Sunday, August 28, 2011

Words to Heal Ourselves

Nelson Mandela.Image via Wikipedia
It never ceases to amaze me how a few kind words can heal even the most grievous wounds.
"I'm sorry." 

"Forgive me."

"I'm here."

"I love you."

Simple phrases, easy to say, that sometimes, we say them without thinking.  However, when we take the time to look into the eyes of another human, saying with all our heart these phrases, healing happens.

Take for example the healing that Nelson Mandela brought to his country through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which gave South Africans a tool to forgive; thereby, giving them the opportunity to create a new life in South Africa.

Interestingly, the words, "I'm sorry, forgive me," and "I love you" are seldom said to the one person who needs to hear them the most...ourselves!

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and said, "Forgive me," or, "I love you?"
It's not easy.  We feel foolish.  We don't see the need.
It's a shame, really, because when we are not able to love, forgive or care for ourselves, we cannot truly be there for anyone else.

It took me many years to forgive myself for not being the perfect daughter, the perfect wife, the perfect mother.  Once I was able to understand that it was OK not to be perfect, that it was only necessary to try to be the best I could be, healing happened.

The moment I forgave myself, I was able to say without shame or hesitation that I love "me."   
Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a magical fifteen second revelation.  It literally took me years.  It was hard work, and sometimes, I slip back into the old habits of self-degradation.

One thing I have learned, though, I am most vulnerable to seeing myself as unlovable when I am tired, stressed, lonely and/or sick. Now that I understand this, I find I am less likely to fall into the old “I’m no good” mindset. Instead, I have learned to allow others to nurture me, to care for me, to remind me that I am lovable. This, too, is a blessing I denied myself back when I thought negatively of myself.

Surrounding ourselves with loving, caring people helps us maintain a loving, caring attitude about life, ourselves and others. The thing is, it starts with us. Until we see ourselves as enough, as good, as acceptable, then it is difficult for others to see it, also.

Forgiveness is difficult. Love is difficult. Caring is difficult.  The difficulty lies in the fear that we may get hurt, again.  I won't lie, you probably will get hurt again.

However, the good news is, that with forgiveness, comes new opportunities to love and care for yourself and others.

May you learn to always see the Sacred in yourself as well as others. 

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Words that Heal, Words that Hurt

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from author/artist, Melissa Foster.  I just finished reading Melissa's book, Megan's Way, a mother/daughter journey through life, death and the paranormal, which held me captive all weekend.  I had to squeak in time to read between helping my daughters care for their little ones, but I finally finished on the train ride home from New Hampshire.  (At which point, I began her other book, Chasing Amanda...more on that book in a later blog.)

Megan's Way touched me on many levels.  There is the intrigue of secrets shared, discovered and hidden.  There are the bittersweet moments between best friends, parent and child and lovers.  There is the heart-pounding tension of a parent's worst nightmares.  All of which builds a story that captures the reader's attention, satisfies the senses and leaves an afterglow of satisfaction.

The following is a short video promotion of Megan's Way.

The Healing Power of Words, by Melissa Foster

You’ve hardly had any sleep, your hairdryer is on the fritz, and your favorite skirt won’t button. You’re having a rough morning, to say the least. You finally drag yourself into work (ten minutes late, because it’s one of those days), and you find a sticky note on your computer that reads, “See me” written in your micro-managing boss. You roll your eyes and think, Great, now what? As you walk to his office, you’re role playing in your mind—Your boss is going to fire you. What have you done wrong, besides being late and looking like a bag lady? Oh yeah, there was that report mishap, you remember, the one that was never written? That’s it, you’re fired. You’re sure of it.

You open the heavy wooden door, wishing it were glass so you could see his face before entering, gage his mood. Once inside the office, you stand up straight, hoping the pin you’ve secured your zipper with doesn’t suddenly pop off and fly across the room. Is it hot in here? Your boss doesn’t look up from his computer, just motions to the chair in front of the desk. Gulp! What seems like an hour later, yet is merely minutes, he looks up and crosses his arms across his chest. You’re sure he’s giving you the once-over, silently confirming the decision to fire you. He smiles and leans back, relaxing. Bastard. He’s enjoying this.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you for weeks,” he says. “Your reports have been superb—accurate reporting, detailed, and wicked funny.”

After you pick your jaw up from your lap, your heartbeat slows to a more normal pace, the tension in your cheeks, which had been scowling, dissipates. You can breathe once again.

The power of words is tremendous. Words can life you up or send you spiraling into depression or anger. Words can be whirled into viscous swords or softened into a warm embrace, all with a simple change in tone. The written word can be just as powerful as the verbal. Take the “See me” note from above. Had the note said something as simple as, “Can we chat around ten?” or “See me J,” it would have conveyed a much friendlier message.

