Refugees and Redemption

14 Mar
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Ruben Garcia in Annunciation House.

In class yesterday, while discussing Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey, I couldn’t help but quote Ruben Garcia, the founder of El Paso’s Annunciation House, on how the poor, even those in other countries, are intimately connected to us, whether we choose to take responsibility for it or not. I met Ruben back in 2014, on my cross-country road journey for my book project, The Whole Service Trip – and Ruben certainly provided more than his share of strong material. On top of the  economic and political connections our world has to that of the poor, there is the  spiritual and moral connection.  “The God of the scriptures,” Ruben asserted, identifies most with the poor. Thus, he argued, “the poor are our opportunities for holiness. What the poor have to offer us is nothing less than our own redemption.”

This year it seems that as a nation, we’re moving farther from that redemption, at least in terms that Ruben Garcia would recognize. Recent travel bans against immigrants serve as one of many prime examples from the first two months of the Trump presidency. Yet even with odds stacked against them, local individuals and groups keep fighting the good fight, as do, of course, the immigrants they serve.

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Yawo speaks at 2016 ACE Festival

Take Kaska Yawo and his colleagues at Catholic Charities, working to support refugees as they make new homes in Worcester. In today’s Telegram, Kaska and others discuss the challenges faced by refugees and those seeking to help them. Kaska, who came here as a refugee himself, has gone on to become a U.S. Citizen, helped countless people – and co-founded African Community Education, the agency where I happen to volunteer. So I’ve seen firsthand the ways that, even in times when brutal indifference and outright hatred seems to permeate the atmosphere, refugee kids and their families make slow but steady headway in carving out a life in a new country. As does the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, Southeast Asian Coalition, and numerous other agencies who could our help and, in the process, allow us the privilege of connecting with people who, in all probably, have overcome far more than us.

You can help refugees in far more ways than you know. Obviously, you can protest loudly against inhumane policies. Reading the above link to the Telegram article might make you want to do just that.  But if you’re not inclined toward that kind of confrontation, simply volunteer at one of these agencies. You may not feel you have much to contribute, but I’m betting you do.

Take tutoring. You may consider yourself untraveled and unskilled in other languages, or feel that you haven’t been trained in how to tutor academic subjects. But if you speak the native tongue and knowing the local culture, you can help someone new to this country in more ways than you can probably imagine. Besides, some of the most powerful moments come when a student sees a tutor who doesn’t have all the answers right away – and then works with the tutor to get there together. Not to mention all the times a child from some other country, one who lacks confidence in negotiating anew world, realizes that s/he has plenty to teach us, too.

I’m sure Ruben Garcia would agree.

 

A Miracle Born of Careful Attention

7 Mar
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At Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Jill visits with colleague from another agency.

There’s a reason that during my book project, The Whole Service Trip, Jill Wallerstedt, an advocate for the homeless in Santa Barbara, California, merited virtually an entire chapter for herself. Just as it’s not surprising that when I present stories about many of people I met while driving coast to coast talking to people about their causes, she winds up being one of the ones audiences take to most. A person who lives the social gospel, Jill is also as adept as anyone I know at seeing past the boundaries and labels that limit so many of our efforts to help others; she engages as easily and matter-of-factly with homeless clients as she does with anyone else in her life, while at the same time taking a hard line when a client needs a course correction. Along the way, she pays close attention to what’s being said between the lines of conversation.

She’s always stated this makes her no different than most people who work with homeless populations. The below story – told directly by Jill – underscores how patient diligence on the part of both Jill and others made, in Jill’s words, a “miracle” happen right before her eyes earlier this week. The story serves as a reminder to all of us that, even amid all of the justifiable moral outrage and outright despair those who care about the less fortunate are feeling these days, we still have diligent, caring people out there, achieving victories that, even if they don’t change the course of national politics, make a huge difference in the lives of particular people.

Jill’s story, as told by Jill:

     Yesterday I witnessed a miracle. Here is my story about it.

