Interview 13: Noelle

Noelle and I started at our company within a few weeks of each other. I, along with another new teammate, had been seated on the opposite side of the office from the rest of our team due to space issues, and we anxiously awaited our new compatriot in what we termed “Siberia”. And I am so grateful that she walked into our lives, bringing a breath of fresh air.

I admire Noelle for so many reasons. Her focus on mindfulness is apparent from the moment you meet her—her presence is somewhat calming, because it seems everything will be okay when you’re with her. She is grounded and thoughtful and always seems secure and confident. She knows who she is and she is true to herself. She seeks out joy in her life and she finds it.

I wanted to interview Noelle out of curiosity about my friend but also out of a desire for understanding—Noelle inspires me to be more mindful but I still have so much to learn (where Noelle is cool and collected, I am frenetic and somewhat always on-edge). Even just interviewing her, tucked away in a quiet hidden conference room at our office, brought my heart rate down. I hope everyone can take away a little bit of peace from her interview, because I know I certainly did.

Interview 13: Noelle

“I think we’re all looking for that more profound, deeper meaning of what it is to be human.”

Me: I’d like to start off by having you go through your life story in terms of religion—how you were raised, how you got to where you are now—from a high level.

Noelle: I feel like my story is funny. Neither of my parents was deeply religious. My mother came from a Jewish family and my dad came from a Protestant family, so what was really instilled in me was mostly the importance of tradition and celebration—times for family to get together. I didn’t feel like we were practicing religion—and of course this is all in retrospect, I don’t think as a kid I even knew what “practicing religion” really meant—but we just celebrated major holidays and milestones. Of course, you have to be only practicing the “fun” parts of religion if you’re both Jewish and Christian, because Jesus was not half-resurrected. There’s a conflict of belief there.  So my perspective of religion from a young age was more, “Oh, Christmas is great and fun! And bat mitzvahs are really fun, too!” and less about deeper meaning. And I wonder how much focusing on the “fun” parts of religion informed my evolving perspective as I got older. It’s funny, because in college I went through a phase where I thought, “If you are not atheist or agnostic,” to be honest, I thought, “you’re kind of stupid.”

Me: I’ve been there.

Noelle: Yeah, that was a perspective that I went through for a while. I think was what was happening there was that I was getting flooded with information. I was learning a lot. I had left my bubble of Tenafly, New Jersey and went to a liberal arts school that was all about global citizenship and celebrating differences and culture. I saw how divisive religion could be. And my coursework was laser-focused in science at that time. A discipline rooted in hard proof. I believe information overload really led me to think that way about religion. And I hate that I ever thought that, because I think that’s so silly now that I’ve found my own spiritual path. Because I think we’re all thinking about the same thing when we talk about religion or spirituality. We’re all thinking about this greater picture, and how we really do want our lives on this earth to be a little more profound than they seem from a perspective of “you’re born, you die, and that’s it.” I think we’re all looking for that more profound, deeper meaning of what it is to be human. We’re curious about what else is “out there” and how all of this craziness and chaos and inexplicable beauty even works. Who set all of this up? I think we’re all trying to answer the same questions and we’re all on that path, just in different ways. That said, I still don’t love when religion causes divisiveness – that’s a problem that I struggle with – but at the end of the day, I absolutely see why people turn to different religions to serve themselves on that path.

Me: So what brought you to that change, from being in college and thinking that way?

Noelle: I think a couple things brought me to that change. For one, I was very tied to my father’s beliefs throughout my childhood. He’s very intelligent, he’s very logical, he’s all about science, and he’s very assertive with his beliefs. Not really in the sense that everyone should believe what he believes, but more so in the sense that there’s really nothing more to this world than what science and logic can stand behind. We always look to our parents for guidance, and I think for a long time I thought, “what he says is probably right – he’s way smarter than I am!” So I do think being under his roof allowed me to hold on to that perspective for a while. But as I started to form my own curiosity about the world, I really started to depart from what my dad believes. And that’s fascinating to me, because I thought we were so similar for so long. We definitely have similarities, but in that regard we are totally on opposite ends of a spectrum. I think another thing that really helped me to evolve – kind of jumping off of that whole science/logic thing – is that I slowly started to open my eyes and realize that we as humans truly know nothing. We so definitively say what we believe we know to be true, but even from the perspective of science we have barely cracked the surface. Coming to that realization and coming into it with a lot of curiosity—I was spurred into re-evaluating many concepts that I once though were impossible or supernatural. I think my yoga practice also brought that on. Yoga is definitely religion-based, spirituality based—there’s a lot going on there. And I think one of the concepts of yoga that has really shaped my spiritual perspective is that, “What is divine if not what we are experiencing? If not us?” It’s truly inexplicable. It’s hard to wrap your head around it, when you start to think about what it means to be a human, and how complex we are. That concept is now really ingrained in me—that we’re not just “little, insignificant humans” and that there truly is divine essence within us. Bear with me, because this is going to sound really hippy-dippy, but I think a lot of my spirituality is rooted in the natural world. We as humans continually try to “beat” nature with technological advances. We place ourselves in these really dense cities where trees are few and far between and so much of what we eat isn’t really even food anymore. So much of that is in the name of efficiency and cost savings, which is pretty comical to be reflecting on considering that’s our job as Operations Innovation Analysts. But all jokes aside, I believe we have detached deeply from nature. And although we’ve created this artificial boundary between us as humans and nature, we were born out of this earth and we don’t give it enough credit. It’s what we breathe, it’s what we eat, it’s what sustains us, it is us! We are this magical manifestation of nature. So I think a lot of my spirituality has been coming into that and realizing that we are an integral part of this complex natural world. And that’s pretty significant if you ask me!


