Is It Any Wonder, Stevie?

StevieWonderIs it any wonder that a blind man can show others how to open their eyes and see the world with compassion, joy and love? Acclaimed songwriter, singer and 22-time Grammy Award winner Stevie Wonder was honored recently for his musical genius spanning more than five decades. His messages of acceptance, understanding and love have taught generations to face inequality, injustice and indignity with unified strength and grace.

His honest interpretation of the world as he saw it encouraged people of color to stand up and let their voices be heard. To the audience of privilege and perfection, he exposed them to the reality of life in the city for the poor, the forgotten and the invisible. His music range, as a solo artist, is unparalleled. He wrote openly of indifference. He wrote of political action and justice. He wrote so eloquently of love, birth and renewal. He wrote songs of hope, light and possibilities.

I remember watching “Little Stevie Wonder” perform Fingertips on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was growing up. His passion for the music, his gyrations to the crisp notes flying from his harmonica made me stop and notice. He was just two years older than me, and already a force to be reckoned with. Nothing stopped him from sharing his musical messages with the masses. He remains one of the most beloved artists – and greatest crossover artists – of all time.

My husband, Mark, and I have shared a love of Stevie Wonder’s music over the decades of our relationship. To this day, Ribbon in the Sky remains my all-time favorite. Mark’s favorite (and he requests it at every event we attend that has a DJ) is Superstition. When we finished watching the CBS-TV broadcast on Monday night, I turned to Mark and said, “We need to play Stevie Wonder’s music more often!” He nodded in agreement.

There are so many lessons we can learn from Stevie Wonder. For me, the greatest lesson he has demonstrated: Lead by example. He is a man who has remained authentic throughout his entire life. He has shared his vision of a peaceful planet with millions of people around the world. He remains an inspiration to us all and a cherished national – and international – treasure. Rock on, Stevie!


In Angelou There Was an Angel

MayaAngelouThe world is still mourning the loss of the humanitarian and inspirational leader Maya Angelou. Some might say she had too much talent for one person, for one lifetime, yet she wore each with uncompromising grace and dignity: social activist, author, poet, actress, dancer and advocate, an eloquent elocutionist, whose words mesmerized and delighted. While her commanding presence filled any space with resonant sound, she remained humble and one of us. She invited us to sit at the table and enjoy open dialogue and debate.

Maya Angelou’s inimitable, expressive voice accompanied me on a long business trip to Indiana a number of years ago. I felt like I had a friend along for the ride as I listened to Hallelujah! The Welcome Table. Through my own laughter and tears, she made the trip go by quickly. Her lived experience taught many lessons. While this international treasure is gone, her words and her voice will live on forever, inspiring and motivating people to live their lives to the fullest, to stand up for what they believe in and let their voices be heard.

As a tribute to one of the most influential role models in my life and in the lives of millions of others, I offer this simple tribute to the great Maya Angelou:

MotherSisterFriend to all whose lives she touched, across the miles and around the globe, she reminded us of the importance of compassion, joy and hope.

Angel on earth – it’s in her name – she embodied a heavenly spirit with words offering a protected, safe haven from life’s struggles.

Youthful enthusiasm for life, no matter what age she was, she looked to each day as a gift.

Abundant Acceptance of all people, regardless of age, nationality, gender, race, social status, income level, education or orientation.

Advocate for society’s nameless, faceless and voiceless; she recognized their plight and encouraged their voices to be heard.

Nurturing spirit, she guided us through the peaks and valleys of our lives and offered us an oasis of food for thought.

Grace, amazing, was her true essence, through which her every experience, revelation and celebration was revealed.

Eloquent words – volumes – embraced us and drew us into her comforting bosom for quiet reflection, a respite from busy or troubled lives.

Love and Light emanated from her soul, making people feel like they were worthy of loving themselves and also of being loved and valued.

Optimist for possibilities and potential, she rose above life’s burdens to reveal the strength and tenacity of the human spirit.

United Nations embodied in one person, Maya Angelou represented the collective conscience of our global society.

May her light continue to shine in each and every one of us.

Beauty: Still In the Eye of the Beholder

This past weekend, I took my 93-year-old mother, who is an artist, to see artist, poet and former actress Kim Novak at a special public appearance at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. Ms. Novak’s gentle spirit, both on the screen and off, is beautifully portrayed today through her exquisite artwork and poetry. Her inner light shines brightly. She graciously posed for photographs with admiring fans and stopped to give autographs. She stood the entire time, despite her age…81.


