A New View on Patriotism

I don’t like to go on Facebook anymore.

I don’t like to watch TV much either, in case the news comes on after whatever show I was peripherally interested in. Honestly, I have been making an active effort to avoid engaging politically in all facets of my life. While there are quite a few things happening in our government that make me uneasy, it is particularly disenchanting to see how the negativity has seeped into the day-to-day conversations between family, friends, and acquaintances.

As time has passed, people on my social feeds have become more firmly set in their views to the point where they feel the need to make their point of view known, even when it is not needed. It is discouraging to me, as a young adult, to feel that:

A.) I recognize so much wrong with my country and how it operates.

B.) That there are very few avenues for me to enact change.

C.) That many people seem, at least publically, disinterested in working together towards positive change.

I struggled to reconcile the idea of “being patriotic” and disagreeing with my country’s leadership so fervently.

This intentional/unintentional disconnect from paying regular attention to the political sphere helped in some ways. It was too easy to get caught up in negativity while sifting through it all every day. However, it has also had the unfortunate side effect of deterring me from making positive ripples and impacts in important conversations. I have no longer been playing an active role in conversations where I could potentially be making small positive differences. I had the opportunity to reflect recently on many of the small positives in my life. In my reflections, I keep coming back to 3 people I met in the past few months who helped me to re-engage.

The first was an Uber driver in Philadelphia. As is typical in Ubers (for me anyway), I struck up a conversation. I asked, eventually, where he was from originally. He told me “I came here from Nigeria because I wanted to make a better life.” It struck me there, that the classic “USA”, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps story still exists. Maybe it isn’t as pretty as I let myself start to believe, but here it was right in front of me.

We talked further and I asked what his favorite part of being in the United States was. He told me: “I finally feel like I have a chance to be safe and happy. I am amazed by people here. They don’t realize how good they have it. I want to tell all the people who are not happy that this is a happy place – much happier than most places in the world. I laugh when people are upset all the time because they just don’t see how good it is.”

He was a wonderful person. He forced me, intentionally/unintentionally to connect.

It allowed me to reflect on how much happiness I take for granted. Here I am being frumpy about the world around me when I just got married, promoted, and moved into a new house. I have no excuse for all of this negative energy. Even as we talk about how good we have it, I don’t know that we truly realize how positive an experience we have in our country.

Shortly after this experience, I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica on my honeymoon. The first person we met there was, coincidentally, another driver. This man was taking us from the airport to the hotel, and as I highlighted earlier, I apparently can’t resist a good 15-minute conversation on the road. He knew almost no English, but he repeatedly wanted to assure that we knew one thing about Costa Rica. “Pura Vida”. My limited knowledge of the Spanish language restricts my understanding of the statement, but I’ve gathered it is similar to “Hakuna Matata”.

He went on to describe, though, that everything around us was “Pura Vida”. The van was Pura Vida, the mountains were Pura Vida, even the traffic was Pura Vida. He had a true devotion to the idea. He loved, simply, living. It is deeper than simply not worrying. It felt more to me that things, naturally, could not bother him because being alive was such a wonderful gift. He was so happy to drive us, so happy to be the first person we talked to in a new country, and so happy to share “Pura Vida” with two people who’d never heard about it.

The third person was our tour guide in Nicaragua (we went on a day trip – beautiful country – I saw real live flowing Lava and it was a life goal). He spent the day shuttling us around his country. It rained, we spent a lot of time on a bus, and we had to go through immigration twice. Amidst all of the annoyances, though, he too was thrilled to show us his country. But what he said at the end of the tour (after about 12 hours) is what really struck me. He thanked us for visiting, not only because tourism is a huge part of the Nicaraguan economy, but because he wanted us to experience it. He was proud to show us the beauty and the positive thing of his country. He was elated that we got to see the small wonders it held for the first time, even though he acknowledged that it was far from perfect.

These three interactions were striking, but viewing them through a reflective lens was all the more powerful. I have been asking myself how I can love a country where I disagree so fervently with some of its leaders. I can do this by taking a step back and realizing that this disagreement does not negate the good things about the United States of America. I have to learn to be proud of those things more often and to learn to share those pieces with others in a positive way. I can’t let the negative things stop me from realizing the beauty around me.

A few days ago I sat next to a family on the train on my commute. They happened to be from Costa Rica. Now, I don’t know if this was fate or the world giving me an opportunity to put my reflections into action, but I felt that I had a chance to return the favor that I had received from 3 people from other countries so recently. I shared my favorite places in New York, my favorite experiences, things that they “needed to see”, and realized that sharing the beauty of the place where I am from is its own form of Patriotism. I can love my country and disagree with it, and that is beautiful. I cannot allow negativity on any day to stop me from having a positive experience with my country and to continue to make small positive ripples.

Peter is a 25-year-old life-long New Jersey Resident. He graduated from the University of Scranton with an English and Theater double major and currently works in New York City. He has a passion for birdwatching, baseball statistics, and singing karaoke on long car rides. He is very excited to be a part of the Project Wednesday team!

