And so it goes (hope within fear)

Well, my friends, it appears we have found ourselves in difficult and desperate times, living in the kind of world we have only imagined in our stories. It is an eerie feeling, to watch the world respond, to hear the newscasts that sound like they would be more at home in the opening scenes of The Walking Dead. There is a strange feeling of disconnected dread that hits your soul as you watch footage of hospitals overwhelmed in other parts of the world and know that your own city is only steps behind them. We have begun dealing in terms of ‘when’ not ‘if.’

Needless to say, the beginning of a pandemic is not the best time to attempt a multi-week digital detox. And while I still have not given up on my Quest to Save the Muse (from previous posts), the landscape we are in has changed. The focus of my daily life has turned towards emergency responses and government updates; both as a result of what I do for a living and simply existing during this period of time.

I don’t normally get into much detail about my work because I like to keep that screen up between my writing life and my working life. But right now it seems like an important detail to know about me. I work in the legal system, and my particular position falls into the category of ‘essential personnel’ within the courts. If my coworkers and I can’t make it in, then it effectively means that the local legal system has collapsed. We have been under evolving emergency orders that can change by the hour, requiring us to keep a pulse on the current crisis and analyze how those a step ahead of us on this road are responding. In the past several weeks I have worked more overtime than I ever have in my entire career. I have watched coworkers break down from sheer exhaustion and frustration, then wipe their eyes and keep pushing on. We have shared stories about our nightmares- waking up from a dream where our loved ones died because we got them sick. I check my temperature daily because it can be difficult to tell when your body is having a stress response or is getting sick. I worry- a lot; although as an introvert who has dealt with a long history of anxiety issues, I think I am a bit more equipped for this kind of world than some others may feel.

It has been a strange progression, watching this unfold in real time. I live in Washington state, a couple of hours south of Seattle, which was the US epicenter. I held my breath and braced myself when the first case to hit our shores landed a car ride away in a city I love- a city I regularly write about, a city my partner and I have repeatedly discussed moving to. We waited and watched as the counter started to slowly tick up and new towns were impacted.

We had all been joking about how hard it was to find toilet paper, finding laughter to cut through the uncertainty. The panic didn’t seem to settle in until the schools were closed. They announced it on a Friday night; and as soon as people got off work, many ran to the grocery stores. Friends were all sharing pictures of empty shelves and giving advice on where to go and where to avoid, “This store still has rice, that one is out of produce, the checkout lines are two hours long here, wait until morning.” That seemed to be the moment when reality truly hit people: this is happening here, this is happening to us, brace yourselves.

We’ve been on the roller coaster ever since: emergency orders began rolling out the following Monday, they changed daily and were difficult to navigate. A week later my state announced a “Stay home, stay healthy” order. We’ve had notifications of potential exposures, relatives who are in quarantine waiting for test results, grandparents in lockdown in retirement communities.

Through all of the fear and confusion, there has been one thing that heals my heart a little bit. It’s the way many have begun reaching out (figuratively) to help one another. One friend picking up a bag of rice for the person who couldn’t find any after going to six different stores. Others I only see once or twice a year who have picked up the old group chat- checking in to make sure everyone is financially taken care of. Many of my friends are teachers, most of them aren’t getting paid- some of them have been told that their schools might not be able to reopen. They mention their fears in a group text and when their phone buzzes an hour later they have money in their Venmo account and food being delivered to their door. Another friend brightened a dreary birthday by gifting me with toilet paper she had to hunt for- just to make me smile. At the end of the day, we take care of each others. That’s what we do. We reconnect from a distance and find comfort in a moment of fear and confusion. We embrace artistry to cope with reality. We keep trying, every single day, to make things better for someone else. That is what gives me hope right now- that is what keeps me sane, and that is how we find our way back to something beautiful after all of the pain.

