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.

Millennium Campus Conference 2010: “Together we are a brigade of red pens, ready to edit this screwed up yet brilliant word document of a world.”

It began with a whisper.

Nearly 1,000 students faced one another, divided down the middle. The two sides chanted separate words.

The right side, “stand.” The left side, “up”

Louder and louder, the voices propelled outward to fill ever crook of the Roone Arledge Auditorium. Stand Up. Stand Up. Stand Up.

What began as a whisper ended as a unified challenge. A challenge that will ring in the ears for a very long while. A challenge to one another. A challenge to the world. A challenge to stand up against poverty.

This weekend I am attending the 2010 Millennium Campus Conference at Columbia University. Students come from almost every colored quilt patch of the USA, each carrying a different story, a variety of titles and, undoubtedly, a bundle of causes. From the fight for clean water to the AIDS crisis in Africa. But with the word “different” set aside we all quickly found the same purpose.

To create and spread a student movement through an interwoven dialogue between student groups, CEOs, entrepreneurs and youth leaders. To Own the Heavy Hearts We Have for International Development. To Turn Those Heavy Hearts Into Torches and Set the World Blazing.

On Monday, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals will blow out ten birthday candles, with little to no celebration. With ten years down and five more to go, there is much to be done in order to make these eight goals any more than a set of naive ideals. Statistics still belabor every inch of this planet. 759 million people worldwide are still illiterate. 22,000 children still die every single day.

I have to shield myself from a lot of negativity as of lately, especially when I explain to someone that I am the liaison for a NGO at the United Nations. Immediately I am informed that the UN is doing something wrong, that the goals are ridiculous, that the UN had better speed it up in the next five years. In return, I wish to say: If you are able to tell me exactly what is wrong then use your next sentence to tell me what you are doing to make it right.

We can talk about what is wrong for days and days. Honestly, we don’t even need to exhaust ourselves with talking about it. Just look around, do one Google search, talk to one person outside of your comfort zone. It is enough to make anyone curl up in the corner of the subway and just give up. Just Give Up Because There Is Too Much. Too much poverty. Too much disease. Too much genocide & infanticide & gendercide.

It is as if the world has been handed to us, but when we stop to look closer we realize that it is full of misspelled words and incomplete sentences. And there is no red pen in sight.

I found the red pens this weekend. An auditorium full of them. I can tell you that sitting next to my peers–the passion echoing louder than the sound speakers– I had instant goosebumps. “Here are the red pens,” I thought to myself. As I looked around the room I had a hard time picking out any one individual who would fail to the change the world one day, if they have not already changed it already.

The red pens don’t exist only on college campuses. Each and every one of us is a red pen, geared with ink to splatter this world and leave it never the same. We hold the compassion & the drive, the skills & the power to take the word “change” and make it stand on its own.

Alone, we are a single voice in a world that is far too noisy.  Alone, we are only attempting to solve grand problems and finding out quickly how it feels to hold a paper towel against a tidal wave. Together, we are a brigade of red pens ready to edit this screwed up yet brilliant word document of a world. We are called to edit this world and bring new statistics into being. Statistics Of Gains. Of Leaps. Of Bounds. Thousands being educated, millions sipping on clean water, billions living to hear a bedtime story tonight.

We each have choices to make at the end of the day. We can shield our minds from tragic stories and we can simply turn a cheek. We can certainly place blame. Pointing fingers is easy.

Or, we could stop, stop sitting and waiting for change to arrive in our inboxes or at our doorsteps. We could meet change halfway.

And if we all start walking towards change, together instead of one by one, we can shake the world.

Honestly, after this weekend, I can already feel the world shaking beneath my feet.

Ways To Stop Poverty. Step 1) Acknowledge your own.

I knew in that very moment, sadness had a sound…

A thick layer of frost covered the places where our ignorance had once been. So thick that we heard the sound from beneath our sleeping bags and extra layers. We knew our cardboard roof had fallen in.

We had constructed our home for the night as if it were a Lincoln Log cabin. Examining and planning our shelter meticulously. We were college students attempting to master the skill of cardboard shack building. But no amount of cardboard & diligence,  strategy & optimism, would guard our roof from the night’s chill and the frost she carried.

We cuddled closer to one another. She to I and I to She. We could barely muster an ounce of body heat but our whispered words and our visible breathing sustained us. She was cold. I was cold. Together we were freezing, Together Nonetheless.

Last November I slept out in the cold for a night with my college peers to attempt to put a face on poverty. It is one thing to talk about soup kitchens and cardboard beds. It is another thing entirely to hear the roar in your stomach when one serving of soup and two bread sticks just is not enough. Another thing entirely to feel your hands go numb. Another thing entirely to scrounge like a beggar, attempting to convert any shred of light in your soul into warmth for your body. It hits 2a.m. and you say to yourself, “Oh this is another thing entirely.

