"The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems." ~Mahatma Gandhi
The friends I'm speaking of come from all walks of life: a nurse, a poet, a fiction writer/yoga teacher, a spiritual healer, a retired teacher, a singer, a flight attendant. They are the unsung heroes (or sheroes) who know the secret of life -- choosing love one moment at a time.
The news of Robin Williams' death hit me with the impact of a double-hoofed kick in the solar plexus. I felt such a depth of sadness at his bright, incredible talent being silenced by the demon of depression. It's incomprehensible. As the shock waves washed over me, I thought about the duality of the human spirit: its vulnerable frailties and its equally amazing strengths. We are all caught in a raging sea of human need brought to us each day by the media in a vast array of war, poverty, hatred, intolerance and greed. If one focused only on the horrible news of the day, it would be easy to surrender to fear and curl up into a shivering little ball of misery. But the human spirit has this deep innate resilience. And hope is hard to kill. Thankfully!
For all the tragedies and human suffering that are on display seemingly everywhere you look, there are also tender-hearted, generous, breathtaking instances of people who are moving through the impacts of life circumstances to bring forth their own miraculous talents in service to the screaming need of others. Let me give you a few examples of several inspiring friends who are doing just that:
First, there's Wendy, a nurse who has lived through numerous challenges including losing almost everything in a house fire, and surviving some very tough health issues. Yet she is not only surviving, but thriving. She is leaving on a mission trip to Arua, Uganda today to bring her medical knowledge and her compassionate heart, along with 5-gallon buckets filled with hospice supplies to teach those caring for the dying how to practice good hygiene and comfort care. Wendy is one shining example of someone who has transformed the pain of loss into the path of service. She rocks as a shero in my book! If you would like more information about the Bucket Project Hospice Kits, as part of the Baptist Global Relief program, you can find it here:
Another friend who is answering the creative call is Pamela. She is currently sharing the amusing and inspiring story of her spiritual journey through her multimedia one-woman theatrical presentation, called "Confessions of a Spiritually Promiscuous Woman", and her new book, Confessions of a Passionate Seeker: Bridging the Gap from Ego to Essence, and in her speaking engagements around the country. Pamela is a whirlwind of creative talent and energy who has shared her gifts with many through establishing empowering women's groups called Women of Wisdom, her two Higher Tea books and the Blueprint for the Human Spirit. Her journey continues to touch lives and inspire. Her website can be found here: www.PamelaGerali.com
Yet another friend, Shannon Danford, brings lightness and wickedly funny humor to others through her Blues series of books set in SW Florida. She creates totally outrageous characters and places them in hilarious situations which could, or might still, happen and releases her own inimitable witty/ironic style in the process. She actually offers a laughter dare/guarantee for her work. I couldn't read them without laughing out loud so often my husband came to check and see what I was doing! Yup, another shero! So if you need some laughter in your life, check out her books here: http://www.mamasluckymojo.com/ or here: http://www.sandmanbooks.com/florida-authors/danford-shannon-florida-author.html
Heather McHugh is a friend of a friend whom I originally met at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers, in North Carolina years ago where I was working and she was teaching. Heather is a poet, a translator, an educator and a shero who has touched countless lives through her deeply insightful and inspiring poetry. She has won awards too numerous to list (You can visit her Wikipedia page here). In 2009, Heather was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant for her dazzling body of work. Yet rather than simply basking in the honor and accolades, Heather chose to take the award money and use it along with her own resources to launch the non-profit Caregifted.org which provides respite getaways for weary long-term caregivers. But Heather's generosity and vision didn't stop there. She also is spearheading the fund-raising campaign to keep the Caregifted program going and growing, and she is dedicated to producing a documentary called Undersung, which tells the stories of awe-inspiring love that carries these long-term caregivers on their mission of service. This vitally important visual vehicle for sharing the stories of people (the Undersung heroes and sheroes who represent the 90 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S.) is so necessary to raising our collective consciousness about this crucial but mostly unacknowledged role. What a marvelous mission Heather has accepted, to bring the spotlight of awareness to these caregivers who are unselfishly, quietly and courageously giving every day, year after year, in service to others. If there is some title beyond shero, (supershero?) Heather certainly deserves it!
Friends Lois and Ken Werner visited Guatemala and were so strongly impacted by the depth of poverty, malnutrition and disease there that they were moved to found the non-profit People for Guatemala to raise awareness and funds to help. They have now moved permanently to Guatemala and are establishing assistance programs to bring clean water/sanitation, education and computers, medical assistance and safe, non-polluting cooking stoves to the people there. Last year, their campaign at one local church paid for installation of 800 vented cooking stoves in small huts where the families had previously been exposed to disease-producing smoke from open fires. They are also offering instruction and materials to Guatemalan teachers, introducing reading skills to young children and technology to older children to assist in their education. They are literally changing thousands of lives, bringing healthier conditions and hope to those who were being crushed by poverty.
Another angel who felt impassioned about helping the people living in such poverty in Guatemala is Penny Rambacher. She founded Miracles in Action which seeks out under-served pockets of need in rural Guatemala and researches projects that focus on education, vocational training, and sustainable development. These projects achieve long-term results, improve quality of life, and allow truly impoverished people to help themselves-- by working in partnership with poor Guatemalan people, giving them a hand up, instead of a hand-out. Miracles in Action is currently collecting items to fill five shipping containers with goods for Christmas gifts for Guatemalan children. I love the fact that Penny has developed a plan that allows the Guatemalans to use their own talents to make products that bring them good, which is truly a hand "up", and a win-win for all.
In my own career as a singer, I seek to make a difference by singing programs for those with Alzheimer's or other dementia, allowing the music to soothe and uplift, bringing light to dimmed eyes, and smiling, toe-tapping, clapping, joyful moments to those whose memories have been stolen by disease. It's incredibly beautiful to watch the awakening and transformation that so often happens with music -- familiar songs, eye contact and a gentle pat on the shoulder can work miracles. Music is the magic agent of alchemy here, and I'm the one lucky enough to be observing and participating in the miracle. Singing is what I can do to make a difference. It's one way I choose the path of love and service over fear.
There are times in all lives that things feel out of control. We all face uncertainty. We may not be able to control what happens, but we can always control our response to what happens. Love is the path out of fear and we can consciously choose it every single day. What will you choose today? How will you make a difference in your life or that of another? We all have gifts, we have power to make a difference. I'd love to hear your choice!