You are special


“You can’t do what I do,
but I can’t do what you do either.
That’s why we are both important to the plan of God.”

This quote from Mother Teresa, heard by my friend Fr. John Cusick and shared this morning on his Lenten reflections Facebook post, reminds me, firstly, that there are so many things that I cannot do. I cannot sing, speak Arabic or Spanish, wire electricity, move mountains, provide hospice care, trade bonds, nurse a baby, or climb a high ladder.

But there are also real gifts that I do have. There are many things that I do really well — write, edit, teach, laugh, encourage, walk, dance, paint, and advocate for justice.

When I was a kid, we had a poster in the kitchen, something like: ‘You are beautifully made. God doesn’t make junk.’ I believe it was a contemporary version of the Psalms: ‘You are beautifully and powerfully made.” This poster always made me feel good. Because, you know, sometimes we all feel worthless. But if we’re made in the image of God, we can’t be all bad. And I do believe God was so happy when God made us. God said, ‘wow, this is good,’ not just when the great saints, like Mother Teresa, were made, but when you and I, ordinary saints, were made. That warms my soul.

See, every day is a chance to start anew, to take ordinary actions in this extraordinary moment in history. Write the new story. Find the new way. Seek higher ground. Unite rather than divide.

And in telling your story, choose to emphasize your gifts and the talents of those around you. Do not belittle yourself. Or bully those whom you perceive as weaker. The other day when the boys I teach were gossiping a bit cruelly, I reminded them, “Do not be like vultures, eating at the tragedy of others.” I know it’s a graphic image but mean-spirited gossip is like that — a bit of a foul feast. And the boys paused when I gave them this image and I hope that they asked themselves whether they were dining on roadkill or stopping like a Good Samaritan to help some fellow animal in need.

For we are only human animals. In our shared humanity, we can find and celebrate our own gifts and the gifts of others.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Movie Poster

After seeing A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood the other day, I was inspired by Fred Rogers and told a third grader C. who was struggling with a grammar problem, “You’ve got this. You’re special.”

“I hope so,” C. replied, a bit indignantly, as if it was so obvious how special he was. It made me smile. I hope today finds you smiling at the wisdom and gifts of those around you, too, including yourself.

Melissa McCarthy – Happy Living Women’s History

Melissa McCarthy takes a bath every evening. This is something my sister-in-law Shami advised that I do when I first had children. I love this advice. A bath is a great way to unwind. Ya know, ‘Calgon, take me away!’ and all that.

Today, let’s celebrate McCarthy for Women’s Living History Month. I know it’s International Women’s Day and McCarthy is from Illinois. Well, so am I. Yet. Her humor (and mine) is international. Like a Monty Python comedian, she is not afraid to play a variety of good-natured, but unattractive and clueless characters — Sean Spicer, anyone?

She’s real. It’s bizarre that I have to say this but for a woman to appear less than perfect in the media is an act of courage in this crazy era.

I love to watch someone who just goes for it and isn’t worried about whether it’s silly or awkward or unflattering. – Melissa McCarthy

Me too! I love the silliness of McCarthy’s humor. She was so good in Can You Ever Forgive Me? I have an affinity for movies about writers and movies about alcoholics and this is a good one. Although I could quibble with the way that alcoholism is portrayed, I do appreciate her characterization of Lee Israel as a fun-loving, hard-working, criminal loner. Writing is a lonely business — we get that from the movie. Like Lee Israel, I think every good writer has seen their income decline. I know, I relate to the present-day financial slump of a writing career.

McCarthy is a major Hollywood producer. I would like to shine a light on other amazing women performers who produce too — looking at you, Reese Witherspoon. But I chose McCarthy because she is so prolific and her production company is, according to this New York Times magazine article, an assemblage of good-natured and varied women.

McCarthy brings warmth to all of the characters she portrays, such as the fun mom in the movie where she goes to college, Life of the Party. So funny. I can totally relate to that character too — as I try not to be an embarrassment to my kids, in my trying, I become an even bigger source of “Oh My God, MOM!!” (Endearingly so!)

