• For Grandma: Let’s talk about memories

    When I wrote this in 2014, there was a viral momentum that pushed memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease into the national spotlight. Then, and even now, the United States had a problem that basically needed money to have a chance to be solved. In a time when people are surviving and living through other major diseases, our friends and family members with Alzheimer’s disease — without cures or real treatments — are dying at an increasing rate.

    Grandma before Alzheimer's

    “Americans whisper the word Alzheimer’s because their government whispers the word Alzheimer’s. And although a whisper is better than the silence…it’s still not enough.”

    When Seth Rogen gave a speech about his mother-in-law who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in her 50’s I was surprised. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. (and is emotionally and financially devastating to so many families) – yet it’s treated like another inevitable disease. I hung on to every word because I understood his pain.

    Grandma, top, in April 1949.

    I remembered sitting outside with my grandma one summer and listening to stories about her life. I think I was 17. I definitely didn’t know then what was to come. I wasn’t aware of what could happen to a person, even if you love them. Even if they’re the most important person in the world to you.

    The comedian’s story in front of the U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services was predictably funny, but still powerful. That committee is the one that’ll be looking at the economic effect of Alzheimer’s disease as well as how much money is going into research. 

    I was immediately grateful that he lent his celebrity to this cause and shared such a personal story. I was grateful that the C-SPAN video blew up online less than 24 hours after it was recorded. Honestly, if he wasn’t trying to make us laugh, I would have been crying all over my keyboard.

    All I could think about afterward was that sharing stories is so important to help others understand what’s important to you.

    Our Grandma

    My grandmother has lived with dementia for several years. She is now a 90 year old woman, with great grandchildren, who can’t recognize her closest family members.

    Having dementia means cells are dying in your brain, causing what you would expect: a person to forget. First, small things, and then lots of things all at once, including people they’ve known for decades. Their brain loses the blueprints for activities that you and I find simple, like how to get dressed or eat or which people to trust. Most cases of dementia are caused by Alzheimer’s disease (though there are several others).

    An important thing to remember is that Alzheimer’s and dementia are not a normal part of aging, just like cancer is not a normal part of life.

    My grandmother had a difficult life. She survived a World War, years of hunger, Stalin and all of the things associated with the Soviet Union. She was forced out of her country and her home as a teenager. At almost 70 years old, she moved to America.

    One of my favorite photos of my grandmother is her as a young girl. I love this photo but it’s difficult to imagine her this way. What were her hopes, her goals or her dreams? That’s something I can’t ask anymore.

    As one of the youngest grandchildren I feel that I could never have had as much time as everyone else to know her. I’m sure no amount of time would have been long enough anyway. All I know is that she loved us, and doted on my brother and me in all of the ways she knew how —  by telling us about her plants, making fresh bread, forcing us to eat her meals, and then making something new when we protested.

    This was not a grandmother who’d let you eat pizza or hamburgers. I remember her laughing at all of the American ways we picked up at school. I’m sure we did some strange things in her eyes.

    I remember when she learned to read English but couldn’t understand a word. She would read my brother’s t-shirts and ask us what the phrases meant.

    She taught me to do crosswords in Russian and I still love them. The little squares remind me of her. Vines on plants and fresh bread remind me of her, even though she’s still here.

    Tell Your Story

    Sharing stories gets people out of the shadows, and encourages then to ask for help. But the resources they need have to be there or else it’s just talk. There is no way to prevent, cure or to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. Unlike other major diseases, diagnoses have actually increased 68% over the past decade. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million people are currently living with the disease. That doesn’t include non Alzheimer’s induced dementia. Nor the number of family members, caretakers, social workers and other invaluable people who spend decades of their lives dealing with the disease.

    Seth Rogen mentioned that not so long ago, people who had cancer were ashamed to tell anyone. Though unfortunately cancer is still a leading cause of death, the research for its cure has visibility and financial support.

    It’s not easy to share something private, but I’ll gladly do it if it will tell someone that they’re not alone, or it will remind others that we’re still fighting for our loved ones.

