This I Believe REVEALED Gallery

W-O-R-D-S by Frederic Reamer

Say the word slowly; it has a soft, soothing sound.  But a simple rearranging of one letter turns WORDS into SWORD, which sounds much sharper.  SWORD is an onomatopoeia: the use of a word that sounds like what it means.  

Most of the time, I love words.  I always have.  Sometimes I’ll pull out my thick dictionary and flip through it – usually while I’m eating a snack – and hunt for esoteric words.  I’m continually amazed and humbled by the number of words I don’t know.

What I’ve learned during my life is that words matter.  They really matter.  We use words to connect with one another, ideally in pleasant ways.  When life works well, we use words to make and keep friends, and to tell special people that we love them.  During a rough patch, we use words to try to work things out with people who matter to us.  Words communicate what we care about, what we feel, what we believe.  

I am awed by the power that words have to enrich my life and connect me with others.  Most of the time ordinary words – words that are “inside the box” – work just fine.  But there are those special, sometimes challenging times, when we have to think “outside the box” for the right words.

Sadly, words sometimes get twisted and are used to stab, like a verbal sword.  I’ve spent much of my adulthood working with prison inmates.  Too often I’ve seen (and heard) how vicious, stinging words can lead to murder, rape, and strangulation.

I love it when words inspire.  I spend lots of my time teaching.  I work hard to string words together to help my audience learn, to grasp the magic of good ideas, and to use these ideas to improve our world, one word at a time.

Some of my favorite words have no sound – they’re silent.  I roll them around in my mind when I’m feeling especially contemplative, like during a synagogue service or when I think about my children, or take a tranquil hike with my dear wife along the shore.  Sometimes I think these are the best words, the ones that no one else hears – except maybe God.

Your Mother by Janine Weisman

“Your mother!”

Many conversations with Larry started with those two words in the first year of our marriage when my in-laws were living right over our heads while their new home in Newport was being renovated.

Helen was the family matriarch. The woman whose two sons and their father looked to for approval. Her opinion, and you can count on it being a strong one, mattered to them. And it mattered a lot.

But Helen also raised her sons to be independent thinkers, confident, thoughtful and kind. Even though she drove me crazy about not getting pedicures after seeing a TV news report about foot diseases spread in beauty salons, even though she surely would have won a gold medal if worrying was an Olympic sport, I knew she must had done something right. Otherwise, the man I married wouldn't be the wonderful and loving man he was. 

"Your mother," I cried. “She dumped a whole bottle of Thousand Island dressing over the salad I spent an hour chopping this morning.” I can still see Helen at the end of the deck reaching for the salad and me failing to reach her in time. 

“NOOOOOO!” 

She looked back at me not comprehending my horror. “What? Was I not supposed to do that?” 

Your mother was not a good cook. Oh, she could cook anything, so long as she cooked it in the microwave. At least she had a sense of humor about it. "Look what I'm feeding your father," she giggled when Larry's dad was out of earshot.

She'd been the editor of her high school paper and was proud having a daughter-in-law who was a newspaper reporter. I thought she secretly wished she had my job. The phone would ring, "Janine, there are all these flashing lights down by First Beach. Something big is going on!" Something big could be nothing. But I knew she was always looking out for me. So it feels strange not having that extra pair of eyes around.

Once I resented her unsolicited opinions. Now Larry and I are renovating our house and I need to ask her for advice. Your mother told me first she'd been to the doctor because she was having trouble swallowing and didn't like the way he patted her arm when he ordered more tests. We were on the front porch on a Monday afternoon in September. "Stop worrying," I told her, "it's just acid reflux." But on a Wednesday night in February, the last person to hold her hand while her heart was still beating turned out to be me.

Your mother was astonishingly inept at tossing salads, and amazingly expert at working with building contractors. I believe your mother, like Naomi loved Ruth in the Hebrew bible, loved me like I was her own daughter.

Your mother.

Cold Front by Scott Turner

If a cold front ever ushered in the feeling of a fresh start, it was the one that pushed Hurricane Earl east overnight Sept. 4th.

Just after dawn, I walked with Woody, our dog, into a nippy, northwest wind that transported wet leaves down the street in our Providence neighborhood. 

There, we all met the day’s first rays of sunlight, which burned through low milky clouds that trailed the storm. 

Gone was the heat and humidity that had wrapped us like a lead blanket most of the summer. 

Cobwebs slipped from my brain, telling my limbs to “shake it loose.” So I stretched my arms skyward. 

What a cap to a wild week. School had begun for Karen, a first-grade teacher, for Rachel, now in eighth grade, and for Noah in fifth. At my job, I wrapped up a nine-month project. 

Then, our kitchen ceiling came down after leaky pipes under the second-floor bathroom weakened 4,000 pounds of material. 

For now, we will use the closet-sized bathroom and shower stall on the first floor. 

Anyway, having two bathrooms was a luxury. Heck, more than 40 percent of the world’s population lives without access to any toilet!

Back in the house, I opened every window downstairs. The cold front flushed the rooms with fresh air. 

My actions disturbed a Carolina wren outside. The bird shot out a Rose of Sharon and into a cavern of sticks in a backyard woodpile. 

When the wren popped back out, it hopped atop the pile, flicked its tail, spun around, chipped, squawked and jibber jabbered like a windup toy on caffeine.

Above the wren, a squirrel, with a mouth full of leaves, climbed up the maple tree. I figured the squirrel was on its way to fortify the family nest. Winter was coming, I remembered. 

Cool air levitated the curtains of every open window in our home. 

Inhaling this freshness expanded my lungs and my world. It suggested that our existence was about making our hearts and minds roomier for those we loved. 

The wren was like sugar in my coffee--adding sweetness to life.

After slogging through the sweltering past few months, I believe that the cold front was like the kind of do-over that we used to ask for as kids. I felt unharnessed, as if being given another chance to get things right. 

That night, Karen and I sipped honey vodka, a homemade gift from a friend. This syrupy, soul-warming drink was a real nectar of the Gods. 

The vodka sharpened our awareness and our joy. I also believe that it fueled the discussions we needed to have—about repairing our home and our lives in the coming weeks.

