A short letter inspired by the book The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Mademoiselle Reisz,

I am writing you to inform you that I intend on leaving. I am not going far, but I intend on going permanently. I am only letting you know because no one else understands this feeling in the pit of my stomach, this feeling at the center of my very being. I have chosen to write to you because you are the only person who has tasted these depths of isolation. You understand me.

We are outcasts for only the best of reasons. I plan to pursue a future without being owned and without living falsely. I will be completely true and awakened for the first time in my life. Somehow, I will fill this chasm inside of me.

For months I have felt exhilaration and confusion—I have experienced emotions I never knew existed. I am leaving because I do not know what I am doing with my life or what I truly crave. How can I be my own person when I was in such a stupor for so long? I have made my decision to leave and I am holding true because that is the only way I can be confident in who I am, confident that I am not allowing anyone else to own me.

Please let my children know I love them and that I gave them all that I could. Tell them the world is a harsh place and that they must be careful to keep their eyes open in order to stay afloat.

Please tell Robert I love him, and because I love him I must say good-bye.

Sincerely,
Edna
10.4.05

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The Fountain

Ten years of age and all I can fathom are toys. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes, and no toys can be found. The heat is almost too much for my little bathing suit clad body to take. Every new box holds incredible promise; navigating each sticky piece of tape without my stuffed animals, without My Pretty Pony crushes my juvenile spirit. Leaving the box-swallowed room, I enter my parched paradise.

Surveying my exotic surroundings, it begins to sink in that I am really in Nicaragua. With an increasingly familiar Latin taste, it feels more like my last home, Guatemala, than my first home, Pennsylvania. Here, my grandmother is not making fruit salad in the kitchen anymore; she is in an air-conditioned bedroom with Alzheimer’s disease, exploring the world of Spanish Wheel of Fortune re-runs. My father is making everyone happy in a clothing factory, because he is the sweet, perfect father.

Wiping sweat from my forehead, I smell food. This food it is not pleasing to my palate. The woman cooking it only knows how to cook with outside fires—not ovens. My mother gently reminds her that black beans do not have to be served with every meal. My sister, fourteen, is following me discreetly to ensure my safety in this new world.

While exploring my new abode, I discover a circular fountain at the core of a beautiful garden. The fountain is pleading with me to partake in its jubilant dance. The fountain, sadly, is empty, but I remedy its dry and hot stone interior with the promise of water from a nearby hose. The water filling the fountain becomes a whirling cure for the sultriness of the day. I check on the height of the newly created pool approximately every 20 seconds. The first time I check my knuckles are covered with cooling water. By the 15th time, it has reached my elbow and my excitement overflows.

The water that runs from the end of the green hose fills the placid stone pool. I play a game of pretend—the hose becomes a snake, its nozzle hissing and its green scales growing wet and slimy. Venom spitting, the snake is unstoppable to any common man! Secrets of the jungle are known only to me, and as I turn the nozzle, the fluid ceases.

One toe at a time, my foot sweeps the top of the water, and I sit on the edge bracing myself for the moment that is inevitable. Overwhelmed by anticipation, I fully submerge myself in the fountain. The water eases the sweltering heat, and carries with it an almost baptismal like peace.

That afternoon of fountain dipping in Nicaragua is one of my fondest and most cherished memories of childhood. For a number of reasons, life changed after that dance in the fountain. My father died without warning only three days later and we left one foreign country filled with family to relocate to the United States. Life changed completely. When I recall the sleek, slippery, formfitting water, I feel alive, comforted, and innocent.

August 2005

Vanity

When something is done in vain,
It does not yield the desired outcome.
Vanity is lacking substance or truth,
And exudes irreverence.
And that’s what makes this so heartbreaking.

It is so difficult to remember
that we cannot live in fear.
With both lives and limbs lost,
We mourn.
I find myself asking three times over:
How am I supposed to live,
If I cannot feel comfort in my own skin?
How do I remember love?

My brothers and sisters of Boston,
Damage has been done.
This ripple effect will be felt
Two worlds over
For many moons to come.
But we must be strong;
We will not, cannot, shall not be afraid.
We must remember:
We do not, will not, cannot understand why
because there is no reasoning behind hatred.
We must remember that hate begets hate,
That pain causes pain,
And fear makes others tremble.
We must remember why we remain strong.

