Welcome to Words Matter, the blog created to amplify the thoughts and words of Authentic Women. If you would like to share your authentic voice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. We welcome you!
He’s the First One We’ve Ever Lost
by Kelly McCoy – May 25, 2020
Memorial Day. Veteran’s Day. Every year I go through the mind jog to remember, “Is this the holiday we honor our veterans? Or is this the one where we remember those who were lost in war?” That stops this year. Our family has had soldiers in many modern conflicts…WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. Each year I am grateful for their service and post photos of these wonderful fathers, brothers, brothers-in-law, uncles, aunts and nephews who have served.
We were one of the lucky families. No matter the theater of combat, they came back alive. We have a family member who piloted a landing craft on the beach during the D-Day invasion. My brother spent many hellish months in the jungles of Vietnam, where he carried injured soldiers through minefields on his back and lost a young infantryman under his command. To this day, he awakens every day and notes how many days since Vinnie was lost. My brother-in-law was on a naval ship during the “Korean crisis,” and has harrowing stories to tell. They all came back alive. I have always marveled about our luck in this regard.
And then there’s my nephew Jimmy. James Christopher Elligson wanted to be a Marine from the time he was a little boy. He enlisted while still in high school, ranked at the top of the nation’s Marine recruits and was invited to become certified in nuclear, biological and chemical weaponry. He went on to attend Penn State for his Environmental Engineering degree and split his time between weekend Marine reserves and college life. Then 9/11 happened and he was “called up” only months after my sister, his mom, had died suddenly from a very rare form of cancer. He called me from the tarmac in San Diego to say he was deploying to Iraq. When I asked him if he was scared, he said, “No, Aunt Kelly. They need me over there, because I can help save the lives of my fellow Marines.” He was the ONLY nuclear, chemical and biological weapons specialist in the Marines in Iraq as we raced toward Baghdad to find those legendary “weapons of mass destruction.”
For a year, we sent care packages to the Middle East and said prayers for his safe return. And when he did return, after he saw his dad, sister and brother, he drove to our home in Milford, Massachusetts, where our garage door was covered with a sheet spray painted with “Welcome Back, Jim!”
He was still Jim. Funny, sweet. He had brought Iraqi money for our young daughters and told us stories of his time “over there.” Within a year or two, we learned that the stories we heard that night were the travelogue version of a very different situation. The real stories had started to haunt him at night and despite his graduation from Penn State with honors and his great engineering job outside of D.C., one day he found himself pulling off to the side of the highway in a rotary in a state of panic, where he sat for hours.
That was the beginning of 10 years of a family nightmare that ended on April 23rd of 2020, when Jim was found lifeless in his apartment in West Virginia. The demons of Iraq, along with a Traumatic Brain Injury that the VA would never actually diagnose so he could be treated, cost him his job, his sanity and his life. There’s been an incredible outpouring from his fellow Marines in these past few weeks. “Jim was the best, probably the most kind-hearted person I’ve ever met,” says one. “Jim was an incredible leader and motivator,” said another. “I will always remember his sense of humor,” has been repeated over and over again. Note: He got that humor from his mom and his grandma. He worked with veterans over the phone, in the waiting room of the VA hospitals, anywhere he could. He couldn’t work, because his brain was functioning less and less as the months and years passed. He needed a purpose; he wanted to help. One fellow vet posted after Jim died, “He saved my life two months ago.” Incredible. As he was struggling himself, trying to understand and manage 18 different medications he was given by the VA hospital, he still was giving pep talks to fellow vets.
I remember when Jim was 5 and we took him to Edaville Railroad, when my sister’s family made a Thanksgiving trip to Massachusetts from their home, which was states away. He sat next to me in the back seat of the car and as we drove home in the dark, after riding Santa’s train, he looked out the widow and said, “Aunt Kelly, that’s Orion!,” pointing up to the stars in the sky. I was stunned. I said, “How do you know that?” He smiled and answered, “I love stars and Orion has a sword in his belt.” That year, his sister Melissa took him to donate Christmas toys to Toys for Tots. He told the Marines he saw there, “I’m going to be like you.”
