About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Always an immigrant

"Immigration is such a shocking experience in the history of a family that even the grandchildren are still grandchildren of immigrants." -Amos Oz, Israeli writer

My father and his three brothers with my grandparents and great-grandfather.
I was listening to a PRI interview with Amos Oz this morning, and found his comments about immigrants interesting. This past week my mother glanced at my CV, which has a short bio-like paragraph at the top of it. In it I say that I come from a family of Italian immigrants. I have considered myself the great-granddaughter of immigrants since I was a child. It has played an enormous role in my life and in my identity--to the point where I actually moved to Italy when I was 19 to study Italian and then traveled down to Sicily to research family records and re-establish connections with relatives who had remained in Italy. So it came as quite a surprise when my mother took exception with my saying that I come from a family of Italian immigrants. In her eyes, this statement is simply not true. It is a misrepresentation of who I am.

Amos Oz's thoughts about immigrant families resonated deeply with me. It is true that I was not born in Italy, and that neither my grandparents nor my parents spoke any Italian while I was growing up. But there was always this weight of collective amnesia hanging in the air whenever we spent time with family. My great grandparents did not really insist that my grandparents learn Italian, and they in turn did not insist that my father learn Italian, and I have spent a good portion of my life trying to uncover where we came from....who we were and what our family stories were. I think because my great-grandparents never really learned enough English to communicate clearly with my father and his brothers, so much was lost between generations due to lack of language skills. While in Sicily I wandered along the main beach, wondering if my great-grandfather had stood in the same spot I was standing, and what he must have been thinking as a young man only a few years older than I was at the time when he boarded a ship away from the poverty of Sicily toward the hope and promise of a new life in New York. I spent many hours researching in an old records office. The staff let me come back behind the desks and into the long narrow hallways lined with shelves. I climbed ladder after ladder, pulling enormous, hand-written ledgers from the shelves and meticulously leaving through page after page of beautifully written Italian records of birth, marriage and death records. Eventually I found enough information to connect with family in Italy, and ended up connecting with some distant relatives that, at the time, still owned a family bar/gelateria on the town's main street.

Reconstructing the past and forming a personal relationship with it has been very important to me, so yes, I very much still feel like being the descendant of immigrants is an integral and essential part of who I am. When I was almost six, my family moved to the island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. We did officially move there to serve the local Baha'i community, however from my perspective as a six year old, the process was indistinguishable from that of an immigrant. We sold all of our belongings and moved half way across the world with three large suitcases. We had to learn a new language. We were a different faith from most of those around us. My parents struggled financially to make ends meet. And I grew up wanting more than anything in the world to fit in with those around me.

My family remained in Cyprus from almost 16 years, and I completed my elementary and high school education there. When I arrived back in North America for college I felt as if I was entering a foreign land. Apart from visiting family every few years, my family had not maintained strong ties with the US. I lost contact with any childhood friends I had known, and when I returned I had a British accent and no idea how anything worked in the US. I distinctly recall going to try to buy something and having someone tell me that I still needed to pay a nickle, not knowing what that meant, and being embarrassed to ask, because the person behind the cash register seemed to think I should know; spending hours looking for books on the first floor of the library before finally asking a librarian for help, and not understanding why she stared at me when I told her that my book was on the first floor, but that I couldn't find it (not knowing, of course, that in the US the first floor was the ground floor of a building, and I was on the second floor); and getting papers back from professors with words circled throughout the text, and a note at the top of the first page in red ink that read "This is America, not England," in response to my use of British spelling. These were just a very few of the cultural differences and misunderstandings that I overcame that first year back in the US. 

By the time I decided to do my Master's degree on Prince Edward Island, in Canada, I had become familiar enough with North American life that a good deal of what I experienced was relatively easy to adjust to, but there were still new ways that people related to each other, new uses of English, and cultural practices that I had to adjust and adapt to.

Back in California this year I have realised just how much I had adapted to my Canadian home I had become. How the softening of my demeanour that was a way of making sure that I did not offend anyone living on the small island of PEI in Canada meant that I was bulldozed by those around me in California who have no qualms about speaking their mind, and expect those around them to deal with whatever they have to say. It has been an interesting journey of adaptation and re-adaptation. One that I am sure will continue to develop and evolve as I experience cultures that I have not yet experienced.

