Category Archives: Barbara Besteni

The Beauty of Madness

Photo by Barbara Besteni

The blue and gray digital beauty of “Starry Night” welcomed me into its embrace as the words of Don McClean’s “Vincent,” his anthem to the tortured soul of Vincent Van Gogh, whispered in my ears.

Before me, the walls of the monstrous Miami sound stage that once gave life to the modern-day masterpieces of Miami ViceBad Boys, and countless long-forgotten music videos, displayed the digital renditions of Van Gogh’s masterpieces in a 360-degree canvas that seamlessly dissolved one painting into another.

I wept.

I had not been listening. I had not known how. But I was listening now.

The side trip to Arles

Three years ago, a trip to France took me through the town of Arles, the place that inspired so many of Van Gogh’s paintings, including my all-time favorite, Starry Night. It was the view he saw every night from the window of the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence to which he’d voluntarily committed himself.

At the time of my visit to Arles, I was more interested in continuing on my journey to Barcelona than stopping to explore the trees and daffodils that Van Gogh sketched. But the spirit of my surroundings moved me. I didn’t know why, but something stirred inside my soul and insisted that I write it down to save the memory.

I know better than to question The Muse when She commands, “Write it now!” With nothing else at my disposal, social media and my iPhone would have to do.

I posted a quick Facebook message, quoting McLean’s “Vincent.”

“And when no hope was left inside on that starry, starry night, you took your life as lovers often do.”

Within seconds, a private message from my friend Tara Gilani across the Atlantic startled me.

“You OK? That Vincent post was “funky.” Xo

“I’m in Provence … land of Van Gogh inspiration!” I replied. “I love you for checking in though!!!”

“Hooray!!” she wrote back, after I apologized for my cryptic message. “Enjoy!! Xoxox”

My quick response to Tara’s question, however, did not tell the whole story. There was something about Arles that moved me. But it wasn’t until three years later, at the Ice Palace Studios soundstage in Downtown Miami, that that something became clear.

Beneath the surface of the $100 million ‘pauper’

The legend that surrounds Van Gogh is one of darkness bordering on the edge of insanity … his severed ear, his ultimate suicide … all shrouded in mystery and stories to which layers upon layers of myth have been added so that the truth is no longer recognizable. It’s a historical game of telephone that seems to have no ending.

But what we don’t hear, what Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience captures in such visual eloquence, is the soul of the man who was haunted by a need to serve, accomplish his purpose, and struggled to be understood.

The digital experience inside the soundstage is the main course, but if you rush through the frames with the quotes and paintings that lead up to it, you miss understanding the beauty of the artist responsible for combining the ingredients into a recipe that no other artist has been able to duplicate.

The prelude to the experience itself is the appetizer that gives perspective to the works Van Gogh created. Without that perspective, he is just another painter.

Clinically, Van Gogh was believed to have suffered from epilepsy, acute insanity, and hallucinations. While at the asylum, he was supposedly getting better. But he relapsed, and it eventually led to his suicide.

But what came first? Did the madness inspire his masterpieces? Or was his inability to completely express himself a catalyst to the mental illness that would eventually lead to his suicide? 

If you’re sane enough to question your sanity, to commit yourself to an asylum, could it be your brand of madness is the closest thing to sanity to which you can aspire?

What was guiding this “mad” man to create such timeless works of art that move people in ways that even those who know nothing about him can appreciate?

We can write the tortured, starving artist off and romanticize his plight. But beneath the surface lies a soul struggling to be understood, to celebrate their differences instead of fitting into a status quo.

Van Gogh was not exactly a pauper, but he didn’t have a lot of money while he was alive. 

Starry Night is currently valued at about $100 million.

Perhaps …

I left the Van Gogh Experience a changed woman, one with an appreciation and understanding of those who suffer from mental health issues, issues with which we all struggle in one way or another. 

I also came away wondering if what we call madness is genius in disguise.

As a writer who struggles to get out of the way of inspiration and let the Universe use me as Her messenger, I relate to Van Gogh’s struggles. My demons are by no means as dark as Van Gogh’s, but releasing them through the written word is my therapy of choice. And when I don’t, the darkness returns.