We never know where life will take us. When that little freckle-faced redheaded boy sat on my lap on that day jabbering about the stars, I never could have imagined – in a million years – that he would be the one we would lose to a war. He came home. We celebrated. And yet, the fight was only starting. We still don’t know how Jim died, whether he took his own life or simply couldn’t figure out the matrix of medications that they expected him to self-administer to settle his blood pressure, ease the pain of injuries, go to sleep, reduce his anxiety and depression and the list goes on. Are you serious, Veterans Administration? This brilliant engineer, who was asked to speak in front of the National Press Club when he returned from Iraq, is now a casualty of war? This is the best you could do?
I will never make the mistake again. Memorial Day is when we remember those who were lost in war…or after they returned, due to the injuries they suffered in combat. This is the first year in my 61 years on this planet that a member of my family must be remembered this way. We love you, Jimmy. You fought an incredible fight. You are a hero and made a huge difference in the lives of your fellow Marines and every human you encountered. May you be at peace. We’ll look for signs from you in the stars. Semper Fi.
What’s on Your Spiritual Resumé?
by Kelly McCoy – January 9, 2018
Fourteen women gathered in my livingroom last Sunday in an unprecedented event. I always intended to keep Authentic Women Circle gatherings in a public space, but the winter in Ogunquit meant our traditional meeting spot was under construction and each option I checked was unavailable. So…if we were to have a January Circle, I needed to host it. I believe everything happens for a reason. Now looking back, perhaps we needed a more personal and intimate gathering space for the weighty topic I had chosen: What’s on Your Spiritual Resumé? Inspired by my own revelation that life has never required me to actually write a resumé for myself (a college internship turned into a post-graduation job, which turned into joining my family’s business and leaving there inspired my husband, Jim, and I to open our own advertising and PR agency.) The latter was somewhat of an experiment – a folly to explore while thinking up another way to pay the rent. It stuck and 31 years later we are still running that agency with our kids still wondering, “When are you going to get a real job?” (They are now grown and out of college – see “Being Taught by Dayana” below as evidence of the passion of our younger daughter.)
So, the resumé revelation got me thinking about what I’d put on mine. It didn’t take long for me to realize that almost six decades into my life I don’t find the typical resumé fodder to be the skills, traits or talents that have made me successful (or happy) in life. My resumé wouldn’t look or read like those of everyone else; I would have a Spiritual Resumé. I am the person I am, in both personal endeavors and business, because of a long list of spiritual teachers (starting with my children), challenging experiences and revelations. These are the key pieces in my life that have made me who I am and brought me to where I am now. I wondered how my Authentic Women Circle of like-minded humans would react to this question. So I decided to pose it to them in our first Circle of the new year.
After a meditation, several readings and sharing what resonated about these (excerpts from Oprah’s The Wisdom of Sundays), I passed around a resumé form for each of the 14 women to fill out. It required they record their name, age and home town. There were four sections to complete: Spiritual Goal/Intent, Spiritual Expertise, Spiritual Education/Teachers and Spiritual Motto/Thesis Statement.
To my delight, after 15 minutes of constant writing, each of my kindred spirits reported really enjoying the exercise (always a relief for me when the Circle goes to a particular deep or personal space.) As we went around the Circle, each taking a minute or two to share the “aha moments” that hit them about their lives while writing, a flow of wisdom came forth that I will carry with me for a long time. The bottom line was that we all love thinking about ourselves in spiritual terms, the place we really live. This is where we all share a common desire and bond. It erases the differences among us – be they age, economics, marital status or upbringing. I asked each women, if she would be comfortable, to tear off the bottom section of her resumé, which revealed her Spiritual Motto, and allow me to record their wisdom here in Words Matter.
I invite you to enjoy their deepest, most personal spiritual thinking and see what resonates with you in the place where we all connect…
Do what thou will, that it harm none.
Listen, be open and observe yourself in wonder. Be in the moment, feel deeply and be grounded in peace and love and always look at the moon.
To thine own self be true.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
If I wish, I can. (Carol Burnett) I can be it – that being of hope, compassion and love – all the time.
