practice to respond to anguish with love, but it works. Each time a wave of grief threatens to tear you apart, ask yourself, “What does love ask of me now?”  – from The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. 

I used to never consider traveling back to the same place unless of course it was to see family and friends. I thought, why spend the money on somewhere I have already been? But now, if I feel a connection to a place, I want to go back and experience it again and again. Maybe it has to do with being parent-less and getting ready to put my home away from home, the house my mom lived in since I was a junior in high school with all of our family portraits on the walls, memories, and reliable snacks in the cabinet, on the market. I want centering, grounding, comfort. I want to experience that some things never change.

I just finished reading, The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Brock, M.D. According to Brock, they are: Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Today when my daughter was standing contemplatively at the sliding glass door in a sparkly princess dress too big for her and holding a stuffed Minnie Mouse, I could hear my mom sigh, “What a great picture.”

When I heard a bird singing but couldn’t identify what kind it was, I had to stop myself from picking up my phone and imitating the bird for her on her voice mail. She would get home from playing bridge, listen to it and laugh, call me back and say, “That’s very good, Linds.” I would then tell her that Will had been home from school the last two days to which she would respond, “Poor Will”. She would tell me she didn’t have a lot planned for the weekend and we would talk about her upcoming visit to Florida. I’d hang up but first, I would say, “I love you.” Even though, she would comment on occasion that she didn’t grow up saying this, and didn’t always find it necessary, I did it anyway and she did too. And I think she liked it, even though maybe it was awkward at first.

Yesterday, when I had lunch with a friend, a friend I adore and don’t see all that often, mostly because we are at different stages in life, but also because I don’t see anyone that often other than my kids and husband, she asked me with so much heart how I was doing.

That question again. A sigh, this time from me. I appreciate it. And if it doesn’t come, I am miffed, but when it does, I feel my answer is never quite complete, inadequate. Honest but not sufficient.

It feels as if I am dancing around the edges, as if my feelings are the lacy or sparkly border of a Valentine’s day card made out of pink construction paper. Getting to the center is where the meat is, the real message.

In so many ways, I am o.k. I feel at peace, mostly. And partially I feel this way, I think, because of all the I love you’s and thank you’s I said to my mom over the years.

Recently, during a meditation, I saw my mom’s death from a distance. And thought to myself, wow, it really was beautiful and surrounded by swaths of light and love. In fact, it was light and love. I also heard this message, this is how it happens.

With my son home sick from school, I looked at our fruit bowl and saw so many browning bananas. Like the little spots of discoloration popping up on my own skin. I thought of an easy recipe for banana bread, one that I had found on line last Spring when I was home visiting my mom. She loved it. And then another time when I was back, I asked her what she wanted for breakfast – meals being one of her few sources of pleasure and variety in her day – to which she replied, sweetly and enthusiastically, “I think I’ll have some of your banana bread.” I told her regrettably that I didn’t have any but that I would make some for her again. Anything to perk her up and see sunshine on her face.

So much has changed, so much so that it feels as if giant boulders have been shifting around inside of me trying to settle into their new places. I am letting the experience change me. I wouldn’t want to be the same person I was before. The experience of losing my mom has taught me to be more loving, more understanding, just plain…more.

And that it is never inappropriate, mushy, overly sentimental or too much to say in any way we are able to, I forgive you. Please forgive me. Thank you and I love you.

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the deepest thing i know

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“The deepest thing I know about loss is that grief is love. It is love. It is not sorrow. Is is beauty, not ugliness.”  – Cheryl Strayed

December 3rd marked the anniversary of my dad’s death. It has been 24 years.

Last year at this time I wrote a blog post about staying present and how very grateful I was to have my mom around especially since she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer the year before.

But another year has passed and it it Christmas again, and this year she is not with us.

On the morning of the 3rd, while my two older kids were at Sunday school studying Hebrew and with our littlest in tow, my husband and I bought our Christmas tree/holiday tree/Hanukkah bush.

As we wandered around the parking lot looking for the right tree, I remembered being a little girl and picking out a tree with my dad; him in red and black buffalo plaid with rosy cheeks and me in an oversized jacket, also with rosy cheeks.