    Politics, committees and budget meetings like the one Rogen attended happen all the time, but I’m hoping that there will be some breakthroughs given this momentum.

    So I ask our Congress, the President and everyone else: What are your memories worth to you? 

  • isis destroy history syria

    Destroy history and you destroy humanity

    It was pretty alarming to read that ISIS destroyed the Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, and killed an archaeologist who had looked after it for 40 years. To be honest, I had never heard of the ancient city of Palmyra. I didn’t know that the Temple of Bel was almost 2000 years old and dedicated to a Mesopotamian god. It withstood the Roman empire, conversions to Christianity and later to Islam.

    But now that I do… it’s genuinely upsetting. This area was along the Silk Road and its history seems to be an example of different cultures vying for power and somehow living together as well. Most cultures don’t exist in a vacuum. Things definitely have to change. If you live in the United States particularly, our cities are a testament to changing times, but we need cities like Palmyra to continue existing.

    In “The Monuments Men“, Frank Stokes a.k.a George Clooney, says this:

    “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed.”

    The movie was about a group of art experts who were enlisted by the U.S. army to find and preserve art that Hitler was destroying as he blasted through Europe. It wasn’t the best movie, but I really loved this speech. Art represents culture. Sometimes it’s both history and progress. Without it, we would not be the same world despite all of our wonderful scientific and technological achievements.

    ISIS is not unique in what they did. There’s a reason that dictators burn books. It’s to erase ideas and attempt to rewrite the past. Aren’t we better as people if we learn from the past rather than destroy it? Aren’t we better people if we CHOOSE to do something and learn it ourselves, instead of being forced into it?

    Why do people prefer to study classics and history instead of technology? There is something in human nature that’s guided towards it. I think we need both progress and history, art and technology. We need both for the human race to survive.

    I don’t know what the solution is to a problem as big as ISIS (and other groups who want to destroy the world). Obviously I have more questions than answers, but this is a reminder that there are people in this world who risk their lives to protect even a seemingly small part of our humanity.

    Let’s remember the people — like archaelogist Khaled al-Asaad — who have.

  • reporters killed virginia

    Two more people killed and we can’t stop watching, but…

    Two young journalists and a woman they were interviewing were shot on live television on August 26, 2015. I started writing this in anger on a Wednesday night, the same day it happened, and decided to wait before publishing. My gut reaction was strong. I thought about this tragic story obsessively for a few days because of the way it was first broadcast in public, and then done again and again online.

    If you haven’t read about it by now, a guy came shot three people during a live morning interview. Initially he got away and had time to post a his own, first-person video of the crime. To top that off, several media outlets shared the video that the murderer recorded and posted online.

    11885400_10153051919127217_1084965348081898824_n

    By Thursday morning, some newspapers and TV stations were using stills (if not whole clips) from the incriminating video. With one article after another, whether it was Reuters or some other reliable source, I found myself watching an “edited” version of the shooting video. I had waited to calm down but a week later, it still makes no sense.

    We will never stop trying figure out “what happened?” Why did he do it? Maybe that’s why the Daily News thought it was a good idea to publish a front page photo of Alison Parker being shot from the killer’s perspective. Many other newspapers did the same.

    We read about murders and horrible crimes every single day. We look at statistics and try to grasp at what they represent, but somehow even the most violent images can’t force us as a country to react.

    The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence wrote recently about how effective even relatively small changes to gun laws can make a huge difference in the number of people killed every year. One example they used was the state of Missouri and its repeal of a 80-year old law that required a background check and license to buy handguns from any type of seller.

    “Johns Hopkins researchers determined that repeal of Missouri’s background check requirement was linked to a 14% increase in Missouri’s murder rate through 2012 and a 25% percent increase in firearm homicide rates. These researchers estimated that in tragic human terms, the law’s repeal translated into an additional 49 to 68 murders every year.”

    That number is not just a number. Each one is a person whose life was taken by a gun. Not by a mentally ill person or a “disgruntled employee,” but by a gun that was available to them.

