Tom and I will be headed out tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn. We’re bound for Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter Erin, her boyfriend Bryan and his family. For me, it’s also a welcome road trip and a journey home to my birthplace. It’s funny how things have a way of coming full circle. I was born in Chicago and left to head “East” with my parents and family when I was a young child. But for someone like me, who has moved more than a dozen times in my lifetime – Chicago feels like home. It’s where my roots are.
I’ve been a bit of a “rolling stone” over the years, but I’m also extremely grateful that I have been able to share many of life’s incredible experiences and travels with Erin and my husband Tom. It’s been a gift, to be able to combine my passions with my career and family. This Thanksgiving I am mindful of my blessings and am most grateful for what I have.
One of the things I am most proud of is the creation of the film, Opening Our Eyes, that I made in collaboration with my daughter. The journey in and of itself was rewarding, but I have found that sharing it has not only inspired and motivated others to create positive change, it has also enriched my own life.
If you would like to see the film or share it with others over the holidays, we are now offering it online. We are also offering a Thanksgiving special.
Click here and use the coupon code “THANKSGIVING2013″.
A week ago, my boyfriend Bryan Weber ran the Chicago marathon. It was his first marathon he had ever run. When I asked him why he decided to run it, he said it was because he was bored. I knew that was his way of saying that he needed a challenge in his life, a goal to work towards. And when I look back at how he came to achieve this goal, I realize that he definitely found what he was looking for.
Bryan used to run cross-country in high school but it had been a long time since he had really gone running. In fact, after I returned from the 3-month journey around the world with my mom to make the film Opening Our Eyes, exercise was not a regular part of his daily routine at all. But everything changed in March 2011 when he bought a bike. He started riding his bike everywhere, to work, to class, etc. Before he knew it, he had lost 60 pounds and I could see his outlook on life start to shift. In September 2012, he started running again. It began with 2-3 miles each run and suddenly he was running every day, 4, 5, 6 miles at a time.
In February 2013, he said to me, “I’m running several miles every day now, why don’t I try to run 26.2?” I have to admit, I was a little skeptical at first. His knee had been hurting him and a marathon seemed like a big jump for someone who had just started running again a few months prior. But I certainly wasn’t going to discourage him and I told him I would support him with whatever he decided. He signed up and carried on with his running. He didn’t really follow a specific training program. He didn’t even tell that many people that he was doing it. He just kept doing his thing. And by the time October rolled around, he had lost 40 more pounds.
The morning of the marathon, I could tell he was nervous. He said he just wanted to be able to finish the race. I had no doubts in my mind that he would not only finish, but fly through it. And he did, in 4 hours and 14 minutes. I saw him 4 different times throughout the race. Each time I saw him, he had a huge smile on his face, even at mile 25.
When I found him after he had crossed the finish line, he was so full of energy and I couldn’t understand how that was possible after what he had just went through. But then I realized that this was a goal that he had been working towards for months and months and he had just achieved it. Can you imagine what that feels like? I was so full of pride and admiration for him at that moment, but I was also thinking of what goals I could work towards and what challenges I could tackle in my life so that I could feel that way. He inspired me to do that.
As I think about Bryan’s journey and how he went from not exercising at all to running a marathon and being 100 pounds lighter, I realize that any goal is possible if you put your mind to it. Everyone is capable of overcoming some challenge or achieving something in his or her life. And oftentimes, while they are striving towards that goal, they are inspiring others along the way.
Sundays have always had a special feel to me. When I was a kid, Sundays were different. Most of the stores were closed so you couldn’t “go shopping”. I remember we had to plan ahead and get whatever we needed before Sunday came around. It was a day we went to church in the morning and always had dinner together - as a family. We often visited my Dad’s family, but other than that we didn’t do much of anything, but we did it as a family. Those were my earliest memories of what a Sunday was.
As the years went by, and my immediate family moved 700 miles away from our roots, our Sunday gatherings got a bit smaller, but nevertheless Sundays still had a special feel. It was considered to be a family day. We didn’t do too much on Sundays, rarely planning anything organized, but we did “nothing” together – as a family. Sunday was the day that we all took time to breathe.
As my siblings and I got older and started our own families, the gatherings got larger again. But life also became more hectic and we all tried to manage and coordinate our busy lives. The times had changed, and with that came lots of organized activities and other distractions. But somehow we managed to find time on some Sundays to get together as a family.
Nowadays, family gatherings are more infrequent as miles have separated us. But Sundays still have a special feeling. It’s still a day when I don’t set my alarm and I get my day started a little later. And I take the time to breathe.
I think what’s important, is that we remind ourselves to set aside time to enjoy and be grateful for what and who we have in our lives, regardless of which day of the week it is. When I was growing up, Sundays were always set aside for that. I suppose that’s why I have always loved Sundays.
A fellow “baby boomer” commented to me recently, “I guess we’ve all abandoned our dreams by now.” I immediately reacted by saying, “Speak for yourself.” I for one can’t imagine abandoning my dreams. Am I odd in that regard? Am I naïve? Am I different from my generation in that I’m still an optimistic dreamer? Or was the fellow who made the remark the odd one?
I’m not quite sure if my hopeful outlook has to do with who I am, or is a trait of my culture as an American or I’m the product of the generation I grew up in? I suppose my hope stems from all of the above. I read an article in the May 20th edition of Time Magazine, entitled the ME ME ME generation – the Millennials. Part of the article talked about basic broad stroke traits of other generations. Generally I don’t like broad stroke summations of a culture or a generation but nevertheless I found some of the descriptions to be pretty much on target.
