Category Archives: Poverty

Getting cray and loving hard: Sevenly & Save the Children for the win.

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Find something to stitch your heart to.

I think that’s the starting point for almost anything.

I got an email the other day from a reader who wanted to know how to find her voice.  I could talk for several years on this topic but I think the first day I ever  realized I had a voice is when I uncovered injustice for the first time. And it made me angry. And it made me choke up. And I wanted to do something. And I decided not to walk away, even though that would be the easier thing to do. Please don’t be so quick to turn away from injustice, you might have been made to do something about it.

Finding a voice begins with realizing that you can either lift your own life up or you can use that curious itch inside of you that wants to do something more to become a powerhouse megaphone for someone who needs an advocate today.

 

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Right this moment, my favorite charity– Save the Children– is so-so-so close to reaching their $14,000 fundraising goal over at Sevenly.org to help feed children in war-torn Syria.

I won’t lie, I have a serious company crush on Sevenly. They give generously. They love intentionally. And they produce some really ballin’ swag. Did I just write ‘ballin’ swag’? Why yes, I did. And there is all sorts of it on sale for Save the Children and the Syria crisis until Sunday.

A few things you might not know about me:

1) It’s really, really important to me to be a person who lives for missions that are bigger than my own body. That’s it. That’s the icing all over my cake. That’s what gives me joy and keeps me going. My life is blessed and I am willing to bet yours is too. I choose to use my blessings to be a blessing to other people. It seems to be the only formula that works.

2) Save the Children is a big stinking deal to me. Meet me face-to-face over a cup of brew and you’re gonna hear how it changed my life in so many ways. Before leaping out on my own to write and freelance, I worked on the Communications Team for Save the Children for over a year. The mission is legit. The work is hard & gritty & totally tangible for anyone who has ever gone out to the field to see these folks in action. I can attest that the people who work everyday in the US office are just as bright & bold as the cause they are serving. Them’s good people, through & through. We need more of them in this world.

PAUSE FOR A MOMENT WHEN I WANTED TO PROVE TO YOU HOW TOUGH I REALLY CAN BE.

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3) I’m not an expert on the good life. I start a lot of fires (literally… I forget candles are burning and stuff). I’m not always graceful. I still think Tupac is alive. I’m only 25. I’ll probably go through much more heartbreak, and loneliness, and milestone moments than I could ever anticipate in this very day. But in my young adult life, I’ve learned this: it takes guts to believe in something. I mean, to really believe in something so much that you get your skin in the game.

It takes guts to be an advocate. It takes strength to stand up for the things and the people you believe in. It takes even more stamina than I thought to go up against the norm and stand apart. But it’s probably been calling your names for a really long time. And babycakes, it makes you into a much gutsier servant of a person when you decide you’re gonna raise your voice for something. We weren’t made to get comfortable here. We were made to get a little cray and love on people hard. And that especially includes all the little lovelies that are waiting to grow big & strong so that they can make their own voice count one day.

Please, use your voice for a mission that extends far beyond your own fingers or toes.

This stuff matters. I hope you’ll support.

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Filed under Poverty, Shaker Session

Sorry to say, they don’t have an app for this kind of thing just yet.

I am going there tonight.

The man who punches my ticket on the train knows it. The librarian, she knows it too. Even the man roasting hot dogs on the sidewalk of the New Haven Green gives me a look as if to say he knows it too.

I am going there tonight.

I stop at the red light, fingers drumming the steering wheel. A man in a silver Acura beside me. My eyes must tell him because I swear he mouths it to me, “Honey, honey, honey. You are going there tonight.” As if it were a tune. A melody.

“You have not been there in a while… It’s time, it’s time,” I say as I unroll the mat from its curled stature, letting it fall lifeless and flat onto the carpet before me. I stand on the edge of the mat and let the heat start to water my limbs, like a tin man begging for his oil. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

I am going there tonight.

The sign on the glass door of the two-story brick building tells me from the start, in big thick Helvetica lettering, that I cannot bring anything into the room with me beyond a towel, water bottle, and yoga mat.

Nothing else.

No cell phone to buzz in the billows of my pocket. The calls will have to wait. No laptop to light up the dark of the room as the lights turn down and we lie in dead man’s pose. The email will be there when the 90 minutes is over. It will pile over the hour and a half. I am so sure.

And here I am: Most vulnerable in 104 degrees. Becoming my own version of a Little Teapot. Tip me over. Pour me out. Steam rises up from the floor, knitting itself around me and somehow the thought of No outlets. No easy ways out. No escapes. Comforts me.

104 degrees, 90 minutes and 27 postures to go, and all I am holding is a posture. A cobra pose. And my breath.

A layer of sweat welds my tank top to my body. I am reminded once more of The Thing That Is Wise To Realize As We Grow: that sometimes there is nowhere else to go but inward. Some days you have no choice but to get down deep in the depths of your own messy feelings and sort stuff out. Sorry to say, they don’t have an app for this kind of thing just yet.

Inward. Arguably, the hardest place to visit but a place we’ve all been called towards at one point or another. Not an easy path, not a known set of stepping stones. Like grandmother’s house… when you don’t yet know of the Big Bad Wolf’s hiding spot along the pathway. And yet, you know its best to brave the dark forest because something warm lies down there in the lit up windows of a place that strips you bare and dares you to look at your true self, beyond Twitter profiles and Linked In connections.

