on fire

(Noah Leaping)

My third grade teacher used to have a “mood thermometer” that rested on the wall in the front of the classroom with a big black arrow that she would slowly and deliberately slide over the rainbow of colors in relation to her, and thus our, general wellbeing.

Luckily, both her and my arrows spend most of their time kickin’ it in the cool-as-a glass-of-Blue-zone, but I’ll tell you what has sent mine racing to the other side of the rainbow where it trembles over the border of about-to-outburst-Orange and no-running-will-escape-my-rage-Red.

It’s this comment, that I have received in both written and verbal form, and from both family and friend, that makes me want to show my five-year-old niece how to throw a real proper tantrum…

“It’s just human nature.”

(Just typing it makes me clench my jaw and wring my wrists.)

“Chill out Sol. It’s just human nature to rape, burn, pillage, murder, exploit, destroy, be self-serving, lie, cheat, beat, and commit violent and horrific acts against animal, Earth and brother being. Look! We’ve been doing it for millennia. It’s just human nature.”

And in response to this comment, I think this;

Well then, if I am human, why is it not my instinct? If it’s my nature, then why does everything in my heart and soul scream out in protest when I see violence and exploitation flash across the screen? If it’s my human history, why do I weep at the thought of it continuing? And if it’s in my blood, why is it that although I have searched, I can not find this cell in my body or being?

And this is my conclusion;

Violence may very well be a provable fact of our horrific human history. But violence will not be reduced to a mysterious and unnamed, and oh so conveniently blamed, gene of my molecular construction. Not in my body. And not in my reality.

What baffles me most is why people point this finger? Why respectful, intelligent, loving, and compassionate people, who have never lifted a hand in a single violent act in their lives, will so lazily lift a finger to point to “human nature” and shrug it all off as “the way of the world.” Does it come from the couch of comfortable detachment? Give them a gun and they’ll put it down. But show it on TV and they’ll turn it off?

I just don’t know.

But I do have a finger.

And if you don’t mind. I’d like to point it right now.

Cause there’s another war going on in this world. And the people on the front line are not fighting with guns. And they’re not sitting on couches. And somewhere on their individual paths, they each realized that they could do more than take a trip to the ballot box to vote for tweedle-dee or tweedle-dum. They’ve seen it on TV but they haven’t turned their attention off. And instead of pointing one finger, they’ve taken action into their own hands, and employed all.

These are real people. They are all personal best friends and leaders of inspiration in my life. And when I am down in depression, or high in hate – or when my emotional gauge, for any reason, digs deep into the bloodier tones of red, it is THESE people, that send me, and my faith, soaring back to blue…

(AND, they are all Americans!)

*****

Meet Gregg…

With a collection of over 2000 exchanged emails, Gregg knows my heart and soul better than even I’d like to admit. In our 2300-something-th email, he informed me that he will soon be embarking on a 16,000 mile bike ride, from Alaska to Argentina, to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. In his own inspiring words;

“I can remember first dreaming of embarking on an extended journey through exotic and distant lands after reading JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit at an early age. This dream further solidified after years of learning about the explorations of scientists like Jacque Cousteau, Jack Wattley and Captain James Cook. As a child, I promised myself that I would embrace my dream in some form before settling into a long-term career or relationship. This promise also included a clause that disallowed a completely selfish pursuit of adventure, and that in some way, shape, or form its execution would benefit the greater good of society.

We began bicycle touring for the sense of adventure. Slowly, we realized that our efforts could help others. We also noticed that other charity rides spent considerable sums on maintenance and promotion, something we thought we could avoid. The result is Ribbon Of Road and our inaugural ride of the Pan American route.

We’ll ride to gain an intimate glimpse into the heart and sole of the Americas that can only be achieved on a self-powered journey. We’ll ride for the thrill of having each day be an adventure of its own. We’ll ride to take the risk of a road less traveled. We’ll ride to raise money for the American Diabetes Association and to help spread awareness of how global and how devastating diabetes really is. And in doing this, we’ll see a dream become real.”