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On Being a Woman

I’d like to talk about what it is like to be a woman in today’s world. I’m going to tell some snippets of moments from my life in an attempt to explain my overarching experience. I will admit it is difficult for me to speak with a clear mind about these things, but they need to be said.


I was once in a TSA line, wearing running tights and a long tunic. “You look good,” a male TSA agent whispered in my ear as I walked by. “Keep working out.”


The first time I had a man grab me on the street, I was seventeen. I was walking around an outdoor mall in Atlanta with two of my friends, when all of a sudden a man grabbed my wrist forcefully. He wanted to ask me out. I stuttered, “I don’t date,” wrenched my wrist away and walked away quickly.

Another time, a man grabbed me around the waist as I walked down the street with a date. I froze, and the gentlemen I was with pushed the other man away.


My first relationship has been chronicled here previously. A man convinced me I had no value. He hurt me and I didn’t stop him because I was afraid of him. It took me years to overcome that fear.


At my first job out of college, I was sexually harassed by a man who was in my training class. At first, I thought he was just being friendly–he was living with his girlfriend, so I was safe. The flirtation was just typical machismo. But at some point, it changed. The way he touched me during class made the two other women (in a class of twelve) feel uncomfortable. His texts were worse. He Snapchatted a picture of me and drew a penis ejaculating onto me.

He was close with my male roommate, another trainee, and one night came back with him to our apartment, drunk. Upon discovering I had locked my door (after anticipating such an event), he banged on the door and yelled, “This was our chance!”

The fear that had been bottled up inside me had manifested in different ways. I scratched my skin off. Every morning, I woke up uncertain I would be able to make it to work. I wanted to quit and move back home.


I Instagram the things that are said to me on dating sites, using the hashtag #lillielooksforlove. I use it to laugh at how horrible men can be, but the truth is that it scares me. The lack of respect necessary to send those kind of messages is astounding. “I once read that a pretty girl with a dirty mind is a keeper. Are you a keeper?”

It carries over to actual dating. A man tries to take things too far. I politely stop him. He tries again. I stop him, a bit more firmly. He tries again. And again and again, until I get angry. But even then, at my angriest, all I can do is try to get away. Another minute in that situation and we’ll be back to the same cycle. And at what point does he become forceful?

As women, we’ve all been there. When a man tries to put his hand somewhere and you pull it away. Or when a man tries to take your hand and put it somewhere. “Why not?” we’re asked. “Come on. Why not?”

I can be in a club, and a man will come up to dance on me, grinding his pelvis against my behind. I’ll turn around, furious, and be met with, “Why not?”

I once had a brief relationship with a coworker–our fling lasted three months. I ended it, because I was starting to have feelings for this person, and he was not interested. But it took nine months for him to stop texting me, asking me the same question. “Why not?”


This world, this country we live in, is trying to tell us that women only serve one purpose. We need to look pretty. Act docile. Smile. And let men do what they want with us.

Sorry, men. That’s just not going to work for me.

I’m tired of being told that being pretty makes it easier if I interview with men–and harder if I interview with women. I’m tired of having men catcall me or wolf-whistle as I walk down the street–and getting the side-eye from fellow women. I’m tired of worrying about what message my outfit sends. I’m tired of worrying all the time.

It’s time to end this.

Women, now is not the time to fight with each other. We have been marginalized for too long. We are paid less, promoted less, respected less. We have to do better than the men in our workplace to be taken seriously. We’re held to a higher standard and have to juggle the need to provide thoughtful, reasonable work with the expectation that we will be cheerful and polite at all times. When we are direct, we are “bossy” or “bitches”. When we aren’t, we are overlooked.

