We honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today. Much has been written about King, but most of my impressions of this great man were made when I was a young teenager. I remember many of his great speeches and his marches, but what I remember most is thinking – how could one man be so full of love amongst all the hate in the world. It was a tumultuous time in America, a time when the country was deeply divided by race and the Vietnam War and yet King was so full of love.
Dr. King was a gifted orator and I could fill endless pages with quotes, but I’ll site a couple that stand out to me:
“I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.”
These both go hand in hand because if we can’t forgive, whether it be the people who have hurt us or ourselves for the hurt that we’ve inflicted upon others, we will continue to harbor hate inside. I agree with King that it’s far better to stick to love because hate is too great a burden to bear.
It’s hard to forgive. To be able to forgive, one must come to terms with what or who has caused your heart to fill with hate or resentment. Sometimes in our attempts to bury our pain, we try to dismiss or deny that it’s there. But that doesn’t free our souls from the negative energy that hatred breeds – it only buries it deep inside us and consumes our spirit.
To “stick with love” is to recognize that humans are not perfect and when someone portrays their “ugly” side, which is generated by ego and fear that ultimately it’s better to see past the ugliness and notice the good. The funny thing about love is that when one person starts by treating another person with love instead of contempt, it gets paid forward and the love spreads.
“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“This could be one of those rare moments in life when you can go back in your past and make things right for your future.”
I was in NYC last night and I saw this sign in a shop window. It wasn’t a big sign, but nevertheless it caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks. It was the second time this week that I had seen that very same phrase written. How odd and what an uncanny coincidence to see these same words written in two totally random places, in the same week. I thought, “if only it were true”.
It’s not possible to change the past of course, but I started thinking about it and what I would change, if I could. There were lots of things that came to mind immediately, that in hindsight I might have done differently. But when I really started thinking of things that I’ve done in the past, in terms of what I would change to “make things right for my future”, there were only a couple of changes I would make.
The fact is that even the things that I wish I could change the most, probably had to happen for one reason or another in order to have a brighter future. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it.
One thing I love about the New Year is that it gives me a feeling of renewed hope and that we all have a fresh start to “get it right” in the coming year. I’m not one to make grandiose resolutions because they leave me feeling like a big loser weeks later if or when I falter. I’d rather simply focus on each new day and be the best I can be.
I am not perfect and I never will be. I am a work in progress and each day, week, month and year I strive to be true to who I am and not let others deter me from my purpose. I will try to remember that no one can really change the past but we can let go of it. But “letting go” is not trying to erase the past. Attempting to do that really only harbors negative energy inside. The very act of trying to repress or block something from your past is in fact the opposite of “letting go”. To really “let go” is to be able to forgive yourself (or others) from past mistakes, and move forward in a positive way. I try to embrace each new day, and give it and everyone I know the opportunity to “make things right for the future”. I can only hope that others will do the same. Imagine the power in that thought.
Be kind, be loving, and focus on the best in others – not the worst, because isn’t that what you’d like others to do for you? When you start to live life this way, you’ll probably never even have the desire to want to go back and change your past.
A couple of months ago, I was one of the trip leaders for a group of high school exchange students traveling to Colorado. These students are here for the year and had arrived in early fall. They were placed with host families all over the country, but they had decided to go on one of the trips that CCI Greenheart, their exchange sponsor organization (and where I work), offers throughout the year. The trips are a mix of fun activities and volunteering, where they can learn about community service and meet other exchange students from around the globe. This particular trip was to Snow Mountain Ranch in Granby, CO, up in the mountains outside of Denver. And I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the people to lead the trip.
Every day was packed with activities. Each morning we would hike up into the mountains to take in the beautiful scenery, and after lunch we would do a volunteer project or other fun activity like zip lining. In the evenings, we would have workshops where we would talk about what it means to be a volunteer and how we can get involved in our communities.
One of the nights, we showed the film. This was a new experience for me, as I had not yet been present for a screening of the film to such a young audience. I realized, as I sat there watching with the students, that this was one of our target audiences. These were the types of people that we most wanted to reach – the young people who have the energy, optimism and lives ahead of them to create their own path and make a difference in what they’re passionate about. Not only that, but they were also an international audience. They represented 9 different countries, 9 different places where they could spread the messages of the film. I felt a little nervous as I waited for the film to end, anxious to hear their comments.
After the film ended, we sat in a circle and I asked some discussion questions. What traits did the subjects share? What were some of the challenges they faced and how did they overcome them? What was the role of the volunteer in some of these stories and how much did the subjects depend on them? They had some good answers, but it wasn’t until I asked each of them to say two words about how the film made them feel that the best thoughts were shared. Here are some of my favorites:
“I would say ambitious and proud. I’m proud of just knowing that people in the world are doing things like that.” – Yumna (Morocco)
“It makes me feel like I have the right ideas.” – Oleksandra (Ukraine)
“Thoughtful because it makes me think about it, and also have motivation and courage to start something. If people like that can do it, why can’t I? I mean, anyone can do it if you have the courage.” – Maxime (Switzerland)
“Kind of amazed because you don’t really see that around my area and it kind of makes me think about my future and things that I can do, and I want to do something.” – Lorraine (Upstate NY)
“Hopeful and unbelievable. You just live only once.” – Gulzhan (Kazakhstan)
It was an honor to show the film to such a bright group of motivated people from around the world, ready to make a difference. That is what it’s all about.