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End it on a good one

I rarely dabbled in organized sports growing up, often preferring to play on my own terms with my own friends (we will pretend that my lack of coordination and fear of letting other people down had nothing at all to do with it). I always had a blast, learned a lot and made new friends. But there is one lesson that stuck with me, a quote that my eighth grade volleyball coach used to call out at the end of every practice, “end it on a good one.” We would get into position and keep pushing until we got it right for the last time of the night. It didn’t seem to matter if we failed most of the time, if practice was a complete disaster- we would always rally to find a way to end it right. I don’t know why this one little lesson stuck with me all these years later; I’m on the cusp of 30 (where the hell did the time go?) and I still catch myself saying this- at the end of a long day, at the end of a hard year- always end it on a good one.

2018 is at a close, and the fresh promise of a new year is awaiting us just mere hours from now. This year I’m not dressed up, I’m not out with a big group of friends, I’m not drinking- I’m pretty boring I guess. But the funny thing is, I’m ending the year doing exactly what I love, something I neglected more than I should have these past months. I’m sitting here writing, spilling my heart on paper with my dog curled up contentedly at me feet and the man I love just feet away playing a video game (ironically, his favorite thing to do and something he has been too busy to enjoy this past year). It’s simple and special only because it means something to us.

2018 was a mixed blessing for me. One year ago today my dad was recovering from the accident that almost killed him. I remember being so thankful for the small miracles as I sat with him and helped him recover that winter. 2018 was the year that my weaknesses helped me discover my strength. I took care of my dad while trying to work and go to school full time. I was in a car accident that left me shaken and injured myself. My car didn’t survive, but I was lucky that it wasn’t worse. Months of pain and treatments taught me how fragile and also how strong the human body can be. I struggled through anxiety attacks and a terrifying slip into depression because I wouldn’t stop pushing myself so hard. I still remember what it felt like to carry that ball of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, to collapse on the bathroom floor at work as an anxiety attack stormed through me. I remember how it took months of ‘self care’ before I felt normal again.

2018 was the year of the ‘almost-house,’ when we were finally going to buy one and I was so excited. It was a dream finally coming true. It was also the year that we backed out of it because something just didn’t feel right. And one month later I thanked my stars that we listened to our instincts because Link (my dog) got hurt and lost the ability to use his back legs. The money we had planned on using for a down payment turned into the money that paid for the surgery that let him walk again. Now he’s as feisty as ever, chasing the cat up and down the stairs in the house we’re renting- seems like a pretty fair trade to me.

2018 was also the year of miracles, the year of change. As of today I am 18 weeks pregnant with our very first little one, something I’ve wanted for such a long time. My tummy is just popping, the little bulge evident under my old t-shirts that I will continue to wear as long as I can. Truthfully, those first months of pregnancy were some of the hardest I have endured, but now that I’m finally on the other side of the morning sickness and fatigue (and with a new appreciation for how amazingly tough women are), and I can look back with more gratitude than I could muster at the time. I didn’t think it would ever really happen, but here we are, about it turn another chapter in our lives. 2018 started out harder than I could have imagined, but in a matter of months everything changed.

I’ve been thinking and re-evaluating, like I do every year. And I came to a simple conclusion: happiness doesn’t always have to be hard, and sometimes the best thing you can ever do is listen to your instincts. You don’t have to push yourself to the breaking point to succeed, and the journey will always be more important than the final destination. I had a goal last year, one that I pursued relentlessly, one that I thought I wanted. But in my quest to fulfil that goal I forgot about enjoying the journey. I twisted it into something it never should have been and sacrificed my own mental health in the process. I ignored the things that I loved, telling myself I would have time later. I would have time to write, time to spend with people, time to play with the dog, time to just exist as I am. But time isn’t guaranteed and good intentions will only take you so far.

So for 2019 I am taking a step back and simplifying. I am trusting my instincts and following my heart. I am writing again, and I can feel my soul uncurling as it awakens. I am playing with the dog and making plans with loved ones; I am doing all of the things that mattered to me, all of the things that fill my soul and help me center myself. This is going to be a year of change, a year of growth, and fresh promises. It’s going to be messy and imperfect, but all of the best moments are.