Often we think poverty and our mind draws up an image of a child in Africa with a belly bloated from starvation. Or a man on the church steps curled up into himself, preparing for the night’s sleep. Concrete Pillow.

But poverty is not merely a barren bank account or a foreclosed home. Not just a pile of food stamps and donated clothes.

Mother Teresa said it best, that poverty of the soul- hunger and thirsting for something to pull a person away from loneliness– is far different than the need for bread and water. There are a lot of us living in poverty right now. Some of us don’t even see it or recognize it after so hastily assigning the face of poverty to that homeless man or that welfare mother.

You cannot always touch it. You cannot always point a finger at it.  You cannot take a census of this kind of poverty, good luck packaging poverty for another human being into a statistic. All I can advise is sitting with a person long enough and you will see it in their face. An emptiness in their souls.

Some might say that the worst kind of poverty is a day without a friend, without people to talk with.

We need each other more than we care to admit.

All the things in the world will never be able to shield us from the day when we realize we are alone and we were never really crying out for more clothes and valuables. We were crying out conversation. The comfort of a shoulder aligned next to ours.

It was not until this morning did I realize the poverty in my own life. Standing in the middle of a Sunday church service. People Clapping. Singing. Dancing. Praising Sweet Jesus. And I was envious of them, because they all held hands so easily. They leaned on one another so completely. Someone might look at them and say, “They don’t have so much. I have more money, I have a better home.” I would laugh at this someone and reply, “Don’t you see it? They have everything. Everything that Matters. They will surely keep the world spinning with love for one another.I think I have met the richest people in all the world.

If you want to stop poverty, you must touch your own first.

I am only two weeks into my service and already I see how easy it is to construct a life around materialism. To live a life outward without ever nurturing the inward. Life gets hard when I can no longer hide behind a piece of plastic to swipe. A full closet. A computer screen and a signature. Life gets hard when you realize that all you have focused on really doesn’t even matter.

The roof is falling in and I am finally dealing with it. I have to. There is no other way. Normally I would attempt to fix the roof all by myself. I am getting used to this idea of others helping me build back up again.

I hope one day a person asks me this: “How do manage to take the insanity of this lifetime? There is so much struggling, suffering, heartache and injustice.”

You see, normally I would respond with some abstract idea about how we are all internally equipped with love and the power to push through. We simply prevail on our own.

But lately I think I might just look down at my hands, the very hands that will do good, good work in the next ten months. Not notice the hands, but notice the gaps. In Between The Fingers. They are welcomed gaps. They are not there by coincidence. The gaps exist for the fingers of another to fit perfectly inside of them. Be it the Love of my Life. A Friend of my Soul. The Ones Who Raised Me. A Stranger. No matter who, the gaps do exist for another.

A constant reminder: We were designed with gaps so that others could fill them. We were not designed to go this road alone.


The City is a Living Lullaby: Before & After. Me to We.

I have not needed a lullaby in seventeen years…

Last night the strident sounds of an insomniac city pulled at my eyelids and slid me into safe slumber. Those same sounds– the rhythm of a basketball dribbling in the distance & the tails of amplified conversations—  climbed through my third floor window shortly after the sun this morning. Oh, how I adore my new lullaby.

People ask for a paragraph synopsis of how my life is in the Bronx since moving here on Tuesday.  Well, in order to attempt to deliver justice in this description, Life needs to be personified. Perhaps she is a young girl, ready with a restless heart. You see, the only way to describe this experience to anyone is through imagining that Life is a living, breathing person.

Life snuck up from behind me and handed me a black Sharpie marker last week.

Here, here, take this,” Life says.

Why, what is this? What should I do with it?

Life rolls its eyes. “Draw a thick black line down the middle of me. From now on you are going to look differently at me, as if I am two people. One part of me exists as Before and the other now exists as After.

Before & After.

We all stumble into instances when we realize that we have crossed a threshold that will forever cause us to refer to life as Before & After. Before the Divorce. After the Break Up. Before the Car Crash. After the Degree. Some of us sink upon our knees and wish that the After had never come. Others embrace the change and hold hands with the After. Before suddenly seems so Young. Naive. Outgrown. Worn.

Our lives before a certain experience have great difficulty fitting all the emotions and thoughts that we pull from the trial or the stepping stone. And so we pack up our suitcases full of Awareness, Compassion, Understanding & Knowledge and we move over into the After.

For the longest time I heard the perfection in three letters, side by side: NYC. Automatically my mind would turn with 3,000 or so ideas. Broadway shows and fancy dinner parties. Devil Wears Prada Lifestyles & Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But over 300,000 New Yorkers live a lifestyle that consists of Poverty. Bills that cannot find the pathway to Paid. Schools that fall below state standards.

A lot of this poverty echoes in the place that is now considered my home: The Bronx.

