Life Shift: Springing Forward

It has finally sprung on me. Not only the spring season but also m-o-t-i-v-a-t-i-o-n. The near 70 temps and the demise of this brutal winter we just endured have me feeling it.

In December, I started to feel bored. While my fiance worked, I began to yearn for a social network of new friends, most often initiated through a career. The transition to the east coast culture and mentality started to feel like a lump in my throat. I’m not a hustler savvy with networking abilities by nature. Yet, this is the life. So at that point, I set out to find teaching or school counseling jobs. After all, I love structure. Consistent and steady is all I have known.

From mid-January to late March, I devoted just about every ounce to finding that magic school. I have applied for approximately 18 different positions, including paraprofessional positions. It has been mind boggling to experience this much competition in the education field. In 12 years as an educator, it has never been this tough. I have relied on my connections to get some interviews, but that has only been three total. Three out of eighteen!

One school was a public, low-performing campus in Newark, teaching bilingual 1st, 2nd, AND 3rd grades in ONE classroom with an immediate start date as of this current school year. My first reaction was “Whoaaa! Three different grades in one room? I don’t know.” But I visited the school for the first interview, and I started to have a great feeling. But then the principal shared that the school is in danger of closing if she doesn’t get the right teachers to help turn it around. Oh, and she wanted to fire a lot of teachers. Yep, she told me that. However, I remained open to seeing where this would go and agreed to the next phase of a second interview with a model lesson. It also had the potential to turn into a bilingual counselor position, but she could not guarantee that, although she felt confident.

I returned about two weeks later after our early March snow storms. But it was kind of frustrating planning for the lesson and not getting replies on what materials would be available. “We don’t interview like this in Texas,” I thought. “We don’t give model lessons. I think it’s a fantastic idea, but it is completely new to me.” Nevertheless, I ordered materials and marched on, planning a math lesson. The lesson went well, even though I was not able to finish it. Afterwards, the assistant principal had me sit in on a mock response to intervention (RtI) meeting. “Eh, this is it?” I felt no vision. No goals. Then I ended with another visit with the principal. Mind you, she had already asked me to “tattle” on some low-performing individuals, and she asked me how the meeting went with those said individuals. I just didn’t feel comfortable being put in that position. I shared respectfully and honestly without compromising my values or damaging any particular teachers. A few days later, I received the call and was offered the position. It was the most enthusiastic exchange I had received from the principal since I started the process.

But it was not the right fit for me, and I knew it. Marco had warned me not to accept the first job that comes along out of desperation. I did not accept it, which shocked her, as the majority of candidates up here take the first job that comes their way. I wanted it to feel like the right place, and with what she had shared with me, it did not feel like the right campus culture. I was okay with returning to the classroom, planning and instructing for three grade levels, working some Saturdays, and hoping that the counseling position would open up. However, I did not want to be someone’s minion, and that spoke louder to me than the positives.

Thankfully, I had two more options. One was a second, face-to-face interview with a KIPP charter school, also in Newark, to teach Spanish. The lesson? Introduce the words rojo and azul to 30 kindergarteners. Now, this was stressful, especially since they wanted to see unit curriculum plan for the year, a data-tracking document, and a detailed lesson plan BEFORE the lesson interview. Never mind the fact that, although I am fully bilingual, I have never taught Spanish as a second language. That is completely different from teaching in Spanish to English Language Learners (ELLs), which I did for ten years in Texas.

No worries! I came up an awesome lesson, and I wanted to make sure they got to see all the content possible. However, I left out a very important aspect in my short 30 minute mock lesson – my classroom management. Oh, it’s something in which I am very strong. I even coached other educators on classroom management. But I think I lost some points in not stressing it enough in my lesson. It wasn’t absent, but it was enough, I believe, to not get the job. I remained excited and hopeful about the position, but I got an email a couple of weeks later. They chose someone else. I was a little bummed, but honestly, I did my best, and I was genuine, honest, and myself during the whole process. I patted myself on the back.

My third option turned out to be a bust, and it was the one I wanted the MOST! A school counselor position at a Brooklyn charter school that focused on teaching ethics and human justice. Well, hello there! I’m extremely ethical in my counseling practices. The phone interview went great! I used my connection to the school (my fiance’s cousin’s nephew’s boyfriend is an assistant principal at the school) to get an interview with one of the head honchos. She only asked me two questions before stopping herself and told me I would be the perfect fit for the school and did not need to complete any more questions but wanted me to come in for a face-to-face interview with the rest of the team. Awesome! We scheduled it for a few days later.

