“When it’s all over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.” — Mary Oliver
The other day, I was talking to a friend about the people who have most impacted our lives. She shared with me a moving encounter she recently had with a stranger and remarked, “Isn’t it odd that a total stranger had that kind of impact on me?”
I said it’s almost always a stranger that ends up shifting your life. In fact, my own life has been deeply impacted by several total strangers over the years.
My friend paused and was slightly aghast. “What do you mean? How can that be?” she asked.
Before someone becomes your friend or partner, they are a stranger to you, I explained. Something about them moved you and then you delved further into conversation — deeper into connection — and got to know them better.
Sometimes it might also be the words of a total stranger in a book or a poem that move you so deeply that you shift everything you thought you knew and embark on a different course.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who passed away this week, came into my life just like that. Her words have touched and moved me so profoundly over the course of my life. Eventually, she went from being a total stranger to a loving, loyal friend and for that, I am forever grateful.
“Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” — Henry David Thoreau
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the different speeches that have been on TV these last few days.
Yes, I watched the president speak from the Oval Office on Tuesday about the wall and our government shutdown. I also watched the Democratic leadership’s rebuttal right afterward.
Neither of these speeches moved me. Instead, they just made me mad. They made me mad about where we are right now in our country. They made me mad that so many hard-working Americans aren’t being paid and are struggling to get by. They made me mad that our country’s leadership can’t come together and find some path to common ground. They made me mad because, if you ask me, it feels as if the president and the Democratic leadership have put up a wall between themselves…
“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” — T.S. Eliot
On the first day of 2019, I sat down and meditated on how blessed I am to get this chance at a new year of life.
I focused on my intention to embrace the year ahead as one big magical adventure. My mind raced at times while thinking about this challenge to myself, but as I slowed down and focused my breathing, I found myself feeling calm and hopeful about what’s ahead.
If I have one big goal for this year, it’s to approach all of my professional and personal decisions from a place of adventure in 2019. Or, as one of my favorite poets the late John O’Donahue writes, I want to “awaken my spirit to adventure” this year. (You can read his poem in the “Sunday Reflection” section below.)
This year, I want to venture out, venture forward and venture into the unknown. I want to make decisions by asking myself, “Am I going to see and/or experience something new by doing this? Will it scare me or push me outside my comfort zone? Will I be able to look back and feel like I learned something or grew in some way? Will it be fun, meaningful and worthwhile?”
If my answer to these questions is “yes,” then I’ll know I’m making the right choice.
In 2019, I want to push myself to try things I might have said “no” to in the past. I want to challenge myself to keep an open mind about new opportunities. I want to stop looking at the items on my calendar as things I have to do, and instead, view them as experiences that I get to embark upon. And, I want to keep track of it all along the way.
That’s why I’m excited about “I’ve Been Thinking… The Journal,” which came out last week. This journal is a place for me (and for all of you as well) to write down what I’m thinking and experiencing throughout the coming year. It will also be a place for me to document how I’m feeling, what I’m excited about, what I’m scared of, and what I’m hopeful about.
“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” — T.S. Eliot
Another year is upon us. Isn’t it amazing?
It feels like just yesterday that I was embarking on 2018 and preparing to launch I’ve Been Thinking… into the world. At the time, I had no idea how the book would be received or whether people would enjoy reading it. I have to admit I was even a little scared. But today, I am able to look back on this past year in awe and with deep, deep gratitude.
I loved being on the road this past year meeting so many of you at book events. I also enjoyed meeting you at our Move for Minds events benefiting The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, through my work at NBC News, and through my work with my daughter Christina talking about our Netflix film “Take Your Pills.” Being on the road throughout 2018 was inspiring and invigorating. Why? Becaus eit gave me a chance to meet so many of you, our Sunday Paper readers.
Every year, just a few days before Christmas, my family and I sit down in our home with a minister friend and focus on the true meaning of the season.
It’s one of those traditions that everyone really seems to look forward to each year. It’s a night of grounding and it’s a moment of calm before the storm.