< Read More about Gregg and “Ribbon of a Road”

*****

Meet Hanley…

I worked with Hanley for six months in the Guatemala city dump within her non-profit organization founded to provide an education to the children living in its squatter community. My own quote from a blog I posted years ago…

“The founder of the project, Hanley Denning, is probably the most devoted and diligent person I`ve ever come across in my life. I want to use the word “crazy” to describe her day and night dedication to the project. I`ve never, in three months, heard her speak on any subject that isn`t project-related. The Antigua office of the project is actually located in her house, which perfectly symbolizes how her life is consumed with her “work.” But how could it NOT? How could you NOT go “crazy” working from 5am to 10pm, 7 days a week, when you knew that your work meant the difference between 260 happy, fed, shoed and safe children – and 260 garbage-scavenging and glue-sniffing children? Hanley scares me. She scares me because she shows me the power and potential of what one human being can do. She scares me because she shows me the potential of what each one of us could do. She scares me because she shows me what I could do, if I were brave and selfless enough.”

< Read More about Hanley and project “Camino Seguro”

*****

Meet Slava…

Slava’s a personal little miracle worker in the world of Sol. He is right on top of my list of persons of perfect integrity and an absolutely inspiring example of altruistic attitude. One of his favorite little charities happens to be seekingsol.com, which if it were not for Slava, wouldn’t be, for he has been donating the hosting of this site for four years running. Additionally, he’s also donated the team, energy and resources to build a new website for Hanley and her non-profit (see above) which we are still working on together. And as if this all weren’t enough (because it’s only the beginning), the mission of his new project in my hometown Portland, Oregon sends shivers of joy straight up my spine!

“Our mission: The Portland Peace and Justice Center is anon-partisan, not-for-profit organization working to advance global peace and justice by promoting local economics and grassroots democracy. Pledging to actively resist, we withdraw consent from forces of war and injustice. Believing that the most daring act of resistance in times of brutal oppression and war is to push forward, we choose to promote alternative answers to local and global problems. Strongly condemning all wars as immoral and grave crimes against humanity, we seek to advance global peace and justice.”

“What are you doing to change the world this summer?” Cause Slava is looking for riders for his new 2005 Portland Peace and Social Justice Bike Tour right now…

> Read more about Slava and the Portland Peace and Justice Center

*****

Meet Carla!

The first day I met Carla, we hugged before any words were exchanged. And the day I left her office (after she hired me to work my first LEAPnow semester), I cried in joy. She also is directly responsible for my inspiration to walk the Camino de Santiago. This woman is a mentor, example and inspiration in my life. Having spent 10 years leading semester abroad programs, she paved the path, and then opened the door and spread her arms wide to introduce me to the field of my own life calling: Alternative and Experiential Education. We both have chosen to focus our life missions on the youth, and her current project, The Mosaic Project, is another to make me throw a fist in the air for the good fight…

“The Mosaic Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, works towards a peaceful future by reaching children in their formative years. We unite young children of diverse backgrounds, provide them with essential skills to thrive in an increasingly diverse society, and empower them to strive for peace. We seed the future population of middle schools, high schools, and all the venues of adult life with thousands of individuals who can: appreciate others without diminishing themselves, identify and respond constructively to prejudice and discrimination, create and lead diverse teams to resolve conflicts across different perspectives, and build inclusive, just, peaceful communities.”

