Sunday, January 24, 2010


Yesterday, I quoted this excerpt on Facebook from Conan O'Brien's last show:

"All I ask is one thing, particularly of young people. Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism; for the record it's my least favorite quality. It doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen"

I was so moved by his words, and therefore surprised by responses more critical than concessionary. The majority suggested that $40 million in the bank would make anyone positive; that were we too, famous, rich, and successful, we'd shirk all negativity and run off into the 'happiness sunset'.

In my experience, this isn't the case.

Cynicism is a mindset, and – like happiness – is generally not specifically situational. I've worked with many wealthy, famous people riddled with cynicism, as well as poor foster kids in the Bronx that inspire me with their determination to suck the marrow out of life. The perception of opportunity is just that, a perception. The reality of our human condition – wherever we come from – is the result of the choices we make every day, and in every moment.

One friend suggested that choices and optimism weren't going to get her 40 million dollars, a gig playing piano on Broadway, or the ability to fly. I disagree. Let her first put all of her energy into creating a product or idea of terrific value, practicing incessantly, moving to New York, banging on every door along the Great White Way, and taking flying lessons. Then she can say whether or not these things seem impossible.

This may sound like a Pollyanna fantasy to some, but I believe it is cynicism and 'realistic thinking' – rather than reality – that get in the way of our wildest dreams. I have found in my own life that it is my fears and mindset, rather than any 'facts on the ground' that have hindered what I shout to the world to be my goals.

What's more, when we relinquish fear and cynicism (along with its buddy pride), even if we don't attain exactly what we're yearning for, the process itself becomes a dream. The journey is only a hellish letdown when it's a battleground for insecurity and ego, rather than an opportunity to learn, grow, and experience new things.

What does Conan O'Brien have that any of us don't? Not today, but inside... What did he have when he was 5, 10, or 15 that any of us didn't have at the same ages? The universe wasn't determined to give him any success that it isn't still offering to the rest of us. It's up to us to know and fight for what we want... our choice whether we allow life to happen to us, or will it to move through us.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010


"Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…" -Joni Mitchell

Last fall, as the leaves were at the height of their color glory, I had the life-altering experience of visiting The Dog Chapel in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. It's a truly awe-inspiring place… every inch of every wall covered with pictures, poems, and prayers to dogs from those who called them family. I spent hours wandering from letter to tear-stained letter, my heart aching at the beauty of so much love…

Almost as inspiring as the chapel is the man who built it. After a near-death experience in 1994, Stephen Huneck awoke from a 2-month long coma talking incessantly about a dream he had to create The Dog Chapel. While others laughed, he and his wife Gwen started building what has become the nation's – if not the world's – most sacred monument to man's best friend.

So it was with a heavy heart and much confusion that I read recently about Stephen's passing by his own hand.

How could someone with so much to give believe that he had so little to lose?

Despair is a dangerous devil. It often sneaks in when you least expect it, and like a virus, grows exponentially and frequently undetected. Thriving on loneliness and isolation, it whisks away the perspective of even the most positive and productive, painting the transient and circumstantial in our lives with the opaque perception of failure, misery, and inalterable tragedy.

That day at the chapel, I had the chance to talk with Stephen and Gwen, and was so inspired by their love, their passion, their generosity... their having things so 'figured out'. Was the seed of his choice present then and there? Was there anything that could have been done or said to steer him off of that course?

I don't know, and can't begin to speculate. But I do know that Huneck's passing serves as an important reminder to us all to take care of one another. No matter how things look on the outside, people we both love and don't know are hurting inside. A smile, a hug, a compliment… mere words and actions from us might mean the difference between life and death to someone else.

Let us all walk through the world with a greater sense of care for one another. We are indeed our brothers' keepers.