McCarthy is every woman — or maybe she’s just me — smart, sassy, multi-faceted, funny, enthusiastic. Her movies are a balm to my soul. McCarthy, take me away!

photo courtesy of wikipedia By Mingle MediaTV – Melissa McCarthy DSC_0812, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Heather McGhee — Women’s Living History Month

Happy Women’s History Month! Let’s celebrate the month by engaging in a little Shine Theory, which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reminded the world about this week. That is, we amplify the women. While it’s thrilling to celebrate all of the amazing women of yesteryear, I’m looking around today to celebrate the phenomenal women who are making real differences in the arts and letters today.

Let’s cheer today’s hero Heather McGhee — brainy, creative, and passionate. She was president of Demos, a liberal think tank, for years. She is now a Senior Fellow there, in addition to her work as a commentator on MSNBC.

I first met Heather when my friend Joanna’s mom, Donna Parson, was in the hospital and Heather and I were in the waiting room together. Yes, she was president of one of the biggest and most influential think tanks in the country, and, on that Sunday morning, McGhee still found time to bring coffees, pastries, and, I think, bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, to the family and friends of a colleague in the intensive care unit.

Whenever I see McGhee as a pundit or thought leader on television, I am reminded that she does not run from difficult situations and places. She sits with you and brings food for thought. It is a comfort, in these times, to know you’re not alone. McGhee also has a background in the arts, I learned, when I did a quick Google Search.

Incidentally, Joanna Parson, cross-discipline genius of the written, spoken, and performed word recently reminded her social media followers to honor Donna Parson, her mother, by taking one or many of these actions:

1) Drink a chocolate ice cream soda.
2) Drink a rootbeer float.
3) Send a card to someone.
4) Give a teeny little present to someone.
5) Shop for a teeny little present and hold it, knowing you will someday give it to someone.
6) Read and pay for The New Yorker, The Nation, The American Prospect, The New York Times, Mother Jones, the Washington Post— this list grows and becomes more urgent as our need to support the free press grows.
7) Celebrate the incredible tenure of Heather C. McGhee, of whom Donna was so proud, as President of Demos, by making a small donation here:
8) Read Thomas Paine, Lillian Hellman, Donald Hall, or anything, really.
9) Go to a cultural event or live performance.
10) Learn where Estonia is on a map (and celebrate the successful return of our family land in Viljandi County to my sister and I after a process began in 1997 by my father, and sustained by Donna for so many years, finally completed!)
11) Call a relative.
12) Talk to someone substantially older or younger than yourself.
13) Shop at a thrift store or flea market.
14) Plan a trip.
15) Eat a good meal, preferably while laughing.

Women’s History Month — Anne Lamott

The thing I love about Anne Lamott is her brutal honesty. She admits her vulnerabilities, foibles, mistakes. She’s not shy to say who she is and she writes about all of the things I love — writing, family, nature!

She has written many books that I can relate to. Her latest book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is staring at me in the faculty library at school today. For some inspiration this morning, I leaf to a random page:

“Empathy begins when we realize how much alike we are. My focus on hate made me notice I’m too much like certain politicians…I, too, can be a blowhard, a hoarder, needing constant approval and acknowledgement, needing to feel powerful.”

– Lamott, Almost Everything

Then she talks about the Motley Old Us. How we, this ragtag collective, share “outdoor concerts, community hikes, birthday parties, worship services, street fairs.” The best things in life! Yes, I am one of her motley crew — in community. Yet I am also a solitary someone who needs approval and, at times, feels separate from the ‘in’ crowd and, even, the motley crew.

I remind myself to be ‘a friend among friends, a worker among workers.’ I think I’m paraphrasing from the AA Big Book. On a daily basis, this is all I can do — seek to connect and be a part of the communities in which I find myself. I want to bring healing and hope and radical unconditional positive regard for others — even people I hate, even people who do not yet know how much damage they have done .

This morning I’ve already connected on the crosstown bus with my neighbor and at the diner with the Greek manager. Both of these gentle people shared a meaningful loss with me and I felt a greater connection to them.

This push towards community and this respect for personal writing — these are reasons I like, admire, and, yes, am super jealous of Anne Lamott. She has written more than ten non-fiction books and seven non-fiction books and oh, yes, she has a Guggenheim Fellowship. I console myself — I have a lot too.

So welcome March — Women’s History Month — today we celebrate Anne Lamott. Incidentally, I’m going to celebrate this month by profiling a few of the many women I love — I am choosing living women — some women I know and some I wish I knew.

This is my living history month. I’m writing these quick moments in 10 to 20 minutes.