Everyday we make choices in how we’ll convey ourselves to others. Sometimes we do this with facial expressions or body language, and other times we do this through spoken words. The next time that you are rushed or stressed, think before you speak. Is your tone conveying the message you want to relay to others, or are they taking the brunt of your bad moment? In writing, I suggest trying the same tact. Review each sentence for punctuation—a simple comma can change the tone of a line.

Words can heal and words can hurt. Choose your words carefully.

About Melissa

Melissa Foster is the award-winning author of two novels, Megan’s Way and Chasing Amanda. She is the founder of the Women’s Nest, a social and support community for women, and WoMen’s Literary Café, a literary community. Melissa is currently collaborating in the film production of Megan’s Way. Melissa has written for Calgary’s Child Magazine, and Women Business Owners Magazine. She hosts an annual Aspiring Authors contest for children, and has painted and donated several murals to The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, DC. Melissa is currently working on her next novel, and lives in Maryland with her family.

Melissa's interests include her family, reading, writing, painting, friends, helping women see the positive side of life, and visiting Cape Cod.
Melissa enjoys discussing her books with book clubs and reader groups, and welcomes an invitation to your event.

Visit Melissa’s website,

Many thanks to Melissa for being a guest here, today, as well as sharing her book.  Please visit Melissa's website for more information on her books.


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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Haiku Highlights

Basho by Basho by Sugiyama Sanpû (1647-1732)Image via Wikipedia

Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a course on haiku for Women on Writing.  In the course, we discussed the art of writing traditional haiku, using the 5-7-5 beats per line as well as American or English haiku that doesn't worry about beats or measures, just the use of as few words as possible to create a clear and interesting word picture. We took a look at the history from the origins in Zen Buddhism to the Beat Poets.  Then, we wrote.

We used prompts to stimulate the writing.  The prompts were both visual and textual.  The results blew me away!
Some of the textual prompts were:

Hanging laundry
• Train whistle blowing on a winter night
• Wind chimes in spring storm
• Crickets by the hearth
• Scattered pumpkins in a field
• Early morning sounds
• Sounds at midnight
• Smell of apple pie or cinnamon cookies
• Smell of hay
• Taste of hot soup on a cold day
• Baby asleep on your chest
• Feel of pet's fur

Visual prompts were taken from Wikimedia Commons and included a beach scene, children playing in the snow, a rose in the snow, moonlight over Boston skyline, workers standing in a circle at a plant and children running towards a building.

Here are the poems written by two of my students with their permission.

Haiku by Pat Crandall
that great blue sea
beach-goers loll on velvety sand
cliff rock sentinels

pink crocuses bloom
in a field of sunlight-
a gateway to spring

a crimson rose-
its snow-capped beauty delights
storm unexpected!

opening camp porch
gusts of swirling wind and snow-
the sound of new chimes

spiky red hair
full of vitality
new wave of mommy

full circle
for what objective
these tense men

wee rooftop garden
a lone bench comes into view
sweltering city

schoolchildren streaming
into barren enclosure-
fear pierces young hearts

Haiku by Renee Howard Cassese

yellow goslings
huddle around mother
speckled feather tent

autumn leaves
winding red path
tunnel of trees

white crop circles
hidden messages
in crystal snow

white tee shirts
ghosts of her husband
she won't throw away

What a pleasure it has been to watch the development of these poems.  Some of the images have brought me to tears. 

May the simplicity of haiku bring word pictures that delight, inform, enlighten and dance in your memory.


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Friday, August 12, 2011

Letting Your Light Shine

Ruth, Naomi and Obed. Pen and brown ink over p...Image via Wikipedia
A little east of Jordan, the women of ancient times lived very different lives than we do today, yet there are many similarities. Like us, they had children, cared for families, helped others in the community, and searched for meaning in their lives.

Sacred stories, tell us that many women traveled difficult and lonely paths through life. The examples of their inner strength and wisdom can be a guiding light during times of difficulty, confusion, pain and suffering.

One of my favorite stories is that of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi is widowed and both her sons are dead. Ruth is one of her daughter-in-laws. When Naomi decides to return to her own country, Ruth goes with her. She says to her mother-in-law, “Your people will be my people; your God, my God.”

For me, this is such a beautiful display of selflessness. Ruth could easily have stayed were she was, perhaps even remarried, but instead, she goes with the woman to whom she was no legal obligation, treating Naomi as if she were her blood kin.

Isn’t this what we are all called to treat each other as if we were blood kin? Aren’t we supposed to see all humans as our brothers and sisters?

Ruth saw this, living her truth without hesitation. Her life is a bright Light for us to follow.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Fellow Americans

Growing up in South Boston, I always wondered why everyone considered it the enclave of the Irish.  People would ask me what part of Ireland the Neas' came from, which caused me no end of confusion.  My Dad told me we were "Black-Irish" and my mother told me we were linked to Irish royalty.  My grandmother (Mom's mother) was an O'Riordan, which translates from Gaelic into The Kings Bard or Poet.  It took me years to weed through the legends and tall tales. 

