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Articles, Community, Compassion, Service

Alexandra Jackman: Youth Advocate for Special Needs and Autism

April 1, 2016

April is National Autism Awareness Month in the United States of America and globally, the world marks World Autism Awareness week from 2 April – 8 April.

Next in our series of individuals, using their skills to make a difference in the world, is 16 year old special needs and autism advocate, Alexandra Jackman.

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Alexandra Jackman. Photo by Susan Harvey Cook.

At the age of 13, Jackman created the 2013 award winning film “A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating with People with Autism.” The film has been shown and taught in schools across America and exhibited at film festivals around the world. Jackman created a Spanish language version of the film late last year, which Autism Speaks has agreed to include, alongside the original film, in its resources. The original film has been made available to every school principal in America, as a teaching tool and resource, and Jackman is regularly asked to speak at screenings of the film.

Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) “are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” (Autism speaks.org)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum.   Three million people in the U.S. and tens of millions of people are affected by ASD, globally. Despite these high numbers, ASD is still not well understood.

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Art by Simon Harris. “Autism Awareness”

 

In advance of Autism Awareness Month, we met with Alexandra Jackman via Skype, to discuss her film and learn how she had become, at such an early age, an advocate for special needs people, particularly those affected by ASD.

 

Special Needs Volunteer and Autism Advocate

Jackman recalls her first exposure, at the age of 8, to a person with special needs. She had been attending a family camp in Vermont and noticed one girl in particular who sat alone with a carer. At first, Jackman assumed the girl wanted to sit alone, but soon decided to approach the young girl and ask if she might join her.  Jackman learned that Jaime had Cerebral Palsy and could not speak, but that she could communicate in other ways.  Getting to know her, and understanding both the girl’s special needs and what they shared in common was the spark that ignited a passion within Jackman to engage with peers with special needs.

Given that peer pressure begins early, TTDOG was curious about what motivated the young Jackman to approach someone different, when all her other friends were not engaging with the girl.

“I’ve never had a problem doing..what I wanted to do….I feel like every teenager, at some point, goes with the crowd…but for the most part…I would say that I’m confident enough to do… regardless of what my friends are doing….what I think is right.”

In fact, following Jackman’s positive example, other girls at the camp befriended Jaime, too. We asked if Jackman had ever felt somehow different to her peers.  Jackman was never bullied or treated unkindly.

“I was always naturally interested in taking care of those who were different and….I don’t really know what I was thinking at the time but I’m obviously very glad that I went over to her…It feels weird for me to say but, I’d like to think I’m naturally an empathetic person.”

In advance of our interview, Alexandra Jackman’s parents, Michael and Lisa Jackman recounted for their daughter some particular examples of her empathetic character, which she shares with TTDOG:

“We’re Jewish but we celebrated Christmas, one year for fun, and to try a bit of a different culture… when my parents asked what I wanted, I said that I wanted to help someone in another country that doesn’t have food for Christmas…

I just feel so bad if I…see someone upset and if there’s something I can do to help…it’s so often so easy to help people and it can really make a difference…”

The two girls remained friends for many years and Jackman, at the age of 10, became a volunteer and youth advocate through Autism Family Times peer mentoring program.

We were curious as to why Jackman chose to make this commitment at a time when her peers would be spending their social time differently.

“There’s an honesty and openness with people with special needs…It’s hard to be accepted as a teenager or pre-teen, and people with special needs tend to just be so accepting.  There’s no pettiness, there’s no judgement…people with special needs….are so themselves and so honest and I love that.  It just makes me so happy.”

As a youth advocate, Jackman gives talks at school assemblies in her local area of New York and New Jersey.  She has been requested to speak further afield but as a junior in high school, commitments further afield would be too demanding at this time.  Also, at her Synagogue, Jackman is in her 5th year shadowing a teen with special needs and she runs a monthly teen night for teens with special needs.  Speaking about the Friday night teen night, Jackman says:

“It’s a party and its accepting and it’s so much fun!…So many people don’t look past the special need and don’t get to know the person and its so upsetting because they’re so much more…they’re people who are so interesting, and creative and funny that you would never get to know if you’re not accepting…or you’re not aware…of the special need and that it’s not who that person is.  At teen night,  it’s a lot of really talented, unique people interacting and working on social skills and having a good time, being themselves and making new friends.  It’s really special.”