Happy New Year everyone, I hope you live this next year as authentically as you can. I hope you learn, I hope you grow, I hope you enjoy the small moments and appreciate the lessons of the harder ones. And if things get rough, I hope you remember that a single day can change your whole world. A year from now you will be a completely different person; I hope you love that person and cherish every step that got you there- the ones that you danced over and the ones you fought and clawed for. You deserve a beautiful year, and I hope you get it. Until then, lets end it on a good one.

New Year, New Promise, and Welcome Back

I missed this place, I missed writing on these blank pages, I missed talking to all of you. I miss reading all of your words and finding a connection in the infinite digital cosmos we have here. It’s been far too long, my dear friends. It feels good to be back. I hope 2018 finds you all well and full of hope for the coming year.

This past fall I decided to finally plunge headfirst into something that scared me- that’s why I wasn’t here as often. Life has been so busy and full, I was trying to keep myself from being too overwhelmed. Although in hindsight, I missed this too damn much. I decided to go back to school after nearly a decade of talking about it. The stars aligned, I was so sick of spinning my wheels, I had a little bit of money saved up and I was finally ready to leap into it. I was terrified- I work full time and decided to take classes full time in the evenings as well. I learned very quickly that you are always capable of so much more than you ever realized. I did it- every single day was planned and regimented, every waking moment had a schedule attached to it- but I did it. I walked away from my first quarter with all A’s and an unhealthy addiction to energy drinks.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore something happened, something that shook me to my core. My dad got hurt the day after Thanksgiving while hanging Christmas lights. We beat the ambulance to the hospital and watched him get wheeled out on a stretcher, pale as a ghost. We heard the call for an emergency surgical trauma team over the speakers in the ER and wondered if it was for him. They put us in a separate waiting room before telling us what his condition was. I remember sitting there wide eyed and counting the tissue boxes piled up on every end table- 12. He had fallen from his second story balcony while putting up Christmas lights. By the time the ambulance made it to him his lung capacity was down to 20% and he was making peace with his maker. I met the doctor that sliced a hole in his chest and put a tube into his lung when he was reaching the point where he nearly stopped breathing. In spite of everything, we were lucky. He broke five ribs, punctured his lung, broke his collarbone into five pieces, cracked his scapula and fractured his spine in three places. But he was alive and, miraculously, he wasn’t paralyzed. We were lucky. Three days in the ICU, nine days in the hospital, a month of in-home care provided mainly by myself with a little bit of help from siblings, two trips to the emergency room, a plethora of doctor visits, and a long road ahead of him, but he is alive and he can walk.

It’s a strange thing to see your parent walk for the first time after an accident that nearly left them in a wheelchair. There’s an odd sense of pride that kept me wondering if he had felt the same way when I took my first steps. It’s an odd moment when you take care of a parent that once took care of you, when you learn the struggles and frustrations that come with care work. It’s a terrifying moment when you realize how easily life can change, how little control you have over the things that happen to you and the people that you love. It’s a liberating feeling when you decide to use these dark moments to inspire you to be better and to live more fully.

2017 taught me many lessons. My family had far too many ‘almosts.’ We almost lost my childhood home to a fire, we almost lost my cousin to the Las Vegas shooting, we almost lost my dad. With every single ‘almost’ we were reminded that there is still hope that comes with every lesson. There is no time to wait to tell someone that you care, spend quality time with a person you love, read that book on your wishlist, go back to school, chase that dream- if all you have is right now, then you need to make ‘right now’ count. That is what I am taking with me into 2018. A hope and a promise that this is the year I won’t hold back.

I don’t want to wait until I am ‘less busy’ to write. I don’t want to wait until I’m done with school before I start climbing towards my other goals. I don’t want to take tomorrow for granted anymore. So here I am, doing something that I love simply because I love it, not because I’ll get anything else out of it.

To all of you, I hope you don’t take this new year for granted. I hope you feel the world so very deeply. I hope you laugh and cry, fall in love with others and yourself all over again. I hope you push hard, fight for what matters to you, strive to reach your goals. I hope you find more than you did a year ago. It won’t be a perfect year, you will face challenges and struggles that you never expected, but I hope you find something beautiful in each of them. In 2018 I will be looking for hope and living a life that I can be proud of if I don’t get to see another sunrise. I want to be excited about the life I have lived, not just the one I am striving for. Happy new year, my beautiful friends, it’s good to see you all again.