My friends are fierce, strong women. And we are not going to take it anymore. We are going to support one another, stand up for one another, and fight for one another. If someone tries to invalidate our opinions, we will come back more forcefully. If we see injustice, we will make it right. We are going to protect ourselves and our people.

I am going to tell people when they hurt me. I am going to speak up when I hear something inappropriate. I am going to explain my plight and hope to touch the hearts of those around me.

Now, before I get called out, I want to say I’m not trying to generalize. There are decent, kind men. There are men who don’t view “feminism” as a bad word. There are men I would trust with my life, my safety, my love. I’m not trying to start a gender war. I just want to hold humanity to a higher standard.

This isn’t an us versus them. This is us, for us.

Interview 12: Tyson

Tyson is one of the most calm and collected people I have ever met. He is often quiet and spends more time listening than speaking, but when he does speak, it is softly and slowly, in a measured manner–I daresay his speech pattern is rare among our generation, and it is refreshing. He seems very selective about the moments he chooses to speak up, but when he does, you don’t want to miss it. Our coworkers are often surprised when Tyson’s humor comes out due to his quiet and unassuming nature, but you can tell from his eyes when he is about to drop a wicked one-liner that may leave his audience gasping for air–a wryness comes over his face and I make sure to tune in.

I find Tyson to be one of my favorite people to talk to due to his depth of character and multifaceted personality. He is, as another coworker described, “jacked”; he is thoughtful and kind; he is curious about others and their opinions; and he is deeply religious. I’ve known many members of the Church of Latter Day Saints in my life, but Tyson is the first one I would consider a close friend, and so I was ecstatic when he agreed to sit down to an interview. One of the things I enjoy the most about this blog is the opportunity to discuss topics that may be considered “taboo” with people I truly respect–and Tyson is completely open to conversing about his faith and what it means to him, so cutting the interview at my usual twenty-minute mark was heart-breaking–but even in those twenty minutes, I had learned so much more than I could have anticipated. Throughout the interview, Tyson’s quiet confidence and security in his beliefs became more and more evident. If I ever need someone to represent something I believe in, I want it to be Tyson. 

Interview 12: Tyson

“It’s cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture:  God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it.”

Me: So, Tyson, I don’t know if you’ve read of any of my blog, but the way I have people start out is I have them tell me a brief picture of their life story in terms of religion. So how you came to where you are currently—just tell me about your whole life!

Tyson: So…both of my parents are Mormon, or LDS.

Me: Which one’s better?

Tyson: Mormon is a term that a lot of non-members call us, but we don’t really call ourselves Mormons. We’re LDS, which means Latter Day Saints.  A “Saint” is a follower of Christ, “Latter Day” means “last days.”  I was born into it, and to some degree, a lot of my extended family are too—but a lot aren’t, as well. You’re baptized when you’re eight, not when you’re born, and it’s your choice.

Me: So like Baptists.

Tyson: Mhmm. It’s your parents’ choice as well. Some people don’t want to until later—a lot of kids are baptized at eight. It’s just an age of accountability. You go to church every Sunday, where there are Sunday school classes for kids, teenagers, adults, etc. Once you graduate high school, both boys and girls have the option, if you choose, to go on a mission. It’s not really a requirement—you’re not forced to. There might be a little bit of social pressure just because a lot of your friends might be going, but you’re not really urged to go unless it’s for the right reasons. Once you graduate from high school you see a lot of LDS kids having a little bit of a soul searching phase, trying to figure out if it’s really for them, or not, and if it’s real or if they feel that it’s true. I definitely had a phase like that. But when it came down to it, I felt like the message of the gospel that I had been taught my whole life was full, peaceful, logical, happy and it’s something that makes other people happy, so it was worth pushing off college for two years and pursuing.  So yeah, I served a two year mission, spent in service and gospel teaching and spending a lot of time in the community. Hardly any of your time is your own on a mission—you’re told what you need to be doing, but it’s kind of cool to spend two years completely forgetting about yourself and focusing on the bigger picture:  God. It’s a pretty big turning point in anyone’s life. Then, you come back and jump into your regular life and you’re forever changed because of it.  And now I’m here.

Version 2

Tyson, possibly giving me side-eye, possibly because I was trying to convince him that he should have some decaf coffee. (He politely declined).

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Riding in Cars with Muslims (or, #LoveTrumpsHate)

My dear friends and respected readers, I have to get something out.

It seems to me that our nation is at a crossroads. I suppose it could be said that we are always at a crossroads, but this one feels like a fundamental shift in the American paradigm.

A leading candidate for our commander-in-chief can spout vitriol unimpeded. And the people cheer. They cheer!

