Passages & Prose: A Gathering of Authors & Their Books

 

Print

I am pleased to announce the upcoming Passages & Prose: A Gathering of Authors & Their Books literary event.

This wonderful book fair is a celebration of local, Pittsburgh-based authors and their amazing works. The day-long affair provides an opportunity to meet & chat with the authors, listen to book readings, ask questions and engage in activities. The event hosts authors who pen in a variety of genres, to include; children and young adult series.

The event was developed in collaboration with fellow author, Beth Caldwell, the Cooper-Siegel Library and Barnes & Noble booksellers, and sponsored by; Embroidery from the Heart and Exceptional Gardens. Our hosts for the day are Ann Andrews & Jill McConnell (Cooper-Siegel Community Library), as well as, Tonia Caruso (WQED Pittsburgh). Additionally this event, will launch my new endeavor as a literary promoter.

If you are looking for a family friendly event, Passages & Prose is the perfect way to spend the day with loved ones. It is open to the public and free.

Date: Saturday, September 19, 2015
Time: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Location: Cooper-Siegel Community Library
403 Fox Chapel Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15238

PP-SMS-2

 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Have We Evolved to a Greater Understanding?

In recent weeks, our nation set aside a day to help raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As such, I am of the opinion that our society has indeed evolved — especially as it relates to the effects of PTSD, an invisible injury.  Those who suffer with PTSD, understand all too well how their lives are greatly altered.  That is if, the individual is even willing to accept the diagnosis.

When I was initially diagnosed with PTSD, I felt ashamed for having become ill.  As a law enforcement professional, I felt betrayed by my own mind.  It felt as if I had somehow failed at my job.  How could Superwoman become ill?  After all, I was trained to be tough.  It was drilled into me not to succumb to the emotion.  And being a woman in the field, I thought it was an offense to cry!  How dare I even consider showing any type of feelings while wearing the blue.  It would have been a sacrilege to desecrate the uniform and badge with my salty tears.

Yet despite my repeated attempts to deny the diagnosis, my mind began to slip into the dark abyss of depression.  And when the overwhelming sadness that infiltrated my being was mixed with anxiety, it made for a prescription of a complete alteration to my life.  As the illness silently crept into my being, it caused great destruction and not only from a psychological mindset, but from the physiological perspective too.  I suffered with avoidance issues, emotional detachment, exaggerated startle effect, flashbacks, fibromyalgia, heart palpitations, hyper-vigilance, inflammation, migraines, negative changes in beliefs, night sweats, outbursts of anger, reoccurring nightmares and stomach ailments.  These symptoms only added to my embarrassment at having become ill and my need to isolate from the rest of the world.  This once vibrant individual who looked forward to each new day, froze in fear at the thoughts of having to leave my home.  And when the agency that I served with labeled me as medically unable to perform my duties, the devastation to my psyche was complete.  If I was not fit for duty, then in my mind, I was no longer of use to the world.  I had in some way failed at my purpose to serve and protect.

For a very long time, I delved in the mindset of isolation.  Thinking that there were not many who would understand my plight.  How could anyone know how it felt to transform into someone I barely recognized.  On occasion, I would stand in the mirror reassuring myself it was still my image looking back.  And I often wondered, if only the wounds were visible.  Then perhaps, my family members, friends and the world would understand my plight.

In my tenure as a police officer, I recall several officers who committed suicide.  Although these wonderful individuals bore no visible signs of PTSD, their behaviors were indeed part of the dichotomy of the illness.  This is something I have only come to learn as a result of my own journey.

PTSD also affected every single relationship as well.  Even those closest to me had a hard time comprehending my descent from my former self.  I became more aloof.  I avoided attending events.  With my mindset, it was very hard to find the joy in life.  Let alone, explain to others how I was feeling.  Each time I attempted to do so, I heard the same response.  What about medications or therapy?  Or, just get over it!  Even one of my treating doctors added insult to injury by once saying, “PTSD is the only mental illness that originates from trauma.  This fact should make you feel better about yourself.”

If a treating psychologist thought this statement was one to help promote healing, then the doctor obviously had no real understanding or empathy for that matter.  It wasn’t until I began to journal about the PTSD and it’s effects on my life that I came to better understand all that was transpiring.  By writing down my feelings and thoughts, I began to see a pattern of behavior that was not positive in design — but rather, somewhat self-destructive and hindering to both my emotional and spiritual growth.