Jessica Regelson

The breaking of a dish once had the aura of tragedy for me, but growing up in a household of six children, toys got smashed and dishes were often broken. My mother’s reaction to a broken dish was to make light of the destruction, but I was haunted by every incident. That precious object would never be whole and perfect again, and there was nothing to be done about it, but to sweep up the shards and throw them away. When my grandmothers died, I received some of their china. Grandma’s pattern was “Martha Washington.” Nanny’s was called “Jenny Lind.” I loved using these dishes every day, loved the excuse to think of my grandmothers, but inevitably, sometimes a piece would break. I’d wash the shards and stick them on a shelf. I couldn’t throw them out. I thought to myself that someday I would make something out of them and restore them to usefulness. The pile grew bigger, and eventually I went to the library, got out some books on making mosaics, and made my first piece: a terra cotta flower pot covered with broken dishes, including a little “Martha Washington” and a little “Jenny Lind”. I went from making flower pots, to murals with kids, then commissions for private clients as well as my artwork, pieces that incorporate all manner of found and broken objects. People often leave me bags of shards to use in my projects. From Pat, I have dishes from her Aunt Kit. From Ivy, a set of plates that once belonged to her Grandma Rose. Carla gave me a hideous ceramic mermaid she’d received as a gift, in the hopes that I would break it and put it to good use. This mermaid’s left breast is now a part of the continent of Africa, in a mosaic of maps which I just completed at an elementary school in Providence. I now believe in the beauty to be found in the broken, the forgotten, and the useless things that most people throw away, or never even see. I walk with my eyes open. I pick up little doodads I find in my daily travels. A pretty rock, the earring left when its mate is lost, a wooden spool empty of thread. It’s a matter of appreciating the potential of that object to help me tell a story, and to whisper to the imaginations of others. The orphaned objects that find their way into my work are calling to the memories and associations of the viewer, evoking reactions that I cannot anticipate but hope will occur.  The broken pieces contain the story of what they once were part of. Now they are part of a new story.     
     Many things in this world are broken, or exist in a state of uselessness and neglect. I believe that when we’re able to see the beauty in the worn and torn in our lives, we can also see the possibility of transformation.  I believe that these broken pieces are in a moment of transition, waiting to be made into something marvelous.

Redemption by Wendy Lawton

The story starts with a mistake. We all make them:
Say things that are not true.
Take things that are not ours.
Ignore the warning label or the lump.
We love to find the short cut to the easy way out.
Me? Mistakes? Take your pick.

Here is one: I spend money I don’t have.

I have been making this particular mistake for some time, but it became clear one night not long ago when I sat down with homework from my financial planner: Go through your check book and catalogue three months of spending. All of it, every penny. 
And I did, yes, the bills and the groceries and the gas. But also the coffees, cute shoes, concert tickets, children’s books, children’s clothes, children’s birthday party gifts, work lunches, date dinners, Disney World. The poetry books. The beach house. The bottles of Prosecco. Carumba.

To see my mistake so clearly — right there in my own cramped hand — was painful. And humbling. But here’s the deal. I want a house, someplace modest and beautiful, for me and my daughter. I’ve had houses. And they ground me. Give me pride — and a place to plant my flowers and gather my friends. Houses, however, cost money. So, to get one, I will need to stop spending and start saving.

Can I do it? Yes. Because this is what I believe: I believe in redemption. 

Not the sinning kind. The hopeful, hardworking kind. The kind that requires an honest look at your mistakes, then a sincere effort at correcting them. It’s the Dickens kind of redemption. Every December, I haul out my video of “A Christmas Carol,” and cry and cheer as Ebenezer Scrooge sees the error of his ways and dances through London as he unburdens himself of his greed and his Grinchy old heart.

It doesn’t take much to see our collective Scrooge at work in this world, to see our collective mistakes. Pollution, corruption, oppression, recession. We can’t seem to kill our oil wells, but we are killing as many as 140,000 species a year. We are changing the weather.

But I look around, here in my city of Providence, and I see redemption. My daughter’s school has a new playground. Mills host farmer’s markets. Artists build offices. A grand Art Deco fountain, dry for 28 years, will flow again this fall. On Hope Street, of course.

I believe that if you want a new and better life, if you want a new and better world, you have to be a new and better person. Me, I’ve got a new wallet. Inside, only cash. Outside, it’s bedecked with butterflies — those fragile, improbably beautiful reminders of redemption. 
You may listen to her reading this essay at WRNI - http://bit.ly/dIkwY3

Fall Apples by Henri Flikier

I do not like September, and the abrupt end of summer; as I lament the shorter days and colder nights; the garden and the Red Sox wilt away. September…Time to put the kayak and beach umbrella away; time for school to start, with multiple trips to Staples, overscheduled extracurricular activities, meetings and commitments. At home; arguments over homework, bedtime and a messy bathroom resume. By September’s end, the fatigue of early seasonal affective disorder engulfs me. Just when I feel it may last until the first crocuses; something magical happens to rescue me… the arrival of the first Macoun apples. Macoun can be pronounced McCowan but I prefer the French sounding Macoon. Every year, during the last week of September, I take my first bite of this crisp, aromatic, juicy, tart yet sweet apple. I am mindful of its snow white flesh and its vermillion skin as each bite brings a new taste sensation such as a hint of berry. A Macoun is not God’s creation but was developed in Geneva, New York, by a Canadian grower named W.T Macoun, in 1923. Nevertheless, my first bite of this succulent creation is a near spiritual experience.  It is wonderful all by itself but divine with cheese, sourdough bread and red wine. A Macoun is the extraordinary result of combining two good but not exceptional apples; the McIntosh and the JerseyBlack. Like perfect babies of flawed, average and aging parents; One plus One is better than Two.
 And then it’s….October. Fall is not so bad after all. The sky is a brilliant blue during the day and full of stars at night. New England foliage is one of the world’s true wonders and sometimes the Sox even win the World Series! The Macoun season is short and in a few weeks, this once remarkable fruit loses its crispness and sweetness. Year after year I go through the same internal process. The arrival of the Macoun apple reminds me that there is good even in what I perceive as negative and that one has to  find and hold on to the good even in bad times. This I believe. In my work as a psychotherapist, I try to do that with clients I may find challenging or unmotivated. If I can find the good and hold on, it will work out. I believe that the purpose of the Macoun is to remind me of the miracle of seasons and to be grateful for it. Like in the biblical text dating back to King Solomon, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” I will bite (a Macoun) to that!

I believe that I cannot complain by Sonn Sam

His name was Samdang; he was my brother.  He died of starvation a little before his second birthday.  I never met Samdang, but he’s probably the person who has most impacted my life. My mother followed the tradition of strict discipline found in most Cambodian households; In addition she shared stories of the horrific struggles she and my father endured to make it to America as she taught me right from wrong.  My parents are survivors of one the most gruesome genocides known to man. Approximately two million people were brutally murdered in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, a communist regime led by Pol Pot. Once Pot was in power, my parents and Samdang, like all of the other citizens, were forced into a life of slavery.  