Having those who read what I write learn from what they read — even if they don’t agree with me — is my purpose in life.

Don McLean stated it perfectly in the line that keeps repeating throughout “Vincent”:

Now, I think I know what you tried to say to me
How you suffered for your sanity
How you tried to set them free

That song, written so many years ago, ends on a less-than-positive note.

They would not listen; they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will

But perhaps Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience will change that. Perhaps the refrain from earlier in the song will now become reality.

Perhaps they’ll listen now.

I’m listening, Vincent. I’m listening.

——–

“Vincent” words and music by Don McLean

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I Will Miss The Pandemic

Photo by Barbara A. Besteni

Nearly 16 months after it began, the pandemic prompted by COVID-19 shows signs of loosening its grip on what we once called normal and allowing us to return to how we once were.

But do we really want to go back? Do we want to retreat to the comfort of what once was and risk losing the possibilities of what can be?

A pandemic is defined as an “event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people.” Finding a cure for that disease is a noble cause. However, to “cure” a disease by forgetting it existed is to plant the seeds of its return. And once it does, it can be deadlier than it once was.

If we look beneath the surface and consider COVID-19 as a symbolic representation — a metaphor — of the challenge we call life, we find the cure for the virus known as living.

Hidden within the challenge of that virus is the whisper of its cure. But are we disciplined enough to quiet our minds and pay attention to the still, silent voice within that is patiently waiting for us to listen to its cry?

The new normal awaits

Once vaccines became widely available, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifted the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, the world moved one very big step closer to “normal.” And while this brought much joy and celebration, it comes with a huge dose of bittersweetness, one that even a spoonful of sugar won’t counteract.

The normal we are now entering is nothing like the normal we once knew. Hopefully, many of the habits we adopted to keep us and our loved ones safe from COVID-19 will stay with us long after herd immunity has been reached.

Regardless of where in the science vs. conspiracy theory side of the aisle your opinion on the virus and the world’s response to it fall, some things should stick around post-pandemic.

Things like:

  • Curbside pickup: Nothing quite compares to dining inside a restaurant, but there’s a lot to be said for popping your car’s trunk and having someone put your meal order inside. Not having to get dressed for the occasion is like eating dessert before dinner.
  • Instacart grocery deliveries: Enough said.
  • Sanitizing surfaces, especially when dining outdoors: You don’t realize how much dirt is still on a table at your favorite restaurant until you’ve wiped it down after your waiter “cleans” it.
  • Making sure our hands are clean: How many times did you sing Happy Birthday during the past 15 months?
  • Working from home: It doesn’t get much better than this.
  • Unexpected visitors during Zoom meetings: Cameos of cats, dogs, and humans in pajamas reminded us that important work meetings lose their importance when the Zoom squares on your screen utter a collective “Awwwwwww!”

These things might stay with us post-pandemic, but unless we remain vigilant, others are in danger of fading into the distance, making us forget the gifts living in quarantine brought us.

The gifts of quarantine

Although living in quarantine had its share of challenges, I chose to look at the opposite side of those challenges.

For example, making sure my 93-year-old mom was well taken care of and entertained was a struggle, to say the least. But praying for those who were kept from their parents and families because of the inability to travel or because the places where they were living forbid them face-to-face human contact, kept me thankful and humble.

I may also have temporarily lost the ability to socialize with friends, but I got closer to my immediate pack of family members, the people who will stop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to make sure I am well cared for — and for whom I will stop at nothing to do the same.

I learned to appreciate the meaning of home. Coincidentally, or not, I was at Miami International Airport ready to board a flight to Buenos Aires when we went into lockdown. I never left Miami. I could not be more grateful for having made that decision. 

Throughout the pandemic, I laughed harder than I had laughed in a long time. I mean, seriously, when nature calls while you’re out enjoying a drive through the empty streets, and the closest thing to a public restroom is a porta-potty left behind by a construction crew, you have no choice but to get creative. I now know of at least a half dozen places in South Florida to do your business outside without the risk of being seen by a security camera. 