As I have journeyed on the road to healing, I have become acquainted with so many individuals who have been afflicted with PTSD.  Most are law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical service personnel and recovery workers who served on 9/11 (and the post days of reclamation) at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93 crash sites.  In meeting these amazing men and women, I have come to learn that I am not alone.  There are thousands of us who have individualized stories to share about how this once silent illness had permeated the beings of so many.  Their plight is my plight, as it is for millions of others who bear the weight of this illness and the stigma attached to it.

So in my heart, I feel it is very timely that there is a day set aside to advocate awareness about PTSD.  By doing so, the ignominy related to the illness may be better understood.  And perhaps someday, there will be no need to even set aside a day.  There will only be a deeper understanding and empathy for all those who have been affected by trauma.

If you are interested in learning more about PTSD, please visit the Voices of September 11th organization’s website: www.voicesofseptember11.org

in_his_hands_3836b

The Power of Prayer

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

For all too long I have pondered the question, “What is my purpose?”  I have often raised my eyes toward Heaven and asked God, “What is it you want me to do?”

I have even had the audacity to scream at the great above.

In the midst of His silence, I have wondered, “Is the Lord even listening to me?” As a result, I have become increasingly frustrated at this one-sided communication. Then yesterday as I prayed, I asked the same question. As before, I heard no response. It was not until late evening arrived when I finally received a reply — one of the most unexpected manner and circumstance.

As I painted  outside of my home, a neighbor, who had not visited in about ten years, walked up my driveway. He used to visit on occasion when my younger brother lived with me. But since that time, he only communicated through gentle waves while driving past.  On this unexpected evening, I detected a sense of sadness. Before long, he shared his mounting fear over the recent diagnosis of a serious illness. The fear of what was yet to be. It was as if his spirit was crying out to be heard, not only about the present situation, but about past indignities and sorrows. Emotions still trapped inside awaited the opportunity to be released. For a moment, I felt an unknown force within me. And I wondered, was it my soul responding to the needs of his own?   He spoke about his prognosis and the future unknown; I felt his emotions stir as they somehow linked to my heart in search of empathy. In what seemed like an instant, I felt the need to soothe him, our spirits connecting as one. Without thought, I inquired, “Do you believe in God and the power of prayer?”

His reply was instant. “Yes, I do.”

So I guided him to my statue of the Blessed Mother. I  explained how the tiny grotto had come to exist. It was built in the days and months following the events of 9/11. As I described for him my overpowering need to build a place of solace, I related my faith in God, my trust in the Mother Mary. It is in this sanctuary that I have found some peace. I also relayed the changes others have experienced after visiting — the miraculous interventions that have occurred after praying in front of Mary’s effigy.

As suggested, my good neighbor took a stroll to the back of my yard where he prayed in his own fashion. I watched him make a sign of the cross and wipe away a tear. And if indeed he asked for healing, I felt confident that the Lord would hear. As a child, I was taught not to bother the Divine; God is too busy taking care of greater issues of the world. I have however come to understand that the Creator awaits our asking. Then, He is given the opportunity to intervene in the most amazing ways.

My neighbor stood in front of the Blessed Mother’s grotto. He bowed his head in reverence, whispered unheard words. There among the flowers, birds softly chirping in the background, he turned and slowly walked back toward me. His demeanor had somehow changed. The frown lines on his face had smoothed and tears now rimmed his eyes. He stood there, not speaking, his eyes conveying more than words could express.

As I bid my kind neighbor a good evening, I invited him to visit with Mary as often as desired. He smiled and thanked me for my kindness and for guiding him to pray. When he walked away, my spirit seemed to once again link with his. I was reminded of the Biblical passage, “When two or more are gathered as one.” The great potential that can manifest if only we believe. In my heart, I felt an instant connection of spirit. A link to this man and to the higher power of God. In his parting grin, I sensed something had forever altered in him. Perhaps he had rekindled his faith — a belief in the possibilities and the power of prayer.

