Muslim Jewish Conference: Putting it all together

A magical walk through the Spandau Forest that included an impromptu serenade with my new friends.

A magical walk through the Spandau Forest that included an impromptu serenade with my new friends.

It has taken me five years to join the team of the Muslim Jewish Conference.  I was introduced to the FEARLESS Leader Ilja Sichrovsky five years ago.  He is a full hearted, passionate, bull headed Austrian with a penchant for cigarettes and red bull.  My dear friend Daniel Pincus had just returned from the second MJC in Kiev.  It was decided that I must attend the next one.  My acting career intervened, and only now have I been able to attend.  I kept getting asked "How did you get involved with the MJC?"  The response was easy . . . "How could I not get involved with the MJC."

That it met my expectations is an understatement.  I will share three brief moments of hundreds that continue to resonate. 

Ahmad is an Egyptian, who was involved in the Tahrir Square uprisings.  We sat on the bus leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as he recounted his experience of marching from the local mosque to the now infamous square on that thrilling January morning in Cairo.  As the protesters walked he recounted the escalation of violence from the authorities . . tear gas . . . water hoses . . . rubber bullets . . . single shots and then open fire.  I was transfixed by his storytelling until another attendee interrupted asking a non related question.  I’m still waiting to hear how it ends.  

Then there was Maryam, a Pakistani Social Impact Entrepreneur and the Vice Secretary General of MJC.  She wowed us with a definitive FEARLESS SPEECH at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berlin.  She emblazoned the hall saying “It is not the perpetrator of violence that is most dangerous, it is the silent bystander that does nothing.”  She continued, “You are not obligated to complete - you are not permitted to abandon.”  It was a clarion call for action.  DO SOMETHING.  

The most emblematic for me was a brief snapshot during the Interfaith Shabbat Service.  The coordinators were inclusive of various expressions of Judaism, from Orthodox to Reform - Sephardic to Ashkenazi - Israeli to American.  Panels were set up for the Orthodox participants who chose to worship with their own gender.  There was only one Orthodox woman who chose to sit in the allotted section.  As we approached the stage to light the shabbos candles, I noticed that sitting next to this woman was a muslim woman in hijab.  She joined her so that she wouldn’t sit alone.  A simple gesture - the gift of presence.  

I am a better man for having participated in the Muslim Jewish Conference.  My heart is full from the people I met and the humanity that I witnessed during those seven days in Berlin.   I am enlivened and challenged by the conversations that erupted from the intersection of over 120 strangers from over 40 countries.  As the conference was ending I found myself approaching absolute strangers and attempting to connect before it was all over.  I became present to my individual historical narrative and the biases I bring to the global political shifts from my privileged American perspective.  

I am grateful for Ilja who is a miracle worker - a man who has worked tirelessly to ensure that this event happens every year and honored he kept his promise to bring me five years ago.  I am blessed for being able to share a week with one of my greatest friends in the world and a true inspiration to me, Dan Pincus.  I am humbled to be in the company of so many fearless people committed to creating new spaces for interfaith cooperation, understanding, love and PEACE!  I can't wait for the next one. Azucar!

We've only just begun...

Maryam Mohiuddin Ahmad, Eduardo Placer and Daniel Pincus #working together - a Muslim, a Catholic and a Jew.

Maryam Mohiuddin Ahmad, Eduardo Placer and Daniel Pincus #working together - a Muslim, a Catholic and a Jew.

We haven’t even begun the conference and the wonder and joy of the interfaith work of Muslim Jewish Conference has already shattered my expectations.  Last night an international team of collaborators - which included three Americans, a Frenchman, a Pakistani woman, a turkish woman, and a Bangladeshi-American woman- researched two projects, born out of Pakistan,  called Mothers Agains Terror and The History Project.  

Mothers Against Terror, brings together an international team of collaborators, through Humanyst, an organization which brings together ordinary leaders to create a better world.  This project will bring together mothers who have suffered at the hands of violent extremists to take on the root causes of this violent expression in their home communities.  This organization believes that thefamilies of the victims are the best poised to make the greatest impact to shift the tide of radicalization at the local level.  They are currently connecting mothers of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and the mothers of the 132 boys who were brutally murdered by the Taliban at the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan.  These mothers will be given financial support to be trained in deradicalization and reintegration of radical youth.  