We begin by listening to a reading from the Bible. Then, we talk about what that parable means to each of us. We also talk to one another about our lives over the past year. Our triumphs. Our struggles. Our hopes and plans for moving forward.
After each person speaks, I usually ask, “Do you feel supported by the people in this room? If not, how can we better support you? How can we do a better job of being there for you, or backing off when you need space and letting you roam?”
Last week, as I was sitting in the back of the room at the World Dementia Council Summit in London, a woman about my age stood up to speak. She had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and wanted the world leaders to hear what it’s like to live with the condition first-hand.
“We don’t want your pity,” she told them firmly. “We also don’t want your fear. All we want is for you to ask us, ‘What it’s like to be you right now?’”
The room fell silent.
This woman’s words really struck me. I’ve been thinking a lot about them ever since.
“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” — Ernest Hemingway
There are some weeks when I wait until the very end to write my “I’ve Been Thinking…” essay for The Sunday Paper. That’s because I like to have time to really reflect upon what I’ve experienced, what I’ve felt, and what has stayed with me over the past week.
There is so much coming at us these days that it is often helpful to pause, catch your breath and ask yourself, “What really mattered to me this week? What will I remember most? What was most meaningful to me, and why?”
This week, one thing that was really meaningful to me was that I got to attend the World Dementia Council Summit in London. This was a gathering of world leaders who came together to discuss what we can do to wipe out Alzheimer’s in our lifetime.
I attended the event so that I could speak about the global impact of Alzheimer’s on women. As I’ve said before, women are at an increased risk for this disease and they are also the ones who do most of the caregiving around the world. I see this as the ultimate women’s empowerment issue, and I’m glad I got to bring this important message to the global stage.
I was so inspired by all the scientists, researchers, politicians and advocates who gathered to discuss how we can better collaborate, innovate and speed up our goal of finding a treatment or a cure. I’m grateful and humbled that our work at The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement was included in this important discussion and that it was recognized for its game-changing work on behalf of women.
While I was honored to be a part of this global gathering in London this week, I also know that back home our nation was mourning the loss of former President George H.W. Bush and remembering his legacy. As I flew home on Thursday, I found myself returning over and over to former President George W. Bush’s poignant speech about his father at the funeral.
“The unending paradox is that we do learn through pain.” — Madeleine L’Engle
There I was last Sunday, sitting on my porch reading, when I came across a fascinating and inspiring article in the newspaper. (My porch is my favorite spot to sit, think, read, reflect, dream and write.)
As a married mother of three, L’Engle spent years pursuing her passion for writing on the side. But, as the article states, she felt “spasms of guilt” for trying to write and never having much success. At age 40, L’Engle reportedly almost gave up writing altogether. But then, she had what she called her “moment of decision.”
That moment, according to the article, was when L’Engle realized that she had to keep writing for herself, even if she never successfully published another book again. And so, she began anew.
L’Engle got the idea for “A Wrinkle in Time” while on a family camping trip. She wrote the book, submitted to her editor, and then the rejections started to pour in. “A Wrinkle in Time” received “forty-odd rejections,” according to the article. L’Engle called each one “a wound.”
Nevertheless, she persisted, and “A Wrinkle in Time” went on to become the bestselling phenomenon that it is today.
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” — Mark Twain
And so it begins…
The holiday madness. The holiday rush. Everywhere you look, you see ads for this and that. Must buys. Must haves. Must gets.
I, for one, find it all to be overwhelming. That’s why this holiday season, I’ve decided that I want to try and stay present and focused on what the holiday spirit really means to me.
For me, the holiday season is about joy. It’s about my faith. It’s about generosity of spirit (not generosity of my wallet). It’s about kindness to my fellow human beings.
“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.” — Barbara De Angelis
The other day, I woke up to a text from my friend Matthew DiGirolamo.
Matthew and I worked together for many years. He’s a bright and creative writer and thinker, so I pay attention when he sends me a message.
