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Maggie’s story and the path she decided to take early on in life, has touched the hearts of people around the globe and changed the lives of hundreds of Nepalese women and children.
Maggie was a high school classmate of my daughter, Erin. After graduation, Maggie decided to take a gap year and travel before heading off to college. Eventually, she ended up in Nepal and saw a country devastated by 10 years of civil war and thousands of orphaned children left in its wake. She used her babysitting savings to buy property and build a home for herself and orphaned children – she was 19 years old. Maggie has 50 children now, has built a primary school for 250 kids and is currently building a high school.
When Maggie accepted the Hero of the Year award the other night, she said; “ And to all of you in this room and who are watching, please, please remember that we have the power to create the world that we want to live in”. She’s done just that and has inspired countless others, to do the same. She inspired my daughter and I to seek out other individuals all over the world who were creating positive change and to make a filmabout them, with the hopes it would inspire others to make a difference.
Imagine if we all thought like Maggie and believed we all have the power to create the world that we want to live in. The fact is we do have that power. It starts with the little things we can do – in our own lives, in our family’s lives and in our communities. Small things have a way of growing into big things. When you educate one child, you change a life that has the potential to change other lives.
Maggie, you continue to inspire me. You are a bright light in a troubled world and a beacon of hope. Congratulations for this well deserved honor.
If you’d like to watch Opening Our Eyes, a film about Maggie and other change makers, you can view it here.
Most folks don’t realize that when Erin and I went around the world in pursuit of people creating positive change – we weren’t just shooting a movie – we also shot over 5000 still images.
When we planned our itinerary, traveling and shooting on six continents in the summer of 2010, we built in some “free time” to see the sights. It also acted as a buffer in case things didn’t go according to plan. As it happened, everything did go according to plan and we had some wonderful down time in Moscow, Istanbul, Bangkok, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia and India. We shot still images in all of these destinations in addition to the stills that we shot on the movie set, and ended up with a nice archive.
I’ve been editing this archive over the last year and am going to make them available for prints. You can see the first gallery of images, and there will be more to follow over the next few months. A print would make a beautiful Christmas gift for someone special. If you order before Dec. 17th – the prints will arrive before Christmas.
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”.
The journey is over and the memories have begun to fade. But the legacy lives on in the film my daughter and I created, when we set out some 3 years ago seeking individuals who were making our world a better place. And indeed, we found many people – ordinary people who were doing extraordinary things. And every one of these people had one thing in common – they had found their purpose in helping others. The more they gave – the more they got back in return. But none of them “gave” with the idea of getting something in return. It wasn’t about getting money, favors, recognition, or other ego related pursuits, it was about caring for their “fellow man”.
I think that the biggest reward for me in making this film, was sharing that experience with my daughter. She was fortunate to have been born and raised in a beautiful and privileged part of the world and I wanted her to have a greater global perspective. It’s almost impossible to “care” for your “fellow man” when if you don’t have an understanding of who they really are. We all hear about conflict and our “differences” that seem to keep our world divided, but for many of us it’s too distant and outside our consciousness and the confines of our own daily reality.
The truth is the world seems like it’s gotten a whole lot smaller since I was my daughter’s age. It’s amazing how technology has connected us all. What’s even more amazing is the “reach” each one of us has. It’s not very difficult for “one person” to get their message out these days – globally – and instantaneously. Think of the power in that. I realized that first hand with this film and how it has connected people all over the world. I am grateful that I live in an age, when I am able to use my craft, to spread the message about the power each one of us has in making a positive difference in our world – the “power of one”.
But it starts with each one of us, in our own communities and with the people we have relationships with. We can all be a little more thoughtful of how we treat the people we know – that is if we can get outside our own egos. It may be as simple as stopping ourselves before we say something, or do something that could affect someone negatively and ask, “how would I feel if I was on the receiving end?” It’s the little things that we all do and say, that can affect someone, either positively or negatively and that in turn goes on to affect more people and it starts to ripple through “community” and beyond.
I think we all need a reminder from time to time that it serves no purpose to dismiss or treat anyone with disregard, anger or contempt. It only serves to make us bitter inside. I have learned that lesson more than once in my life. The older I get, the more I realize that I’d rather harbor thoughts of love, kindness and forgiveness than hold onto negative ones. Ultimately, life’s too short to focus on the negative.