> Read More about The Mosiac Project

*****

Now meet Noah…

I met Noah at a crossing of life paths during our shared adventures in Ecuador. He flipped over my world with the steady and strong grace of his well practiced break dancing moves. The man makes magic with words, so I’ll let him use his own…

“My name is Noah Moore, and I’ve spent 19 of my 21 years in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon and the other two unaccounted for years in Peru and Mexico. My diagnosis of diabetes came on the day after Christmas when I was 16, and if any diabetes diagnosis could be called “well-timed,” I would slap the label on mine. Within months, the Oregon chapter of the American Diabetes Association offered me the newly created advocacy position of Southern Oregon Youth Diabetes Ambassador. The title, although sometimes too lengthy to remember, brought me speaking engagements and event hosting opportunities that I had never dreamed of, specifically because these opportunities involved large audiences and thus held nightmare status. I held the Youth Ambassador position for a number of years until sadly, I was alerted to the fact that I was no longer classified as a youth. Attending college at the University of Oregon, I slipped into an advocacy identity crisis, until now…

Mission: Get information to all diabetics living non-complacent lives.

I have had a nearly lifelong love for South America since my yearlong visit to Peru when I was four. This love, combined with a worldwide need for global outreach, has revved up the metaphorical outboard motor for my upcoming South American voyage. I plan to work as a correspondent for diabetic publications while engaging in the most non-complacent and atypical travel lifestyle possible. River raft guiding, trekking, breakdancing, and foreign advocacy work are some of the steps on the yearlong adventure ahead. The correspondence will be designed to increase the physical and mental wellbeing of diabetics who need influence and motivation the most; namely, youth. I will achieve this feat by providing articles that take the form of Q & A for youth regarding touchy subjects, an adventure travel log with reflections on diabetes, and a how-to manual for diabetics traveling or living rigorous and abnormal lives. There are so many facets to the journey you can’t afford to miss any of it. Diabetes doesn’t limit one’s life, but becomes a part of it.”

> Read more on NoahsVoyage.com

*****

And then there’s Renee(to whom I wrote and posted a letter of gratitude a few months ago)…

She absolutely changed my world by introducing me to veganism, anarchy, protest within the system, alternative versions of American history and a life of voluntary simplicity. She taught me to look closely at my own life, to reanalyze the consequences of my personal actions and means of living with new critical eyes. She is a living example of Gandhi’s vision and advice to, “be the change you want to see.” And the best part? She will stomp, scream, (or just) smile and sit in jail to do it. And while she’s quite anxious to get back to New York to take her power to the marching front line, in the meantime, her work for Planet Drum is still quite honorable;

“Planet Drum’s Vision: What approach can we take to move beyond environmental protests and actually begin living sustainably wherever we are located? Planet Drum was founded in 1973 to provide an effective grassroots approach to ecology that emphasizes sustainability, community self-determination and regional self-reliance. In association with community activists and ecologists, Planet Drum developed the concept of a bioregion: a distinct area with coherent and interconnected plant and animal communities, and natural systems, often defined by a watershed. A bioregion is a whole “life-place” with unique requirements for human inhabitation so that it will not be disrupted and injured. Through its projects, publications, speakers, and workshops, Planet Drum helps start new bioregional groups and encourages local organizations and individuals to find ways to live within the natural confines of bioregions.”

> Read more about Renee and Planet Drum

*****

Meet Christian…

In addition to a hundred other gifts, Christian is an acupuncturist, Thai Chi master, stunning salsa instructor, and one of the most eloquent, intelligent and innovate people I know. He’s taught me a turn or two on the dance floor in exchange for a few care packages from India full of precious natural medicines you can only find in Asia to help him with his new non-profit in Guatemala, The Calacirya Foundation

“The Calacirya Foundation is an organization of international educators, volunteers, and indigenous communities participating in the exchange of knowledge across cultures. As indigenous cultures continue to be eclipsed by the modern world, now more than ever, the need is apparent to create an environment where students and teachers the world over may learn from each other. The Calacirya Foundation connects people from different cultures, the modern and the ancient, discovering and sharing the best of both worlds. The current focus of the Calacirya Foundation is the people of rural Guatemala. Hosting volunteers and sponsoring programs in healthcare, practical education, housing improvement, sustainable building and sustainable agriculture, the Calacirya Foundation helps people to help themselves.”

