All, Culture/Life

How 9/11 has shaped our lives

As we approach the 17th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, it is quite stunning to consider how the repercussions of that tragic day are still being felt nearly two decades later.

Courageous first responders, who selflessly ran to Ground Zero to save others, have been and are continuing to fall ill and die because of the toxic air they inhaled that fateful day.

As a result of those appalling attacks, a galvanized and freedom-living America became engaged in its longest war. An entire generation has grown up not knowing what the world was like before 9/11, what it was like for America not to be at war.

Some of those who are fighting this on-going battle were barely old enough to remember this century’s “day of infamy” that ignited the global war on terror.

Many beautiful human beings, who might otherwise be working civilian jobs, caring for, and enjoying family and friends, have fought and died in the fray.

In some ways this war is markedly different from the wars of our parents and grandparents. Most of our lives are not consumed by the war effort like in WWII when victory gardens, rationing, and scrap metal drives were prevalent and every sector of society was doing its part to support the cause of freedom.

Nowadays, our armed services, amazingly, are all volunteer. This isn’t a war of conscription like WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

Despite these important distinctions, our lives have been shaped and continue to be shaped by 9/11. Think of how much politics and national security are defined by the ramifications of that day. Every election cycle, candidates promulgate their ideas regarding the war, the troops, and how to keep America safe.

Think about how much the travel experience has been altered because of that day. Being born at the beginning of the nineties, I remember being able to go past security at the airport and wait to greet my grandma when she came to visit or to wave at the window as we watched the plane take off when she left. Now we can only accompany loved ones as far as the security line where we go through all sorts of safety measures that have changed and grown since 2001 and that have become routine.

We have been taught “if you see something, say something.” Sadly, numerous people have been lost in subsequent terrorist attacks since 2001, such as in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012.

Tomorrow as we reflect as a nation and honor the memory of those who died in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania seventeen years ago, let us also ponder all that has happened in the wake of that day.

One good result of this national tragedy is perhaps that we as a nation are more grateful to our troops and have more of an awareness of what America means as a country and its role in the world. In the immediate days following September 11th, we did unite as a nation and come together in shared prayer and patriotism. We can hope and pray for a return to those sentiments in these days as well.

May God be with all those whose lives were lost or altered on and because of September 11, 2001.

Never forget. 🇺🇸🗽❤️

Setting out one flag for every person who lost their lives on 9/11. (2015)
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All, Art, Culture/Life, Family

Hooray for (Old) Hollywood!

Just this weekend a classic old Hollywood film soothed a heartache for an evening. My Mom and I watched the 1945 Esther Williams flick “Thrill of a Romance.” It had been a tumultuous, emotional roller coaster ride of a few days, and maybe the sweet simplicity of that old film was just what the doctor ordered as a balm to our taut nerves. In any case, as soon as it started, we both immediately felt more at ease and slept better than we had in nights.

It’s no earth-shaking plot, just an old-fashioned romantic comedy of sorts but with plenty of yesteryear Hollywood glamour and elegance.

Jimmy Stewart, PC: Wikipedia

Think of some of the Hollywood stars of old: Grace Kelly, Jimmy Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Esther Williams, the list could go on…

Audrey Hepburn, PC: Paramount-photo by Bud Fraker; Wikipedia

Elegance, style, glamour.

With my affinity for 1940s and 50s music, movies and fashion, I often quip that I was born in the wrong era.

I think there’s something to be said for the elegance of that by-gone time. We seem to take a casual approach to so many things nowadays. Sometimes people barely differentiate what they wear to church from what they wear to the gym #athleisure. Read this article for an interesting take on athleisure and manners.

Whether we like it or not, fashion choices are a reflection of us, of our values and personalities and tastes.

The generation of our grandparents and great-grandparents had propriety. Certain clothes for certain occasions and locations. Maybe it was a bit too formal, but I think the millennial generation could use an infusion of that polish and refinement. Really, it boils down to respect. How one presents oneself in dress and deportment conveys not only respect for the people and places one encounters but also self-respect.