I learned that bras, shoes, work clothes, and most of the items in my wardrobe are not necessary. Combing my hair is an option that can be left for Zoom calls. And if I can’t get to a comb in time, saying my computer’s camera is “acting up” is an acceptable excuse.

I learned that staying in on a weekend night, alternating between binge-watching and napping through the Netflix series du jour and eating takeout right out of the box, is a luxury I will never be able to live without.

I experienced small-town living in a big city; no people, no chaos, no distracted drivers to run me over during my morning bike ride.

I discovered the beauty of masks – because when all you can see are people’s eyes, you are blessed with a glimpse into their souls. 

On the lighter side of the mask mandate, now that I have a facial covering to go with just about every outfit I own (thanks to my life’s traveling companion), I’m finding it difficult giving up this wonderful fashion statement.

I also continued my journey into the road less traveled known as sobriety. (You can’t drink socially if you’re not socializing.) It was a road that began with a 30-day no alcohol challenge nearly 900 days ago, and one on which I have chosen to stay.

While so many people struggled with addictions or chose to drink away the pains of the pandemic with a glass — or six — of their adult grape juice of choice, seltzer with lime was — and continues to be — my go-to beverage.

COVID-19 may fade into the background of history, but like any great teacher, the lessons it taught us, and the gifts it left behind, will stay with us for the rest of our lives. Sharing those gifts with others is the greatest gift of all.

It’s the one time re-gifting is not only an option, but a necessity.

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Judgment and Expectations …

Serenity

Serenity along the Gulf Coast in Waveland, Mississippi – Copyright 2018 Barbara A. Besteni

 

“Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance.” — Unknown

All of our disappointments come from unfulfilled expectations and pre-conceived beliefs of how things should and shouldn’t be. They are the reference points we use to judge if something is good or bad, right or wrong.

If our expectations aren’t met, we are quick to label the feeling of disappointment as “bad.”  On the flip side, if we do something that makes us happy, but we believe it’s “wrong” because doing things for ourselves is “selfish,”  we add a dollop of guilt to the ice cream and miss out on the “guilty pleasure.”

But why should we feel guilty about pleasure?  Does guilt absolve us of our “sins” any more than saying ten Hail Marys absolved us of the sins we exposed in the confessional as children? (You Catholic children of long ago know exactly what I mean.)

Most of our expectations and beliefs are self-imposed, crafted from the residual fibers of the protective garments given to us by our parents, our teachers, and the society in which we grew up … garments meant to protect us from life’s harsh climate.

But many of those garments are no longer in style.  Some we have outgrown and should have been discarded long ago.  But because they are sewn into the fabric of our being, we continue to wear them, adding additional layers of emotional clothing on top, suffocating the very life force struggling to free us from the prison of our past.

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” — Margaret Meade

Unfortunately, we took our early life lessons at face value and never learned to completely think for ourselves. We entered adulthood believing the boogeyman still lived in the closet and children in countries we’d never heard of would die if we didn’t eat everything on our plates.

Is it any wonder we’ve grown up to be a nation where mental illness and obesity are so prevalent?

But what if we entered each day with no preconceived notions or judgments of what is good or bad or right or wrong?  What if we had no expectations?

What if we put on our grownup pants and simply lived life day by day, absorbing the gifts each moment has to give without spoiling them with expectations of how things should or shouldn’t be?

Would we be better off?  Would we be more fulfilled and enjoy life more if we simply stopped expecting and started living?

Could we miss something we didn’t get if we hadn’t expected to get it?

“You can’t lose something you never had” –                                                                            Kate Hudson, ‘How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days’

Do you miss not having brothers and sisters?

It’s a question I’m often asked when people find out I’m an only child.

But how can I miss something I never had?

Sure, I can imagine what it must be like to have a sibling, or two. But miss it? No, I can’t possibly miss an experience I’ve never had.

