Awareness, Life

Tears Are Not Enough

We can bridge the distance
Only we can make the difference
Don’t ya know that tears are not enough
– Bryan Adams, “Tears Are Not Enough”

 

Let me break it down for a minute
If there’s enough room here for you and me
There’s plenty of room for some humanity

Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Together we can all be strong
– All-Star Tribute, “What’s Going On” –

This past Friday, I had a Twitter exchange with a fellow blogging friend regarding this website’s new feature of highlighting a charity and the cause for which it stands. Its intent is to build awareness and is less about promoting the charity itself but more to facilitate an understanding and a knowledge where perhaps both were lacking. It’s my personal belief that awareness is the first step towards activism, the first step towards creating a change, because without those facts and personal experiences, without that knowledge, you have willful ignorance. And how can things change for the better if people don’t know enough to make that change, if they remain in their comfort zone of the same?

My intent was to build awareness via the only gift I have — through words, through the story, through connecting the cause to life.

Now I wonder how it could ever be enough.

I respect and admire the ever-love out of Akhila, a woman who’s heart is as caring as they come, with a profound desire to see positive change manifest in this world. She is incredibly smart and sympathetic, and her purpose spills forth in everything she does, particularly on her blog about social justice: Justice For All.

So, as someone I admire when it comes to philanthropy, when she mentioned the website Good Intentions (dot) org and respectfully inferred that even the best intentions have their fallback, I was a little more than crestfallen…

To realize that good intentions are never enough.

To realize that enough is never enough.

To realize that any ripple I create will never be the wave of change I wish to see.

The exchange has haunted me since, making me wonder if I shouldn’t be doing more, wondering how I could do more…

…wondering if the small steps matter at all.

There’s so much in this world that touches my heart, so much that conversely disgusts me. There’s so much in this world that I wish I could change, so much that I know I can’t do on my own: I wish the wars would end in the Middle East; I wish the bloodshed would end at home. I wish all animals had a place to call home; I wish the homeless had a home to turn to. I wish children kept their innocence, I wish women had a voice; I wish education was a right and not a privilege; I wish equality meant more than its definition.

I wish…I wish.

The list could go on and on and on and I don’t know where it would stop.

I wish for these things. As a humanitarian at the core, no, wait, as a human being, I believe in these things. I long to see peace; I long to see an end to suffering. The cruelty in this world, cruelty at the hands of another human being, one of our own — our brother, our sister, our mother, our father, our children — is so overwhelming. Day after day we read of the horrors  — so much tragedy and trauma inflicted by our own hands that it feels like we can suffocate from it all, drown in it all.

Day in and day out we’re so bombarded with the negative that we forget about the good…

The good that rests in these charities, in people like Akhila who have their causes and ceaselessly fight for them.

And maybe it even rests in people with good intentions. People who know they can’t change the whole world, but who begin by changing their own corner of it. People who understand that there are problems in every nation, but also tragedies that hit closer to home, becoming personal.

People like Sam, who walks for Alzheimer’s Awareness in memory of her grandmother, so that she can honor a loved one whose own memory was stolen by a disease for which there is not yet a cure…or understanding. A disease that robs loved ones of their own loved ones, of everything that makes up their life, so that they become a shell of who they once were, unaware of what is happening while those who hold their hand, those they can’t remember, are all too aware.

People like Ken, who has devoted his social media and marketing business to working primarily with non-profits and small businesses, whose outreach in the local community has helped those all over the world through the promotion and organization of fundraising events and awareness via the “Others First” series on his own blog.

Or people like Brenda, who organizes the annual Keepin’ It Kevin: Team Sarcoma fundraiser in honor of her late husband, who talks about grief and widowhood and is a constant inspiration to others to not let their own grief and loss overcome them. When grief and loss is so personal, when loss is a tragedy in its own right…

There are thousands of causes that touch our hearts for one reason or another; thousands of changes we wish to see in the world and thousands of wishes we could make to see them come true.

Thousands of curses to scream when anger and disgust at these realities make our blood boil; thousands of tears to shed when we cry for an end to the cruelty and  pain, cry for those who could never shed a tear themselves…

When we cry for peace — for world peace, for individual peace.

How do we choose just one cause? How do we discount all others? How do we survive, for ourselves, when we’re fighting for so many?

Are any of these causes less worthwhile? Is one greater than another; are we somehow less of a human being for choosing one cause to fight for — one cause that becomes so personal that it moves us to activism in its wake — over the other? Do we fight against the problems of the world and ignore those that reside in our own homes, sometimes in our very selves?