Then there’s the music of yesteryear. My family and I were listening to Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets the other day, and it struck me yet again how, generally speaking, the popular music of long ago was so much more romantic than nowadays. There were true love songs to which one could slow dance and be wooed and fall in love. They present true depths of emotions from sorrow and longing to love and joy to just plain silly fun.

Ella Fitzgerald, PC: Lewin/Kaufman/Schwartz, Public Relations, Beverly Hills; Wikipedia

Again respect and elegance and beauty. Moreover, those singers and musicians did not have the technology of today to alter and tweak their voices or their sound. Pure artistic talent was required.

Louis Armstrong, PC: Wikipedia (from Library of Congress)

A lot of contemporary music leaves nothing to the imagination (much like today’s movies) but rather mires itself in vulgarity.

I know I am speaking in broad strokes about past and present entertainment, but the general ethos is, I think, pretty close to accurate.

In my experience, taking a little “sentimental journey” via old Hollywood movies or music from another era might just be good for what ails ya.

If you’re looking for some suggestions, here are a few of my favorite old films and songs in no particular order. What are some of your old favorites?

Songs:

1.) “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

2.) “Sway” by Rosemary Clooney. I like Dean Martin’s version, too!

3.) “Swinging on a Star” by Bing Crosby

4.) “L. O. V. E.” by Nat King Cole

5.) “Sentimental Journey” by Doris Day

Movies:

1.) “Singing in the Rain,” starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor

2.) “Roman Holiday,” starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck

3.) “Yours, Mine, and Ours,” starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda

4.) “Going My Way,” starring Bing Crosby.

5.) And since I just watched it and really liked it: “Thrill of a Romance,” starring Esther Williams and Van Johnson.

All, Culture/Life

A Capital Day in the Nation’s Capital 🇺🇸

Hello everyone!! A little over a week ago, a long-cherished wish of mine was fulfilled! I finally visited our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., for a day trip with a friend and fellow history-lover.

I live within a comparatively short driving distance from the capital, so it’s a bit unusual that I haven’t played the tourist there before now. But to everything there is a time and a season, and I am so delighted that the time arrived at last! Moreover, it had been an exceedingly wet, rainy week, but we were blessed with blue skies and sunshine for our adventure.🌤

If you’ve never visited D.C., I highly encourage you to make the journey. What I saw and explored only whet my appetite to return to see and do more. I believe it really takes multiple occasions to experience all that history-rich city has to offer.

Upon arriving at our Metro stop by the Smithsonian museums, I emerged from the stairwell to two patriotic, picturesque sights. I looked to my right and saw the Capitol building and looked to my left and the majestic Washington Monument greeted my eyes. It’s not an exaggeration to say this was a thrill. One of those “pinch me” moments!

Though obviously we couldn’t see the whole city in one day, I’m pretty proud of what my friend and I accomplished.

We took in some of the major exhibits at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (rocks & gems, mammals, and a whirlwind pass through the mummies and dinosaurs) as well as four displays at the American History Museum (Star-Spangled Banner, First Ladies, American Presidency, and America on the Move: Transportation).

After revivifying ourselves with cold drinks and chocolate on a bench facing the architecturally magnificent Department of Agriculture Building, we set out for the pièce de résistance of our excursion: the National Mall.

In my inexperience, I had pictured the memorials and monuments of the Mall as more or less in a straight line along the length of the Mall.

No, no. Some are off on side paths which require purposeful walking. By this point, our energy was beginning to wane, so we had to be selective, and we saw four of the eight major sights: the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. We also stumbled upon a smaller memorial that is less well-known: the District of Colombia WWI Memorial. I think this somewhat humble monument deserves more attention. WWI was such a significant war, and the memorial’s plaque states that some big names like John Phillip Sousa were present for its dedication. Go search it out!!

All in all, this was a truly awesome day!! One can’t help but be proud to be an American when visiting D.C. No matter who is the president, it’s an amazing moment to look at the White House and think “wow, the president of the United States is in there!”

It is surreal to visit history museums and stand before artifacts like the flag that was flying over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner” or to look at the top hat worn by President Lincoln when he was assassinated or to see a pair of Teddy Roosevelt’s chaps. It’s humbling and exciting. It’s like time travel, a link through ordinary items to historical figures who shaped our country and, consequently, our own way of life. It’s a testament to the human need to remember from where we came and to our fundamental need for connection. And it deserves some pondering.