Matthew said: “I think we should create an ‘Inner Peace Corps.’ Our world is in a mental and emotional health crisis and I feel like we need a corps of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, meditation coaches, etc. to be organized in a massive and coordinated volunteer effort. In times of tragedy and grief, they can help people process their pain, trauma, grief, and stress, and help them connect to their core emotions in a healthy way.”
“In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.” — Deepak Chopra
As I watched the news unfold on Thursday about the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, here in California, a woman on the treadmill next to me at the gym said, “You know, you can’t go anywhere in this country anymore. Nowhere is safe.”
I’ve always known life is fragile. As someone who grew up in a family where two uncles were gunned down, I had that message drilled into me at a very young age. It’s one I have never forgotten.
But the idea that nowhere is safe anymore is a terrifying reality, isn’t it? How does one “live” when one feels that nowhere is actually safe to live? That’s a question each of us must ask ourselves these days.
For me, it’s all just another reminder to get my house in order. I don’t mean my physical house, per se. (Although getting my house in order over the summer really did help center me.) No, I mean my house of relationships. Because the truth is, you just never know.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Guess what Tuesday is?
Yep, it’s Election Day. But it’s also my birthday! Yippee!
Every year as my birthday approaches, I like to take stock of my life. I like to drill down and assess where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.
I ask myself, “Am I in connection with those I love? Am I spending time with them? Do they feel supported by me? Do they feel my love?”
I also take stock of my work. I ask, “Do I feel like it’s bringing me meaning? Do I want to get up every day and dive into it? Does it satisfy my curiosity? Am I learning and growing? Do I feel like I have a mission larger than myself and that I am giving my all to achieving it?”
Then I ask, “Am I in connection with God?” Truthfully, I find myself relying a lot on this relationship, especially as life moves forward.
When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I heard the words, but it took me several years to accept the realities of the disease.
I’ll never forget one moment when we were sitting outside in his backyard together. It was just a few years after he was diagnosed. There was traffic racing by on a nearby highway, but he thought he heard water flowing.
“Don’t you love the sound of that water?” my father asked me.
I corrected him. “No daddy, that’s traffic.”
He shook his head and insisted that he heard water. I corrected him several times until finally, I accepted his version of reality.
“Wow, Daddy, I hear the water, too,” I said. “It’s so calming.”
He smiled and nodded, relieved that I had met him where he was.
My friend Martha said something to me the other day that stopped me cold. “I have an idea for you,” she said. Having no idea what her idea could possibly be, I said, “Go for it. Tell me.”
Now, Martha knows me well. She knows my strengths, my weaknesses, my fears. She’s stood beside me when it was dark and she has constantly and consistently pushed me into my own light. When a person like that says they have an idea for you, pay attention.
Martha went on to tell me that a mutual friend who had recently been in a meeting with me remarked, “I didn’t know how smart Maria is. I didn’t realize who she was until that meeting. Why is she holding back her power?”
Martha continued, “Why don’t you take a week and walk into every encounter – personally and professionally – and say exactly what’s on your mind? Why don’t you take a week to feel your own personal power? Don’t be afraid that you might offend people. Don’t be afraid you might scare people. Don’t be afraid of your own intensity. Step into it and see how you feel.”
“If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house. If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.” — Chinese
I’ve been thinking so much lately about what can bring us together and what can bridge our deep divide. All kinds of ideas have come to mind.
Some are so very basic, like “vote! vote! vote!” It’s a gift and it’s our civic duty, so let’s exercise that right on November 6 (which just happens to be my birthday).
I’ve also thought about the importance of seeking out our neighbors. It’s such a simple idea, and yet, it’s an important step in building community, connection and common ground.
So are Sunday dinners. I’ve talked about the power of them before and it’s an idea that I’m really hoping will catch on. Invite people from all different walks of life — people from different races, people who hold different political views, people who have different life experiences than yours. After all, if we want to bring people together, then starting in our own homes is a powerful place to start.
I know many of you are waking up feeling enraged, angry, frustrated and disillusioned this morning. Meanwhile, others of you feel this process ended fairly and are probably just relieved that all this Supreme Court drama is over.