Listening to Amos Oz this morning just made me realise that as human beings, we are an eclectic collection of the cultures and stories that have influenced our lives. I will always be the great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants, the product of a British education system in Cyprus, my time trying to understand my past in Italy, my adventures in Canada and my mix-matched adaptation to life in the United States. I will perpetually doubt myself when the program I am using underlines how I spell a word because I am using the British spelling, and will probably always have some words that I sometimes spell the American way, and other times the British way.

How about you, friends? Have the stories of your ancestors or your own migration patterns influenced who you are or who your children are? In what ways? If you would like to share, please do so in the comments section below. I would love to hear your thoughts. Have a great weekend!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey day

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
 Tomorrow is Turkey day here in the US, a.k.a. thanksgiving day, which makes me reflect on the simple things I am feeling thankful for today. Like the forecast for rain tomorrow (I know more Californians would much rather have a clear blue sunny thanksgiving, but the idea of rain falling outside while we fill our bellies with delicious food and sip hot apple cider inside is my idea of heaven!). I somehow managed to pick up a sinus infection/swollen throat/fever yesterday morning, and although I managed to get through the day yesterday with it, by last night I collapsed into bed. I am still here, where I have been curled up all day sweating this thing out and reading novels. I am not a fan of being sick, but I am making the most of feeling rotten by catching up with my reading and sipping endless mugs of hot lemon and honey. It is so rare that my body makes me slow down, so when it does, I appreciate the extra time and sleep immensely.

As I type this my mother is out picking up gluten free pumpkin and apple pies. I rarely get to thoroughly enjoy ALL of a piece of pie because I cannot eat crusts made out of wheat, but this year I will not be having to scoop my pie out of its crust. I shall enjoy every last crumb!

My good friend Deepali just called to see how I was doing. Hearing her cheerful voice telling me that my sick voice makes me sound sultry made me laugh out loud because I am SO not feeling sultry lying here with my box of tissues, a red nose that puts Rudolph to shame, and wearing the same outfit I went to bed in last night.

Usually my family joins in with larger festivities for thanksgiving, but tomorrow we are going to have a small, just the three of us affair here at home. I had been wishing that we were going to something bigger, but now I am feeling grateful that we did not make an elaborate plan with friends that I would have had to pull out of.

Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing this thanksgiving day, I hope you are surrounded by those you love and feeling thankful for the blessings in your life. Happy thanksgiving friends!

Monday, November 21, 2011

When the boat, the ship and the helicopter fail

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
This morning one of my best friends, Deepali, came into the city to meet me for breakfast. Deepali works a crazy schedule, so I rarely get to see her. Even this morning she joined me after working the night shift at the University of California labs where she was analyzing the cells in blood. Yes. She is quite brilliant. Why she is asked to be brilliant all night is beyond me, but it did mean that she was here and wanting to grab breakfast this morning at our favourite breakfast joint, Orphan.

We drove across the city, the sky blue, the trees, sidewalks and lawns decorated in golds and reds as if a painter had gone to work all over the city, setting it aflame. At the breakfast place, we slid into a corner table and spent the next hour filling our bellies with delicious food and laughing and laughing. Deepali and I usually spend a good portion of our time together laughing. It is something I love about our friendship.

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
 When we left I felt SO full of gratitude for my friend. For her honesty (or sometimes downright frankness) and her encouragement. For her wholehearted support of whatever I happen to be working towards at any given time. And for her ability to make me laugh at myself and at the same time help me to see how blind or stubborn I can sometimes be.

Today Deepali asked me if I had heard that story about the fellow who was stranded on the rooftop, the streets all around him flooded. He was praying to God to help him. A fellow in a boat rows by and offers him a ride to safety, but he waves him on, saying "I am waiting for God to help me." A little while later a huge ship goes by and offers to rescue him, but again he tells the crew that he is waiting for God to help him. Finally a helicopter appears, hovering above him and offering to lift him to safety, but again he tells the crew that he is waiting for God to save him.