Thank You to My Everyday Heroes (Phoenix in the Fire)

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

-Gandalf

The fires are still burning; the west is still awash in flames and blackened embers. And yet, with this devastation, a phoenix was born, rising from the ashes that fell from our skies. I have found hope and love in a world that has gone dark. I found a common urgency for kindness and community as our fears grew. Yes, the fires still burn, and yet our hope has not been extinguished.

California, Oregon, Washington, Montana; all are ablaze and in desperate need of help. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the acreage lost to the actively burning fires stands at 1,652,402- and this number continues to grow every day. That’s not the total for the year thus far; that is simply the large scale fires that are still burning.

I’m in the Pacific Northwest where we are still fighting the Eagle Creek fire on the Oregon side, which has consumed over 33,000 acres of land in the scenic Gorge area. I have friends who were evacuated from their homes a week ago and don’t know when they will ever be able to return. My dad’s house was threatened by a spot fire that erupted when an ember flew from Eagle Creek and landed on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It landed on the same night my dad stayed awake with a hose protecting his home from the embers that fell where he lived. Archer mountain, 4 miles from my childhood home, was dry as a bone and lit up the sky. It’s still burning. It’s tiny in comparison to Eagle Creek; a mere 209 acres at the last update. But it was in my backyard, and when your neighborhoods are being threatened; it doesn’t matter how small that threat may appear; it’s still a natural entity that has more than enough power to consume and destroy everything you care about.

That first day was terrifying; the fire kept growing, the evacuation alerts kept coming, and the damn wind would not stop blowing. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the fire itself barging down the door- I was afraid of the live embers that were dancing through the air for miles around and erupting into spot fires where they landed. I was terrified of losing my neighborhood, the place that stored all of my fondest memories of the world when it was far less complicated. I was scared of losing my childhood home; the only place that ever truly made me feel like I belonged in it. But most of all, I was petrified because my dad is stubborn as hell, knows enough about fires to be confident (he’s worked for the fire department for over 30 years), and he didn’t want to leave his home. He lives at the end of a dead-end street out in the middle of nowhere; and if the fire came, it’s projected route would cut off his only exit if he hesitated too long.

There’s something insidious in the simple fact that there are situations where you will have no control. There is something poisonous in the knowledge that for those life-altering moments, you might only have enough power to watch the news reports, to follow the weather and pray. This is something our poor friends in Texas and Florida know well. You might have to go to work and explain to your boss why you can’t really concentrate and why you are checking your phone every five minutes, or why you are jumping at unexpected noises- you will explain that you set up evacuation alerts to let you know if your dad needs to leave his home- to let you know that you need to make him leave. That powerless feeling; it burrows deep into your soul; you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t think or talk about anything else. You function under the sole motivation to collect more information. Because collecting is the only thing you can do. It’s a cruel twist of fate for us humans who have a deep desire to play the puppet-master of our own lives. So you pray- you pray to anything and everything you have ever believed in. Because what else will you do?

We’ve had good news this week; our first responders are amazing- there are truly no words for the appreciation and love we all feel towards them right now. They have been everything; our sun, our moon, our stars. They remind me why we all wanted to be like them when we were little; they remind me why heroes claim the name that they do. They saved our homes, they saved this little community of ours. They dug in their heels, they gritted their teeth and they fought with every ounce of energy they possessed. They fell asleep where they sat- for only a few hours before getting up and doing it all over again. It’s because of them that my friends still have their homes. It’s because of them that my dad’s home is still here. It was their hard work that allowed a young mother to finally bring her children back home after their evacuation alert was lowered. It’s because of them that I can finally start to breathe a little bit easier. The fire has grown; but they held the line and ensured that it didn’t grow towards our homes. Since the last time I wrote, they’ve managed to reach 15% containment on Archer Mountain. That’s pretty amazing, given the terrain and less than ideal weather. They’ve been stretched so thin that there are fire burning in our state without crews attached to them- because they can’t afford to sacrifice the resources. They’ve been here fighting for us instead.