They were sent to labor camps and their sole purpose was to harvest rice that fed the Pol Pot regime.   My parents were led to work at sun-up and each day my brother was given to soldiers of the camp.   My mother told me how she cried every waking moment, not from working like a mule in the rice fields, being whipped and/or beaten for resting because of exhaustion, or being fed one spoon of rice a day, but from the fear that she might not see her child alive when she returned to the camp. My mother spoke of how Samdang was an energetic and playful child, always smiling, even in the midst of the tragedy that unfolded. However, as time passed his playfulness dissipated because he just didn’t have the energy.  One spoonful of rice does not provide nearly enough nutrition for a developing infant.  Samdang grew weaker and weaker. One story in particular resonates with me.  One day while working in the rice fields, my father caught a baby crab and immediately tucked it into the inner lining of his uniform pants. While secretly creeping by a camp bon fire he threw the crab in, and came back for it a few minutes later.  He then gave the crab to Samdang.  Its shell was burnt to a crisp but the meat was somewhat cooked enough to eat.  My mother explained how indescribably painful it was for them to see their weak child slowly eat while they too were starving.  Shortly after, Samdang died in my mother’s arms.  


Stories like Samdang’s have shaped my core beliefs about life. Through these stories I believe that life is about sacrifice, courage, and love.   I believe that I have absolutely nothing to complain about and everything to appreciate.  I cannot complain because complaining only focuses on the negative, and my parents taught me that their survival depended on their optimism and the fierce fighting spirit of love for their family. I believe that I cannot complain because I’ve learned that the true measure of human worthiness is not what we gain, but in the sacrifices we are willing to make for others.

And most importantly, I believe that I cannot and will never complain or take anything in my life for granted because until his last moment, my brother never did.

Attitude will take you far by Lauren Birnie

I was ten years old and the hospital lights seemed dimmer than the day before. The air was damp and my chest felt heavy. My hands were clammy but my left hand was gripping my grandmother’s right hand. As I waited for the ICU doors to open, my heart began to palpitate. When those doors opened, my worst nightmare would unfold before my eyes. 

Just days after I had received the news of a new baby sibling, I received the worst news of my life: that my mother was going to die because during the C-Section the doctor had nicked her colon. My mother’s doctors gave her a death sentence, which she accepted. 
My whole world collapsed and I was plagued with questions. How could Dad do my hair in the morning before school, or make my sandwiches the way Mom did?  Who would take me prom dress shopping? And how would I know how to deal with heartache? After days of questioning I made a plan. I wouldn’t give Mom a choice. The next time I saw her, I would tell her the same thing that she had always told me:. ‘Attitude will take you far.’

I heard this phrase ad nauseam throughout my childhood; usually I rolled my eyes. I complained about a social studies assignment and instantly heard this infamous line from my mother. I complained about the god awful soggy pizza at the cafeteria on Fridays, which triggered the annoying phrase. I couldn’t complain about anything without hearing this bit about attitude. As I marched up to my room to do homework I often wondered how my attitude would help fix any of these problems.   

I went into that hospital room and told my mother that she didn’t have a choice, that she had to live. She explained all of the medical jargon to me, clarifying that she had less than a one percent chance of living . Through sobs and screams I yelled “Attitude will take you far, Mom. Change your attitude!” For months she endured painful surgeries and treatments. Then she returned home, alive and somewhat healthy. She was a walking and living miracle. To this day, she claims that one of the reasons she lived was because she changed her attitude. She went from hopeless and pessimistic to optimistic and buoyant.  


The truth is, I’ll never know whether my Mom’s attitude change is entirely what saved her.  But this I believe:  There are some things in life you can’t change, and that is unfortunate. The good news is that you can change the way that you think about it.  This is what my Mom taught me, and I use it every day.

Telling by Kathi Kolb


I believe that real breast cancer awareness doesn’t come from a color or a month. When you have breast cancer, real awareness is about learning how to simply keep going.
I found out I had breast cancer just over a year ago, over the phone. I’d had a biopsy three days earlier and was due to see my doctor in a few days for the results. Instead, I came home from work to find a message from the hospital, telling me I was scheduled for an MRI. When I called back, I asked the scheduler why I was scheduled for an MRI. “Because your doctor ordered it,” she told me. Puzzled, I called my doctor.
“Why am I having an MRI?” I asked.
There was a pause. “I’m sorry, Kathi. This is not how I wanted you to find out. Your breast biopsy was positive.”
I hung up, numb. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or even think about this impossible, unbelievable news. Instead, I knew I had to do the exact opposite, starting with my best friends. When I called the first one and told her, we were both too stunned to cry. “Why you?” she demanded. “I don’t know,” I said. I called another friend. And another.The next day, I went to work and told my boss and every colleague I could find. I didn’t care if it made anyone uncomfortable. In fact, I wanted it to be uncomfortable. I wanted each person to think, “If she could get it, then so could I.” If just
one woman went out and got a mammogram after she heard my news, then it was worth telling everyone I knew.
And what I discovered was that telling people was a powerful way to fight back.Their astonishment on my behalf gave me heart. So, I kept talking. I joined an online network for women with breast cancer. I added a page to my website.I drew cartoons about surgery and radiation and breast prosthetics. I took photographs, silly self portraits, with me dressed up like a bad fashion model who just happened to be lopsided.I started a blog called the Accidental Amazon. And I discovered that you can actually laugh at breast cancer, and that when you do, you cut this huge, relentless, terrifying stalker of a disease right down to size.
I believe that real breast cancer awareness is not about pink merchandise or even fund-raising. It’s about ordinary women, like me, talking to each other about what we’ve learned and what’s really important. That’s how I keep going, how I’ve come to realize that I had breast cancer, but it didn’t have me.

Repair by Barbara Schweitzer


I believe in repair.  Not just because my husband and I live in an old house in northern RI and drive cars with over 100 thousand miles each.  Or because I hang onto to my cell phone so long the manufacturer no longer makes parts for it.  

In this world where things are replaced long before they need repair, I realize repair seems old-fashioned like darning socks or resoling shoes.  But I believe it’s what we were born to do.

When my daughter was two years old, she became distraught the first time she saw a crescent moon, gesturing to the night sky, crying  “it’s broken, it’s broken,” as if her own heart were broken.  

Under less dire circumstances, she also showed us how lower case “r’s” are broken “h’s,” and that instead of Cyclops, we should name one-eyed monsters Clop’s Eye since that’s what the monsters are all about.  

The point is children know broken things when they see and hear them.

I believe that’s because repair is our first act of life.  When we feel the cold air surround us at birth, we cry.  We cry and we cry, and we keep on crying until the distance between us and another human being we absolutely need is repaired.  

We are made up of two genetic strands.  So it makes sense that we need to live like a pair of socks all our lives.  Not quite right unless we’re matched up with other human beings.  Re-PAIRED, just as the word says:  rejoined separate things.  

Solitary confinement is a cruel punishment.  Shunning kills people.  Isolation makes us feel crazy.  