The History Project is committed to the importance of multiple perspectives to historical narratives, especially as represented or misrepresented in history textbooks.  In 2013, a combination of forty Pakistanis and Indians published a new textbook that pieced together side by side accounts of the different perspectives on the same historical event.  These books were first released in Lahore, Pakistan and Mumbai, India to huge success.  The hope is to replicate this model in other conflict zones to give students helpful tools so that students gain an awareness to alternative perspectives to their historical narrative.

The Conference begins today and I’m already beaming with the formal and informal international collaborative potential of my fellow team members.  Here we go!

Fear of Getting it Right by Sean Ronayne

 Sean Ronayne swinging fearlessly over the Andes in the Casa del Arbol in Ecuador.

 Sean Ronayne swinging fearlessly over the Andes in the Casa del Arbol in Ecuador.

ECUADOR 2015

I started taking Spanish class in third grade. My teacher was Mrs. Dominicis. She was fabulous, fiery, and loved to dance— a legend. As I stood in the lobby of the Great Backpacker’s Hostel in Banos, Ecuador, last week, I thought of how disappointed she would be if she saw me standing silent next to Meri.  Meri completely handled our check- in.  I would say that I picked up about every fifth word because of context clues. I could tell from observing her that we were good to go with our room.  Patricio, the handsome man who worked at the hostel, had already started to fall in love with my friend who he called “Merisol,” I thought it was cute. 

This was the first full length conversation in Spanish I witnessed since arriving in Ecuador six hours earlier. I wasn’t distraught at my inability to understand.  I was groggy from a pair of flights and a four hour bus ride. I chalked it up to exhaustion.

The next morning I woke up exhilarated by my surroundings. Mountains dwarfed the the town, and everywhere you turned clouds appeared close enough to touch. Back in the lobby, we ate breakfast, and again, I creeped quietly behind Meri as she asked Patricio how we could get to Casa Del Arbol, home to the swing off the edge of the world. From their conversation, I understood that we had to catch a bus in town, so we thanked Patricio and made our way out. 

As we walked down the street I admitted to Meri how impressed I was at her Spanish. Despite having studied the language for upwards of ten years, I realized that I was horrified to use it with a native speaker. My mind buzzed through a slough of possible scenarios I was likely to face over the next nine days of travel. Meri could see my growing despair and reassured me that I would be okay. She insisted that I knew more than I thought and would have no trouble talking to people.

We walked a few blocks, and Meri asked some locals for directions. She seemed to make friends with each person we saw, forming an automatic connection with everyone we encountered. We came to the corner where we thought we could catch the bus.  We looked around and decided the convenience store on the corner was our best bet to confirm where we were going. We stepped inside and it was a small store. The counter was about five feet away from the door. I suddenly felt nervous.

I entered in front of Meri and was face to face with two workers from the store. They looked eagerly at us and I stepped forward to ask some clarifying questions.  My internal voice said, “Questions. Right, I need to to ask a question, using words, expressing thought.”  I actually said, “Umm … El Bus?” I pointed out the window towards the top of the street.  They stared back politely.  I continued, “El bus…esta en esta calle?”  I held my breath. 

“Si! El bus. Esta alli.” They smiled and we all laughed a bit. Wow. That was shockingly smooth, easy even. I hadn’t made a fool of myself, and the men even seemed charmed.

In that moment, I released my fear to communicate, to connect to another human being, to admit with a shrug of the shoulders or a quick laugh that I didn’t know a word. I wasn’t shunned or mocked. I was encouraged and engaged.  I gave myself a moment to think about what I needed to say, took a breathe, and spoke the words that came to my mind.  I remembered that as a person, I can’t really help but communicate with those around me. We are programmed to do it if we can just get out of our own way. I couldn’t help but think how proud Mrs. Dominicis would be of me today.

Fear of Jumping In

I stood in awe and watched my friendjump off a rock into a pool at Yosemite.  I didn't jump in - I photographed.  There were several fears that stopped me from jumping into the olive green pool of water.  One very serious, and the other quite banal.  A very certain and sure fear is the fear of death.  No doubt, standing at the edge of the craggy rocks at Yosemite and jumping into the pool, images of cracked skulls and broken bones are enough to paralyze even the most thrill seeking person.  That to me seemed very reasonable.