We each have our own perspective and we each get to choose the lens we see “life” through. I choose a lens of love, respect and caring. I haven’t always chosen that lens and no doubt there will be times in my life, going forward, when I will falter and start seeing life through the wrong lens. Please, let me know when I do.
I think sometimes we kid ourselves when we don’t recognize that certain things we do or say are mild forms of discrimination. There’s the occasional “soccer mom” comment that’s not intended to marginalize women or the references about “those people”. Many times the worst offenders are the ones who aren’t even aware they do discriminate.
I’ve spent my life and career as a woman in a man’s business. I’ve heard all the remarks that I care to hear and the bias that comes with it. Things have certainly improved over the last 35 years but now I’m facing a different sort of discrimination and that is the prevalent disregard for someone who is “old”.
When people equate youth, (defined by age) as someone who has new or fresh ideas and old as someone who is set in their ways and stagnant, that is a form of discrimination. In America we have become obsessed with youth and looks to the point that we don’t value anyone over 40. We not only don’t think this generation of aging baby boomers is relevant or has value, but we seem to be angry that they should have a right to things like social security or pensions or even a job. We want them just to go away and become invisible. We are a culture that places importance on the “packaging and the fizz”.
The fact of the matter is that age really has nothing to do with wisdom at all. Just because you get older doesn’t mean you necessarily get wiser. And just because you’re younger doesn’t mean you’re someone with forward thinking ideas. I’ve met a lot of older people who aren’t wise at all and I’ve met people half my age that couldn’t come up with a fresh thought if their life depended on it.
Age isn’t a barometer for how you process ideas. Look at people like Clint Eastwood – he did his best and most creative work after he turned 65. (I’ll forgive him for the chair incident.) I’d like to think that one of the best things that came out of this project that I did with my daughter was that we both had a much better understanding of who were as people. I wasn’t just her “old” mom who didn’t know anything and she wasn’t just my “kid” who didn’t know anything.
So next time you find yourself equating age with how someone thinks – step back and recognize that subtle discrimination and ask yourself if you would like to be on the receiving end of that?
At one of the film festivals I recently attended, I had a wonderful conversation with a young filmmaker. I told him that if I had known that I would still be involved with this film, more than 2 years after I conceived of the idea – I probably never would have started it. He laughed and even though he was probably 20 or 30 years younger than I, he spoke from a place of wisdom beyond his years – no doubt an old soul – at least in spirit. He told me “You never really “finish” a film – you just get to a point where you are ready to let go. “
Am I ready to let go? I ask myself that question daily. I should be screaming an emphatic “yes” for every logical and practical reason. It has consumed me from the very start, in every way imaginable, and on one very real level, I can and need to “let go” and move on. But on another, much deeper level – I’m not ready to move on because this “thing” that I started so long ago, is, and always has been, more than a film. It has become a “shift” – a shift in my point of view, my perspective, beliefs, and values. In fact it as caused a “shift” in just about every area of my life.
This film was never meant to be something that I created for fame and fortune. Any fool knows that making a documentary is hardly a way to make money. It has been a drain financially from the beginning. As far as fame – well I’ve had my moments to shine and I’ve had some wins but I’ve had far more losses and rejections that have kept me humble and I’m grateful for the recognition when it comes. So, why is it that I’m still not quite ready to let go? Every time I begin to feel overwhelmed by frustration and want to close the door on this “thing”, I remind myself of why I started this folly. I felt that there was an absence and longing in our culture for hope. I felt there was a need for a “shift” in attitude. I truly believe that this film and other films like it can make a difference by getting people to think.
Every time I have attended a screening of this film, I can see that for those 76 minutes that I have the attention of the audience – I really have them – I’ve touched them – I’ve gotten them to think. I’m usually buoyed by the audience’s reaction and remarks and I feel hopeful that “change” can happen – change for the betterment of the planet and mankind. There is always one person who comes up to me or writes me and tells me that I’ve “moved” them in some way, and they thank me for making this movie. How do I let go of something that has the power to move people? I don’t think I can.
My goal all along has been to create a positive shift in attitude. I can’t abandon that just when it’s starting to grow. Instead, I am planning to make this website, much more than a website about the film. My vision is that it will become a place where liked minded people can interact with one another and create a greater global shift. I can’t be the lone voice, and I don’t think I have the heart to do that. The virtual world can be a lonely world without interaction – too lonely for me. I thrive on connections and the strength that comes from them. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one that craves connectivity on some level. This website will grow slowly in that direction over the coming months. I am working with a web guru to execute what I envision as far as making the website a “community”. I suspect that building the web interface will be the easy part of the process. Getting people to interact and share with one another will take more doing. I’ll need everyone’s help on that part. That’s the only way it will work – and grow.