  • robin williams rip

    ‘Words and ideas can change the world’ – R.I.P., Robin Williams

    R.I.P. robin williams

    “Twenty-six years ago, you played a game with a little boy down the street. A game with drums.” (Jumanji, 1995)

    I can remember watching Jumanji as a kid, and getting really into the “horrors” and surprises of the story. Floods! Stampedes! A man trapped in the jungle because of a game!

    Robin Williams didn’t stand out much to me at the time — I was only 5 when the movie was released and didn’t care about people in movies one way or another. What I did remember all those years ago, and even now, was his quirky smile and laugh. He voiced Genie in Aladdin, which was unforgettable. There was Mrs. Doubtfire — unforgettable in a totally different way. I remember him in Good Will Hunting, Flubber, Jack, Hook, Bicentennial Man, and many more. Williams was known as a comedian but he was also unforgettable in dramatic roles.

    Once I start thinking about everything he was in, I realize that not only was he an icon but also a big part of my life through movies. 

    “Our job is improving the quality of life, not just in delaying death.” (Patch Adams, 1998)

    This year I watched “Angriest Man in Brooklyn”, where he starred alongside Mila Kunis. There was also the “Crazy Ones” on CBS, which I was looking forward to watching again in the Fall. When I read the news on Twitter, my first thoughts went to this show. How could someone who was still relevant, still funny, still talented take his own life?

    I’m sure there will be a lot of speculation in the week ahead. As an audience, we don’t know Robin Williams’ mental state, his financial state, or his physical state at the time of his death. We know him as the actor, and I know it’s hard for me to separate him from his on-screen personalities. You may have heard that he had a history of drug addiction, and may have been bipolar. What I do know is that he brought laughter, wisdom and energy into the world of entertainment.

    Robin Williams’ movies will live on, and in that way so will he. Many more people will find joy in his work. He deserves that.

    I hope that this moment will also be a reminder that even relevant, funny and talented people can be depressed. They can need help and be lost when they don’t receive it. They can commit suicide.

    “It’s not your fault.”

    I hate to sound cliché but “in this day and age” a lot of us are only friends behind screens. It’s easy for us to believe that we are doing our best to make a connection with someone through social media. But if someone simply disappeared off Facebook, would you know how to reach them? Don’t leave any one who you believe is depressed or suicidal alone. Reach out to them. If you are talking to the person online you can try to find someone who knows them or in a worst-case scenario: call the police. Don’t be embarrassed to do something that could save their life.

    Dr. John Grohol, founder of PsychCentral.com, shared one of the most well-written posts regarding Williams and his mental health I’ve read so far. Similar to my own point, he writes this:

    Suicide is an insidious choice due to the lies that depression tells us. When a person is suffering from severe depression, as apparently Williams was, it can tell that person, “Hey, you’d be better off dead. Life isn’t going to get any better.”

    And sadly, sometimes people listen. Even brilliant, accomplished individuals such as Robin Williams.

    Let your friend know you’re listening. Listen without judging is difficult, but try to do it. Ask them what they might need help with. Don’t be afraid to ask if they’re considering suicide. A lot of people want help but don’t know how to ask for it.

    Tell them that it’s not their fault. What they’re feeling does not define them, and that there is help available. Mean what you say and be there for them.  They might tell you that they’re “ok” or that you’ll embarrass them, but think about what the other options are.

    Depression and other mental health issues are extremely stigmatized. Remember that. Depressed people may feel that their seemingly small problems are taking over, meanwhile their friends or their parents will not validate their pain and fears. This can drive them away from real help in order to seem “normal”. Encourage the people you know to seek professional help.

    It’s only fair to you and to them. There are plenty of free, confidential and easy ways to talk to someone.

    Here are some resources I hope will be helpful:

    http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

    http://www.crisistextline.org/get-help-now/

    http://www.sprc.org/basics/warning-signs-suicide

    http://www.wikihow.com/Help-Someone-Who-Is-Thinking-About-Committing-Suicide

  • What’s it like in space?

    space2     space1

    When I discovered Chris Hadfield’s tweets last spring, I was obsessed. Seriously, I turned into a one woman fan club when I emailed new photos to my family, probably with the subject line: SO AWESOME.