Photo: Ian Schneider

Photo: Ian Schneider

Jackman also founded “the hangout club” at her school where, on a monthly basis, people with and without special needs have the chance to get to know, understand and appreciate one another.  Jackman is continuing her personal advocacy for people with special needs, and particularly ASD, through school projects like her junior year research paper, in which she is currently examining the contribution of people with autism to the advancement of our culture and society.  As her schedule allows, Jackman contributes to ad hoc advocacy projects and in the summer months, she will be undertaking an internship at an autism centre in her area.

 

“A Teen’s Guide to Understanding and Communicating with People with Autism”

To date, Jackman’s advocacy work has had its widest reach and impact through her film.  The film is the output of school work Jackman undertook in the full year Teddy Roosevelt Scholars program.  In order to participate in the program, Jackman had to demonstrate a high academic performance in her area of study.  She considered a few topics but it was her passion for special needs and ASD that inspired her application.  As with most creative projects, the film did not emerge in Jackman’s consciousness as a fully formed concept, but evolved over time and through collaboration and research.

“I wasn’t sure what type of teacher to work with…so I talked to my Vice Principal and….there was a social studies teacher….at my middle school, who is also a Special Ed teacher, Mr Dominick Ceccio.  I talked with him to see if he might…be interested in working with me, and he was!…I wrote my application…and I got in.  We started brainstorming and it took me awhile to know that I wanted to do a project on autism and even then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I didn’t know if I wanted to do a pamphlet or a video or…what way I wanted to get out the message.  I just knew I wanted to do ‘Autism,’ which was so general.”

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Art by Caitlyn A Shea. “Autism Awareness Day”

 

As Jackman embarked on her research and reflected on her own experience as a volunteer and advocate, the idea began to take shape.

Identifying a gap in the existing literature and developing material to fill the gap is difficult for the best of us.  TTDOG was curious how Jackman identified her niche:

“There was a boy in my Math class who had special needs…and he always liked to sit in his one spot in the corner.  That was what he was used to; he sat there every day.  When we changed seats at the beginning of the new semester…the idea of switching seats was nerve wracking… I realised that people were getting annoyed with him…And I understood that if people don’t understand…why it’s difficult for him…they’d be frustrated….I realised that so many people know so little about special needs… I also realise that they didn’t want to bully their peer.  They just didn’t understand what was different.”

image Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives

Art by Nayonika Ghosh “Autism and Cyber Bullying”

 

“My experience has largely been working with people with autism… From my experience….there wasn’t a resource that was a neurotypical teen talking to neurotypical peers.  I’d never seen anything like that and I felt that could be really valuable.  I’m glad that it seems to have been, so far.”

With a plethora of options as to the media for her message, TTDOG asked Jackman how she settled on making a film.

“Once I decided I wanted it to be for my peers, middle schoolers, and my school specifically, I wanted to do it in a medium that would be most interesting. In order for it to be effective, I thought it needed to be…short…and present the message in an interesting way. For middle schoolers, video tends to be more enjoyable and my Dad works in the film industry and that was useful in where to hold the camera…lighting….and so on.”

Jackman notes that the project been envisioned as a “video” designed to get a message across about autism awareness and acceptance.  The medium, whilst an effective tool to convey the message, was not her main focus.  Jackman’s equipment was low-tech and readily available. The film was shot on an iPad, edited on iMovie and graphics were generated with a simple to use, Creative Commons, graphics package.

She admits that it wasn’t until she was approached at a film festival about her editorial choices for certain shots and angles that she became conscious of her many choices, having worked intuitively within the medium.  Editorial decisions were driven by the mandate to make an accessible product that conveyed her message in a compelling way.  Scenes that had been integral to the storyboard were cut from the final version, whilst her spontaneous responses as a director allowed her to capture moments and stories she had not imagined in pre-production.  One clear decision Jackman made was that the film would not be fictional.  She chose the documentary format because she wanted it to be as immediate, factual and relatable as possible for her target audience.