There have been some who have questioned the wisdom of my folly and others who’ve dismissed the idea entirely. There are some who tell me to move on – that the journey is over. Literally speaking, the journey is over, in terms of the making of this movie but the journey was just the beginning as far as what this movie was meant to do. I’m not ready to abandon that notion just yet.
This day, that is supposedly about “love” has actually lost the meaning of that word in all the hype and commerce that has attached itself to it. In fact, I’d have to say that this particular day does more in the way of making people feel unloved than loved.
I suppose my feelings about Valentines Day started very early on when I was still in grade school. Every year, no matter which school I was attending, ( I moved a lot when I was younger) the teacher would set aside some time for the students to make and trade valentines. First we needed to make a box where our classmates could deposit their tokens of affection. Being the creative type, I would take an ordinary shoebox and turn it into a work of art. My classmates and I would either buy or make our valentines and then place them into each other’s elaborate or not so elaborate containers.
The day would finally arrive and we would all open up our boxes and dump our valentines out onto our desks. Sadly, most years my box contained only a handful of cards, even though I always had at least 50 kids in my classroom! That’s the way it was back then. But I was the perpetual “new kid” because my family moved a lot. And so, that took it’s toll on Valentines Day because I usually wasn’t on my classmates’ radar.
I look at the day now as an adult and I see that it still causes a lot of misplaced expectations on our loved ones, and worse yet, makes some of us feel like a total unloved misfit, if we don’t have a significant other or aren’t on the receiving end of someone’s affections. All this angst created by a day that has turned love into commerce.
I decided to write about this today because I’m reflecting on pivotal moments in my life when I really felt true love – unconditional love. One day in particular was the day after my daughter was born. I held her in my arms and I felt a love that I had never known before. I know that any parent reading this understands what I mean. Love should always be unconditional. We only truly “love” someone, when we love in that way – unconditionally. That only happens when we are able to think beyond ourselves. When we love someone, regardless of what they’ve said or done in anger or sadness, we begin to know what love really is. But we have to see past ourselves to get to that place.
Ronni Kahn, one of the subjects in our film said: “Do something for the sake of doing – not for the money – not for the recognition – but just for the sake of doing”. I think she was defining what true love really is. If we can abandon our expectations of what we want or expect in return from our loved ones – then that’s when we really care about that person and really love them. It’s hard to do, because you have to let go of your ego and how you feel. But when you truly love someone, you forgive their frailties and missteps and love them for who they are.
Forget the flowers, candy and cards today. Reach out to someone who needs some love or maybe just needs a bit of attention. Think beyond yourself. When you do that, you will understand the real meaning of the word “love”.
The last Christmas I spent with my mother was the Christmas of 2003. I didn’t know that would be our last Christmas together. She died very suddenly, less than two months later. I often wonder if I had known that Christmas was to be the last one that I’d spend with my mother, if I would have asked her the questions that I always wanted to ask. One thing I do remember about that Christmas was a moment during the evening when I caught a look in my mother’s face that I had seen before – a distant look where I felt as if she was somewhere else.
After my mother’s death, I learned a great deal about my mother – things I would have loved to have talked to her about. I was a perceptive and curious child, and there were always questions that I wanted to ask her, but I never did. I don’t know why. I could say that there was “never the right time” but I’ve grown to hate that expression or should I say excuse. I guess I was just too afraid.
I would not have been able to take the journey around the world with my daughter Erin and make this film if it hadn’t been for my mother. That’s why the name of the production company is Nola Productions, Nola was my mother’s name. When she died, she left me a bit of money and that helped finance Opening Our Eyes. That and airline miles, hotel points, crowd-funding and lots of help from my friends. But my mother gave me something even more important than money, that made this film happen. She gave me, belief in myself and compassion for others. If it hadn’t have been for my mom, I wouldn’t have had the desire to make a film that delivers the message, that we can all make a difference in how we choose to live our lives. And she always told me to believe in myself and my dreams and that anything was possible.