This horrific act was a vain attempt to gather attention,
To wreak havoc on our hearts,
And break our spirit.
Together we must state,
Both loudly and clearly,
That it has not succeeded.

We have but one life to live,
Let us live it together with love and without fear.
April 14, 2013

Hope

As we rise here together, we hold our breath.
A new Father, a new hope;
The power to change the stagnant waters and raise a new love,
A pure love,
An honest love of others.
One world, one love, one nation under God.
A hope of teaching respect of all;
Acceptance despite religion, life choices, or nature.
A hope of banishing prosecution of others, because someone simply deemed it so,
And promoting love and kindness, because that is truly is in Your image.
I have such high hopes.
I pray that the truth will ring through the heavens
Unto our ears
And into our hearts.
Please, let this be what we’ve been waiting for.
Please let this be.
3.22.13

Anxiety

When anxiety takes hold, the feelings are incommunicable;
You feel powerless in your own mind.
“All I know is I have no reason to feel this way and I have no way to stop it.”

Like when you are caught beneath a wave, you will only struggle more if you fight it.
Though you cannot breathe and your body is rolling,
Just let the waves wash over you.

How do you talk yourself out of it? How can you make the darkness ebb?
Keep repeating the things you want to believe; breathe and talk yourself through it:

“You will only be who you allow yourself to be.
Whatever is meant to happen will.
You are beautiful, honest and kind. “

Remain calm.
The more guidance you give yourself,
The more you remain in control of your life and your love.

Just remember to breathe again as soon as you catch some air.
March 4, 2013

Bipolar Confession

“And with the strength of a thousand men,
Both before you and within,
You came clean.
You did everything but shout it from rooftops for years.
But, alas, that was never enough.
“This is me, in all my unforgiving ‘crazy’ glory.”
And now you are free
to love yourself.
And now you are free
to begin healing.”

The above was written to commend a former professor of art who recently announced that he has suffered from bipolar disorder for years. He let everyone know that he recently hit his “all-time low.” I’ve seen people suffer from this illness up-close and personal, and they have always been the kindest and most sincere souls, despite their aggressive day-to-day battles. I want to honor this man for the strength and courage it took, and will continue to take, on the long and winding road of recovery.

I can’t help but notice that all of the people I have met with this illness have all been great artists. I equate the often erratic behavior they experience to an emotional scale that surpasses what most people feel day to day. The hard and fast emotional roller coaster can take someone to their highest point, immediately followed by their lowest. But I’ve known many other people who never really get to experience either end of that spectrum, because it takes extreme emotional availability that is often unstable and frowned upon in society.

But look at the capacity for love these people have, so often juxtaposed with their prominent self-loathing and painful realizations that they are different from the “norm”. I believe this emotionality doesn’t always need to be their downfall. I believe that successful
recovery can bring people who suffer from this illness to the top once more, in a more even-timed dance with life, because they have seen hell and risen beyond it. Not above it, no, because those times still remain within them always. But with proper care and love, and at times with hospitals and medications, the people who used to suffer uncontrollably are able to love wholeheartedly and teach the world to do the same.
3.19.13

Ask

To be independent and successful does not mean you don’t ask for help,

It means you know who to ask for help and how to properly do so.

Be familiar with the resources you have in your life and don’t be afraid to tap into them.

Your success will then be imminent.

February 10, 2013

Hotel Rwanda Ethics Film Review

moviesAn examination and cultural analysis of the life circumstances of Paul Rusesabagina, as depicted in the film “Hotel Rwanda,” proves that varying a person’s responsibility can result in life changing consequences. The tools used in this analysis include: role assessment, ethical dilemma analysis, teleological outlook, and threshold tests. Rusesabagina’s finite hotel and family life responsibilities warp into a huge ethical dilemma that impacts his family, his community, and his personal integrity. His rather simple responsibilities evolve into great responsibilities and trigger a metamorphosis. The first tool used “assesses roles using Role Diagnosis” (Lewis 314).

