Tag Archives: hope

Trash to Treasure

22344381_224265931440152_753211283737673728_n(1)My friend, Danny, unexpectedly brought Sister Rosemary by my office last week during her visit to Pepperdine.  What a gift!  I have seen a handful of people who made TIME magazine’s 2014 list of the 100 most influential people in the world in person, but it was most definitely the first time one dropped by my office to say hello.  I have my fingers crossed that either Beyoncé or Pope Francis will follow Sister Rosemary’s lead soon.

[Click HERE to read what Academy Award-winning actor, Forrest Whitaker, wrote about Sister Rosemary for TIME in 2014.]

At her evening conversation event last week Sister Rosemary featured stylish purses created at her Tailoring Center using aluminum can pop-tops. She told the audience that she uses this process to teach the women and girls who have been ravaged by war that throw-away trash can be transformed into treasure.  What a lovely metaphor.

I’m not so sure that I can take trash and turn it into an actual fashion accessory.  But I’m up for changing the way I look at human beings who have been discarded one way or another in this world to see the treasure waiting there in what Mother Teresa once called “distressing disguise.”  Sister Rosemary does this with what Whitaker called contagious energy and boundless love.  And in the copy of her book “Sewing Hope” that she gifted me she wrote that “love is the key.”  

So if it is just as well with you, we might as well get started loving.

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Dreams

18380491_1304245319630140_7970860990956830720_n(1)My sweet wife visited the Field of Dreams Movie Site in Dyersville, Iowa, last week and brought home several souvenirs since she knows Field of Dreams is my favorite movie of all time. And, it seems, because she loved it there.

It still feels strange to say that Field of Dreams is my favorite movie. It has a corny plot–literally–set in that spooky Iowa cornfield complete with ghost baseball players and disembodied voices. It surely wasn’t my favorite movie when I saw it at the theater in 1989. Sure, I enjoyed the baseball history and the touching storyline, but I tend to prefer movies that aren’t set in fantasy world (nothing personal against Iowa).

My mistake was watching it years later. After my father died. That did me in. That famous last scene when a father is reunited with son and they play catch once again and Annie says to Ray, “Introduce him to his granddaughter” . . . 

Okay, I might need to change the subject. These darn allergies.

Mother’s days and father’s days mean something different to those of us on the other side of the great divide called death. It can be quite depressing, but oddly enough, it never has been for me. And I don’t even have to work hard to understand why. 

As fantastic as it sounds, although Field of Dreams is crazy fiction, I believe it touches on something that is actually very real. In my heart, I believe that someday I will once again hold my mother’s hand and play catch with my dad and introduce him to his youngest granddaughter.

The very thought of it nearly makes my heart explode with anticipation.    

Put Me In Coach

3“Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” – George F. Will

Baseball is back, and I am happy.  Somewhere in the lazy sunshine, major league teams are taking the field for the first games of spring training, and all is right in the world.  Who am I kidding, all is not right in the world, but when you need a distraction because the world may be going to Crazyland—and reports are that it may have already boarded the plane—some opt for pictures of cute puppies and others choose a stiff drink, but I prefer baseball.

My team is the St. Louis Cardinals.  Tomorrow, 2,685 miles away in Jupiter, Florida, my beloved Redbirds will take on the Miami Marlins for their first game of the new season.  It is so far away from my house that it might as well be on the planet, Jupiter, but all I need to know is that baseball has awakened and that a new season is on the way.  I love how baseball wakes up with the sun in the early spring, hits its stride in the summer heat, reaches its conclusion in the picturesque fall, and hibernates through the dark winter.  So today, as far as I’m concerned, despite the calendar, spring has sprung.

Now truth be told, our mortal enemy, the Chicago Cubs, remains World Series champions, and they have the best lineup in baseball—again.  But this is baseball, and hope springs eternal.  You just never know what might happen.  Heck, listen to me, the Chicago Cubs are reigning World Series champs.  It is undeniable that anything is possible.

