My Thoughts on Community at the Special Olympics World Summer Games

5866354656_4cb936022e_z.jpeg

At our Special Olympics Board Meeting this morning, we continued exploring the idea of a Dignity Revolution that is focused on uniting and inspiring people in communities all around the world to move us in a more open, inclusive and tolerant direction.

A related question that got me thinking was posed at the Board Meeting: What community are you a part of?

I answered that St. Monica, my local church, is a community to which I belong. It’s the place where I feel welcome and at home. I also belong here in Athens for the Special Olympics World Summer Games. Even though I’m far from home, I know I’m exactly where I should be — amongst this community of people who are working to build a more accepting and just world. The millions of members of this community are among the most joyful, open, kind, welcoming and tolerant people I’ve ever met. It’s a community where everyone aims for their personal bests so that they can inspire their peers to do the same. This is my kind of community.

I found it interesting that when a small gathering of us later met with His All Holiness, Bartholomew, the Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, he spoke eloquently about the blessings that come from being a part of a community. He also remarked about the power of community to promote the “sacredness, uniqueness and dignity of all people.” He said we are all independent and unique individuals but that, because we belong to a community, we are also “dependent on God and each other.” In a strong community, His All Holiness noted, we will “carry burdens” for each other, “help and support” each other to “resolve our common problems” and provide opportunities for people to experience “dignity and equality despite their limitations.”

His definition of community reminded all of us gathered in that room of the global community that has been created through Special Olympics. We were all so moved by his words, and it really was the perfect message to leave with us as we prepare to open these games tonight.

Now it’s your turn: Where do you belong? What community are you a part of? What does community mean to you?

You can become a part of the Special Olympics community by joining the Dignity Revolution on Facebook, Twitter and Special Olympics website.

maria-sig

My Thoughts on the Eve of the Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony

athens.jpg

It’s wonderful being here in Athens for the Special Olympics World Summer Games. There is an incredibly strong spirit of unity here and I’m looking forward to tomorrow night’s Opening Ceremony and the Parade of Athletes, 7000 strong. My brother, Tim, talks often about launching a “Dignity Revolution” throughout the world and you can definitely feel that in the air.

My friend, Special Olympian and fellow Special Olympics Board Member, Eddie Barbanell, wrote me a beautiful note before I traveled to Athens that made me feel so good. He said that he knew I was going through a rough time but he wanted me to know that I “will never be left out”.

That is such a powerful phrase — You will never be left out.

We all have that basic fear, don’t we? That if something bad happens to us, or change comes to our lives, that we will be left out. Left out of what? I think that’s unique to each person.

Special Olympians, and people with intellectual disabilities in general, have experienced the feeling of being left out over and over again. This makes them wise teachers on this topic. I thought it was poignant that Eddie was the one who delivered this message to me. Thousands of people — family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and many people I’ve never met — have reached out to me recently with loving, uplifting, hopeful and kind messages. But he was the only one who wrote, “You will never be left out.”

I’m excited to be here in Athens with my Special Olympics family. I’m glad the Special Olympics and these World Games have given people who may have felt left out a place to call home — a home for inclusion, belonging, community and friendly competition. I’m humbled to have people like Eddie in my life to teach me such powerful lessons. And I’m grateful to be included here in these World Games.

What about you: Do you ever worry about being left out? Have you ever been left out? What did that feel like?

Click here to learn more about getting involved with Special Olympics. Become a fan of Special Olympics on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. Spread the word. Pass it on.

Behind the Scenes at O, The Oprah Magazine

Picture 2.png

Back in early February, as guest editor of the special April poetry edition of O – The Oprah Magazine, I got together with the O editorial staff at the OWN Network offices in Los Angeles.

I invite you to join me and watch these behind-the-scenes videos of our meeting.

PART 1: MARIA MEETS WITH THE O EDITORIAL TEAM

PART 2: MARIA MEETS WITH THE O EDITORIAL TEAM

Join Me on A Whole New Journey

blog-its-time.jpg

IT’S TIME – the theme of this year’s Women’s Conference – means different things to each of us. For me, IT’S TIME… to move on and embark on a whole new journey.

The job of First Lady has transformed me from the outside in. Today, I think of myself first and foremost as a woman – standing on her own two feet – trying to live a life that’s both authentic and meaningful. These last seven years have helped me come into my own, to find my own way, to recognize and grow into my own voice. At long last, I realize I don’t have to try to fill anyone else’s shoes. I have to fill my own shoes.

I have also grown comfortable in my own skin – and that means growing comfortable in my own contradictions because the truth is we women don’t have to be either/or anymore. We can be both sides of the same coin. Strong and vulnerable – tough and shy – confident and insecure – smart and sexy – wise and innocent. Each of us is a work in progress – still learning, still growing, still evolving.

That doesn’t mean I’m not scared about what’s next. But now I understand that my past and my present have prepared me for my future. And unlike that woman who stood up there terrified on Election Night seven years ago, I now understand that being outside your comfort zone doesn’t mean you can’t handle it or you can’t do it – and it doesn’t mean that you’re powerless. Being outside your comfort zone just means … you’re uncomfortable.

I learned that if I just keep picking myself up and doing what I was taught, I will be more than fine. I learned that when I use my voice the way I believe it was meant to be used: to help – to help women who feel disempowered, to help families who struggle to balance responsibilities of work, children, and aging parents, and to connect people with one another – I feel valued.

I want to continue to encourage women to recognize their own capabilities, their own wisdom, their own courage – what I like to call “The Minerva Within.” I believe every woman has the capability of being an Architect of Change – to be both a warrior and an instrument of peace and justice, just like the goddess Minerva, who graces the California state seal.

And so, once my job as First Lady comes to an end, I’ll listen to that little voice of mine and do the one thing I’ve never done before – the one thing I’m most scared of – the one thing that goes against my grain and my brain – against the way I’ve lived my whole life. I’m going … to let go. I’m going to let go of my need to have the perfect plan – my need for certainty. I’m going to take a deep breath – and I’m going to open my heart and my mind … to the unknown.

Because I now know that when you step out into that place, into uncertainty – it’s not a disaster. It’s not the end of your life. It can be the beginning of a journey that forges a stronger, wiser, more confident you.

I know what my mother would have told me. “Maria, there’s nothing to be afraid of anymore. Have the courage to live your life – and know that whatever you decide to do, I’ll always be with you. Now go out there and believe in yourself!”

So I’m asking you to come along as I embrace this new journey. If you’ve ever experienced your own transition or reinvention – personal or professional – how did you handle it? How did you overcome your fear of the unknown and let your life unfold? What inspired you to step into your own power? I invite you to share your own stories, your own lessons, your own inspiration. Let’s all join in the conversation as we continue to step into our own power and build our movement as Architects of Change.