      Her smile brightens her whole face and yours too. She has literally nothing we count for happiness, but she shines from within. If you knew her you would agree she deserves a miracle.     Today she got hers. 
       I first met Mary on the steps of the Santa Barbara Public Library two years ago. I was looking for her but I didn’t know what she looked like. She fit the description I was given at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Homeless Roundtable meeting – small, thin, blonde hair, bright blue eyes. 
     “Mary?” I asked, sitting down next to her.
     She smiled in reply.
     “My name is Jill. I work at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. I hear you are living here at the library. I thought I’d stop by and see if there’s anything I can get for you or help you with.”
      It’s a direct approach, but one that works with homeless people. 
      Mary thought a cup of coffee would be nice, so we went across the street to a café and got to know each other. She was indeed living outside the library, sleeping under a statue, and she spent her days inside doing research when she wasn’t walking the streets of our beautiful city. We found out we had some things in common, and she began to trust me.
      What makes Mary’s story unique is that she has amnesia from an accident 11 years ago. She cannot remember her real name, her social security number, or any identifying information. This means, for all legal intents and purposes, she does not exist. She cannot get an ID card, Social Security card, Medi-Cal, or Food Stamps, which are some of the first steps homeless people can take to get back on their feet. More importantly, she cannot apply for housing. Even her memories before the accident were affected, like being able to recall her children’s or parents’ names or where she most recently lived, so contacting family was impossible.
      A cup of coffee bloomed into a two-year friendship that started with once-a-week meals for six months until she agreed to come indoors at night at the Rescue Mission. She stayed with us intermittently, as she loved being outdoors at night in good weather. We kept in touch at the Rescue Mission’s Drop-In Center when we could.
     Other outreach professionals from the Santa Barbara Police Department’s Restorative Court, Doctors Without Walls, Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and PATH Santa Barbara have also tried various ways to help her. The name Mary Roberts with her birthdate did not trigger any identifying information in any police or legal database. Live Scan fingerprinting brought up only information since her accident. Every turn became a dead end. 
     However, the art of conversation is a powerful healer. As we went out together, we often talked about our pasts and compared notes. Sometimes an anecdote I shared would trigger a memory for her. She would get an “Aha!” look in her bright blue eyes and say, “That reminds me…” I learned she is an intelligent, spiritual person, who was raised on a farm and worked with her father outdoors. She had several good jobs and was married, but could not remember factual details about these things. She told me she accepted her amnesia and homelessness as a blessing in disguise. Even though she owned only a sleeping bag and a few clothes when I first met her, slept outdoors in all manner of weather, and had no money of her own, she appreciated the freedom of being without society’s pressures and demands. 
     For the past year, Mary has been safe in the PATH Santa Barbara shelter, with a roof over her head and three meals a day. But still, no closer to having any options for the future.
      In February, I realized that I had not seen Mary in about 3 months. I wrote a letter to her at PATH asking if she wanted to go out for lunch. She called a few days later and we went to eat near the beach. During our lunch, she mentioned that she had some numbers floating around in her head that might be her Social Security number.  I encouraged her to go to the Social Security Office and see if the number corresponded to her records. Even though she did not remember her first name, she thought she knew her last name. I told her that Social Security can ask questions from your work history and various addresses to confirm your identity, so it was worth a trip there. 
      Mary went to Social Security a few days later, and she had the representative call me and put me on speaker phone. I was able to explain her situation to him. With her birthdate, the social security number, her last name, and the questions, he was able to verify her identity. Surprisingly, at first she did not recognize her real first name, Kayannette. As close as she was to getting her social security card, she could not remember her mother’s maiden name. The representative was unable to help, except to give her a letter of denial and request for a photo ID to take to the DMV.
     On Friday February 17, I talked to her at PATH and offered to take her to the DMV. It was the worst rain storm in recent history here, and she declined. However, I asked if she remembered ever having a California ID. She said she had, and she would try to remember details.
     Fast forward to yesterday. I got a phone message from Mureen Brown of Restorative Court saying they had found Mary’s family! Mary – now Kayannette – had gone to Carmen Uribe, a staff member at PATH, to provide her Social Security number, her actual name, and the fact that she had remembered she had a driver’s license in 2000 in Cambria, CA (before her accident.) Carmen called Mureen who searched DMV records to find a Driver’s License in that name and birthdate. Looking at the photo, she was sure it was the same person. She then searched the missing person’s database and found that her family had filed a missing person’s report 10 years and 10 months ago.  Kayannette was found!
     In unbelievably fast time, Maureen contacted one of Kayannette’s three children, a son. He then contacted his other brother and sister, and they all flew to Santa Barbara today for a reunion.
     I was incredibly blessed to be invited to meet them and to see my friend Kayannette experience the miracle that we all wished would happen for her, but didn’t expect. There are no words for the joy and tears and awe of that family in the same space together for the first time in 11 years, making plans for a future together. She will be living near one of her sons for a while here in California. She will also be traveling to Colorado to reunite with her 91-year-old father!
     Truly, this is the stuff of dreams, as they say, a true dream that will warm the hearts of everyone who knew Kayannette and now know her children. I’ll always treasure this day, especially remembering the smile on her face. Indescribable.