You need to go off on your own, there is no other way for It Will Keep you Sane, to once in a while, pull your apt-to-tapping fingers away from the keyboard to acknowledge the Real, True Feelings that sit in your stomach, waiting to come out from hiding places behind a junk box of email, like another one of Glinda’s terrified Munchkins.

Suddenly Loneliness is diving down into triangle pose beside me, Regret stands on one foot in a superb tree position and I am asking tough questions that don’t get answered in 140 characters or just one spell of quiet time: Do I love this girl in the mirror? Is she happy? Is her heartbeat being accounted for?  What will happen to her when she is alone?

Alone, alone, alone. Will she shrivel and die? Curl and cry?

Or will she be o.k.? When the Loneliness bends down and the Insecurity rises up to the rafters? Will she be o.k.? When Fear shares the mat and she’s forced to exhale the Smallness for Something Bigger, Something Grander? Will she be Braver? Will she be Stronger?

Will she be o.k? Lord, will she be o.k?

2 Comments

Filed under Disconnect, Loneliness, Poverty

This is my Calcutta. Go. Find. Yours.

I recruited Mother Teresa for the Tea Party Planning Committee at the age of eight.

At 40 pounds or so, I was a peace sign-toting diva with a thick infatuation for vintage typewriters, Mexican Worry Dolls, and a nun who wore no shoes while roaming the streets of Calcutta.

I gathered from my surroundings—the crooks of our home filled with sunflowers and books on this woman with a face wrinkled by the Sun’s  Golden Kisses, and who always kept Little Children in her lap—that she would be a riot at my tea parties.

She’d bring good stories and hungry children. I’d greet her at the door with tea and peanut butter crackers. & chocolate cake.

And then I would tell her, in Little Girl fashion, all the ways in which I hoped to trace her figure with chalk on my driveway before she departed so I could spend months & years after trying to fit into her figure. Trying to be worthy enough to receive a pet name from God like “Little One,” to be a love letter writer for God in this world, to be his Little Pencil just like her.

“But Mama T, I don’t know how I’ll do it. Because I am not a good hand holder. And I want to advocate for children but I cannot always be beside them. I’d rather keep my feet in good condition. I still like pretty dresses. I don’t how I would handle living in a hut.”

Mother Teresa, digging fiercely into her chocolate cake, would shake her head and be honest. She was Always Honest with the World. She’d Be Honest With Me.

“You’ve missed the point. We’ve all got some kind of Calcutta. Go. Find. Yours.”

I didn’t make up that Mama T mantra myself; she actually said it in an interview once. That Calcuttas—places of great need, desperation, loneliness & poverty—are everywhere, if only we have the eyes to see them.

Soup kitchens. Corporate cubicles. Shopping malls. Orphanages. College campuses. Africa. All Places & Spaces to Pin Your Heart Upon and Vow to Plant a Garden Where People Say, “Nothing Will Grow Here.”

Mother Teresa. Martin Luther King. Gandhi. All the notables we write about for college essays when we are on a radical “change the world” rampage, not a single one of them thought to Change the World. That was not their goal. Not their motivation.

They simply found a garden to plant, a place to till & farm & plant all day long, so that others would prosper from their labor. So that others would breathe & eat & be less lonely & feel more loved because they woke up before the sun to plant the world with Goodness.

I’ve always been told that it is finding the place where your Deepest Gladness meets the Deepest Hungers of this World. That is where God sits. And waits. And delights in using your Fingers and your Spirit to Spin Miracles.

Finding that kind of Calcutta does not come from an eagerness to be a world shaker, it comes from stumbling somewhere that could use more Love. More good. And deciding not to ignore that place. Not walk away this time. Not turn the cheek. Not flip to another channel.   

The Internet. The World Wide Web. She is my Calcutta right now. While some call her “impersonal,” I’ve come to love the possibility she gives me through just 140 characters, the Laughs & Souls to Be Collected in Putting Yourself Out There in a blog or a tweet.

And Mama T, I don’t think she would have been a Tweeter. Nor one to “Like a Status” on the “Book.” She’d be lost on Flickr and very much Linked Out of LinkedIn. But I think she would agree that this spanning space of urls and hash tags is a Calcutta of its own, that it too is a perfect place to spread more peace. More Love. More Connectedness in a Disconnected World. Through Social Media. & Technology that brings the Poor to the forefront. The Lonely to the Love Letters. The Eager Ones to a Place where they can Volunteer & Help & Advocate.

The Internet, and all the other Calcuttas that stretch far beyond the foldings of India, are a place to put oil in the lamp. To send out messages of love. To offer support. To stretch us to a point where we all have no choice but write down in our statuses or our diaries at night:

This is not about me. This will never be about me. This is actually about my neighbor—be it right next door or fifteen worlds away. The Humanity I Can Show Him. The Love I Can Give Him. The good I can do only after I’ve dropped myself to my knees and started to plant a garden in the Calcutta that needs me most. 

Where is your Calcutta?

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Filed under Disconnect, Poverty

Until the rains come…

As the Hours Pass

Breaking of the Fast: A letter of thanks

Just as our fasting broke this morning, so did some news regarding a new social media campaign with today’s biggest entertainers involved, to benefit our East Africa Fund.

