This page has moved to a new address.

The Heart of Life

The Heart of Life: January 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011


When Alexandra Scott was four years old she set up a lemonade stand in her front yard.  Although most children attempt to hold a lemonade stand at least once, Alex's stand was a little different.  Just prior to her first birthday Alex was diagnosed with aggressive childhood cancer.  Three years later she was still battling it and underwent a stem cell transplant. 

Shortly after coming home from the hospital, Alex set up a lemonade stand.  She told her mom she wanted to raise money for her hospital so they could help other kids with cancer like they helped her.  Alex's first stand accumulated $2,000 dollars, and she donated it all to her hospital.

For the next four years until her death in 2004, Alex held her annual lemonade stand.  People came from miles around to purchase a glass of lemonade from her, sometimes willing to pay hundreds of dollars.  Alex's Lemonade Stand evolved into a nation-wide project with people all over the country setting up lemonade stands in her name.  At the time of Alex's death at age 8, she had contributed over 1 million dollars to cancer research.

Alex's Lemonade Stand lives on even today.  There are Alex's Lemonade Stands in cities and campuses all over the country, "fighting childhood cancer, one cup at a time."  To date, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation has raised over 35 million dollars, used to fund approximately 150 cancer research projects.

The cliche old saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," comes to mind.  However, it is important to remember that simply squeezing the juice out of the lemons doesn't automatically make lemonade.  This only makes lemon juice, which is just as sour as the lemon.  In order to make lemonade the juice requires sugar and water to tame the bitterness.  But the sour flavor of the lemons never goes away, even after the sugar and water are added.

When things go wrong in life, sometimes there is nothing you can physically do to take away the bitterness of it.  In Alex's case, there was nothing she could do to change the fact that she had cancer and that it was a sad and scary thing.  But she found a way to serve others who felt the same pain as her, and although this did not make having cancer any more enjoyable, suddenly her situation was not just lemons and lemon juice.  She added another aspect to her life that made the lemons more bearable.  She made lemonade.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Bears are Brown

There was once a teacher who gave her class a picture of a bear to color.
Most of the students colored their bears in normal bear colors--brown or black.  But one little boy decided that his bear would look best if it had green feet.  Next, he colored his bear's arms yellow.  After that he decided that no other color but blue would look good on the bear's nose.  He continued coloring his bear until it was every color of the rainbow.  He was very proud of his colorful bear.  He was happy none of the other kids had thought to color their bears like his.

The boy with the colorful bear flew to his teacher's desk, eager to show her the bear he'd worked so hard on.  When the teacher saw his picture she furrowed her brow.

"Bears are brown," she told the boy with the colorful bear.  "Bears are not green.  Bears are not yellow.  Not red, not blue, not purple, and not orange.  Bears are brown."

My first impulse is to condemn this teacher.  Who does that awful woman think she is squashing that child's creativity?!  But stepping back from the situation, I make a numbing realization.  My optimistic tendencies aside, I think about the world in a very realistic manner.  I, too, am a "brown bear" thinker.

I used to be a "colorful bear" thinker, as are most children.  When I was six or seven my brother and I made a snow fort with my mom's help.  I had never seen a violent polar bear or an angry tribe of Eskimos near my home, but after building our snow fort, polar bears and Eskimos seemed like a real threat.  Thus, my brother and I crouched in our fort, occasionally throwing golf-ball-sized wads of snow over the fort walls.

After one of my dad's employees went to Disneyland and brought my brother and me back little souvenirs, our bedroom was Disneyland.  I fished a handmade ticket out of my little Minnie Mouse purse, handed it to my brother, and then strapped myself into our make-shift bunk-bed roller coaster.  I have yet to ride a roller coaster that made me as happy as that pretend one.

As I grew older this colorful bear thinking gradually faded into brown bear thinking.  Although I had always known that polar bears and Eskimos didn't live in Idaho, I eventually stopped believing they could.  My brown bear thinking told me these things weren't possible.  My brown bear thinking does not allow me to see my bed as a roller coaster anymore, only as a place to sleep.  I think this change is something that happens to almost everybody.  Brown bear thinking is just a normal part of being an adult.  In fact, brown bear thinking is an important part of a healthy and sane mind.  It is important to see the world as it really is in order to make good decisions.

Although adults should use brown bear thinking a majority of the time, it is of utmost importance that our brown bear thinking does not completely eliminate our colorful bear thinking, for we need colorful bear thinking as well.  However, we need colorful bear thinking for a different reason that we need brown bear thinking.  Brown bear thinking grants us clarity; colorful bear thinking grants us hope.  Colorful bear thinking isn't simply about creativity.  Colorful bear thinking is the ability to see the world not as it is, but as it could be.  Colorful bear thinking gives us faith that things have the potential to change into something better.  It is colorful bear thinking that gives us the strength to hope for a better future when the world all around us looks bleak.

The boy with the colorful bear knew his teacher was right; real bears are brown.  You and I know that as well.  However, perhaps in the far reaches of the Amazon Jungle there lives a bear with green feet, yellow arms, and a blue nose.  Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it can't exist.

Know that bears are brown--know that life can be hard and ugly.  But don't be afraid to color your bear every color of the rainbow.  Don't be afraid to hope for those things that your brown bear thinking tells you can't exist.  Hope for a happier tomorrow.  You might be surprised how often your colorful bear thinking is right.


Thursday, January 6, 2011


About two and a half years ago I walked this road, slowly passing the barracks one by one.  The barracks were used during World War II in a concentration camp called Majdanek just outside of Lublin, Poland.  A door to one of the barracks was wide open.  I went in.
I peered into the heavy silence of the dimly lit barrack.  There were four columns (two taller than me and two reaching my waist) of something gray-colored encased in wire and metal.  The columns ran all the way to the back of the long barrack.
I stepped closer, my fingers gripping the wire.  Shoes.  Hundreds and thousands of shoes.  I slowly walked the length of the barrack.  There were shoes for men, shoes for women, and shoes for children.  My own shoes made a hollow noise against the floor of the otherwise silent barrack.  As I walked past the shoes I remembered a poem by Moses Schulstein that my high school history teacher had shared with us.

"We are the shoes, we are the last witness.
We are the shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers,
From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam.
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of flesh and blood,
Each one of us avoided the hellfire."

The brighter light that greeted me as I stepped out of the barrack seemed to mock the darkness I had left behind me.  I had no desire to go back into the barrack, but no desire to continue walking in the slightly overcast daylight.  I crossed the road and sat beside my friend Kathleen.  We cried silently.  After a few minutes I tried to vocalize my thoughts.  "They kept the shoes.  But they didn't bother to keep the people who wore them," I said bitterly as I stared across at the dark doorway of the barrack.  After watching several people trudge in and out of the silent barrack, Kathleen and I continued walking the road.
The road--called the Road of Homage--led to the Mausoleum.  The domed Mausoleum covers what remains of the ashes of those that lived and died in the Majdanek concentration camp during the Holocaust. 
Chiseled into the dome of the Mausoleum are these Polish words.  I was told that in English it means, "Our fate is a warning to all people."  This warning of which it speaks is not simply a plea to refrain from killing other members of the human race.  It also implores each of us--regardless of our race, religion, or position in this world--to not remain silent when we know something is wrong.  Dante said, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."  Even if you are never heard, speak.  Even words heard only by the speaker of those words are far louder than the silence of a barrack filled with the shoes of men, women, and children who did not need to die.  Speak.