I had heard that story before, but I like to indulge Deepali because I know that she always has a point, and that her point is usually precisely what I need to hear at any given time in my life. When she finished her story, she just looked at me, smiled, and raised her eyebrows. Point taken. Sometimes I pray and pray for something, and am blind to the answer or solution when it is placed squarely in front of me just because it is not what I expected. It falls outside of the realm of what I think I am capable of. Of what I am comfortable with. In short, the solution requires that I step outside of the limitations of my own comprehension of who I am and what I should be doing with my life and entertain the possibility that perhaps God's idea--wild and scary as it might seem--may just be exactly what I need to be doing at this moment in my life.

It is not a revolutionary idea. It is rather simple, really. Pray, and then receive your answer courageously when it arrives instead of declaring it impossible to accomplish and running as fast as you possibly can in the other direction. You know what I am talking about here, friends? Yeah. I thought so!

I am feeling grateful for Deepali. For the story that she repeated to me today. And for the delivery of it from one of my best friends to my face....evidently I needed to hear it again and since the boat, the ship and the helicopter had not succeeded, God sent my dear friend Deepali to deliver it instead. And you, friends? Do you have peeps who remind you to step back and reconsider a situation from a different perspective? who remind you that conversations with God are just like conversations with anyone--the response may not be what we expected? Have you told them lately how much you appreciate their presence in your life? Why not give it a try?

Friday, November 18, 2011

The genius of quirky

A view across the morning fields at Soil Born Farms, California.
"Conversation is good; conversation can be good work; conversation is an absolutely necessity; meetings must meet, but all of our verbal conversations depend on a continuous conversation with the real patterns forming in an unspoken way at the centre of our work. We need this intensely personal, private conversation with what we do, or none of the other outer conversations make sense." -David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea, p.197.

This past Wednesday I drove down to Sebastopol to meet with Jeff Barnum, an artist and entrepreneur who is bringing creativity together with individual, organizational and societal re-conceptualization to create innovative approaches to helping individuals, companies and organizations transform how they think, form relationships, and work together. Our meeting started with Jeff showing me a video. I will post the link of it for you below. 

This is just a short clip taken from a film of Picasso painting. The reason Jeff showed it to me was to illustrate the idea that when you are trying to create a work of great beauty, you start with a central idea and build everything on this. In this instance, the bull's head. The rest of the painting is build around the head. But as Picasso reaches the end of his painting, he realizes that the head, at least as it has been since the beginning of the painting, has become an impediment to the painting becoming what it wants to be, so he paints over it. It is still there, of course -- just far more abstractly. The idea that Jeff was communicating was that often in order to succeed in accomplishing transformation, you have to be willing to sacrifice what you began with.

Jeff and I discussed many other things, and I have been reflecting on our conversation ever since returning to Sacramento. I am not sure where it will lead me, but I am really happy not only that he took the time out of his busy schedule to meet with me, but that I made the drive down there. Creating space and time for conversations like this is important. Creative collaboration and breakthroughs require that we create the space for the conversations and brainstorming to happen. Driving five hours for a 1.5 hour conversation may seem like an odd use of time, but I firmly believe that a lot can be born from a single conversation.

Conversations between people are important, but as David Whyte says, these only make sense when we are having the essential conversations with ourselves. To me this means that I am in tune with my soul--that I am having regular conversations with God.

David Whyte writes about genius in his book, Crossing the Unknown Sea. He says that "genius means to be unutterably oneself. The word genius in its Latin originality, means 'the spirit of a place'...the genius of an individual lies in the inhabitation of their peculiar and particular spirit in conversation with the world. Genius is something that is itself and no other thing."

When I look around me at those who inspire me, what I find is that it is the complete dedication to who they are that attracts me. Our material world is often so much about conformity. Media encourages us to buy clothing that is worn by hundreds, if not thousands of other people all over the world. We are sent through a school system that is built on the idea that one system fits all kinds of people (which, based on the number of brilliant human beings who were not well-served by the traditional education system, is clearly not true). We are funneled into careers that bear the same title no matter who we are. An accountant is an accountant. A lawyer is a lawyer. Of course each of us is an individual with distinct strengths and gifts, but these distinct qualities are rarely celebrated within the workplace.