I don’t believe our heart aches any less for a homeless dog or a homeless person; I can’t believe that our heart bleeds any more over news of genocide in Africa or the murders in a hometown. I just can’t justify the belief that it’s an either/or equation.

It just is.

It all has to change, and why can’t we be the change for it.

For all of it.

One person can’t fix the world. Not on their own, no matter who they are, not without breaking or drowning themselves in the process.

Maybe that’s why we all have our own causes, the ones that touch our hearts, the ones we shed our tears over, the ones that become so personal that we can’t believe others don’t feel the same way, the ones that make us want to build that awareness so that others can understand not only why it touches you so, but to encourage their participation, their own efforts for change.

Maybe that’s why I’ve started this feature. I learned a long time ago that I can’t be the activist — the person — I wish I could be…not yet. And I can’t tell you how much that follows me every day.

And I  may not be able to contribute to every cause I wish to in the way I long to…

But that doesn’t mean you’re not doing your part…the parts that add up to a whole.

Maybe it all counts, maybe it all matters.

Maybe it’s that first ripple that creates the wave.

Maybe it’s the many small steps that add up to the biggest footprint.

Maybe having good intentions really isn’t good enough…

…maybe enough is never enough.

But maybe it’s a start.

And maybe that start is the start of something.

Awareness, Charity Spotlight

Charity Spotlight: Philadelphia-Japan Disaster Relief Fund

Charity Spotlight is a new monthly feature on twenty(or)something wherein a selected charity or non-profit organization will be highlighted to bring awareness to its cause. The name of the charity and a quick-link to donation information will be provided via the Hello Bar at the top of the website throughout the month, with a full-profile of the organization and/or testament to the cause being featured in its own post on the first of every month.

I may not be able to be the change I wish I could be, yet…but it’s my greatest hope that I can make a difference by building awareness with the currency I have readily available right now: Words. Knowledge. Passion.

How will you create change?

 

On March 11, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook the northeast coast of Japan, triggering a devastating tsunami that travelled as far as 6 miles inland. Lives have been lost or otherwise irrevocably changed, land has been destroyed, and animals have been injured…and subsequently rescued.

As thousands try to piece their lives back together in the wake of this natural disaster, the crisis continues with a nuclear radiation leak, which experts are comparing to Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island. Three Mile Island alone cost $975 million in recovery funds and took 14 years, according to Forbes; Japan’s estimates reach $300 billion.

What does this all mean?

Japan needs help. While it’s difficult to imagine the level of destruction and devastation that has occurred, while it’s easy to sympathize and then return to our daily lives, the fact remains that thousands are missing loved ones and are without their homes and in need of even the basic necessities of food, clothing, and viable drinking water.

The Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, a 501(c)3 organization, has initiated the Japan Disaster Relief Fund in conjunction with the Japanese Red Cross Society to facilitate donations for those wishing to aid in the relief effort. (Updated: Please note that the JASGP are unable to accept goods at this time).

For more information and to donate, please visit the JASGP relief-fund website or visit the Japanese Red Cross Society directly.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with the JASGP, the Philadelphia-Japan Disaster Relief Fund,  or the Japanese Red Cross.

Note: It has come to my attention that some are concerned about the intentions and/or credibility of this feature, and I completely understand the double-edged sword that comes with positive intentions, especially considering topics of such a sensitive nature. My purpose for this feature is less to spotlight the charity itself, but more to highlight the causes they stand behind; my intent is to attempt to bring that information to the forefront, as it’s my personal belief that awareness is that stepping stone to activism. If you would like to discuss this feature further, I welcome your respectful opinions at twentyorsomething[at]gmail.com.

It was also brought to my attention that there is a great resource out there related to this very issue of good intentions versus responsibility. I don’t expect nor require anyone to make donations to any of the charities I feature; the reason they will be featured are, again, for the causes they stand behind, and the purpose is to build awareness with information and personal testaments as applicable.  As such, I do invite everyone to check out Good Intentions (dot) org, an excellent resource in making sure you are fully informed when making your decisions to donate. (Thanks, Akhila!)

Awareness, Life

They Say That A Hero Can Save Us

They say that a hero can save us,
I’m not gonna stand here and wait…

Chad Kroeger, feat. Josey Scott, “Hero”

I spent the majority of last weekend engrossed in a world that author Suzanne Collins imagined and turned into a three-book series. The Hunger Games trilogy, a recommendation from fellow blogger Monica, is a dystopian young adult series of novels from which I couldn’t break away, that had me forgetting the outside world, so gripped by this imaginative one that left me wondering and questioning our own reality.