When I was little, we often waited to get our tree until a few days before Christmas. At that point, it was slim pickings. My dad took the whole process very seriously from getting the right tree (tall but not too tall as fullness was more important than height) to the lighting of the tree (colored lights versus white and silver rain versus gold tinsel) to when we were allowed to descend the stairs Christmas morning. (He had to be showered, shaven and dressed, the dog had to go out, and lights had to be on).

Back at the lot across from the church, we had found the proper tree and I went to find someone to wrap it up for us. While I was meandering through the maze of sweet smelling Firs and Spruces, another family had chosen the same one. As the man stood next to his daughters and wife, he said to my husband, “Oh, did you want this one?” Um yeah we did. But my husband told him to take it. Fortunately, both men were not about to get into an argument over a Christmas tree, across from a church on a Sunday morning, during the most wonderful time of the year.

A few moments later, the grower of the trees came up to me, a man with a simultaneous child like earnestness and a Grandpa’s glimmer in his blue eyes, and said, “Your husband is a sweetheart, I can see why you married him.”

His kind face reminded me of my dad and a warm smile danced across my chest. My Dad and husband never got to meet but I always felt like my dad had a hand in getting us together with the help of one of my best friends and a boat.

And the next day, while lighting candles for my parents, reciting a Jewish prayer and glimpsing at our happy tree in the background, I felt my dad had a part in helping us purchase our tree this year too.

While I am feeling the sting of their deaths, I am reminded of the merriment on my dad’s face during the holidays. I think of him standing on a ladder declaring, “This is a dictatorship, not a democracy,” when I mentioned wanting the outdoor lights hung a certain way. I feel my mom’s warmth from the inside out. I am grateful for the grower of the trees sharing such generous words with me. And beyond grateful for my husband and kids.

The past fills me with goodness and sadness too of course. But mostly, I am thankful today for knowing that although, sadness is part of grief, at it’s tender heart, grief is about love.

And on Thanksgiving, as hearts kept popping up in unassuming places, I felt it too. I had a stain on my jeans and when I wiped it clean with a wet towel, the remaining mark was that of a perfect damp heart. Then I saw two hearts on the ground, two different times throughout the day, one made from brown leaves, and the other made from stringy threads of bark.

These signs remind me of what’s important.

We will not be running ourselves ragged this year (or any year, hopefully) and we will not attend every event. I may even say no more than yes as a means of self preservation and self care.

If there is anything positive about grieving and I do think there are some things, it affords us an opportunity. An opportunity born from perspective. The perspective to see what is most important, what we value and cherish deeply, and then to proceed accordingly.

What feels important to me right now is staying well and in the flow of what feels good and right, comforting and nourishing. It is about honoring and remembering my mom and dad, being true to my heart, and spending quality time with family and friends. This is the profound gift I believe my mom is giving me this year.

This gift is about not striving for anything in particular, certainly not perfection. It is just about living day to day, staying grounded in my heart, and simply trying my daily best. My messy, winging it, sure to make mistakes, go with the flow, last minute, joyful and probably teary, but always with heart, humor, and hope, honest to goodness, best. I thank my parents for showing me the way.

May your holiday be full with love and what you hold dearest and deepest. Thank you for being out there and reading my blog. Somehow this exchange sustains me. I hope it helps you too. 

And to all of our loved ones that we have lost this year and for the way they continue to show up, inspire and encourage us, we are greater because of you and will keep living and loving because of you.

To those struggling, stay close to your heart and take it slow, breath by breath. Love yourself, fill up on goodness. Get fresh air and drink some water. Distract yourself with a good book, a walk, a funny show, or a being with a dear friend. Look at beauty, find something to be thankful for. Support someone else. Get support for you. It could always be worse and things will get better may feel like empty platitudes right now but there is truth in them too. You know the way, Love. You are never truly alone.

My sincere and heartfelt wishes for a Happy Everything and beautiful, peaceful, loving New Year. 

 

 

 

 

how are you, today?

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Sheryl Sandberg encourages us to ask people in mourning, “How are you, today?” By emphasizing today, we acknowledge the bumpy nature of grief.