My Mom and Kim Novak

As I read her biography, I was inspired by the number of obstacles that she has overcome in her life and her tenacity to adjust and move forward. Two fires destroyed most of her artwork and a nearly complete book manuscript. A diagnosis several decades ago revealed bipolar disorder. Through it all, she adjusted and rebuilt. As I listened to fans talk about her, I heard one consistent message: “She is just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.” Hearing those comments reminded me of the recent bullying attacks of Donald Trump, the media and the American public about Novak’s recent appearance on the Oscars. Society’s overzealous obsession with beauty and vanity were revealed through nasty social media posts, mostly about Novak’s face. Kim Novak fought back, sending a strong message to Trump and others: Stop bullying. I applaud her for her strength of character.

If more people looked at a person’s true beauty – what they see on the inside and how that person makes them feel – they would understand that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. When you see things only at face value, you miss so much more.

After shaking Kim Novak’s hand and receiving her autograph, my mother smiled exuberantly and began singing “Heaven…I’m in heaven…” Artist to artist, actress to actress, mature woman to mature woman, these two strangers showed to each other mutual respect and admiration. And what a beautiful thing it was to behold.

How can you see the true beauty in others? The answer: Get to know people for who they are on the inside and take the time to understand their story.

Olympic Lessons Are Plentiful

olympic-rings-cool2I admit it…my 2014 Winter Olympics withdrawal is in full swing. Seventeen glorious days of winter sports events, full of pageantry, anticipation, victory and defeat. With every viewing came a lesson. Here are a few:

Silver is just as exciting as gold. US skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace leapt into her husband’s arms with a radiant smile, shouting, “We did it! We did it!” She enthusiastically and proudly accepted a silver medal. She raced for her family, and this was her final Olympic competition. Often times athletes are disappointed to receive a silver or bronze. In this case, Pikus-Pace demonstrated a positive spirit and true grace as a medal winner.

Even a ponytail can Tweet. US figure skater Jason Brown, who dons a neatly coiffed ponytail, created a Twitter account…for his ponytail, some call a bronytail, reporting news and events from Sochi. A brilliant marketing move. If you are afraid to use social media, this proves that if a ponytail can do it, so can you!

Every hero has a hero. Canadian mogul skier Alex Bilodeau won the gold for Canada and for his older brother, Frederic, who has Cerebral Palsy. “He is my hero,” Alex says of his big brother. As Alex crossed the finish line, it was hard to tell who was more excited about the victory – Alex or Frederic. Alex won back-to-back gold in this Olympic freestyle sport.

Patience is the greatest virtue. Paired for 17 years, US ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White gracefully and elegantly grabbed the gold, reminding us that all important goals in life are worth the wait. And speaking of waiting, let’s include two extremely patient and proud mothers.

When you fall, get up and keep going. When US figure skater Jeremy Abbott fell and crashed into the wall of the ice rink, the audience gasped, expecting him to limp off the ice. Instead, he slowly stood up, regained his composure and finished skating an otherwise flawless program. That’s class and determination.

Community trumps adversity. With the negative hype leading up to and surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the athletes in Olympic Village proved that despite differences, people of various cultures and backgrounds can get along. And they did. Isn’t that what the phrase “Olympic spirit” means?

As you watch the upcoming Olympics – the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil or the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea – watch not just for the victories and defeats; look for the important lessons that spur you on as you compete in this wonderful game called life.

Photo credit:


Look Up and Around…and Connect

CloudsBlueAs my friend, Marty, prepared for her first trip to Africa recently, she expressed both excitement and a little anxiety. “What advice do you have for me?” she asked. My response required no thinking because it came from the heart. “Look up,” I said. You see, the night sky in Africa looks quite different than it does in Kansas City, where Marty lives.

I recalled two stand-out memories from my travels. The first was seeing the night sky of Bali in Indonesia’s Archipelago, with vast stars and constellations that I could only see there. The second was viewing the Milky Way while visiting Arizona. Since I live so close to the Great Lakes, the Milky Way is not visible from my home in Ohio.

I told Marty that her primary role as a traveler was that of observer, to be fully present in the moment and enjoy a more engaging sensory experience.

Leading an active, productive life, you may often find yourself immersed in work, errands, appointments and meetings, squeezing as many tasks into one day as is humanly possible. Yet, when you take the time to observe from every perspective — up, down and around, you will have a completely different experience because you are open to a deeper connection.

What is right in front of you that you are not seeing? What are you observing in  your day? In your life? Are you taking the time to look up and see everything with fresh eyes?