That anything is possible may be my favorite way that baseball reflects life.  So on this glorious weekend, wherever you happen to be in the seasons of life, remember that spring is somewhere in the rotation.  Where anything is possible.

What Gives Me Hope

interfaith-group-2017As nostalgia sets in at the prospect of leaving the law school, the privileges I enjoy become more pronounced.  One of my favorites has been hosting the Interfaith Student Council.

Early this week, sixteen wonderful people—fourteen law students, one undergraduate student, and one lawyer—showed up for an evening of discussion (the lawyer took the picture above!).  This fine group represented various flavors of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Atheism.

The leaders offered two potential topics for the evening: a heavy discussion about the controversial Trump immigration executive order, and a lighter discussion of dating practices in various faith traditions.  The group decided to do both and briefly discuss the heavy topic before moving to the lighter topic.  It may be unsurprising in the rear view mirror, but we never made it past the first.

Early in the conversation, one of the kindest people I have ever known shared a personal story that involved a close acquaintance sharing things that characterized this person’s entire religion in a terrible light.  I don’t think this kind soul has the capacity for anger, but there was definite hurt.  And confusion.  I mean, what do you do when someone you know portrays you and everyone in your faith as evil?

Everyone tried to help, and a good conversation ensued.

Later on, after the conversation took several twists and turns, a different student spoke up—one who comes from the faith that was used to characterize the other student as evil—and directed remarks back to that tough situation.  And she apologized.  She apologized on behalf of her entire faith.  And then she started crying, which made the other student start crying, and if we weren’t careful it was going to get all of us but they hugged it out and gave us a fighting chance.

If I am honest, as I sit here and type away, you know how your tears like to hang out in your upper cheekbones watching television and how they stand up and put their shoes on when you start thinking about touching moments like this one?  Well, maybe that is happening right now, but you’ll never know.

At the end of the evening, I asked everyone what gives them hope when times seem dark.  Folks shared some great answers, but I have to tell you that what gives me hope is an evening like that one and an encounter like the one between those two wonderful students.

Some may look at the world right now and just see stormy weather, but in that one embrace I believe I saw a break in the clouds.

Loving the Unlovable

screenshot-2016-11-21-09-50-561479743611447It’s a peculiar commercial any way you slice it.  Frankenstein’s monster might have ordered any number of products with his Apple iPhone from his secluded mountain cabin, such as a packet of Aveeno Positively Radiant Makeup Removing Wipes, or any number of Swiffer products to help out around the house (aren’t they fantastic?).  Maybe even Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Series on DVD.  But no, he simply ordered two Christmas bulbs, one red and one green, and they were dropped in the snow at his private residence by an invisible delivery service.  And, of course, in the only part of the commercial that made perfect sense, even if you just have two Christmas lights, there is always one that will not work properly.

But that’s not all.  As the story continued, Frankie made his way into town and scared the bejeezus out of everyone before using his iPhone as a karaoke machine to sing a sweet little rendition of Home for the Holidays with an adorable girl who apparently has a magic touch with those infernal Christmas lights.  Then he cried.  It’s peculiar, I say.

I first noticed the commercial on Thanksgiving Day amid a houseful of guests, so I didn’t hear any of the words yet seemed to get the message anyway.  At the end of the short story, after the villagers accept the monster through the example of the little girl and the camera fades to a glorious view of a magnificent Christmas tree, Apple offered the following request in simple script across the screen: Open your heart to everyone.

Whatever you do, don’t miss Apple’s message at this special time of year:  Instead of purchasing one of their products, buy a couple of Christmas lights and let your children sing duets with perfect strangers.

Ha!  No, seriously: Open your heart to everyone.  I absolutely love it.

It is a sweet message in a carefully scripted commercial with a somewhat lovable monster limping into town with a tear in his eye and a desire to be loved, but it is significantly harder to swallow when the monster appears, well, more monstrous.  But I think the message is even more important then.  Not because monstrous behavior is excusable.  Just the opposite.  It is because love is the hope of the world, and the coldest hearts need the most love to have any chance at thawing.