Merry Shaqmas

21 Dec

While individual acts of charity can’t make up for negative structural changes likely to be pushed by our next President, the current hostile environment also makes individual acts of kindness stand particularly tall – particularly when it’s in the form of 7-foot-1 NBA Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal.

When Shaq’s significant other asked about doing something for 30 kids at an agency in Central Massachusetts, his only condition was that they needed to get more kids.

And organizers did – 400 of them, to be exact.

Read the rest of the story in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. In this age where there’s so much unapologetically self-entitled greed, it’s good to be reminded that there’s still plenty of affluent people who model a sense of social responsibility to something larger than themselves.

As the paper pointed out, it wouldn’t be a particularly good idea for the behemoth with the size-22 shoes – and what looks to be more pounds than the 325 he played at – to go sliding down anyone’s chimney this Christmas Eve.

Just the same, merry Shaqmas to all, and to all a good night.

 

 

Glide Unconditionally

6 Dec

 

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Glide parishioners take an altar selfie before Pride Sunday service

As the preachers are apt to remind us this time of year, December is the most contradictory and paradoxical of seasons. Between holiday hospitality and strategic gift-purchasing, they tell us, we threaten to turn deeper principles of love and grace from blessings to be celebrated to objectives to be executed, with holiday joy caving to grim perfectionism.

But that’s not how this blogger rolls.

If there’s any urge I can claim to transcend, it’s perfectionism.

For instance, I’m so stressed with closing down my fall semester, instead of, say, going to church, I’m writing a blog about the last time I went to church.

In June.

In a church three thousand miles from here.

And when you get down to it, I’m not so much writing this blog, when you get down to it, as cutting and pasting it. It’s based on a passage from the last chapter of my road trip memoir, The Whole Service Trip – the proposal for which will soon be sent to a publisher near you – and the Kaboom! art exhibit poster I made about that service. The exhibit challenged me to juxtapose the key images and phrases from my road experiences – and one scene that came to mind was my visit to Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco, a church with a long tradition of ministering to the LGBTQ community.

For many of us these days, the world is divided into Pre- and Post-Election, as if what happened before was a fairy-tale realm. But way back in June, folks at Glide had their own cause for grief – as they met on Pride Sunday in San Francisco, they were only two weeks removed from the mass shooting at what was known as a gay night club in Orlando. Glide is built on direct engagement and lofty goals, melting the Christian message down to its own version of perfection – Unconditional Love – and that particular Sunday had to be a time when that standard was most tested.

But coming to the rescue was a young man in Glide’s soulful and jazzy choir, a young man named, appropriately, Jonah – the prophet who went into the belly of the whale and lived to tell about it.

Below is the poster, and below that, in case you can’t read the text, the original passage.

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Between those two announcements, however, comes the Community Prayer, led by a young bearded man named Jonah, who asks us to “please get connected” – and we do, my long arms stretched to their full length to connect the stocky man in the aisle to my right to a woman on my left. The woman in particular radiates a kind beauty as she smiles my way. Some sway to the rhythm of the subdued but beautiful electric keyboard accompaniment, a moving rendering of the gospel classic “I Can’t Believe He’s Brought Me This Far (To Leave Me).” Jonah prays aloud with pauses, as if reflectively and spontaneously confessing to his divine Friend.

“God,” Jonah intones, “sometimes we’re too difficult.”

Pause.

“I know you know.”

It’s a phrase we use so often, signifying that we respect the intelligence of the listener, but here it takes on another meaning – even in the church without a cross, here’s this faith in an all-knowing God, the kind who knows what’s on our mind even before we know it ourselves.

Cross or no cross, here’s a man confessing his limitations in the face of a higher power. Only the limitations he confesses are failures to fully understand the reality of other human beings, failures of the empathetic imagination. “I don’t have any frame of reference for how vulnerable some people in our world are. I think sometimes if I were in Eastern Europe in the ‘30s or something, maybe I would know. Maybe if I was a refugee or immigrant in UK right now, I might have a little sense.” So no easy answers, no false assurances..

Then Jonah makes the move to the issue on our hearts today, the elephant in the room that, at Glide, is never ignored. “ … I’m … so sad about Orlando … and about the things that happened that cause that sense of vulnerability to be heightened. Anything that has potential to bring that fear into the world and turn us away from each other more.”