The main reason why I did not jump, was because I HATE COLD WATER.  Not so reasonable.  As a teenager I would have to wake up at 5:00AM in the middle of a Miami winter (granted after living many years in the NE my definition of chilly has expanded) and jump into a frigid outdoor swimming pool with broken heater and swim 7000 meters.  We would stand on the deck of the swimming pool wearing skimpy bathing suits and parkas, shivering violently.  The coach would announce the warm up and then one by one swimmers would run and jump in.  Some would take a run and dive approach. Momentum was your friend.  Once you started there was no going back.  You could tell how cold the water was by the yelps and screams of certain people as they popped out of the water and primally reacted to the prickling and numbing sensations of cold water.  Others would stroke and kick violently to warm up their bodies.  I remember I was always one of the last to jump.  I could rationalize that the shock and violence of the cold would pass and the body would adjust to the temperature.  A couple of strokes in and you would find your groove.  I hated this pre-practice ritual - the anticipation.  The moment before the jump.  The moments of indecision.  To jump or not to jump, that is the question?  I guess I could have walked away and said "No".   I knew I was going to jump in and yet I would wait on the deck plagued with fear.  

And now I'm an entrepreneur, in the early months of what is already developing into an international business and I'm reminded of this fear - the fear of jumping in.  I'm fully committed.  Ready to set off.  What’s holding me back?  It’s just about putting one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes it’s epic and performative, like a running start, a giant leap, and a barbaric yawp.  Sometimes it has no fanfare.  You step to the edge of the pool and quietly and simply just step in.    So how do you do it?  How do you jump in when you're standing fearfully, afraid to launch.   Well what I remember from so many years ago on a dark chilly pool deck in Miami, FL - "Isolate the breath.  It’s just water.  You’re going to be fine.  Ready to launch.  Here we go. Sprint.  Dive.  Crash.  Experience the cold.  Push through the shock.  Come up for air.  Find the rhythm of your stroke. Find the rhythm of your breath.  You're fine.  Time for practice.”

THE MOST FEARLESS THING I DID ALL WEEK: or How to Push Through Fear While Completing a Ridiculous Crossfit Workout of the Day

I HATE RUNNING.  Let me repeat that again. I HATE RUNNING.  I hate running so much, that I chose to be a competitive swimmer in middle school and high school.  So because I hate running so much, I decided to complete my first marathon this November.  This is a step in the direction of a FEARLESS Bucket List item - completing an Iron Man Competition which I plan to do next year..  To prepare for the Brooklyn Marathon in November, I have started taking Crossfit Endurance Workouts.  I submit for your pleasure and entertainment a written expression and Bitmoji gif of how I fearlessly completed the “Triple 3” workout this week.

I arrived to the Crossfit NYC box at noon “excited and scared” as Little Red Riding Hood sings in Into the Woods.  I was pumped to complete this workout which had originally been scheduled for the week before.  The Triple 3 was the task ahead.  3000 meter row.  300 double unders.  3 mile run.  I had my iPhone with a fruity mix of showtunes and 80’s power ballads.  My goal was to complete the workout in under an hour.  I was ready for anything.  3-2-1 GO! 

It took me approximately 13 minutes to complete the 3000m row.  I HATE ROWING, almost as much as I HATE RUNNING.  There are lots of excuses as to why I hate rowing.  I’m short.  I always finish last.  It’s always more fun to do participate in tasks where you are playing to your strengths.  When you have to work through the stuff you are not so good at, that’s when real growth occurs.  By the time I got off the rower and started the double unders, most of the men were already furiously jumping rope.   

For those who do not know Crossfit, a double under is two rotations of the jump rope per single jump.  I thought that this would be the least challenging part of the workout.  WRONG.  It took me upwards of 12 minutes to complete the 300 double unders.  There were so many places in this part of the workout where I was tempted to scale down.  Once your mind decides that you are not able to complete the jump,  you start failing.  When I reached 100 I thought “Well that’s exhausing.  Only 200 to go.”  When I reached 200 I thought, “Well that’s terrible and I can’t feel my shoulders.”  When I reached 250 I realized I was the only person left in the box, all the others were already out of the box and on the run.  I thought, “I could just cheat and stop here, it’s not like anyone would know.”  I looked at the clock, mustered up whatever jumprope strength I had left and completed the last 50 in two sets of 25 unbroken.  I felt like falling to the ground, but instead grabbed my IPhone and headed to the staircase.  