In role diagnosis, “begin by assessing the roles you play and the seriousness of competing ethical claims” (314). The top priorities in Baird’s cone pyramid are personal, family, and community. The second tier is professional and work ID. The model descends with five tiers to encompass what individuals reach for including agency and job, jurisdiction and citizen, and lastly humanity, sustainability, and legacy. “The responsibilities tend to be broad, even diffuse; obligations, if only for enforcement purposes, tend to be narrow and clearly defined” (31). In assessing the role Rusesabagina plays, there are very serious ethical claims. When he chooses to harbor his neighbors, he chose to risk his job that was life sustaining and most likely not ever going to be available to him again. The Baird figure says priority goes to personal, family and community with a small reach, but for Rusesabagina the community reach extends. The involvement of genocide in Paul’s immediate community changed his responsibility. There were very serious ethical claims in this instance.

At the onset of the film, Rusesabagina is introduced and his role defined. He is a hotel employee in a poor country. He is very loyal and seems indoctrinated to respect his hotel company above all else. He influences his wealthy hotel guests and community law enforcement agents with bribes; this is standard procedure in Rwanda. His ability to provide people with coveted things, such as Cuban cigars, separates him from others because rich people who cannot be influenced by money are influenced by hard to obtain things (Movie). Rusesabagina’s ego appears intact as he continues to believe he can influence others and he has faith that his wealthy employer will continue to provide a safe haven for he and his people. In participating in the typical corrupt atmosphere, even on this rather simplistic level, his personal integrity is compromised. As the political atmosphere deteriorates, he transforms from a relatively benign worker, with an average commitment to his family’s well being, to a person of hero status.

His role changes, his responsibilities change, and he evolves and holds himself accountable to the public with a personal commitment beyond the law and reveals himself to be a person of respect because of the way he treats all people with dignity. He has responsible stewardship of materials necessary to provide for the basic needs of his hotel community. He is brave when confronted with the choice to abandon his people and save himself or continue his efforts to uphold people’s trust and their leader.

The question of the degree of helping work, family, and community all fall under an ethical dilemma. “Ethics is about decisive action that is rooted in moral values in terms of  moral principles, right results, or both” (313). Measuring the degree in which an individual helps his family and or his community includes looking at the outcome that results from a person’s participation. Some of the Paul Rusesabagina’s ethical dilemmas include “Should I take command, or give up?,” “Should I stay and defend, or hide?,” “Should I just fend for myself or should I take responsibility for my family and community?” His degree of helping goes from unremarkable helping to fearless bravery while standing up for what is just.

Rusesabagina had responsibilities as an employee of the Michelin Hotel. His staunch loyalty to this organization would be considered typical in a poor country where jobs are very scarce. According to The Ethics Challenge in Public Service, in ranking responsibilities there are four different ideas pertaining to difference between the obligation and the responsibility of helping. Rusesabagina did no harm, so he was not obligated to help anyone but himself and his family while performing his basic hotel duties. His responsibility to his community depends on the Lewis and Gilman’s Threshold Test. The Threshold Test asks about the vulnerability, proximity, capability, and dependency of the situation. In this case, the lives of the community were at stake and in immediate danger. Rusesabagina had the ability to bring people to his hotel with a minimum amount of risk. If he did not help them, they surely would lose their lives. He was responsible to help the people of his community according to the Threshold Test.

Rusesabagina’s responsibility increases from that of a father of a small family and hotel employee to neighborhood leader, hotel manager, and hero. His community responsibility trumps his work responsibility. Using the teleological outlook, Rusesabagina’s responsibility is examined. The ethical worth of his decision is determined by the impact of what he did. The way he decided his actions was by looking at the consequence of his action. He did not have the luxury of time before deciding how to proceed with the situation at hand. All he knew was that the consequence of not helping meant that people would be massacred.

Using commonsense helps guide action and decision-making as most individuals attest. “We make most of our ethical choices this way: in the pit of our stomach, automatically, reflexively, intuitively in the popular sense, by common sense” (122). The clean-cut commonsense choice for Rusesabagina was to harbor the orphans, continue to coerce the police into guarding the hotel, and send his wife and children away even if he needed to stay behind to lead the remaining people. Denying his wife a say in her own fate was controversial. Other people may consider many “commonsense” ethical decisions not so clean-cut. Something that might influence a person’s view concerning what is reasonable depends on their perspective that may be based on their upbringing, moral training, religious beliefs, or cultural influences. Euthanasia, Abortion, capitol punishment may be viewed dramatically differently depending on what some may call “commonsense.” This guide to decision-making is a weak guide, unlike the more sophisticated tools available to individuals and public figures. Rusesabagina’s increase in responsibility resulted in him having to make commonsense decisions. The prospect of genocide is so dramatic, who among people would have disagreed with his choices?