In fact, I heard some say yesterday, “I’m glad this is over. It’s time to move on.”
Yes, the news cycle will move on. It always does.
But, I believe the soul of our country is forever altered. So are the souls of all those people who shared their stories. Who confronted long, buried and painful memories. Who testified and spoke up. Even for those who stayed silent, I imagine their souls are also forever changed.
“The ego seeks to divide and separate. The spirit seeks to unify and heal.” — Pema Chodron
I had been looking forward to this past week for months.
My youngest son turned 21 on Thursday, and months ago, I made plans to fly out to see him in Michigan and celebrate. After all, 21 is one of those landmark birthdays. With him being the baby of the family, I was excited to go visit.
First thing Thursday morning, I called to tell him that I loved him. Then, I got on a plane to head his way and ended up spending the entire travel day watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s testimonies. It was a day I will never forget.
By the time I landed in Michigan, I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, even though all I had done all day was listen. But, I guess I had also absorbed everything that had transpired. I absorbed and related to Dr. Ford’s terror and her fear. I believed her story and I understood her reticence to step forward. I admired her sense of civic duty, her bravery, her courage and her honesty. I felt her pain. As she spoke, I wept. I wept for her and for all the people who have experienced sexual assault and who continue to deal with its lasting trauma.
“The moment a woman comes home to herself, the moment she knows that she has become a person of influence, an artist of her life, a sculptor of her universe, a person with rights and responsibilities who is respected and recognized, the resurrection of the world begins.”
“You have found your voice.”
That’s what the subject line of the e-mail said.
I stared at it for the longest time. I didn’t really even think that I wanted to open the note. The subject line was a gift in and of itself.
As I stared at it longer, my eyes welled up with tears. I had waited a long time to hear a message like that, much less read it in print.
Think about that phrase in the context of your own life. Think about someone saying that to you. How would it make you feel?
Do you feel as though you have found your voice, and if so, are you using it the way you want? If you haven’t, do you know what’s keeping you from finding it?
For many (and I’d put myself in this category) it can take a long time to find your own authentic voice. Over the course of my life, I’ve used my voice in a myriad of ways. I’ve used it to tell other people’s stories. I’ve used it to advocate for people running for office or causes I believe in. I’ve used it on behalf of those I love. I’ve used it lovingly, sternly, timidly, and assertively. And, somewhere along the way after using it enough, I’ve finally found my own true voice.
“Time is really the only capital that any human being has, and the only thing he can’t afford to lose.” – Thomas Edison
This week, I’ve been thinking about how many of us spend our present lives stuck in the future.
“When I make this much money, I’ll finally do x, y or z…”
“I’ll travel one day…”
“When my kids are older, that’s when I’ll really get to living…”
“I’ll vote in the next presidential election, but I won’t this November because it’s not as important…”
The list goes on and on.
Needless to say, I’ve certainly done a lot of that kind of projecting in my own life. But I was reminded this past week that our present is all we have.
We have today. That’s it. We don’t get to decide about tomorrow. So the question we should all be asking ourselves is, “What am I doing today with the time I have, right here, right now?”
Dear Friend (a.k.a., you, the Sunday Paper reader),
How have you been? I’ve missed you over these past few weeks. Even though I spent August taking a spiritual break, I found myself missing our weekly connection.
I must confess, there were moments when I found myself wondering whether you missed me as well. But as I stepped back from work for the month (which was way harder than I anticipated), I found that I was better able to realize what I was seeking in my life. (Remember, I said that I wanted to make good on Rumi’s quote, “What you are seeking is seeking you.”)
Turns out, I was seeking less busyness. Less intense thinking. More calm. More connection. More wonder.
Wonder gets you out of your head. It feels less intense than thinking. It feels more stream of consciousness and more creative. It actually feels freeing and it allows one to connect more with oneself and others.
As I set out for Africa with my youngest son Christopher at the beginning of August, I decided that my month would be focused on that concept of wonder.
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