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Believing again

Winter solstice at Gay Head light. William Waterway, courtesy of Creative Commons,], via Wikimedia Commons

Wishing you peace this holiday season, plus a rekindling of belief.

This is a time to rediscover joy and perhaps count our blessings. For many of us, the good cheer is coupled with a keen vulnerability: sharp pangs of lament and isolation poking through. Wounds are exacerbated during the holidays, stinging along with winter’s first hoary breath. They can numb us.

Yet this week I’ve been drawn back to something that is over-archingly positive, if not transformative. It’s a collection of expressions about the core values that guide everyday and well-known people.

I’d like to share some of these in a mixed format of excerpts that differs from my usual posts.

Ten years ago, the book This I Believe included short essays giving voice to the truths that anchor us in myriad ways.

Revising a project that the renowned broadcaster Edward R. Murrow did in 1951, these eclectic expressions also led to a refurbished public archive – although National Public Radio, a sponsor of the project, halted its broadcasts in 2011. (Some portions below are added from additional sources, which are cited.)

In this season, when our familial and national disconnects can feel so acute, when the call for compassion is so dire, we need to believe again. Here are some reminders:

“You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich.” – Isabel Allende, novelist

* Allende continues: “Give, give, give–what is the point of having experience, knowledge, or talent if I don’t give it away? It is in giving that I connect with others in the world, and with the divine.”

* “When I think of the suffering, and famine, and the continued slaughter of men, my spirit bleeds. But the thought comes to me that, like the little deaf, dumb, and blind child I once was, mankind is growing out of the darkness of ignorance and hate into the light of a brighter day.” – Helen Keller

“Every little thing is sent for something, and in that thing there should be happiness and the power to make happy. — Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota medicine man, from Black Elk Speaks

Black Elk continues: “Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus we should do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World.”

* “Love is primal. It is comprised of compassion, care, security, and a leap of faith. I believe in the power of love to transform. I believe in the power of love to heal.” – Jackie Landry, hospital clerk

“I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in the goodness of a free society.” – Jackie Robinson

* Robinson continues: “I believe that the society can remain good as long as we are willing to fight for it—and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.”

“I believe in getting up in the morning with a serene mind and a heart holding many hopes. Carl Sandburg

Sandburg continues: “I believe that freedom comes the hard way—by ceaseless groping, toil, struggle—even by fiery trial and agony.”

* “The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “into the skin” of the other.” – Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, from Peace is Every Step.

Hanh continues: “When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, ‘to suffer with.’”

* Finally, this from one of my favorite journalists, the Boston Globe’s Kevin Cullen. In his column this week, he conveys a mom’s grace during an extraordinary ordeal.

Lisa Brown’s 23-year-old son Joshua, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, died in a state hospital in 2009 when three correctional officers tried to restrain him—which Cullen described as attempting “to fold him over and push him down like he was an overstuffed suitcase.” A judge acquitted the officers of involuntary manslaughter. Cullen wrote:

“Christmas is hard. She hasn’t celebrated it since Joshua died. She hasn’t celebrated anything since Joshua died.

“With the criminal case over, she knows she has to move on, but to something that honors Joshua’s memory. She wants to advocate for the mentally ill in other places. She’s trying to help a mother whose daughter is in the women’s prison in Framingham. There are still so many people in prison who belong in hospitals.

“’I can’t stop,’” she said. “’I’d let Josh down. I’d lose Josh. His death would be in vain if I stop.’”

Whatever you believe in this holiday season, whatever truths and loved ones you hold up, please don’t stop.

“Mankind is growing out of the darkness of ignorance and hate into the light of a brighter day. – Helen Keller

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