A Reflection on the Ocean

I have a lot going on. I say that not as a complaint, but as a preface for the below. I feel that it is important that you, as a reader, understand my state of mind before diving into my article and what led me to reflect. I’m getting married in 2 months. We just closed on a house a few months ago, which comes with a full list of projects (and it’s not one of those lists that shrinks as you complete things – I am fully testing the limits of my power with a power drill). My job is in its busiest 2 weeks of the year, and I’ve managed to time a sickness perfectly to keep me up most nights. Probably more than any other point in my life, I have a lot going on.

Now, usually at times like these I do 2 things. The first of those is to struggle to figure out where to start on my to do list and thus waste time I could use to accomplish things. The second is to think about something that makes me happy, as it usually helps to re-center my thoughts. For me, this time, it was the ocean. I didn’t get to swim in the ocean this weekend, but I did get close enough that I could smell it and see it from a distance. See, I grew up with the beach as a part of my life. I was, and still am, lucky enough that my grandparents own a house not far at all from the beach on the NJ shore (I don’t want to hear that there is a better place in the world, because there isn’t). The ocean has always been a huge part of my life. The ocean represents a lot for me. On this particular weekend though it represented an opportunity – an opportunity to center my thoughts before a busy and exciting two months. The following is my reflection on the ocean.

The ocean does a lot of things that I find incredible. The first of these is that is has such distinct highs and lows. Every day, every week, every month, every year, the ocean has high tides and low tides. Some are higher or lower than others based on external stimulus (see – The Moon), but throughout the constant rising and falling the ocean, at its core, remains the same. It has the same incredible potential to destroy, to relieve, to sustain life, to cleanse, to refresh, and to erode. We view the ocean from a very focused lens. We see it from our perspective standing on or close to the shore. We can see distinct differences in the high and low tides next to docks and jetties. In the grand scheme though, the ocean itself remains largely unchanged through the highs and lows. Its currents are constantly present. We see it as strong or weak on particular days, but the reality is that the ocean holds the same powerful potential all the time. And this strikes me as similar to us as humans. We, too, hold incredible power, but have an unending series of highs and lows that we interpret as periods of strength and weakness.

The ocean also has waves (which are awesome, in my opinion). Not only do these waves provide gnarly barrels from time to time, but they are also constant. Not all are big – in fact most aren’t. But again in this case it is the distinct consistency of the ocean that I find so inspiring. No matter what it crashes against, be it beaches, rocks or cliffs, the ocean continues to throw itself with energy at the obstacles in its way wave after wave. Yes, I understand that the ocean is not a living being, but there is something invigorating about that level of consistency.

So through this I remind myself that in periods of time with a lot going on that I should try to be as consistent and steady as the ocean in my approach. However I don’t think it is this, even, that most strikes me about the ocean. I think it is the beauty that really gets me. In rain, sleet, snow, thunder, haze, dark, light, calm, or storms, the ocean is still beautiful. And all of these little actions (waves) it takes and the emotions (tides) it experiences are a part of its beautiful existence. That it what truly awes me.

This reflection served as a reminder to me that the beauty in my individual tasks is what really matters. I can’t wait to get married. I cannot describe how excited I am. It is also so totally cool that I am allowed to own a house and put (to an extent) whatever I want in it. And to be honest, the project work is kind of fun and potentially a hobby. I love my job, even when I am busy. My sickness will be gone sooner rather than later. I just have to remember how beautiful it is that I get to throw myself, with all my energy, into each day and each task. Everything I do is a chance to make a small impact. By throwing myself with energy into each day, I can be one small piece of a beautiful world. One beautiful, sparkling, majestic wave in the ocean of humanity.  And I am ready, now, more than any time in my life, to take these giant exciting steps.

Peter is a 25-year-old life-long New Jersey Resident. He graduated from the University of Scranton with an English and Theater double major and currently works in New York City. He has a passion for birdwatching, baseball statistics, and singing karaoke on long car rides. He is very excited to be a part of the Project Wednesday team!

Pep Talks

I’m sure we can all think of a time when encouraging words from another were the impetus to drive us through a given situation. Motivation. Enthusiasm. Electricity is a word I use personally. We need these to accomplish everything we do in a day to the best of our ability.

Yoda tells Luke “Do or do not, there is no try”. In one of the most famous speeches in history, Patrick Henry said “Give me Liberty, or give me Death”. One of my all- time favorite inspirational quotes came from a director I had for a college performance who looked me straight in the eye as I walked on stage and simply said: “Don’t mess up”. All of these quotes, and many more, were in some way meant to positively affect the mindset of others. One-on- one, to a group, to a team, to a country. Inspirational speeches come in all shapes and sizes.

Merrium Webster defines Pep Talks as “a short speech designed to encourage someone to work harder, to feel more confident and enthusiastic, etc.” Point is, a lot of the inspirational speeches throughout history were little more than glorified pep talks when you break it down. Pep talks, in my opinion, come in all shapes and sizes. And if you can give them to others to encourage confidence and enthusiasm, what’s to stop us from giving them to ourselves.