“My Voice” and not being afraid to use it. To be truthful, there are plenty of times that I’m afraid to exercise my voice, but I am much more fearful of the consequences if I don’t. There have been times when I have distanced friends or made colleagues step away from me because I have spoken up for what I feel is the right thing to do. It is never easy but I would rather live in a world where I fight to give my protagonists the right to exercise their voices, rather than be quieted by them.
To be born at a time in America when all it’s people had a shot at the “American Dream”. Sadly, that has changed over the last 40-50 years. It used to be if you got an education and worked hard, you could provide for yourself and your family. That dream has become harder and harder to achieve as the gap between the “have’s” and “have not’s“ has widened. How much wealth and power is enough for the smallest percentage of Americans? And why does it come at the cost of so many? I am a true patriot of this country because I still believe that we can get back to the beliefs and principles that our country’s founders held true.
My health even though I pray each day that I remain healthy. Even though I spend a small fortune for my annual health insurance premium, it comes with a very high deductible. Because of the high deductible, it’s really catastrophe insurance and in paying the rising costs of those annual premiums, I find it very hard at times to find the necessary funds to cover the out of pocket costs for preventative care. How does that make sense in a civilized country – that only the very wealthy or the ones lucky enough to still have benefits at work can afford to maintain their health?
My family and friends. I have come to learn the true importance of having a family and a handful of friends that I know I can really count on to always be there for me. We may disagree at times and even become estranged, but it’s those “real” relationships that have weathered the ups and the downs and are my foundation.
That I have shelter, food and other basic human needs because so many people don’t. I have traveled far and wide throughout my entire life and have seen the desperate situations that some people have to live with in all corners of the world. But I don’t have to go far anymore to see first hand, homeless people and hungry children. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to those in need and make judgments about how those folks got to that point. It’s so easy to tell yourself that there is nothing you can do about that and that you can’t possibly help all those people. But it’s really not that difficult to do even the simplest of kind acts for somebody who doesn’t have as much as you. Try it and in doing so you get so much more in return.
My vision and that I’m bold enough at times to trust it . Sometimes, it is far too easy to follow the trends and think that is the safest route to take, but in the process you end up robbing yourself from who you really are and have to offer. Whenever, I have looked into my heart and followed my path, good things follow. It may not happen immediately, and along the way the “misses” sometimes are more than the “hits”, but I know if I stay on course, it will lead to what I am meant to do.
What are your thankful for this Thanksgiving?
When Erin and I set out to make a film about ordinary individuals who were doing extraordinary things to make our world a better place, we didn’t know we would be meeting the real heroes of our world.
Each one of the people in our film is doing something that is not only courageous, but some would say, they are doing the impossible.
I suppose we could have chosen more high profile people or celebrities, but we opted to shine a light on the folks most people haven’t even heard of. That was a deliberate decision because we wanted to show what the individual is capable of.
As I watch the footage of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, I’m reminded of the power of the individual. I heard story after story about regular people who had put aside their own comfort and safety to go to the aid of others who were less fortunate. These stories will fade in our memories as time goes by, but my hope is that people will take notice and think about their own actions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and glitz of the world we live in, paying homage to the notables, and the large entities that have the power and money to make the biggest splash in the news. And we talk ourselves out of the little actions that we could take, telling ourselves that we could never measure up. How sad. Maybe that’s the downside of the culture we live in.
I can only hope that more people will take notice of the ordinary people and the efforts they make – not for money – not for recognition – but simply because it’s the right thing to do.
We created this film to move people to action. The actions don’t have to be huge. They could be helping a child with their homework, walking a neighbor’s dog who isn’t able to do that for herself or just listening to someone who needs a person to talk to. We don’t have to be a celebrity, have a big name or have lots of money. We just have to realize that sometimes it’s the little things we do that count and all those little things add up to make our world a better place.
Imagine if everyone did one small thing to make a difference.
I’m looking out at the beautiful coastline of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and enjoying the “now. I’m here to attend the Carmel Art & Film Festival and after spending a couple of days in movie theaters,
I needed to take a break from the darkness and experience the environment I’m in.
The last few months, I’ve been busy and bogged down by lots of detail work and planning for the future and in the process, forgetting to be present in the here and now. It’s far too easy sometimes for me to get caught up with the “big picture” and forget to take notice of where I am or even who I am. When that happens, I know I need to get out of my “norm” in order to take notice of who I really am.