    Hadfield, who was commander of the International Space Station at the time, gained popularity when he started sharing photos and videos from orbit straight into the Twitter-sphere. Though his mission was to study human biology in space, he had time to create a lip synced video to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. You know, the one about floating around in space and coming home. Apparently he only had rights to the song for one year and that ends today. Watch the video on YouTube before it’s gone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOC9danxNo.

    space3      space4

    space6      space5

    space7     space8

    What’s up there?

    Isn’t that the big question that makes humans want to propel into space — a less than favorable environment? I was always fascinated by the mysteries of life. And it felt like some of those mysteries were explained the time I got to high school. I was fascinated by flying. By the sky. The more I learned, the more I felt that I really knew nothing. Perhaps that’s what keeps me so interested. Even when I was studying the sciences, I never thought that could be me up anywhere near the stars. I belong on Earth, but I still want to know, both what the stars are made of and what compels someone to keep going up there to find out.

    Calvin and Hobbes stars
    Original here.

    What’s down here?

    What Cmdr. Hadfield gave the world is not only a view of the stars, but a look at ourselves. We love looking up, but we have to come back down eventually just like astronauts. I loved the fact that he was in space. It was mind-boggling, but these photos reminded me of just how much we have going on right here on Earth. There’s so much beauty to learn about and preserve. Even just on a global scale, looking at ice caps, deserts or city lights makes individual problems seem so much less pressing. Yes, it’s cliche, but I know I need a reminder once in a while. Feeling small doesn’t scare me. Even small things add up. I know people are important. Just look at what we can do on Earth and in orbit.

  • April Fool’s Day online

    Last night I had this conversation with my husband:

    Him: “Virgin America is installing Nest [automated thermostats] into each of its seats.”

    Me: “That’s too much.”

    Him: “But still cool.”

    Today I see an update from Virgin’s founder, Richard Branson, announcing that they’re reinventing flying. “Virgin America is the first airline to introduce this feature, with every seat enjoying settings ranging from ‘Cancun Afternoon’ to ‘Chicago Polar Vortex’.” The other choices listed in their on-site quiz were: NYC Subway Sweaty, Texas BBQ, Pacific Northwest Drizzle, and Standard Day in Los Angeles. Well, that definitely tipped me off.

    I’ll be honest: I’m terrified of April Fool’s. I’ll go along with your prank, just in case you’re being serious. Also, I’m just gullible. Now I can also be fooled through the magic of the internet. Thanks, internet.

    Lots of companies have reputations for pulling April Fool’s Day jokes on their customers. Google always has something going on. Last year they “planned” to launch a phone that could smell. Just in case you felt incomplete before. Every year, companies try to do it bigger and better. (Side note: there are unfortunate April 1st announcements, such as Gmail, 10 years ago & Obamacare sign-ups hitting 7 million, today).

    Here a few jokes I’ve encountered today:

    Sephora on Facebook

    The makeup chain posted a “bro tip” during the day.

    sephora april fool's

     Even though it was obviously for April 1, they got some negative comments aimed at the tip itself. That made it funnier, but I don’t think they get any points for this. It would’ve been more effective if they redid their whole Facebook page, or even their homepage to feature some strange products. I can think of some crazy-sounding real ones.

    King’s College Choir on helium

    Though I had never heard of this choir, I watched the video and was pleasantly surprised. They get points for entertainment value.

    Netflix makes you hungry

    netflix april fool's

    A friend posted a video of what he found. Thanks, buddy, for letting me know to stay off Netflix today.

    Tumblr Pro

    tumblr pro april fool's

    In the sidebar, Tumblr advertised its “pro” version. The video that pops up when you click on it was the best part (although I’ll enjoy my internet top hat as long as I can). It features amazing quotes such as: “the human race began as an idea, [pause] and it will end with one.” The quiet piano melody paired with a calm narrator saying creepy things made it work so well! Sounds like Tumbr’s encouraging a world-wide takeover by gathering an army of its pro users. It’s just a wait-and-see kind of thing.