            Then Jonah makes the healing cathartic turn toward hope, springing eternal, even here among the heartbroken and disillusioned. “And God I’m so grateful … so grateful for this beautiful place called Glide where it seems like every day is Pride Day, every day is for everybody, every day is a day to be free and safe and loved and welcomed … and we can all be together in that … “ and I feel the woman’s hand tighten around mine, and I tighten mine in return.

Jonah speaks louder. “So, Lord we’re going to celebrate you like we do here … We’re going to get out there and march, and we’re going to shout it out for every single creature on this planet.”

By now I feel like heading out the door this very second, but we’re not done praying yet.

“Thank you for all you’ve made … thank you for your pride in us.”

Then a surprising turn.

“Let us do our thing and make our mistakes.”

May we do the same things as this holiday season continues. To allow the re-energizing force of joy to do its work even amid our worries. To not let the barrage of holiday tasks get in the way of the spontaneous joy of the season. To “do our thing and make our mistakes.”

To, as one of the t-shirts created by a certain church in San Francisco reminds us, Glide Unconditionally.

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Following Through in Haiti

27 Nov

Today the Worcester Telegram began Christine Hochkeppel’s eight-part series on the efforts  of Greater Gardner residents to provide medical aid to Haiti. The main story in Sunday’s two-article package centers on Dr. John and Paula Mulqueen – who first went to Haiti some 15 years ago.

Rather than feeling they’d made their contribution to Haiti and moving on with their lives, the Mulqueens contacted the Worcester Roman Catholic Diocese’s Haitian Apostolate about another trip almost immediately. “I couldn’t get it out of my head, what I saw, and the need,” said Dr. Mulqueen.

The latest expedition included 83-year-old Doris Forte, who notes that volunteering there makes her feel “worthwhile, and that’s not an easy thing to come by at my age.” But the respect she feels from Haitians is one more sign of the need.”They’re very respectful of old people,” she tells Hochkeppel, “because there aren’t many of them.”

Follow this link to the first day’s installment, including both Hochkeppel’s first-person account and her story on the overall effort. I look forward to the rest of the story.

 

A Specific Kind of Gratitude

25 Nov
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My boss in the meals program at Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco;  serving others helped James transcend homelessness and addiction. (Photo by Glide.)

Being an expatriate Southerner in New England, I’m always glad this time a year to have a half dozen or so families who invite me to their Thanksgiving feasts. One of those families has an interesting year-round mealtime tradition: They ask that each person share one thing she or he is grateful for.

The catch: You must focus something specific and concrete thing, not a general, abstract bailout concept like “family” or “love.”

For instance, imagine – and this will take some imagination – that, while standing over the Thanksgiving bird, I were to express my gratitude for the opportunity to type the minutes of Faculty Senate meetings.

Under this rule, I couldn’t express my thanks for “the collegiality, intelligence, and eloquence of my colleagues.” But I could express my thanks for the Faculty Senator who, amid a discussion about a proposed change in the Natural Sciences curriculum, observed that you have to approve of a proposal that contains the phrase “since we lack the resources for human dissection.”

In fact, I’m still grateful for that joke now, a month after I made sure it wound up in the minutes – probably at the expense of some bureaucratically serious and relevant piece of dry data I should have included instead.

There’s a similar argument for championing the specific and the concrete when it comes to serving others – the theme of this blog. Consider The Call of Service, a book by Robert Coles, a towering figure in the field of studying our altruistic tendencies –as well as a man who walked the walk himself. When listing the kinds of service, he made sure to include the service of the personal gesture, the little things we do from one day to the next. To all the personal gestures from particular individuals, I’d add all the random kindnesses I’ve received from the universe in general.

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Tony Amos, founder of Animal Rescue Keep (ARK), takes measurements on the same Port Aransas, Texas beach he’s studied on almost 5,000 morning cruises. 

But I imagine right about now you’d be grateful if I just quit hemming-and-hawing and got on with sharing some of these specific things.

Since I just finished both a memoir project – The Whole Service Trip – and an art exhibit – part of Kaboom! – I might as well focus on particular people, places, and incidents I experienced driving across the country in 2014.

 

I’m grateful for Amy Logue, Peter Salemme, Ellen Potts and so many others – including my own family – who have helped scores of Assumption students who have headed to Alabama every winter to help Habitat for Humanity Tuscaloosa rebuild my hometown after the devastating tornado of April 27, 2011.

I’m grateful for how, when I confessed my anxiety that I would drop one of the green sea turtles I was helping release at Port Aransas, Texas, Tony Amos loosened me up by quipping, “The turtle has a shell. I’m more worried about you.”