As I walked through the village of Carmel my first evening in town, my visual sense was on overdrive as I passed by gallery after gallery. I was overwhelmed by the energy I got from seeing the colors, shapes and textures of the paintings and sculpture, through the shop windows. Art is everywhere in this small town.
Carmel has a vibe all of its own and this film festival reflected that in every way. Last night was a filmmaker dinner and party on the beach. It was a very memorable evening, sitting around fire pits on the beach, drinking wine, watching the sun go down and having wonderful conversations with other filmmakers and artists. I looked up at one point just to look at the millions of stars in the dark clear sky and I knew exactly where I was. These days many small towns have lost what is unique about them, swapping their identities for strip malls and corporate brands. It’s no wonder; we can hold onto our own identities or even think about who we really are in our homogenized culture.
I think we all forget sometimes to stop and really be present in the place or situation we are in – instead of always thinking ahead – or worse yet lamenting the past. We get sidetracked sometimes by lots of things and people who have different priorities and agendas for you, and before we know it, we end up letting all that “stuff” take us away from our own purpose. When that happens, we aren’t happy and when we become unhappy, we make other people unhappy.
I feel grateful today. Not only am I proud to be part of this amazing film festival but also I’m grateful that this beautiful little spot on Earth has fed my soul with inspiration.
It’s been a while since I have written – I’ve been going at full mach speed the last couple of weeks. After not having been to a film festival
since last March, we’ve recently had a rush of acceptances so I’ve been busy preparing for them, and now I’m on the road attending them. I’ve also been traveling and speaking for my trade association, ASMP – first to students at Brooks Institute, my alma mater, and then at DV West in Los Angeles.
Being on the road isn’t easy. I’ve been gone for two weeks and I miss my husband and my home. The getting from place to place is what wears me down. But when I get to do what I came for, and that is to talk to people and more importantly listen to what they have to say, my weariness disappears. I get a lot of energy from the feedback I get about the film, but also from finding out about what others are involved in. I’m finding the niche for this film and in the process I’m starting to connect with kindred spirits.
Making connections, I realize is one of my main objectives. Those connections are starting a small ripple. Audiences have gotten larger and that means more people are leaving the theaters and thinking about what they can do to make a difference in the lives of others – or even their own. They tell me the film inspired them. When they tell me that, I feel good about myself. Not so much because it puffs up my ego (although I’ll admit that also feels good) but because I realize this is what I do to make a difference – create awareness with film.
So, even though I’m totally exhausted from two weeks on the road – it’s an exhaustion that feels good. I’m doing what I want to be doing – at least for right now.
I’ll be posting the screening dates as I get them from the festivals. Please check to see if we’ll be in your area and spread the word to your friends.
It’s not easy to hold onto your ideals, let alone your dreams as you get older. I suppose I should consider myself lucky in that regard, that I have managed to stay true to my ideals and I’m still foolish enough to believe in my dreams. I wish more people my age had. Maybe we’d have a better world.
Dreaming is usually left up to the young, who can’t even imagine that their dreams wouldn’t come true. Somehow when you get older, you give up on some of your dreams. It seems like in our culture, we buy into the notion that with the responsibilities that come with age, there is no room for our dreams. I must tell you though, that I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t hold on to my own dreams – how could I ever teach my daughter how important that is, for a life well lived.
When my daughter Erin and I set out around the world together two years ago, it was to film the stories of people who were doing extraordinary things. These were all ordinary individuals who believed in the impossible. The film was inspired by Erin’s high school friend, Maggie Doyne, who opted not to head straight off to college after graduation. Maggie traveled and wound up in Nepal helping children, orphaned by ten years of civil war. Seven years later, Maggie lives with her 40 children, in a home she built in Nepal, has built a primary school and is now raising money to build a high school.
Maggie is 25 years old with wisdom beyond her years and a youthful spirit to believe that anything is possible. She reminds me of myself when I was her age, although I pale in comparison to what she has done at such a young age. I too traveled when I was just starting out in life. I left college after two years and circled the globe to satisfy my curiosity. When I returned, I went back to school to study photography, graduated and set out to make my living at commercial photography. My heart was in photojournalism and documentary photography, but everybody told me that I couldn’t make a living doing that kind of work – and I believed them.
Early on, I was looking for assistant work in NYC and I went to see legendary NY photographer, Jay Maisel. I brought my perfectly executed commercial photography portfolio with me to get Jay’s advice. For some reason, I also brought some “snapshots” that I had taken on my trip around the world, before I had gone to photography school. Jay looked at my portfolio and tossed it back to me saying “this is crap”. After seeing the shock on my face, he said, “this isn’t what you want to do, is it?” I showed him my snapshots and he said, “this is what you want to do – why aren’t you doing it?” I proceeded to tell him all the reasons that people had told me, and I was telling myself, why I wasn’t following the path I was passionate about. He looked at me and he asked, “How old are you?” I replied 25. And he said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?”
There have been many days since then, when I have wanted to throw my hands up and give up on my ideals and dreams and then I remember that day with Maisel and I think about people like Maggie – and I manage to hold on.