“I’m very glad that I ended up doing it in a film…Often in the news you hear about how media is really bad and dangerous and it can cause depression…which of course it can, but…having the video on YouTube and..on Facebook…people can share the video so quickly.  (This) has been very valuable in spreading the message of acceptance.”

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Art by Ajinkya Bhangdia “Film making project”

 

The film has made a much bigger impact than Jackman had ever imagined it would.  Her goal had been to help people to be more understanding, in her own school.  She wanted the project to be spread as far as possible, in her school and in her own community.  So far the film has been screened and taught all over the USA, in the Guam International Film Festival and she has been asked to come to speak at screenings as far afield as the UK and Indonesia.

The film has won the “Best Home Grown Student Short Documentary” at the Garden State International Film Festival and “Best Emerging Filmmaker Award” at the Queens World Film Festival, the 2015 “International Humanitarian Gold Award” at the World Humanitarian Film Festival, and the International Film Festival for Spirituality, Religion and Visionary (IFFSRV) “Award of Merit” in Jakarta, Indonesia.

 

Outcomes

Jackman regularly receives feedback from parents and siblings of people with autism, from teachers of students with special needs and from people with ASD.  Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and many share how the film has helped them to understand their family member, students or themselves better and to accept these differences with an open heart and mind.  What makes Alexandra Jackman perhaps most proud of the work is that a project which she intended to be delivered to teens in her own school is having an impact on all types of people, of all ages and in so many different countries and cultures.

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Art by Umar Ansari “Art for Geneva Centre For Autism”

 

“There are comments on the YouTube channel…that are so touching….A man commented and said that his stepson has autism and…this video helped him better understand his stepson..And a mom saying that her son with autism was watching this video and said ‘Oh yeah! That’s why I do that!’  And the fact that the video can not only help neurotypical teens be more understanding of autism, but people with all sorts relationships to special needs…shows that it’s having a broader impact.”

And in terms of the impact on herself, Jackman admits that the process of making a project over so many months taught her good time management skills, flexibility and discipline.

Jackman gratefully received the help of teachers, professionals and families of people with ASD, who generously shared their time and knowledge with her.  Amongst those participating in the film were Adrienne Robertiello, Autism Educator at Children’s Specialized Hospital and member of Autism Family Times board, and Jed Baker, Ph.D., an expert clinical psychologist, behavioural consultant, lecturer and author on the topic.

Jackman was initially intimidated to reach out to professionals for interviews but, with support of her family and teachers, she quickly overcame her fears.

“My parents were really supportive…and when people ask me, I don’t think I thank them enough and talk about them enough.  My Mom is…really good with people…and she reaches out and contacts people…every day.  It was really valuable to have input from both my Mom and my Dad who work in fields that work with other people and kind of have to do with this…And, as I went along, the process got a lot easier as I learned that people were willing to help and as I learned about myself and making a project like this.”

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Photo: Nick Karvounis

 

And whilst seeking contributors was challenging, Jackman was also challenged to grow as a media professional in learning to adapt her independent spirit to a collaborative medium.  Because it was a school project, Jackman initially struggled with accepting advice from her father, Michael Jackman, a film industry professional.  He pointed out that in any filmmaking enterprise, the director does not undertake all of the roles, especially when they are conducting on-camera interviews.  Learning to accept some assistance and advice on camera angles, lighting, and sound was a growing experience and education in filmmaking, for the young auteur.

Following the release of the film, Jackman has been exposed to varied opportunities for public speaking and has learned to pitch her message appropriately for different groups, ranging from medical professionals to school aged children.  This has helped Jackman to continue learning, well beyond the initial year-long project.

 

Lessons Learned

Of all that Jackman has learned, she speaks fondly of the talented individuals with special needs and ASD.

“There are so many people that I’ve gotten to know with special needs who are incredible and are so interesting and have cool talents…I love working with people with special needs and doing that inspires me to get out the message of acceptance any way I can and so without a doubt, who motivates me and what keeps me inspired is my friends and the people that I know with special needs.”

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Art by Cathal Duane “Autism Awareness Day Illustration”

She continues:

“People with special needs have taught me that there’s not one mold for success….There are so many ways that you can be happy and successful…and sometimes it can be good, and sometimes not, conforming to society.”