     Gmail “shelfie”

    An option to change my accounts theme to a photo of myself, or of someone else. Given the popularity of selfies, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just let you keep it after April 1. Did everyone have this pop up? Google also announced this new feature on their official blog. It’s logic is illustrated with this fancy graph.

    gmail shelfie
    via google blog

    Nice touch, Google.

    NSA offers to backup ALL of your data

    A few months ago I wrote a post about the NSA and changes to American privacy. So I was quite eager to read this article I found on Twitter.

    nsa april fool's

     

    “The fact is, even people who don’t think they’ve moved to the Cloud, actually have already moved to the Cloud – our Cloud. We put all their stuff into it years ago; and talk about a seamless transition! They didn’t even realise we’d done it…”

    It’s obviously a parody, but still so satisfying to read.

    Google Pokemon Master

    Google has mastered my favorite kind of April Fool’s creations. The ones that are slightly obvious or  fairly innocent. I heard about the new Google Maps Pokemon feature and tested it out on my phone. Imagine loading directions your next travel destination and discovering the area is full of Pokemon! They should keep this forever. Or until someone catches them all…

    The original Pokemon master via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
    The original Pokemon master via Flickr user Gage Skidmore

    Did you see any noteworthy tricks online? Did you get pranked at work or school today?

  • LessThanThree: Asking questions in the internet age

    What are the right questions?

    Some time ago I was browsing Pinterest and noticed someone shared one of my images. This person was Willo, the creator of LessThan3Questions.com*. When I discovered her site, the concept instantly drew me in. (*For those of you who didn’t grow up on the Internet, the title is actually this: < 3.)

    Original here
    Original here

    On “Less Than 3”, Willo writes: “What if we asked each other what makes a difference? What feels rewarding? What needs to change? What we still need to ask ourselves?  I don’t know. But it’s worth asking.”

    At first I saw photos with people holding up random questions. The next set were images of her own questions and answers. The images make you think — and that’s her goal.

    On her site, Willo is the one asking questions so I decided to switch it up. She was kind enough to give a lot of details about her project and the motivation behind it.

    ———–

    Engage, Get Close, Find Answers

    How did “Less Than 3” start? Who else is involved?
    It’s just me. Although many of the ideas and questions come from conversations with those I am closest with.
    In October I left my job in the non-profit world. I worked at a homeless shelter as a Volunteer Coordinator and loved the people we served but was really disenchanted with the way we served them and the way things were run. I was excited about possibility, big ideas, dreams, why we do what we do. [I] still am. It was the over-glorifying stress, making excuses, status quo model that much of the non-profit world engages in. One of my concerns with the current non-profit model is that it doesn’t engage people in the very personalized way that we have become accustomed to in the internet age. So I knew I wanted to go as simple and as close to people as I could get.
    One of my concerns with the current non-profit model is that it doesn’t engage people in the very personalized way that we have become accustomed to in the internet age.
    Original here.
    Original here.
    I was really inspired by Humans of New York. Here’s this guy who just started taking pictures of people and sharing a few sentences about them.  Through that one simple action he was connecting people, changing lives, and making a difference.  He can raise money in a way most non-profits would only dream of.  The secret is the personalization.  People seem to trust him, even though the site isn’t about HIM. This also really appealed to me. I follow and admire people like Jonathon Fields, Danielle Laporte, Kate Northrup, but the idea of building something on ME as the cornerstone really turned me off.
    I wanted it to be about the ideas, other people, and building connections.

    One day in early November, the idea of < 3? came and stuck.  I got the idea on a Friday, launched it on a Monday and have been enjoying the ride ever since.

    Do you get many submissions? How do you get people involved?

    No submissions, yet. Although I’m totally open to it. I have been getting people involved by asking just about everyone I get a chance to if they are willing to be on the site. I usually ask if they prefer picture or video. The questioning process is a little different for each. If we do a video I ask them questions. If we take a picture they ask the question they wish everyone would ask themselves.

    What inspires the questions/posts you write?

    Everything! A lot of times I will be reading, or talking to someone, or listening to something and think: “There is a question here.” Sometimes my friends give me an idea.