Briefly: The story is set in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem, formerly North America, wherein control of the twelve districts in which the country is divided is placed in the hands of the Capitol. To remind the country of the Capitol’s authority and to stave off future thoughts of rebellion, every year one girl and one boy from each of the districts are selected via lottery to participate in the Hunger Games —  a brutal fight to the death that’s televised live, revered in the Capitol as entertainment and  loathed in most of the outlying districts for its immorality.

I won’t go further into the plot or the themes and meaning of the books. You can find that here and here and here. But books about dystopias and a post-apocalyptic world have always fascinated me for the questions they raise, and The Hunger Games is certainly no exception.

Readers and writers of fiction are always wondering the generic “what if” in regards to life and humanity, looking for meaning and answers to sometimes unanswerable questions, imagining the impossible as becoming possible (ironically, what seemed impossible in the science fiction genre is now far more than possible, it’s a reality). However, in asking “what if,” they must also look at “what is” — what is happening now that could alter the world? How do we sustain this way of living and, if we can’t, how does that change our future?

What does it take for a society to falter, for a utopia to become a dystopia? Is it outside influences (as in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude — arguably one of my favorite books for such similar questions it provokes)? Or is it our own neglect and indifference that creates such powerful destruction?

But most importantly, and perhaps more terrifyingly, the question I kept asking myself throughout these books — and why this genre fascinates me so much — is how vulnerable are we?

Collins describes in an interview that the idea for the trilogy came to mind while she was flipping through television channels in which one displayed images of war and another a reality TV show, the two images merging together into her very own “what if” scenario. If it can be imagined, can it then become possible? In today’s world where violence escalates and such horrors don’t seem so unlikely, where children are handed weapons and taught hatred and harm at the onset, where voices are suppressed, is her imagined world really so far-fetched? Could those older works such as 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 really be such wild ideas after all?

Just what, exactly, are we capable of?

There are heroes and heroines in every story, those protagonists who stand up and fight for freedom and truth and justice. I can only imagine that’s what has prevented our world from shifting to these extremes, why those books remain, still, works of fiction: we have those people. Those who use their voice to make a difference, who look back on past mistakes, learn from them, and move forward with the sole intent of creating a better future.

Those who refuse to let humanity become inhumane.

Heroes and heroines right here, right now, shaping our own story so that we may always wonder “what if” instead of fearing “what is.”

For now, fiction will always be fiction, but there always rests a bit of truth in every story spun. Writers strive to understand the workings of the world and our place in it, transforming what they see and experience — what they know — by asking how and why…or why not. The page is a place for them to work out problems, to dissect the motivations behind actions, to understand human nature — who we are and why we are.

And who we could be.

Perhaps in that moment between channels, Collins saw some of humanity’s darkest moments, saw what we could be capable of if we let power corrupt us, if we stood divided. Perhaps, too, she understood how that could change if we maintained that common goal of freedom and truth and justice, if we continued to stand together.

If we were our own heroes in our everyday lives.

If we kept thinking, kept questioning, kept wondering…

What if?

Awareness, Community, Personal Development

Paying It Forward + Book Giveaway

I tend to believe in karma — that the positive energy that you put out into the world returns to you in one way or another (often in ways that are unpredictable). I also believe in doing good — not just because it leads to that good karma, but because it’s our inherent responsibility, it’s what makes us human.

That’s why I love the idea of paying it forward. Such simple acts of kindness can change a life in unimaginable ways: hold open a door for someone, wave someone on in traffic, say thank you (and mean it).

 Smile.

You never know when someone will need that helping hand, when your generosity can help them get where they’re going, and how far your appreciation can carry them.

 You never know just what a smile can mean.

 Storytime 

France 2008. It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years already since that trip, as it still remains so vivid in my mind. I was traveling completely on my own for the first time to a foreign country where I knew no one upon arriving. I was ready; I was excited. I was homesick; I was terrified. Yet all through that journey complete strangers were there to guide me along, to calm those emotions, and to help me see the beauty in this adventure.

 An older gentleman refused to take a tip after showing me the taxi line and conversing with the driver about directions to the inn in which I was staying, claiming “c’est de mon coeur.” On the way home again, after missing my flight to Paris due to a train delay, exhausted, weary, and out of tears, I studied the contents of a vending machine only to have the cleaning woman ask me what I was looking for — food or drink? After admitting that I was famished for both, she pulled a packaged sandwich out of her cart and offered it to me.

