“Today I choose happiness; I’ve made it my choice.” – Latonia Francois, Let’s Write Life
Last week, we attended one of our favorite events of the year, PeaceLove’s Peace of Mind Storytellers event in Rhode Island. It’s a celebration of creativity, perseverance, and the uniqueness of every individual, with speakers sharing their personal stories of finding self-acceptance through overcoming challenges, following their passions, and looking inward to discover their innate human potential and flawlessness. This year, the storytellers were as compelling as ever, and though they came from a variety of backgrounds, they all echoed one another on a few key themes.
First, when we tell our personal stories, particularly when we reveal vulnerabilities or share experiences of adversity, we create a positive energy that sparks human connection, even between strangers or those who may appear to have little in common. Simply glancing around the auditorium, it would be nearly impossible to guess what type of event we were attending. A rock concert? A classroom lecture? A film screening? Smiling faces of every age, race, gender, and walk of life filled the seats. Even a dog was in attendance! While everyone had his or her own story and reason for attending this inspiring event, all chose to come together to be inspired by the speakers’ stories. One moment in particular made this simple fact clear: as Mark Brand, social entrepreneur and one of the storytellers, prepared to read a letter for a sick friend, he asked us to close our eyes, and hold hands with those next to us. While it could have been incredibly awkward holding hands with a complete stranger while simultaneously tearing up at the emotional letter, the whole room relaxed into peace and comfort in our shared human experience. That moment exemplified the incredible power of the Peace of Mind Storytellers event. Together in that room, for nearly eight hours, we shared the same love, laughter, tears, and smiles. Through the storytellers’ willingness to share their stories with the utmost honesty and passion, we were able to tap into those human qualities that bind us to one another as a community.
We were also reminded that it is always the right time to move forward. Just as the audience members ranged in age, so did the storytellers. One of the youngest speakers was an incredibly talented artist named Devin Wildes. Though still in his teens, this amazing young adult had found his own path forward with his art, defying clinicians and educators expectations for individuals with autism. Similarly, the talented artist Cristina Powell has been working with MIT’s Media Lab, using futuristic technology to create beautiful paintings and drawings, while living with severe cerebral palsy. No diagnosis or age could come between these artists, their talent and their happiness.
One final truth: people are unique and flawless, so we must each discover our own special pathway to peace of mind. Storytellers crafted a path to happiness by embracing their own unique selves, whether through painting, family, food, biking, tattoos, poetry, writing, or even elaborate monster costumes. Slam poet Neil Hilborn, who lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, was discovered after posting a video of his poetry on YouTube and now travels the world performing his truth. Our flawless friends and colleagues, the dynamic duo Mother and daughter Cinda and Linea Johnson, are transforming their story into an opportunity to serve others by sharing their experiences with authenticity and courage. With their book, Perfect Chaos, as a vehicle for educated awareness, they hope to be a much-needed resource to others who have a family member with bipolar disorder. The widely varying paths these speakers took show us that the most important factor is not what road we take, but rather that we just keep taking steps to move forward.
So move forward. Persist. And tell your story.
For a complete list of the inspiring speakers, visit here!