If you were to ask me (and many have) what was the best part of the trip – I’d would tell you that ii was spending time with my daughter. We not only explored the world together – we got to know each other as people – beyond the mother/daughter relationship. We’ll both remember the amazing places we went to and the extraordinary people that we met, but I think the memories that will linger the longest will be the conversations that we had along the way. We both asked the questions that we had been wanting to ask and shared the stories that we needed to share. Ultimately we “took the time” to get to know one another.
When I tell women about this trip and what I did with my daughter – they always say one of two things – or both – “Oh I would love to do that with my daughter” or “ I wish I had gotten to know my mother better”. I’m grateful that I had this time with my daughter and I know my mom was with us all the way. We couldn’t have done it without her.
Have a Merry Christmas everyone.
Last spring, my daughter and I set out to circle the globe on a 99-day journey, seeking people who were making a difference in the world. A little more than a year later, we have completed a feature documentary about ordinary people on six continents who have not only had a positive impact on others, but they have had life changing experiences themselves.
This journey and the film were inspired by a
young woman that my daughter had gone to high school with, Maggie Doyne, At 19-years old, Maggie opted not to go straight off to college, but instead traveled on what was intended to be a gap year between high school and college. Five years later, at the age of 24, she has built a home in Nepal for 35 orphaned children, where she now resides and had recently finished construction on a primary school for 250 children when we visited her last summer..
Maggie has caught the attention of quite a few high profile people who have helped her in her mission. Last fall she appeared on the cover of the NY Times Magazine illustrating an article by Nicholas Kristof about DIY foreign aid. She’s a remarkable young woman. But what is often overlooked when one mentions Maggie’s accomplishments is that she herself, has changed her life’s path – before barely beginning.
Maggie is just one of eleven people that appear in our film, Opening Our Eyes. As we traveled the world, my daughter and I quickly realized that all of these extraordinary people had one thing in common, beyond doing good for others. They all had disrupted their own lives and had shifted course. They had discovered their purpose and in the process, found their bliss.
Maggie is fortunate that she made this discovery while she was still young. In a less dramatic way, I had my own awakening early in my career. In the late 70’s, I had just finished studying photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California and I headed back East to pursue a career as a photojournalist. It was not the best of times to be starting out as a photojournalist, at least in terms of being able to make a decent living. So, I took a bit of a detour and pursued commercial photography instead. While making the rounds with my portfolio in NYC, I went to see legendary photographer Jay Maisel. Jay was known for his blunt demeanor, and when he looked at my perfectly presented photographic portfolio, he tossed it at me and told me it was garbage. He asked me if I had anything else to show him. I took out my dog-eared photos from my first world journey that I had taken before heading to Brooks. As he looked through my “snapshots” he asked me how old I was. I replied that I was 25 years old. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?” That was a turning point in my life and I never looked back from pursuing my passion.
I suppose Maggie and I are lucky in that we discovered our purpose at such a young age. But in making this film I learned one important thing – it’s never too late to find your bliss.
I gave a TEDx talk in Sao Paulo, Brazil last week, which was an energizing experience on many levels. I also had the opportunity to screen the film for a non-US audience for the first time. This has always been a very “global” project by the very nature that I’ts comprised of 11 stories on six continents. But it was the first time that I received a more “global” perspective and feedback on the film.
One young man from the audience asked a great question that had never been asked before in previous Q & A sessions. He asked me if making this film had changed my life. My answer was “yes, and it continues to change my life in many ways”.
Even though this was the first time anyone has asked me this question,
I think about how my life has changed all the time. Perhaps the biggest change was for me to really recognize what’s important and what’s not. I’ve come to realize that the thing that’s most important to me is for me to live my life doing the right thing. By that I mean, recognizing the fact that while it may seem to get me a little further ahead, by beating out the “other guy” or their agendas – it really doesn’t. Just because someone else “loses” doesn’t necessarily mean that I win.
When I returned to the US after being away for almost four months, I was struck by how we were behaving as a society. It seemed to me like we were spending more time and energy focusing on how to stop “the other guy” than we were on focusing on what we wanted and what we can do. So for me, after spending four months with people who were living their lives according to their own doctrine and happy because of it, I decided to shift my way of thinking. I’m now much more focused on what I can achieve while doing the right thing without the detriment to others. Perhaps if we all thought like that, everybody would win. Nowadays it seems like there are too many losers in our collective society.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since Erin and I returned from our round the world adventure, and I am very aware and grateful of how the making of this film has changed my life. I’d like to think that it has made me a better person.