 If I didn’t believe in everyday angels before, I certainly did now.

 Safe and sound in the Charles de Gaulle airport the next day, an hour or so before boarding my flight back to Philadelphia, I stood in line to pay for my lunch. Ahead of me, a young Asian man rooted through the coins in his hands, only having enough money for the drink beside his selected sandwich. After I had purchased my own meal, I wandered over to the waiting area and settled in. A moment later, I recognized the young man near me. I barely hesitated.

He didn’t understand English or French, and I didn’t know his language, but we understood each other. I held out a 2 Euro coin and gestured to the cafe. He smiled, nodded, and ran off to buy something to eat.

 There are so many instances in our lives where we have the opportunity for kindness, to lift each other up with our actions or our words. We may not be able to donate an entire paycheck to charity or volunteer all of our time to the cause we feel most passionate about, but we can do more in what seems like simple ways to us, but may mean the world to someone else.

 When it comes down to it, we have to watch out for each other.

 Because when it comes down to it, we only have each other.

 The Givaway

 I first heard of this book via Grace Boyle’s Small Hands, Big Ideas giveaway; a few days later, I was contacted with a gracious request to review the book, to which I gratefully accepted.

 But Operation Beautiful by Caitlin Boyle (no relation to Grace, I hear) has such a powerful message that I asked if I could do my own giveaway for you.

Fed up with the negative way in which women have a habit of seeing themselves, Caitlin started a movement — a powerful movement — with one little post-it note that she slapped on the mirror of a public bathroom:

 “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL”

 You are. Every single one of you. And that’s why I love the message of this book.  You are smart, you are good, you are loved.

 And you deserve to be loved.

 And you deserve to be reminded of this every single day.

 I can only imagine what that first person thought when they saw Caitlin’s post-it note on that bathroom mirror, but the thousands of women who have responded with their own pay-it-forward attitude, their own positive post-it notes and messages of empowerment among the many described in the book, is a testament to this power of positivity.

The Details

 As my own way of spreading this message, I’m giving away a copy of Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It Note At A Time by Caitlin Boyle. Simply post a comment below telling your own story of how you pay it forward or how you’ve experienced this transfer of empowerment and positivity. One reader will be selected via a random drawing on Wednesday, August 25

So get to it and spread the word! 

(And be sure to check out the fantastic responses to Grace’s giveaway.)

CONGRATULATIONS!

 Congratulations to PositivePresent, recipient of the Operation Beautiful book giveaway! 

Thanks to everyone for sharing their own stories and for helping to spread the word.

Bloggers around the web are continuing to pay it forward with giveaways for Operation Beautiful. Check out Elisa’s giveaway for another chance to win! 

(Note: recipients are chosen based on a random drawing.)

 

 

 

Awareness, Life

Never Stop Believing (Part II)

This one’s for the girls…
Martina McBride, “This One’s For the Girls”

believe in yourself

Read: Never Stop Believing (Part I)

Less tears, less frustration, more hope. A slight scare that made me schedule that appointment with the GI, an urging to make sure I go from my new doctor, who wondered if there might be two issues going on. I walked in a week later hoping to find more answers, but soon found myself back at square one.

More talking, more assuming, more questioning my anxiety disorder — that scarlet letter — and pointing fingers at the effect rather than trying to discover the cause. Still, I walked back out with a test scheduled for early December, hoping that they would find something rather than nothing, knowing that at least when it’s something, it can be fixed.

More waiting, more ignoring the ever-increasing pain until my insurance kicked in, more talks with my employers to keep them updated, more complaining to my mom. Or, really, anyone who would listen.

Because, truth be told, I was scared.

Thanksgiving rolled around and I woke up ready for the holiday, but my enthusiasm steadily began to decline into the realm of not-feeling-well.

I took a nap.

Then I took another nap.

Then I ate dinner with my family, excused myself, and went back to bed.

Two days of feeling good, then crashing again on Sunday. I went to work that Monday, but as the morning progressed, so did the pain. Dull aches gave way to shooting pain through my stomach, my back, and down to my thighs. At this point, even I was sick of hearing myself whine and complain, so I tried to ignore it, believing it to be that familiar pain, believing it to be nothing.