    And I have been able to expand it to things that never occurred to me in the original conception. Like illustrated essays and the incredible and inspiring video from The Paper Dress Code. That is one of the things I like best about < 3?. It’s so open that inspiration can come from anywhere and lead anywhere. Which is exactly how I think all the best things in life (including helping others) work.

    Do you think asking the right question can get someone to make changes in life?

    Yes. Of course none of us knows what that question will be that inspires us to make changes, or maybe accept changes. But questions are powerful. I become more convinced of that every day. I think that questions are more powerful than answers. Questions are flexible. Every person who reads < 3? can ask themselves every question on there. The same wouldn’t apply to answers. The things I write don’t necessarily fit or resonate the way the questions can.

    Has this project influenced you in any way?

    Absolutely. I am a much better person than I was when I started < 3?. The people I’ve met and the questions they’ve asked, or caused me to ask, have steered me in a softer, kinder, easier, more loving, more creative, more hopeful direction.

    Which question/submission is your favorite?

    Oh, see this is a tough spot! Because of course I am not supposed to have a favorite. Of course they are supposed to be like my children, all my favorite. But I personally hate when people answer that way, so I won’t.

    I think my favorite question is the very first one I posted. Whitney from Traverse City was such a sweet stranger and so willing and helpful to launch < 3?.

    Original here.
    Original here.

    After she asked [her question] I talked it over with my friends. We got to thinking, what would make your 10 year old self proud? 10 year old Willo doesn’t care how much money I make or what my job is (unless it’s awesome). She wants to know if I am happy. If I laugh a lot. If I found the love of my life. If I have fun. If I hang out with cool people.

    The more I think about it, the more I want to hold my life to the standards of 10 year-old Willo. She knew what was up.

    My favorite answer is when Mary from Ontario said that the best gift she ever received was when her brother came home from Vietnam. It was such an honest personal revelation. It told me a lot about her in one sentence. And it pinpoints what really matters to all of us.

    In your “about” section, you say that connecting to each other makes people better. Do you feel that “Less Than 3” has done that?

    When I started < 3? I wanted to have an impact on everyone. I thought I could do something to change the world. Now I realize that we can change ourselves, and by being happy and healthy and caring, we change the world. I know that’s the way that < 3? has connected me to people, has made me better.

    Every time someone likes or shares something on < 3? I am so happy. Not because of what it means for the site. Everyone is so focused on numbers and audience and analytics these days. Honestly, I don’t care.

    Doing this site has made me better. I would like to think each time someone shares their question it touches them in some way. And every single time someone interacts with the site in some way I am happy that I know about that person. That for a moment I saw their name, and maybe their comment or their blog or something else about them, and I am thankful for them in this world.

    ————

    What question makes you think?

    My own question for Willo

    Here’s mine. Let me know your answer in the comments, or post your own question on Facebook or Twitter (@yevkusa).

  • Celebrating Zora Neale Hurston

    zora neale hurston quote
    Original photo via Flickr user mishism.

    Today would have been Zora Neale Hurston’s birthday. If you haven’t read anything by Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a good place to start.

    zora neale hurston google
    She is featured on Google’s banner today.

    I read this novel in high school and still remember the main character, “Janie Crawford”. She is born and lives in Eastonville, Florida. It’s where Hurston herself grew up and “the first incorporated African American settlement community in the United States,” according to its website.

    Janie is a woman whose voice is stifled by her husband and her community. Only when she finds love does she feel that she can become herself. Hurston uses the metaphor of reaching toward the ocean’s horizon to represent what her character feels, but even that is used against her. It’s a story with a tragic ending, but you’ll enjoy the writing. Here’s the full quote from the image above:

    It was all according to the way you see things. Some people could look at a mud puddle and see an ocean with ships. But Nanny belonged to the kind that loved to deal in scraps. Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon— for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you —and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her.

    I’d recommend reading this book with some background information about Hurston’s life and community in the early 20th century. Let me know if you do!

  • Humans of New York Facebook page

    The art of interviews and HONY

    Interviews are hard work. You approach a stranger and start asking them questions they might not want to answer. You need to ask the right questions, and sometimes ask twice. You need to smile and be friendly, regardless of their attitude or how nervous you are. It’s easy for them to reject you.