Now, I’m not here to talk about Trump’s chosen policies or recommended plans of action, or even his desire for Russia’s assistance in bringing his opponent down. I’m here, as so many out there on the Internet are, to speak out against his seething hatred of the unknown.

I say the unknown, because in his actions and his words, Trump has made it clear he knows very little. Very little about the people he wants to kick out of the country. The Mexicans, who “don’t send their best”. The Muslims, who should be kicked out of our country. Women.  Black Lives Matter activists. The impoverished. Anyone who dissents against him must be evil, because in Trumpworld (copyright pending), Trump is God!

Now, Donald Trump is a special case. Sitting on high in his gilded castle, he does not seek to see reason. He has never had to try to understand the perspective of those less privileged than him. He is impenetrable.

But imagine! Imagine if his followers were able to sit down, breathe, and take a second. To stop being scared about “everything they have taken from us”. If they could instead have a simple conversation with their Muslim or Latino brothers and sisters—not about anything serious, but perhaps about the weather or over a hearty meal or while planting a tree—would they still harbor that deep-seeded hate?

“With praying, it’s something that will make your life easier, yeah? You’re not stressing out, you’re not getting mad, you just clean your heart. The more you face God, the more you’re feeling confidence.”  –Uber Driver #1

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Interview 11: Trishya

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to post a new interview once a month. Obviously…it is not going that well. I find that people are much more open about discussing religion in the South—it’s so deeply integrated into daily life that the topic comes up very organically. Now that I live in Denver, I find that religion—especially personal religious beliefs—is rarely brought up. I feel the same kind of nervousness asking someone if I can interview them that I imagine one feels when asking another person out on a date. Luckily, I have some great friends who have agreed to let me interview them!

Trishya is one of those wonderful friends. We met when she started working on my team—I’d been on the team for about six months, so I was basically an old-timer at that point. The first thing that struck me about Trishya was her wide bright smile. She’s deeply intelligent and dedicated to her work, and that is quickly apparent, but the thing I love most about her is the ease with which a smile breaks across her face. She finds joy in the smallest things—her positivity and effervescence brighten even my worst days. Encouragement comes naturally to her—if anyone is having a rough day, she knows exactly what to say to put the pep back in their step. And it’s not crafted—it’s genuine and comes straight from her heart. She makes me want to be the person she sees in me. I don’t believe it’s possible to not be delighted by her presence.

She’s also my yoga buddy—I wouldn’t go to yoga most days without her holding me accountable—so after one lovely Saturday morning yoga class, she agreed to sit down with me in a coffee shop so we could discuss religion. The discussion was fascinating and her philosophical depth is apparent—I could have asked many more questions, and I hope to in the future.

Without further ado, my first interview of 2016…Trishya!

Interview 11: Trishya

“I totally subscribe to the belief that your physical being is completely temporary, and the essence of who you are–which I don’t even think I’ve scraped the surface of–is eternal.”

Me: I’m going to start out by asking you to go through how you were raised and how that brought you to what you believe today.

Trishya: I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. My entire family is from India, my parents moved to the United States in the early 80’s, they lived in Chicago for a while. I come from a huge extended family ….and so I grew up Hindu. And I think that’s such a strange word to me, because Hinduism—as I grew older, as I had more discussions about the religion and the faith and the philosophy with my friends—I came to realize, the “-ism” of Hinduism is a very Western concept. If you go to the middle of India, the backwaters of India, and you ask someone, “Do you practice Hinduism?”, they’ll be like, “What? What do you mean? What’s Hinduism?” Discovering that philosophy, discovering that faith and applying it to a different context than the context that my parents were raised in has been a huge road to self-discovery and understanding my identity as a Hindu Indian-American.


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Note: By asking people to sit down and interview with me, they have to be willing to be a little vulnerable. Here, I’m taking a turn—if I ask people to open up to me, I have to be able to do it myself.

Anyone who knows me knows that I can be considered a comic-book nerd. It’s essentially public record, given my propensity for excited Facebook statuses regarding new Marvel films and my easily prompted rant about the reasons Batman is the greatest superhero.

When I settled in on Saturday to watch the newest product of Marvel’s partnership with Netflix, Jessica Jones, I was incredibly eager to see how the superhero-turned-private-investigator would be portrayed. The partnership’s first effort, Daredevil, was gritty and exciting to watch (though it felt a bit too heavy in the later episodes). I also am a huge fan of Krysten Ritter, stemming from her appearances in Gilmore Girls and her tragic role in Breaking Bad (and don’t get me started about the incredibly under-appreciated Don’t trust the B*tch in Apartment 23).

I watched all thirteen episodes over a period of 24 hours.