I promised my mom we would do some shopping and go out to dinner after work — just me and her. I wanted that back again — that me and her, that tag-team, that unbreakable, unshakeable bond. I wanted to make up for all the concern and frustration I had put her through the last few months, where she would be the one on the receiving end of those mood swings, the one to which I vented most of my frustrations.

People say you’re most capable of hurting the ones you’re closest to, and I hated the idea that I had, perhaps even unconsciously, hurt her.

I was tired of retreating, hiding, tired of not feeling well, tired of not having enough energy to enjoy the things I should enjoy, to spend time with the people who mattered most. So when she asked me if I was feeling ok, I nodded, determined to have fun. I wrinkled my nose and laughed at the shirts she held up, tried on warm sweaters, poured over the fashion jewelry. But the pain was once again persistent, traveling down through my back and to my legs, making it hard to even walk.

We ended up going home early that evening, and I curled into bed with Advil, a heating pad, and my dog — one of those had to be a cure, and I was guessing it was the one I could hug — easily falling fast asleep.

The following day, I went to work feeling slightly better, though the pain started to return as the morning hours crawled by.

I called my family doctor.

They told me to call the specialist.

I called the specialist.

Three hours later, they called back and told me to call my family doctor or go to the hospital.

Frustrated at being handed back and forth, frustrated at being in pain and not having a reason why, frustrated at not being able to do my job because of all of the above, I called my mom and dad close to tears. Enough was enough, we decided. My insurance had ironically kicked in that very day, so the decision was made — I was going to the hospital, I was going to find out what was going on.

More tests, more waiting, but this time, we were determined to find answers.

And we did.

The pain, tests showed, was from a collapsed cyst on one of my ovaries that had probably ruptured. I was told to see my gynecologist — for which I already had an appointment set up for the following week — and was discharged. Relief in the form of printouts and labwork, relief in the form of answers, right there in my hand, relief in the form of a shot for the pain.

I went back to the doctor’s the following Monday, where she looked over my paperwork and confirmed her own suspicions. After months, even years, of going to the doctor for similar symptoms, it took only two visits for a proper diagnosis:

PCOS — Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome — is a common endocrine disorder that affects 5% (or 1 in 10, according to varying reports) of women ranging from teens to those who are pre-menopausal, with most diagnoses occurring in young adulthood. This disorder affects fertility, hormone levels, menstrual cycle, appearance, and the heart and blood vessels; each month, small cysts can appear on the ovaries, causing severe pain.

The birth control pill can help regulate these hormones and control menstrual cycles, preventing cysts from forming, and while little is completely understood about the cause of PCOS, it’s theorized that it may be genetic. Because there is no formal test for PCOS, doctors rely on medical history to rule out other causes of the symptoms.

And unfortunately, that’s wherein the frustration often lies.

I was lucky to have a doctor who really knew what she was talking about, who took the time to understand me as a person, not just as a file, who overlooked the surface and was able to dig deeper. I was lucky enough to have my family take me seriously and put up with my concerns, my moods, my complaining.

I was lucky enough to know my body well enough to realize that something was off, to insist that there was something going on, to recognize that I shouldn’t be feeling the way I’d been feeling.

Now, I wonder if part of the reason why I’ve been so afraid to really live is because I haven’t been really living in the first place.

And you can’t — not when you’re so tired, it’s all you can do to put in a full day at work before coming home to crash; not when you listen to the words that come out of your own mouth and wonder who is saying them; not when you look in the mirror and barely recognize the reflection staring back, not when that reflection barely resembles who you know you are inside.

Not when you become a stranger in your own mind, in your own skin.

When I first met her, my doctor told me that it would be a journey to figure out the cause of these symptoms, to get me back to the happy and healthy girl I remember. But it’s a road I can walk down now because I’m armed with answers, with support — in the form of my friends, my family, this community, and somewhat surprisingly in the form of a dear colleague at my new-old job who understands exactly what I’m going through by her own experiences.

As she asked me how I was doing today, as tears threatened to spring to my eyes yet again, rationality overruled by the irrational as the medication starts to take effect, I tried to offer a small smile, glad to have that support where I might need it most. It will take patience, my mom had comforted me on the phone earlier. It will take time, my colleague reiterated. But soon those good days will outweigh the bad and you‘ll find yourself smiling instead of crying.

In that instant, I realized that life has a funny way of getting you where you need to be, exactly when you need to be there, surrounded by the people that will matter to help you along, show you how to live again, love again, and help you heal. To help you understand that it’s not your fault. To help you get back to who you used to be, who you ought to be…

Who you really are.