Coincidentally, that very same day, the school received notice from the NYC Department of Education that they would be shut down at the end of this academic year due to low performance and lack of progress. Even with the campus’ peaceful march and protest of the closing, the city would not budge. Strike three!

So after all this, I was not exactly feeling encouraged, as one would imagine. Then I realized that it has not happened yet because the right place is still awaiting me.

The right place, as it turns out, may not even be working at a school. I have reinvigorated myself by shifting my focus back to my hobbies and original idea of tourism. I ordered the Blue Guide New York, and I have been ramped up my goal of taking tours and increasing my social network. Sure, it scares me. Becoming a tour guide and starting my own business or working for a tour guide company is not as structured as I would normally like. I do prefer the known over the unknown.

But when it feels right, it feels right. Two friends agree. Two friends that don’t even know the other. One told me she had imagined me doing tours for quite some time before I even told her. The other – without actually going into details – has many connections in the Dominican community – here and in the DR – and wants to work with me as somewhat of business partners, where she sends tourists to me from the Dominican Republic. I could write another 1,300 words just about this vision, but I won’t. I want to nurture it.

However, it is bringing me so much clarity. I feel like my seven-year-old child self, when I had a world map with push pins of all the countries, cultures and languages I wanted to learn about…back in 1984. I feel like that twenty-something self that walked through Downtown Austin, noticing the Duck Tours going by and thinking to myself, “Hey, I would love do that!”

So now, I’m following that dream. I have created a vision wall that has been tremendously inspirational to me.

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In addition to this shift in focus onto becoming a tour guide and reading up on NYC, I am studying for my sightseeing license exam. Once I pass that, I am licensed and can legally serve as a tour guide in NYC. Furthermore, I am also looking into working as a docent in a museum, and with my experience as an educator and my passion for history and art, I can combine all these hobbies into one, soulful, thirst-quenching career. Granted, regarding museums, I probably need another master’s degree in museum studies or museum education. Tomorrow night, I am attending an open house at Bankstreet College to find out more about a degree in museum education.

Now, I have a third friend who told me she would hate for me to waste my skills as a teacher and counselor. Well, why I know I am good at being a counselor and teacher, and I know the good that I do for kids, it is time to feed my soul. With all that I have done, I just don’t feel like I want to step into another school as a teacher, especially with the emphasis on standardized testing that goes against my philosophy. No, I’m ready for something more. It is still education, and it brings out the little child in me.

Since I gazed endlessly at the world map on my bedroom wall in 1984, I have been to 20 countries and lived in another. I learned Spanish. I hold trivial facts close to my heart. This is the time to explore that. I don’t know all the answers, and I have no experience in business. I can learn that, though. I will. I’m taking a leap and know the net will appear.

Here I go.

Dear American Christians

WhenEFTalks

Dear American Christians,

You need to get a grip, and I am tired of speaking to you politely. You are not being persecuted by being required to serve all customers in your store. If you serve all people in your store, you are simply beingAmerican.

As a fellow Christian, I can assure you, your faith will not be compromised, and God will not be displeased with you, if you make a cake or a pizza for gay people.

wpswi150402
What many of you do not seem to realize is that this move for the “religious freedom” laws is designed to appeal to your basest fears. These bills are designed to do one thing, and one thing only: to make you feel offended and afraid that your faith is at stake. But your faith is not at stake. And if you think it is, then your faith is far…

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A Reflection On “A Letter To Christians In Indiana, From Jesus”

Before I get to the letter I found, I first want to talk about what is a pivotal moment in history. We are living in a time of heated political debates circled around a cultural war – progressive thought versus conservative thought, new versus old, in versus out, left versus right. Politicians fight and serve their own interests, and what is often forgotten is the people in the middle, whom I believe make up the majority of the U.S. population. I tend to steer away from political social media debates and posting my political views. Except when it personally impacts me. Such is the case with the Indiana RFRA and my life as a gay man.

