I Believe


I believe that as great as the needs that exist in the world are (and they are great), our individual and collective ability and capacity to meet those needs is greater.

I believe that needs are not confined to some remote, underprivileged area halfway across the globe – they exist in those who populate our places of work and worship, on both sides of the podium in the schools where are children are being educated, in the stores and restaurants that we frequent, the social settings in which we routinely find ourselves and, on occasion, sitting across from us at the dining room table.

I believe that the events that give rise to needs don’t discriminate based on political ideology, age, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, social status and/or educational background and they almost never are a matter of choice.

I believe that when it comes to meeting needs one person can make a difference “simply” by using their hands to lend a helping one, their feet to walk a mile in another’s footsteps, their heart to display empathy and compassion, their mind to become educated, their tongue to speak out on behalf of those who may have temporarily lost or forgotten their voice or, even less demanding, their ears to listen.

Most importantly, with each passing day, I believe that every tear that falls, every heart that breaks and every life that’s lost, literally or figuratively, due to indifference, inaction and/or ignorance diminishes all of us.

Why not take a minute today to make a difference . . .

to be the reason for someone else’s smile

to offer a word of affirmation or encouragement to a soul that’s doubting its worth

to hug a heart that longs only to know that it’s not alone

to dry a tear

to be a lighthouse of love

to lend an empathetic, non-judgmental ear

to allow your eyes to serve as reflection ponds in which another can finally see the truth about themselves.

Who knows you just might change a life – or save one.

The Birthplace Of My Heart


I was emotionally orphaned as a child.

Like many of my peers, I grew up with a Depression era dad, who, I suspect, like his father before him, never really learned what being affectionate, let alone vulnerability looked like. He loved by doing. To my dad, working hard (and often) and providing for the family was love. Concepts like listening without judging, accepting without feeling compelled to fix, affirming without insisting on perfection (or something awfully darn close to it) or hugging spontaneously and for no particular reason were mostly foreign to my dad. And so, as the middle child, “do” I did – as much and as well as I could – and I’ve been doing (or trying to do) ever since. And then there was my mother, who was an alcoholic for as long as I can remember. In her defense, she was a by-product of a traumatic and highly dysfunctional childhood of her own, one that likely left her heavily scarred and wholly unaffectionate. My sense is that, left to her own devices, my mom likely would not have had children at all, never mind three of them, but, because it seemed to be the thing to do, she did and so we are. In the end, however, she was ill-equipped for mothering and her drinking made rising above impossible.

In fact, it made lots of things impossible . . . like modeling what a healthy male/female relationship is supposed to look like; being someone who a too-hard-working husband looked forward to coming home to at night; being a source of comfort and encouragement when my siblings and I needed it most; serving as a beacon of light and a safe harbor we could turn to when we were struggling to find our place and our way in this world (as we often were); having a tolerant, if not fun-loving and predictable personality that encouraged, rather than discouraged us (and our dad) from bringing friends, colleagues and classmates over to the house; showing a genuine interest in our lives; listening attentively to our fears and inspiring our dreams; patiently instructing us in, rather than boisterously dictating the activities of daily living; and placing the many needs that we, like all children, teenagers and young adults had – to not only know, but feel that there was at least someone on Earth who loved and supported us unconditionally and for affection – above her desire for another drink. Simply put, my childhood home was a very lonely and, at times, scary place.

But I realized the other night at a dinner with a friend that, paradoxically, it also was the birthplace of my giver’s heart. You see, unbeknownst to me at the time, it was all the hours I spent alone that gave me the appreciation I have today for the destructive power of loneliness and fueled my desire to want to root it out in the hearts of others. It was the looks of disappointment that greeted my untimely strikeouts, missed shots and academic miscues and the immeasurable pain each of them seared into my admittedly too sensitive heart that taught me how critical it is to meet others’ missteps with empathy, compassion and encouragement. It was the silence that too often fell around my own accomplishments that caused me to more fully appreciate how important it is to first recognize and then acknowledge the achievements of others – large and small. It was the times I wasn’t held that ultimately made me understand what all the fuss is about where hugs are concerned – and the life-affirming power of a heartfelt embrace. Most importantly, my unmet needs gave me a unique set of heart antenna that enable me to spot a fellow heart in need from a mile away and an unquenchable desire to come to its aide.