Christian’s in need of volunteers, if you’re looking for a place to put your passion…

< Read More about Christian and The Calacirya Foundation

*****

Meet Dwaba…

I helped Dwaba prepare the gardens for the children that live in her orphanage in Rishikesh, India. Dwaba is the woman, through her extraordinary example, that gave me the courage to finally and completely say “no” to an ordinary life path. I had given myself my own permission to start following my dreams, but she game me permission to continue to do so for a lifetime. Her mission and drive are the strongest I’ve ever encountered. Tell her no and she’ll show you her fist. She has the whole universe on her side, and she knows it. And it’s for this unfaltering bravery that I admire her so. A bit of her story…

“In 1991 a Spiritual Teacher in India suggested that I move to a small Ashram on the banks of The Ganga in the foothills of the Himalayas near Rishikesh. “Just be with the river,” he said, “and everything will be revealed there.” As days flowed into months what revealed itself was a large population of beautiful tribal people living in severe poverty and malnutrition, with no medical assistance available to them. The children bore this burden and many didn’t survive the harsh winters. Their situation weighed heavy on my heart and made it difficult to” just be” there without wanting to do something to help them in some way… but which way? I didn’t know how to help and I felt incapable of making any contribution that would make a significant change in their lives, and yet uncomfortable to remain there among them without doing so.

I began with one small free clinic / dispensary and one primary school. I was amazed to discover how much I could do with so little money and effort. Within a year there were 2 clinics and 5 weekly medical camps in remote villages. Things just seemed to create themselves if I could just trust and stay out of my doubting mind and keep saying “Yes.” The schools blossomed into 13 primary and two Jr. Highs with hot nutritious lunch for 600 kids everyday. Today we provide assistance to 68 rural, below poverty-line villages, serving a population of 12,000.”

< Read more about Dwaba and “Ramana’s Garden”

*****

And please meet Alex…

This man’s mug makes me want to hug the monitor! Alex was my wonderful co-leader for our shared semester in India. In addition to looking just like “lamb chop,” his optimism, vision, insight and intelligence stagger me in my admiration. Alex is a front line fighter, and his current project, “Citizens For a Better South Florida” owns yet another mission statement that will bring a smile and brighten any day:

“Citizens For A Better South Florida is a membership-based, non-profit, environmental education organization dedicated to improving our quality of life through instilling environmental awareness within South Florida’s diverse multi-lingual communities. Citizens for a Better South Florida was founded in 1988 as one of the first multi-lingual environmental education organizations in the United States. Our mission is to improve our quality of life through instilling environmental awareness within South Florida’s diverse multi-lingual communities. Over the past fifteen years, Citizens has designed experiential, multi-lingual education and outreach programs for students, teachers and community organizations, including activities such as community festivals, environmental field trips, curriculum development and trainings, tree plantings, workshops, in-class visits, and habitat restoration. We take a community-based environmental education and partnership approach to achieve our mission.”

> Read more about Alex and Citizens For a Better South Florida

*****

And people wonder where I get my inspiration?! I’m SURROUNDED by it! (For these are only the people who have websites!)

Humanity perhaps has a brutal history. But I REFUSE to excuse or continue such abuse as a simple matter of bad human habit. And Yes, Yes, YES! I DO have hope and faith and love for our future. First, I will be the change I want to see, because I know that peace starts in no other place but me. And second, I will surround myself with those that share the dream. For inspiration is like a single candle. The people attracted to it come as mirrors. What they see in the flame is a reflection of the flicker of a fire within. When two come, and the mirrors sit on either side, the light multiplies infinitely…me seeing in you, what you see in me, what we see in we. Inspiration is contagious. And the bonfire has begun.

*****

Passing the passion.

Igniting inspiration.

Sparking imagination.

With one shared vision.

Two hands at a time.

Lifiting up one heart.

A flicker and a flame.

Seeing in each other the same.

A divine dream inspired.

By a human heart consuming fire.

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