I hadn’t really intended to binge-watch the entire series. I tend to watch television more as something to have on while I perform other tasks—cooking, cleaning, even working on the rare (…maybe) occasions that I bring my work home.

Then the first episode grabbed me and took me somewhere I had not expected to go. I related to Jessica on a level beyond appreciating her strength and witty repartee with other characters. I understood what she was going through.

To explain this, I will have to give a little backstory into the show/the character of Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones was introduced in a series of comics known as Alias. She’s a private investigator who just so happens to also have superpowers (the comics go a little further into this part of her history, explaining her brief venture into super-heroism under the name Jewel).

Jessica left her role as Jewel behind after falling under the thrall of Kilgrave (or Killgrave, in the comics). Kilgrave has the power of mind control, essentially—he can force anyone to do what he says, no matter the cost to themselves. He speaks, and his orders are performed.

Kilgrave forces Jessica to become both his partner in crime as well as his lover. When the series opens, Jessica has escaped this prolonged servitude and is experiencing what can only be described as PTSD.

As I watched Jessica in the first few episodes, I realized I was intimately familiar with her situation. I was familiar with her self-destructive spiral as she pushed everyone away, with her flashbacks that seemed to come out of nowhere, with her reaction to the places and things that triggered deeply upsetting memories.

This is where this essay gets personal.

I don’t remember a lot of college. This may sound like a silly assertion, or a bawdy proclamation of my party-hardy college days, but it is very different. In general, I remember everything. You can ask my parents—it drove them nuts for years. Forgetting what someone said at particular moment on a particular day was impossible, let alone entire chunks of time.

And then I met him. And my world went dark.

I could tell you the overarching story of our relationship. The first happy month. The turn in his behavior. The lies I caught him in, and the ones I suspected. The number of times I lied to friends. The ways he broke me into pieces and built me back up into what he wanted. How angry he got with me. My own desperation over my need for his approval, as well as my confusion over my inability to leave such a toxic relationship.

But the story of the relationship is not what I’m here to talk about.

It is incredibly difficult for me to write about my own emotions, especially my emotions about that time in my life. I can easily write about the value of all human life, but finding the words to describe when I didn’t value my own requires reaching much deeper.

I feel separated from that Lillie, the one who experienced the awfulness. I boxed up my college years in my mind and I set them on fire. All I have left are the little scraps I let trickle through, and the few friends I held onto after college.

And then I watched Jessica jump at a voice in her head and I felt it.

I watched her walk into a restaurant and have a memory forced upon her and I knew that moment.

I saw how she had pushed her old friends away and I remembered.

I hate to use the term “abusive relationship.” I often worry about invalidating worse relationships by using those words. He never hit me.

But he controlled me. I did only what I knew he wanted. I became a person I didn’t know. And in the end, it took me years to rebuild myself. Not just in terms of gaining back the weight that I lost, or building back the relationships I had broken, or working hard enough to prove my poor grades were not a reflection of my intelligence or drive in any way.

I had to re-construct my entire self. I had to look at the shattered Lillie and remove the pieces that weren’t me, glue back together the pieces that were, and search for new pieces where the originals were lost.

The fear that penetrated my being, the darkness that had consumed my soul—I’m still dealing with vestiges of that pain. I still hear klaxons and feel a pang of awful dread when I see the particular type of car he drove. I still feel nauseous and clench my jaw when a memory of him surfaces. I still feel my heart rate rise when his name is mentioned.

I had not realized how much that relationship had affected me. How much it still affects me, to this day. I knew it had ruined my college years for me, but I had thought they were in the past.

I am much stronger now. I laugh and say I learned a lot from college. And I did.

I assumed all it would take was time. That time would go on and the pain would be more distant. And it has. But I’ve realized that I won’t truly be able to bury the past. I have to accept it as a part of who I am, as a part of my story.

So here I am. Trying to accept myself completely. To accept my entire story, and not just pieces of it. To not just accept the growth that came from my experience, but the entire experience for itself.

I lived through it, and now I live on.



Humanity and Fear

This blog is not intended to be a place where I stand on my soapbox and shout my opinions at people. It is intended to be a forum where I ask others about their thoughts and beliefs. It is intended to encourage open-mindedness and acceptance of everyone, of every belief structure and life path.

I did not write during the time of the Great Starbucks Cup Debacle, nor the Facebook Filter Snafu. Perhaps because I am lucky enough (or sheltered enough) to not know any people who voiced concerns over either trivial issue, so I was able to pretend that no one actually cared about such things.

However, I have seen postings on Facebook and the like about whether or not we should allow refugees into our country, into our states, into our homes. And while I prefer to write with a calm mind and a balanced perspective, at this moment in time, I am seething.

How dare you.

How DARE you?

