About Carmen

If there's anything I've learned over the past several years, it's that life is what you make of it. Don't let anyone else tell you what you need in your life to make you happy.

The Importance of Grey

Grey, n., any of a series of neutral colors ranging between black and white.

Our society is set up to make us believe that we have to have opposites in every situation… black vs. white, good vs. evil, Republicans vs. Democrats, the hero vs. the villain. Meanwhile, those of us who choose not to view the world in black and white are accused of being indecisive and dull.

The truth is, looking at things in black and white— by definition—is limiting. Those who choose to stick to black and white are missing an incredible world full of infinite shades of grey.

Grey can be beautiful. And eye-opening. And inspiring.

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Case in point: Susan Boyle of Scotland took YouTube by storm when she tried out for “Britain’s Got Talent.”

I know many people consider her 15 minutes of fame to be over, but I still think hers is a heartwarming story… because it’s a good lesson in the importance of grey.

The 47-year-old church volunteer had spent all of her life with her parents, taking care of them as they grew older and eventually passed away. People who view things in black and white would most likely apply certain negative labels to someone with her life story. Labels like “spinster” or “old maid.”

And as we saw in the video, people in the audience had preconceived notions of her before she even opened her mouth.

The black and white conclusion: [older woman] + [always lived with her parents] + [doesn’t look like a singer you’d see on a Broadway stage] = obviously can’t sing.

The moment she sang her first line, it was clear the assumptions were wrong. Her appearance and age has nothing to do with what she is capable of accomplishing. She forced many people to shift their focus from black and white to grey. It IS possible for someone with her appearance, age, and life story to have a beautiful voice.

In my opinion, there are several reasons this story has been so captivating.

For those who view things in B&W, it proved that labeling people without actually knowing the person is deceiving… in a good way. Looking at the audience in that video, I’ve never seen so many people (including the judges) so happy to be wrong.

Also, her story shows that when you stop viewing things in B&W the world is full of infinite possibilities and opportunities.

We don’t have to be what society perceives us to be… or tries to force us to be.

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(Change your Perspective: Many people think of dandelions as a weed. My 6-year-old views them as beautiful flowers and picks bouquets of them for me.)

So much of our B&W-based society tries to pigeonhole us at an early age, whether it be from teachers, coaches, parents, etc.

I spent much of my childhood education convinced that grades weren’t that important, because my teachers didn’t expect good grades from me (I’ll talk more about that another time).

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was limiting myself. And my possibilities. I was viewing things in black and white.

You see, when you look at things in varying shades of grey you realize all things are possible.

Viewing it in terms of stereotypes from high school:
The “jock” can become an artist….
The so-called “computer geek” can eventually become a rock star….
The cheerleader can become a software development engineer….
And the drama club devotee can get a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

Likewise, an 11-year-old can all of a sudden come up with the solution to world peace.
And a 96-year-old can all of a sudden decide to take up skydiving.

Anyone can do anything. Shades of grey are infinite. There are no limits or restrictions.

Take some time to celebrate the grey.

Good news is good for the soul….

The title of this entry sounds a bit cliche, I admit. But it’s so true.

Ever had one of those times in your life where you feel as though nothing will ever go right? Times where you feel the world, nature, and even the laws of physics have somehow conspired to make sure that you don’t move forward?

I’m having one of those times. I’ve had one rollercoaster of a week (to say the least)… and despite forcing myself to “get right back on that horse,” I’d rather just spend the rest of my life in bed with the covers pulled up over my head.

But alas. That’s not an option every day. Heck, it’s not even an option today. 😉

So— the next best thing? My particular drug of choice— finding good stories.

Here’s a dose for today.

Johntel Franklin is a high school basketball captain. Anyone who knows athletes knows that they do a lot of preparation for “the big game.” Franklin was unable to prepare quite as much as his teammates, however— because his mom was starting to lose her 5-year battle with cervical cancer.

The day of the game, Franklin’s team (Milwaukee Madison) took to the court against Dekalb High. Franklin was not there… after telling his coaches he would not be able to play that day. He sat at his mom’s bedside as she passed away.

Sometime after her death, however, he changed his mind. He showed up for the game late in the second quarter, and asked if he might be able to play. Everyone agreed. But because he was not on the roster, Dekalb was offered two free throws for a technical foul. At this point, it was a close game, and every point counted.

Dekalb’s Darius McNeal stepped up to the line…. bounced the ball several times… and proceeded to miss both shots. On purpose.

