Eleven.

Today, I have a familiar craving for rocky road ice cream.  The same craving I have had every year, on this day, for the last eleven years.  On September 11, 2001 – and the days following – I ate a lot of it.  So did my roommate, Rachel.  We were college students, just beginning our junior year at the University of Southern California, when the planes hit the towers.  We were in shock, depressed, hopeless, and we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the news.  So other than attending the occasional class (which, in the days following 9/11, were really more like group therapy sessions than anything academic), we holed up in our apartment and ate ice cream.

I’m hard-pressed to remember a lot of specifics from that stretch of time 11 years ago.  I remember on the morning of 9/11, I called in sick to my PR internship on the 25th floor of a tower on L.A.’s Miracle Mile – only to find out they sent everyone home anyway for fear that Los Angeles would soon be under attack.  I remember Rachel waking me up, crying, telling me to turn on the news and not to leave the house.  I remember, dizzy with a head cold, turning on the T.V. and thinking I was dreaming.  I remember calling our best friend, Kate, who was on a study abroad program in Australia and desperate to come home.  I remember sleepwalking through my classes, and getting into a fight with my theater professor because I couldn’t bring myself to read plays that I was supposed to.  I remember lighting candles, and buying an American flag from a vendor on a freeway off ramp and putting it on my car.  I remember attending a vigil in front of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles among thousands of other people who were just like us:  helpless, confused, struggling to come to terms with what had happened, but desperate to connect and to find a sense of community in our grief.

My story isn’t like a lot of the stories you hear about September 11th.  It’s not a story of survival or a story of incredible loss.  In a lot of ways, it’s pretty unremarkable.  When 9/11 happened, I was just a girl in the process of becoming a woman, when the world got turned upside down.

In the years since that terrible day, there have been many defining moments that have carved our young millennium and have shaped and shaken my adult life:  the Iraq war; Hurricane Katrina; the global financial meltdown and the Great Recession; the explosion of social media; the Arab Spring; the election of Barack Obama.

But before all of these things, there was 9/11.  An event, that, for all of its horror, also left upon me an indelible impression of the magic that can happen when good comes out of bad, when hope comes out of tragedy.  In the days that followed 9/11, I will never, ever forget the overwhelming sense of community, the sense of national pride, the compassion, the kindness I experienced from complete strangers.  I haven’t seen anything like it before or since in my lifetime, and I fear I never will again.

How is it that we end up here – eleven short years later – so terribly polarized, so contentious, so bitter and full of hate, so unwilling to empathize with each other and unwilling to work together and compromise to solve the problems that our nation faces?  How quickly we forget that we were once all in this together.

Today, as we mark another anniversary of the terrible tragedy of 9/11, I hope, I pray, that we are also reminded of this simple truth:  that life is fragile, that it’s beautiful, and that our worlds can be turned upside down in an instant.  Why not spend the time we have left being a little bit kinder to one another?

And eating plenty of ice cream.

Until next time, friends.

Passion.

I’ve always been enthralled by politics.  While (at least, to me) all elections hold a certain allure, nothing quite touches the excitement I experience every four years during a Presidential campaign.  I grudgingly put up with the negative campaigning and the partisan bickering and the barrage of mean-spirited ads, but what really gets me going is the convention.  At the risk of getting too political, I’m talking specifically about the DNC.  Yes, I am a Democrat.  My party, my people, my platform.  And seeing all of my favorite politicos in one spot over a three-day span makes me giddy all over.  I promise, that is as partisan as this post is going to get, O.K.?

Because this blog post really isn’t about politics, it’s about passion.  Passion is why I love the convention.  Not the pomp and circumstance or the gallons of confetti pouring from the ceiling.  Passion is the thing.

The best political speeches are infused with it.  Gifted orators on stage not just trying to move your mind (or more likely, solidify it, since they’re with their own crowd), but win your heart.  They talk about overcoming adversity; about the sacrifices their parents or grandparents made to help them get where they are today; about the better world they want to leave behind for their kids.

They tell stories of hope, of optimism, or survival, of triumph, all wrapped up in the American dream.  And for those three days, I choose to put cynicism aside and believe that the cause and the candidate they’re championing is something they passionately believe in.  And I allow myself to dream, too.  For me, political conventions are passion fests.

Truth be told, we could use a little more passion in the world.  Particularly in a town like Los Angeles, where people wear their too-cool, disaffectedness like a badge of honor.  Sometimes it seems that people are so busy trying to fit a certain image of what they think other people want them to be – trying to be ‘unique’ and stand out,  trying too hard to be liked/loved/adored, trying too hard to impress – that it all melds together in a depressing mix of fakery and disconnectedness.

I don’t mean to bag on the town that has been my home since I was 18 years old.  But I guess you can take the girl out of the Pacific Northwest but you’ll never take it out of her because I still desperately crave that warmth, and kindness and humanity and genuineness that I find everywhere there and so scarcely here.  The number of people I encounter on a daily basis sleepwalking through their goddamn lives being noncommittal and too cool and aloof and claiming to love their art, but not doing anything to back it up other than criticizing and tearing down other people  . . . it just makes me want to scream.

It’s because I detest apathy.  Mostly because I don’t believe it.  It’s a cover.  If I don’t try very hard or I pretend like I don’t really care about something, then I won’t be invested in the outcome and I won’t be disappointed or feel like a failure when the thing I really want doesn’t happen.  Apathy is much easier.  It’s easier to shrug your shoulders and be dismissive of your own heart’s desire, rather than admit what you really want out of life and then do everything you can, passionately, to try to live that way.

Apathy is a goddamn lie.  Of course we care.  We care a great deal.  If we didn’t care about anything, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.

So what is it?  What is it?  What is the thing that lights you from the inside, that gets you up in the morning, that steals your focus when you’re working on some boring, mundane task that you’d rather not be doing?

I’m asking you (more like begging you) to make like those politicos at tonight’s convention and speak your passion.  Live it.  For god’s sake, believe in something.  Be an advocate.  Be a champion.  Care too much.  Wear your heart on your sleeve.

Because passion is contagious.  Impassioned people change the people they’re around.  They change the world.  They change the shape of history.

Not one person ever achieved greatness through indifference.

Until next time, friends

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