The backlash is strong, as evidenced on the Yelp page for Memories Pizza in Walkerton, Indiana. Pardon my humored reference, but going to the page feels a lot like I’m watching The Legend of Billie Jean, where both sides are sending the same message found in the movie’s theme song from Pat Benatar:

We can’t afford to be innocent
Stand up and face the enemy
It’s a do or die situation, we will be invincible

And with the power of conviction
There is no sacrifice
It’s a do or die situation
We will be invincible

I’m a person of spirituality and faith but not of religion. I believe that religion mixed with government deteriorates the essence of how this country was founded. Religion, when by itself and nurtured by its individual follower in a private manner, is perfectly fine because it is not forcing the thought onto others. Fighting for equality and same protections for an unprotected class of LGBT citizens is not the same as forcing one’s religion onto the public or denying service in a business based on your personal convictions. While business may be considered private, we are still interacting and exchanging in public in a free market. Now I want to take time to address (not bash) our socially-conservative critics.

By all means, I am not opposed to you sharing your faith and thoughts, but in a loving, tolerant way. I do that with my friends, and we do not always agree. But for years, I have personally experienced hateful remarks and despise from people claiming to be Christian. I experienced discrimination and condemnation from my church as a Mormon (mainly because I did not know the Bible or Book of Mormon), but I am not making a blanket statement that all Mormons are hateful. There are plenty of wonderful, loving Christians not doing this, but unfortunately, my community has been the target of holy bullying, as have other minority groups. It has taken me years of personal growth – for I only have the power to change my reactions and feelings rather than the views of others – to see and understand that many, many Christians and other religions are LGBT allies, and likewise, I know many Republicans who support our cause.

I truly want those opposed to the LGBT cause to understand how difficult it is to wake up and face this daily, public persecution and keep calm but continue to fight. (Note that I am not actually speaking about your belief but rather the actions taken based upon your belief. I support your right to your belief.) Consider this for a moment. Why do you think there are not more minority groups reflected in the same philosophy and convictions as you? For years, my community has tried to sit down and openly discuss our cause with you. That was unsuccessful. If we stand up and fight, we are viewed as a “liberal lynch mob.” Yet, we constantly deal with the far-right politicians spreading fear and lies about who we truly are as human beings. While reading and watching the news reporting about this law, I have noticed defenders of it claim it is not anti-gay and protects all Hoosiers. Well, that is not the message sent and received when we see anti-LGBT lobbyists who authored the bill and were present at it’s signing. I cannot just sit back in the closet to comfort the misguided fear of this covert discrimination.

As a community, we have a lot of pain and anger, because of treatment as second-class citizens and the refusal of those to provide us the same human rights as yourself. But along with that pain and anger, we are strong and will speak the truth to dispel the misperception that we are evil. We tend to use wit and sarcasm in doing that. Granted, I do feel that the LGBT fight can take it a little too far with harsh attacks, just as you as a socially conservative Christian may feel.

My natural tendency is to sit at a table and listen to each other. We seem to be facing off in a battle right now, which makes that table talk appear to be impossible. But it isn’t. I do believe that our mutual actions can be the way to finding a balance. I’m not asking you to believe in my convictions. I possess an abundance of self-awareness and strength in myself as a citizen; however, I do ask that you pause and reflect on the message sent by denying my community essential rights and how that feels, just as you express in feeling persecuted. I am asking that together, we listen and see the value in equality for all, even if you are personally against same-sex marriage and other legal protections. It can be done. It already does exist without you needing to join me in my personal matters in my bed. I may consider myself a Democrat, but on the spectrum, I’m simply in the middle, with a little bit of everything. With that being said, I saw this letter and found it to be the most thought-provoking argument I have seen about this topic. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

john pavlovitz

Pen

Dear Christians In Indiana (and those elsewhere, who might read this),

I’ve seen what’s been going on there lately. Actually, I’ve been watching you all along and I really need to let you know something, just in case you misunderstand:

This isn’t what I had planned.

This wasn’t the Church I set the table for.

It wasn’t the dream I had for you, when I spoke in those parables about the Kingdom; about my Kingdom.

It was all supposed to be so very different.

It was supposed to be a pervasive, beautiful, relentless “yeast in the dough” that permeated the planet; an unstoppable virus of compassion and mercy spread person-to-person, not needing government or law or force.

It was supposed to be that smallest, seemingly most insignificant of seeds, exploding steadily and gloriously with the realized potential of my sacred presence, becoming a place of safety and shelter for all people.

It was supposed to be…

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A Gay Dad’s Letter to Gay Teen, Austin Wallis, and the High School That Rejected Him

I try to find the words to refute the extreme hypocrisy of people using Christianity to oppress the LGBTQ community. This father so magnificently stated the obvious about the real hero and outstanding character of Austin Wallis.