Translation: I have been too busy to even think about wrapping up my fasting update.

At 9am this morning, my colleagues and I broke the fast with a light breakfast and some sharing of stories. When we felt hungry. How it made us feel. When it all sunk in for Each One of Us.

I found it both overwhelming and encouraging to see the number of people who put their hunger aside to hold out and fundraise for the kids. Buckets of “thank you”s to anyone who donated to the fast.

It all sunk in this morning as I pulled apart the bagel before me and took that first bite of food in 24 hours. This whole experience became a living definition of a quote that I have tucked close to my heart for several years but never fully understood up until now: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

This whole fast is not to “help” the children of the East Africa food crisis, but to stand beside these children—their tiny feet, their tiny hands, their tiny faces—stand beside them and be human. Humans reach out hands to one another, I reckon that is why God gave us two of them. Why he equipped us so favorably with Hands that Hold. Ears that Listen. Mouths that Speak Out against injustices such as the food crisis in East Africa.

We could very easily get bogged down by the news and the discouraging coverage, throw our hands up in the air and say “I cannot do anything!” but clearly, by the awareness and money we raised, there is something we can do. We can be living examples of compassion, humanity, and above all, love. The 24-hour fasting is over, but our chance to be Love to others has just begun…

Thanks to everyone who supported Save the Children in the last 24 hours. Especially those who found a way to encourage, inspire and lift our spirits with just 140 simple characters. You are a marvel. Always and always.

Best,

Hannah

Pin my heart to your tomorrow

Little children, I cannot begin to know how it feels to take on even an ounce of your pain. I don’t know the pangs of hunger beyond 24 hours, I am not forced to walk & walk & walk in the hopes to find food. But I can pin my heart to you today, pin my heart to your tomorrow. Each day and every day, I can promise that to you.

6pm

O.k., this is real now. Really real. Tired. Hungry. Irritated. Headache throbbing. And yet I am sitting here, counting blessings. I am in awe of how much I took food for granted up until this point. So many times today I have eyed food around the office and just wanted to grab a few pretzels or sneak a chocolate or two. Aint gonna happen. I am in this until the end, alongside my Save the Children staff members, Grey’s star Kevin McKidd, supermodel Iman and the rest who have joined on throughout the hours. Stay strong everyone. “We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” –Mama T

2pm

So for a stretch of time I was very hyper, feeling more energized than I have felt in days actually but mind you, that was short lived, the headache is coming on but my stomach has not rumbled since mid morning.

But here I am, 23 years old, and understanding why I feel hungry right now. Why? Because I am voluntarily fasting… How could you possibly explain this to a 4 year old? Or to your own children? That there’s no food, that they need to wait for the rains to come.  Empty stomachs are nothing compared to a breaking heart for the kids who have to feel this everyday. Please consider donating today.

11:30am

Three hours into the fast and already I am seeing how much my body has come to rely on getting food every couple of hours. Around this time I would have already had breakfast and a mid morning snack. The hunger pains are not intense by any means, and I am all too aware that I will be eating again in less than 24 hours. It is really making me reflect and think about the kids who have no choice, no other option, but to keep trekking on until they reach the refugee camps. Even then, they are not guaranteed food to put into their hungry bellies. I am keeping these children in my thoughts throughout the entire day.

Fast-A-Thon

The news coverage on the crisis in East Africa has crippled our spirits and our news feeds for the past few weeks but we are not completely helpless to the issue at hand. I don’t often mix my work life with the blog but I wanted to share with all of you what my colleagues and I at Save the Children are doing to keep the children of East Africa at the forefront until the rains come.

From Monday, August 8 to Tuesday, August 9 (9am-9am) we will host a completely voluntary 24- hour “Fast-A-Thon” to raise funds and empathy towards the food crisis in East Africa, what the UN has declared as the worst drought in nearly 60 years. I will be fasting for the next 24 hours with the hope to raise $100 dollars to feed a child for 100 days. Our overall goal?  Utilizing our social networks to raise $10,000 to feed 100 children for 100 days.

One dollar a day is all it takes to keep a child alive until the deadly drought passes and the rains come.

I appreciate all support, thoughts and prayers for the children and their families at this time.

To participate in the Fast-A-Thon, check out the site here. If you would like to donate to the cause, click here or text “SURVIVE” to “20222” to make a $10 donation.

Ways to Get Involved

PLEDGE TO FAST:  On Monday, August 8, fast by skipping a snack (or coffee), missing a meal or fasting for a day beginning at 9 am EDT (GMT 13:00).  RSVP

PLEDGE TO FRIENDRAISE:  Invite your friends, family and co-workers to socialize about the event on Twitter (#fastathon) and Facebook.  Friendraise

PLEDGE TO FUNDRAISE:  Ask your personal, social networks to support your pledge by donating to our Cause, or donate $10 by texting SURVIVE to 20222 (U.S. only, standard rates apply).  Fundraise 

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Filed under Humanity, Poverty

I’d string the trees in Central Park with Yellow Bows for you.

She was fidgeting with the elevator buttons

when the tears for you rolled through.

I knew upon the first slow trickle, down blush-applied pink cheeks,

that the herds of salty soldiers marching from my eyelids

were all for you today.

Untamable tears. Terribly Untamable, Mysterious Tears.

They might be my only offering to this world.