And we’re not the only ones on earth who do this kind of repairing.  Bees do it in intricate dances, birds by singing, dogs by barking – all manners of speech and sound and acts are on our tool-belts so that we can connect with one another.

We humans complicate things, of course.  We invent machines.  So most of the time, we don’t notice what we’re really doing when we text, Instant Message, Twitter or call one another.  We just know we have to keep doing it.  Now we worry about being too “intexticated” to drive.  So intoxicated on our tools we forget what we’re doing.  

That it’s all about making relationships.   Connecting.  And it doesn’t have to be complicated.  Even chatting about the weather in the grocery store line is a way we repair distance between us.  Saying good morning.   Happy Birthday.  Welcome to your new home.  

Disagreeing is a way of re-pairing, even when we feel mismatched. 

Repair is really just another word for love.  And, I believe, to paraphrase the Beatles, all we need is repair.  Repair is all we need.

Creative Kids by R. James Stahl

The week of my Bar Mitzvah, a bomb-making prank (my idea) took my left eye.  Until that moment, I was seeing the world as a typical 13-year-old boy sees it.  Then, a second later, I wasn’t.  The required soul-searching over what to place in Scott’s box revealed that what I believe, and the career I made of it, very likely began in that moment.

I published writers, some of them famous now, when they still had curfews. They would mail me their folded thoughts about growing up, the trials of school, the death of a pet, the birth of a little brother.  Most submissions I had to reject, but published or not each one received a personal response from my talented staff or from me. From our little Main Street office in East Greenwich, we published the best submissions in a magazine that we shipped all across the world. My experience taught me to believe in the practical value of listening to young people’s thinking.

Publishing young writers sent a message of hope to creative kids who felt their talents were trivial or unwanted. Their creativity mattered to me. Even the briefest submissions could floor me.  One 8th grader, for instance, wrote a poem called “Religion.”  “On the sixth day,” it said, “He got up/and sprayed people /from an aerosol can /and then /God threw away /the exhausted container.” 

Such provocation -- in seven lines! Is creating humanity as casual as spraying air freshener in a guest room? Or does that “exhausted container” mean that the creative act fatigues even all-powerful God?  Is God still omnipotent if he or she suffers fatigue?  In hundreds of classrooms that read this poem, discussions took off -- all of them launched by the words of one creative teen!

Publishing kids, I saw that the brightest ones teach their peers and their teachers. That’s why I believe in urging more teen involvement in our civic and volunteer organizations, in our schools, places of worship, and government.  We need the brightest ideas from kids, their originality, their view of the world, and their view of us -- the adults in charge.

Creative teens have already shaped our culture. Writers who helped define the American character -- Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes among them – were publishing as teens. A young Mozart composed melodies we still hum. When Frankenstein took his first arthritic step into our imaginations, how old was his creator, Mary Shelley?  About 16. 

So how much higher could America fly if input from creative kids was built into the plan?  I believe much higher.  

Maybe schools can take the first step. They can become places where innovative, creative kids feel as safe, as wanted and celebrated as their home-run hitting, touchdown-scoring peers in athletics. Rhode Island schools could lead the way. Others may follow.


I believe in getting creative kids to the table now to solve our biggest problems. We can use the help!

September by Liz Doucette

“September is the best month in Newport.”  Many who live here agree.
  
That’s not to say we don’t love July and August — summer!! — in all its crowded, event-filled glory.  Of course we love summer.  And we love our visitors, each and every one, traffic included.  Okay, I’m exaggerating (and I can’t speak for anyone but myself).  Let’s just say Newport relies on summer. Newport works hard in summer.  Busy is good.

Then, ahhhh, September.  It’s still summer, weather-wise.  The water is warm for swimming.  It’s clear and breezy for sailing.  Fish are biting.  I might even find a parking space.

Doesn’t everyone, everywhere, love September?  Except perhaps the kids heading back to school? Something ends, but something else begins.  Don’t we all, at every age, regard September as time to get back to … something? 

This year, my husband and I sent our younger child to college.  We’ve just joined that very lonely-sounding demographic:  Empty Nesters.  But it’s not so empty.  Sure, we miss the kids, but they’re doing fine — thank goodness — and there are definite upsides.  We’re managing two schedules, not four; so there’s more time to do what we want.

More time means more bike rides.  And September afternoons, whose warm orange light lingers ‘til 7pm, are ideal.  My husband and I go in different directions, as we go at different paces, then meet back home for dinner.  Around Ocean Drive is my usual route:  bumpy in spots, but less traffic in September. 

So, one afternoon verging on evening a few weeks back, I rode my bike out that way, and when I got to Brenton Point, it was just so darn beautiful that I stopped, parked my bike, wandered out onto the stone jetty, and watched: water, a few boats, imminent sunset. 

As I turned to go, a couple approached over the rocks, slippery in spots.  And I heard myself say, like the mother I’ll always be:  “Be careful.”   Glancing back as I hopped on my bike — to make sure they were safe, I suppose — I saw that each of them was scattering a gray cloud of ashes into the rolling waves, one on either side of the jetty.  In tears suddenly, I pedaled on. 

I believe in September, with all its beginnings and endings.   Beautiful but sad.  Clear air and clarity.  I often make resolutions in September, as if it were the New Year.  It is the New Year, in many respects.  This year I will … what will I do??

I realize, of course, that September lies behind us, and it’s October now.  October’s a great month, too. Newport’s great straight through Christmas.  But in January, that other New Year?  Plenty of parking spaces.

Architecture by Ross Cann

Winston Churchill once stated “We shape our buildings, but thereafter they shape us.” To me, he was saying that although buildings are creations of their times and places, Architecture is an art that inspires the soul.  I am thrilled to be part of a species that can take metal, concrete and stone and turn it into things of beauty like the Eifel Tower or the Sydney Opera House.

But one need not cross oceans to see great buildings.  Here in Rhode Island we are surrounded by great architecture… and no place more so than in Newport.   I first discovered Newport because I decided to take a history of architecture class in college taught by a professor named Vincent Scully.  Decades earlier he had co-written The Architectural Heritage of Newport Rhode Island and, naturally his course was filled with images of great Newport buildings like the Redwood Library, the Griswold House and the Newport Casino. These were designed by men like Peter Harrison, Richard Morris Hunt and Stanford White-- names I had never heard before back then… but architects who are giants to me now.  

When I first came to visit Newport, I was amazed to find so many old buildings still existing. Most other places have not been so lucky.  Most cities were either too rich to keep old structures… or too poor to save them.  Newport, by luck or by fate, fell in between these extremes and is often called the “Last Wood City.”   When I had the opportunity to move to Newport to practice architecture, I seized on the chance.