Sometimes, I think, asking, “How are you, right now…in this very moment?” may be even more appropriate because one minute you are fine washing the dishes, thinking to yourself about the awkward but funny comment your child made earlier (maybe you should stop referring to private parts by their correct names), and the next, you find yourself in a puddle of your own creation wondering what on earth to do next.

It has been three weeks since my mom died of metastatic breast cancer. Three weeks wrapped up in what feels simultaneously like 24 hours and 3 months. I knew this time would come and often wondered what it would feel like when it did. In the time forever marked as after. That picture was taken after my mom died. That was the kids’ first birthday after we lost her. 

The further I get away from her death, the more I feel like I am leaving the precious and intimately sacred space where time stands still and you are entitled, expected and even encouraged to be all consumed by the enormity of the loss. Friends and family wrap you up in a warm and protective cocoon. Thank God for that cocoon.

But time soldiers on. And eventually, you have to emerge leaving the safe and nourishing shelter as a completely different creature than the the one you were before you started the unwelcome but necessary journey.

You are a changed being now. You will never be the same. You start to acclimate slowly. You return home or the people you love go home. Work, school, plans, and chores resume and sometimes the familiarity is comforting and sometimes it just feels wrong. No, no, no this can’t be, I can’t be laughing and talking about Halloween costumes, my mother just died! In her house! And we were there. And it was intense and beautiful and heartbreaking but beautiful. Sometimes. Sometimes it was and is just plain sad.

I have been creating quiet, restful moments during the day. Grief requires this. And these are the moments when I relish the relationship my mom and I built and revel in the one we are still building.

As Thomas Merton said, “Silence allows many sounds to reach awareness that otherwise would be unheard.”

In this fruitful silence, I notice one palm tree swaying to it’s own breezy music while all of the other trees stand still. I hear the peck on the glass and turn to see a yellow finch trying to fly through the window. I am comforted, soothed.

Sometimes I talk to her out loud. Or I’ll say something to my kids that sounds just like her. Like the other day, as my son played piano in the dark, I walked into the room, flipped on the light switch and said, “A little light on the subject?”  How many times over the years did I hear her utter that expression? I love her expressions with their touch of humor and reliability.

As I feel the presence of my mom, I also feel more and more like her. And I remember the times when she would laugh and say to no one in particular, “I sound just like my mother”. Her mother, my grandmother, Nana, whom I also adored, still adore, and miss.

This week, my oldest turned 11 and my youngest daughter turned two. Our silly and sassy little caboose with brown hair, brown eyes, and a killer grin makes everyone in the room smile. Just like her grandma did.

When my brother said the day after my mom’s service that he knew he would be o.k., my sunny friend Derek enthusiastically said something to the effect of, “Well that is something!” And it is. Because sometimes it is enough to know that we are growing in the right direction. That in this moment, no matter how bumpy and how much we ache for the people we love, we know they are o.k, and ultimately, we will be too.

 

i love you, i am listening

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When Rabbi Rami Shapiro was asked how he experienced God, he responded that God is the experience.

“How are you?,” asked a neighbor of mine the other day during a wave of abrasive heat on a walk with my dog. He asked in such a way that it brought me to tears. Right away. No time to think or process or adjust. Bam! Waterworks. I don’t know, it took me off guard somehow. I wasn’t expecting it. His asking was so earnest and innocent. So sweet. God is in the details some say.

The thing is, I am grieving. I am mourning. But the weird thing is that sometimes we do this before a loss. It is referred to as anticipatory grief. There are so many incremental losses along the way that can and often do paralyze us. Or when we feel triggered by the pain associated with our losses, we may feel more forgetful, angry, irritable, tired, heartbroken, distant, distracted. You name it.

And then sometimes grief does the opposite. You grieve. You cry. But then you feel like part of the world. Part of this seamless mystery that makes flowers bloom. Sometimes grief motivates us to be more human, more kind, more selfless, more apt to just get out there put our grievances aside and show up as much as we can, knowing that this is our one shot at doing so. No need to worry about saying the right thing, looking perfect, or sounding wise. That shit doesn’t matter. What is in your heart, that matters.

What a gift. What an opportunity. What a blessing.