Now came the most dreaded part.  The THREE  MILE RUN.  Let me remind you . . . I HATE TO RUN.  I wiped the sweat of my brow.  Put on my ear phones.  Blasted the Fernando cover by Pink Martini.  And as I stepped onto the scorching NYC sidewalk and started running, I got into a groove.  And as I was running across 28th street to the West Side Highway, through the flower markets between 6th and 7th Avenue, through construction between 9th and 10th, through the exhaust of rush hour traffic, through pedestrians trying to get a meal, and all the “hundred people getting off of the train” it landed on me, “Wow my legs hurt.  Wow, I can’t feel my shoulders right now.  Wow, I really want to  stop . . . BUT I’m going all the way.  I’m finishing this because I said I was going to finish it.”  The run became an opportunity to celebrate being back in NYC after 5 years.  So I pushed.  I was thirsty.  I was hot.  I wanted it to end.  The tape of NO, STOP, I HATE RUNNING was playing louder than the Glee Cover of Don’t Stop Believing . . . but nothing was going to stop me now.  As I reached the homestretch and then had to climb up 4 flights of stairs at the end to complete the run, I looked at the clock and came in at 55:59.  I beat my goal.  And as I lay on the ground exhausted, muscles achy, trying to catch my breath, I thought to myself - “When do I get to do this again?”

You do you boo boo!

Sammy Miller and the Congregation #nailingit at The Woods in Williamsburg.

Sammy Miller and the Congregation #nailingit at The Woods in Williamsburg.

I had already spent the afternoon in Brooklyn at an event called LeSalon an interactive performance sharing experience in Williamsburg.  I had been traveling since 3:45AM and after a super long, NYC-Let’s get it done, kinda day I was disconnecting from social media and nursing a Thai iced tea by myself by the Bedford Train Station in Brooklyn deciding if I wanted to head back into the city or stick around in Brooklyn to meet up with my friend Casey.  I was ambivalent. Tired. Exhausted.  Dan Pincus, texted me, “Where are you?”.  A simple, question that is almost always followed by an invitation to a totally random, exciting, experience.  His friends band, Sammy Miller and the Congregation, were playing at a bar in Williamsburg 15 minutes walk from where I was nursing my thai iced tea.  I had two hours to kill before seeing Casey so leaned into the adventure and said Yes.  I asked a typical question, “Is there a cover charge?”  Looking for little excuses to say no to the mini adventure.  It was also one of the coldest nights in new york city and as I walked west on 4th Street towards the river I was having second thoughts.  More like third and fourth thoughts.  

I walked into the very empty bar, The Woods, at 7pm, and Sammy Miller and The Congregation took me to church.  This six piece band, drums, piano, trumpet, sax, trombone, andsousaphone player were playing a cross section of jazz standards, the classic american songbook, spirituals, and funk.  Virtuosic, generous, celebratory, playful . . . CHURCH.

Dan introduced me to Sammy and mentioned that I was a singer/actor and Sammy invited me to join them for a number.  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO . . . said the voice deep in my mind.  They’re so good.  They’re so talented.  You don’t sing jazz.  You’re not good enough.  They’re all at the top of their field.  They all went to Julliard.  The excuse machine reared its ugly head.  So ever aware of this voice, I said of course . . . let’s do On the Street Where You Live in C.  Sammy had another idea . . . we’re going to perform “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and during a break with their hoofer tap dancer they wanted me to speak Shakespeare.  Even more random.  Something Shakespearean.  Heroic.  Memorized.  “Henry V Opening Chorus.”

So there we were.  Called on stage.  Michael the super fierce hoofer was tapping up a storm with this awe inspiring jazz band and I was running onstage to join them and speak Shakespeare.  I remembered the teenager from the high school at Lincoln High School . . . .you do you booboo.  And we did it.  Jazz, Tap Dancing, and Shakespeare.  And of course at the end opted for a high note, just because it was calling for a showcase button.

It was not perfect.  I skipped half the speech because I lost my place.  It had never been rehearsed.  It was completely in the moment.  It was messy.  But I was proud.  It was unexpected.  It was in its own way virtuosic.  It was a NYC moment that I will always treasure . . . and Dan Pincus recorded it.

My year of living fearlessly

FEAR OF GETTING IT WRONG/ FEAR OF GETTING IT RIGHT

I have contemplated starting this blog for as long as I've owned this domain and created this website.  That's almost one whole year of thinking, dreaming, but not writing, not sharing.  The great paralyzer for this perfectionist is the fear of getting it wrong.  So on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 I begin this blog officially tracking my year of living fearlessly.