Living in a world where we are constantly giving lip service to diversity but then simultaneously pursuing uniformity, often to the point of being apologetic for our unique talents and abilities, it is incredible to me that there are people out there who manage to recognize that the most valuable contributions that they have to give to the world are those elements of who they are that are unique. Quirky. Sometimes downright strange. Managing to nurture and fully commit to ones own unique talents while continuing to live and function within a system that is so weighted down by conformity is a tremendous accomplishment.

The last year I have been asking myself many questions about my life. About what my quirks are, and how to engage them in deep, meaningful and honest conversation, and then embrace and believe in them so completely that they become manifest in the world in positive and transformational ways.

My conversation with Jeff planted many seeds that are now germinating in me, but more importantly it made me confront the important question what am I here for? What is my main purpose in life--the purpose around which everything else is built? Has anyone asked you that before? It is worth considering. You might be a dancer, or a doctor, or a teacher, or accountant. You might be a mother, or sister or daughter, a son or brother or father or husband. But what do you think your unique purpose in life is? What is at the core of everything you do?

When I woke up this morning the sun was shining. It was brilliantly golden. The trees are intense colours. Yellow, orange, rust, red, green. A mosaic of colour. The wind was blowing, leaves flying past me, a shower of colourful confetti. A snow storm of magnificent hues. Every lawn is covered in colour, the are piles of leaves along the streets, and more scuttle across the asphalt. Everything is in motion. I went out for a walk through the neighbourhood to crunch through the fallen leaves and enjoy the brilliance of all that colour. When I got home the clouds had rushed in and a light rain had begun to fall. As I sit here now and write with a cup of steaming hot tea, all I can hear outside is wind, trees dancing, and leaves tumbling. It is the sound of change. The sound of letting go. Of detachment and transformation. Of the possibility of renewal.

Watching the trees sacrifice their lush, green selves and release their intensely coloured leaves to the earth reminds me of Picasso painting the bull's head, and sacrificing the initial image to achieve the unified, finished piece. The trees do this over and over, every year letting go of what they have been to embrace the new season. At the farm yesterday the kids that were on the field trip found a dead rabbit, a dead frog, and a line of chrysalises (the pupal stage of butterflies). In the natural world the loss of one thing to create another is constant and unquestioned, and all living things embrace their unique expression of beauty completely.

Do you live as the fullest expression of the reason you were placed on this planet? When someone asks you who you are, and what you are here to do, what is your answer?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I drove to Sebastopol today for a job-related meeting, passing through some of the most gorgeous wine country outside of Tuscany. Rolling hills embroidered with row after row of grape vines, their leaves all turning various hues of golden, orange and yellow. I drove down this morning, and back as the afternoon light was turning that warm golden shade that reminds me of ripe apricots. The sky was crisp blue. I was wearing a tank top and had the window rolled down in November. It was one of those days that my friends on Prince Edward Island will be dreaming about pretty soon. I only wish that someone else had been driving, because there were just not enough pull off areas to stop for photos everywhere I wanted to.


Not too shabby, eh?

Happy Wednesday, friends! I hope that these gorgeous sunny photos bring some warmth into your mid-week world! See you Friday!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gratitude 7+

