On a 2016 Season of Lights

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A candle is a small thing.
But one candle can light another.
And see how its own light increases, as a candle gives its flame to the other.
You are such a light.
Moshe Davis and Victor Ratner

Interfaith graphic by Justice St. Rain (Bahá’í Community) of Interfaith Resources

Interfaith graphic by Justice St. Rain (Bahá’í Community) of Interfaith Resources

Such a short poem, yet so profound in many ways … and even better in the season of the lights. On the religious side of 2016, Christians and Jews have celebrations on December 24th – Christmas Eve and the first day of Hanukkah. Three days earlier was another day that provides spirituality for many – the Winter Solstice. Toss in the fact that Christmas also serves as a secular celebration for many, these days impact many.

To me, Santa Claus is a symbol that crosses all cultures – all people – simply because he is the symbol of goodness. After all, goodness across the world as it transcends religions, languages, cultures, skin colors, gender, ages, sexual orientations, and even politics.

As my regulars know well, I enjoy using videos in many of my posts. In the spirit of Santa’s goodness, thank you for all the joys you give me through your interaction here and for your posts. Even through all the craziness in the world, the good feed off each other.

Enjoy any or all of the music selections of the season that are below … but I appreciate knowing which you enjoyed … so stay as long as you wish.

For all who find peace and renewal through the Winter Solstice.

For all finding the light shining bright through the night.

For all who appreciate the music of the season done a different way A few weeks ago we heard – Little Drummer Boy done to the rhythms of Ravel’s Bolero.

For the many regulars here who enjoy The Piano Guys … (I had to include them.)

For all who appreciate the music of other cultures (This one has stuck with me ever since I saw this in person many years ago).

For the fans of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who meld their words with the beauty of Pachelbel’s Canon.

For all who find awe and wonder in deep space with this classic.

For all attracted to one of the most beautiful natural lights of the season – the Aurora Borealis – and set to my favorite version of a classic tune of the season.

Whether it be Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Christmas, Happy Holidays or whatever greeting you prefer, I issue a greeting of your choosing for the season … plus Peace and Joy to all!

On Humanity

RLHumanity

“Burger” on trumpet with his band, TBC, at a second line on St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans

The majority of the world is good – I’ve written those words on past posts here because I believe it. Even when the news constantly reminds us about all the evil, I continue to believe the majority of the world is good.

Humanity is a term that refers to all of us. All … not all with a but or except … simply all. Regardless of skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, location or any other qualifier or disqualifier, humanity includes the characteristics human beings have in common.

Acceptance
The greatest gift that you can give to others is the gift of unconditional love and acceptance. (Brian Tracy, author)

RLAcceptance

Men in support of the Lady Buckjumpers second line in Central City, New Orleans

Compassion
Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love. (Stevie Wonder, musician)

RLCompassion

Sammy Eubanks comforts his wife Corrie after he was notified that his band did not win the blues competition in Memphis, TN

Cooperation
The requirements for our evolution have changed. Survival is no longer sufficient. Our evolution now requires us to develop spiritually – to become emotionally aware and make responsible choices. It requires us to align ourselves with the values of the soul – harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for life. (Gary Zukav, author)

RLCooperation

Members of The Stooges brass band rehearse prior to a second line in Central City, New Orleans

Goodness
Goodness is about character – integrity, honesty, kindness, generosity, moral courage, and the like. More than anything else, it is about how we treat other people. (Dennis Prager, journalist)

RLGoodness

Three generations of Mardi Gras Indian queens on the most important of all nights — St. Joesph’s Night — in Central City, New Orleans

Humility
Humility, that low, sweet root, from which all heavenly virtues shoot. (Thomas Moore, poet)

A discussing of who to trust on the street, which is basically nobody. La salle Street, Central City, New Orleans

Mr. Otis gives me a little advice about life on the street in Central City, New Orleans

Integrity
Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. (Oprah Winfrey, entertainer)

RLIntegrity

Coming out in Treme – the neighborhood, not the HBO series

Kindness
A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. (William Arthur Ward, writer)

One Giant Smile.

Sometimes we celebrate. The world’s biggest smile at Uncle Lionel’s Jazz Funeral in Treme, New Orleans

Love
Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses. (Ann Landers, journalist)

RLLove

Two second line walkers greet each other in Central, New Orleans

Patience
Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting. (Joyce Meyer, author)

RLPatience

Taking pictures requires a little patience at Mardi Gras, Uptown, New Orleans

Respect
I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being. (Jackie Robinson, athlete)

Respect is what we owe; love, what we give. (Philip James Bailey, poet)

RLRespect

Mardi Gras Indians greet the elders during Downtown Super Sunday, 7th Ward, New Orleans

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Ray Laskowitz is a photographer in New Orleans. I can’t recall how we found each other, but I find his photos capture many aspects of humanity. Fittingly, he describes his blog as “about pictures and their backstories.” My experience told me he is the perfect artist for this collaborative endeavor. I gathered the text, then he supplied the images.