Besides, loving the lovable is far too easy, and wouldn’t you rather have a challenge?

Willing to Talk

oscar

The results of the presidential election prompted me to visit my friend, Oscar, at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange last weekend.  For over two decades, Oscar has directed the day labor hiring site day after day, week after week, year after year.  He is a personal friend and hero.  I went to see Oscar because I wondered how the day laborers were reacting to the news, but to be candid, Oscar is such a man of peace and wisdom that I anticipated the visit would be good for me, too.  I miscalculated the election itself, but at least I got that one right.

Oscar was a Cesar Chavez apprentice back in the day and traveled with Cesar to all sorts of interesting places and situations.  It was fascinating to hear him make connections between then and now.  As the world remembers, Cesar’s activism was strong yet nonviolent and eternally optimistic.  Si, se puede!  I think we all need a good helping of strong, nonviolent optimism right now.

As we visited, Oscar recalled times when Cesar was criticized for meeting with government officials who were seen as his direct enemies.  Many supporters of the farm workers could not even bring themselves to say the names of those opposition leaders and could hardly stomach witnessing Cesar shake hands, pose for pictures, and sit in conversation with people they believed to be evil.  Cesar was willing to talk with them anyway.  Oscar explained Cesar’s approach: On behalf of others, he was always willing to talk with anyone to advance the cause regardless of his personal feelings or the reaction it generated.

It is far too easy to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and forego the arduous task of seeking to engage and understand those in opposition, but we will only move forward if we are willing to talk to each other.  That, my friends, requires us to put the needs of others ahead of our own and even risk ridicule from our own people.

Thanks to Cesar for living this out.  Thanks to Oscar for reminding me.

Si, se puede!

Better Days Ahead?

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Well, mad props to TIME magazine for mastering the double entendre.

Regardless of the outcome, tomorrow’s presidential election will be historic, and although nobody will remember this bizarre campaign with affection, I suspect that its conclusion will not cool the bubbling hatred that threatens to erupt and make an awful mess.  In other words, I’ll be glad when it’s over, but I don’t think it will be over when it’s over.

So, what to do?  Although Canada is nice this time of century, flight doesn’t inspire a heck of lot more hope than the ugly fight we have endured.  There must be a third way to a better future.

My personal vote is for a commitment to reduce hatred (whether or not it is on the official ballot), beginning in my own heart and extending to actions that will have a similar effect on others.  That seems particularly worthwhile to me.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that life will instantly be better once the results are final.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that things cannot be better.  Better is surely worth the struggle.

I mean, the Cubs won the World Series.  The possibilities are endless.

Forging Pathways

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“Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Waze calculates thirty-four miles from Pepperdine University to East Los Angeles College; the Pacific Coast Highway to East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue; the celebrity-populated western side of Los Angeles to Cheech Marin’s East L.A.; Malibu to Monterey Park.  It sure seems longer, even in rush hour traffic.  They are two different worlds.

I serve on the advisory council for the East Los Angeles College (“ELAC”) Pathway to Law School Transfer Program, a coalition of educators and practitioners brought together to destroy obstacles that stand in the way of a young person advancing from high school to community college, from community college to a four-year college, and from a four-year college to law school.  It is an inspiring group, and I am honored to be a part.

It is also personally disconcerting.  I’m not exactly sure how I, a first-generation college student from rural Arkansas, the son of a butcher who dropped out of high school to provide for his family during the Great Depression, am suddenly the picture of white privilege in a room full of impressive human beings, but as a lawyer who drove over from his condo in Malibu, even my expertise in denial simply tossed in the towel and admitted the truth.  I may be the most reluctant privileged person around.

It was dark when the meeting ended, and on the stroll across the ELAC campus to drive back to idyllic Malibu, I noticed several classes in session.  Maybe I was wanting it to be so, but it sure looked like all of the students in those classes were engaged in the instruction and not bored on Facebook.  I’m just sure of it.  I then wandered by the math tutoring center, and it was undeniably a hub of academic activity late on a weekday evening.  All this made me feel particularly hopeful in this perplexing world of ours.