There was a shift in the wind that was good for my little piece of the Gorge; but bad for my friends across the river. They have just shy of 1,000 firefighters on their side, including several hotshot teams (think navy seals of the firefighting world), over 100 engines and a small fleet of helicopters; they sit at 7% contained, and expect to be fighting this blaze through October at least. They’ve done an amazing job; over 33,000 acres, and only 3 homes lost. I know I say that like it’s nothing, but I can feel the shot through my heart with those words. 3 homes; 3 homes like mine full of memories and beloved items; a symbol for your life, a safe place that you will struggle to find again. Every loss hurts. Because we’re all here enduring this together; every loss is a reminder that all it takes is a change in the wind or an errant ember to drastically alter our fates and the lots of the things we love. We walk a hairs width out here, but we walk it together. And we have the bravest warriors to protect us. I say only 3 because without these brace souls with their spot-streaked faces, we would have lost entire towns. They did that for us.

There is something that arises from the darkness that we endure; there is a quality in all of us that only seems to show in these moments of distress. While there are still some who will take advantage of the darkness, ones who will do horrible things; like stealing the vehicles and gear of our firefighters- these lost souls are rare. Most people come together, remembering what is important at the end of the day. All of our differences and disagreements fall away. None of it matters anymore when you walk into your personal hell, you cling to anyone near you; even if you were shooting daggers at one another the day before. The world has gone on around us; the news reminds me everyday of the battles we are all waging, the ideologies we are fighting for, the hopes that we cling to. But for just a moment; those things don’t matter- they do- but, our different don’t matter. People don’t ask you who you voted for when you are reaching out for help. They don’t wonder what you posted on Facebook an hour ago, unless you were begging for an update on a loved one, or looking for a place to stay the night. My daily interactions now include people asking and volunteering information about themselves, their homes and their families. It’s found in the traditionally cut-throat litigators at work asking for a continuance on their case because opposing counsel has been focused on protecting his family and his home, which are on level 2 evacuation notices (level 2 means ‘get set’ and be ready for level 3- 3 means go now).

I found hope in places I didn’t expect it, from people I didn’t necessarily see as being as selfless as they were. This is probably a flaw of mine that I need to work on. On the first day a girl I knew who wouldn’t be caught dead out of her designer clothes and makeup was driving up and down the evacuation zones helping people get their livestock to safety. Neighbors would show up to help each other with trailers in tow. So many items were donated that they were running out of places to store them. At some sites simple things like coffee turned into gold. Businesses offered free food to emergency responders and those displaced. People you hadn’t talked to in nearly a decade would reach and ask how you were- because they remember where your parents lived when you were friends back in school. Strangers spoke words of comfort and compassion to me; they shared the stories of those impacted and brought an overlooked issue to people’s attention. I will forever be grateful. People cared. People helped. And they still are.

It’s just like what we saw with Harvey; when it mattered, we showed up. We reminded each other what we are truly about. When everything is done, I am sure we will go back to squabbling about politics and debating lifestyle choices and generally causing discontent on social media. But there will still be this experience between us; these common things that we endured together. We will still remember those unexpected heroes who showed up when we were in need, the ones that remembered where we were from and took the time to listen when we were scared. Personally, I will try to remember that most people are made of tougher stuff than I realized. We found a small patch of common ground; it might be burnt, and blackened, but it is still our ground, it is still the path we have walked together.

Tonight I pray for everyone who’s struggling, who’s fighting, who’s scared. Tonight I pray for our first responders and our everyday heroes who just showed up. I pray for the west with our fires, for Texas who has a long road to recovery, and for everyone being impacted by Irma. I pray for India and the flooding they’ve been fighting. We might be facing different foes; but it’s the same battle. No matter how far apart we are, no matter what we each believe; we are all in this together. We are stronger when we stand as one, when we reach out, when we put our differences aside and look at each other as humans. I will never turn away, I’m still watching, and when the moment comes- my hand will be reaching out to help you the way others have helped me. Thank God for these everyday heroes; they are the best we could ever hope to become. I strive everyday to live up to what they do.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Right now I am sitting bundled up in blankets in my little office (I use this term loosely, as this little room doubles as my impromptu living room and occasional dining area- I live small). We put up our own strand of white christmas lights around the single window, and we are both working by their comforting soft glow tonight. There is a chill in the air and talk of snow next week. Yesterday at my dentist’s office we listened to all of those old holiday favorites everyone can sing along to. And tomorrow morning I have a date with my mom and sister to bake (hopefully) delicious holiday treats. It seems this year ran away with me before I could take a second to enjoy the scenery. 