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austin willis evol eq

The world of teens and tweens can be a treacherous one. As the dad to two 12 year olds, I see it as a world where childhood cushions and play have fallen away and new, somewhat complex challenges have emerged. It is a world where peer relationships and socializations are paramount. Independence is practically a life force and hormones seem to be pumping through veins previously filled with sugar and spice. It is a world where kids discover themselves and those discoveries can range from the thrilling to crisis, and sometimes both at the same time.

Adults standing on the sidelines to this whirlwind try our best to lead, nurture and inspire. We try to guide our young charges to being their best, and set themselves up to capture a destiny worthy of the love we cloak them in.

Some adults do this except in the cases where the child…

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Moving Slow in a Fast-Paced Life

It’s been my observation that although I live in one of the world’s fastest-paced metropolitan areas, life is not as fast as one would think. Ironically, when I pick up the phone to call the State Department of Education, when I drive the car, or when I order food for delivery, everything crawls at a snail’s pace.

But on the streets and in social settings, no one slows down enough to take the time to notice anything. How about the fresh air? The sunshine? Or greeting someone on the street? It’s quite the contradiction when fast and slow are juxtaposed in the same context in and around NYC.

Sometimes the pace is so fast it is isolating and cold. Other times, it exudes peace.
Sometimes the pace is so fast it is isolating, like being left out in the cold. Other times, it exudes peace.

I’ve been walking fast to get places but have been moving slowly to establish my own social network and friends. That was until yesterday.

Being introverted really surprises most people I know. I think the difference is I can push myself toward outgoing, but I had to learn how. I am a very methodical person, but it has served me well in pursuing those experiences that do not come easy or natural to me. That’s what I finally did when it came to finally attending my very first Meet Up event. As nervous as I was, I knew the benefits far outweighed my fears. I met new people. I laughed. I even met other educators. There were other couples there. I did not want to leave. All at a LGBT Board Game event. Why had I waited so long?

After I did leave, I had a smile. A victorious smile on my face that spelled relief. A personal victory that means now I can really set out to do the things I intend to do. I’m attending a seminar next week solely for gay men: Creating Intentional Rituals for Positive Change. It’s right on track with what I am already accomplishing. My intentions are to put myself out there for employment, for spiritual growth, and for living. It seems to be working. I had one potential employer reach out to me and offer a phone interview for next week. That’s a great feeling…especially after people told me that here you don’t call to follow-up with potential employers after submitting your resume and cover letter.

It’s surely a different world in which I live. One that probably would have been ten times more frustrating and discouraging had I tried to look for work immediately upon moving here. This journey has allowed me to live, learn and truly experience this life.

But it still intrigues me just how slow everything is despite the speed of lightning mentality. Or is it the other way around? That’s one I’m still trying to decipher.

Momentum

My walk started as an internal dance. The grin turned into a smile as my ears buzzed to a remix of Mr. Brightside. Particularly the part when he sang:

Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
Cause I’m Mr. Brightside

(Viewed on http://www.metrolyrics.com/mr-brightside-lyrics-the-killers.html)

This song really doesn’t have anything to do with my current life when you think about the content of the lyrics. I am not watching my other half with another man, as the song would suggest. But those three lines were speaking loudly to me yesterday afternoon, as I glanced out the windows of the slow-moving light rail in Hoboken and walked off the train toward my destination – FedEx Office to scan my cover letter.

I felt this sudden energy and spirit within that I think I had been doubting. I was so excited and fearless about the possibility of this position for which I was about to apply. So excited that the internal dance busted out into an external one. No, I didn’t actually start dancing, but my spirit did. I erupted into that peaceful smile.

For a while, I had been asking about what it means to hustle for work up here. Well, at this particular moment yesterday in Hoboken, with Mr. Brightside by my side, I realized that destiny is calling. My eager eyes are wide open, and I am in the groove. I feel traction now. I feel that I have nothing to lose. I’m taking chances on positions that I otherwise might not have considered.

This morning offered some more welcoming news. I finally got some solid answers regarding my New York State teaching and counseling certifications. I have been in the process for a year now. A YEAR! And every time I have called or emailed…and called again…to ask why this or that did not transfer from my Texas certificates, or even told that it would but it did not…I got different answers. Or even “I don’t know.” Someone today took the time to slow down and explain the procedures and what was missing…in a way that was clear and streamlined, unlike all the other attempts. Now, I still have about a million hoops to bounce through, but that’s okay because now I KNOW.