I encourage everyone to visit Ray’s blog for his stories and his website to see his photos, where images are available for purchase. I’ve invite Ray to respond to comments when he can, so feel free to ask him questions.

All photos are copyrighted by Ray Laskowitz @ Laskowitz Pictures

On an Inspiring Edit

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When I started volunteering at the English Second Language (ESL) class, I didn’t know what to expect: I didn’t know the teacher or any of the students. I didn’t know how the class worked, and I certainly don’t know the language of an English teacher. On the first day, seeing the international group gathered in one place for the same goal made me smile … after all, the majority of the world is good … but the uncertainty remained – including how the students would react to me.

Like any first impression, I formed mine by watching and listening to the students. The fact that their personalities occupied a wide spectrum shouldn’t surprise anyone. I don’t recall Lisa, (a young au pair from France) attending on my first day, but I recall that my initial impressions of her included impersonal, quiet, cold, guarded, and a touch of arrogance.

I knew better than trying to crack her personal barrier, so I did what I do with every student – focus on the task at hand while being personable, respectful, and welcoming. We conversed several times because I had worked with the young lady she sits beside – another French au pair. Watching Lisa have a good time at the Christmas white-elephant gift party provided a glimpse into her warmer side. Eventually we worked together, and all went well.

The teacher promotes publishing opportunities for the students – and some participate. This particular volunteer day happened to be the submission deadline, so the teacher asked me to meet with Lisa with the objective of editing and fine-tuning Lisa’s poem and story.

We went to a workspace outside the classroom, then started with her 19-line poem – which (unlike the story) I had read. She immediately apologized for its darkness, but I reassured her that my role was to improve her poem by bringing clarity to future readers – therefore not making personal judgments. Her English is good, and she’s been in the US more than a year – so her strong writing didn’t surprise me.

As we discussed her poem, Lisa responded to my questions from her heart – after all, the poem was about her. By elaborating her intent, she made my task easy. Not only did I learn more about her, she told me that she was happy when I was the one working with her because of the different people she encounters in class, I was the one she trusted the most … which surprised me because we hadn’t worked that much together, and I attend only once a week.

Her comment may have shocked me, but I was unquestionably grateful. In general, my steady temperament keeps my outward emotions in check. Whereas I’m not be overly emotionally, the sensitivity button within my core can be activated – and that would bring emotions to the surface … and yes .. Lisa triggered that button.

I told her that her comments were a gift from her to me, which (in turn), surprised and confused her … but she didn’t know about the emotional swell that was going on within me – my emotions of her journey coupled with the her kind words to me.

Being me, I returned to the task of providing comments and suggestions for her poem … then we moved on to the story: a one-page narrative about her France-to-Cincinnati journey … but unknown to the other, each of our emotions were now on heightened alert.

I kept asking questions and providing suggestions while Lisa continued being sincere, open and vulnerable. Although we were on the story, I was fusing the thoughts from the poem, the story, and her explanations. She was reaching deep within herself in these writings, and her explanations were from her inner abyss – something I never intended to do.

I asked, “Are you selfish?” … to which she quickly and emphatically responded, “Yes!” … and even saying it with a smile. We laughed, and our work continued. As we talked, the laughs and calmness eventually changed to tears in her eyes … and in time, my eyes welled.

Not only around the thought of the unexpected gift, but I was also reflecting on various aspects of my life – my trials – my tribulations – my baggage that I placed on my shoulders – and the baggage that others placed upon me. Now, I was the one explaining some of the feelings she caused me to bring out – and yes – I told Lisa about the gift she gave me – and she smiled.

We finished the edit. Being that both of us had our moments of watery eyes, we engaged in some small talk in order to regain our composure. We returned to the classroom to discover the students were gone – class was over. We informed the teacher of our accomplishments, and Lisa promised the teacher she would do her final edits and resubmit the work later in the afternoon.

While walking to my car, I reflected about the unexpected gift and my emotions. This time, without tears, but with a smile, and warmth in my core. I had a special moment with a person that I initially thought was impersonal, quiet, cold, guarded, and arrogant. For whatever reason, she let her guard down to me. We respectfully connected, and she reinforced my notion that the majority of the world is good. That’s a good day by my standards, but on this day, I got quite the unexpected special moment on a special day – my birthday.

Merci beaucoup, Lisa! … and peace and happiness to you in all your days ahead.

StudentGift

“Eyes Never Fake a Smile” …I left teaching almost 15 years ago, so it’s been awhile since I’ve been surprised in this manner. After class the following week, Lisa gave me this art that she created as a thank you gift, plus a personalized note and a few French cookies. Although the cookies didn’t make it home, this now serves as a reminder of a very good day.