All we need is love, love, love. (John Lennon)
Always believe. Always show compassion. Never give up!
Let me live out my life moment to moment accepting what I cannot change and celebrating what is right here, right now. All is well right here, right now. All is as it is.
I am bringing peace and happiness to those I meet. I am bringing good into this world. I am enjoying the present moment.
Neverending Journey. Novice: Spiritual alchemist. Expert: Unexpected Realms on Earth.
That which we give to the world around us is only an extension of what we allow for ourselves. I must first receive love, commit to God and practice acceptance.
Whatever you do, do it with kindness.
Energy never dies, therefore our core life force does not end when our body ceases to function. We disperse into the great unknown. Just as a unborn child does not know its mother, we do not know our universe and yet we are completely connected, nurtured and interdependent.
I am an eternal being here on this earth to experience being a creator. The basis of my life is freedom; the purpose of my life is joy.
What’s on your Spiritual Resumé?
Kelly McCoy is the founder of Authentic Women Circle, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and empowerment of women using a mind-body-spirit model.
Being Taught by Dayana
by Eliza McCoy – April 1, 2017
I walked in thinking they might hate me. Who did I think I was? I grew up in a small suburban Massachusetts town where my biggest stressors were whether I would get a lead in the spring musical, if I had enough money to go to the movies on Friday night, and whom I would take to prom. In middle school, my mother would pull into the bus loop at 5 PM to pick me up from chorus or play rehearsal and I would return to my warm, red house on the corner of the cul-de-sac for dinner, homework and a bit of TV before bed. I did not worry about losing my home, or if I would be safe walking from school.
I have since learned that I lived what, to so many, is only seen on ABC Family.
As I turned the latch on the front gate of Miss Tiffany’s Red Hook Arts Project for the first time on that cold January Sunday, I reminded myself that children can sense fear. This did not help my anxiety. I knew that I could not change the color of my skin and I could not change where I come from. In that moment I repeated to myself over and over again, “You are here to learn too.” This notion comforted me and, as the gate closed behind me, I felt my heart fall open, ready to approach my first class with honesty, openness and generosity. I believe that the wisest teachers are the ones who don’t think they know anything. I also repeated to myself, “You are a badass,” because hell, why not?
My plan was to simply observe what Miss Tiffany and their current music production teacher had been doing with the students every Sunday. This particular day, only one little girl had shown up. She sat with her eyes glued to the piano keyboard in the music room, plunking out various notes and avoiding eye contact with anyone in the room. Derek, the music production dude, tried to engage her. He asked her if she wanted to learn to DJ, if she had any interest in the fancy equipment that had been donated to the school or if she had any inkling of an idea of what she wanted to do in music class today. She shrugged her shoulders and continued plunking. I felt awkward. I didn’t know how much I was welcome to intervene, but something about my “you are a badass” mantra kicked me in the butt and I squeezed in next to Dayana on her piano bench.
“Do you know the names of the keys?” I asked softly.
“Okay, cool. Well, you sound great. You are playing a C there, and a D Sharp there.” She continued to play.
“What kind of music do you like?” I inquired, trying to show my genuine interest, but not insisting or prying. I was an outsider after all.
“I like Beyonce,” Dayana eventually said under her breath.
“ME TOO!,” I far-too-eagerly exclaimed. It just fell out of my mouth. I couldn’t help it! I mean…I spend far too much time watching Beyonce’s performances on Youtube when I am feeling discouraged about my life. Something about her talent, her music, and her performance style is just so empowering to me. I couldn’t stop myself from showing my cards on this one. At the risk of Dayana thinking I was entirely uncool, and a total geek, I decided to be me. I decided to be genuine and become a total dork that loves to attempt the “Single Ladies” dance just like anybody else.
She looked up from the piano. Very slightly, and very slowly, she started to smile. She saw me. Not another white lady from another part of town coming to fulfill some need to “give back” for her own personal satisfaction, who would be gone again in three weeks when she decided she had done enough volunteering for the poor kids in Red Hook. She saw a total dork, that really wanted to be her friend, that wanted to respect her and be respected, and that frankly really wanted to talk about Beyonce. In that quick moment, we were not 9 and 23. We were two ageless gals with different life experiences who apparently had one fabulous thing in common.