So why start sharing now?  After 15 years as a professional actor, I'm transitioning into new work.  What that work is, I don't know?  I'm sitting, standing, jumping fearlessly in the space of not knowing which is not typically something I'm very good at.  I was recently in Cairo, Egypt at a party with a frenchman wearing a horizontally striped turtleneck smoking an e-cigarette.  He asked me what most would call a typically American question, "What do you do for a living?".  I told him, "It's complicated.  I'm in a space of a lot of question marks."  He looked at me and said, "Well, life is all about the question marks."  He then took a slow drag of his e-cigarette. 

So what is possible in 2015?  What do I fear in 2015?  After 15 years as a professional actor, I am setting off into new territory.  I fought for 15 years to realize the dream I had as a small child.  Fifteen years of joy, struggle, rejection, celebration.  Fifteen blessed years to work with creative, expressed artists.  For the past several years I have nursed a nugget of dissatisfaction.  I think often of that line from the closing number of Avenue Q "Everyone's a little unsatisfied".  That dissatisfaction continued to grow and grow until it was so large it could no longer be ignored.  

So now I set out on a brand new adventure.  Casting myself out of the career of my dreams and stepping into new dreams.  An aspiration to be of service to others.  Embracing a need to inspire other to live fearlessly and pursue their dreams.  A calling to activate activists who fight for an equitable, peaceful, sustainable planet.  Idealistic, i know.  There is a reason I've had a lifelong fascination with Don Quixote de la Mancha.  I'm out to not only dream the impossible dream, but to live it as well. 

Join me.  Share with me.  Let's do it together.  Let's get it wrong together.  It is in the attempt, the struggle, the quest that we realize that the right and wrong don't matter.  It is about the reach, the journey, and in it's fallibility lies its humanity. 

Ready.  Set.  Go.

Magical Table at Alcove Cafe and Bakery in Los Angeles

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I met a friend of mine at the Alcove Cafe and Bakery in the Los Feliz neighborhood.  While waiting in line to use the men's room, I noticed an article on the wall about a table in the restaurant where guests leave handwritten messages.  There were people sitting at the table who had no idea that in the drawers other people had left messages to be read.  My friend and I left a FEARLESS message for strangers to read.  Such a small, simple, anonymous act of generosity, compassion and love.  Life is full of surprises and I'm so happy I came upon this magical table.  The messages are hopeful, inspired, silly, random and all perfect.  

Here is a selection of messages left inside the table drawers.  If you are ever in LA it is worth the visit . . . and the food is really lovely too.

Fearless at Oregon State Penitentiary

Preparing to enter the Oregon State Penitentiary with the super fearless Lisa Ali who works with the Restorative Justice Group.

Preparing to enter the Oregon State Penitentiary with the super fearless Lisa Ali who works with the Restorative Justice Group.

On Monday, March 3, 2014,  I spent the afternoon to early evening with 12 "men in blue" whoparticipate in the Restorative Justice group at the Oregon State Penitentiary.  I was a guest of Corrine Fletcher, a dear friend and sister of a colleague of mine at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  I have never visited a maximum security prison.  In 8th Grade, I went to the Miami Dade County Jail as part of the Civics Club.  I remembered the smell of urine and cigarette smoke.  I remembered that I never wanted to enter a place like that again.

What are the fears that creep up as one prepares to enter a state penitentiary to work with a group of convicted felons?  One is awash with images of TV shows like Oz, Prison Break, or those reality TV shows that pin officers against prisoners.  What type of fears were awakened in me? Fear of seeing evil.  Fear of violence.  Fear of being attacked.  Fear of showing fear.  Fear of not having compassion.  I quieted all the judgements and prejudices.  I quieted the fear. 

I was struck with the number of gates you had to pass through, the guards, the security check points.  I was struck by the color grey.  I was struck by the concrete and the bars.  I was struck by the artificial lighting.  I was struck by the four flights of stairs that one has to take to the education floor.  I was struck by the lack of anything natural . . . that which we take for granted, especially natural light.  