Working as an architect in Newport has been like being a painting curator at a great museum:… you get to study important works by some of the most important artists of the medium that you love… and sometimes you even get to work on those buildings themselves.   One undertakes the task with reverence, because Architecture is important-- not just because it is the fabric of our communities or because it provides the physical clues to other times and peoples.   It is important because Architecture is the art that we will all leave behind to show that we were here … and to tell future generations what our priorities, aspirations and beliefs were—not just in words, but in brick and stone,  in steel and glass,  in solar panels and geothermal heat pumps.  Here in Newport, architects try to write the story of our culture every day, but we try to be careful not to drown out or destroy the stories told by older Newport buildings. This reverence for the stories that building can tell (both in the past and in the future) is why I believe so deeply in Architecture.

Nature by Cara Murray

I talk unabashedly to other living things, flora and fauna alike, although they don’t speak English per se or respond in any observable form.  I encourage my plants to grow (“You’re such good growers!”); I greet the goats at the end of my street (“Good morning!“ I say.); I tell my housemate’s guinea pig to “keep on truckin’.”  I’d do well on a farm, I imagine—in a community of ramblers, all babbling different languages, each baffling and arcane.  I’d fit right in.   But I don’t use this chatter in a flippant way, not with careless or cute intentions.  I see this method of engaging with the world as a means of acknowledgment, of bewilderment, of praise.  It’s acceptable to talk to your cat, your dog, your cockatoo.  Why not talk to everything?
To ensure environmentally sensitive expeditions in Antarctica, the guidelines adopted by members of its International Association of Tour Operators include specific directions about the wildlife: “never touch the animals; maintain a distance; do not position yourself between a marine mammal and its path.”  I follow these directions at home in Narragansett, Rhode Island, this laissez-faire naturalists’ doctrine.  When I meet a caterpillar halfway up a hill off Route 1A, nearly exposed to the next turn of tires, I offer politely, “you’re almost there, little fellow!  I think you’d better get a move on!”  Then I continue my way.  Once I met a wild turkey while I was out walking and was struck by the admonition, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  Well, certainly I didn’t kill him, but gosh, I must admit, I said hello.  Some days I apologize aloud for everything…for human occupancy of the planet, our generally clumsy and self-serving way of doing things.
I’m sure this mumbling seems anti-social from afar, or perhaps it’s strangest up close—somewhere between atypical and alarmingly odd—or maybe it’s commonplace.  You tell me.  I’ve witnessed a box turtle loafing toward traffic and dropped a soft hint, while it maneuvered elephantine feet through the leaves.  “The woods are right there,” I whispered.  “The other way, near the brook.  Listen!”
I believe that speaking to the natural world, in my native tongue, uncensored, creates an energetic message that is tangible and understood.  Sometimes I think an unspoken phrase is as communicative as the spoken word, like focused meditation or silent prayer, but mostly I think words need execution.  I know that in adulthood we should distinguish effectively between the seen and the unseen, the imagined and the real.  I know I don’t have evidence that my gibberish is well-received or useful.  However, I know also that the Persian poet Rumi wrote, “there are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground”—so let this be one.

Mother’s Face by Nicole Purcell

I believe that living can’t be about the easy things.  And I believe in my mother’s face.
 
I remember my mother’s face the day I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1982.  Confronted with the news that one of her children would encounter life-changing challenges, daily bloodsugar checks and insulin injections, and the prospect of deadly complications, my mother’s tear-streaked face told me everything. 
 
Her blue eyes, determined and bold said, “We’re going to meet this thing – head on.” 
 
Her mouth, usually smiling, tightened – her jaw, usually relaxed, set itself hard, and said, “You will be OK.  We will be OK. “
 
Her tears, though she tried to hide them – said, “This isn’t fair.” 
 
My mother’s face told me these things on that June day, in the office of our pediatrician.  There were words “needles every day, finger sticks five times daily, restricted sugar.”  I listened intently, but what I heard loud and clear was the beautiful, unspoken, language of my mother’s lovely face.
 
Many times in the past 27 years, I’ve seen that face.  I saw angry lines when I was thirteen and a doctor told me that most diabetics don’t live past 30 without serious complications.  I saw the easy smile that conveyed my mother’s pride as I graduated high school, then college, as I advanced in my career, as I defied those odds – making it past my 30th birthday without even a whisper of a complication.  I saw the frustrated frown when I fought daily injections as an eight year old, refused to pay much attention to my disease as a teenager, and stubbornly went to work sick as an adult. 
 
Those faces taught me, and my mother’s patient, easy guidance taught me.
 
I learned that life isn’t about how we react or behave when things are going well.  I learned that life is not about the easy things.  I learned that life is about how we confront our greatest challenges – whether they’re physical, mental, or emotional.  I learned that life is about the strength we reap, the lessons we learn, the compassion we gain, the love we show - when things are just plain hard.  
 
Today, I see my mother’s face - in my own mirror.  And I see that she’s given me my life’s greatest gift.  The ability to see challenges as opportunities.  The ability to understand others’ trials and to lend a hand when I can.  The ability to move forward, to step past the pits of self-pity and into the land of true strength.  And the ability to communicate, with a look, the love I have to share.
 
I believe that life can’t be about the easy things.  And I believe, always, in my mother’s face.

PLAY by Samuel White

I believe in the power of play. You wouldn’t know this just to look at me. I'm a pretty serious person.  Most of the time I wear a serious expression and have a serious outlook on the serious problems that face the world. The truth is, I haven't always thought of myself this way. I once went on a date with a woman who, when she came to my apartment and surveyed my possessions, remarked, “I think you're the most serious person I've ever met.” At first I thought she was joking, but then took it all quite seriously. Some years ago I moved from New York to an artist community in Rhode Island because I had long wanted to live among other artists and thought it was time to do it seriously.  To support myself, I took a serious job and worked in a serious office during the day. But years earlier, while in school in the Midwest, I met a guy who later became my best friend, and even later became a minister in Tennessee.  He rode a bus from Iowa City to San Francisco dressed head to toe in a hand-made rabbit costume. He did it to impress a girl. It was an outrageous stunt, spontaneous, public, and weirdly disarming. I realized then how important this kind of play is to my life. After settling in Providence, I started a summer event called Woolly Fair in the same spirit that moved my friend to board that bus as a rabbit. At first it was a variety show with musicians, poets, and actors taking the stage to perform for an audience, but soon the event evolved to incorporate fake nations competing in fake sporting events – Tricycle races, The Bad Date Obstacle Couse. People began showing up as outrageously costumed characters.  One year we had a man who had never cut hair arrive as a barber, set up an old-fashioned barbershop, and give deranged haircuts all night. A talented seamstress I know reinvented herself as a kissing booth operator with a heavy Long Island accent. Quickly the event became a stage with people in attendance becoming actors in the show. I believe that if people are allowed to invent something out of themselves, for an occasion such as Woolly Fair where there is nothing at stake other than people at play, then new bonds are formed, the divisions that separate people are demolished, and the self expands. I believe this kind of play reinvigorates the human spirit, especially when times are tough. I’d go so far as to say that this kind of play is a vital form of citizenship in a world that shouldn't take itself too seriously.