This is why I start each and every day by giving myself a “pep talk”. Usually it is mental, though occasionally on the tougher days it is vocal. A lot of people would probably find it strange that I do this (I know for a fact my dog does – you should see the looks he gives me at 6am), but one of the key parts of my morning, aside from a long shower and a Vanilla Macadamia Nut Clif Bar, is the 2 minutes I spend with myself.

In these 2 minutes, I focus on the things I need to do on this individual day. Whether that is work related, personal, travel, etc., I focus on centering my thoughts on doing these things with vigor. I take the time to motivate myself and prepare in whatever way is needed. Sometimes I take deep breaths to release tension, sometimes I do some light stretching (though I’m not great at Yoga if we’re being honest), and sometimes I just think of things that make me happy. I challenge myself to accomplish new things, to think of fresh ideas, and to not settle for “good enough” in anything I do. This 2-minute period contributes to my success, I feel, more than any other 2 minutes in the day.

Some might call it a form of meditation, but to me, it’s simply a “pep talk”. This is largely because it often involves me talking in internal clichés like “One hour at a time”, or “High energy, let’s go”, or “BE AGGRESSIVE, B.-E. AGGRESSIVE” (only half kidding on the last one). As strange as it is though, it truly helps to block everything else out for a short period of time and realize that the only person with a guaranteed ability to make this day great for yourself is you. You may not be able to control the things that happen to you, but you can control your mindset and attitude as you approach them.

So I encourage you, readers, in the midst of a tough week sometime in the future to give yourself a pep talk. Find 2 minutes to be alone and remember that the only thing that can stop you from being positive – is you. Get pumped, get psyched, and help yourself to do the best that you can today.

Peter is a 25-year-old life-long New Jersey Resident. He graduated from the University of Scranton with an English and Theater double major and currently works in New York City. He has a passion for birdwatching, baseball statistics, and singing karaoke on long car rides. He is very excited to be a part of the Project Wednesday team!

I am a White blood cell.

Lately I’ve been trying to think of myself as a White blood cell. Now, I don’t want to be unfair to leukocytes, so I’ll admit that my understanding of what they do is somewhat rudimentary. Basically, I view them as cells that clean up the area around them.

I work in New York City. However, I live in New Jersey so my commute is typically about 90 minutes of Fall Out Boy and catching up on my James Joyce. I work in an industry that a lot of people would probably assume to be very stressful. I’ve found it to be interesting, though, that the fast-paced atmosphere and big personalities aren’t what stresses me out. In fact, I’m lucky enough to absolutely love my job (seriously, my mom makes fun of me sometimes because I love it so much). I have found that the most stressful thing I do every day is commute. I’m usually pretty laid back, but lately it has been more difficult to step into work with a positive frame of mind.

On my commute recently, I had an encounter that sort of shook me up. A woman got onto the subway – keep in mind that it was crowded but not the “sardine” status we usually have going. As she worked her way into the subway, she stepped on a man’s foot. Now, he was wearing steel-toed construction boots so I’m surprised he even felt it, but he must have because until the next stop he screamed all nature of profanities at her. At the next stop, he got off. She sat down and was understandably pretty shell-shocked. I know if someone screamed at me at 8am for something like that I’d have no idea how to react. What really got to me though was that I made eye contact with people around me and they all just sort of shrugged as if to say: “That’s unfortunate, but not my problem.” It hit me that the encounter had potentially ruined that woman’s entire day. For the first time in a long time on my commute, I felt the need to connect. I told her I was sorry that that happened, and that I hoped she would still be able to have a wonderful day.

I don’t think we, collectively as a human species, recognize how toxic our negativity is. The above might be an extreme example, but situations like that are why I’ve focused on acting as a “White-blood cell” of sorts. New York, in a lot of ways, is like a massive body. It has all sorts of vital organs (Penn Station, Times Square, etc.). And if these are the organs, the transit system and the people inside it are the circulatory system and the blood of that body. We keep it living, moving, pumping. And in it, there are toxins in the form of negativity. I strive to clean up the area around me. If I can hold an elevator, help get a cart of plants onto a subway car, or even just smile and it helps someone to have a better day, than I am cleaning up the toxins in my area. I fear that sometimes my commute suffers from a “low White blood cell count”, and that is why each individual must strive to be better every day at improving the days of those around us. We much each clean up our area to create a healthy body. Because if there is one thing I have learned the past few weeks, it’s that one smile can help turn someone’s entire day around – and if it takes a little bit more focus from me every morning…That’s worth it.

Peter is a 25-year-old life-long New Jersey Resident. He graduated from the University of Scranton with an English and Theater double major and currently works in New York City. He has a passion for birdwatching, baseball statistics, and singing karaoke on long car rides. He is very excited to be a part of the Project Wednesday team!