I decided along with Corrine to lead an icebreaker activity- a fusion of my Fearless Project and Crystal Clear.  What was supposed to last 15 minutes, lasted 2 hours.  The men entered the room, shook my hand.  They took a seat around the tables.  Corrine introduced me and we started a conversation about what it means to be FEARLESS.  Once we distinguished FEARLESS as not meaning the absence of FEAR, but standing powerfully in the face of what you FEAR, we then started a conversation about SIGNATURE STRENGTHS.  Because they do not have access to the internet, they are unable to take the VIA Character Strength Survey, but I was able to print out a list of the strengths, along with the definitions so that they could choose which ones they identified.  https://www.viacharacter.org/VIAINSTITUTE/Classification.aspx

The men then chose the strengths that they identified with and made FEARLESS signs to express their most POSITIVE STRENGTH.  The men were then asked to identify three things they could do every day to express that positive signature strength, and a way to hold each other accountable for that expression.  At the end of the workshop we each went around the room and once again shared our name and our signature strength.  We all repeated the signature strength back to each person. 

The über FEARLESS Corrine Fletcher who is passionately committed to restorative justice issues.

The über FEARLESS Corrine Fletcher who is passionately committed to restorative justice issues.

I was clear when I entered the space to work with these men that I could not bring any fear, resentment, or judgement into the room.  I chose to look at these men purely as the human beings standing in front of me.  When we went around the room and they were able to name their Positive Strength I was not only present to a room beaming with humanity, but also the embodiment of Compassion, Love, Generosity, Gratitude, and Hope.

Almost one month after the workshop, I received several letters from the "men in blue".  They have been recorded here by fellow actors at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to give voice to the effect this workshop had on these men.

Fear Less Live More

The world slows down right before an audition. I’m hyper conscious of my body. My palms are sweaty. My heart beats fast. My mouth is parched. My knees lock. My neck and shoulders seize with tension. The words NO, I CAN’T, SHUT DOWN, ABORT, ABORT, ABORT ring loud in my ears. Images of defeat, rejection, dejection, and loss run like a Ken Burns effect slide show through my head. I focus my breathing. Unlock my knees. I forgive myself. I say YES. And like the moment I stood looking over a ravine in Costa Rica with a bungee chord attached to my body, the door opens, and I jump.

I have an intimate relationship with FEAR. I have been a professional actor for the past 13 years and on a daily basis I am confronted with a plethora of FEARS. FEAR of rejection, FEAR of no, FEAR of not being good enough, FEAR of failure, FEAR of letting people down, FEAR of not being attractive enough, FEAR of making an ass of myself, FEAR of not making enough money, FEAR of what comes next, FEAR of being found out, FEAR of being on stage, FEAR of messing up, the list goes on and on. Five years ago, in the middle of an audition in New York City, a director looked at me and said, “You’re FEARLESS aren’t you?”. It took me a second to take that in. In that moment I thought of all the things that terrified me. It was a laundry list of FEARS like the one I just shared. I looked at him and said, “Yes, I am FEARLESS.”

That moment got me thinking. What does it mean to be FEARLESS? Is it the absence of fear? Is it the elimination of fear? I had always thought that FEARLESS meant operating in a space without FEAR. However, the closer I examined the word itself, it occurred to me that it means operating in a diminished state of FEAR.

To gain power over FEAR, the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it is there. Fear is a gangrenous wound in our thoughts that paralyses us from action. FEAR festers in silence, unrecognized. Once you acknowledge its presence you can distinguish FEAR for what it is . . . it is just FEAR. In the throes of the Great Depression, on the occasion of his First Inaugural Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously proclaimed

“... let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Fear clutches, grips, closes, constrains, paralyzes, seizes, holds, and terrorizes. There is little or no room for movement if you operate in a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror”. Once FEAR can just be FEAR, its power starts to lessen. In the release of this clutch, grip, constraint, paralysis, terror, there is space, breath, an opening. The FEAR remains. It just LESSENS.

So we have named FEAR and distinguished it. What happens next? In the space that is created you can begin to take actions and steps to operate in spite of FEAR. Wait.

We got ahead of ourselves. Before you take a step, you must first stand. The stand is necessary to take that initial step. You stand and take a step onstage even though there is a chance that you may forget a line, or you may fail miserably, or the audience won’t like you. You stand and take a step toward that person who you have a crush on and ask them out on a date even though you are terrified that they may say NO. You stand and take a step onto a plane even though you are terrified of flying and death. FEARLESS does not mean that the fear is gone. It means that you stand, take steps and ultimately leap and dance in the face of it.