Resilience by Jennifer Reis

When my son was just 10 days old, my marriage fell apart.  For months, as my ankles swelled and my belly protruded, I suspected there was someone else.  That fateful day, holding this tiny infant in my arms, I had proof of my husband’s infidelity.  What followed was a year of pain so intense I could barely breathe.  Fraught with bouts of depression, insecurity and doubts, I lost an enormous amount of weight, chunks of hair from my head and any faith in love.  All the while my child was learning to crawl, walk and talk.  True joy interlaced with true despair.  

 Although we tried to mend what little was left, his heart was with her and we decided to divorce.  Never again could I check off the single or married box: I would forever check divorced.  I had lived with this false sense of security that if I did everything right, then I would be exempt from the drama I thought only happened to others. 

So began a new chapter in my life.  I moved back to my home state of Rhode Island after 11 years in Colorado.  Starting anew was terrifying.  Every decision, made alone.  Childhood friends now lived in different states.  I was discouraged, adrift.  Then one day, I sat in my car and wept: a cry so deep, so intense that I wondered if the tears would ever stop.  From that same deep, once desolate place, I made a choice: to learn from the experience, to grow and live my life in the most positive way I could.  The old adage became true, that everything happens for a reason.  This was mine: to become the person I want to be, to live in the way that is true for me.  While the past year, I had fretted over the dream that could have been, I now was choosing to imagine the life that would be.  I found a job, a place to live and set off on this path, to search for meaning in my life and peace in my heart.

I believe in the human spirit; that will to endure and heal.  We are all faced with circumstances that can seem insurmountable. But, we heal.   It’s not about what happens to us; we all have a story, it’s about what we do with it.  I’m not saying this is easy.  It takes incredible patience, compassion for self and support from loved ones.  But we all keep going on.  Life for me, now, is good.  My son is thriving, I continue on my path.  And, I have fallen in love.  I am taking the risk, knowing that I can handle whatever comes my way.

Squeeze by Kenneth Chabert

I believe that your personal history shapes you for the moment, but you ultimately decide who and what you will become.

Hold my breath, close and open my eyes, tighten that grip, and squeeze. This was the first time I shot a gun. My heart was pounding, my body drenched in sweat, my hands trembling from the pressure of the gun blast. This was the trajectory of my life before I realized there were other ideas, goals, people to meet, and ways of life. Growing up in the inner city of the Bronx, NY is the toughest situation I've had to endure. Many days I was paranoid about last night’s shooting.  I would step outside, my heart pounding. I take deep breaths while I walk to the train station. But right before I cross the street, I see gang members throwing up gang signs. My mother yells from the sixth floor window, “Kenneth you forgot your bus passes.”

In those days, every trip to school was a challenge, because I wore a uniform and embraced school. Part of me knew that the acceptance from my neighborhood is more important than the acceptance of teachers and serious students in my school, because they cannot help me survive in my environment. But I also knew I’m very knowledge driven, because I want to be successful when I grow up. My teachers always said, “You’re going to go far,” and “there is something special about you.” Yet every time I was told this, their words were drowned out by the overwhelming problems and dangers in my neighborhood. Straight A’s don’t matter out here; toughness is what matters out here. The neighborhood voices used to taunt me: "You're going to school?!  Boring!" I always felt like I’m too tough for the nerds, and I am too smart for the gangsters.

I now believe that we ultimately control our fate in life, that our personal history shapes us for the moment, but we ultimately decide who and what we will become.

Nobody can stop me from becoming what I want to become, and I've refused to let my environment or anyone stop me from being “great.” Along the way I've learned to use my past and my environment as an advantage in my academic world as a student at Providence College; I've learned to embrace my unique circumstances, and use them to propel me forward. But strangely, no matter how much success I achieve, I know that it all started from my life on the streets in the Bronx. And in my world at Providence College, often it feels like the trauma starts all over again.  The first time I took an exam, I relived that moment on the streets: Take a deep breath, close and open your eyes, tighten that grip, and squeeze.

BALANCE by Amelia Allard - 

The summer I was twenty-three, I went mad.

It was like something out of a textbook. I didn't need to eat or sleep. I didn't need to stop moving. I didn't need to stop talking. I ate nothing but spoonfuls of peanut butter and the occasional apple. I drank nothing but whiskey and hangover-soothing chocolate shakes. I lost thirty pounds in six weeks. I was incredibly productive, turning out story after story, essays, letters and poems. I read dozens of books and dissected them with whoever would listen, however begrudgingly. I spent money like it came pouring from the faucet and I entangled myself in an ill-advised love affair. I was brilliant and talented and vivacious. In my occasional moments of clarity I recognized that something was gravely wrong with me, but those moments were so fleeting and I felt so good, so great, so infallible that it was simple to convince myself that I'd been wrong.  

In short: I fell, like Alice down the rabbit-hole, into a manic episode.

I was a melancholy adolescent, a difficult teen; in college, I struggled with depression, I drank to excess, missed classes, slept for days. But there were hints of what was to come: an impulsive proposal, for example, to someone I'd known a few weeks; midnight trips to the grocery store, returning home with bags and bags of food the dining hall would've gladly provided; incredibly ambitious course selections that inevitably ended in C-minuses or dropped classes.

One day in late fall I woke up and realized what damage I'd done to my life. By the following summer, I had a support system, a treatment plan, and, finally, a clear view of life after madness.

It took a long time to learn to live again. To find a way to be happy without mania, to be sad without depression. To be my best self. To be sane.

I believe in balance. In saying no when I need to, yes when I want to, and maybe, too. In sleeping when I am tired, in eating when I am hungry, in moving even when I'd rather not. In working hard and playing hard; in talking things out and thinking things through. In solitude without loneliness; in togetherness without overwhelm. In holding on to the good and letting go of the bad. In consciously, constantly maintaining my balance.

Like Alice, I have been too-large and too-small. I have been to Wonderland; I have nearly lost my head. And like Alice, I have made it back.  

And I am stronger and smarter and better for the journey.

Kindness by BIll MIles

People call it a funny hat. But I take no offense. Because wearing it has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. When I sport the droopy, round brim, brown leather head piece with chin strap, strangers give me a second look. Most people assume my head cover came from Australia. Perhaps a mutant cousin of the outback hat — you know, what Crocodile Dundee sports over his chiseled visage?

