The frontlines of COVID-19—A love letter

To the nurses, EMTs, physicians, staff who are on the front line of this war, thank you for risking and sacrificing health, safety, comfort to ensure our health, safety, and comfort. You even sacrifice time with your family so we can be with ours. You are exposed so that we can be protected.

You are heroes.

An EMT we know goes to and fro, sirens ringing, carting people back and forth to hospitals on the bloody edge of this pandemic. And when he’s not saving lives, he allows himself to see his kids and wife from afar at an outdoor playground once a week or two to limit the possibility for him to expose them to the virus. And to remind them of his love he records himself singing to them and sends the videos to his daughters.

Sacrificial acts are everywhere.

They harmonizes with the melody of these times, coupled with the dissonance of pain and agony as an aria of heroism crescendos before us in humans performing extraordinary acts everyday, like this EMT.

In New York City, the eye of the storm, we know a world class surgeon who, repaired our baby’s cleft lip and palate, with his seven-figure hands, insured and well manicured, trained in plastic surgery to perform delicate carvings, is now caring for patients struggling for breath, drowning above water.

Now this surgeon answered the call to be on the frontlines because staffing is low from his colleagues getting COVID-19, so he stepped in to fill the gap, exposing himself to the threat.

He has children, a family. He has a great career. Nonetheless, he dives into the trenches. Even though he doesn’t show it, I’d imagine that he has fears. But he charges into danger anyway.

Many are jumping into it, risking much, risking all, to help their patients, them, us, me, you.

This isn’t about title, position, money. It’s about doing what must be done to save lives, stem the tide, help people.

Another friend is a nurse in Queens, and a new mother. We just saw her post a picture on social media. She looked like a warrior, masked, armed, ready to battle this invisible enemy who masquerades in human form, using our bodies as vehicles for its mayhem. And she’s at a Queens hospital attacking it with all of her wits, energy, body, spirit, soul.

To my friends, to strangers, to all who are fighting where the fight is bloodiest, fiercest, most dangerous, we salute you.

We honor you. We love you.

For the courage, valor, duty, honor, love that beats greatly in you, we acknowledge you.

You are the best of us.

You don’t just live to stay alive. You’re spending your lives to save ours.

If there is a silver lining in all of this darkness, it is this. It provides the world a backdrop for people like you to shine and radiate.

So we see you, and by your light we see.


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True strength

True strength isn’t about how much weight you can throw around in the gym; rather, it’s about your ability to carry the burdens of others.

It’s certainly not about how many people you can hurt, but it’s about those you can heal.

The strongest of us shouldn’t spend our energy trying to control anyone else but ourselves, mastering our own desires and impulses.

If you are strong, you serve. If you are powerful, you expend it on those who have less power.

Your strength should make others stronger.

When unlearning is the greatest lesson

Unlearning is sometimes the best learning you can do. For often you limit the understanding of how high you can climb or how far you can go or how great you can become; but those thoughts are often untrue, wrong. Examine them. Dismantle those limiting notions, the dark stories from your childhood, those demeaning words someone spoke to you, that embarrassing thing that happened to you at school, those experiences that shaped you and taught you who you think you are. That—that’s what needs to be unlearned. You are more capable than you know. See yourself anew; and teach yourself to learn beyond what you’ve once thought you knew. Unlearn to learn your greatness.

You need to know that you’re more than just you

“Just” is a word we should use sparingly with ourselves. “I’m just a mom,” or “I’m just an employee,” or “I’m just a woman,” or “I’m just a child.”

“Just” limits you. It strips away the potential you have, what you can reach. You aren’t just you.

You are becoming, always. You are changing, growing, learning, experiencing. And if you aren’t doing that well, you can, anytime.

It’s a choice. Reaching your potential is always before you and you can choose it today, now.

You’re not just an associate; you can become a partner. You’re not just an employee; you can become an owner. You’re not just a mom; you’re molding the future. You’re not just a kid; you can be wise as a sage.

It will take work, risk, overcoming challenges, facing fears. But you can do it. You just have to do it, go through the pain, face the fear, read that book, glean that lesson.

“Just” doesn’t do you justice. It’s small and keeps you low. That’s just what it does.

You’re more than just the present you. You can always become the future you.

You’re never just you. You can become a better you. Choose it now.

Choose it always.

This is the best way to transform the world around you

The bus was taking forever. And it wasn’t just cold; it was windy, not like a gentle breeze. It was gusty, which is common in New York City. At least it was sunny. But we were still shivering while on 14th Street and 9th Ave surrounded by people who looked like arctic adventurers with the pervasive fur-lined hoods. Then my family and I met Tolerance.

Tolerance wasn’t a person. She was a tiny dog, so tiny that she almost looked like a gerbil, literally. She was cute. And I couldn’t help but feel the owner was trying to communicate something by naming her dog that multisyllabic word. It felt like a name that you would only find in a coastal city.