So many of those I see sprouting this fear-based hatred, this bigotry, this vile closed-mindedness—you are the same people who claim a strong faith.

“Allowing refugees into our country opens us up to attack,” you say. “Terrorists are among the refugees,” you claim, holding strong to your fear and letting it bleed into your soul, letting it poison any lessons your scripture may have taught you, letting it rot your heart.

Syria, the attacks in Lebanon, the attacks in France—these are devastating, heart-wrenching demonstrations of hatred. The power of ISIS is hatred—a hatred created by fear. The leaders of ISIS crave power and they have planted a seed of fear that blossomed into the crises we are facing today. To gain their power, they needed to convert minds, and what better tool than our own human weakness? Our ability to fear others, to hate them, this is what allows us to fall into the blackness, into a group that menaces a modern society. The United States and Europe have held the power for a century, as powerful allies that decided the fate of nations, as enlightened republics seeking innovation, and to take that power, groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS must weaponize fear.

And so they have.

They spread the fear to gain recruits that we are evil and will destroy their homes if given a chance. They allow the fear to fester, to create a loathing more powerful than their own desires for life. And then they place the fear in us.

Terrorism is exactly that. It spreads terror. And I must say, we are letting them win.

I in no way intend to diminish the devastation these attacks have caused. The ruthlessness with which terrorists can take life is atrocious. I find myself bordering on hopelessness when I hear of humans taking other human lives—it takes such a lack of respect for the gift we have all been given, the life force we all share. It takes de-humanizing one another.

And that is what we do in turn when we refuse to open our doors to refugees.

It is so easy to spout words of hatred when you are not looking those you are affecting in the eye. When you do not know their stories, their own personal journeys. I seek here to learn about the journeys of as many people as possible, partially because I see that capacity for hatred in myself.  It is easy for me to dismiss a person or a belief if I do not understand the story behind the person or the belief.

We cannot dismiss refugees in this way.

They are seeking asylum, they are seeking safety—the things we have in abundance, they have none. Is it not our responsibility as fellow humans to open our doors and our hearts to them? If you are Christian, do you not think that Jesus would be saddened by our lack of compassion for others? Would He have let fear corrupt Him in such a way?

Instead of being overly cautious, which is creating our worst selves, why not focus on the good we can do and being our best selves? This is not about who the refugees are. This is about who we are.


I was lucky enough to attend a high school where we openly discussed our beliefs and thoughts. This meant I was exposed to many different opinions. One day I was in a Spanish class and I don’t remember how the subject came up, but we were discussing terrorism and its effect on immigration. One student ventured the following:

“I don’t see why we allow people from certain countries into the United States. I don’t think we should.”

I was livid.

You may recall that my father is from one of those countries that the student was discussing. This was in the time of “The Axis of Evil”, the three countries we decided to fear the most.

I am certainly biased, but my father is one of the most kind and caring men I have ever met. He cares deeply for others—sometimes even to the detriment of his own well-being. He participates in charity work and is well respected in his field. He is a citizen of the United States and I believe his story is just one of many variations of the American Dream.

Does his Iranian ethnicity make him unworthy of living here?

If we had decided to turn Iranians away during the Iranian Revolution and the aftermath, if he had been deported as a student, I don’t know what would have happened to him. But I can’t imagine he would have had a very good life. He has always been vocal about inequality and injustice (unsurprising, as he is an attorney). I shudder to think what would have happened once the Muslim government found out about his liberal leanings—or what he would have done. Many of his friends became revolutionaries. Would he have done the same? Would he have been imprisoned? Would he have been killed?

The Syrian refugees and refugees around the world deserve our love and support in this dire time. Any other reaction is unworthy of our status as fellow humans. In the end, we are all made of the same materials, the same atomic structures—“We’re made of star stuff,” as Carl Sagan once said. When we dismiss the humanity of others and their needs, we lose the light of the stars that we contain in our beings, and we embrace fear, the darkness. I believe we should instead embrace one another, and thus embrace the light.

Some Thoughts on Depression

There is a certain numbness that comes with depression. I find that when I am depressed, I feel nothing in the morning. I go about my routine in a complete emotional and spiritual void. And then sometime in the afternoon or evening, something changes and the darkness filters in.

In these times, I want to be alone, and yet being alone is the worst thing I can do for myself. Alone, it is easier to be overwhelmed by the depths of my depression—easy to let the tiredness sink into my bones and stop me from moving, easy to let the awful thoughts creep in and the overwhelming sadness to settle on my chest, a heavy weight, a prison I can’t escape.

I know my weariness is depression when I start wanting to hide. To get under my desk. To get in my closet and lay on the floor. To fold into nothingness and disappear until the sun comes up and I am temporarily relieved of the aching black hole in my chest.