They might be just the start.

I let the tears scamper for a moment,

like restless children tumbling to see the first gleam of spring.

Propelling down over humps that were once

the bane of a chubby cheek existence.

Searching in my mind for ways to turn

Each Drop of Salt into Characters that sit Metallic in Blank Word Documents.

Because crying doesn’t solve anything,

(my mother taught me that one)

but words can do some good.

You held up a piece of cardboard two days ago and I knew it then.

Homeless. Veteran. Iraq.

These three words would call me to my knees one day soon.

Black Tights on Tile Flooring Praying for Men with Foreign Soil Beneath Their Boots.

My mind left stirring over a cup of coffee we never had.

Envisioning you taking me from start to finish.

Tell me the story of how a young man,

waking only to lie down for his country,

encounters that same sleepy-eyed country when its time to cradle him home.

When he fights well. Does Good.

Shouldn’t “thank you” be a phrase that

Drops Endlessly Off Our Tongues?

Thank. You. You. You.

I’m no politician. No picketer. No rebel.

My combat boots are all for show. Fashion, really.

No agenda. No protests. No Crude Words for Magazines.

I cannot talk Libya or Japan when I just want to talk humanity.

I cannot banter over military industrial complexes

when I simply want to know, adding sugar as you speak:

How did the air feel in your hair over there?

Whose arms folded you inward during tented dreams at night?

Whose laughter are you longing for? I know it’s not mine.

When did you start missing it?

Tell me the pitch.

Verbalize the tone.

You’d speak and I’d categorize your eye color into the

running concordance in my mind. Maybe the Blue Files.

Perhaps the Ambiguous Hazels.

Scripting you deep into the front line in the notepad memory

of a Syllable Seamstress with Untamable Tears.

It’s not much but sometimes we need that:

for someone else to remember our eye color.

Remember something about us.

And let their minds return back to it after longer days.

I’m going back today.

If I see you, I will ask you out to coffee.

Knees sunk into the floor of a 43rd street office space.

Turning tears into syllables for you. Asking words to be

brave enough to speak for a hero like you.

Wishing those Words Would Unravel into

Miles Upon Miles of Yellow Ribbon.

I’d string the trees in Central Park with Yellow Bows for you.

Fresh Yellow Bows. To remind the World that a Foot Soldier Came Home.

That a Foot Soldier with Blue Eyes Came Home.

And so who will fetch the water to clean the mud from his tired boots?

6 Comments

Filed under For a Better World, God, Passion, Poetry, Poverty, Simply Living, Thank You

He had this Dream of turning the Jangling Discords of this Nation into a Beautiful Symphony of Brotherhood.

Wade in the water,
Wade in the water children.
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water

I gather my Strength in a place where people have no choice but to come through the door wearing a full armor suit’s worth of it.

I fold the Strength up into my arms like a little child, his legs dangling over the sides, as I stare at the front door and envision it three hours from now. Swinging. Swinging. Bringing in Hope, Carrying Out Heartache. Bringing in Heartache, Carrying it Out Again.

Right now the space is deserted. Empty but Loud. Creaking with its Emptiness. Let the King Hand of the Clock Round the Courtyard and 60 Royal Seconds Three More Times and then watch as this place fills with a Concordance Of Faces that know Promise, Angst and Hard Work but very little English.

It has become almost ritualistic. My slipping from beneath the white covers at 5a.m. to walk down 2 flights of stairs and find a spot to sit, Curled Up, in the middle of an Immigration Center. Not many people can say that their living room doubles as a heartbeat to hundreds of people within the inner city.

The center pulses at this time. The Sun has not even begun to stir or think about hitting snooze on her alarm clock but already the Immigration Center & I are drawing up Strength for the morning. Strength for the sun and the way the door will swing in just a few hours. Even the walls are beginning to speak; I am certain that if I hold my ear up to just one of them I will fall deep into the telling of Ten Thousand Stories.

I did not fully meet Strength up until this year. Only heard about Strength from other people but never really saw it in action so fully until I began calling this borough, “home.” Strength does anything but take up a resting spot in this place. It sits in the classrooms of this Immigration Center, upon the faces of individuals who are trying desperately to remember Letters on a Chalkboard. They know full and well that Language has Edges & Angles in this Country, not so much like the cushioned space in their mothers’ arms. Strength sits in the classroom, and in a church, and in a line for the food pantry or the seats of the 4 train that carry these people and their Tired Soles to their Jobs.

Jobs.

Jobs that pay $7.50 an hour. Not enough to feed the family of five or keep a mother from the fear of teetering over into welfare. The people of the Bronx are still rallying like in the days of Dr. King to fight for a living wage. A Living Wage. A Wage That Allows Them To Live.

There is so much that I don’t understand. A lot that makes me uncomfortable. A lot that I will never again be able to hold my cheek away from. I guess we reach a point where we can never turn away again. Never Walk Away Again. But Still, There Is So Much I Cannot Change. So Much I Cannot Process.

It makes a girl wonder, as she sits cross-legged in the middle of a Immigration Center that Pulses So Loud: What am I to do today? Why am I here? How come I am the one who will get to walk away?

Pack up my bags come June. Wave farewell to a Borough that Learned to Burrow A Break In My Heart, and sink back into a life that doesn’t yield a $25 a week stipend. But a Career. A Career that Provides Much More than Just a Living Wage.