On the aFa U.N.

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I have written the following words on these pages on more than one occasion – The majority of the world is good.

I believe it. Even though the daily news across the world challenges that thought, I still believe it.

Think of all the conflicts across the globe centering on race, gender, religion, and ethnicity … yet, I still believe that the majority of the world is good.

Think of the areas with armed conflicts at the moment: Syria, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Iraq, Niger, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Mexico, Ukraine, Central African Republic, Yemen, Myanmar, Burundi, and more … yet, I still believe that the majority of the world is good.

Think of the current challenges between groups as Sunnis and Shiites, Christians and non-Christians, Catholics and Protestants, Whites and Blacks, Males and Females, Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, the rich and the poor, and more … yet, I still believe that the majority of the world is good.

Many, if not all, of the conflicts above center on power, greed, selfishness and getting people to conform to the ideals of others … yet, I still believe that the majority of the world is good.

My belief in humanity because of the interactions that I’ve encountered. I think of my dance friends from Vietnam, Lebanon, China, Guatemala, Romania, Ukraine, and the United States. They ground my hope in humanity and that the majority of the world is good.

I think of my English Second Language (ESL) students that I help from China, Mexico, Guatemala, Syria, Senegal, Italy, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Vietnam, France, Poland, Kuwait, Germany, Japan, Mauritania, Russia, and the United States. They strengthen my hope in humanity and that the majority of the world is good.

I think of the many bloggers who have participated on these pages from Canada, UK, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, South Africa, Argentina, Malaysia, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Italy, India, Philippines, Indonesia, Finland, Norway, France, Lithuania, Ecuador, Pakistan, Ireland, United States, and others. They help fortify my hope in humanity and that the majority of the world is good.

I think of the many nice people I’ve encountered in Italy, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, Russia, Portugal, Canada, Croatia, various Caribbean islands, and across the United States. They reinforce my hope in humanity and that the majority of the world is good.

It’s all these people demonstrate the goodness of humanity … and it’s these people who would make a wonderful United Nations.

On Good and Goodness – 2014

Good – an adjective, noun, or adverb – and this is the season of goodness.

Good is a word that transcends the globe in many languages and customs. Through a smile, music, a dance, and many other ways, good touches all and has a way to communicate across language barriers. Do you remember Matt?

Good – a desire or approval … as in living in peace with each other

Good – as in pleasing and welcoming

Good – kind, kindhearted, good-hearted, thoughtful, generous, charitable, magnanimous, gracious

Good – as in showing kindness and respect

Good – something produced for use by others

Good – as in appropriate, fitting, and adherence

Good – meaning valid, valued, treasured

Good – a quality emphasizing the best, finest, and nicest – or considerable, sizable, substantial, appreciable, and significant

Good – displaying or possessing a virtuous moral value – thus virtuous, righteous, upright, upstanding, moral, ethical, high-minded, and principled

Good – respectful, well-behaved, obedient, dutiful, polite, courteous, moral, righteous, and with integrity, virtue, and goodness

Good – referring to the positive qualities of a group of people

We need to reach that happy stage of our development when differences and diversity are not seen as sources of division and distrust, but of strength and inspiration. (Josefa Iloilo)

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness. (Dalai Lama)

Goodness is the only investment that never fails. (Henry David Thoreau)

Dream that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion. (Desmond Tutu)

I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others. (Muhammad Ali)

Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it. (Pablo Casals)

I keep up enough with news to know that the world is not lacking bad news. Whether wars, human strife, harm, or killings, many of events are based on culture, religion, politics, race,and quest of power for imposing one set of values while stifling others. Nonetheless, my belief in humanity remains steady.

Interfaith graphic by Justice St. Rain (Bahá’í Community) of Interfaith Resources

Interfaith graphic by Justice St. Rain (Bahá’í Community) of Interfaith Resources

Even with all the bad news, I remain convinced that the majority of the world is good. After all, these are people who go about their daily life, and communicate across languages with smiles, dance, music, kindness, and acceptance … and yes, the bloggers at WordPress that I encounter also serve as ambassadors of humanity’s goodness – thus supporting my belief.

Yes, it’s the Christmas season, which is an important occasion for we Christians .. and festive time emphasizing good. However, goodness is a quality continually exhibited many Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, secular humanists, atheists, agnostics, and many other religions throughout the world … so to me, Santa Claus is a figure of good that transcends all cultures – thus not bound to Christianity.

In the spirit of Santa’s goodness, thank you for all the joys you regularly deliver to me. Yes, you are good. Happy Holidays to everyone … and to my Christian friends, a blessed Christmas to you!

But, one question … Which of the musical and visual gifts in this post did you enjoy?