Players and fans of both teams gave him a standing ovation.

Franklin went on to score ten points in the game— and Milwaukee Madison won comfortably. Both teams went out for pizza together afterward, and someone asked McNeal why he decided to do what he did.

“I did it for the guy who lost his mom … it was the right thing to do.”

Found one…!

Amid the stories about yet more layoffs and just general corruption and greed…. a gem. 🙂

I could never translate this story as well as the mom who writes about her son…. so I won’t even try. Instead, follow this link to see some news of courage and hope for the day. And if you have a chance, please Buzz it Up so it gets more exposure!

http://www.momlogic.com/2008/11/8-year-old_cancer_survivor_coo_1.php

Depressing times call for hope…

Bad news surrounds us these days.

I’ve been busier than ever, but I am definitely not going to complain. Because unlike several people I know, I am still blessed with a job. I disappeared for a while (yet again) because I have been putting almost all of my efforts into that job, knowing that people who are suddenly considered “redundant” in my company are being let go. 😦

Even my former colleagues in the news business are being hit hard, and that’s a first. News has traditionally been considered “recession-proof” because the public will always still need news, right?

Actually, that’s now only partially right. Journalism is going through a massive identity crisis. My company deals with major news outlets on a daily basis and we are hearing the same thing from each of them: “We’re undergoing massive change, but no one appears to know what we are supposed to be changing into. We’re adrift at sea.” Which might be why you haven’t seen so many good news stories lately. The news media are trying to re-invent themselves— to make themselves more relevant— and as a result, the economy trumps almost everything at this point. Because they know people are hungry to find out more about what’s going on.

I don’t blame them for doing this. Honestly, it IS the best way to survive right now.

However, I honestly believe we’ve never needed good news stories as much as we need them now.

I have relatives who’ve been laid off from construction and auto jobs, neighbors who’ve been laid off from accounting and administrative jobs, and friends who are being asked to take massive pay cuts in order to be able to keep their current jobs.

😦

But even though the world is changing….
The economy looks bleak…
The earth beneath us is no longer solid, but appears to be constantly shifting…
There will always be signs of hope to help us keep our bearings. And we need to hear about them.

It’s just a matter of finding them in the midst of our current state of affairs.

Given my current status (mainly, being busier than I’ve ever been), I’m no longer going to make promises I can’t keep concerning this blog. What I will do, though, is promise to make every effort to put good news stories up when I see them. Which hasn’t been very often lately. 😦

More later. Hang in there, everyone.

In Need of a Boost

I’ve really started to dread election years.

Many of the stories out there right now are focused on the Presidential campaign (as they should be in an election year), but I find them very hard to swallow. I’m so tired of the negative political tactics that are being reported. Many are— at the very least— mean-spirited… and at the very most, just plain wrong.

In any case, this is why there has been yet another delay. I start out looking for good news, but soon find myself completely overwhelmed by the negative news. So I had to go on a news “break” of sorts.

Found one today though. A really good one that made me smile.

And I’ve just decided that I need to steel myself— and keep digging until I find a gem underneath all of the trash. I think we could all use an extra boost right now.

And speaking of boosts…. 😉

Thomas Weller of San Diego is a mechanic by trade… and a philanthropist at heart. Over the years, he’s used his mechanical skills to pay forward a favor he received almost forty years ago.

That’s when he plowed his car into a snow bank in Illinois, and a stranger stopped to help him.

“I probably would have froze there if this fellow hadn’t stopped to help me,” he told a reporter with CBS News.

That good Samaritan told Weller that all he needed to do to return the favor, was to help someone else in need at some point.

Weller paid off the debt in a huge way.

He now travels around San Diego’s freeways on a regular basis, searching for people who need roadside assistance. He does everything from changing tires to repairing overheated engines.

So far, he’s helped about 5,000 people. Enough to start his own American Automobile Association chapter– if he wanted to. 😉

Except, “this is way better than AAA,” one woman he helped said.

Whenever he’s asked why he does it, he simply hands the person a card.

One fortunate “customer” read it out loud to a reporter. “It says, ‘Assisting you has been my pleasure. I ask no payment other than for you to pass on the favor by helping someone in distress that you may encounter.'”

After handing over his card and accepting a multitude of thanks, Weller moves on to the next person in need, never questioning whether others will indeed pay the favor forward.

He knows that they do.

Once he stopped to help someone in distress, but found that someone else had beaten him to it. Weller asked the man why he had stopped.