It’s like asking a person who is blind from birth if they miss seeing. They have no concept of seeing with their eyes, no reference point by which to judge a visual perception of the world.  So, no, they don’t miss seeing because their reference point doesn’t include sight as we know it.

Let’s take it one step further. What if we eliminated the reference points we use to judge right from wrong?

We use religion as a barometer to keep us “moral.”

What if the 10 Commandments were not meant to be taken literally?

I’m not suggesting we rename them the 10 Suggestions. I am suggesting we expand our understanding of them, and all religious beliefs, to free us, rather than inhibit us.

Ten Commandments aside, many of the religious “laws” we were taught are man-made.

Eating meat on Fridays, for example, meant an eternity of hellfire when I was growing up Catholic in Brooklyn.  I always felt sorry for my Jewish friends who were going to hell because apparently no one had told them that eating a Hebrew National hot dog on Friday meant eternal damnation.

This all started sounding very fishy to me as I began to question religious authority. And had I had the benefit of Google at the time, I would have learned that since it is believed Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross on a Friday, Christians set aside Fridays to unite with Christ’s suffering.

By not eating meat? Oh, please.

I’m not saying we should live life breaking all the rules and thinking only of ourselves as if there weren’t other people on the planet. But how amazing would it be if we lived life as it was meant to be … free of expectations, taking each precious moment and savoring it, sprinkling it with gratitude for the miracle that we are given at the beginning of each new day.

I’m full of questions today. Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers that will work for you.  I only have answers that work for me.

Are you ready for serenity? Release the expectations and judgments that are keeping you grounded and welcome acceptance.

Then watch the magic happen. Peace.

 

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The Fragile Beast …

 

Fragile Beast

Celebrating a Miami Heat NBA Championship

“She’s so fragile,” the basketball coach at St. Ignatius parish in Brooklyn, New York, said to my mom, giving her the best reason she could find as to why the skinny 10-year-old girl who could swish basket after basket from the free throw line and score on layup after layup with the best of them had not made the team.

Apparently, the coach didn’t think I had the cojones to play tough with others.  Scoring points was useless if you didn’t have what it took to take the hits that came with playing on a court with other people.

At that moment, the definition of fragile was born in my mind.  Basketball became a metaphor for life’s bigger picture.

Fragile was when you wanted something badly, but you couldn’t have it.  Fragile was when your gentleness and inability to knock other people down was used against you.  Fragile was when the lessons your parents had taught you about kindness and turning the other cheek collided with a world that didn’t care much for those lessons.

It’s a definition I buried, but one that has influenced every fiber of my being since then.

Fragile was bad, really bad.

Fast forward 50 years later.

In the last six months, this has happened:

I took a nasty fall off my bicycle and ended up with a right wrist swollen to twice its size and pain that well, at least for me, was manageable.  I didn’t see a doctor until about two months later, just to make sure everything was OK. An X-ray revealed that my wrist had been broken, but thanks to icing, elevating, and immobilizing — all things my significant other kept telling me to do — the bone had somehow set itself correctly and healed on its own.

When the doctor and his Physician’s Assistant walked into the examination room after seeing the X-ray, they both looked at me as if I were some kind of freak.  They were shocked that I had been able to withstand the pain that kind of injury inflicted.

I was an anomaly.  A beast, the doctor called me.

A fragile beast, I thought.  I kind of liked the ring that had to it.

So, I got back on my bike and continued my normal routine, conveniently ignoring the nagging pain in both my knees.

Two months ago, I tripped over my own two feet at home, broke four facial bones, and required six stitches to repair the damage.  I was not a pretty sight.  People would steer clear of me as I walked down the grocery store aisles while sporting a black eye and bandaged head to accessorize my outfit du jour.

I was upset.  Not because of the injuries, but because they meant it would be a while before I could ride the new bike I had gotten for Christmas. I was as disappointed as that skinny 10-year-old girl who still lived inside of me had been when she didn’t make the St. Ignatius basketball team.

I’m not 10 anymore, but sometimes I forget.  After all, I’m still fragile.

The facial injuries healed, but the bike was off limits for yet a little while longer.

