Sharing a meal with someone—it’s one of the oldest traditions in the world. And that’s why it’s so important to me to have a home where I can host people for dinner and why I want to include sharing a meal in my podcast to get passionate conversations flowing.
My friend, Carolyn, sent me an article from PsyBlog entitled The Right Food Can Promote Trust And Closeness Between People about the value of eating the same food with another person. It brings us closer. It helps us to listen and attempt to understand one another, especially when dealing with issues that mean a lot to us. Meals are an act of communion and community. Meals together matter, and I’m excited to begin orchestrating them on my new podcast that will be appropriately named Breaking Bread.
Would you like to be a guest on the show? Know someone who would be a good guest? Let’s gather around the table and see (and hear) what happens.
As someone who’s used social media for everything from meeting new friends to learning to generating career opportunities to dating, I’ve been thinking a lot about the underside of social media. What if it doesn’t help us connect? What if people don’t like our posts or accept our invitations or offer support when we so clearly needed it? What if we do that hideous comparison game of viewing our own real lives with all their difficulties side-by-side with the perfect lives that people espouse to live via their shiny screens? If we already have anxiety, and who among us doesn’t?, interacting on social media is nearly as frightening as the real world. It’s yet another avenue for rejection and disconnection.
These are the kinds of questions and scenarios that Dear Evan Hansen raises in its gorgeous premiere production at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. The odd and awkward actions online and off that are showcased made me laugh, cry, and contemplate just how hard it is to wrestle through our digital world and navigate its border with the physical world.
There were so many times that my heart just hurt for Evan Hansen, a sweet and shy teenager who’s just trying to get by without having a breakdown. He doesn’t have a lot of friends—he never has—and his family life is less than ideal. He always feels separate and apart from the world around him. He’s someone with a good heart who just can’t connect with people, sometimes rubbing them the wrong way with his awkwardness. He reminded me of a man I used to know, a man I wish I still knew, who also suffers from the same social anxieties and misfortunes with people. I sent that man a virtual hug during the show, not online but in my heart, and I hope wherever he is that he felt it.
Unlike most musicals, Dear Evan Hansen‘s songs aren’t commercial breaks. They move the story along with power, grace, and humor in just the right amount at just the right time. Ben Platt’s voice and demeanor exudes charm and heartbreak, grace and raw honesty. I wanted to run up on stage numerous times, give him a hug, and tell him that it’s all going to be okay. Because that’s really all he needs to know—that someone’s going to stand by him, listen to him, and care about him, especially when he feels uncomfortable and frustrated. He needs to know that someone’s going to be patient with him when he can’t be patient with himself. Isn’t that what we all need and want? Isn’t that the real definition of love? Tom Stoppard said, “It’s no trick loving somebody at their best. Love is loving them at their worst.” I agree.
After seeing Dear Evan Hansen, I didn’t have the best weekend. I’ve got a few personal situations I’m juggling that feel sad and confusing. To be honest, I’m at a little bit of a loss of what to do, say, or feel. My heart and mind feel jumbled and tired. All I could think to do to feel better was smile more, reach out more, and feel more. The instinct might be to shrink away from discomfort, but thanks to Dear Evan Hansen, I leaned into my weekend. The results were mixed, but feeling all of it actually felt better.
And that’s the power of theater. It reminds us that we aren’t alone in our experiences. So much of what we think, feel, see, and bear is shared across space and time by so many others. At its core, Dear Evan Hansen is about friendship and our need to feel cared for and accepted, flaws and all. See it. You’ll walk away a better, kinder person for carrying this story with you online and off.
Dear Evan Hansen will be at Arena Stage until August 23rd. And I’m sure it will have a very long life in many cities across the country soon.
In honor of Susan Strayer LaMotte‘s fabulous birthday, I’m participating in #40forgood. Today the dogs and I came cross a woman in our neighborhood sitting on her stoop having a very tough day. We stopped to sit and talk with her. She pet the dogs and they loved the attention. By the end of our conversation, she was smiling. It was a small thing to do. It didn’t take a lot of time. My hope is that it made a difference. Let’s make the world a little brighter for each other every day.
“The only true voyage of discovery is not to visit other lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds.” ~Marcel Proust, “Remembrance of Things Past”
I read this quote while I was on the metro Sunday morning and as I looked around the packed train car, I thought about how different the world must look through every set of eyes around me. Sometimes we talk about empathy as if it’s a switch we can flip, as if it’s something so easy to attain that anyone could do it. But truthfully, empathy is difficult and constant work, something that takes effort and grace. To have it, we have to give up our own biases. We have to drop our own baggage and put aside our hard-won perspective in the hope of somehow finding a glimmer of understanding, a glimpse into the world through eyes that aren’t our own.
The New York Times article by psychologist Paul Bloom that featured the quote from Proust questioned whether true empathy is ever really possible or if it’s an unachievable pipe dream. I’m fine with it being either. No matter if it’s achievable or not, it’s worth the effort. Even if we fall far short of true understanding, at least the attempt shows that we cared at all. And isn’t that concern what life is all about?
On the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral, Congressman Elijah Cummings led thousands of people in peaceful protests. These peaceful protesters are the people who are generating change by being the change. They’re cleaning up neighborhoods. They’re creating bridges where there are serious gaps. Their strength and courage inspires me. Love drives out hate. Light drives out darkness.