“He said four months earlier his wife had had a blow out on the freeway – and somebody stopped to help her,” Weller said.

“And he said, ‘By the way, thank you for doing that for my wife.'”

As if that isn’t enough reason to continue his acts of kindness, Weller admits that he does have another underlying motive for doing what he does.

He says, “There’s too much anger and distrust and fear out there. I’d like the world to be a better place.”

Looking at Life Differently….

Once again, my apologies. Work has been CRAZY. I’m still working on trying to find a good news story for the blog. I know they are happening, they just are sometimes hard to find (because few media outlets are reporting them :p).

In the meantime, I thought it might be nice to talk a bit about how important it is to recognize at least one “good news” story in our own lives each day— and embrace it.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our everyday problems. Some of them, such as failing health and financial difficulties, are huge. Others are quite small, but still have significant impact. Maddening traffic jams and rude strangers can definitely ruin someone’s day.

But there are ways to cope.

I’ve had a few too many small problems (no biggies, thank goodness) in the past few days. Mis-communications at work, longer-than-normal traffic commutes (on a GOOD day, it takes me 45 minutes to travel six miles… yesterday it took me an hour :p), and really pesky little things: like dropping a dish and breaking it… or spilling water all over a newly polished wood table.

Throw in the fact that I have never been accused of being a very patient person ;), and that adds up to quite a bit of frustration by the end of the day.

I had a wonderful reminder yesterday though, that *I* have the power to change that. Simply by shifting perspective.

My son is five. He’s active. And he’s hilarious. 🙂 Yesterday when we got home, he immediately told me he wanted to go back outside. I was quite annoyed by my extra long commute caused by sheets of rain— so I thought he was nuts to want to go back out into it. But without even batting an eye, he scrambled to put on his boots and proceeded to seek out EVERY mud puddle in the backyard… and encouraged me to join him. After watching him for a minute or so, I did. We both got soaked. And I didn’t care. In fact, I was laughing the whole time.

That’s a good news story. One I really needed this morning. When I slept through my alarm and rushed to my closet only to find my clothes balled up on the floor because the cat had gotten to them last night… I almost lost it. But then I remembered I had a pile of muddy clothes already loaded in the washer, and that made me smile.

(Yes, I was late to work. But in the scheme of things, that was okay.)

I have to remind myself all the time: the “big” good news stories are great, because they can renew our faith in people. But really— good news can also be as simple as a change in perspective.

An exercise: the next time someone cuts you off on the freeway, think about something good that happened this past weekend. It could be something as simple as a pleasant conversation you had with your neighbor, or that quiet moment you had to yourself as you read the paper and drank coffee on Sunday morning. Lives don’t always have to be saved in order to bring a smile to your face.

Although I have to admit, heroes are a great pick-me-up. 😉

More heroes soon. 🙂

Nine Lives, Minus Two

I have to admit that the next story is somewhat personal for me, because it describes almost *exactly* how one of my two cats came into my life.

So please bear with me as I describe this act of kindness for a little kitten who happened to be spotted by the right person at the right time. I love the story, because it shows how several people made the conscious choice to put their Friday night on hold… to save a stray animal.

An employee with a District Attorney’s office in Pennsylvania walked out of her work building for the day, when she spotted a stray kitten run past her, onto a busy street.

“When I saw him, I thought to myself, we just have to have a happy ending tonight,” Cathie Abookire later told a reporter.

The kitten ran into (thankfully) stopped traffic, and found what it probably thought was a safe hiding spot… immediately in front of the wheel of a car waiting at a traffic light.

Abookire and another DA employee ran into the street and pounded on the window of the car, urging the driver not to go when the light turned green. As they did this, the kitten ran away to a parked car— and promptly crawled up into the car’s engine.

Not the best hiding spot. 😉

The parked vehicle happened to have a Judicial District parking permit and a phone number, so Abookire called the number. She eventually hooked up with the car’s owner and explained the situation.

The owner, Ray McIver, came to the scene and opened up the hood. And ASPCA workers were eventually able to coax the kitten out of the engine.

All of this happened over the span of three hours. Not the way that most people would want to spend their Friday evening– especially after a long day at work. But the rescuers of Turbo the kitten (named so by her heroes) decided it was time well spent.

“Without all the right people – big hearted people – well, all the right things had to happen,” Abookire later said.

The kitten, by the way, is doing well. 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, this is amazingly similar to how I discovered my cat. She was less than four weeks old when a cameraman at my station discovered her in our station’s parking lot… which was surrounded by three very busy roads, and a highway.