Doubt can be a part of a sabbatical, but so is clarity. It’s clear to me that this sabbatical is guiding me in the direction I need to go. I’m here. I’m good. I’m taking risks. And most of all, I have momentum.

Thank you, Mr. Brightside!

hustle /ˈhʌs(ə)l /

I remember when we first moved here, my neighbor said that I was too nice and that I’d be eaten up by the culture here. I thought nothing of it. Then during the past month, I began to wonder, “Is she right?” Am I fitting in? I’ve noticed that just about everyone I do meet is part of being a couple and in a professional setting with my fiance. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this lately, and I realized that I need my own identity and my own friends. Those are the things that come naturally, and work helps with that.

Marco told me before and recently again that to get work here, I have to hustle. What does that even mean? Do I have it? How does it work? I don’t enjoy marketing myself. With frustration over my certification in New York still looming a year after I initiated the process, I feel I could use a coach.

I found that the Oxford Dictionary defines hustle as:

[no object, with adverbial of direction] Push one’s way; bustle

Sell aggressively

North American informal Move or act quickly.
As I settle into this new life in Jersey/NYC, I’m beginning to become aware of my own anxiety about landing a job. For a while, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to continue my education career as a teacher or school counselor. But I find myself missing it. Maybe I just needed a break to gain some perspective. Now that I am here in the city, there’s much more competition. I know I have what it takes, but I’m reminded by my fiance that hustling is the key.
Being from Texas, that’s not necessarily who I am. I don’t like to market myself to potential employers in general, and to have to do that in a place where there seems to be ten times more competition is a bit intimidating. So I literally want to know…how does one hustle? What does it take?
No, I’m not talking about swindling or illicit activity. How do I push myself forward? My best estimate to start would be exuding confidence. Check. So tell me…what are the other keys?
This hustling phenomena led me to take a little a sabbatical from my sabbatical during the holidays. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how much I was self-accomplishing by blogging. Instead, I started focusing my efforts on work and cutting back on spending. Especially since I have yet to sell my condo back in Dallas. Even though my adventures have been spiritually rewarding, they don’t exactly pay the bills. I have applied in two districts and initiated contact in a third. But with little feedback and many times going in circles or unable to follow up, reality is sinking in where I’m feeling maybe I’m a little out of my league in this harsh culture. Things aren’t as streamlined here, and my friendly, Texas smile isn’t going to magically land me a job. It’s trying to even meet people and make new friends. At times, it feels a bit lonely, despite these great adventures. I joined MeetUp to help, but the truth is I’m an introvert, which is shocking to many since I appear so outgoing. Deep inside, I’m very much a thinker and analyze my interactions. I prefer for others to take the lead and initiate. I have a hard time stepping out. The funny thing is I have done it before. I lived in Argentina and went back to Argentina all alone. I can do it. I just feel stuck at the moment.
If this feels gloomy, it’s not intended to. I know there is a growing pain to such a big change in life and relocating. By putting this out there into the universe, I’m hoping to become unstuck and find that spark. I want it. I need it. I have it. I will find it…within me.

When the triggers stick…

As we ascended the steps onto the Uptown 1,2 and 3 platform in Midtown yesterday afternoon around 3:30, I saw what everyone else saw. A humiliated man in a suit with head down and pretending to write in a notebook. To his right was an immense, typed display of his story in large print. I tried to absorb as much of it as I could before the express train arrived. Although I didn’t finish, I caught some of the important gist. To sum up, I gathered from the display that this man had attempted to walk across the States, was struck by an 18-wheeler and paralyzed. A man who had been helping the homeless to find work and homes was suddenly in a struggle for his life. It took him twelve years to learn to walk and talk again. And in the process, he lost everything he had and was looking for help to find work. But what really stood out to me was his plea. A heart-crushing plea that is sticking to me. In his typed words, he described how most people read his display and choose to walk away and ignore him. He won’t look up because of the pain it causes.

With his simple words, “When people look away, IT HURTS,” I felt a punch to the gut that sat uncomfortably in my heart. Suddenly, the train arrived, and he was gone as I boarded the train and dashed uptown. But the moment haunted me. I wondered if I would see this person again. Would I be able to rectify my own issues and incongruities with people on the street. It triggered something. I was again reminded of my own humility and a miracle that encompassed my life.