I knew when I moved to a city where I had few friends that there would be a period of depression. And yes, it has come and gone and I deal with it when it pokes its head around a corner to mournfully stare me down.

I have many friends who know depression. I support them when they let me. And they support me, when I let them.

The reason I write today is because of a recent tragedy. A friend of mine from high school took his own life.

We weren’t that close in high school. We were friendly and had many classes together and occasionally hung out with mutual friends. But he had an easy-going spirit that drew people in, he was kind and funny and charming. We had inside jokes with one another and knowing that we had that made my life better, because to be friends with this boy felt like being accepted into a happy world where dreams could come true—he seemed endlessly optimistic and delighted with what the world had to offer.

I would never have guessed he suffered from depression. I knew some things about his personal life that might have indicated something, but my memories of him were too bright for me to even consider it.

When he went off to college, I checked in on Facebook occasionally to see how he was doing. I always imagined great things for him. He was creative and smart and I couldn’t imagine the world doing anything but raining accolades upon him.

At one point over the past year or so, I noticed he had disappeared. He had either unfriended everyone or deleted his old Facebook and gotten a new one—I could see he existed on the social network but he was no longer my “Friend”. I thought it was odd but not that odd—we hadn’t spoken in several years. I was slightly hurt but I forgot almost immediately.

This is when my heart breaks.

I think, “I should have known! I should have seen! He was cutting everyone out!”

But I must force myself to admit that I don’t really know. I don’t know anything about his life for the past several years. What I do know is pieced together from rumors and secondhand stories.

All I know for certain is that this sweet person with a twinkle in his eye felt enough overwhelming despair that he could no longer take it.

It’s no one’s fault. But it is so easy to feel like I could have done something. It’s ludicrous, I know. Grief manifests in ways that are easily dismissed logically but impossible to shake emotionally.

I’m rambling. It’s hard for me to organize my thoughts when I am so profoundly shaken. But I do have a few points that I want to get across:

  • Support each other. Never ask “why?” but always ask “what do you need?”
  • Understand that even the person who smiles the most can be hiding their own darkness.
  • Mourn the lost, but never place blame.
  • Love.
  • If you are depressed, let yourself be loved. It’s difficult and can seem impossible at times. But it helps.

To my dear friend,

It hurts me greatly to think of your last moments. My heart aches for your suffering, and for those you have left behind. I wish peace and love upon you and upon your family.

I will remember you forever for the joy you brought to my life.


I’m currently in Brazil so I get all my news from the internet, which is how I found out about the shooting in North Carolina. I want to take a moment to discuss something with y’all.

It seems that there is some confusion as to what the murderer’s motive was—I’ve seen articles asserting he shot and killed three young adults over a parking dispute. Ignoring the religious/racial aspect of the murders for a moment, this idea alone is ridiculous, and a great example of why gun control is needed. Don’t get me wrong, I love guns. I shoot them for fun. At a piece of paper. In a range. However, I do not own one, because I do not need one. But I digress, this blog is not here to debate gun control issues, and I’m not well versed enough in the intricacies of that debate to assert a solid opinion (the one thing I know I believe is that background checks should be mandatory).

A man, possibly angered over a parking issue, murdered three people.

Over a parking issue.

Now, in the next several days, there will be many debates over whether or not it matters that the three victims were Muslim. Pundits will argue back and forth about whether this man would have killed these people if they had been WASPs, and whether he should be labeled a terrorist. Hypotheticals will be bandied about in an effort to eat airtime and justify the profit made off of commercials.

So does the religion of the victims matter?

Yes. Yes it does. But not necessarily in the way we might think.

This man may not hate Muslims. I don’t know him, I don’t know what went through his head. But I do know he looked at three people in anger and shot them. And this tells me something. It tells me how little he valued their lives.

As humans, we have a tendency to categorize other humans. It’s our nature. It makes it easier for us to draw connections, easier for us to think we understand the world and the people in it. This person is Christian. That person is Muslim. That other person is Jewish. This person is conservative, that person liberal. This person rich, that person poor. This person religious, this person not. We walk around every day and we carry our labels. We are asked to define ourselves using them. Life is simpler that way.

There is a movement out there in the media and in politics that defines Christians as good, Jews as less good, and Muslims as evil. Cities fight to forbid mosques from being built. Extremist pundits argue that it is not possible to be Muslim without hating America. Most of us know better, but the message is there, and it is prevalent. It eats away at us as we argue over Islam and forget that we are talking about other human beings.

This insidious message got to this man, this murderer. He was angry. Maybe at Muslims, maybe about parking. But either way, he saw Muslims, and he did not think of them as living, breathing humans. He looked at two women and saw their headscarves instead of their beautiful faces. He looked at another man and did not see an equal.