The Threshold Test is another tool that is designed for “dealing with problems others cause” (317). The questions asked include is there “vulnerability; potential injury, risk to the affected party?” (317). In Rosesabagina’s situation, the answer is a definite principled yes. Is the requirement of “proximity” met? The perpetration of the crimes were “known” to him, he had “access” to the hotel in order to protect the people. As manager, he had the authority to house the people and do things such as remove room numbers, erase billing information, and provide free services to people. He was “competent” and the span of his control, although stretched to the limit, allowed him “access” to safety deposit boxed with money and valuables used to promote his cause. He had “access” to the owner of the hotel who contacted the Belgium government and ultimately bought some additional time for the people. He also had “access” to the local leaders of the United Nations and he learned a great deal about the position Rwanda held on the world scene and the lack of importance it held. Rosesabagina’s “span of control“ was limited to his small group, not the world stage. The Threshold Test also questions capability. He is able capable and the risks, dangers, and liability resulting from doing nothing outweigh the “risk, danger, and liability”(317) from harboring the people in attempt to save them from genocide. He is the most capable and influential person on the scene at the moment when people need help. He can use trickery to get his way with the local policemen even if it means lying to him about satellite surveillance. He is capable of getting food because he knows how to bribe the local food vendors, he is capable of seeing the prejudice, hatred, and injustice in all these matters. The Dependency of the people is very great; they have “no place else to turn” (317). This criteria is met simply because the people literally had no place else to turn but to the Hotel. The orphans were delivers to the hotel when the United Nations were scheduled to evacuate them, but ended up being rejected because they were African while the Europeans were allowed to leave. They were dependent on Rosesabagina’s staff when the orphanage staff, mostly white workers, were evacuated. “The weak or needy with few options or advocates” (317) were certainly the orphans in addition to the neighborhood people. There was a “low probability or alternative remedies or services” (317) in this case as each organization refused to help. The dramatic evacuation of the European and American communities, without a promise for even later intervention for Rwanda, was shocking. The United Nation’s leader’s words with Rosesabagina in reference to Rwanda’s land of position on the world scene was sickening. “all the West… all the super powers think you are dirt… you are not even a _____, you are African” (movie) proved there would not be any help forthcoming. Each of the four criteria for the Threshold Test have been met and surpassed.

As Rosesabagina’s level of involvement and responsibility increased, his life changed. Basic access to the hotel was almost inevitable but what he did to coast the people of the world was stunning and remarkably influential. He asked his people to contact their friends and family around the world to “tell them what will happen—say goodbye… if they let go of your hand, you will die… we must shame them into helping us” (movie). Here is Rosesabagina’s most pronounced endeavors to lead. The evacuation of his people, who eventually got visas from the outside, was aborted and some of the people injured. The deed of motivating people to action enhanced Rosesabagina as a human being. He took “decisive action” and “publicly defended the cause” (313) of Rwanda.

Summer 2010

What are you afraid of?

actingSpeaking loudly, not speaking at all,
Repetitive sounds, or listening too hard.
Someone in a waiting room, someone in a class—
What makes an outsider?
The answer is you.

Everyone on this earth is so different.
We have all been taught different “norms”.
We all have different behaviors and reactions.
What holds you back from reaching out to someone? What makes you afraid?

What makes you think that you are so special, so precious, so “normal”?
It’s not you alone that has made you as wonderful as you are,
It was all of the help you received along the way.
It’s the everyday kindness you were gifted since birth.
Who gave you that gift? Who took it away?

Everyone has this strange tendency—protect your own but shun the other.
What makes the distinction in your heart? Fear of the unknown.
What will you say? How will I respond? What do I do if—

Just say hello. Just answer the question. Just smile instead of averting your eyes.
Simply encourage and foster kindness whenever you can.
You lose so much more when you keep it to yourself.
Take a second and consider a stranger as your own flesh and blood.
It’s appreciated.

February 10, 2013