It is here, in these quiet moments when the Bronx is still stretching her arms and readying herself for the day, that I realize that Love is my only option. It’s not technologically savvy. It is not resume worthy. It doesn’t take experience in HTML or CSS Coding. It is not something we even want to mention anymore unless we are standing knee-deep in the card aisle at Hallmark. But its all that matters. Loving. Loving until it hurts. Until it shatters our souls into a million little pieces. Perhaps it is not the desired solution of this world, but it is what keeps me intact, what keeps me holding the hands of preschoolers that I want so much for, what keeps me staring into the eyes of young children on the UNICEF posters whispering promises to them that one day they will be So Much More than Just Poster Children.

Love until it hurts. Love After it Hurts. Keep Loving, even when it would be so much easier to just walk away.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, he had this dream. It was Deeply Rooted in the American Dream, the same one that is still not within the grasps of each body that claims this soil as home. He had this dream to turn the jangling discords of this nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

One day,  I think to myself.

One day we might just hear that Symphony.

Together will begin with the slow start-up of a cello. Equality will join in with the violin. An Acceptance Trio will begin to hum. Acceptance of Color. Acceptance of Religion. Acceptance of Sexuality. Justice will enter in on the piano. And Peace will sit atop the piano that Justice plays and she will look around and smile. She will shimmy from the side of the piano and step up to the microphone after a few chords.

Brothers and sisters,” she will sing. “Get up, get up, it’s time to get up.”

The microphone spans a couple thousand miles.

“Get up and dance. Get up and swing, children.” Peace will Sing. Peace Will Sing.

And we all will stand, lace up our shoes and begin to shuffle towards the dance floor. Shuffling. Shimmying. Holding Hands.You with Me. Me with You.

Fox Trot. Box Step.

Shaking Our Hips to a Symphony of Brotherhood.

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Filed under Disconnect, For a Better World, Humanity, Money, Poverty, Reality

Once Upon A Time Someone Gave a Little Girl with Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu a Chance: Girls’ Education & a Chance to “Be the First.”

She stood before the class today and formally introduced herself.

They’d all seen her before but this was the first time they would call her by name. Sitting tall with her back straight, she seemed poised and ready. A younger but practically identical version of her sat to her right.

This is the letter ‘J’,” I tell the class, using a pencil to accentuate her long and slender trunk. “Can everyone make the sound of the letterJ’? Juh… Juh… Juh…

A chorus of juh’s circulate the classroom.

The letter J continues to reveal to us all of her closest friends:  Jungle. Joke. Jump. Jenny. Josue. Jelly. Friends that would be Nowhere without Her.

After we count nearly 36 comrades of the ever so popular Letter J, the Little Ones scurry back to their seats and practice drawing portraits of our New Friend. Happy are they to be tracing her trunk and filling in her curves with Gold & Silver Glitter Paint.

Every time I introduce a new member of the alphabet family to my preschool class it feels as if they are another step closer to unearthing a treasure they have no idea they are scavenging for. They might not know it yet, rightfully consumed with their dolls and action figures for now, but one day letters and the ability to use them correctly could be the greatest gift that they have ever received. One Day, 26 Precious Letters Could Open Many Doors For Them.

Some days a child goes home not knowing a ‘J’ from a ‘K’ because they spent their day fixed on a double T word: Tattle Tailing. Some Days They Chatter. Some Days They Look Away. And on these days, where the attention spans fly out the window quicker than the holiday season, I am tempted to put down the pointer and fire up a lecture, “You don’t know it now, but these letters are important. So Important. They will be the base of your education. The key to opening up a world where you can get lost in a classic novel. The key to having a voice in this world that is articulate, powerful and purposeful.” They are only four, they will get it eventually. I can only pray that someday they will look back and realize they were not merely painting the letter ‘J’ with a palette of glittered golds and silvers. They were painting a future for themselves. They were learning to paint this world better. Paint this World, Not Only to Look Like a Better Place but to Be a Better Place.

It’s hard to say where these Little Ones will go as they grow up or how they will learn. I am often forced to wonder if they will be inclined to stay in a Classroom as this Borough gets harder on them. I feel as though I could plop down a younger version of myself into this Bronx Preschool and she would adore the sandbox and the Mr. Potato Heads with all the other children but I cannot help but think that the Little Me would still be holding something tight in her hands. Something given to her that was not guaranteed to all of her Preschool Pals or to millions of other children scattered across the continents.

You see, Once Upon A Time Someone gave a Little Girl with Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu a Chance. Over and Over again, she received a Chance. And she didn’t know it at the time but a Chance was a pretty big thing. A Pretty Rare Thing.

A chance to color code her outfits to her highlighters. A chance to pull out a tiny piece of plastic from her jumper and, with it, pick out any library book of her choosing. A chance to turn Alphabet soup into sacred stew. A chance to play construction worker for a good two hours until her “Encyclopedia Fort” was built at long last. And there she would sit as the Little Hand of the clock lapped the Bigger Hand several hundred times. Never Looking Up. Soaking Up the World and Everything in It, in Perfect Alphabetical Order.