In fact I bought it in Puerto Rico from the hat maker himself. From professors to ghetto kids, pan handlers to train conductors, absolute strangers, people with whom I normally wouldn't converse would speak to me, thanks to the hat. Some would even call me by name because I had inked it and my phone number on the inside brim.

Even I felt compelled to call Nestor in Puerto Rico to convey, through translator, the impact his hat has had on my social life. A college president once told me I was “courageous” for wearing the floppy head piece. Courageous, I wonder? In the Middle East I have experienced incoming rockets and in Oceania I communed with former cannibals. And for wearing a hat, I'm courageous? Kinda makes you think...

Then disaster struck. This summer in France, I respectfully doffed my hat while visiting a cathedral. Someone — during a wedding no less — made off with it. Frantic, I searched everywhere — the pews inside, garbage bins outside. For the first time ever I even entered a confessional. For that's where I'd seen kids from the wedding party fooling around. But no funny hat. For days I fell into a bare-headed funk. And then, not long before flying back from Marseilles to Boston, my daughter Arielle called from home. "Dad," she said groggy because it was 4 am in America, "some lady just called from France. About your hat. Did you lose it or something?"

Turns out that the daughter-in-law of this woman was on the tour of the cathedral just when I was there. She saw the hat on a bench, thought it belonged to someone in her group, and took it for safe keeping. Six weeks later the hat appeared at my door in a shoe box enveloped in stamps — twenty-four dollars worth, give or take a centime. 

I believe, from my mad cap encounters, that you can be distinctive without being provocative, attractive without being fashionable, appealing without being handsome or beautiful. But more important, I believe that the world is filled with compassionate strangers, folks who will go out of their way to remedy the loss, however trivial in the grand scheme of things, of the quirky belongings of people whom they will never lay eyes on. Even a humble hat, I believe, can provide reason for trust in humanity.

I Believe in Art Saints by Ana Flores

I know people who’ll make courageous innovative efforts to have art in their lives. They’ll eat peanut butter for a year in order to pay off an artist month by month for a piece they’ve bought. They believe art is necessary food for their soul. As an artist, I love these kind of people, I call them art saints and this year I’ve been lucky enough to have a few in my life. Andrew, a new friend, called last summer six weeks before his second marriage to speak to my husband and me. “Friends keep asking us about a wedding registry and Megan and I’ve decided we don’t need another blender so we’d like to list your web sites as our registry. With the funds collected we’ll commission a work by each of you. What do you think?” I paused, stunned. “We’d love to create pieces for your new home and what a great idea- registering with artists instead of pottery barn!” Over the next three months fourteen friends registered and a “village” of patrons blossomed ea- ger to see the work we’d make for the unique spaces that he and Megan had designed together.

Luli is another saint. “I’d rather invest in something I love rather than the stock market,”she told me as we sat in her terraced garden. She’d spent a decade transforming this overgrown hillside along the Hudson River. “I want to see one of your pieces there”. She pointed to a space be- tween two trees. “The cost of bronze is like gold these days.” I warned. She was unfazed, excited instead by the prospect of watching the sculpture grow. Unfortunately there’s not enough saints to go around for so many artists, but an art collecting idea I learned about when we lived in New Zealand might offer a template for collecting on tight budgets. While there I met the Stitchbury club, fifteen women from Auckland whose focus was contemporary three dimensional work ranging from jewelry to outdoor sculpture. Each contributed a set amount annually to their art bank. Every month - like a book group–they gathered to learn and talk. Twice a year they traveled directly to selected artists studios then voted on works to purchase. 

“This year we bought one big outdoor sculpture, moving it from site to site has been a grunt. But the more challenging the piece the more we seem to love it,” one of the member’s told me with a big smile. And I sensed they were loving everything they were doing: their camaraderie, artists friendships, and last but not least – living with the art as it rotated through their homes.

I believe there are many innovative models for commissioning and collecting art just waiting to be planted so they can blossom, grow and feed our souls. What’s yours?

ALL THE WAY FULL  by Rebekah Ham

I knew. I knew as soon as the ER doctor pulled us to a back office that the news would be bad. 

“Your daughter has a brain tumor.”

The airlessness of that moment haunts me still.

I didn’t immediately understand this meant cancer. Our daughter Grace, our red headed, cowgirl boot wearing powerhouse, had cancer. Grace, who was born just 5 years earlier at 2 lbs and had already fought her share of health battles, had cancer.

We poured ourselves into Grace’s survival. Steroids, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, more chemotherapy, needle stick after needle stick, and prescriptions too numerous to list... all when she should have been in kindergarten.

We distracted ourselves from the fear and loneliness of cancer any way we could; I’m now quite accomplished at making Udderheads out of hospital gloves and singing for smiles: “You Say Goodbye, and I Say Commode.”

Grace understands optimism; she knows what it takes to be glass half full. “If I never had cancer,” she would say, “I would never have met Dr. Harrison or Phlebotomist Debbie!”

During one inpatient stay, Grace said, “Mommy, you’re not just half full. You’re ALL the way full.”  So… all the way full I will be . . . for Grace, for her sister Fiona, for their father, for our family.  I believe in all the way full.

This September, Grace will be 3 years from diagnosis. She battles numerous side effects from treatment, but her MRIs have been clear. She is one of the lucky ones.

This September I will join with The St. Baldrick's Foundation and 45 other cancer moms from around the country to shave our heads on a national stage. We 46 Mommas hope to raise awareness and fund a cure for pediatric cancer.

Extreme? Sort of. But everything about our lives became extreme on that night in the ER. I prefer to call it: All the way full.

While I have yet to meet the other mommas, I know their stories. Some, like me, have children out of treatment, some still in. And some, like Amy, Heide, Shannon, and Mimi, have children who have died.

Children are not supposed to die from cancer. Children are supposed to skin their knees and swim in the ocean, blow out birthday candles and play dress up as practice for when they will one day graduate, carry a briefcase, dance Swan Lake, or have babies of their own. Children are supposed to grow up.

Will shaving my head with these brave women find a cure? Someday. 
The longest journey begins with a single step … or, in this case, 46. 

Will Grace beat cancer? Yes. I believe she will.

Why? Because I am ALL the way full, and because . . . what other choice do I have?

Parents Know by Lucy Friedmann

“Daddy, my tummy hurts.” There he lay with his head under the pillow and not a care in the world. And there I was, barely five years old, with my flannel nightgown all in a bunch for I was clutching my bare, aching stomach with all my might.

“Daddy, my tummy hurts!” I screamed, which awoke him, startled and dazed.

 “Oh, well how ‘bout you go to the bathroom,” he said. 

I believe in listening to your parents. I cannot believe I’m actually admitting it, but I know its true. Almost every kid in the world tries to defy their parents and not take their advice. I’m one of those kids, but in the end, parents do know best. 