I’m grateful for the reunion two days later with dear friend Pat Clark in Austin – and for the fact that later that night on a Texas highway, the deer chose to dodge left as I dodged right, letting me live to tell both tales.

I’m grateful that, as I worked at Truly Living Well gardens in Atlanta, a rush-hour driver opted for polite waiting when I stopped pushing my wheelbarrow halfway across the street, if only to tighten my belt and keep my shorts from sliding off. I’m also grateful my shorts didn’t fall off.

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Green Acres in downtown Atlanta: Chinmaya schools me in the ways of urban agriculture in the middle of a USDA-designated food desert. 

I’m grateful for the Assumption student who, on the first SEND trip to Tuscaloosa, exclaimed, “Professor, your accent is funny enough back in Massachusetts, but down here it’s out of control!”

I’m grateful for the conversation of a couple in the bar of a Basque restaurant in Elko, Nevada, who, noting my new t-shirt from Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, said, “We wouldn’t have talked to you tonight, but since you’re wearing a shirt that said ‘Love Unconditionally’, we kind of had to.”

 

I’m grateful for all the specific and concrete ways that love shows itself at Glide, including the 727 meals we served the evening I was invited to volunteer there.

I’m grateful for my hike earlier that same day across San Francisco Bay in Muir Woods, named of course for naturalist John Muir, who pretty much predicted my unlikely hike-and-serve, woods-and-city day published more than a hundred years before, in My First Summer in the Sierra: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

I’m grateful for the Sierra Club post that clarified that “pick,” not “tug” is the correct translation of Muir’s “hitched to” quote – even if “tug” sounds better.

I’m grateful that the number of people and places that I’m grateful to have my own fate is “hitched” far too vast to sum up here.

I’m grateful for the Assumption student who, on the second SEND trip to Tuscaloosa, described how a Tuscaloosan in a local store asked her to move out of his way in such a polite manner, it took her a minute to process what he was asking. “That,” the New Englander said, “was when I realized, ‘We suck!’”

I’m grateful I could then list numerous ways people in New England, also my home, actually don’t suck – one of them being that they spent their precious winter breaks helping strangers in Alabama.

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Amy Logue, soon to escort her fifth SEND Tuscaloosa trip, models the true spirit of what cultural immersion means in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 

I’m grateful that New Orleans music educator Kaya Martinez told me something that helped me see my journey differently, even as it unfolded: “We’ve been conditioned to value that which gives us a return and that return has traditionally been money. Instead, we need to rethink what we value, which is actually our time and how we choose to spend it and whom we choose to spend it with. That’s a far more valuable gift that we have to give.”

I’m grateful for the gift of chatting with Hurricane Katrina survivor Gloria Guy on the front porch of her new home in the Lowe Ninth – built on the site of her old home, the roof of which she was rescued from. (She in turn, was grateful for Brad Pitt and his innovative Make It Right team who, despite criticism, have helped rebuild the Lower Ninth in ways that make environmentally and economically friendly homes available to people far from affluent.)

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Gloria Guy on her porch high above potential flood waters in the Lower Ninth. 

I’m grateful for the folks down the street from Guy at Common Ground Relief, whose efforts reach beyond volunteerism to a broader vision of creating jobs for local folks who then help local folks. (My Louisiana beer lover’s gratitude even extends to their canine mascot: Abita Amber.)

I’m grateful to have spend a morning in the New Orleans wetlands hacking away at invasive Chinese Tallow trees with kids from a St. Louis school that builds its service curriculum around the questions: “What? So what? Now what?”

I’m grateful to have had a journey that confronted me with so many “whats” and “so whats” – from preserved wilderness and domesticated animals to the economically disadvantaged and, again and again, immigrants who make me aware of how easy my own   journey through life has been … thanks in large part to my parents, who provided both a comfortable life and the wisdom to see past it to the needs of others.

I’m grateful that near the end of my “whole service trip”, I got a clue about my own personal “now what?” when shadowing volunteer Kathleen Phillips at George Mark House for children with life-limiting illnesses – and that just as I was wondering what service I would undertake upon my return, she noted that one of her qualifications for working with kids was the willingness “to act their age.” My silent epiphany: “I can do that!”

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Hard at work at African Community Education, even in the middle of summer.

I’m grateful that all those places helping immigrants, and children, and children of immigrants, led me to African Community Education back in Worcester, Mass. – where I try hard to avoid acting their age until after we’re done with homework.