The Mall monuments are truly beautiful. The solemnity of the Lincoln Memorial. One can feel the weight he bore on his shoulders. The haunting expressions of the soldiers that comprise the Korean War Memorial. The wonder and expanse of the WWII Memorial with its foundation and numerous stirring quotations from presidents and generals.

I just love it. It’s also plain cool to see and hear visitors from around the world touring the the sights of America’s capital. For all its warts and struggles, America is still a beacon of freedom for the world, and it is a blessing to live in this country.

When many statistics and polls can be pretty disheartening about people’s lack of historical knowledge, it’s also hopeful to see young parents bringing their children to visit these important places of history.

I’m so grateful for my friend’s and my adventure, and I am eagerly awaiting our next trip to explore more of our nation’s capital. 🇺🇸

P.S. The cafeteria in the American History Museum serves really tasty food. Barbecue chicken and cornbread for the win! 😋🍗

All, Culture/Life

Celebrating “Old Glory”

The older I grow, the more I love patriotic holidays. Lucky for me, today, June 14th, the country has double the celebration because it’s the U.S. Army’s birthday and Flag Day! 🇺🇸

In honor of this double dose of festive patriotism, here are some fun facts about the Army and Old Glory!

1.) The Army is America’s oldest fighting force, even older the the country itself! Military.com tells us that it was founded by the Second Continental Congress in 1775 in order to protect the 13 original colonies’ freedom. That means that today is the Army’s 243rd Birthday! 🎂🎉We salute all our soldiers and all members of the military! God bless you, one and all!

2.) The American flag’s 13 red and white stripes represent the 13 original colonies while the stars represent all the states in the Union.

3.) Though it is unclear as to the precise reason why the colors of red, white, and blue were selected to adorn the flag, the Congress of the Confederation chose the same trio of colors for the Great Seal of the United States in 1782 for the following representative purposes. Red symbolizes valor and hardiness, white represents purity and innocence, and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. (Source: ushistory.org.)

4.) Betsy Ross is credited with sewing the first American flag though it is unclear whether this is actual history or legend. Fun fact: in second grade, I did a project on Betsy Ross, complete with a written book report on a children’s biography about Ross and an in-class presentation for which I was dressed up as our patriotic heroine and distributed graham cracker flag cookies that my Mom had made! 😋

5.) The flag derives its nickname “Old Glory” from Captain William Driver, who seeing the flag unfurl on his ship as he was leaving on a voyage in 1831, exclaimed, “Old Glory!” (Source: ushistory.org)

6.) The American flag should not be allowed to drag on the ground. There are also numerous other guidelines for properly and respectfully displaying and disposing of flags. Google them!

7.) According to Wikipedia, Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day, and National Flag Day was established by an act of Congress in August 1946.

8.) The lively, patriotic march “You’re a Grand Old Flag” was written by George M. Cohen in 1906 for his musical George Washington, Jr. (Source: Wikipedia).

9.) Today is also President Trump’s birthday! Whether you like him or not, it’s pretty appropriate that an American president was born on Flag Day.

In case these fun American history tidbits whet your appetite for more information about the emblem of our great nation, do some research on your own. Today is the perfect day to start! And remember to be grateful for the blessings of liberty we enjoy (and take for granted) in our country and for those who’ve fought and died to secure that freedom!

Image credit: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=134882&picture=american-flag-grunge)
caption
All, Culture/Life

“Ride the hobbyhorse”: Thoughts on Understanding

You know that feeling when someone just gets you, gets your situation. No need to try to explain or to justify. That person understands. What a rush of relief! A burden lifted off your heart. An untying of the defensive knot in the pit of your stomach.

Quite the contrast to when someone looks quizzically at you or gives you a semi-blank stare and a perfunctory, polite response. That person doesn’t get it. And he or she is not really interested in trying to do so.

Two of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of understanding are as follows:

A mental grasp: comprehension”; “sympathy.”

Sometimes the former is not possible. We can’t always comprehend everyone and their individual circumstances. The majority of us cannot fathom the experiences of a military combat veteran. It’s hard for me to grasp the mentality of someone who goes through life without faith in God. Sometimes it’s hard for a family member or friend to understand a loved one who struggles with depression or anxiety. The list is endless.