It is the time of year for thankfulness and small acts of kindness. A time to remember all that we have and make sure those in our lives know their importance. I can occasionally appear to be a cynic (I prefer the term realist) on the outside, but inside I have always been a hopeless romantic who falls head over heels in love with this time of year. As cliche as it sounds, it isn’t about the bows and shiny wrapping paper. It’s not even about the twinkling lights and eggnog. What I love about this season can only be found in the smallest of moments.

It’s in the way my sister’s eyes light up when she finds the perfect Christmas tree. Even at 25, the magic is never lost on her. We will tramp through the lines and lines of trees, scrutinizing every detail until our noses are as red as cherries and we can’t feel our toes. And then she spots it. She grins like she did when we were kids and she stole my first dollhouse. We make our way back with our prize slung carefully over our shoulders and warm up over hot apple cider and rice crispy treats. And then onward home to trim the little beauty in all its glory. That’s why I love this holiday- because it puts a smile on the face of a girl who doesn’t catch many breaks the rest of the year.

It’s in the way I can dance in my car on the way to work and not even feel silly (I strongly suggest Jim Carey’s The Grinch soundtrack for this activity). It’s in the pay it forward coffees as Starbucks. It’s in the excited way my nephews tell me all about their letters to Santa or proudly hold out their freshly cut paper snowflakes. It’s in the midnight snowball fights on the front yard (in which Zach will, at some point, drop some down the back of my shirt). It’s in the small little thoughts of coworkers who try to make the office a little bit brighter. It’s in the way we all speak to one another a little more kindly, smile a little broader, listen a little bit longer when we ask how the other is. It’s in the calming twinkling of those beautiful lights that dance across our faces on late night walks with the dog, all bundled up with gloves and scarves.

There is a magic to this season that is unparalleled. When you stop to enjoy the life that it breathes into a soul during these dreary winter days. There is a warmth to it that you won’t find come January or February. It’s unique, it’s comforting, it’s a hopeful conclusion to a long and busy year, holding delicately a promise for the year to come.

Welcome back, my dear, sweet holiday season. This year, may we remember what is truly important and learn to find some common ground. May we bring one another smiles and friendship without ill intentions. It is the time of year for openness and hopeful endeavors. My friends, may you find all of the love and promise that you had hoped for this season, may you rediscover the childhood joy that still sleeps within, and may you embrace the simplistic beauty that surrounds us. This year, may we find comfort building bridges to one another instead of constructing walls to hide behind. May we remember who we once were and who we still hope to become. Cheers, my dearest friends. May we all embrace this magic and hold true to the true meaning that breathes life back into our weary souls.

Shrodinger’s Election (it’s almost over)

I didn’t think this election season would ever end, but alas, here we are on that illustrious Tuesday that will determine the road we will take from here. Now, don’t worry, I’m not about to start pelting you with my political opinions and assail you with how ours might not align perfectly. We are all entitled to our individual opinions, and while we might be strongly opposed, we must respect one another’s right to maintain their respective stance.

I believe tonight’s election will be telling, though I am fearful. Partially fearful for the results, but more so for the reactions to these results. I have never seen our country as divided and charged as we were this year, and I will openly admit that I am worried how some will respond if their candidate is not chosen. After an election season that consisted of more mud slinging than general debate and more debasement than productive conversation, I can only hope that we will take these lessons we have learned and use them to better ourselves. It’s no secret that this election has been a royal mess- one played out on an international level. However, in spite of all of the name-calling and general embarrassment, one thing has happened: people have been forced to start those difficult conversations we have been avoiding. And while we might not like everything that has been said, it is a genuine step forward that the words have been spoken at all. Now we must take this momentum and use it to move forward. We must remember our compassion and find our respect again. We must remind ourselves that we have to come together if we ever want to make progress. We must remember that there is a time to speak and a time to listen. 