Grief is internal but mourning is the outward expression of our grief. We need both. Sometimes solitude is the healing salve our soul yearns for and other times we need to share our laughter and tears with others.  We don’t need to say things are o.k. or well because they may not be in that moment. They will be again…someday. But crying right in the middle of a heat wave on the sidewalk happens sometimes.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. When we are grieving, our resilience is down and all of our emotions are so close to the surface. Seaweed floating on top of the salty sea. Seaweed, green, tough, and seemingly everywhere. And you have the choice to get entangled in it or swim through the clumps, revealing the clear water everywhere else. The clear water waiting to hold you, to support you, and wipe your beautiful tears away with an incoming wave, dispelling it and joining it with the rest of the sea.

We stop resisting. We surrender. We float.

And when we grieve, we don’t squander or squelch our feelings as much as we normally do, they just come out and recede like moving water, like passing weather.

And this too, as hard and awkward as it is, is also a gift.

Just swim through it like the seaweed.

After being embarrassed for much of my life about my readily available tears, I don’t apologize for them anymore. I don’t wave them away. I tell them I love them. I thank them. They are doing their job.

Which reminds me of a circle of lovely women I sat with recently on a nearby dock. On the steamy summer solstice evening, we listened to the lapping water and mind numbing planes overhead while discussing how we love ourselves in the midst of heavy, hard stuff.

Forgiveness. Self Care. Compassion. And sometimes if we are challenged to access this kind of compassion and forgiveness towards ourselves, we may think of how we would approach a dearly beloved friend and then turn that kind of attention to our own thirsty souls.

Life is here too in this grief. Laughter, smiles, rainbows, big colorful ones that keep appearing over the Bay, and then there is my littlest girl naked with a fuzzy halo on her head playing with flowers.

It is all Spirit. Truth. Source. God. You choose the name you are comfortable with, maybe there isn’t a name.  The soul in me and the soul in you.

It is the experience.

How do you love yourself? How do you thank your tears and your anger as well as your waves of joy?

They are all here to help us heal and to encourage our growth, to encourage our union with Spirit. Loneliness and Separation are an illusion. Or as my friend Erica said the other day, “a thinking error”.

It may be as simple as putting our hands over our hearts and saying, “I love you. I am listening.” – ( From the beautiful and soul enriching podcast, Live Awake by Sarah Blondin).

This is the experience.

 

 

 

 

ushering in the magic

“I am more vulnerable that I thought, but much stronger than I ever imagined.”– Tedeschi Calhoun

Some days I pretty much have it together. And to clarify, pretty much having it together means a sticker on the bottom of my foot (thank you friend for telling me in yoga yesterday), a dress on inside out with the tags whimsically blowing in the breeze and shit everywhere…literally, my baby took off her diaper and pooped on the carpet on Sunday afternoon.

I had it so together yesterday that a young guy walked up to my car and asked me if I was his uber driver. I said no and we both laughed as I drove off with my perplexed son in the backseat and an infant car seat next to him. Oddly, I was flattered which may be something I should explore with my therapist.

But really I am joking, I never have it together. The people that you think have it together probably have odd fetishes and aren’t that much fun.

Really, right now, I am sad. And grateful. And tired, napping in the middle of a sunny afternoon tired. My mom, my sweet, Oil of Olay and Tide laundry detergent smelling mama, is in New Jersey coping with cancer. Again. And I miss her. I miss our almost daily phone chats. I miss her visits. So much has changed these past few months. I want to be with her. I want to be with my kids and husband. I want to be on a beach alone. I want to be helpful. I  don’t know what I want or need or how to be of service. Mostly, I wish we could go back to the way things were. But I know that is not a reality. I try to stay present and thankful for what we do have.

This being human business is hard work.

I am rereading Broken Open; How Difficult Times Help us Grow, by Elizabeth Lesser because I love it so much and need it right now. I read this passage yesterday and it gave me chills. I felt sacred awe as Einstein called it. Tears glimmered in my eyes like the soft track of light from the sun’s rays on the water. The presence of soul…

“If our senses were fine enough, we would stand around with our mouths hanging open at the glory and grace of it all. We would sense the presence of mystery everywhere: the angels keeping us safe as we drive home from work; the spirits hovering around our children; the thin waft of light pointing us in the direction of The Road of Truth. All we can do is try to refine our senses. We can try to quiet the noise in our minds, listen for deeper instructions, and leap without fear beyond what we think is so”.