The Little Girl with the Chance grew taller and swapped her Cowboy Boots for Platform Sandals. Her Tutu for a Tankini. But still, she held the Chance to fall in love with Rhett Butler several times before she ever even glanced at the boy with the locker next to hers. She had the chance to plaster her walls with the Editor’s Letters from the pages of Seventeen Magazine and draft up dreams of one day working there. Of one day having a Career.

And still the Little Girl Grew, and she was given even more chances. A chance to write her personal statement in a College Application and walk through a door into Higher Education. A chance to Brood over Fine Literature with her Fellow English Majors.

And then there came a time when she held tight to the word “Young” but swapped out the “Girl” for a more suitable title, Woman.  And once again, she recognized the Glory in a pair of Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu. So Vintage.

She moved to the City of her Dreams and Walked into the United Nations only to find herself fixated on learning of the Little Girls who were not always given the same Chance. Over and Over again, she Uncovered these Chance-Less Girls. Sudan. Indonesia. El Salvador.

They are virtually everywhere. A Population of Beautiful Girls Without Grammar Lessons. Children who Deserve to Meet All the Luscious Letters and to Hear all of their Sounds. To Have all the Words Bow & Curtsy Before Them at the Front of a Classroom and then Grant Permission for the Children to Use Them. To Fill Blanks in Stories. Plots. Conversations. Notebooks. Silences.

I don’t think I ever looked down, opened up my palms and noticed the Chances I have been given all of my life until this year when I was asked to write a letter to my 10-year-old self about why I wanted to join the organization, instead of a cover letter. It was the Best Letter I was ever asked to write.  Only then did I realize that My Chance is a Beautiful, Beautiful Thing. Not to be ashamed of, not to be belittled or discarded.  But to be treasured and used. I can use what I have been given to pass forward chances to the future of this world. Children. To promote something I believe can fix a lot of brokenness in this world. Education.

Because of that letter, I am now wrapped up in a glorious .org that I would like to introduce all of you to.  She’s the First is a media campaign dedicated to giving Girls the Opportunity and the Chance to be the First in their Family to receive an Education. I am lucky and excited to be a new researcher for this organization, linked up with schools and girls’ sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia.  I recently became a researcher for the organization and I am excited to be linked up with schools and girls’ sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia.

Here’s to Sweet Syllables. Here’s to More Dreams Upon Chalkboards for 2011. Here’s to More Chances for Little Girls to put on their Blue Tutus and Cowboy Boots and Run to Greet the Alphabet.


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Filed under Big Dreams, For a Better World, Humanity, Poverty, Uncategorized

Any writer knows that there are words that go said. And Words that Go Unsaid. Here are the ones for you.

Hey, when you are a famous writer, can you give me some of your money?”

I snorted at your request. I don’t even think  that I snort that often, but I definitely snorted at this.

Writers don’t exactly make bank,” I told you.

All you have to do is write the next Harry Potter.” You said it so nonchalantly, as if we all have a plotline packed with broomsticks and magic tucked up our sleeves waiting to skitter out and walk the tight rope of our lined paper.

Let’s clear one thing up: You and I, we don’t really talk. We don’t share secrets over coffee. We don’t contemplate our lives’ callings together. I don’t know if I could ever tell you that a lot of us are not looking for a bestseller to make us rich. That isn’t the reason we roll out of bed in the morning and scribble a storyline onto a grocery receipt. I wish I could tell you that it happens more like this: One day we begin piling characters into our notebooks, we begin stealing dialogue from the mouths of those we eavesdrop upon, we begin studying the way His hand slipped into Hers, as if we had never seen anything quite like it before. And then we begin looking for the words to talk about the things that we can never fully understand. Love. Loss. Happiness. Robust Sadness. And when we started talking– letting our dialogue & characters & ideas touch down to kiss the paper– we realized we could never stop. We realized we had found a way to fill our days and some kind of longing in our souls writing about the things we know we will never fully understand.

I’ll just add that to the list of things you will never know. Things you will never understand.

 

A Cloak of Somber fell upon our conversation. Like the snow outside the window, light & lofty. Before the Blizzard Hit.

But seriously,” you said. “When you become a famous writer, will you write a story about me and give me a more heroic ending?

I realized our differences in that single question. Tucking the tears back, I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.

I spend my days plucking heroic endings from a sky and you spend yours praying upwards and outwards for a more heroic ending. I’m struggling to call myself a writer these days. You are looking for the backspace button for nine years of Wrong Turns that brought you here. Right Here. Asking me to find a fictional ending for your nonfiction disaster.

I cannot give you a heroic ending,” I told you. “You have to do that for yourself.”

Any writer knows that there are words that go said. And Words that Go Unsaid. Here are the ones for you.The words I left unsaid:

I would Struggle & Wrestle & Grapple with the Gods of Fiction and Nonfiction all of my life if it meant I could stitch up a new ending for you. I’d throw out rules of “good grammar” if it gave me a shot at handing you a comma before you picked up your own period. I would put down my pencil for good, never tell another story, if it meant you could tell your Single Story and have it come out Happy.

But it is just one of those things that I don’t understand, another one of life’s little concepts that I can never find all the answers for. Why you lost & I won. Why you stayed younger when we all got older. Why you found the darkness when we all stayed to play in the light of the street lamps.