If I must come to terms with privilege, and I just might have to, I must use it to help those inspiring students hungry for knowledge in those hushed classrooms gleaming in the darkness.

Down But Not Out

communicatorsinset

“We’ve sustained damage, but we’re still able
to maneuver.” Spock to Captain Kirk.
– Raymond Carver¹

I didn’t get all the cool toys growing up as a relatively poor kid in the 1970s, but I was the proud owner of a set of Star Trek Communicators (pictured above).  Those handy-dandy devices possessed a walkie-talkie feature that kids loved along with a piercing distress siren that brought special joy to the parents.  I credit these walkie-talkies with my natural coolness during the Flip Phone Craze at the end of the twentieth century.

The primary challenge with my Star Trek Communicators was that I had no childhood friends living nearby since we lived on a block primarily populated by widows, and lack of friends tends to lower the value of walkie-talkies.  I mean, there is a certain measure of fun in speaking into a device held in your right hand and hearing your crackly voice come out of a separate device held in your left hand, but to be honest, that level of fun is actually pretty low.

So despite my parents’ financial sacrifice and super cool gift, I am not a Trekkie.

But I think Mr. Spock’s statement to Captain Kirk that Ray Carver thought worth writing down on a scrap piece of paper and sticking in his bathrobe pocket is possibly one of the best life quotes ever: “We’ve sustained damage, but we’re still able to maneuver.”

The last few weeks have been rough for many people I know with death and disease landing severe body blows in this championship bout called life, not to mention an entire nation already a little punch-drunk pausing to remember the awful attacks by al-Qaeda fifteen years ago.  That we have sustained damage is sometimes more obvious than others.  But are we still able to maneuver?

Life is a teensy bit unpredictable, but the potential for damage is not, so the outstanding question is what to do afterward.  I suggest hiring a pointy-eared, human-Vulcan first officer to do a little once-over to determine what is still functional and then carry on your captivating adventure into the great unknown.  To live long and prosper, as best you can.

Or, if you want, give me a shout on the walkie-talkie.

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¹ Excerpted from His Bathrobe Pockets Stuffed with Notes by Raymond Carver, in A New Path to the Waterfall (1989).

The Invincible Soul

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” – Maya Angelou (Letter to My Daughter, 2009)

With apologies to my wife, I have a crush on Maya Angelou, so when Apple resurrected her inimitable voice reading excerpts from her poem, Human Family, during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics to remind us that “we are more alike, my friends, then we are unalike,” I was happy.  (If you’d like to listen to her read the full poem without the iPhone sales pitch, click HERE.)

I can’t remember my introduction to Angelou, although it was probably her reading of On the Pulse of Morning for the Clinton inauguration in 1993.  What I can remember is that something led me to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of seven autobiographies that is worth it just for the title (although she snagged it from a Paul Laurence Dunbar poem).  But the book itself, my goodness, it sucker punched my heart.  It tells of Angelou’s first seventeen years of life set in Arkansas, St. Louis, and California.  Her story is interesting, sure, but as a white man now with ties to all three areas, it was (and continues to be) heart-wrenching.

If you didn’t know, Angelou’s childhood included being a victim of rape, racism, and sexism, and if that wasn’t enough, abandonment, guilt, and homelessness, all culminating in giving birth to a son at age sixteen.  And then there was the rest of her life, where she experienced fame and prestige as actor and activist, author and poet, composer and director, professor and speaker—among other things.  As the epigraph proclaims, her life is a testament to the idea that it is not required that difficult circumstances diminish your soul.

Or, more poetically stated, though caged, you can always sing.

In 2014, I was thrilled to see that Angelou was scheduled to speak at a Pepperdine event, and with my wife’s blessing, purchased three (expensive) tickets so that I could introduce Maya Angelou to my daughters, too.  Sadly, the event was canceled due to her poor health not long before she passed on from this life.

I thought about crying.

But I chose to sing.