I’m not a crazy person, but for years, I was afraid to talk about it because of how I analyzed the way others would view me. Much like the lonely and defeated man, when people looked away, it hurt like a worm hole to hell. Before running into this man yesterday, I was already reminded of my own past. I don’t dwell on these past experiences. I don’t even consider myself a victim. Before seeing this man look so deflated, I couldn’t always understand why, after several years pass by,  certain visions of past horrors resurface.

Hence, my triggers.

Something I don’t share with many people is that I have survived emotional, verbal and sexual abuse as a child. I saw a lot of physical violence as a baby. My biological parents divorced before I was even two years of age. Throughout elementary and through 7th grade, I was called faggot, queer, and homo on a daily basis. I have survived living in a cult as a very young, naive adult in my early twenties as an exchange student in Argentina. I survived a rape at 25, where no police would believe me despite my pressing charges against the man afterwards. I’ve experienced a tumultuous divorce of my parents and saw it tear our family apart when I was 23…with the metaphorical death of a parent at the same age of 23. Then the death of a parent at 27. Suffice it to say, I’ve survived a lot of chaos in my life.

That doesn’t make me a hero, nor does it have me feeling pity for myself. It doesn’t mean that my pain is worse or less than anyone else’s. It has me wanting to share and talk…because that’s how we process healing. I have been in therapy a lot in my life, and I’m forever grateful for it. I have really worked on myself to lessen the impact of my anxieties from an unstable childhood. I’m even a counselor myself. But talking doesn’t heal all the wounds. Talk therapy doesn’t solve it like a magic button. Rather, I have had to go to deep and dark places within myself to allow myself to feel the anger and replace the shame with love and understanding.

And then I have had to go easy on myself when some of that pain suddenly re-enters my world. Like recently when I read the stage directions in Spanish for my fiance’s fellow actors in a reading of an Argentine play. And every day when I see a homeless man out on the street…and especially now, the man on the train platform.

Here’s how I understand my own triggers. And I’m okay with it.

1. As I read the stage directions that night at the reading, an actor cutting me off in a somewhat arrogant way suddenly triggered my cult experience with the sect leader. In 1998, while living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was naively swept into a new-age sect by my host mother. I innocently thought I was doing good work on myself, as I grew up in family therapy. This felt no different, until I experienced moments where one member started choking another. Or the time that another member and I had to act out our own lives as gay hair stylists and had to kill each other in the end. Or being sexually seduced by one of the leaders. Or how about singing on the streets for money…to give to the group (more on that later)? I was completely broken down, apart, and twisted into something they wanted me to be for the team. I was a robot.

But perhaps the scariest thing was the fact that I was doing all this in Spanish, and one night, when I was acting out my death with the “other” gay guy, I had a difficult time understanding a few of his words because he mumbled. Suddenly, I heard the leader of the cult walk up, look at me and say in English, “Michael, you speak Spanish right? Then stop with your bullshit excuses that you don’t.” The look on his face frightened me. I was legitimately scared of this human being. To make a long story short and fast forwarding a couple of months later, I came back to the States for Christmas to recruit my family and others. A miraculous intervention took place where I never returned to Argentina, and for the longest time, I struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, words I never use partially because of how people perceive it as a weakness, but more importantly, I don’t believe in a labeled diagnosis as a helpful tool for healing. If you knew me before, you knew how much pride I took in speaking Spanish and living in South America. I felt lost, soul-less, and in a rut after I was detained by family from returning to South America. Speaking Spanish reminded me of the pain, so I slowly removed myself from it little by little. Whenever I get tongue-tied today while speaking Spanish, I’m reminded of that moment where the leader scared me. The evil in his eyes frustrate and paralyze me.

Fast forward to the present and the Spanish reading, I know this actor was not the cult leader. But anybody who knows about PTSD knows that memories can be simply triggered. This actor has no idea of my past or what happened. Granted, he was a tad bit cocky in his way of going about stopping me, which was so hauntingly reminiscent of the cockiness of my cult leader. Surprisingly, I handled it well, but for the next 30 minutes of the reading, I could only focus on belittling myself and come up with reasons why I couldn’t read it faster in my second language. In the end, I found my own resolution. I couldn’t blame the actor, and I couldn’t blame myself. Sometimes, it just happens. It’s my second language, after all. It doesn’t define me. I DO speak the language…but when I stumble and when I’m lost at times, it’s because I’m working out my trauma and trying to separate that the past experience is not related to the current experience.

