Today is the 5-year anniversary of my apartment building fire. Tonight is also the awards ceremony for the Thespis Theater Festival in which my play, Sing After Storms, is nominated for best play. A portion of that play is based on my fire experience. The synchronicity is not lost on me.
I used to regard that fire, in which I lost almost all of my belongings and barely got out of the building in time, as the worst day of my life. Now I know it was one of the best because it taught me that no matter what happens, I’ll always be okay. That fire literally burned the fear of living right out of me. In the same way that fire chemically transforms everything it touches forever, it changed me forever, too. It showed me how strong I am, and that knowledge serves me well every day. The recovery from it was painful and difficult, but when I consider how much I love my life now compared to my life then, I know it was worth the struggle to get well.
September 5th now feels like a second birthday to me. In my home, I keep a photograph of my old apartment after the fire. That’s where I began again, completely from scratch, to build a life worth living. It’s a self-portrait in a way, a daily reminder that I am fortunate to be here at all. That we all are. I’m glad I hung in there, even in the darkest, most frightening, lonely hours, because on the other side of that fear I found everything I ever wanted. I found me, and that’s something not even a fire can take away.
People see your value. Many are looking for a bargain, a way to use what you know for their benefit. Understand work is a two-way street, always. Yes, you are being paid by someone in some way to do the work you’re meant to do. But don’t you dare let anyone, anytime, anywhere make a bargain out of you. You are precious. You, your talents, and time have a real and hefty worth. And if people don’t get that then they don’t get you. Find the people and places who value you for all that you are, and then some. Don’t seek a check. Seek respect, appreciation, gratitude, and growth. Know your worth and never compromise it. Your worth is not negotiable.
We wrapped our final performance of Sing After Storms at the Thespis Theater Festival last night. Now, I feel nothing but love, gratitude, and joy. All of the stress, long hours, and enormous amounts of energy and effort were absolutely worth it from beginning to end. Now I just want to say thank you—to everyone who supported the show, who attended a performance (or 2, or 3!), and to the incredibly talented cast and crew that made this dream happen. I promise you this: I will do everything in my power (and then some!) to continue to carry this show forward. We’re just getting started.
For all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for people they would never know so that all of us could be free, thank you.
Exactly as Phin and I crossed Central Park to begin moving into our new apartment, the sun began to part the clouds after days of torrential rain and months of intense uncertainty. My first thoughts was, “You’ve gotta be kidding me, Mother Nature.” She wasn’t kidding; she can be so cliché and I’ve never loved a cliché more than I did at that moment. The lesson wasn’t lost on me: eventually the light always returns and we have the right to bask in it.
This apartment search has been a tough journey, and a good one. I feel stronger, braver, and more open to change as a result of it. I learned what was important, and what wasn’t. Best of all, I realized just how many incredible people I have in my life. Thank you all for sharing in this journey and being a part of the solution. You’re welcome to visit any time and help me explore my new neighborhood. Actually, I insist. Tomorrow my blog returns to its regularly scheduled programming of inspiration and encouragement. Today I’m spending the day saying thank you, for everything.
Author James Patterson was on CBS This Morning talking about his new book, First Love. It’s inspired by a woman he was with many years ago. She developed an inoperable brain tumor and to keep their spirits up they adopted this shared philosophy: “Aren’t we lucky that you didn’t die today?” It kept them appreciative, hopeful, and present. We’re all lucky we had today, even if it’s been the worst day, because it’s so much better than the alternative of not having this day at all. It reminds me that there are so many people all over the world who have passed on who would have given anything to have today. On the tough days, that idea keeps me going. It keeps me grateful. It keeps me smiling.
We’ve all got something to give. Anthony Cymerys, a barber in Hartford, has been giving haircuts to the homeless in exchange for a hug for 25 years. He sets up shop at Bushnell Park. I read about this inspiring story on DailyGood.org and it filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears. Giving is a powerful antidote for what hurts and it benefits the giver as much as the receiver. What can you give?
Watch Anthony in action here:
The summer of 2006 was not my finest hour. There was one light that I kept turning to over and over again during those difficult months – Nelson Mandela’s book Long Walk To Freedom. I bought it as I prepared for a class trip to South Africa with my business school friends the following March and it changed my life. From the moment I started that book, I committed myself to living my life as fully as possible in every single moment. I would never again say that something was impossible. He showed all of us that sheer will and the refusal to give up is enough to accomplish anything. Anything. To this day, that trip to South Africa is my favorite trip of all time. I knew when I left that I’d return there many times over in my life. It’s one of the very few places I’ve considered living if I ever live outside of the U.S. It is a magical country with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
When I heard the news of Mr. Mandela’s passing yesterday, I was home writing. My eyes immediately teared up and my heart felt heavy. Tears of gratitude mixed with tears of sadness. His light was so bright that I thought it would go on forever. And in many ways, it will. His light is alive in every person inspired by his actions and words. Against all odds, he shifted the world toward justice, acceptance, and fairness. Through his enlightenment, he enlightened all of us. How lucky we are to have had someone so good with us for so long.
“Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.” ~ Native American Proverb
Every day I wake up with two thoughts – “Thank you” and “Today something amazing is going to happen.” I’m thankful that I get to wake up at all, that I’m healthy, and that I spend my time doing things I love. I’m a news junkie and one of the wonderful / awful side effects of my news addiction is that I hear a lot of stories of hardship and struggle. This keeps me from taking anything for granted and it motivates me do things to help make this world a better place.
I recently added the “today something amazing is going to happen” bit to my morning meditation. I believe in the power of intention and I’ve seen that the more often I intently look for blessings, the more likely I am to find them, create them, and recognize them when they cross my path. This belief restores my faith every day in our ability to attract wonder and absorb magic so that we can pass it on to others in our words and actions.
Every day behind the scenes, the Universe is working on blessings to send our way. So long as those blessings find us deeply engaged in work we love, we have the opportunity to hitch our work to the shooting star that races across the sky of our lives. This is the thought that keeps me going and will keep me saying thank you every morning that I have.
The act of giving thanks is powerful. And contagious. When we give thanks for one thing, we inspire others to do the same. And as we see one blessing, others begin to come into focus. Joy is what bubbles up when we realize there is always something to be grateful for. We don’t need to seek happiness. Once we start giving thanks and happiness will find us.