However, when comprehension is absent, sympathy or maybe empathy can and should fill up the difference.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee writes,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

One of my primary professors in college taught his students David Sanderlin’s concept of “riding a hobbyhorse” when writing a history paper. A “hobbyhorse” is someone’s individual perception or viewpoint of the world shaped by their unique experiences. We need to be aware of our own hobbyhorse as well as try to figure out the hobbyhorse of the author/historian whose work we are reading.

PC: http://www.reusableart.com/horse-images-22.html

Like with research, one can identify someone else’s hobbyhorse in real life while still maintaining the integrity of one’s own principles and viewpoint. Extending understanding to another person does not mean we must compromise what we hold to be right and true. It means we show respect to someone whose life experiences have been different than ours.

Understanding is something sorely lacking in today’s society and public discourse.

Everyone nowadays is labeled and pigeon-holed. Groups, demographics, identity politics. Us versus them.

We tend to be scared of what we don’t understand maybe because we’ve encountered something truly foreign to us or maybe because we’re apprehensive that it may challenge our thinking or lifestyle.

Racist. Bigot. Homophobe. Sexist. We hear these epithets thrown around on a daily basis in the media. Perhaps justifiably in some cases. Perhaps more often because we don’t want to admit that the situation or topic around which these ugly labels are used is complex and nuanced.

When we don’t understand a person or a situation or a way of thinking, we resort to petty mockery or personal criticism. We don’t debate an idea or a principle but go after a person. We let our emotions overpower our reason. We invoke flippant sarcasm or ad hominem attacks instead of intelligent wit and logical arguments.

We forget that understanding, whether comprehension or sympathy, is a gift we can give to another. If we can’t attain a “mental grasp,” we can still show sympathy. We can compassionately ask for that other person to share with us and we may find that our own understanding is expanded in the process. Maybe what we can share with that person will help him or her in return.

Whether we’re addressing a different way of thinking or trying to comprehend another person’s health struggle, it takes humility to admit, “I don’t understand, but I want to. Please explain it to me.”

Sanderlin offers this pearl of wisdom in Writing the History Paper,“We will never understand, much less learn from others, if we condemn them for not knowing what we know, rather than respect them for knowing what we do not know.”

We are all children of God. While we debate and hopefully endeavor to seek truth and the common good, we need to remind ourselves that we can all learn from one another.

Again, though he is referring to a study of history, Sanderlin offers sage advice when he states, “The historian strives to understand people in the past that he might better understand himself.”

Endeavoring to understand someone else’s viewpoint may lead us to a deeper gratitude for our own beliefs and life experiences or it maybe it will challenge us to approach some people and situations differently.

Offering support to someone living with with physical or emotional challenges can teach us to have greater patience and compassion and to learn to put someone else’s needs before our own.

We know how freeing and reassuring it is when understanding is extended to us. We need to pray and to strive to offer understanding to others in return.

All, Culture/Life

The Hero

I’m going to ask for your indulgence again when it comes to my attempts at poetry. This latest poem was partially inspired by a truly awesome opportunity I recently had. In March, the ballet company with which I dance put on a memorable outreach performance at a veterans care facility in my state. We performed a very poignant piece that’s set during WWII. It’s an audience favorite that whisks me away to a different time and place, and I feel so incredibly grateful to be a part of this beautiful tribute to our military, especially those of the WWII era.

After our mini show, we were able to greet many of the elderly veterans who had watched. The warmth of those interactions left a long-lasting imprint with us as dancers.

I have written about supporting the troops before, and the military has a special spot in my heart for numerous reasons. So without further ado, here is:

“The Hero”

There he marched,

Tall and straight,

Strength and vigor in his gait.

His uniform, starched and pressed,

American patriotism at its best.

His unwhiskered chin set like steel,

But a glance at his eyes

And one could feel

His fears and hopes and

Dreams delayed,

His home to defend,

The land of the brave,

Family and comrades whom he loved,

For whom he would fight,

Would shed his blood.