I have asked a lot of you. I know that. I get that. But if you allow me to ask you just one more thing then I promise we can leave the rest behind. Crumbled & Messy. But Left Behind:

Come to me when you are ready. When your Pride falls away. When your guard comes down. Come to me and we can search the ground for syllables, just like we used to scour the yard for chocolate eggs. I’ll stay searching with you until the street lights come on. Until Long After. Until we unearth every Letter, every Point of Punctuation. Until we piece all the words together to make your Heroic Ending.

Come to me and we can search. And we can label our story together as “Lost and Found.” But I will scratch off the Lost and just focus on the Found.

Together we will Lose ever knowing that you ever got Lost and just focus on Finding the truth in your Found.

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Filed under Creative Fiction, Humanity, Poverty, The Tough Stuff, Tragedy, Uncategorized

I don’t know how to solve world hunger but I make a pretty legitimate peanut butter & banana sandwich.

If you don’t know it by now it is about time you did.

I, Hannah Brencher, make the world’s most phenomenal peanut butter and banana sandwiches. My office building is next door to where they shoot the Rachel Ray Show and the producers are practically out the door following the waft of my PB&B sandwich as it shimmies from the confines of its tin foil.

Ok, maybe I am exaggerating. But still, my sandwiches are delectable. Pretty legitimate. Pretty much remarkable and I would share one with you if sandwiches didn’t get so soggy in the mail.

We should probably rename this blog to “Life on the 4 Train” because I am pretty certain that most of my stories develop right there on the 4, while sitting between two perfect strangers as I bask in our commonality of going somewhere together.  But every morning last week I encountered some individual who made their way into my subway car, delivered a speech fueled by what label to be as dignity, and then kindly asked people for food. Food specifically. Not money. Not a home. But something small to soothe that rumble that we have all experienced at one point or another.

I see it every single week, every time that I make my way into Manhattan. And it always calls to mind the days when my mom would send me into the city with three sandwiches delicately wrapped inside of my bag. Not sandwiches for me. Sandwiches for less fortunate than I, with tummies that tended growl more fiercely than my own. If I could only thank my mother for one thing in this world it would be the lesson she packed into everyone of those sandwiches that were never for my hands: Don’t do good. Do right.

Last month I began using five of my dollars from my 25-dollar weekly stipend to buy stamps for my love letters (they are still coming! Don’t you worry… Over 150 letters in the works (Yikes)). This month is the start of taking five more dollars and putting it towards a loaf of whole wheat bread and a bag of bananas (potentially switching it up with a classic PB&J). I already have peanut butter. Trust me, peanut butter manages to find its the way to the the topic of my care package lists every time. With my extra supplies I will pack an extra sandwich to carry everywhere that I go.

To be honest, I hesitate to even publish this. I am not attempting to build a pedestal out of love letters and sandwiches, that will never be the case.  I am simply tired of  a world that can makes us feel like we are helpless and that we should not even try. Someone will scoff at this post, I know that for certain, because the effort of making a sandwich for someone else is so very small. It is not a country ratifying a new law or a peace treaty but it causes the rumble in someone’s stomach to surrender for just a little while. For that reason alone, I would make a sandwich every single day for the rest of my life.

The point of my packing an extra sandwich in the morning is this: If I was hungry, I would want someone to stop and feed me. Not walk by. Not turn the other cheek. Not say “Not my problem.” Because it is my problem. If my neighbor is hungry then it is my problem, just as much as if my own mother were hungry. Mother Teresa, the remarkable individual that she was and is and always will be, has plastered a good quote or two upon my day-to-day life. The problem is not lurking within the big heady words like genocide or malnutrition or terrorism, it is in the fact that we have forgotten that we belong to one another. That my hungry neighbor in Uganda or India is just as important as my hungry neighbor next door.

I could care less if someone ever identifies me as a girl passing out sandwiches to the hungry, I just want the one holding the sandwich to know that it is not an accident. Them & That Sandwich Is Not An Accident. Because, let’s be real, some days we just want to know that someone is thinking about us when they rise in the morning, as they pour their morning coffee,  as they take that first hearty sip. I want someone to know that I made that sandwich especially for them, for they are just as important as my best friends and the role models I admire most. That I woke up that morning and I thought specifically about them as I smoothed on the peanut butter and cut up the banana. It is nice to be considered, don’t you agree?

Yes, we all know that I would be perfectly happy toting a dozen morning glory muffins into the United Nations every day to pass out to world leaders in hopes for world peace, but I am not fueled by unsteady idealism. I know these sandwiches will not change anything. Nothing at all really.

I cannot solve world hunger and I would adore shaking the hand of the man or woman who steps up to the challenge. That person will be my best friend. I will throw parties for that individual daily. However, I can make ten of the best peanut butter and banana sandwiches that this city has ever seen and make sure those lunchtime favorites meet the hands of someone who asks. Simple. Ordinary. Entirely Doable.

We can beat ourselves up on a daily basis over the broken world and the ways in which it wont change. We can talk about policies and treaties and petitions, which are all very well and good. But another person dies of hunger every second seconds. In the time it took you to read this post about 60 people died of totally preventable causes rooted in malnutrition. And so where do we start when that is the problem? I don’t really know that but I do know how to make a pretty sweet sandwich. So I’ll just start there…

Side Notes: It works out perfectly that this post should drop during National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, a week where ideally we would all sift through the heartbreaking statistics and find faces instead of numbers. But even when we dance into Friday and the week flips to the back of the calendar, hunger will still exist. Bellies will go on rumbling well into the holidays. Please continue to keep the souls of the hungry in your thoughts and prayers as we inch closer to a day defined by gratitude and food. Find a local food bank. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Eat the leftovers instead of letting them go to waste. Simple. Ordinary. Entirely Doable.