We asked Jackman to share a few words for others who might want to make a difference in the world, somehow:

“You’re never too young or too old to make a difference.  You might have to be creative and do something that others aren’t doing to get the message across, but that sometimes makes for the best projects and the best outcomes.  If you feel like you have something to contribute and you want to make a difference, there’s always someone that can help…Once you look, you can find someone that is passionate about the same thing you are.  And, if not, then make people passionate!  Make people care….Get the message out, spread the word. Use social media.  Use whatever connections you have….And I wouldn’t be surprised if you found someone that has a similar goal or passion as you.”

 

Watch Alexandra Jackman’s short film, now:

 

 

As always, TTDOG asks: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m really grateful for my friends with special needs and…without special needs…  And for my parents – I am so grateful for all their support and they are very encouraging.

And my greatest joy?

Going to teen night.  I just love it and the relationships I’ve built…  Also being able speak to people, and being able to spread the message of acceptance, especially to other students, that really makes me happy.”

 

 

 

Follow Alexandra Jackman’s film on Facebook

 

Art, Articles, Community, Compassion, Gratitude, Oneness, Service

Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot: Heroes of Compassion and Love

February 9, 2016
Lovebot. Art by Matthew Del Degan. Photo by @Pinkstarpix

Lovebot. Art by Matthew Del Degan. Photo by @Pinkstarpix

You may have noticed stickers of a retro-styled robot with a vibrant red heart popping up across your city.  If you have, chances are these are part of the Global Love Invasion.  Next in our series of people making a difference – with the skills and talents they have, where they are – is Toronto based artist and designer, Matthew Del Degan, creator of Lovebot.

TTDOG reached out to Matthew Del Degan to discuss the spread of compassion and kindness through the icon of Lovebot.   If you haven’t seen the character on the streets of your city, you may be wondering: What is Lovebot?

“It’s a cold concrete object in Toronto with a big heart, or warm center,” says the artist, “It’s a metaphor for the robotic interactions of people in our city…” 

Lovebot was Del Degan’s design response to the way urban commuters were failing to engage their emotions, particularly their compassion, when interacting with one another.

PEOPLE HAVE UNIQUE LIVES and THEY ARE ALL SPECIAL!” He ardently asserts. ” That grocery store clerk is probably going through some things, just like you.  You have feelings and the ability to love, and so do they! Maybe I’m an odd ball, but when I get groceries I ask people how they are doing, what they have been up to and if they feel good today, so that it’s not a robot interaction.”

 Lovebot, with its faceless solidity and seemingly incongruous vibrant red heart “lovingly disrupts the robotic routines of humans and reminds them that there is love in their cities and kindness around every corner.”

The artist’s design appeared on the streets of Toronto in the form of a Lovebot sticker and paste-up, which won the hearts of street art fans, and quickly made its way around the world through volunteers eager to spread the disruptive visual message of compassion, kindness and love.

All I ever wanted them to do was to make people smile,” says the artist.

And he did.  Not content to rest on his success, the artist expanded beyond the quickly changing art gallery of the street. He took the visual language of the project to a wider audience through a more permanent type of installation that engaged the entire community.  The aptly titled “Love Invasion”,  saw the artist embark on a series of trials and errors to create a 250 pound, 2 foot tall concrete Lovebot.  This unusual sculpture and several models of various sizes were installed in the footfall of commuters to encourage city dwellers to reflect on their surroundings and their participation in the culture of the concrete jungle that typifies a big commercial city centre.

“If I can make a cold hearted person smile then good, and if a child stumbles upon a concrete robot in the city, then I’ve caused magic or wonder in someone else’s life.  It’s about creating true value, and for me that’s a positive change in someone else’s life.” 

Matthew Del Degan’s “Love Invasion” went beyond the messaging of a single artist to a wider community.  By using his Lovebot in the service of illuminating and amplifying kindness and love, the character became the image of a global art-based social movement for love and kindness.