In the meantime, I decided to get the pain in my knees diagnosed.  X-rays confirmed I had two dislocated knees (Which were probably the result of overtraining on the bike, not the fall at home.) I also had a dislocated shoulder that had most likely been there for a while but had been aggravated by my slip and fall at home.

I was three for three. YAY me! Broken wrist, broken face, dislocated knees and shoulder.  But that didn’t stop me.  I was, after all, a fragile beast!

All this downtime from my normal exercise routine has given me a lot of time to think, to remember people in my life who have influenced me in ways that I hadn’t even realized had made such an impact.

I bet that basketball coach forgot what she said to my mom the moment she said it.  So, why was I still holding on to the negativity I had attached to it?

What labels from the past are you carrying around that are hindering your way as you travel the path of life?  What names did someone call you that you believed at face value and are still today, as a fully functioning adult, allowing to drag you down or keeping you from living the life you want to live?

Today, I thank that basketball coach for denying me a spot on the team and teaching me a lesson it has taken me so many years to finally understand.

Yes, I’m fragile.  We all are.  But I’m not weak.  And neither are you.

 

 

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All A-Twitter

I’ve been in the television news business since dinosaurs (aka, film cameras, paper-based teleprompters and typewriters) roamed newsrooms. 

The buzz for the past couple of years in the television news industry has been all about change.  Television news is losing advertisers and so, news organizations look for ways to increase revenue.  A few years ago, web sites were an afterthought.  Today, web sites and their spawn are challenging traditional methods of newsgathering.

While the change has been gradual, this week the newsroom in which I happen to work, WPLG – Local 10 in South Florida, took a long leap into the future.

It came in the way of Twitter.  If you don’t know about Twitter, you will.  It’s Facebook on acid.  And for some reason, this week, it set the news on fire.

“What’s up with this Twitter all of a sudden?” my friend Bonnie from a Los Angeles news organization asked me?

While most producers and traditional journalists have fought web technology tooth and nail, they are embracing Twitter like flies to a flame.  The newsroom at WPLG this week was all a-twitter with tweets.  And even those who said they would never do it, jumped on the bandwagon and stayed there.

I am the Managing Editor of  http://www.justnews.com, Local 10’s web site.  I love my job.  My friends kid me that I get paid to play on the internet all day.  This week, I came even closer to that job description than ever before.

Attention journalism students and jobseekers … this is the new journalism.

It’s not perfect.  It does tend to dumb down your work and your audience when you have less than 150 words to tell a story.  But think of the possibilities.

During the next few weeks I’ll add to the lessons we’ve learned using Twitter. 

And who knows what’s just around the corner.

Welcome to the new newsroom.  Follow Local 10 at http://www.twitter.com/talkto10.

Follow me at http://www.twitter.com/barbbesteni.

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Nature Laughs

Every morning I begin my day with a reading from God Calling, a small book with inspirational readings that set the pace for the rest of the day.

Sometimes the message is so on target it scares me.

“Nature laughs. Let her have her way with you,” read the message for today.

As I write this, Tropical Storm Fay is scheduled to make a beeline through the Florida Straits to party with the Conchs on Duval Street sometime in the next 24 hours. Tourists are being evacuated and traffic on the Overseas Highway is starting to build.

This is the time of year when any blip in the Atlantic weather satellite sets the local media into a heightened state of awareness that ranges from the responsible to the ridiculous.

A quick perusal through the local media Web sites this morning let me know that in the next 36 hours we’re either going to be fine or we’re all going to die.

As member of the media, I know the truth is somewhere between the extremes.

As journalists, it’s our responsibility to keep you safe and informed, especially during hurricane season. It’s not just about ratings and headlines. Our goal is to serve you in a professional, responsible manner.

But sometimes we fail.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement of having the latest information — and wanting to get it to you as fast as possible — that we end up looking like caricatures of ourselves.

Don’t hold it against us. It’s in our DNA. Breaking news is our Pavlov’s bell.