A girl, his sweetheart,

The love of his life,

He still prayed that

She would be his wife.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Wrinkled and weathered,

There he sat,

A twinkle in his eyes,

And on his lap

Lay a faded veteran’s cap.

His trembling hand

Reached out for mine.

His grip secure,

Undiminished by time.

I could picture him,

Young and strong,

Filled with devotion, mischief,

And charm,

His deportment upright,

But his smile,

Roguishly warm.

Now his grin grew wide

As he spoke of his bride

The girl he had once prayed to marry.

They had made a home

With kids of their own,

A life that was blessed

With joy, strife, and rest.

In his heart, her love

He’d always carry.

Then his eyes grew dim,

His mouth became grim

When he remembered

His fallen brothers.

His voice tight and quavering,

With loyalty unwavering,

His attention still upon others.

My heart, it glowed with love and pride,

Tears in my eyes could not be denied.

He thanked me for being there,

“No, thank YOU!” I cried.

While silently I offered a prayer

Of blessing and thanks to God:

“Oh, bless this hero

And all he gave

For the land of the free

And the home of the brave!”

(Image credit: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=134882&picture=american-flag-grunge)

All, Culture/Life, Faith

Laetare, Rejoice!!

Happy Easter!! Hallelujah!

One of my favorite aspects of the Catholic Faith is the extended celebration of Christmas and Easter.

The Catholic Church doesn’t confine these holidays to one day only but rather these feasts are assigned whole liturgical seasons. We can really revel and soak in the grace and joy of these marvelous days.

And this is completely fitting because the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus are literally the most important events that ever have occurred or will occur in human history. No human words can adequately convey their magnitude.

They should fill us with uncontainable joy, gratitude, and hope for He has won our salvation.

We are now coming to the end of the Easter octave, eight days that liturgically are viewed as one day, namely, Easter Day! The Easter season then stretches until Pentecost Sunday, totaling fifty days altogether. #Catholicsknowhowtoparty 😉🎉

Fortunately, I have been on spring break from dancing and teaching this week following Easter Sunday, so this holiday has truly been a holiday for me. While I was driving on Monday, the thought hit me that a mere day after Easter so many people were having to return to their ordinary schedules of work and commitments. Yet we shouldn’t be ordinary in these extraordinary days! They should be filled with prayer and praise and celebrations!

However, in the midst of daily responsibilities and tasks, we can still strive to cling to Easter joy and hope and have our own moments of rejoicing, even within the quiet of our own hearts and minds.

This past weekend I attended the Easter Vigil, which St. Augustine called “the Mother of all Vigils.” I usually attend Easter Mass Sunday morning, but this year, I decided to attend the Saturday night vigil for the first time in a few years.

There are many ways to describe this remarkable liturgy: Sublime. Mysterious. Beautiful. Ancient. Joyful. Simple. Symbolic. Glorious. Hope-filled. Sacramental. Solemn. Exultant.

One of the most awesome parts is the lighting of the Paschal Fire, symbolizing the light of Christ that warms and illumines but doesn’t destroy. The Paschal Fire is an actual fire about the size of a small bonfire. The congregation proceeded out of the church and into the parking lot where a miniature wooden tower (for lack of a better word) was built. Our pastor began to read prayers and prepared the Easter candle to be kindled from the fire. Suddenly, a fiery arrow whizzed down a string from the roof of the church and the Fire ignited. I’m not sure if the flaming arrow is customary in other places/parishes but it is a mesmerizing and stirring sight to behold. I looked at the faces of the children in the crowd when all this was taking place. Wonderment was painted there. I felt it, too.

The church’s Easter candle was then lit from the fire and from that candle the small candles that all of us in the crowd were holding were enkindled. The light was passed from one person to another, never diminishing but growing as it was shared, reminding us that the light of Christ does not dim but only expands as we bring it to others.

We started out in a cold, dark parking lot but as soon as the fire and those candles were set ablaze the atmosphere suddenly was a bit warmer. It was a little easier to see. Just like sin and hardship can darken our lives and make things seem cold until we allow ourselves to stand in the warmth and light of God’s love and mercy.