"I have heard thy cries and am conscious of thy tears. Remember that God is faithful and do not doubt this. Be patient, even though great calamities come upon thee. Fear not! Be firm in the path of the Lord, as a mountain unmoved, unchanging in thy steadfastness. God has made afflictions as a morning shower to His green pastures and as a wick for His lamp, whereby earth and heaven are illumined." -Baha'u'llah
I love this quote. I found it years ago and wrote it into the front of my prayer book, and I find myself flipping to it every now and then when I am struggling with something, or just need to remind myself that hard times are a blessing in disguise. 
This last week there have been many blessings that were not in disguise: 
1. I got to speak to one of my best friends back on Prince Edward Island. It had been a while since I last heard her voice, and catching up with her on the phone made me more than happy. The magnitude of my happiness was evident by the fact that I spent the following hour wandering around the house singing at the top of my lungs. :-) 
2. I had a creamy chai tea with one of my girlfriends on Friday afternoon. It was raining outside. We sat at the bar and caught up on each other's news. The place was bustling with people enjoying time with friends or reading the paper or a book instead of the usual tapping away at keyboards that is the norm Monday through Thursday. I love sipping tea on cool fall days in the company of a good friend, and the fact that I had an entire weekend ahead of me made it even better. 
3. I attended a devotional gathering Friday night with a few friends. It may sound tame, but there are few things I would rather do on a Friday night than get together with friends and read inspiring quotes from various religious and spiritual traditions, and then discuss them. It's like all the thoughts and concerns of the week fall away, and all that is left is the joy of being alive and connected to other human beings. After the devotional we all bundled up and wandered over to a local Thai restaurant where we sipped Thai iced tea and enjoyed full plates of steaming hot curry, sticky rice, and coconut soup. It was a great night of spiritual and physical nourishment, and excellent company. 
4. Saturday was the birth of Baha'u'llah, the Founder of the Baha'i faith. My community celebrated it at the home of a couple who love breakfast, so they invited us all over for a huge buffet breakfast followed by a lovely program of readings, prayers and music. My mom and I went together, which is something that I will not get to do always, so I am trying to enjoy sharing experiences like this with her as much as I can while I am here. 
5. Saturday afternoon I went to spend some time with my dear friends Jairo and Leanna, and their gorgeous (almost two year old) son Teo. Teo is one of the most musically inclined children I know, and as soon as I arrived he set me up with a miniature piano, handed his mother a trumpet, and settled down with his drum. The three of us jammed and danced for a long time, and the joy that our session brought to Teo filled the room with laughter. 
6. Sunday I spent most of the day at home hanging out, but in the afternoon my good friends Azadeh and Nabil came over and picked me up and we headed to their favourite coffee shop for hot drinks, a long chat about service, and a debate about whether where we live in the world really determines how happy we are (Azadeh said no. Nabil and said that it did. I said that I thought it could in certain circumstances). As the golden light of late afternoon and early evening filtered in the huge windows over us, our table, our white ceramic cups, Nabil's latest electronic device, and Azadeh's current book, I felt deeply content, and grateful for the long, lazy day of laughter, good conversation, and hot tea. 
7. Today I had to meet my mother down town to give her a ride to an appointment. I got there early, so I wandered into yet another coffee shop to wait. Sitting there sipping my hot chocolate, writing in my journal and people watching as every fashion statement, height, age and ethnic background walked in and out of the coffee shop, I felt grateful to live in a world that has so much diversity, and excitement for the day ahead -- the job application I am working on. The meeting I have on Wednesday in the Bay area. The women's devotional gathering that we will be having at our house this Wednesday evening. Another day on the farm on Thursday, my Ruhi study on Thursday afternoon and another devotional gathering on Friday. 
It is evening now. I made a big salad for dinner to go with my mother's salmon loaf and Persian rice. The lettuce in my salad is from the farm I volunteer on. I planted it with a group of kids who came to the farm on a field trip. It is incredibly beautiful. There is something deeply fulfilling about making a salad with lettuce that I planted with children and watched grow over the last few weeks. Each head looks like a blossoming flower. As I type this I am sipping chamomile lavender tea. I am looking forward to saying some prayers. To a good book. To drifting to sleep with the sound of my father composing a beautiful piece of music in the background. 
And you, friends? What are you feeling grateful for today?

Friday, November 11, 2011


Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.

You know the kind of friendship where you can not see the person for years, and then see them again and it is as if you just saw them yesterday? No need to fill in the gaps -- everything is just understood without the need for lots of explanation? Most of us have at least one friend like that in our lives. Helen is one such friend for me. I realized last night that she has miraculously managed to put up for me for twenty years so far. Twenty. That is a long time to know someone and call them friend. We have known each other through many ups and downs. Through the craziness and insecurity of high school; first loves; the enormous physical distance of my years in college in the United States; her becoming a wife and mother; my years of working in Italy; my years of studying and working in Canada, and so much more. Last night I left a dinner party to come home and call her on her birthday -- an annual tradition that I intend to keep up as long as my memory allows. She is ten hours ahead of me, so talking on her birthday meant that it was Thursday in my present and Friday in hers.