I have long grown tired of people’s stagnant set of stereotypes that cover this borough like a thick layer of ashes: Guns. Food Stamps. Sirens. Fighting. Gangs. A place where your one hand belongs next to your pocketbook and the your eyes are meant to stare at the ground. And while the Bronx does certainly have crime and areas of urban decay, more than that, it has people. Beautiful People. Stretching Means to Make Livings. Learning English to Work in this Country. Taking Their Dealings and Dealing With It.

And what breaks my heart is this: We were all called here to live but no one ever wrote in the rule book that acceptance of how we make a living was necessary. Some people don’t know trust funds and others have been slammed by the “system” but can we turn our backs on those who are different from us? Just because we have More, if More is even a legitimate word… So what if we have more Paper Money, More Titles or More Security. I want More Simplicity, More Spirituality, More Connections with this City and the People Who Speckle Its Concrete.

My computer broke a few hours after arriving on Tuesday. A Large Crack Etched the Face of Her Screen. And normally I would cry and scream and need a new one immediately. But perhaps it should stay broken for a while, perhaps I need the simplicity that will come from not having this luxury. And my mom said it best, miles away but sitting next to my soul, “Better your computer be broken then your heart.” I am already learning, Mom. I want to take so much from this year… but all of the things, “for granted” is not one of them.

I am confident that these next ten months in New York City will mold my life like Play Dough. I am dedicated to a volunteer program centered on Community and Simple Living. I have close to 25 dollars a week for my own spending. I live by a food budget with three other individuals. And I am finding pretty quickly that this is not the Minority, but rather, the Majority. I will work within the community on a daily basis until I am meshed into the community. I am giving my Heart, my Gifts, my Talents and My Self to this year.

Before pulling up to our apartment, situated across from a discount grocery store and a barber shop, it was all about Me. Me Growing. Me Living. Me Loving. Me Wanting. Me Hoping. Me Dreaming. Me Stringing Together Lullabies To Put My Dreams To Rest At Night. But something happened… A shift took place… The ME grew restless suddenly and the M wanted to move away, sick of the E. And the so the E let it leave and set off on a quest for another letter to accompany its side. And oh, what goodness, a W showed up… It may have trailed off from another word: Wonder, Wild or Wisdom. But no matter its origins, it took its place next to the E and the WE was formed. More perfect than the Me. More fitting to be We.

We Grow. We Live. We Love. We Want. We Hope. We Dream.

We String Together Lullabies with Our Own Unique Sounds.

Share with me your Before & After Moments…

As a Drop A Love Bomb Partner, we have a new mission at hand. Please take a few moments to drop a love bomb… This mission is dear to my heart, seeing as I now have four familiar faces taking up the Chicago area. Miss you AVs.

Love Bomb Mission: Chicago Fire Department

Hey Team!

This week we are doing something just a tad different.

Typically we drop a Love Bomb on one person, but this week we are dropping a Love Bomb on the entire Chicago Fire Department.

Chris Wheatley, one of their firefighters, died in the line of duty on August 9th.

Nate and I would like for this Love Bomb mission to be two-fold:

1) To encourage, support and comfort the Chicago Fire Department as they’ve lost a brother in duty.

2) To thank the Chicago Fire Department for serving their community so faithfully.

As most of you know, Nate (@ItStartsWithUs) runs our parent organization, ItStartsWith.Us – their 15 minute mission for this week is to help out a service worker. Every now and then the ItStartsWithUs team helps us drop our Love Bombs, so I thought it would be awesome if we could do our part by supporting a service worker (a lot of them!) while we drop our Love Bomb at the same time!

You can leave a comment on the Chicago Fire Department’s blog here: http://cfdblaze.com/2010/08/cffu-local-2-tom-ryan/

Lauren

Much Love and Light from New York City,


Learning to simplify

Next year holds the potential of being completely different than this year .. Of course it is expected, seeing as I will no longer be a college student, care free and young. I will be a real person, more than that, I may very well be in a developing country doing service.

The applications are in, one for a program in South Africa and another for a program in Haiti, two programs that could potentially turn my life upside down.. No more technology, no more calls home when I miss my mom, no more home cooked meals or shopping at the mall. Life will certainly be simplified to say the least. So I guess I need to find ways to start preparing for this.

My mom and I talked about it on the phone tonight. I don’t want anything expensive for Christmas, not an Ipod or a digital camera, not really anything technological. Little by little, I am beginning to inch myself towards a more simplistic lifestyle, one that incorporates more prayer, more trust in God and more gratitude for the little things in life, the things that money cannot by.

It is probably the hardest this time of year, we say its all about friends and family and memories, but I often see my friends pulling their hair out over buying for people on their lists or my family trying to get out of my what I want.. What do I really want? The simple things in life– smiles, hugs, letters, love, conversation, encouragement, understanding — let these simple things settle in my heart instead of under my tree.