I would love to hear of any ways you are participating in this national awareness week or joining the fight against hunger, in general.

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Filed under Humanity, Hunger, Insert Heart Here, Poverty

Eat, Pray but please don’t Leave: The “Stuff” we don’t talk about enough.

I need a piece of paper,” she says, picking up the bag at her feet to take out a pencil. I watch her rummage and cannot help but think of the stranger who rummaged through the same bag, probably in a similar fashion, just a few hours before.

She plucks a few moments of silence from the 5a.m. hour, scribbles on the paper, and looks up once or twice. Calculating Math Equations Within the Air.

It is just accessories,” she murmurs. “It is all just accessories. It can all be replaced.”

I could very easily take right now to rant about how I don’t understand why bad things must happen to good people. I could stand atop my blogging platform to yell at the unidentifiable person(s) of the Bronx who smashed in my good friend’s car window and robbed her during the night just a few days ago. People who took the night’s quiet as a green light to pillage through the belongings of a girl who was mid-move from New York City back to Pennsylvania, only to pack up and move to Italy in just four days.

I could very easily articulate how it felt to walk Libby down the stairs at 5a.m. and notice a pile of stuff sitting restlessly outside of her car. To make a silent prayer with pursed lips that there was not shattered glass, a broken window, and a great deal of her things taken from inside the car.

I could say all of this, but I would rather just dwell on her two perfect sets of five words.

1)It 2) is 3)all 4)just 5)accessories.

1)It 2)can 3)all 4)be 5)replaced.

Libby taught me something two days ago at a time in the morning where I could easily swear it was far too early to learn any kind of lesson. The accessories– the computers, the cell phones, the hard drives– are all replaceable. There will always be another computer to have, another blog to build or another upgrade to await. But People are entirely different. We cannot easily replace distinct laughs. Thoughtful conversations. Whirlwinds of memories.

If anyone has taught me this best, it is Libby.

A girl with a camera. A girl who defines the New York City Artist. An Ambitious Go-Getter Who Gets Life & Its People & Who Has Beautiful Visions To Dress This World In Something More Beautiful.

I have only known her for two months but it will be a very long time before I soon forget our coffee dates scattered throughout the city. The way she knows every fact about this Big City, every secret that sits in the pockets of the five boroughs. The ways she listens to a rant or a rave or a praise and she believes in you no matter what.

She will board a plan for Italy in three days and she will pursue the country in search of good Capucchinos & Inspiring People. Eating Life As If It Were Delectable Gelati. And I will continue to walk around her City, the one she made her own, counting the ways in which I cannot replace her.

She is the kind of person that makes you wish you could take all of New York City, all of its great people and great sights, and pack it all into a snow globe. Because I want her to take NYC to Italy. But she doesn’t need a snow globe. It is just another thing to fall under the category of Stuff.

If I am falling so gracefully into any lesson this year, it is this one: I don’t need “Stuff.” Stuff won’t hold my hand & Stuff won’t push me to be wonderful in this world. Stuff is great, don’t get me wrong, but is it not the “be all, end all” I once thought it to be.

I have realized this year how many times in the past I have used the ability to buy something as a coping mechanism, as a way to deal with sadness or forget loneliness. Swipe. Swipe. Swipe. New Shoes. Pretty Bows. Unnecessary Trinkets from Target.All to forget the fact that I was dealing with unkempt emotions.

It is not so easy to do when your budget is 25 dollars each week.

Welcome to forced conversations. Welcome to “I have no choice to call you right now or spill out my heart over a cup of coffee because quite frankly, this year is hard and sometimes feel like I don’t know how to cope.”

Welcome to “It was so much easier when I could cope by way of Forever 21.”

But also, welcome to Growth. To Baby Steps. To realizing that a person is not great because of the Stuff they carry but rather the Stuff they hold within. The Stuff they give out on a daily basis, in the form of good advice, support and ears that perk to listen.

And this is the kind of Stuff we want more of. The Kind Of Stuff We Should Practice Fostering. By being good to people, speaking kindly, daring people to run with their visions and crazy ideas. By showing up at their door with a coffee in hand. Or forcing them to sit down at a table and talk until it feels better.

Some pawn shop in the Bronx is sitting with more stuff today. But it is just stuff. And whoever buys it will know it too, it is just stuff. It is not a spirit or a dream, a vision or a good heart. It is just cold, hard and plastic with a dollar sign plastered on the front.

Find the good stuff today, the stuff worthy of filling your soul with. The good conversations. The good revelations. The good people. The good ideas. The good for the world.The good in other people.The Good Stuff.

I know Libby is more than likely reading this, nodding to every word that I am typing, she knows Good Stuff. Trust me, she knows the definition of Good Stuff. Where it Sits. How it Evolves.

And this is the kind of good we need all around us, not in our hands or plugged into our ears, but in the words that we speak and the intentions that we keep. In the ways we count our blessings & every single person that we count.

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Filed under Disconnect, Happiness, Letting Go, Live with intention, Poverty, Simply Living