And so three lives, filled to the brim with potential, were tragically cut short.

What are we doing?

It is time to stop categorizing. It is time to stand up for the only category that matters, humanity. I am human and you are my brethren. It is easy to get angry at each other as we encounter one another in the world, but at the core, beneath the superficial slights, we share a consciousness, a knowledge of each other, a bond beyond comprehension.

We should be judged individually, on our own merits, or not at all.

Please take a moment today to value the lives of 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, his 21-year-old wife, Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, and mourn their loss. We owe it to them.

And then take another moment to value all life, this beautiful gift we have been given that can be so easily taken away. Hug someone and hold them close. That is humanity. We are beings of love.

Interview 10: Robert

HELLO AND HAPPY 2015! This year is going to be a good one, y’all. I can tell. Let’s get to our first interview of the year!

Funny story, I met Robert on Tinder. Except I kind of already knew who he was when I found him, because I had seen his picture on Facebook. He’s my sorority sister Katie’s brother–and I knew how awesome Katie is (seriously awesome), so I thought, hey, I can swipe right on this guy! He’s a real person! And so our friendship began. (My relationship with Tinder was much shorter–I’m done with that craziness). Robert and I haven’t hung out a ton, but when we do we just talk and talk and time flies by. He’s a fascinating individual and seems to burst with energy–his lust for life and  thirst for knowledge are unparalleled–which will soon become apparent, as you read through the interview. As I could have predicted, the interview ran long and we went off on tangents a few times–that’s the nature of our conversations–but I hope you read it all, it’s worth it.

Interview 10: Robert

“It’s not for me to say “I comprehend how this works”, it’s for me to say “I’m Catholic, and these are mysteries that I understand as they’ve been revealed to us.””

Me: [Would you] tell me what your own spiritual journey has been, over your life so far?

Robert: So…I’ve had a kind of up and down relationship with my personal religious spiritual beliefs. My family is Catholic, I was raised Catholic – a lot of people don’t realize that Catholicism is a much larger universe than just the Roman Catholic church downtown, for instance. So although I was raised Roman Catholic in the sense that most people think of when they hear the term, my father’s family, being Lebanese, was originally Maronite Catholic, Maronites being one of the twenty-three branches of the Eastern Catholic Church—not Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic. In a nutshell—I’ll try to keep myself from giving the explanation that I have practiced—there are numerous rites–sort of like sects–that recognizes the primacy of the Pope, and recognizing the primacy of the Pope is essentially the defining factor of what we call Roman Catholic. So the Maronite Catholic Church, the Maronite rite, is one that uses Arabic as its vernacular language and Syriac as its liturgical language. It has a different background, a different set of traditions, a different focus than the Latin-speaking church has. The Latin speaking church has a stronger tradition of rational philosophy, the Eastern church has a stronger tradition of mysticism, of looking for symbols in everything.

Me: Which would make sense, given the traditions of Arabic cultures. There’s more of a proclivity towards mysticism, I find, in the Middle East.

Robert: Yes, I don’t know to what extent this is oversimplifying things, but to me it seems like the Latin church has inherited a lot of the Greek philosophical tradition, and the Eastern churches have retained a lot of the more native Semitic religious influences, which are always quite mystic. Catholicism itself—Christianity itself—is mystic Judaism, so that’s present all throughout any branch of Christianity, but in the Eastern rites especially. In any case, that’s only to say that I was raised Roman Catholic and very early on found myself questioning the strictures of the Church. I was essentially agnostic probably from ten on, for four or five years. You know, I’d grown up reading the Greek myths and you’re not going to tell me that Zeus isn’t real but this guy up in heaven is, I’ll listen to ya but you’re not making any rational arguments. Um… Lillie’s making a great face of agreement right now. (laughs)

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Me: That’s almost exactly when I decided I was agnostic. When I was like 10.

Robert: Exactly. I specifically remember, I had this whole mythology—not really mythology, this whole explanation worked up when I was really young, Dad still talks about this, I was like eight or something? Because we would go to Sunday school, and we would get all these lessons, and I’m listening to all these lessons and stories and I’m thinking, “This is mythology.” But I loved it, I was like, this is great, this just fits in with what I already know about mythology, about the Greek myths—and they were like “No no no, those aren’t real.” So I would go home and I would explain–I had this whole “Hercules is Jesus” thing going on. It all made sense in my head. But when I realized that there was so much pushback from people, from kind of the official church itself: (changes voice) “No, you can’t believe that, Zeus is fake and God is real”, and I…headed out. When we came back to the states—did I tell you we lived in Germany?

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