No matter the outcome, I can only hope that we have learned something that will serve us well in the future. This is our country, these are our responsibilities. Cheers, my friends, may we find peace and progress in the coming months. (I know- a girl can dream).

I dream of a world…

My dreams are not big or luxurious. I dream of a world where I can walk into a shopping mall, a movie theater, a school, or even my own place of work and not worry about an irate person carrying a weapon and a vendetta inside, hoping to make the nightly news in their final blaze of glory. I dream of a world where I do not have to listen and watch my surroundings as I walk to my car, searching for a hidden threat. I dream of a world where I can turn on the news and not hear about another bombing, another attack, another murder; more death, more pain, more heartache. I dream of a world where the length of my skirt does not measure my worth or the level of respect others give me. I dream of a world where no means no. I dream of a world where the color of your skin or your nation of origin is a mere cliff-note, and not the cover of your book, to be judged and tossed away. I dream of a world where a helping hand is a given, not a political opporitunity to stand on a soap box and point fingers. I dream of a world where someone asks you how you are doing- and waits to hear the answer. I dream of a world full of common courtesy and, dare I say, compassion.

I know that these ideals are the simplest and most complex wishes a person can have. Their solutions seem so straightforward, a child could figure it out, could see the flaws in our system. But alas, we are not children, and we have shaded this world is colors that they cannot see. We forgot the lessons our parents taught us when we were small; perhaps they forgot them too. We always say that the world is just too complicated- but perhaps we are the ones making it that way.

We tell ourselves that we are just one person, and as such, we cannot make a difference. But we are diluting ourselves, pointing the finger at anyone else, anyone but us. Because taking responsibility is not in our nature. We are just one person- we did not make the world turn into such an ugly place, we just live in it. It’s a cop out, an escape hatch, a way to turn the other cheek. If we want to see a change, we have to start small, we have to take a long look inside and realize the type of people that we have become. We have to recognize our biases and prejudices, those knee-jerk thoughts and judgments that come to us without thought. We are not saints, we all have them, we have too many life experiences not to. But that doesn’t make them right.

It starts with instrospection, with self-awareness, with a realization of why we are the way that we are. It builds with a change; with a simple respect, with that age-old piece of wisdom: treat others as you wish to be treated. It crescendos into action; in speaking up for someone without a voice, in asking how they are, in reaching our your hand to pull someone else in.

The world may be a dark place sometimes, but we do not have to dress to match. We do not have to change, to become bitter imbattled versions of those bright happy people we once were. The world may be a complicated place, but we do not have to be. Kindness begets kindness, a smile is more often met with a smile. A soft word is more respected than a harsh one.

I am not naïve, I know that my dreams will probably always remain dreams. I know that I will continue to reverently walk by the memorial in a mall near my home where three people lost their lives in a shooting four years ago. I know I’ll always wonder if the other shoe will drop, if I’ll find myself in the same position, running from the sounds of a rifle in what should be a safe place. I know my heart will ache every time I hear about another active shooter, another bombing, another death. I know that I will cry interally everytime I am in a room and people are asked to raise their hands if they have been a victim of sexual assault or rape. Because all too often there are more hands up in the air than those laying flat. I know that I will always walk briskly to my car, ears listening for footfalls that come too close, eyes scanning for suspicious people or vehicles, fingers gripped tightly around my keys- just in case. I know that I will always dress in a certain way to keep people from staring, to keep them from talking. I will avoid certain situations because trust is a hard commodity to find.

But I wont stop dreaming about a world where these do not have to be my realities. I will continue to find hope in those few people who ask me how I am doing and wait to hear the answer. I will find comfort in the smiles of a stranger. I will keep speaking my mind when it matters, and listening when someone needs to talk. I will keep trying. I will keep hoping, I will keep dreaming. Because some dreams are too important to let die.