It’s not just about salivating over an anticipated meal of death, doom and destruction. It’s about having information that could help others — and being blessed with the privilege of sharing that meal with them.

Being the first to deliver that news is just a bonus.

As Managing Editor of a local television Web site, I am blessed with being one of the first to know what’s happening. And I have honor of sharing that information with you.

This isn’t just my job. It’s my mission. But with it comes a great sacrifice.

While you’re preparing to hunker down in your safe room, the journalists and forecasters who gather the information to keep you safe, are preparing to kiss their families goodbye and head to their respective newsrooms to keep you informed, hoping that all the preparations we made will keep our loved one from harm.

It’s a responsibility I accept — just as I accept the calls from family and friends that begin with … “So, tell me, where is the storm really going?”

The truth is, nobody really knows. Forecasting has come a long way since God gave a shout out to Noah and convinced him to build an ark while skeptics laughed.

But if you’ve lived through a hurricane or any natural disaster, you know that Mother Nature will do whatever she wants, regardless of the predictions and forecasts.

If we pretend to know too much, she will laugh.

The best we can do is prepare.

We’re only half way through hurricane season. Are you prepared?

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Thank God For Dry Cleaning

I consider myself a very handy person. I can take on just about any project and enjoy the process of learning by doing. I particularly love the sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering a new skill.

Recently, for example, all three toilets in my house got together and decided to practice harmonizing The Ode to Leaky Toilet. It’s something that happens at least once a year. And every year I pay a plumber a gazillion dollars to silence the symphony.

This year, I decided to tackle the project myself. I Googled ‘leaky toilet,’ watched two very detailed video clips and was confident I could proceed. A trip to Home Depot and about an hour later, my toilets’ singing career was over.

You can ask me to do just about anything and I will give it a shot. It’s a skill I picked up from my mom. Nothing intimidates me. I can balance the pool chemicals, build a cabinet and set up a secure internet network while I barbecue steaks to medium rare perfection on the grill.

But there’s one thing that you can ask me to do that will send me running under the bed like a scared dog on the Fourth of July.

Can you iron this for me? To me, that request is identical to the sound of fingernails scratching on a blackboard.

I know it sounds silly, but I don’t do ironing.

I can starch, press and hang a blouse on a hanger until the ironing board begs for mercy. But somehow during the long trip from the laundry room to my closet, the blouse shrivels up like a raisin ready for a rendezvous with bran.

Don’t even get me started on linen — that wrinkle-loving material that looks great until you decide to put it on something other than a store mannequin.

I don’t hate ironing. Ironing hates me. Even the smiling ironing instructor on the internet video showing me how to iron a blouse stares at me with a patronizing look that says, “Look, who are you kidding? You’re never going to get this right.”

Years ago a friend who was visiting me from out of town asked me where I kept my iron and ironing board so she could iron a pair of pants. Being a good hostess, I decided to iron them for her. I finished the job, laid the freshly-pressed pants on the bed, ready to accept her thanks and praise.

Instead, she took one look at the pants, said it was sweet of me to get them out of the suitcase and without missing a beat, went downstairs to iron them!

It’s not that I don’t try. It’s just that the more I try, the worse it gets. And that’s when I seek the services of a professional.

There’s a fine line between being handy and being hard-headed.

Paying for dry cleaning services for wrinkle-free clothes isn’t accepting defeat, it is accepting reality. I don’t iron and that’s OK.

If something is going to take too long or cost too much money to do, then I don’t mind paying a professional to do it.

That leaves me time for more fun things — like walking past one of my bathrooms and listening to the sound of … silence.

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Karpe Diem

Opportunity can come at any time in our lives and when it does, we must be prepared to seize the moment.

Nothing – not race, economic class, or age – especially age — can hold it back. What is meant to be, will be but in its own timeframe.

It’s a lesson that became perfectly clear to me during my recent trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a coast that was nearly obliterated by Hurricane Katrina two years ago.

As readers of this column may recall, I have family in Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Miss., Katrina’s Ground Zero. This was my second trip back since the storm.