The cameraman spotted her and tried to catch her, but she made her way into his vehicle’s engine. He practically took the engine apart trying to get to her, and brought her inside.

She managed to draw quite a crowd in our news room. She was so tiny her eyes had just barely opened, and she was shivering from fright.

I held her in the palm of my hand (she was that tiny), where she promptly curled up and fell asleep. I was hooked. 😉

She’s now HUGE. And happy. And still around, eleven years later. 🙂

Erasing Hate

Sometimes the simplest act of kindness can bring the greatest joy.

This past weekend in Revere, Massachusetts, some unidentified vandals spray-painted messages of hate on the B’Nai Israel synagogue. Bright red hateful words and symbols confronted the synagogue’s members the next day as they made their way to their service and a breakfast.

Marilyn Dorfman was horrified.

“It was really sickening,” she told Boston TV station WBZ-TV. “The information on the kitchen door also was very reminiscent of things that you saw in concentration camps in Nazi Germany.”

She and other members tried to push away the pain as they went inside for their service.

When they came out afterwards, an unidentified man was just finishing up painting over the offensive markings. No one had called him. He had just shown up with paint that was amazingly close to the beige color of the walls— and went to work.

Ira Dorfman says he tried to get the man’s name. “He wouldn’t tell me. I said ‘May I take your picture?’ And he said, ‘You can’t.'”

The man finished the job, packed up his supplies, and drove away.

Members say the gesture was so moving, it made up for the hateful words they had seen on their way in that morning.

Still no word on the identity of the mysterious stranger.

Passing the Flying Money "Test"

Today’s story is short, but sweet. 🙂 Another example of how someone’s faith in humanity was restored by several people stepping forward to help someone they didn’t know.

The city of Torrance, California is one of the southernmost cities in Los Angeles county (as well as one of the county’s largest). It is part of the huge metroplex that makes up what locals call the Southland.

And as an incident last month shows, the city is also filled with people who do the right thing.

70-year-old Ludwig Geier went to his local bank and withdrew several thousands of dollars in cash. He held a thick envelope as he left the building.

When he walked outside, he stumbled and fell. More than 200 bills flew out of the envelope, and started swirling around the parking lot and into the street. Ludwig says he couldn’t possibly have retrieved the money because he was wearing flip-flops and couldn’t move very quickly.

But he didn’t have to worry, because about a dozen bystanders started chasing the quickly-moving bills… and brought them back to him as they caught it.

Geier was touched. He says those who helped him retrieve his money were from all walks of life— ranging from kids to adults, people from various races, seemingly from all walks of life. He was able to get back 96% of the money he’d lost.

“I can only say I’m going to put a prayer out for them,” Geier told the Torrance Daily Breeze. “If I could get them together, I’d buy them dinner and drinks.”

Compassion over Greed

This is another story from New York city, taking place in the heart of midtown. It’s a story of not just one, but two people who each had a clear opportunity to take advantage of a situation. Instead, they didn’t think twice about doing the right thing.

And they restored a woman’s faith in humanity in the process.

Earlier this week, 27-year-old Ken Roller stopped by his local corner coffee cart and ordered his usual drink. While he waited, he glanced over at a newspaper box next to the cart and spotted a $100 bill sitting on top of it. Without even a second thought, he handed it over to cart operator, Emad Youssef, and told him that the bill was obviously lost.

“I trust him. I see him every day,” Roller told the Daily News matter-of-factly about Youssef. “He remembers my coffee order.”

And as for the chances of someone coming back to claim the cash, Roller said, “A hundred dollars is a lot of money. I figured whoever lost it was definitely going to come back for it.”

The 26-year-old Youssef held onto the bill until he saw another regular customer, 40-year-old Rochelle Myers, the next day. She talked about how she had lost $100 the day before… money she was planning to use to buy a new cell phone. She was sure that someone had gone into her wallet at some point during the day and had stolen it.

So you can imagine her surprise when Youssef handed over the bill.

She repaid Youssef and Roller by giving them each a bouquet of flowers, and a huge hug.

“We always think the worst, and I thought the worst immediately, but now my faith is really restored in people,” she said.

An interesting footnote: The journalist who reported this story also referred to a study out of Columbia University that took place in 2007. As part of an experiment to see how honest New Yorkers are, researchers dropped wallets in various places across the city of New York. 82% of them were returned to their owners. 🙂