One of the earliest FEARS that I distinguished in my life was the FEAR OF SELF- EXPRESSION. I was a young boy growing up in Miami, FL who did not fit the traditional gender constructs of middle class Cuban-American upbringing. I do have an identical- twin brother that does. On the soccer field, my twin brother dominated. He played forward, midfield, defense and goalie. I played defense (the 6 year old soccer equivalent of right field) and was the only player in the history of AYSO to finish the soccer season with a rock collection named after the Von Trapp children. When my brother and I played war with our toys, my brother meant it. He played war. His soldiers were on the front, fighting and dying. I played WAR! THE MUSICAL. My soldiers fought and died in song and dance.

Everything was glorious, until one day something changed. In an instant, the expression of myself - my creativity, my humor, my sensibility became “different” and “wrong”. I became afraid of standing out. Standing out meant name-calling, jeers, bullying. Standing out meant “your weird”. Standing out meant “You act like a girl”. Standing out meant “Your so gay”. I was terrified of being associated with words like “weird”, “girl” and “gay” so I retreated and repressed my self expression. I chose to stand out in other ways. In ways that I thought would gain approval and validation from others. Ways that would allow people to love me. I focused on academics, athletics, but deep down I believed no one could love the real me.

I came out of the closet on a fall evening at the beginning of my Freshman Year of college. It was 1995, BW&G . . . Before Will & Grace. For me the moment of recognition and acknowledgement was so simple. No swelling chords of a Broadway Musical orchestra. No button at the end of a glitzy production number. Just a simple “aha” moment. I had always known that other people were gay, but it wasn’t until that instant I realized I was gay. I was suddenly able to name the FEAR . . . the pain, the anguish, the self-doubt, the deepening and silencing of my voice, the constant beating myself up was all tied to my FEAR of being gay. Being gay was not a possibility in my youth. I remember sitting in the bathroom of my childhood home, clutching Volume “H” of the World Book Encyclopedia, clinging to the line in the entry about Homosexuality, stating that in some cases homosexuals can change. I was going to change or die trying. Many years later, on that autumnal, misty Philadelphia night, I took a stand. I acknowledged that I am what I most FEARED. I am a gay man. In the act of accepting my homosexuality I became FEARLESS in the face of it. As the paralysis of FEAR subsided, I was able to come out to my family a couple of months later and finally be honest about myself to those I love the most in the world. As the grip of FEAR lessened,

I was able to acknowledge that I really wanted to sing, dance and stand out. In that freedom I had the courage to set off to pursue the career of my dreams. As the terror of FEAR subsided, I was able to reignite the journey of self expression.

On a daily basis I am confronted with FEAR and am actively engaged in a conversation with myself on how to distinguish and diminish its power in my life. The very act of writing this blog entry (the first in my life) is a confrontation with my FEAR OF WRITING. I was an English Major at a very prestigious university and I have never thought that my writing ability measures up to my academic pedigree. I’m a talker - not a writer. So I can seize up and not write at all choosing to believe that none of you are going to like my entry. I can convince myself your reading this is a waste of time. I can choose to not write this entry because all of you will judge my terrible use of grammar. I can procrastinate and resign myself in the belief that there is nothing of value in what I have to say or share. Now if I use the logic of living a life where I Fear less - I can distinguish these thoughts as just the voice of FEAR. My FEAR of Rejection, FEAR of Not Being Smart Enough, FEAR of Not Being Eloquent Enough. Now that I know what the voice is,Icanstandinthefaceofit. Takeastep...writetheentry...andshareitwithallof you anyway.

A month ago I started a social media movement called Stand 4 Fearless. It is a virtual, international, community of individuals who stand for being FEARLESS in their lives. Using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, & Pinterest, people are empowered to stand in the face of FEAR, distinguish the hold it has on their lives, share stories, post pictures, and support each other. So I invite you all to join me. Where does FEAR have its hold on you? Stand in the face of it.Wait a second. Pause Button. Rewind.Right this moment I am confronting yet another deep fear of mine . . . THE FEAR OF NO. So I am going to invite all of you reading this entry to participate in the Stand 4 Fearless Movement even though some or many of you may say no. The most powerful NO is not the NO that we hear from others. It is the NO we tell ourselves. The NO that plays over and over again in our mind like a jarring, discordant, never-ending fire alarm bell. So I am not going to let the FEAR of your NO stop me from asking you to say YES to being FEARLESS. That No is just Fear. So I am saying No to No! And in that double negative there is a positive. By literally saying NO to NO, I am actually saying YES! 

So join me in saying NO to fear. Say YES to FEARLESS. What are you waiting for? Take a stand. Be Fearless. Let’s FEAR this world LESS and LOVE it more.