I crept down the long hallway. I wanted to go to bed, but I couldn’t until the pain was gone. I opened the bathroom door and decided that I didn’t have to go. 

“Daddy, I don’t have to go!” I walked into his bedroom, sat down on the bed, and stared into his face, full of sleep and drowsiness. 

“Then why don’t you watch T.V. for a while.” And I did. Through the next hour I watched Dragon Tales and my pains got worse. 

“Daddy, my tummy really hurts!” I finally announced to my father.

“Lucy, are you serious or are you exaggerating, because if you’re not exaggerating, then we’ll have to take you to the hospital.”

“I’m not exaggerating! DADDY, IT REALLY HURTS!” I shouted. 

“Then get your coat on, honey, we’re going to have to go the hospital.” So my father and I, he in his sweatpants and T-shirt and I in my nightgown, set off to the hospital, where my physician mother, who happened to be on call that night, would meet us.

When we arrived at the hospital, I was rushed into see a doctor, and I got an ultrasound. They saw that my bladder was distended and I was forced to go to the bathroom. The problem was solved. My tummy did not hurt anymore.

My dad had been right all along, but I did not learn much from this experience. Why just last night I was told not to play with my friend’s exacto knife, but I did and cut my finger. The reality is that we teenagers know our parents are right, but we don’t like to show them that we do. I know this because I have lived it. When I first started fencing I didn’t want to go. My parents knew I would enjoy it so they pushed me to do it and now it is my passion. Despite my constant resistance, my parents have almost always known what is best for me.

Hospice by Ed Martin

On an early June day, I paid a visit to a dying patient who was in the late stages of ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”). As was his wish, he was cared for by his devoted wife and daughter at home, with the help of a local hospice program where I serve as chief medical officer. 

During my visit, the patient’s daughter gently sat on her father’s bed, opened a Father’s Day card addressed to him, and read the most personal and heartfelt message I have ever heard. She told him in great detail what a wonderful father he had been, how she had always loved and admired him, and how much he meant to her. She thanked him for everything he had done for her and let him know what an important part of her life he had been. By the time she finished, all of us in the room were moved to tears. The patient died moments later.

A career in hospice care may seem like a peculiar choice to some. For me, it has been life-changing. As a hospice physician for nearly 20 years, I know from personal experience that the moments at the end of life’s journey are often the most meaningful and precious — not just for the patient, but for the family members and healthcare providers who are there to witness and share them.  I have learned far more about “living” from my patients and their families than I ever imagined possible.

After my visit with that patient on that early June day, I reflected on how fortunate I was that my own parents were in good health. I then thought about the Father’s Day card I recently prepared to mail to my father, on which I had written, “Have a great day. See you soon.”  That card was never mailed. Instead, my Father’s Day card conveyed all of the things I had left unsaid for too many years -- how much I loved my father, how he had played such a significant role in my life, how he influenced my career choice, and how he affected my approach to patients. Inspired by my patient’s daughter, I let my father know just how wonderful a father and teacher he had been. 

This story is representative of the relationships that hospice  physicians, nurses, hospice aides, social workers, grief counselors, chaplains, and volunteers form with patients and their families each day. There is great reciprocity in helping individuals at the end of life. There is something to be learned from every encounter — no matter how brief -- with every family.  Indeed, these encounters have changed my life.

I believe in gospel music by Fiona Yonkman
    
It’s soul food.  It eats me up like flames, permeating my skin and sinking into my heart.  Gospel music is painful and unguarded.  It fires me up to travel the world and sing.  Sing of peace...of hope...of love...of trust...of joy...of understanding.
    
Gospel music helped me when I went through a very dark time in my life.  My parents lost their jobs.  My family had no house, no family nearby.  Sometimes, I just wanted to escape.  I didn’t understand why we had lost our jobs.  At ten years old, I felt like I had lost my own livelihood.
    
We packed most of our stuff into a storage locker.  I remember looking around a bare room.  There were only dust bunnies huddling in a corner to keep me company.  On December 1st, we packed our remaining possessions into two lumbering cars and trundled off to Maine, leaving my new-found friends to travel away.  Away...
    
I remember that drive.  I prayed that our car wouldn’t break down on the twenty-four hour journey.  I remember being so confused about going to live with my grandmother.  Confused at going from populated suburbia to sparse country. Confused about the sudden changes in my life.
    
But in the midst of all that sadness, confusion, despair and fear, I found peace.  Peace in music.  Gospel music, specifically.  Peace deeper and more plain than I can describe.  The peace that passes understanding.  The peace that comes from singing gospel music.  I sang when I was sad and the peace the music gave me lifted me up...up...like I was going to fly.  Music put a real smile on my face as opposed to the pained grimace I had become used to wearing.
    
One particular song helped me to push through that time.  It’s called “Total Praise”:  You are the source of my strength, you are the strength of my life; I lift my hands in total praise to you.  These words remind me that I’ll always make it through.
    
Now, my parents have jobs as pastors of a church in Providence.  But I still sing.  I sing and it makes me cry.  Cry because I am here and I want to tell the world that peace is the great song the Earth sings.  I believe that peace can be found in the midst of strife.  And that peace, that song, is deep in my very soul.  So deep, it’s hard to feel it...to see it.  That peace is gospel music.

No Strong Belief Nat Deacon

I believe that it is okay to not have any strong beliefs. Everyone has such very different beliefs that it has come to the point where I don’t care. Why in the world does everyone feel the need to tell everyone exactly what he or she thinks about everything? What I think is, if you believe in something, you should actually do something about it. 

I went to the Coffee Depot the other day and guess what I saw there? Thirty people blabbing about what they believe should happen. He should do that; she should do this, Obama stinks, and Obama rules on and on and on and on. 

Let’s think about all bad human acts. What do they all have in common? They all happened because of beliefs. Racism is a belief, sexism is a belief, homophobia is a belief, anti-Semitism is a belief - and the list just keeps on going. Entire hate groups were formed out of beliefs. People are being  killed as we speak because of beliefs. Even good beliefs are often started as a reaction to bad ones. No one would need to fight for equality if people didn’t believe in inequality. Maybe if everyone just stepped back for one second, they would realize that in the scheme of things, what they believe does not matter; it is what they do that matters.
    
Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against people who believe strongly in their cause. It is just people who do nothing about their beliefs other than talk about them that really bother me. 

I also think that it is okay to have regular beliefs and do nothing about them. For example, if you believe that a team is going to win a game, fine; that’s not the kind of belief I don’t like. I do, however, think it is okay to not strongly believe in anything. If everybody just dropped all of their opinions and looked at the problems of this world then it would be a lot easier to solve them and the world would be a better place. 

This I believe.