Despite having been raised in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, NY, miles and light years away from jambalaya, red beans and rice and crawfish jumbo, I have a particular affinity to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. I admit, the food has something to do with it, but mostly it’s about the people and the pace at which they live their lives.

Even after Katrina, when New Orleans got all the attention, the people of Waveland, Bay St. Louis and the surrounding towns, the towns that suffered most but the media forgot, picked up their tools and went about the business of rebuilding.

Two years later, while New Orleans continues to complain, Katrina’s forgotten people are well on their way to recovery. The landscape where their homes once stood may have been reduced to rubble, but nothing – not even a Category 5 hurricane – could rattle the foundations upon which those towns were built.

During my most recent trip, I met an amazing woman named Mary Margaret. She is one of the most positive people I have met in my life and she clearly embodies the spirit of the people of the Gulf Coast.

In a cosmic accident that still brings a smile to my face, she sat down next to me during a gathering at the home of one of my aunts and spilled a freshly-filled glass of Coke on my lap. We made an instant connection.

As often happens, the subject of Katrina came up. “Katrina was a blessing,” she said.

It turns out that for years Mary Margaret had been a writer, but her work had never been published. That very same week, her first book was set to go into its first printing.

“I keep a daily journal which I did faithfully after the storm,” she said.

Right after Katrina, a neighbor got a hold of her journal, sent it to a publisher and just like that, a published author was born. The book is called “My Soul Starts with Katrina.”

“The book will soon be available for pre-sale in Barnes & Noble,” she told me matter-of-factly.

But Mary Margaret isn’t going to sit on her laurels.

“I’m planning on getting another book of poetry out soon,” she said.

Did I mention Mary Margaret is 81 years old?

Opportunity cannot be stopped, but neither can it be rushed.

Be vigilant. Be ready to grab it when it arrives, because opportunity waits for no one.

Are you ready to seize your moment when it arrives?

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Be Present

If life were a game of Jeopardy and the answer was “Live in the moment,” the correct question would be: What is the secret to enjoying life to fullest?

Everyone from priests to therapists urge us to, “Be Mindful,” “Enjoy the Process,” and be present to whatever it is we’re doing instead of rushing around mindlessly checking things off our to do lists without taking time to enjoy the things themselves.

It’s advice I was able to put to good use during the past few months as my family and I prepared to celebrate my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. As an only child, the responsibility to plan and execute the event fell squarely on my shoulders. It’s a responsibility I considered a privilege.

If ever there’s a time to enjoy the process, it’s when you take a year of your life and use it to plan a four-hour event.

Thankfully, I had someone by my side the entire way to organize what had to be done and see to it that I didn’t go through the process alone. Yet, when things got out of control, my first inclination was to do more.

For instance, I wanted to produce a photo montage set to music, that included pictures of everyone in attendance. The plan was to show the DVD right after the cocktail hour. It was a way to make our guests feel welcome and show them how much we appreciated them sharing the day with us. In order to do this, I asked everyone on the guest list to e-mail me their picture. Most people quickly complied with the request. Others came up with excuses ranging from “I don’t have any pictures of myself,” to “My pictures are locked up in a box that I can’t get to.”

“Enjoy the process,” I reminded myself.

Despite the pitfalls, I was able to gather the photos and put the final touches on the video with three hours to spare. When we played the DVD at the party, you could cut the emotions with a knife.

Some people cried, some cheered. And I silently sat back and realized it had all been worth it. Not only was the payoff great, but knowing how difficult it had been to get to that moment, and having been mindful through the difficulties, made the results that much sweeter.

I can honestly say that not once did the words, “I wish it was August 26th” — the day AFTER the party — ever leave my mouth during the months of planning. Each time the thought would sneak into my head, the small, still voice inside my heart reminded me that enjoying the process was many times more valuable than the outcome.

As expected, the party went by at lightning speed. Some things didn’t go according to plan. But at the end of the day, everyone had a great time. And I will be eternally grateful that I took the time to enjoy the craziness of the year that went into planning it.

Thanks to being fully present during those moments of madness, the party will live in my heart forever.

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