Occasionally I wonder how we have managed to maintain a friendship this long. Personally I think it is my ability to remember her birthday that keeps us going (she never remembers mine--a source of great irritation to her, and amusement to me...and yes, I do realize that it is not exactly like hers is difficult to remember, or anything), or the fact that I post photographs of her on my blog that she distinctly dislikes (she then has to call or write to express her displeasure), but in reality I know that our friendship is just one of life's unexplainable, but invaluable little gifts.

There are many things that I love about the friendship I share with Helen. Like the amount of patience (all of it on her part) that permeates our interactions. The fact that we remind each other to not take ourselves so seriously, and to laugh at ourselves. That we are able to recognize each others unique talents and capabilities and remind each other what these are when we need to be reminded. That we respect each others differences. The lack of judgment (and more patience on her part while I learned this essential skill) that exists when we listen to what each other is going through. The fact that we always somehow manage to be there for each other without expectation. A willingness to share what we are learning with each other. The knowledge that she will always remind me what I am capable of -- who I am and what my values are when I make choices that are not true to my highest self. That we are so supportive of each other, and that we both believe that the other is going to succeed with whatever she sets her mind to do with her life. That we are always honest with each other. That we share a love for God. That we both believe in the power of prayer. And that we laugh--a lot, sometimes late into the night.

Last night, talking to Helen on skype filled me with such happiness. Happiness that she and I are friends. That God brought her into my life. That we have managed to maintain our friendship through so many of life's ups and downs. And that she was born on this special day.

Happy, happy birthday, Helen! I hope you had a superb evening!

And you, friends? Do you have a friend whose presence rocks your world?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I just got home from Riverdance. It was an incredible show. The dancing was out of this world. I fell head-over-heels in love with the fiddler. And I will be lucky if I manage to sleep at all tonight as I can't seem to keep my legs still. There are a lot of things that I thought I would take away from the Riverdance performance that I did. The music. The beat. The incredible rhythm that those dancers have in their feet. The infectious energy...

One thing I did not expect to take away from it was a lesson in following your heart no matter what. At one point in the performance I noticed that one of the male dancers only had one hand. He was a spectacular dancer, and it was so unnoticeable that I am sure nobody else saw it, but having noticed it, I found my eyes drawn back to him again and again throughout the performance, thinking to myself: "wow. That man has what many would consider to be a physical disability yet he is up there dancing with some of the most accomplished dancers in the world. Wait --he IS one of the most accomplished dancers in the world."

There are so many things that keep us from accomplishing our goals in life. Our fears. Our self-criticism or judgment. And yet people do incredible things every day despite their handicaps. For some people, like the dancer tonight, it is a physical limitation that can (if we let it) prevent us from pursuing our dreams. For others, like me, it is a mental limitation that we impose upon ourselves. Ultimately it is all the same thing, though. Letting things get in the way. Allowing life's little challenges to prevent us from accomplishing something really big. Something that might bring us joy.

What's up with that, friends? Why do we think that our own human imperfections are an impediment to happiness or success? Is it because the media is telling us that to be happy or successful, we have to be perfect? Is it messages we are imposing upon ourselves and our own lives? A combination of the two? I do not have the answer here. I'm just saying that the dancer up there on that stage spinning his partner and stomping to the beat IS ON TO SOMETHING. Thinking that we deserve any less happiness or success than anyone else simply because we are not perfect really makes no sense. I mean, what beauty is there is perfection? And if others are succeeding with their imperfections, why are some of us still holding happiness or success at bay until we have acquired enough perfection to achieve our goals? I'm telling you, friends, this is something that bears some looking at, wouldn't you say?

Monday, November 7, 2011

By heart

"God doesn't give you the people you want. He gives you the people you need. To help you, to hurt you, to leave you, to love you, and to make you the person you were meant to be." 