These times call for a lot of checking in and grounding in the soul. The sadness doesn’t dissipate but it is accompanied by a big blanket of love, acceptance, support and appreciation of the universal mystery weaving in and out of every waking moment. I am trying to let myself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what I really love like Rumi tells us to do, and trust that there is something bigger at work here.

And then, in addition to the sadness, I feel warmly alive, thankful, at peace (sometimes) and even happy (most of the time). I don’t take the abundance of blessings and kindness of friends and strangers alike for granted.

Being human is hard but more important than hard, it is sacred.

Connecting to others is a saving grace. And true connection soothes sadness.

Although, right now, I often want to cocoon myself up with a good book, I find when I have chatted with dear friends, over tears and hope, that it feels rich and life affirming  Like an unfurling rose. It leaves me feeling better because we just touched something authentic, sweet, and universal.

So often we want to run in the other direction but when we swim towards what is hard and face it together, magic happens.

Because we all suffer.

But in the fog of suffering, there are angels everywhere. My friends have reminded me in so many different ways of the beauty, joy, laughter and meaning in the midst of it all. No small act goes unnoticed.

Jenny told me to listen to beautiful music because it supports the nervous system and keeps the energy up. So I listen to music I love (when my kids aren’t yelling at our Amazon Echo to play  “Baby’s Got Back” or “This is How we Do It”) and it helps. Because of more music, we have been dancing more too. And singing. While my particular singing may not be beautiful, it does unburden my heart and tether me to something collective, something humans have been doing forever in every corner of the planet during good times and bad. My chest feels softer, more open, and not so achy. Glory, Glory, Halleluja, since I laid my burden down…

Stephanee mentioned grounding, supportive rituals and lighting candles. It too reminds me of all of the abundant blessings all around. All the beautiful light ushering in the magic.

I used to think I needed more time to engage in such rituals. That to meditate or pray, I needed to set aside special time. But now I just do it whenever however in my own imperfect, not together way. The intention is there and intention is big. I burn palo santo and sage. I light a candle while I do the dishes. I pray out loud for all of the people I love and know are hurting while I am driving around in my car. I write in my journal in the pick up line. I say yes to help and food and walks. And no to what drains me. I take a bath with nice salts and probably don’t wash my hair because it is too much work during a ritual!

Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein speaks to this, saying that we don’t need to set aside time for spirituality, rather spirituality is simply unfolded into our days. The way we fold towels, listen to our children when they speak, and by being honest with one another about our feelings.

Grounding in the soul looks different to everyone and is often the medicine we most need. It may involve simplifying and prioritizing, getting in touch with what we hold most dear, and letting go of countless, energy depleting obligations.

This soul time means perfection has to go while compassion and self care takes center stage. Which for me means I must write this right now. But while I do, my baby girl is using an orange chalk pastel on the stucco wall outside. Sorry, Josh and thank you for understanding.

Engaging in small, meaningful rituals is a way to sustain the soul. Rest is always a good place to start.

Last week, I heard doctor and wife of Paul Kalanthi, author of the beautiful book, When Breath Becomes Air, say that while Paul was alive, he taught her that life wasn’t about avoiding struggle, it was about finding meaning.

One day, we will die but today we are alive. 

And our lives have meaning.

In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, she discusses finding meaning during grief and how we build resilience. One activity that helped her after her husband died was to write down 3 things she did well each day before bed. Smalls victories, maybe seemingly insignificant ones like checking email but anything that kept her going, kept her knowing that she was doing what she could to be engaged with living.

We live with losses and grief and the older I get, the more I realize grief is never something you get over. Rather, it is something we learn to live with. And that anything, any small thing that keeps us choosing life, light, and living with compassion, kindness and connection is a good idea. Our souls know that we will be okay.

 

 

today trascendence

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“You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.” – Eckhart Tolle

Our anger, pain, and our sadness is fleeting. Our bad moods are fleeting. These emotional states often have such a grip on our hearts. But they are not who we are. We are the observer, the witness, the one that notices the rollercoaster of emotions.We are along for the ride.