When reflecting upon the surprise reunion, I realized that my questions to the Lord had been answered. By offering an ear to listen, a kind heart and a reminder of prayer’s healing qualities, I was serving in the best interest of my fellow man — a task which I had embraced in my former career. I no longer wear a uniform or carry a badge; but I can still serve the greater good of humanity. And, for this opportunity, I am forever grateful.

prayinghands

Let There Be Peace

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  ~Mother Teresa

The lyrics to the familiar song, “Let There Be Peace On Earth,”  have been heard by most before. The melodic verse has been sung in churches, streets, and communities alike – usually in recognition of a religious holiday or a tragedy that calls humanity to gather as one.

In last week’s news, the world watched as another act of terrorism destroyed any sense of solace. An airplane and the 298 lives aboard were shot down and crashed onto the war-torn provinces of Ukraine. In their wake, great devastation. And the world once again mourned. We mourned the loss of life. The senseless act of violence. We mourned a way of life that prompts so much fear. And we grieved at the inhumanity of our humanity. Those who perished aboard the plane included small children and represented several nations. Though I do not know them by name, they are brethren all the same.

In the aftermath of this heinous act, I wonder how long it will take mankind to realize we must stand up for peace. We must become instruments to attain a higher level of consciousness. Most of us long to live in an environment that supports the pursuit of happiness in its purest sense. But yet, instead of the solitude of a joyful life, we are left watching in dismay as the world around us becomes less peaceful, less habitable.

While serving in the law enforcement profession, I was never able to grasp how individuals believe they are serving a higher power by destroying the lives of others. For many years, I witnessed the havoc that human beings can inflict upon one another. The once unfathomable is now the common denominator that links us. Instead of celebrating the good of mankind, we gather to weep in dismay. When will it end? My woeful heart asks, Will I witness peace on this earth before I draw my last breath?

When my dad was alive, and like many of his generation, he served in World War II. Alongside his friends and comrades, he fought in the South Pacific to restore order to a world in turmoil. They fought to end tyranny, deliver the oppressed, and protect us from those who sought to do great harm. It wasn’t  until recently, while  viewing old photos taken while Dad was serving on Okinawa Island, that I came to understand the full merit of his serving. I grasped the inner-workings of Dad’s mind and the strength of his spirit. In facing  the terrors of war, Dad came to embrace peace. The photos themselves revealed this succession. In some odd way, it seemed as if I was watching a film or reading a story. For each image told its own tale.

The first depictions were those of a group of perhaps 50 men. Lined up, row upon row, and neatly dressed in their military jumpsuits. As the images progressed, I saw rows of graves, each bearing a single white cross to mark it and a name etched across. In these later impressions, there were now more graves than there were men. In the end, there stood only five or six men. The lone survivors of the 50 or so who began the journey. Their faces, once smiling and bearing confidence, became those of weary men who had seen the myriad travesties of war.

When I consider the history of these photos, I can follow Dad’s post-war path. A man  with a physical stature capable of doing harm to another, he chose instead to pursue a path of peace. He became a valiant warrior for the underdog. And he espoused the principal of helping his fellow man. In his way, he was once again serving the greater good of all mankind.

In retrospect of all that I, too, have observed in this lifetime, my voice cries out the words and my heart silently whispers, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with not only me, but with all those who value a better way of life for themselves, for their children, and for their children’s children.” May we stand up to restore a semblance of order and provide safe passage for one and all.

Angel of Peace

Angel of Peace

 

Resilience

“The greatest glory in living

lies not in never falling,

but in rising every time we fall.”

~ Nelson Mandela

Resilience is defined as the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something detrimental happens. In recent weeks, our nation once again witnessed the renewal of a community as the Boston residents rallied to exemplify their strength and alacrity to survive. The term “Boston Strong” again rang true. Not only to those individuals who suffered at the hands of terrorists who chose to perpetrate heinous crimes, but to all who survived the losses and injuries resulting from the events of the 2013 Boston Marathon. As our nation mourned alongside those who grievously suffered, we resolved in our convictions to not accept the label of “victims,” but rather “victors.”