2. Right outside our New Jersey apartment lives a man on the streets. He was evicted from our building because of his alcoholism and it’s impact on his behavior with other tenants. There are times I want to help him, but I become crippled by my certain view of the world. Rewind to 1998 in Buenos Aires. For my “personal” breakthrough challenge that would prove my loyalty to the cult, I chose to sing for $30. I wasn’t homeless, but I sure looked like I was homeless. My clothes hung off my gaunt body as if I had been a drug addict. I could barely keep my clothes up after having lost so much weight as a member of the sect. We spent hours upon hours with each other, not being allowed to eat or stop if we hadn’t accomplished the goals of the leader.

During the few days I sang Walls by Tom Petty and Somebody by Depeche Mode (because they were the only two songs I knew by heart, as I loved them), most people stared at me and walked away. I was turned down. I was humiliated. But one night, as I continued to sing right outside the Recoleta Cemetery where Evita is buried and my partners watching me to make sure I completed the mission, one man and his wife walked up. They happened to be from my hometown of Dallas, Texas and wanted to know what was going happening…why was I here singing on the streets for money? I was 21 and scared that if I didn’t earn my money, I wouldn’t have a place to go.

I felt I had to manipulate, cheat, and lie to save my life. So without hesitation, I told them I was robbed, my luggage stolen, and I was trying to get money to get back to the States for Christmas. I could see the hesitation in their eyes. I only needed $10 more dollars, and after they thought it over, they handed me $20. But then the unimaginable happened. They wanted my parents’ phone number so they could call them and let them know what was going on upon their return from their vacation in Argentina. There was no pencil… no pen…not even a piece of paper. The man’s wife dug around her purse and took out her lipstick and a white napkin. I proceeded to give them the correct number, which later down the road proved to be the miracle when he used the handwritten note on the napkin with lipstick to call my mom, told her the story, and my family intervened on my “recruitment” trip during Christmas. That call was what kept me from returning to finish out my time as an exchange student in Buenos Aires. It wasn’t until 2007 that I returned…all by myself to get the closure I needed. My own therapy.

So today, I am sitting here with the original intent to only write about the triggers from the actor and the homeless gentleman struggling with alcoholism. But life has a strange way of coming full circle. When it comes to helping people on the street, I have a hard time deciphering who’s telling the truth and who is manipulating. Based on my true life story as a cult survivor, one might conclude I would only have more compassion and reach out more. That is a sound argument. But when I came back to the States back in 1998, I came with a lot of anger. I had episodes of anxiety attacks and paranoia where I swore “they” were following me. That doesn’t make me crazy. It’s just part of having PTSD. But I was really angry at the world and myself…for taking advantage and stealing. If I lied to get innocent strangers to help, then what if all these other people are lying? Do you follow me? Shame and guilt.

But today, I understand it differently. I lied because in that moment, I needed to for my mental survival. What would have happened if I hadn’t?

I have no idea if the gentleman on the train platform yesterday is telling the truth. I tried googling the story, and it came up with multiple events from all over the country that didn’t seem to match him. But I cannot deny how much empathy I felt for him in that short moment. The pain…the heartache…and the people just walking by, ignoring his existence. I know how that feels…until that instance when that couple made a difference in my life with just a napkin and lipstick. For the first time since I returned as an angry, pissed off, shattered 21-year-old, I realize that my fear and, perhaps his fear, are the same…being misjudged when people don’t really know the life circumstances. Perhaps I have misjudged him in this blog by questioning his truthfulness. But his body language said he needed a napkin and lipstick just like me.

Today, I am grateful for my own humility and the miracles that come in life. And maybe…just maybe I needed these recent triggers to decode a deeper meaning in my own existence. I can’t help but think back to my dying father’s wishes for me to share my stories and teach others from what I have experienced. Perhaps a piece of this can shed some light on a struggling soul somewhere. I may have been through some hell and back, but I don’t view my traumas as defeating me. I’m a strong person, and I know that. But I haven’t always seen it.

I don’t know if I will see the man at the train again. But if I do, I implore the 21-year-old in me to walk up to him. Maybe I can help him with a simple touch on the shoulder…a smile…or some social activism. I guess I will just have to follow my heart. With caution by my side, of course. After all, caution is a safe bet in New York City. However, whether his story is true or not true, something is there.

Triggers. The truth is…we all have them. And I say that when the triggers come knocking, turn on the lights.