Working with a team of friends and volunteers, Matthew Del Degan created and self-financed an army of 100 Lovebots.  He called on the people of the city of Toronto to help recognize individuals and organisations who had engaged in outstanding acts of kindness by nominating them to receive a concrete Lovebot sculpture.  This act not only recognized the kindness and love that already existed in the city, but stood as a reminder that small acts of kindness can be monumental because they contain within them the potential to be exponential – inspiring more compassion and kindness from those who witness or remember them.

“Attaching a sculpture or small monument to kind acts caused, well, kindness to seem monumental.”

 

 


 

“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love…the stories behind them may.”  

 


 

 

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) prepared this introduction to his work:

Matthew Del Degan belies the well-worn stereotype of Millenials as selfish, disengaged individuals with a sense of entitlement and solely preoccupied with sex, partying, video games and music.  Whilst Matthew is a skydiver with over 130 jumps, a motorcyclist, active public artist, and is a notoriously avid gamer –  an aspect of his aesthetic that is reflected in the retro feel of the Lovebot – he is a man on a mission and living from a sense of purpose.

His mission to be vulnerable and to share his love feeds his purpose to make the world not only a kinder place, but one where love and kindness is amplified.  A muscular man sporting a platinum-blonde mohawk, he not only thwarts stereotypes of his generation, but also of his gender.

“In North America we have an idea of what manly is:  big, strong, brutish, often overbearing, tough, and aggressive. To me that sounds like a large baby.  I am a very physically strong man.  I kickbox, and I lift concrete robots often, however, I recognize that compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.  A hero, is someone who fights for good, who is loving and giving .  A true man looks after others and their safety.   They are powerful, yes, but also supremely gentle.

I guess I just had the perfect father who was all that and more.  And, my mother was also just spectacular.  The women in my family are top notch. I owe a lot of my love to my grandmother, who was my best friend and took me everywhere.”

As head of the Love Invasion project, Matthew awarded the first concrete Lovebot sculpture to his grandmother, in recognition of all her kindness and love.   To borrow from the American journalist Hodding Carter, the artist’s family has given Matthew Del Degan the roots from which to take wing with his dreams.

 


 

“…compassion and love is what makes a man a true hero.”

 


 

 

And in like fashion, the father of Lovebot gave his creation its own wings to soar.  Taking a back seat, he provided the platform through which the kind deeds of others could shine, deepening the meaning of Lovebot and the committment of Toronto citizens to its ethos.

“I’m not thinking that a concrete robot can inspire someone to love,” he says, humbly, “but, the stories behind them may.”  

By recognizing acts of kindness, compassion and bravery, the Love Invasion not only raises awareness of all the good that is being done in the community but acts as counternarrative the media’s unrelenting message of bad news and trouble in the world.

“Love became my focus because this world is missing it. It’s a sad world.  You know: starvation, animals going extinct, pollution, corruption, beheadings…people wasting their lives on Facebook laughing at cats and fail videos of people falling off things.  This world is a sad world, but I’m not going to sit…and watch it be that way. So, because I know how to love, and this world needs it, that’s what I do.”

Subverting the zeitgeist of disaster, disconnection and disempowerment, Matthew Del Degan’s work for love, kindness and compassion becomes an avante garde occupation.  As has always been the case for society’s vanguard, the way is not always easy.

“I cry. I bleed for my work. I suffer,” admits the artist.  “People don’t see that part. I never asked for this to be easy, and I’m not surprised when it’s hard. I receive hate.  It’s unbelievable.  But, at the end of the day, I have something to fight for and I’m living my dreams…Sometimes I question everything… But now there are too many people who respect what I do, and who support it or have contributed to it and like I said, this world needs more love. I just choose not to stop or give up.”