For more years than I care to acknowledge, I have attempted to rebound from the emotional effects of a traumatic injury. And sadly, I must admit that I have far too often felt sorry for myself. That was, until I listened to the stories of those harmed at the 2013 Marathon. It is said that disappointments are inevitable, but bitterness is an option. In watching one valiant warrior after another, I was in awe of their ability to deal with all that had transpired. One after another embraced the concepts of forgiveness and fortitude. And for many days following their interviews, I was reminded of three words: bravery, fidelity and integrity. The unofficial meaning behind the acronym of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). An agency in which I once served. Although the three letters stand for the name of the organization, all those who have served also identify the lettering to symbolize behavioral traits expected to be part of every man and woman employed by the Bureau. It is true of those who experienced the horrific events of the Marathon. They epitomize the very meaning and shine brightly as testimony of the ability of the mind, body and spirit to replenish and renew.

As I observed this year’s gathering in Boston, I felt such pride in viewing the sea of people who assembled not only to participate in the race, but to share in the day. It is estimated that a crowd of one million individuals were present. A mass of humanity that rose in defiance of circumstances that were meant to terrorize and defeat. But all present refused to be silenced by the acts. Instead they became victorious in their defiance to never allow such acts to define them. From across the nation, individuals converged in support of the many who braved to compete again. Those who participated not only represented themselves, but served as a symbol of us all. One nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Justice for those lost. Justice for those injured. Justice for all who refuse to be afraid.

During my tenure in law enforcement, I witnessed far too many grief-stricken individuals. In the initial stages of grieving, I watched them struggle to regain a sense of balance. As their healing process progressed, it became apparent that the individuals who were most resilient found the strength to persevere. This healing process seemed to accelerate when the element of support from family and community was added to the equation. I have found many examples of resilience in our nation’s history, among them the days following 9/11 and horrific crimes perpetrated in our communities, military bases and schools alike. The cry that is raised following such tragedies always leads to the intercession of the many who rise up in their determination to move forward and thrive. I contend that these amazing survivors are to be admired for all they have accomplished and all they have brought to this world. Their purpose has indeed aligned with the greater good of humanity, their triumphant lives a shining example for all to emulate.

images1

The Genesis of Writing

“What I came to learn was that the limits I set were of my own making. In expanding my consciousness, I learned that the limitation had become the ultimate liberation.”  ~ Lillie Leonardi

When recollecting the origins of my writing, I am reminded of the 16-year-old teenager who wrote her first poem on the eve of her daughter’s birth. There, seated on the hospital bed awaiting the chance to hold my newborn child, I heard the whispers of those around me who warned about all of the obstacles that lay ahead.  Amidst the negative comments and the ill behaviors of family members and attending nurses arose the gift of the written word. The thoughts and raw emotions that remained unspoken were released within the prose.  Inside the words stirred the anger and distress not yet expressed. In that time of youthful discomfiture, these thoughts and feelings never met my voice.  And thus, the pen became my weapon to annihilate my fears and release my frustrations, as well.

In the days, weeks, months and years that followed the birth of my daughter, I penned my poetry.  Not in the traditional format of a tutored poet, but in an unconventional stance that conveyed the sentiment of my heart.  During that time, I wrote sagas that mirrored my life.  I recall the soft summer afternoons when I sat perched on the terrace stairwell of my patio and wrote. There basking in the sun, I composed with feral abandonment the words closed off from the awake ear.  And there among the brightly colored roses and peonies, I bloomed into a novice author.  Oh, the treasured moments of the genesis of my writing when the dreams of tomorrow lingered in the soft recesses of my soul. There awaiting the opportunity to be set free and share the essence of my being.  But alas, as time all too swiftly passed, I seemed to lose the ability to be creative.  And before too long, I abandoned the pen to tend to the trials and tribulations of life.  It would take a series of misfortunes before I once again picked up the pen and unearthed the stories contained within.