I’m grateful for the two ACE kids who, seeing one of their friends approach this English prof for help with math homework, cried out, “Not him!” (If I teach them anything, let it be this.)

I’m grateful for the acoustic Delta Blues guitar licks of Jon Short that ring out right now across the hospitable space of BirchTree Bread Company, where I’ve written most of The Whole Service Trip … and this blog.

I’m grateful that as I was about to press PUBLISH on this post, former student Brad Card tapped me on the shoulder and told me his just-concluded year of AmeriCorps service in locales from California to West Virginia went so well, he’s now going to work for FEMA.

Based on the evidence above, I’m grateful for, well, whatever comes next.

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Jon Short picking and singing as I post this blog.

Passion – and Action

22 Nov

 

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Neda with father Bill, who helped her found Return to Freedom. (Photo provided by RTF.)

My last entry here, “Desert Crosses,” celebrated people I met in Tucson on my 2014 community service road trip – volunteers devoted to aiding immigrants, many refugees from violent danger, seeking a better and safer life. That blog was posted November 8th – the day our country elected a President whose racist and sexist comments disturbed not only those immigrants, but a broad range of people from border to border. Anyone who cares about our most vulnerable citizens have to admit that we live in scary times that just got scarier.

So much so, it’s easy to feel that more has changed in the last two weeks than in the two years since I took my “whole service trip” around the United States. That being the case, what could my posters about acts of human kindness have to say that don’t feel trite? Particularly when this week’s installment of my fumbling foray into the realm of visual art is about the plight of a constituency blissfully unaware of the entire controversy – wild horses?

Think again.

During a time when violent emotion boils within folks from one end of the political spectrum to the other, Neda DeMayo – the founder of Return to Freedom wild horse sanctuary in coast California – offers a story that can help liberals and conservatives (and even the wholly apolitical) channel frustrations into positive directions.

Two years ago when I volunteered for a week at the sanctuary, Neda told me how her mission started when she was “around age 10 or 11,” when she saw a television program about the abuse of wild horses.

“I remember standing in the living room. I was very upset. I don’t know if it was a Western, if it was a news broadcast… I just remember how it felt. I had a lump in my throat. I was very upset. You can ask my mother. I said, ‘When I grow older I’m going to give them a home and I’m going to tell everyone the truth!’ ”

The truth was going to have to wait a few decades. First came a wide-ranging exploration of spiritual disciplines and creative arts that took her from East Coast to West, and beyond. She studied in a San Francisco yoga ashram and with Native American medicine people – she even went to India and meditated in a bamboo hut. Meanwhile, at various points she’d pursued training in such theatrical pursuits as mime, street theater, and mask-making, as well as French pattern-making and couture drapery. Eventually she moved to Los Angeles and “just fell into” serving as a fashion stylist for celebrities.

This was the life she was living when stories about wild horse abuse broke out in the national media.

“Every time I turned on the TV, I would see [wild horse] hunts or different things that upset me and I didn’t know what to do. Then I was watching the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer and he was looking at the chess board and you hear Ben Kingsley’s voice saying, ‘Don’t make a move until you see it’ – and I literally said I’m not going to make a move until I see it. And then I started to see it, started to see Return to Freedom and get a vision together.”

Getting the vision together took some doing. Like other great organizational leaders I have known, Neda took her time learning.

“It’s passion followed by correct action. You’ve got to be solid, you’ve got to think it straight through.”           poster-final-rtf-passion-pdf-copy

Sure, for reasons that go beyond politics – including the usual November academic rush – I haven’t been able to muster much in the way of either passion or correct action, and even navigating my workday has challenged my ability to think anything “straight through.” (Hopefully, my advisees didn’t pay the price for that when they registered for classes last week.)

But the commitment I already had in place – tutoring and mentoring at African Community Education – has helped me shift a few more hours of my week from feeling helpless to feeling helpful – even if I’m being helped just as much as the kids. In times that threaten to drain my spiritual accounts, ACE has proved to be money in the bank. That only scratches the surface of what ACE has done for me – but that’s another blog for another day. For now, consider the ways you can shift emotions from anger to love, from helplessness to helping. With the holidays coming up, there are plenty of opportunities – including the Catholic Charities meal deliveries, as well as the sit-down meals offered at churches such as St. John’s. Meanwhile, consider how to build in the commitments that help you channel emotion into action year-found.

For inspiration, check out the recent Nicholas Kristof 12-step program on recovering from the election. Or, if you want to know more of Neda’s story, read the blog I posed from Return to Freedom in June, 2014.

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