Truth is I am an American mutt, just like many folks these days.  While I am still proud of my South Boston, Irish heritage, I am also proud of the German, Slovenian, Northern Irish, Welsh and other ethnic groups linked to my family. 

As a girl growing up, my mother always shared the cultures of our neighbors and friends with me so that I "understood who they were."  No one was ever "bad," simply different.  Different was never a problem.  It was OK to be different in Momma's eyes.  

We had an Italian landlady and Italian friends.  Some of my girlfriends' Italian grandmothers taught us to cook like they do in Italy.  We had a family from China who owned the laundry on L Street where Momma would take Daddy's shirts.  She always greeted them with a big smile and a bow.  The Armenian families in the neighborhood owned the dry cleaners and the corner stores.  I learned about the Jewish traditions from Max the druggist, who owned the pharmacy across the street from our house and about the Greek Orthodox holy days when Momma and I would walk past the Orthodox church just down the street.

The purpose of this jaunt down memory lane is to segue into sharing a new group that I have become aware of recently -

My Fellow American is a project of Unity Productions Foundation (, a media and education non-profit organization. The mission of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) is to create peace through the media. The My Fellow American project is collecting stories about Americans who know, are friends with, or work with Muslim Americans.  

There is a pledge on the site that states, "Muslims are our fellow Americans. They are part of the national fabric that holds our country together. They contribute to America in many ways, and deserve the same respect as any of us. I pledge to spread this message, and affirm our country’s principles of liberty and justice for all. "  

Momma would have liked this.  She believed we are all equal in God's eyes and that God loves all of us, even those who don't believe the exact way we do.  She was the first person I ever heard who said that humans limit the infinite power of God to love by making statement about who are God's children.  We all are, every last one of us.

As an ESL teacher, I have had the opportunity to teach and become friends with several people who practice the Muslim religion.  In fact, Roger and I were "adopted" by one of my students from Bahrain.  I am honored to call him, son.  Since his return to Bahrain, days before the troubles there, I have often prayed for him and his family.

America is a land of immigrants, a land of slaves, and a land of outcasts. Many who have come to call America home have fled persecution.  We forget this.  

It is easier to demonize others, which is a trait some Americans have perfected over the years.  As a child, I heard the ugly words said about African Americans, I witnessed the tirades by good Americans against the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese and, yes, even the Germans, my people, who have been part of this country since the 1700's.  

Words have the power to cripple or to raise up.  The words, My fellow American, are Words from the Heart, when spoken with respect, tolerance and compassion.  

God bless us all as we learn to see ourselves in the eyes of others.  God bless us all.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Teacher Student Connections

Taylor Mali, a well-known slam poet and teacher, does a monologue that discusses, "What Teachers Make."  In it, he shares a story of how someone asked him, rather condescendingly, what he makes as a teacher.  The video is a must see for anyone who has been a teacher, is a teacher or is thinking about becoming a teacher.

Making a difference takes work, something teachers do not get credit for doing, because most people unacquainted with education think anyone can stand up before a group of people and teach.  Truth is, teachers work well-over the time they are paid for teaching.  Teachers research, they prepare lesson plans, we correct papers, they attend seminars, conferences, workshops and other gatherings of our peers to learn, inspire and share.  

Realistically, not all teachers are perfect, but neither are all doctors, lawyers, mechanics, engineers, clerks, and so forth.  However, most teachers give their students 99.9% of themselves or more.  What does this mean?  It means that when a student doesn't understand how to do something, the teacher explains it over and over again until they do understand.  It means that rather than listen to what others say about their students, they enter a new year of school expecting the very best from everyone.  Yes, teachers often are disappointed, but there in lies the gist of this blog post.

As a teacher, I also strive to give all my students my very best.  I worry about the person who just doesn't get it.  Why?  Because I was that student many years ago, and but for the teachers who saw my potential, I could have been statistically one of those of kids that don't make it.  Therefore, I am driven to give back what I received.  This is my way of honoring my teachers, those who blessed my life by holding high the Light of Education so that I could see the path ahead, learning to believe in myself and my abilities.

You see, I took responsibility for my learning.  This is the other half of the teacher/student equation.  

Students must take responsibility for their learning.  They must respect themselves and others.  They must tolerate the imperfections of themselves and others. They must empathize, have compassion for themselves and others.  Without these things, learning doesn't take place.  

Copping an attitude, blaming parents, blaming teachers, zoning out are all signs of irresponsibility on the part of the student.  Yes, teachers fail to teach, but students also fail to learn.  It is a two-way street.  

Teachers cannot teach when a mind is shut down.  Teachers cannot teach when a person has given up on themselves and those around them.

Teachers make a difference in the lives of their students, just as students make a difference in the lives of their teachers.

What kind of difference do you make?


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