The Love Invasion of Toronto is mapped out on the Lovebot website to encourage visits to the monuments and reflection on one’s own memberships in communities of friends, families, coworkers and neighbours.  For those who are inspired by what both Matthew Del Degan and those who receive the Lovebot honour have done to bring love, compassion and kindness into their community of the city of Toronto, but who are perhaps at a loss as to how they can make a difference in their own communities, he has this advice:

“If you sit there and do nothing, this world will only get worse. ..Get up and do something. Be a small part of the fight for love. You don’t have to change the world, but if you make one person smile… you change their world… 

It’s perspective. Change your attitude and your world changes. My perception or circumstance is seen though my lens. When I change that lens what I feel is very different, but the circumstance may be the same….I’m only heading towards better things and now I’m biting off far more than I can handle… but that’s how I got this far…Work and bite off more than you can chew, then swallow… that’s how you grow…

Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that…Don’t waste your life. Do what you want to do. “

When the artist is not creating concrete sculptures, he is busy creating new projects and art for sale.   He recently launched the first Lovebot toy, and is busy molding his special edition Valentine’s Lovebot which allows fans to have a piece of his art in their home.  As well, he is currently organizing an art event ‘spectacular’ showcasing some of the finest art talent in Toronto.  But Matthew Del Degan remains committed to his vision of making the Love Invasion a global art-based social movement.

“I’m also working on a new sticker package designed to be shared globally. Lovebot fans often want to share the love when they travel or in their respective countries. So I’m designing a larger, cheaper, package for them to do just that.  I’m also building my group of volunteers around the world.”

 

Matthew Del Degan recently shared more about the kind acts which have merited a Lovebot monument with MTV:

 

 

TTDOG sends Matthew Del Degan and Lovebot much love and best wishes for continued success. As is our practice, we asked the artist one final question:  For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m thankful for my life, and I’m thankful for everything I had been given and what I’m managing to do with it.

I find joy in living. I’m not waiting for heaven, that would be so stupid when it’s right here, right now in front of me.”

 

 


 

“Just don’t give up on this world or yourself. We all deserve better than that.”

 


 

 

 

To learn more about Lovebot, to volunteer for the Global Love Invasion or to support the art and design of Matthew Del Degan:

 

Websites:  Matthew Del Degan, Lovebot
Instagram:  Lovebot, Matthew Del Degan
Facebook:  Lovebot
LinkedIn: Matthew Del Degan

 

 

 

Articles, Community, Compassion, Oneness

When Social Media Becomes Anti-Social

November 20, 2015
Photo by Ivan Kerasev

Photo by Ivan Kerasev

I have been a defender of social media. It has been my substitute for face-to-face social connection when I have been unable to engage due to illness.

I am not as much a fan, anymore.

I have very intelligent friends – highly educated, successful, articulate and artistic friends. And yet, the lowest common denominator surfaces and gains a voice time and time again on social media. Rather than bringing “friends” together in a time of crisis, social media seems to be polarizing and breaking down “community.”  When consensus does emerge on one or two ideas, is it because we have given the issue due consideration or is it the product of harried individuals who do not wish to appear apathetic and so, succumb to peer pressure?

I suspect it is not through considered deliberation that consensus has been formed.  In the days following the Paris attacks, how did solidarity with one group come to mean that one has no compassion for another group? How did compassion, prayer and meditation come to mean that one must be either a hashtag activist or a Zionist? When did we become so tired and lazy in our thinking that we allow such reductionist and judgemental conclusions of those we call our “friends” and how did we become willing to engage in shaming them in front of our entire “community?”

We are influenced by our surroundings.  What that influence will be depends on our choice of surroundings.  There is a theory of proximity that suggests that through a kind of intellectual contagion, we can make exponential leaps in collaborative innovation if we are in close proximity to other creative thinkers.  This is, I suspect, the theory behind TED conferences and Silicon Valley clustering.  There is also evidence of emotional contagion in adults.

Emotional and intellectual contagion can uplift or destroy our communities.

I long for inspiration and collaboration and that spark that comes from engaging with others working on very different pursuits but whose ideas and techniques fuel my imagination. I know I have a great network out there, and, like me, that network makes up a largely silent majority, just trying to make sense of life and do more meaningful work, in a meaningful way.

I am observing the people that I admire, this week. They are not engaging in social media polemics. They occasionally post something which may promote thought but they don’t debate.   I have no idea how they are spending the hours they don’t devote to social media, but, I suspect that they are not wading through their news feeds to become offended or depressed.  I hope that they are producing more of the work that I admire and living their lives in the way that I admire – engagingly, compassionately, thoughtfully and creatively.

And so, while I value proximity and I long for inspiration, I have decided to turn off my social media channels for awhile.   I will follow the lead of those I admire, and post only what I hope is food for thought.