In my recent blogs for The Huffington Post, I have written how horrific events in life can either destroy an individual or make them stronger.  The old adage, “What doesn’t kill you will make you strong,” is one often uttered in the law enforcement profession.  Like so many fellow responders who served on September 11, 2001, the impact of that fateful day resulted in an altered life.  What I saw, heard and felt on 9/11 and in the post days of recovery, had a tremendously negative effect on my psyche.  For all too long, I dwelled in a state of depression and found myself incapable of moving forward.  The fall from grace and lifestyle once known rapidly changed.  As a result, I was left wondering how to recoup.  Not only from the loss of a job, but from what I perceived to be my identity.  For 25 years, I believed that I served the greater good of humanity.  Every emergency call I responded to was a chance to better the lives of those involved.  Every problem resolved restored some balance to the world.  And in serving, I grew to become a more compassionate individual.  Yet through it all, my passion for writing diminished.  The harsh realities and stresses witnessed in my occupation stymied my ability to express my feelings.  The linear brain became predominant and my creative mind faded away.  As my mind descended into the darkness of despair, I reluctantly picked up the pen once again and released the emotions locked inside.  The resulting factor was the beginning of an exceptional journey.  The pages penned became the chapters of my first published book.

While recently perusing YouTube, I came across Phil Hansen’s “Embrace the Shake” video.  In watching Phil chat about his misfortunes and awakening, I immediately resonated with his story.  It appeared that I understood all too well how life can change in one stroke of time.  The clock ticks once and life is running smoothly.  The clock ticks twice and some terrible event occurs.  The clock strikes a third time and the devastating news rendered forever transforms destiny.  Through adversity, I too adopted a new philosophy about living.  In letting go of preconceived expectations that I had thought were most important to achieve, I accepted the imperfections in myself.  As a result, I was able to break free of my creative blocks and find how the limitations imposed had actually become the catalyst to attain my lifelong dream.  A dream to become a published author.  By embracing these limitations, my creativity became inspired.  And just like Phil, I found my new norm.  What I came to learn was that the limits I set were of my own making.  In expanding my consciousness, I learned that the limitation had become the ultimate liberation.  With the added support of loved ones and a positive outlook, I was able to flip the negative situation in my favor.  Thus, I spurred the renewal of my passion for writing and the genesis of a second career.

Write the stories of your life...

Write the stories of your life…

Learning to Let Go

In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.”  ~ Deepak Chopra

“In every life, a little rain must fall,” an old adage that seems of late to apply to my family.  Over the past weeks, the collective group has suffered what I often term as the “tsunamis” of life.  The great waves of pain that seem to keep pounding down until the events escalate and there appears to be no reprieve from the damage that is left in their wake.  Over these many years, I have come to learn that every household has its days filled with joy and each has its time of sorrow.  In some ways, each of us is familiar with the torrential rains that pour down unbearably.  There is no control, no rhyme or reason.  And sometimes, after the storms have subsided, there are those remaining questions that lead one to wonder, “I should have or could have.”  When these burdensome events arrive, life seems to become overwhelming and all too unfair.

Recent days have gathered my family once again to rally around an elderly aunt who was hospitalized.  After falling in her home, she suffered a broken hip that required surgery and an extended stay in the hospital.  In the first days of her recuperation, I sat with her daughters as she moved in and out of consciousness.  Not only was she unaware of her current circumstances, but of her life and those around her.  I watched as her fears became insurmountable in her mind and the anxiety threatened her ability to heal.  As my cousins sat there worrying about their mom, I saw a transformation take place — one that I had not been cognizant of since the time of my own dad’s illness.  It was an awakening to the realization about the cycle of life.  Of birth and death and the effects on those individuals who are an intrinsic part of one’s life.  As I sat in that chair watching an ailing loved one, I silently pondered, how do you let go of the people and things you most love?  How is it even possible to say goodbye to someone who rendered so much comfort throughout a lifetime of trial and tribulations?  In my dear auntie’s heart, I found a solace that only those connected by the spirit understand.  She was my refuge and a place to run in the storms that raged throughout the better part of over 50 years.

Some 20 years have passed since my dear dad left this earth, yet as I observed my aunt struggle to regain some sense of balance, the memories of Dad’s suffering surfaced in my mind’s eye.  There among my loved ones and the surroundings of the hospital room, the recollections of time played out across the thoughts from long ago.  I realized I had not let go of the emotions attached to my father’s illness and death.  I recall that when Dad became ill, my initial reaction at his cancer diagnosis was that of fear.  The panic attached to what the illness meant to him and his survival became a paramount part of daily living.  I realized my family’s patriarch, guardian and mentor was no longer able to keep watch over his children.  Instead, his daughters and sons became his caretakers and the keepers of all he needed.  It was now our place to provide for him as he had provided for us.  And in the months that followed, a wave of great sorrow entered into all of our lives.