Holding our tiny flames, the parishioners then returned to the church, which was in darkness. We listened to the sonorous intoning of the Easter Exsultet by one of the many priests con-celebrating the Mass as well as to various Scripture readings from the Old Testament. Prior to a reading from the New Testament and the proclamation of the Gospel, the Gloria was sung jubilantly to the accompaniment of music and the ringing of bells. This was the first time that singing had had musical accompaniment since the Gloria during Holy Thursday Mass two nights before. (This moment has even more of a build-up since the the only time the Gloria is sung at Mass between the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and the Easter Vigil is on Holy Thursday and on a Solemnity like the feast day of St. Joseph.) As the Gloria progressed, the lights began to be turned on until the whole church was illuminated. It was an impressive and joyful moment!!

The priest who delivered the homily incorporated an Easter analogy from one of my favorite book series, The Lord of the Rings. For those of you unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnificent trilogy, I highly recommend it to you. Father spoke about the light of Galadriel (an Elven queen), and how she presented this phial of light to the hobbit Frodo as he was journeying to destroy the evil One Ring. It contained the light of a very special star, and when she gave this gift, she said, “May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” So Father encouraged all of us to be that type of light to the world.

The Easter Vigil is also when new converts are welcomed formally into the Church and receive the Sacraments of Initiation. It is extremely moving to witness adults being baptized and confirmed! When this part of the vigil was completed and they turned to face the congregation, we applauded to welcome them home to the Faith. My cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. Later on in the Mass, many of them would receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time!!

From beginning to end, the Easter Vigil was a feast for the both the soul and the bodily senses!

It was such a hopeful moment to witness those adults choose Christ and His Church, choose to set themselves on the path of light and life. Especially nowadays when it is so easy to succumb to discouragement amidst the corruption and sorrow we recognize in ourselves, others, and society at large on a daily basis.

The challenge is to hold onto the message and promise of Easter joy and hope even when the Easter season has concluded. Christ has conquered sin and the devil. He has defeated sorrow and anxiety. He has vanquished darkness and death. We still must face adversity and trials in this life. We still must work daily to convert and to turn away from sin. But Jesus has won the ultimate victory and His grace and mercy are always there when we truly seek it!

He died and rose for everyone, every person who has ever lived or will live.

I wish all people could experience and believe in the message of Easter! Whether you are a believer or not, know that Jesus loves you. He died for you. And He desires you to know Him and His love.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.'” -John 11:25-26.

Happy Easter, friends! 😊

All, Bookworm, Culture/Life

The Healing Power of Play

Playing, imagining, creating. These are an integral and indispensable aspect of every person’s life and development, particularly as children.

As a child of the nineties, I grew up going to Toys R Us, and I feel a bit like I’m mourning the end of an era with the news of the toy stores’ closings around the country. It seems the chain is just the latest to succumb to the swiftly changing retail landscape, thanks in part to the internet.

Technology certainly has its beneficial uses for work and for recreation but, to me, it’s frightening just how pervasive and how profound is its influence when it comes to affecting people’s lives and well-being. Physical problems like back and eye ailments, increased loneliness, social isolation and bullying. All these adverse conditions are attributable at least partially to technology. Not to mention the stress of being accessible 24/7 through smart phones.

Technology has also impacted the realm of children’s play. Computer games, video games, TV shows and movies available anywhere and everywhere due to mobile devices and in-car screens. Yet, more and more, it is being recognized that children’s screen time needs to be monitored and limited.

But this is not a post bashing all technology. I mean I’m typing this commentary on a smart phone for goodness’ sake.

Rather, it’s an invitation to remember and maybe try to re-capture some of your natural childhood wonder and imagination.

The Broadway musical “Finding Neverland,” which tells the story of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, has a whimsical but thought-provoking song that asks:

“Can you remember back when you were young?/When all the simple things you did were so much fun/ You got lost somewhere along the way/You’ve forgotten how to play, every single day.”

It’s refrain declares, “The world is so mysterious and wild/when you start to see it through the eyes of a child.”

PC: https://www.disneyclips.com/imagesnewb/peterpan3.html
PC: disneyclips.com

Back in February, my ballet company hosted a Father/Daughter Valentine’s Day event, which included the dancers teaching a simple dance to the dads and daughters.