Did any of this lessen the pain I endured “acquiring” these gifts? No. Does sharing those gifts with and being able to help others today because of them? You bet! Truth is: The most remarkable hearts I know have had to fight for their remarkableness. Mine is no exception. In the end, it’s worth it. I’m worth it – and you’re worth it. #FightOn

A Tale of Two Teardrops – Part II

child tears

No matter how old we are (or how old we get!) there will always be “things” that, in an instant, transport us back to our childhood. For some, the magic carpet is the scent of a favorite family recipe drifting thru the house during the holidays. For others, it is a special place, a piece of furniture, a childhood home or church, a photograph, a letter, a bedtime lullaby, a book, a pet phrase, a seasonal tradition – a stuffed animal that we’re embarrassed to admit has never left our side. Often the memory brings with it feelings of warmth, comfort, joy, security– a sense of belonging and of being connected. But, sometimes the “things” that transport us back in time and the emotions they evoke are ones we’d just as soon forget: abusive words and actions, trauma, the recurrence of an illness, the unmistakable scent of a former lover, a schoolyard or playground where we were bullied, a scar, the scene of an accident – feelings of isolation, rejection or abandonment.

And so it was, as I stood in the doorway of the Grand Ballroom on the second day of the Conference, cafeteria lunch tray in hand, surveying a room of nearly 600 attendees most of whom were complete strangers to me, wondering where I should sit! I was right back in middle school, slightly less introverted I suppose, but not much, and, consequently, mostly paralyzed with fear. As fate would have it, one of the few open seats happened to be right next to the friend I mentioned in my earlier post (http://tinyurl.com/owekwfd) and I made a beeline for it, hoping I’d get there before anyone else found it – and I did! No sooner had I settled into my seat than my friend started introducing me to the others at table, a group of 8 young women who were serving as Conference volunteers and their supervisor. “This is my friend, Don Blackwell,” she said simply, as my eyes moved from left to right greeting each volunteer with a smile and being greeted by theirs in return.

That is until they reached a young woman seated two places to my right and the tears that were streaming down both sides of her face. As the table grew silent, I quickly glanced at her name tag and realized it was someone I had corresponded with for months on social media, but had never met. Reflexively, we got up, walked towards each other and warmly embraced for what seemed like several minutes. “So glad to finally meet you,” our hearts whispered to one another almost simultaneously.  Simply put, it was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Her supervisor broke the silence with this: “I guess they know each other?” My friend responded with a smile, “I’m betting they met on Twitter!” We laughed with the others as we separated, now both consumed with emotion, and promised to set aside some time before the afternoon was over to get caught up and learn a little more about each other’s story.

A few hours later, we met again, as the Conference exhibitors were packing up their booths. I asked about her tears. “I was deeply touched by your book,” she began. “When I read it and we connected on social media I felt as though you were a dad in a way. You reached out and shared a piece of your heart and I felt encouraged and supported. Because of all of the issues I’ve had, I’ve never been able to be close with my own family. My dad and I have tried to mend our relationship, but it’s been hard – for lots of reasons. I appreciate my dad and love him for who he is but honestly it was hard not having my parents’ support, when I was living in my own mental hell. So, connecting with a dad who was there for his daughter meant so much to me. It was overwhelming really.” I hardly knew what to say, except “I’m sorry you felt alone in your suffering” and “I’m glad my words helped you (and your beautiful soul) feel less alone”.

No sooner had we said our good-byes, than I saw my speaker friend hurrying towards one of the exit doors across the room suitcase in tow. I literally ran to catch up with her, shouting as I did, “you’d really leave without giving me a hug?!?” With that she turned, saying “follow me to the escalator – I’m late for the airport.” Reaching the top of the escalator, we embraced a final time. “I’m worried about you,” I said, catching my breath and half talking to myself. “Your teardrop worries me”. I could feel her exhale in my arms. “I just need to make it a few more weeks,” she confided, “and then I can take a break, then I will take a break.” “You’re doing enough,” I offered in reply. “In fact, long ago you’d already done enough. Trust me.” And with those words, she was off – and so was I. Two days, two teardrops, two hugs – and three words uttered by a friend that I likely will never forget.