Then I stopped thinking about the cultural dynamics and moved on to the idea of the human condition and how tolerance fits in it and asked myself this question: Is tolerance (not the dog, but the actual meaning of the word) what we really need?

I doubt it.

Tolerance is an idea we can throw around when we live in urban centers like New York because it sounds good. It’s shiny. But it lacks depth. It can’t get the job done.

Humans, no matter how great, are greatly broken. We hurt one another. We hurt ourselves. It’s almost like we can’t help it.

And yes, tolerance is needed, but it’s not enough. Tolerance puts up with people. It lets them do what they do. It’s not about caring, helping, blessing. It allows people to do something, say something, think something without intervening, correcting, saving. But don’t you see that’s not what we really want. Tolerance is cold; it’s distant. There is less humanity in it. There isn’t intimacy, teaching, guiding that we need. We need others to be involved, engaged with us: parents, coaches, mentors, lovers. Even as adults, we need closeness. We need other humans talking to us, telling us how stupid we are being, giving us advice on how to do such and such, encouraging us to do better.

That’s not tolerance. Tolerance acts like a stranger, is aloof, standoffish, unmoved.

No, we want more than that. What we all really want is this.

Love.

We want people to care about what is happening in our lives. We want to feel heard, respected, cherished, important. We want people to ask us questions and listen—like really listen, making constant eye-contact and nodding the head at the right times kind of listening.

Tolerance is certainly needed. We do need more of it. Sometimes, when we see and hear people with whom we profoundly disagree, tolerance is the most we can give. And maybe a two-pound dog that looks like a gerbil is the best reminder for us to be more tolerant with one another.

But tolerance is the least we should do. I wish people named their dogs Love. Because that’s what we all really want; that’s what we all really need.

The world in which we live has darkness and evil that scares all of us. Yes, there is beauty and glory that is bewildering and dazzling. But there are unspeakable things that happen everywhere, even in the shining city of New York. And that darkness isn’t just out there, it inside of us. We have thoughts and feelings that we would never want to be projected for all of the world to see. Yet we still think them, feel them.

You see, tolerance isn’t strong enough to conquer the high tide of evil, pain, suffering that plagues our world, us.

But love can. It can meet it. And one day, Love will destroy all of our suffering, longing, agony.

The greatest act of love that I know of was displayed by a controversial man, who claimed to be God. He was innocent but was crucified. He wasn’t just going to die, but He was going to be abandoned by His Eternal Father. It was their plan. They did it because they wanted to swallow up evil. Not with swords, guns, military might, political maneuvering—no. They used sacrifice. By giving Himself up to the raging tide of hatred and death, being swallowed up by it, out of love, Jesus accomplished the work of paying for all of the darkness in the world, in our hearts. Hatred cannot be crushed. It can only be subdued, transformed.

Others also transformed the world through followed the same path though not to the same degree. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King used the power of love to defeat the power of hate. They absorbed violence and flooded the world with love, creating lasting transformation. Tolerance wasn’t strong enough to overcome slavery, bigotry, hate.

It can’t bring about peace. It only looks peaceful. Tolerance is merely a two-pound dog that can only scamper around and whimper.

Love is a lion.

The worst thing that happens to you often can lead to the best results

Sometimes the worst things that happen to us are the best opportunities. They are the gateways to greatness.

Giving up is always an option. Or, you can fight and find a way through the difficulty.

The former will lead to the status quo or worse. The latter can irrevocably change your life for the better.

When I got fired from the only job I was qualified for, my first position out of graduate school, I wanted to slink away and die. I was trained to be a pastor of a church. Then, I was terminated. But, oddly enough, that helped me to become an entrepreneur.

What about you? Have you been beaten down, hurt, unjustly treated, fired? Maybe you’re tempted to give up. I get it.

But you don’t have to. You can take one step at a time, day after day, facing your fears and uncertainty, moving forward and upward.

But it all starts with not giving up and fighting.

Ghengis Khan’s (affiliate) life changed irrevocably when a rival tribe kidnapped his wife. Instead of letting her go and finding a new wife (what most men in his culture and time did, especially at his level, insignificant and impoverished), he did the unthinkable. He raised a fighting party and battled to win her back. He won.

And that decision was one of the most significant steps that helped him build the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

You may not want to be an emperor, but you want to win. You want to overcome your challenges.

The best place to start is here.

Don’t give up. Then, fight.

You can.

Rise.

You are more valuable than you know

You are not just enough; you are more than enough.

Don’t let your inner critic run rampant and criticize all that you do and don’t do. Don’t always listen to the voices around you saying how you did this or that poorly.

You are not just your accomplishments, the number of friends you or likes you have. You’re not even the way you feel.

You are a son, a daughter, a neighbor, a human being, a person, a child of God.

You have intrinsic value that goes beyond what you do. And you should know that what you do, whether if it’s taking care of the home, or sweeping the streets, or creating art, or writing a blog post, or leading a corporation has value.

So, my fellow human, you are not only incredibly valuable just as you are, you create value.

You are enough; you are more than you know.

Know that.