Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Good Things Happen to Good People

In my quest for stories about altruism, I read the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post, PhD, and Jill Neimark (published 2007). It's a beautiful book, full of stories and research and interesting questionnaires to help your average person develop the ability and the passion for doing good things as a matter of daily action.
I bookmarked a few references because I wanted to post them here. I hope you'll find them beautiful and moving, and maybe even inspiring.

MISTER ROGERS, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, was asked on television what parents should tell their children about the terrorist attacks. He said simply, "Keep your eye on the helpers." This is the message of the Litany of Better Angels. Keep your eye on the helpers.

VICTOR FRANKL, Nazi concentration camp survivor, wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself - by giving to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself....self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence."

PASTOR CARL WILKENS and his wife went to Rwanda in the 1990s as missionaries, where they helped to rehabilitate health centers that had been destroyed by civil wars. When the mass genocide of 1993 began, Wilkens and his family could have been killed immediately but for the intervention of their Hutu neighbours who risked their lives to speak up for them. The reverend opted to stay when the rest of his family evacuated with the other Americans, and he spent his days delivering water, food and medicine to groups of orphans while the genocide raged around him. This is love. This is courage. Post describes it as moral bravery; the willingness to do what one believes is right and just in spite of social and economic consequences, and even the possibility of death.

THE POWER OF GRATITUDE; a study conducted by Philip Watkins and his colleagues concluded that those participants who scored high on gratitude had significantly lower symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than those who showed low scores. Primo Levi describes a day of life in the Nazi death camps in his book If This is a Man, "It is lucky that it is not windy today. Strange how, in some way, one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesimal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup." How resilient is the human spirit, and how much weight a simple gratitude can carry.

LOVE IN THE FORM OF LISTENING; Carolyn Schwartz conducted a study with patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. Five MS sufferers over a period of two years volunteered to listen to other MS patients via a phone-in support service. At the end of the two years the helpers had experienced a dramatic change in emotional and psychological well-being, showing marked improvement in self-confidence and self-esteem, and reduced levels of depression.

Keep your eye on the helpers, give what you can, be courageous, be grateful, listen.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Requiem for Better Angels: We on Earth below

I wrote the first draft of this text following the attacks on New York's World Trade Center in 2001, in memory of the service men and women who chose to run into destruction as thousands of victims tried to escape it. Among the dead were 344 firefighters, 60 police officers, and two paramedics. Remember them.

I would like to see this text set by a composer as a Requiem for chorus and orchestra.

I cannot count the many who will weep,
In mourning they outnumber even all the stars. 
(Requiem aeternam dona eis)
We cannot laugh,
But for our memories smile while you may sleep.
(Et lux perpetua luceat eis)

You were as we imperfect,
But as near to heaven as any can see;
In such endless night we hear
Now there is silence, but will not always be.
(Eleison, eleison, eleison)
From above may mercy on us fall,
Of graces you had given and received
So will your history and remembrance all -
passion and compassion, still
the ever balance of your flaw and gift.
(Dona eis requiem, sempiternam)

Lux aeterna
How do we turn now earthward?
(Lux aterna luceat eis)
How can we not watch the skies?
(Requiem aetarnam dona eis)
For any star might be your light,
 (Et lux perpetua luceat eis)
And every wind your voice,
(Exaudi orationem meam)
So we on earth below may keep you still,
(Requiem aeternam dona eis)
And still we keep, on earth below.

Eleison, eleison, eleison.


Eternal rest give unto them,
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
Have mercy on us.
Grant them eternal rest.
Let everlasting light shine on them.
Eternal rest give unto them,
And perpetual light shine on them.
Hear my prayer,
Eternal rest give unto them,
Have mercy on us.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Unknown Soldier of Every War

I'm always profoundly affected by the stories of soldiers. Imagine being separated from everyone and everything you ever knew and loved, to fight for something you may believe in or not, to the point of profound suffering or death. I can't. I will never have to be a soldier. So this is my contribution, however small, in memory of the men and women who have fought in every war, or are fighting one now.

Last Call

I die for them/their reason this morning. My
last sound (mortar round) rotten ground flies up over my
last meal (sullen wet cigarette) rises up over my
last dream (unseen daughter, song, her
mother’s long dark hair, laughter) cries up over my
last night (unlit stars, no God –
remember Him now, remember this;
my broken boots).


Small Acts of Goodness

My favourite blog,, posted this awesome story about one of her readers. It supports my theory that the Good in the world is hard at work balancing things out for the better!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

For Victoria

In memory of Victoria Soto, teacher, 29 years old, killed during the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14, 2012. Victoria protected her students by hiding them in a closet and telling the gunman they were in the gym. He shot her and moved on, leaving the children alive. Twenty children and six adults died in the shooting rampage. Remember them.

For Victoria

Better angel,
Lie to death to buy them while his trigger
eats the only space between.
Clock seconds race a last length of your life’s time;
how does it sound? Wrong fireworks, glass, long silence,
fragile human body splinters.
Did you believe in God by any name? No,
I feel the same.
But if we are asking where was His Face, even so?
It is There. For when you sacrifice this life for those
Eleison, have mercy on each other.

Introduction to Litany of Better Angels

What is the Litany of Better Angels?

For every act of terror or disaster in this world, there is also somewhere an act of humanity, courage, bravery. For every oppression there is a fight for freedom. For every horror there is beauty. We have glorified for too long the perpetrators, the villains, the leaders and dictators; but deserving of our memory are the victims and the heroes who stood up for themselves and in the defense of helpless others. The honour of history should not go to the actions of the shooters, the charismatic leaders, the mass murderers, the despots. It belongs to the common people who sacrificed and lived, or sacrificed and died, to save or better the lives of others. We need their stories to remind us that humanity is in balance, that for every evil there is good, and not all is lost. There has to be Good in this world. We have to let the Better Angels of our nature* heal the damage. So let us be The Good, and let us have mercy on each other.
My intention is to create a series of poetic texts based on the stories of common people showing uncommon courage. These texts will then be posted on the Litany of Better Angels website and distributed via social networking to artists and creators in every corner of the earth, to be recreated by composers, writers, visual artists, filmmakers, and all other artisans in every discipline. My desire is for this project to become an international, cross-cultural, multidiscipline collection of compositions, artistic works, texts, and films that can be accessed by anyone through a database that will ultimately contain every work created in relation to the original texts.

What is a litany?

Commonly found in western religions, a litany is a form of prayer used in services and processions, consisting of a number of petitions. These petitions may be to God, the saints, or other religious figures. The word litany comes from the Latin litania meaning “supplication”. The litany usually includes a plea for God to have mercy on the people, in the form of an eleison (from the Greek “have mercy”). In the Litany of Better Angels, the eleison is a plea not from God to have mercy on us, but for us to have mercy on each other.

*The term “better angels of our nature” comes from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address in which he pleads with his country to avoid civil war.

Do you have a story that you think belongs in the Litany of Better Angels? Send your stories to 

I'll be launching my fundraising campaign on as soon as I have all the details worked out. Regular updates will be posted on Facebook, Twitter and this blog.