In one section of the dance, the parents and children formed a “tunnel” with their hands and all the couples passed under it. You can imagine the giggles and gleeful expressions this elicited when the six-foot-plus dads tried to squeeze through with their tiny pre-school and elementary age daughters.

Yet, as I was watching and directing, it struck me that I was seeing looks of authentic happiness on the faces of these dads. They were genuinely having fun. And what were they doing? Dancing. Playing. Creating a memory that did not involve a cell phone or a screen.

Earlier this year, I was reading the story of a ballet to young students whom I teach, and I noticed their intent attention to the illustrations and the comments and questions they shared. It made me remember just how enjoyable such a simple activity like studying a picture can be.

Lately, I’ve been on a kick of re-discovering and reading classic children’s books. I’m slowly making my way through the Little House series. I re-read Charlie and the Chocolate Factoryand Shilohfor the first time since third grade. I’ve even re-read some of my favorite picture books from childhood.

In a world that is overly-technological, morally confused and is continually feeding us disquieting headlines, I think we could all use a healthy dose of child-like wonder in the little moments and opportunities for fun throughout the day. That doesn’t mean we shirk our responsibilities or ignore realities. But we don’t let our duties or technology or our worries overwhelm our capability for the simple joys that are offered to us every day.

Allowing ourselves to remember and experience those innocent realities of childhood- the fun of laughing, of using our imagination, of playing a game, or maybe even re-reading some of those classic or favorite children’s books- can be an excellent antidote to the ubiquitous stress and hustle-bustle of daily schedules and commitments. I really believe it can be healing, refreshing, and reassuring for one’s mind and spirit.

So un-plug from social media for a day or a week. Don’t allow yourself to check your email for an evening.

Use your leisure time to actually be leisurely-which is different from being idle- and enjoy your life, your friends, your children, your family.

In the words of Walt Disney,

“Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever.”

All, Culture/Life, Faith, Tales from the Tutu Side

A Lesson from the Little Drummer Boy

This past Sunday was the first day of the liturgical season of Advent, a special time in which we prepare to remember and celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas as well as to welcome Him anew into our lives and hearts. It also serves as a reminder that we will meet Him one day face-to-face and that He will judge the world at the end of time.

One of the primary points of the homily during Mass this past Sunday was the obligation we have to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and as a means of preparation for His coming. The priest said that God has given us these gifts for the specific day and age in which we live. And we must use our talents to build up the Church and the world.

Later that day the thought occurred to me that the Christmas song The Little Drummer Boyexemplifies this message.

The impoverished Little Drummer Boy wants desperately to give a gift to the newborn Christ Child but has nothing of material value to offer, so he plays his drum, that is, he uses his talent for the baby Jesus. His simple offering of music in love pleases the Baby Who smiles at him in return. His offering of the intangible talent is his gift.

I think we can learn something of extraordinary value from this gentle Christmas carol. A lesson succinctly summed up in the following quote:

“Our talents are the gift that God gives to us. …What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”

-Leo Buscaglia

The Bible says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” -Colossians 3:17

I think it’s easy to downplay or discredit our skills and gifts as unimportant or to disassociate them from our spiritual and religious lives. Or we can wrongfully use our talents primarily as a means of self-gratification and aggrandizement.

The truth is God wants us to discover, to nurture, and to build up the talents He has bestowed on us to bring His light and joy to others. When we do this, we glorify Him. How we do this likely will change as we journey through the different stages and phases of our lives, but as the parable of the talents in the Gospels illustrates, we will be called to account for how we made use of what we were given (Matthew 25:14-30).

The cultivation and sharing of our talents can truly be a means to our own growth in sanctity and joy.

And “talents” can encompass an array of gifts. Certainly, things like artistic skills or athletic ability or eloquent writing or an aptitude for science and medicine or even impressive culinary skills. All of these things, undoubtedly, can be a conduit for the uplifting of others.

But less obvious qualities can also be a talent. The knack for making people laugh. A gift of being a good listener or being able to diffuse a tense situation and be a peacemaker. A compassion for others’ hardships and the willingness to offer quiet encouragement. The list could go on and on.

We all have multiple talents and characteristics, and they are meant to build up those around us, for we all bear God’s image.