In the years I spent serving in the law enforcement profession, I learned many lessons relating to the arrival of negative circumstances and the manner in which they are handled.  There is no set design in the response of emotions or resulting behaviors that are attributed to the situations.  Nor are there any clear answers about the right or wrong way to address such events.  Despite all of this experience, I was not able to digest it as it applied to letting go.  For in reality, I felt that if I let go, I was giving Dad permission to exit this earth — a sort of permission that allows for a loved one to leave their place in time and enter into the space of a cherished memory to be sustained forever more.  In my need to retain all that was comforting, I spent a great deal of time pondering the concept of letting go.  Two simple words that possess great meaning.  Two words that have taken me a lifetime to understand and practice.  When I realized that letting go not only means of emotions, places and items, I came to terms that it more importantly means to let go of significant persons, too.  Not only in the sense of circumstances such as a death, a divorce, employment lost, or a ruptured relationship, but in providing permission for a loved one to peacefully drift away to the hereafter.  For in the letting go comes the release for all involved.  This consent does not imply that the grief is gone.  Nor does it misrepresent the extreme sense of loss.  What it does portray is a movement of evolving.  Evolution is a primal practice.  The cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth.  In my father’s death, I found no initial release from the hurt inflicted by his passing.  The lingering questions remained a part of my being.  In reflecting now, it has become apparent that his mortality was a reminder of my own.  A thought that did not provide any solace to my already damaged psyche.  Instead, it perpetuated the concept that each of us has our time in the sun.

For all too many years, I have pondered the question as to how to let go, when in reality, I had already done so.  Perhaps not in the terms that a trained mental health expert would prefer, but in my own way.  It was the only approach that made sense to me.  The letting go of the frozen emotions and the stilled frames of memories cascading across my mind had somehow found a way to allow my heart to free itself.  And like any expert surfer who skillfully rides the mighty waves, I have learned to just move with the motion of the powerful source and ride it with the capability of the collective wisdom now acquired.  What letting go now means to me is finding a new normal.  A balanced approach to the factors that have altered life.  Not a closure or a forgetting of the individuals or events, but more importantly the learning to move away from the anger and the pain and find the joy in each relationship, each experience.  It is staying focused on the present moment and the dawning of each new day.

images1 (1)

 

What Christmas Means To Me

faith-hope-love-assortment-trans__89146_zoom-600x4801

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” 

      ~ Norman Vincent Peale

Growing up in a home overrun by nine siblings allowed for moments of great revelry.  The hours spent with each other, sharing in the times at rest and at play, contain some of the best memories of my childhood.  When I think of treasured moments that cascade across my mind, I am reminded of the impressions of Christmases past.  The moments filled with the season of wonder and joy. The decorating of the tree, writing letters to Santa, baking cookies while the pleasant aromas of almond and vanilla hung in the air, constructing the handcrafted gifts for those most loved and attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

It was a time for families to gather and create new memories to hold dear to their hearts.  In recalling past holidays, three words come to mind: faith, hope, and love.  The faith that there was a higher power who watched over us each and every day.  The hope of a better today and the tomorrows still to come.  The love of family and good friends preparing a meal and breaking bread as one.  Although unseen, I felt the presence of a being greater than those around me.  These three emotions were the reasons that this particular time of year filled my heart with such magic.

One of my favorite recollections is that of Christmas morning and the traditions that were integral to my family.  Before my parents would allow their children to open up the presents from Santa, we were required to sing “Happy Birthday” to baby Jesus.  Mom would always bake a layered cake and artfully script the words “Happy Birthday, Jesus.”  A single candle was placed on top.  The entire family would gather around the tree and sing to celebrate the newborn’s welcoming into the world.  Each of us helped to blow out the candle while making a wish for what the new year would bring.  My dad would then bend down and remove the cover–a tiny blanket that shielded the swaddling infant in the manger until Christmas morning–from the figurine of the Christ child.  We would all stand back and marvel at the meaning of it all.  A child born unto the world to serve as our savior.  In our family, this act of reverence was significant to our religious beliefs and to all that my parents held sacred.  At the time, I could not fully appreciate the significance of this family observance.