As far as being “hopeful” the Millennials are more in kin to the Baby Boomers, and tend to believe in themselves and the power of realizing their dreams. They seem to be more interested in what they can do and on a global scale than Generation X, which came before them. Sadly, Generation X came up at time when “greed was good”, “heroin chic” was a style in vogue and ennui ruled the day. Those are pretty broad strokes for sure, but I think the over riding thread that seems to define a generation is whether they tend to be hopeful or not.
I find that I always need to be creating something. It’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s what gives me hope. It’s also what every single person possessed who took part in our film project. They all believed that they were doing whatever was in their power to do and that gave them hope. Of course the key is in the doing and that is why I love to create.
Think about it. You can either give yourself reasons NOT to do something or you can give yourself reasons TO do something. Giving yourself reasons not to do something may seem like it empowers you but it actually leaves you powerless. It puts your destiny in everyone else’s hands. That rarely yields hope. The act of doing something, on the other hand, creates possibility.
The universe holds possibility for anything and everything to happen – we just need to put things into motion to allow them to happen. Nine out of ten things might not work out but that doesn’t mean they didn’t play a part in the process. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have value. Perhaps the value will be realized later on.
“If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story.”
In some ways we have never been more connected than we are right now – at this juncture in the timeline of mankind. In other ways we have never been more disconnected and detached. When I embarked on a 99 journey around the world almost 3 years ago to date, I suppose in some ways I was looking to get more connected with what was happening globally, in a real sense. These days, it’s too easy to fall into a cyber world, where most of our connections are intangible. Call me old fashioned, but I feel the need to connect with people in real terms. When I returned from my journey, I had not only connected with people from all around the world, I had connected with myself and what part I was meant to play in the timeline of life.
As the years have ticked away, I have tried to remain true to myself, especially in how I apply that to my craft and my career. This past weekend I had an assignment for Kiwanis Magazine. The assignment was to photograph volunteers from the local Kiwanis and Ki Clubs, repairing a home at the NJ shore that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy. I had not been down to the shore since Sandy, but I knew this area had been the hardest hit in the state. While much of the debris has been taken away, there’s an empty and desolate presence especially in the poorer towns that had no money to rebuild.
The task on hand for the volunteers that day, and there had to be about 30 people who showed up, was to install new sheet rock and insulation, put in a new bathroom and do general clean up of the property. It was a modest home in a very modest neighborhood of houses that had been salvaged amongst the ones abandoned. The first thing that hit me was in fact – this is someone’s home. As much as I was there to photograph the volunteers, my eye was drawn to the personal effects of the owners, pushed up into the corners of damaged rooms along with their Easter decorations in rooms they were living in. Life must go on.
The day was filled with positive energy. Kids were painting, raking, cleaning storm drains while older tradesmen were working with other volunteers and teaching them their craft. And at the end of the day, everyone walked away tired, but feeling really good about the contribution they had made. I’m sure some of these kids had to do some kind of community service as part of their school mandates, but could I tell that every one of them got a lot more out of the experience than just school credits. I know I got a lot more out of it than a paycheck and some photographs in a magazine.
After the chores had been done and I had gotten the photographs that I needed, I took a drive with my husband along the ocean road. It was a new landscape, changed by a hurricane that hit hard. But I felt hopeful and humbled once again about the power that’s in all of us to make a difference.
I’ve been to quite a few screenings over the past year of our feature documentary, Opening Our Eyes and it has been an interesting experience. What I love the most are the questions and comments that come up in the Q&A after the screening. The most asked question is “How did you pick your subjects for the film?”
I could write an entire bog about how we picked our subjects (and may have already), but the simple answer is that I sent out an email to everyone I knew asking them if they knew or knew of people – individuals – on all 6 continents – who were making a positive difference in the world. The response was overwhelming and I still have folders of subject ideas that I would love to do short stories about if I can find the funding and the time.
My daughter and I waited until we got back from our round-the-world trip to decide on our North American subject(s) and ended up shooting that segment 4 months later. Surely we were in a different frame of mind and it shows in the piece – it’s a big edgier and less optimistic, but then again it is a story about two women, Maureen Taylor and Marian Kramer, working against all odds in the inner city ravages of Detroit. They are volunteers and street activists – the “voice” for the poor and disadvantaged of their community.
Many times when I’ve screened the film, folks want to know why I chose that story to be in the film and some tell me I should take it out – but I won’t. We have edited this segment when we cut the film from 76 minutes to 61 minutes. In the process, we “toned it down”, but I didn’t do that to appease the crowd, I did it because our subjects were good and caring women who were passionate about their cause and I wanted the audience to like them. I also wanted the audience to listen to what they were saying, rather than get defensive and tune them out.
Ultimately the Detroit segment has what every good story needs – conflict. But it also has hope for a better future. This segment is different from the other stories in the film, in that it’s not about giving children and teens a home, or rescuing food or saving the environment, but it is about something that is equally important and that is giving the people a “voice”. Without that, there is no hope for hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged people in America.
Being able to have our voice heard is perhaps the most important privilege we have as citizens of this country or any country for that matter. If our “voice” gets silenced, or restricted, the rest of our freedoms will be in danger. Maureen and Marian understand the importance of using their voice. I do as well, and that’s why that story “stays in the film”.