I found the above quote here. Not sure who said it, but today it is resonating, so I thought I would share it with you. I have been thinking a lot lately about the people who have influenced my life in positive ways. Most of these people are still in my life. A few of them are not -- they came through and headed on down a path that did not include me; I headed off in a direction that they did not understand; some have passed away, so they are still a part of my community spiritually, but no longer physically, and some friendships just fade as inexplicably as they arrived.

I have been thinking a lot about a friend of mine who has not been in my life for many years now, but who I still think often enough that when I read the quote at the top of the page, he immediately came to mind. It is his birthday this week, and as often happens with people whose lives touch me deeply, even long after they are no longer around, I find myself slowing down every year on his birthday and giving thanks for the positive ways he has influenced who I am. For the gifts he brought. The laughter. For opening my heart in new ways. Rarely do I thank God for bringing someone into my life to hurt me or leave me, so this quote is giving me pause to reflect on how having this man both leave and hurt me has helped push me further towards being the person I am meant to be.

It is one of life's many hidden blessings that it is rarely the people who are mere acquaintances, the people who do not really matter to us; who pass by without staying long enough to form lasting bonds--that hurt us. Usually those who hurt us most are those we love the most. Those we have allowed ourselves to be vulnerable with. Whose presence in our lives feels essential. It is a blessing because although it hurts, usually there has been enough love shared in these relationships that we do not, or can not simply write them off. Whether we mend the relationship or walk away, the pain and loss that we experience in these relationships make us pause to listen, because we know there are important life lessons in this kind of pain if we tune in to them and use them to grow.

Today I was thinking about this one particular friend, and how much losing his presence in my life has influenced who I am today. I often see this from the perspective of who I would have been if he were still in my life, but I think that many of the things I am most proud of being today -- honest, affectionate, faithful, committed, true to my heart, respectful of myself and others, prayerful, consistent, devoted, strong-hearted and independent, graceful, and loving others for who they are rather than who I want them to be -- are things I have become since my friend let go of our friendship in order to stay true to his dreams and heart. Sometimes losing those we love helps us to become the person we are meant to be.

Life is so rich in comings and goings. In knowing when to take risks, when to fight for something, when to let go gracefully, and when to love with everything in our hearts. Today I am feeling grateful for my friend. For the joys he brought when he was in my life, and the gifts he gave me by leaving.

And you friends? Have you given thanks today for those whose paths have crossed your own and kept going? For the beauty of that point of meeting, and the direction, texture and purpose that your life has developed since you headed off in different directions?


This is a recording of Eva Cassidy singing I Know You By Heart, a favourite song of mine, and one that always reminds me to be grateful for the gifts that everyone who passes through my life -- whether for a short or a long time--bring to my life. I am not a big fan of the video, but the sound quality on the recording is excellent.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

It takes a village

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission

The expression "it takes a village to raise a child" is an African proverb that was supposedly popularized by Hillary Clinton. It came to mind today because I woke up this morning thinking about my village back on Prince Edward Island. The photo above is not everyone back on Prince Edward Island that was a part of my community, but when I look at this group of people, there is not one person in this picture that I do not love deeply -- whose kindness and friendship has not changed my perception of reality and relationships in profound and lasting ways.

Often in life we do not allow ourselves to love people outside of our immediate circle -- our husbands, boyfriends, wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, maybe a small circle of close friends -- with an open heart. There may be good reasons for that. I am not sure. All I know is that the group of people in this photo -- my village of friends on Prince Edward Island -- completely transformed the way I love other human beings, and my capacity to love. When I moved to Prince Edward Island my love capacity was probably the size of a large bucket. When I left it looked more like a large oil tanker. I learned that there is no limit to love. The more you give, the more you are able to give, and the more you receive, the greater your capacity for receiving becomes. It may sound inconsequential, but sometimes the simplest things are the most revolutionary, and learning to love others wholeheartedly and being loved back is probably one of the most revolutionary things I have ever experienced.

The people in this photograph shared stories and laughter with me. They imparted knowledge to me. They listened when I needed to talk, encouraged me, believed in me, and served alongside me. They reminded me to not take life too seriously, challenged me, prayed with me, cheered me on, and reminded me what was important when i occasionally lost my way. They cooked meals for me, went for walks with me, recommended books, and welcomed me into their homes and families. They gave me rides, loaned me their cars, drove me to the airport when I traveled, and were waiting at the arrivals gate every time I came home. And all of this without ever asking for anything in return. There were no conditions placed on the love they showed me. No requirements. No limitations.