These emotions, they come and go like a dense fog rolling into view and limiting our visibility only to later be burned off by the warming sun. And when the fog eventually lifts as it always does, a more sparkly, clearer, and truer sky is revealed.

Our souls are not fleeting. At the core of our beings, no matter what turmoil is going on around us, we are pure magnificence. Compassionate. Genuine. Loving. Light.

Even in death our light shines like a million shooting stars showering down on the earth blanketing those we love with a glowing embrace.

We are together in this. Our hearts, our souls at the deepest level are the same. We are one.

“In the end there are three things that matter. How well we’ve lived. How well we’ve loved. How well we’ve learned to let go.” – Jack Kornfield

We as human beings have this amazing capacity to be reborn at breakfast…everyday this is a new day, who will I be today? – Jack Kornfield

 

 

 

Life is but a dream

 

Life is but a dream…

Row Row Row Your Boat. I sang this to my baby girl today. And she smiled. Such a bright light. A bright light drowning out the noise.

The sadness, the horror, the violence. I bet the mamas of those slain men sang them this same song when they were babies. When their eyes shone bright with innocence, purity, and trust. Like all of us moms, they had dreams for their children, the loves of their lives, the pulse of their worlds, that they would grow up to be happy, healthy, and safe. Certainly alive.

They can’t drown out the noise. They don’t have the option to do so like I do.

We eventually go to bed because we have to sleep. We shut our eyes from pure exhaustion. For a moment in the morning we think we have been spared, that the nightmare from the day before was exactly that, a scary dream. Or it was actually someone else that it happened to. Which doesn’t make it anymore terrible and heartbreaking but it doesn’t impact your every breath in the same way.

You have survivor’s guilt but you bargain with the powers that be that you will behave differently, will be more giving, more helpful to everyone. You won’t talk shit about anyone anymore. You will not take one minute for granted. You are so thankful.

If only you could go back ,you think, and do things a tad bit differently. Kept a better eye on them. Kept them on the phone a bit longer. Not have let them go there. Told them to be careful. Told them you loved them louder and more often. But you don’t want them to live life being fearful of their every move. That is no way to live. We are free for fuck’s sake. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave after all.

But it is not your fault. You know that.

After a few very brief moments, the pit in your stomach is there again and it’s growing all the way up to your throat. You feel like you could throw up or you want to go back to sleep but of course you can’t. You want to numb it, take something, drink something, feel something else. Anything but this. Please G-d, anything but this. It has to be a mistake. It feels so surreal. Like you are just going through the motions.

Everything is different. Everything is tainted. You will never be the same. This is not a dream. This is real. This is very real.

People who pray will pray. People who paint will paint. Many will talk. Many will cry. Many will help. Many will not. Many will post to Facebook. Most don’t know what to do. Those of us who write will write. Because we can’t just sit here and do nothing. We don’t want to be insensitive. We don’t know if it is our place to say something, do anything, because we can’t possibly imagine what it is like. What they are going through.  We were spared, we are so grateful. This time.

It will be in the news, it will be everywhere. Constantly. Until it isn’t. Until the next horrific event happens. Until the initial shock and devastation is a little less raw. A wound. A scab. A scar.

Some reach out, some hide, some can’t take it. Some say helpful things. Some say annoying things.

For a moment there is something that gives you a glimmer of hope. Again. A glimmer of hope and peace. A view of the big picture. We can’t know, we aren’t meant to understand. We will do better. But then the light goes out. Again. And it happens again. Again. Again. Again.

We say ENOUGH! Or NO MORE! OR shout something else. But nothing changes. Or does it? Is it changing? We just keep being asked time and time again to come together and love each other more, and let things go more. To be more compassionate.

We can protest. We can lead with our hearts. We can sign petitions and write letters. We can speak the truth. We can volunteer. We can raise money. We can speak from our hearts, from our fears and insecurities. We can give voice to what we really think. We can talk honestly with one another. With our neighbors, our in-laws, our friends, those who are similar and those who are different, our bosses, people that intimidate us, our kids.

But more than anything, we have to stop being fearful. Because we don’t want to live being fearful.

This is the land of the free and the home of the brave.

But until we are all brave, we won’t all be free.