I am now mindful of what Christmas meant then and what it means in the present day.  In my youth, one filled with the excitement of the jolly old elf and stockings hung by the chimney with care, Christmas carried an important meaning.  I comprehended an air of great consequence because everyone seemed to be a bit kinder and more caring.  The heartfelt sentiment was still remiss to me.  With many days now gone by, the emotions attached to this special time have grown to include a kaleidoscope of faith, hope and love.  A hope for a new beginning and a time of renewal, not only in a sense of religious traditions, but in those rooted to the spirituality of my soul.  A soul that has come full-circle in its understanding of what Christmas means to me.

In this lifetime, I have learned that Christmas magic is powerful, but the power in our hearts is even more magical.  Our ability to love one another, to renew our faith and bring hope into our lives and the lives of others, are the greatest of gifts to bestow and receive.  Christmas is indeed a time for sharing in gift giving and celebrating, too.  And yet, the greatest gifts are not those wrapped in fine papers or dressed in colorful bows.  They are those given with an open heart, one wrapped in the lovely ribbons of faith, hope, and love.  To quote Charles Dickens’ classic tale, “A Christmas Carol,” “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.”  Words of wisdom that should be echoed on this day and all the days yet to be.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lillie-leonardi/mindfulness-practice_b_4469893.html

Books in the ‘Burgh at Heinz History Center

BooksintheBurgh-WebHeader

 

This Saturday, December 7, Senator John Heinz History Center will host Books in the ‘Burgh. Join me and more than 60 Western Pennsylvania authors for the History Center’s 12th annual book fair.

Time:  10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Location:  1212 Smallman Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Admission to the book fair is free.

Parking costs approximately $8 and is available in the lot at the intersection of 12th and Smallman.

For more information, click here.  For questions, contact Sarah Rooney at (412) 454-6373 or serooney@heinzhistorycenter.org.

Giving Thanks

“Life without thankfulness is devoid of love and passion.  Hope without thankfulness is lacking in fine perception.  Faith without thankfulness lacks strength and fortitude.  Every virtue divorced from thankfulness is maimed and limps along the spiritual road.”  — John Henry Jowett

As a child, I was taught the importance of manners.  My parents often said, “There are essential words that one must learn to use in an appropriate format.”  These terms — please, thank you, and you are welcome – are the niceties that should be practiced by young and old alike.

Although these expressions were routinely used in my childhood home, I never fully comprehended their significance until now.  At this point in my life, expressing my appreciation holds greater meaning than just a response for a kind gesture or a gift bestowed.  These social graces have become more of a spiritual passage than a pleasantry expressed.  This important aspect helps promote a more positive mindset.  These words now contain a greater meaning about living a life filled with gratitude and taking the time to convey the heartfelt sentiment of thankfulness to one and all.

In the past, when I have allowed bitterness to take hold, I seemed to forget the blessings bestowed.  Instead of focusing on that which is good, I delved into a place of negativity.  This switch in perspective blocked me from radiating positive thoughts that enhanced my understanding of giving thanks for all things great and small.  Instead this acrimony permeated the best parts of me — those of my heart and soul.  Over time, it took great effort to move past this phase of rancor and find a healing approach to uplift my self-imposed state of limbo.  As time has marched on, an attitude of gratitude has become my new mantra.

As the holiday season continues, it provides me with the opportunity to call to mind all that I am thankful for.  When I acknowledge all the blessings, I have to stop and smile in recognition.  Not only from the standpoint of owning a lovely home, a beautiful garden, a vehicle, or fine clothes, but of all that encompasses an amazing lifespan.  It is now easier for me to recognize the significance of basking in the sun or admiring a moonlit night.  Or of delighting in flowers that embroider the earth with their brilliant colors while birds chirp their melodious refrains.  I no longer take for granted the laughter of a child at play.  For in it, I have found my own joy rekindled.

As I gather around the table with those I hold most dear, I recollect the humble origins and purpose of the first Thanksgiving.  A gathering to give thanks for the bounty of family, friends, and the offering of fellowship.  So in this season of thanksgiving, I give thanks for all the marvelous wonders that have graced my life.  In recognizing all that is good, I have been able to once again embrace an improved outlook on life.