I was talking to someone recently about love, and they told me that they had never been in a community that they felt as loved and supported in as I describe having felt on PEI. It saddened me to hear this, and at the same time made me realize how much greater our potential in life as individuals and as a society is when we are given the support and love of our community.

I have been thinking recently that thanks to the people in this photograph, I have so much more love to give to others, and that loving without motive or expectation is an agent of change at the most profound level of human existence. There is so much need for love in the world. What a gift to not only know what it feels like to be loved deeply by your village, but to understand in your heart that, having been showered with so much love, you are in a position to shower others and perpetuate the process of social and spiritual transformation so that it extends far beyond yourself and your own family to encompass all human beings.

Like I said, sometimes the simplest things in life are the most revolutionary. Have a superb weekend, friends!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What colour is your roar?

This photo is the property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.

"What better resolution can we make than to listen to our own desires which are messengers from our souls, and to have the courage to obey them?"  ~Edward Bach

"Almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."  ~Steve Jobs

"According to the laws of aerodynamics the bumblebee should be unable to fly. Because of the size, weight and shape of its body in relationship to the total wing span, flying is scientifically impossible. The bumblebee, being ignorant of scientific theory, goes ahead and flies anyway."  ~John Maxwell

I have been thinking about courage. The courage to be who I am, and empower others to be who they are. Let me explain. Over the past few days I have come across a number of people who both lived and are living examples of what it means to essentially, undeniably, gloriously and passionately embrace ones differences. Two of these individuals I came across on Chookooloonks. One is Steve Jobs, who I have written about before. Karen Walrond posted a link to this eulogy about Steve Jobs, given by his sister at his memorial service. Like you, I have read a lot about Steve Jobs in the last few weeks. But this gave me a totally different perspective on the man's life. It made me realize how courageous he was. Yes, he was brilliant and creative and so many other things as well. But none of his brilliance would have been made manifest had he not embraced what made him different from everyone else. And that takes courage. 

Karen Walrond also shared a link to a short documentary about Beyonce, and the making of her latest album "4." This documentary is inspiring because Beyonce is a tremendously driven and hard-working woman with a very clear vision and an undeniable amount of talent. The woman exudes rhythm. None of that talent would be manifested in the world without courage though. A tremendous amount of it. She has a vision, and she does not let anything prevent her from realizing it. Even if that means a whole lot of extra work for her and everyone around her. She is being her essential self, and she is not apologetic about it.

The last few days I was reading Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman. Goldman's wife, Aura Estrada, is no longer alive, but the short time she was here she lived with such passion and presence that I closed the book and lay in bed silently for a long time, in awe. Her devotion to her writing and her academic career was so complete. Her commitment to incorporating everything that made her who she was into her work so absolute. I have been thinking about her ever since I closed the book. She had a courage was so fierce that I pity anyone who tried to stand in her way. The woman blazed courage.

And then today a friend sent a link to an interview that she just did for China Radio International, in Beijing, China. My friend, Shirin Sahba Moore is an exceptionally talented painter. She has lived all over the world, and her artwork incorporates all the cultures and landscapes she has experienced. Her paintings are very different from anything I have seen before, and, probably in part because of this (and because they are stunningly beautiful), they are in high demand. Shirin may not see it this way, but from my perspective, the way she embraces what makes her and her life different, and creates works of art from that place of difference, is courageous. More courage.

Tonight we had a women's devotional gathering in our living room. I chose the readings and music, and the theme I decided on was courage. The three quotes at the top of this page are from tonight's readings. The question on my mind is: What makes us take that step of personal courage that enables each of us to realize our fullest potential? For some the step seems to come, if not easily, then at least naturally. But what about the rest of us, I wonder? How do we move from realizing what our unique, and different gifts are to fully manifesting them in the world in a way that is both personally fulfilling and of service to humanity?

How about you, friends? How do you practice courage in embracing--fully--who you are? What colour is your roar?