There is just too much news, from all over the world. It flows in faster than I can keep up. Faster than many news organizations can keep up with it—much less a solo Lois Lane like me.
So tonight, as this Memorial Day 2013 draws to a close, I’m going to share some headlines from around the world that have been on my mind for the last week. Then I’m going to leave you with something I hope will inspire you. First, though, I’d like to share what I posted this morning on my Facebook page. Which is this:
Memorial Day is to honor all the soldiers who died fighting for freedom. I respect their sacrifice, but haven’t many of the wars fought been for things other than freedom (like land, or oil)? And how free are we, when so many people don’t have access to good medical care and transportation, or can’t find a job to pay their bills? How free are we, when the laws prevent parents from getting their seriously mentally ill adult children help, who then end up homeless or making headlines as mass murderers? I wonder what my deceased father, a Navy man himself, would think of his sacrifice now. Or if the parents of so many soldiers—since many who enlisted were barely adults when they joined—would send them into the military again.
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Last week while at a book signing at Barnes and Noble, I noticed the current issue of Mother Jones. The title caught my attention right away. During slow periods, when customers didn’t stop by to chat or talk about my book (or mistake me for a store clerk, stopping by only to query me about what features are included on the Nook, the giant bookseller’s e-reader), I would read a graph or two. At home that evening, I finished reading the article online. Mac McClelland—whose Twitter bio sums it up quite nicely: “Lady Reporter” it proclaims—did an outstanding job at weaving a personal story (her own family’s brush with mental illness) throughout the thoroughly researched, poignant piece of journalism.
It’s a story every single person in this country should read. (Especially on a day like today, given that so many soldiers come home with PTSD.) For it contains the answers to many interconnected questions: Why do we have so many homeless people? Why do mass killings like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Blacksburg, Va., keep happening? And perhaps most important, what can we do to stop them? I know great journalism when I read it. But as someone who has battled depression, who has studied mental illness, I know the truth when I hear it. McClelland’s piece is the gospel. We would do well to learn from her story.
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Saturday morning listening to West Virginia Public Radio, I heard a story I don’t remember ever hearing. And I grew up in this state, next door to where this man lived. Inside Appalachia had a segment on Karl Dewey Meyers, the state’s first poet laureate. Meyers was from Tucker County, and as part of the “Traveling 219” project, Reporter Jessie Wright Mendoza and WVU graduate Cindy Karelis were quite adept at pulling at listeners’ heartstrings. Along the way, they showed how a person’s failings can lead to his own undoing. Dewey, like my father, was a drinker. Which is why I felt an immediate affinity for him as I listened. The Drink was also his downfall, though—as it has been for many a person of creative talent. So, if you use alcohol to numb your pain, as Dewey surely did, beware: you may find yourself unable to create anything more than an unending cycle of pain.
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I found this piece, “Which Matters More: Reporting Assault or Respecting a Victim’s Wishes?” in The Altantic, after someone tagged me on Facebook. (That piece was about forcing colleges to adhere to the Clery Act and report sexual assaults on campus.) From there, I found the above, related story. In it, students expressed fear that some victims who wish to remain anonymous might find their names being turned over to the authorities.
Thus the dilemma, since the Clery clearly says college officials who learn about possible or actual sexual crimes must report such to law enforcement. (Who must, in turn, keep a list and report these crimes to the federal government. This list is something every college reporter should be able to openly view when collecting campus police news. If your campus cops won’t let you see it, start asking more questions. File a freedom of information request. Something’s up, and it could mean they aren’t keeping track of the sexual assaults like they’re supposed to.)
This is why this story matters: victims have a right to privacy. We know this. (I personally think it’s healthier to speak out, but I realize not everyone thinks like I do. Nor is everyone able to do this. Some psyches are just different; some crimes are more heinous. There’s a long list of reasons why one victim chooses to speak out when another one doesn’t.) Bottom line? It’s the victim’s choice, when to speak. Or if to speak at all.
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Finally, a story from overseas that shows a woman’s value can increase—even in the Middle East. In Afghanistan, women are slowly breaking into the entrepreneurial scene there. Even though her family wasn’t thrilled, Shilla Qiyam, 27, started her own pickle and chutney line. At first she faced some hurdles, but Qiyam is now finding respect and approval from Afghan men, who recognize women like her are doing great good: they are helping to support their families.
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Hope springs eternal. So said Alexander Pope. And that’s the message I’d like to leave you with today. I know it’s true. It’s happened to me—as it has to other people I know and love. Most recently, it happened to a dear friend who has been waiting more than a decade to receive the best, most exciting news possible. Of course, I can’t tell you what the news is. It isn’t mine to tell. What I can say is this: if you have a dream, don’t ever, ever give up. Don’t stop dreaming. Don’t let other the negative words on the tongues of other people end up inside your own knowing head. Refuse to let them dissuade you. Close your ears when they say you can’t do it. That it won’t happen to you. That you don’t deserve it.
Because you know what? Only you can decide if you’ll reach your dreams. With enough determination and courage, I know you can. So does my friend. So does anyone else who tried and failed and tried again, only harder the next time. Until those failures finally turned into life-changing success. It can happen. It really can. Because you really do deserve it.
Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, is now live.
Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”