Violence and sensationalism is what sells, but it’s not what generates progress. Elijah Cummings and all the people who joined him are the hope and light of Baltimore. In time, they are the ones who will close the divides in their community. They’re already doing it. They’re the ones who need our support. We need to band together for our own good and the good of our neighbors.
Today I went to new volunteer orientation today at Food & Friends, a local D.C. nonprofit that prepares and delivers healthy meals, groceries, and nutrition counseling to people in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia who have life threatening illnesses. 10,000 volunteers help make their work possible and I’m very excited to join them. I’ll be cooking, delivering meals, and helping at special events.
If you’re looking for a great volunteer opportunity, they always need extra hands and hearts. Individuals, groups, and people of all ages (including kids) can be a part of their work on a very flexible schedule. I love this quote from one of the people who has received meals from them: “This isn’t just about food. It’s about life.”
No matter how complicated a problem is, there is always a win-win solution. My favorite recent win-win is a cross-generation community solution that I wish was around when I was in college. I could have used it. Heck, I could use it now.
Imagine if students (or entrepreneurs for that matter) could somehow obtain free housing while they were in school (or started their businesses). Now imagine that people in retirement homes could be surrounded by youthful energy. In the Netherlands they put these two needs together, offering free housing to students in retirement homes. In exchange for free housing, the students spend 30 hours per month being “good neighbors” to the elderly residents. They watch sports games together, celebrate birthdays, and visit them when they don’t feel well.
This story made me smile from ear to ear. I hope it makes you feel the same way. What a beautiful, wonderful gift for all of these people, young and old. We really are all in this together.
I took a break from my usual job search routine yesterday to explore different volunteer opportunities in D.C. Using VolunteerMatch.org, I was able to identify quite a few different opportunities that are flexible and fun. In case you’re interested in volunteering in the D.C. area, here are the ones I found most exciting.
Animals Rural Dog Rescue: Rural Dog Rescue is in need of volunteers every Saturday afternoon from 12-3 to help at our adoption events. Events are located in SE DC, NW DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland. If interested, please fill out our Volunteer Questionnaire and we will be in touch.
Arts and Culture Spark!Lab Ambassador: The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is reopening July 1, 2015! We are recruiting a new group of volunteers (called Ambassadors) to work with museum visitors in Spark!Lab, its hands-on invention space for children and families.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: Family day will explore the amazing accomplishments in astronomical observing from Galileo to Hubble. Through astronomy presentations, hands-on activities, and more, learn how different cultures see the sky. Family Day volunteers help by staffing activity stations.
Filmfest DC: We are currently looking for volunteers to assist us in theaters at our 29th annual festival this April 16 – 26. Our mission is to bring the best in new international cinema to the Nation’s Capital and to present these works in a spirit of appreciation and cooperation. Volunteers help us usher guests inside theaters, help with the box office, collect tickets, hand out and receive ballots for audience choice awards and much more.
Food Rescuing Leftover Cuisine Inc.: We need volunteers to help expand our Washington DC operations! We are rescuing food that would have been thrown out by restaurants, and bringing it to the people who need it most in the local community.
Bread for the City: Each growing season on Sunday afternoon, Bread for the City partners with several local farmers markets to glean or “rescue” leftover produce. We then rely on dedicated volunteers to help us sort and pack this produce into family sized servings so that we can quickly and efficiently distribute it to our Food Pantry clients the following week.
Food & Friends: Assist chefs with food preparation and packing meals in our high-energy kitchen. Have a ball slicing, dicing, chopping and stirring – all while making a huge difference in the lives of those living with life-challenging illnesses! No culinary experience necessary. Flexible shifts available Monday through Saturday. (I’ve already signed up for a volunteer orientation next month.)
Community InterAction: InterAction invites you to be part of the volunteer team at its annual Forum, which will be held from June 22 through June 24, 2015 at the Wardman Park Marriott in downtown Washington, DC. Here’s your chance to play an important role at the premier conference of professionals engaged in developing solutions to key issues facing the world’s poor. Plus, you’ll get to attend the conference sessions for free.
“Everything exposed to the light becomes the light.” ~St. Paul
Yesterday I revisited the writing I did on my trip to India in 2012 to prepare some of my essays for magazine submissions. In my re-reading I found this quote by St. Paul that is especially poignant in the wake of the events in Paris this week at Charlie Hebdo.
People all over the world have come together to stand up against the violence and intolerance of the attackers, and stand for freedom of expression, especially in the face of fear and grieving. With enough time, light always wins and that truth helps me to keep looking up. I hope it helps you, too, and those around the world who need this message now more than ever. Je suis Charlie. We are all Charlie. We are all light.
“You try the impossible to achieve the unusual.” ~Floyd Patterson, American boxer and youngest ever Undisputed Heavyweight Champion
When I was a kid, I went to the same church in New Paltz, New York as Floyd Patterson. He was an usher who collected the weekly offering and every week I wondered how someone so kind and gentle could punch someone in the face for a living. I would watch for some sign in his personality that he could even swat a fly. I never saw one; he was known as a quintessential gentleman by everyone in our small community.
He was very elegant and graceful with a broad and beautiful smile. He never sat. Instead, he always stood in the back of the church. I remember thinking he was rather small for a boxer with teeth that seemed too perfect for someone who had such a successful career in the boxing ring.
In those years, Floyd Patterson helped me understand that people are very complex creatures. With his example, I couldn’t and wouldn’t judge anyone through a one-dimensional lens. From him I learned that what we do isn’t all that we are. There is always more to us than meets the eye.