In his Advent homily, Father also spoke about how each person’s talents are a different reflection of God.

That is a really cool idea to ponder.

Just think about it: artists, musicians, dancers can be a reflection of God’s beauty. Athletes can reflect His strength. A scientific or mathematical proclivity, His orderliness. That ready, listening ear, His love and gentleness. Of course, God is not just beautiful and strong. He is beauty. He is might and love. But His creation can and does mirror Who He is.

As a professional ballerina, I feel so grateful that it is built into my job to have the opportunity to touch people’s hearts and raise their spirits in both ticketed productions as well as outreach shows at elementary schools and assisted living facilities.

It makes what I do so much more meaningful and gratifying. Especially at this holiday and family-oriented time of year, it is a good reminder for me that I am a part of helping create special memories for children and adults alike, even as the weeks-long run of Nutcracker performances can sometimes be wearying.

As we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent and as we plot and scheme about tangible holiday presents, I hope I can remember the Little Drummer Boy and the surpassing value of those intangible gifts we all have to share, not only at this time of year but throughout our lives.

All, Culture/Life

In defense of thank you notes

Well, folks, the holidays are officially upon us! 😱

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and before we know it, Christmas and New Year will be here.

People are visiting one another, exchanging gifts, reminiscing about the past.

One sentiment that should be foremost this time of year is gratitude. Perhaps we have forgotten that Thanksgiving isn’t actually about eating gluttonous amounts of food but is a day to thank God and celebrate with loved ones the good things in our lives, which can include turkey and all the trimmings. 😉

Christmas is not about getting material goods but about remembering the gift of God’s Son to our world and in response giving to others.

However, gratitude is something we should practice all year long not just during the holidays.

One concrete way that we can express gratitude is through the increasingly endangered custom of hand-written thank you notes.

Letter-writing, in general, is a practice that I wish would revive.

If you Google “benefits of writing thank you notes,” a whole slew of articles will come up.

Here is my own contribution to the discussion about the value of letter-writing and thank you notes.

1.) Writing thank you notes is polite and considerate. Nowadays, it sometimes seems like what was once known as “common courtesy” is not so common any more. I don’t need to list the ways in which society today regularly divides and degrades people. Any little act of courtesy and thoughtfulness, like a thank you note or a “thinking of you” card, can be a light in the darkness.

2.) Thank you notes or hand-written cards and letters are more personal than typed emails or texts. A person’s hand-writing is unique. When you write something to someone, you are really giving a part of yourself to that person.

A text message or email could be typed by anyone. It all looks the same. It’s kind of ironic really. Out culture is constantly pushing individualism, yet our proliferation of and dependence on technology as the primary mode of communicating is obliterating one of the most individual things about a person, namely, his or her hand-writing, especially cursive.

One can also find several articles about the benefits of hand-writing through a simple Google search, just FYI.

This being said, if you want to thank someone immediately for a mailed present, etc., or to let someone know you received a gift, sending an email or text is a nice idea. You can always send a thank you note later.

3.) Writing a thank you note or other type of letter shows you truly care. Whether you’re thanking someone for a gift or a favor or for hosting you at his or her house for the weekend, it’s likely that person expended time, energy, and thought on your behalf.

The least we could do then is sacrifice a bit of our own time and energy to write a thank you note.

4.) Receiving mail is just plain fun! Don’t you like to receive a letter in the mail? Aren’t you grateful when someone takes the time to thank you or check in on you through good old-fashioned snail mail?Well then, you are not alone in this feeling. Share the joy with another person!

5.) Letters and notes can be a keepsake of the past. If you’re having a gloomy day, you can pull out an old note or letter and be rejuvenated by someone’s kind words.

Or think about how much information and insight we glean about history from reading the letters of people in various time periods.

A hundred years from now, it’ll be slim pickings for our descendants when it comes to letters informing them of our daily lives.

Instead, they’ll have to find old external hard drives and flash drives to read emails? That seems pretty sad.

In whatever form it takes, an in-person thank you, a phone call (which is also a decreasing practice due to texting), a text or email, gratitude is a virtue we all need to cultivate consciously. But making that extra effort to write a thank you note, undoubtedly, is a worthwhile endeavor.