I am going to use my time to make more work with which others might wish to engage. If you are interested in non violent, non judgemental, creative exploration and dialogue and in committed action towards an artistic, spiritual and/or social or environmental goal, then let’s connect.  I would love to learn from and be inspired by you and to share my own ideas and energy with you.

Perhaps we can find our way back to the meaning of friendship and community, together.

 

Articles, Community, Compassion, Oneness

#Never Forget

September 11, 2015
Photo: J Duclos

Photo: J Duclos

 

The sky. The most beautiful blue. A clear blue sky.  A perfect day.

Parvathy calls. We are under attack. Hysteria. She is going to her daughter’s house. It’s war!

I turn on NY1.

Dad calls. I guess you aren’t going to work today. I don’t know. There’s fires down there.

What the hell is going on?

I see the first one fall. I reach out and scream. ‘No!’ as if somehow my hands could hold it up. Shock. How could a whole building collapse with all those people in it. Just tumble down?

My niece emails me. 12 minutes after the fall. Am I ok? (How did she know? It had to be after midnight there – she’s 11 – what’s she doing up?) I flew in the night before. She is worried I am still on a plane.

She is among the first to check in. Many more will follow. I let her know: I’m ok. I Love you. My sister comes online and stays there with me.

 

The second one comes down.

 

I go down to Shawn’s apartment. Everyone is there, glued to the news. He says come in, don’t be alone. I don’t want to watch anymore. I only want to know they’re all alright. NY1 said give blood. I’m going. I don’t want to be with people, now.

I walk to St. Vincent’s on 13th. It’s only 7 blocks from my house. There is a plume of black smoke from downtown where the towers used to fill the end of 7th Avenue.

 

And a clear blue sky above.

 

I walk against the masses of people moving uptown covered in what looks like baby powder and bits of paper. Someone is yelling on a megaphone: Stay away from downtown. Keep walking uptown! No cars at all.

A crowd has gathered at the corner. They must have seen NY1. They line up to give blood in total silence. We are soon sent away. There is no need for more blood.

Doctors and nurses and stretchers fill 7th Avenue outside St. Vincents. An eerie silence in spite of the mass movement of people. No casualties come. Nobody pulled out. They wait. But its only injuries of the rescue workers. No rescue.

 

A clear blue sky.

 

Burning. A smell like melted plastic.

I call Terrence several times until I get through. His brother answers and tells me he’s already gone to work – he was on a subway downtown. I say I am ok, I hadn’t been downtown yet and to ask him to call me when he gets home. I don’t hear from him for another two days – he never gets the message. The lines are impossible to get through.

For the first two nights, we both think the other is lost.

I email B-. She comes immediately over from the photography studio at the Pier just 5 blocks away. It will become the morgue for the next few months.

We hug.

Donna checks in. Frey checks in. Maureen. We all want to know: did we lose anyone?

A fighter jet flies over.  In a clear blue sky.

We go to Dag’s on 21st to get food, hardly talking. 8th avenue is a ghost town. We watch a Bollywood movie and eat pasta. A lot of pasta. And cake. I make a bed for her. We sleep. Fitful sleep.

Everyone brings food, blankets, money to the cop shop on my block. City folks bring hot food to the firemen. Volunteers come and assemble at the pier. The news is always on.

 

I can’t understand. And yet a total belief in something bigger than myself replaces despair.

 

A lot of sleep. New threats. Fighter jets and helicopters overhead. Photos everywhere. Union Square Park candlelight vigil and photos. The sweet and acrid smell ever present in lower Manhattan, where I live.

The entire seminary checks in online. We organise.

Exaggerated startle response. Make an escape plan to walk to Donna’s in the Bronx. Get emergency numbers of friends into phone. Make a call chain. Map out the route to the Canadian consulate.

Turn off the television. One hour of news a day.

Get on with life.

Days pass like a dream.

Images. Fear. Sleep. Anger.  And love. Outpouring. Faith.

Take care of yourself, take care of your neighbour.   Watch everywhere and everyone.

Under a clear blue sky above.

 

These are the things that I will never forget.