     

    You may have heard of Humans of New York, and Brandon Stanton who runs the project. If you haven’t  — get on that, like at New York City speeds. The short version is that Brandon roams the neighborhoods of New York City, takes thousands of photos a day and conducts short interviews. He even writes up epic stories based on his interactions. (Am I overselling?) Most of the time he posts a photo and a short quote.

    If you’ve ever lived in NYC, you know how strange and distant everyone seems. You pass hundreds of people everyday without looking at their faces, much less stopping to greet them. There’s also no doubt that you can find someone interesting in a crowd, but will you approach them? Will you dismiss them?

    What I find beautiful about Humans of New York’s portraits is how easy it is to believe that this person exists. They are a part of the city’s breath and movement. With every quote I read, there is one less stranger and one more human being. They could easily be a neighbor or someone you pass on the street but never noticed.

    I’ve conducted interviews for my previous job as a reporter. The people I remember well are the ones who sparked something in me. The old ladies who spoke as if we were intimate friends. The people who said sweet and harsh and strange things, whether or not they ended up in a story.

    A photo of the woman on the HONY Facebook page, and some of the comments.
    A photo of the woman on the HONY Facebook page, and some of the comments. Where are my tissues, Brandon?

    Humans of New York’s latest posts follow an elderly woman, a widow, who invited Brandon into her home after their initial interaction. They first met when he took a photo of her in the rain and she shared something about her now-deceased husband. Obviously that alone was a great story but the fact that he’s now interacting with this stranger on a deeper level is wonderful.

    This reminded me of when I met an elderly lady for a story about her husband who had passed away. I ended up basically hanging out in her home for several hours. Though I was only supposed to write about a medal her husband received posthumously, I couldn’t stop her when she told me about her children. I had to ask about how she met her husband and where they grew up. I could have followed her around for days while she pointed at black and white photos and old furniture.

    What makes this project extraordinary is that we only get a quick glimpse and have to imagine the rest. But what really amazes me after seeing these photos is that, most of the time, Brandon can say goodbye after one short conversation.

    It’s something special, and there are 2,277,195 Facebook fans who agree. I don’t think I’ll be walking away from HONY anytime soon.

  • After Sandy Hook

    sandy hook shooting remember
    “… that’s the only way good can be in us, is if we freely choose it over all else.”

    – Alissa Parker

    One year after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I sit here remembering the pain in my heart after hearing the news. I was alone at work on a Friday, just 30 miles from Newtown. I remember crying, pacing, trying to figure out how to go on with my day. It hurt most of all when I thought about all of those parents searching for their children, and more so later when I learned about the family in our town who lost their child.

    I can’t begin to imagine what the mothers, fathers, grandparents or neighbors of Newtown, Conn. feel but I know that they are capable of inspiring others to see a future. This video about Emilie Parker, a little girl who died on that day, and her family will bring you to tears but I ask you to really listen to what her mother is saying (even if you’re not fond of the religious tone).

    The events of December 14, 2012 quickly became a hot political topic. Connecticut reacted relatively quickly by passing a large violence prevention and mental health law. Pundits debated the legality, purpose and history of such an endeavor. But the sadness that I feel deep down as I write isn’t about politics, it’s about humanity. It’s about empathy. It’s about looking for a light at the end of a dark tunnel.

    The Jesse Lewis Choose Love foundation started with this message:

    Before my 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis lost his life at Sandy Hook School on December 14, 2012, he had written a message on our kitchen chalkboard: Nurturing Healing Love. The words “nurturing” and “healing” are a part of the definition of compassion across almost all cultures. Love is the foundation on which happy and healthy lives are built.

    The fact that Alissa Parker, Scarlett Lewis and other parents can get out of bed, talk about their story in public and compel others to see the good in the world is incredible.

    Their work reminds me that there is a before and an after to keep in our hearts and minds. The memory might always bring us to tears, but it’s what keeps us human. It’s what brings us together to help build a future that honors the lives we lost.