“What is one of your favorite songs?” I asked.
“Ummmm…well a lot of them have curses in them which Miss Tiffany doesn’t like, but I like Single Ladies.”
“That is a good one! Should we watch the video?”
Dayana looked at me like I had six heads, but shook her head slowly in agreement. I asked Derek to find the video for us on the computer. She and I sat and watched as Bey flipped her hand around and strutted her stuff in the black leotard for about four minutes. Dayana kept still with a smile on her face, while I couldn’t help but bop along in my seat. The video finished and by the time it was over, I knew my way in. I grabbed a colorful marker and a big sheet of paper.
“Why do you think you like this song? Is it the lyrics, is it the beat, is it the singer?”
Dayana quietly said, “I like how she calls all the single ladies together over and over again.”
My heart leapt! What an amazing answer! Seeing an opportunity for a makeshift, off-the-cuff lesson, I asked if Dayana had ever heard the word empowerment? She shook her head no, and I explained that empowerment is the act of helping someone feel powerful, giving them confidence, making them feel like they can do anything and, in this case, bringing women together and helping them feel good about themselves. Dayana seemed excited about this new word. I asked her if she would like to write a song that does the same thing for girls. She, showing her cards, quickly and exuberantly responded, “yes!!”
Flying by the seat of my pants, and quickly calling up my not-so-distant musical theater training in college, I crafted together a lesson plan for the basic process of writing a song. We picked a strong phrase to be our hook, and a rhyme scheme for the verses. Suddenly, it became apparent that Dayana was filled with killer poetry.
“Barbie runs the dream house, step aside Ken!” she shared. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
An hour later, we had completed three pages of lyrics and she was working with Derek on picking her beats. Seven o ‘clock approached and we had to wrap up our writing session. She reluctantly put the finishing touches on her first few verses, and we promised she would be able to finish up next week. As she left to walk home across Van Brunt Street, she threw her arms around me.
As she left, I felt like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. Her light was tangible. I had no idea how I had earned her trust to open up, but it had happened. Since this day, I have learned that when working with kids in a community like this, the key is to walk in prepared with all of your wonderful lesson plans, knowledge, and creativity…but not to assume you know a damn thing. I walk in ready to be taught just as much as I am ready to teach. I walk in ready to give as much respect as I hope to receive. I am an authority in that I will not tolerate poor behavior or unsafe circumstances, but I am not an authority in the sense that I have all the answers. I have all the questions in the world and I will ask the kids, with all my dorky eagerness, if they will help me create the answers.
Since that first day, Dayana has written an album of songs about her experiences and has helped others record their own songs. I am lucky to have been taught by her.
Eliza McCoy is a member of Authentic Women Circle living in New York City, crafting a career as a teaching artist.
by Naomi Shihab Nye -shared by Deb Ganster in our November Circle
January 28, 2017
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you counted and carefully saved,
how desolate the landscape can be.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone,
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
Only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
And then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend.
Thank you, Donald.
By Kelly McCoy – January 22, 2017
President Trump, I hope you will forgive me for breaking with tradition in my title. I do think you are the legitimate president of the United States after the Electoral College tally, so don’t be concerned about that. However, I figure you like being an iconoclast, so I didn’t think you’d take issue with my doing the same and referring to you by your first name in my title. This is a personal thank you, not an official one. My family and friends will be surprised that I chose to thank you at this point, but I feel that I must. Since most of the world is saying that you haven’t done anything yet, Donald, you might find this gratitude puzzling. I beg to disagree with the world. You have already done so much and I am compelled to express my thanks.
First, I thank you for being the catalyst for me to change the original name of this blog (An Authentic Voice) to Words Matter. You have conducted your campaign and the first two and a half days of your presidency as though words don’t matter. According to one interview I heard while driving on your Inauguration Day, Wall Street Journal opinion columnist Peggy Noonan suggests that words don’t matter when it comes to you, Mr. President. We shouldn’t focus on your inaugural address, because those are just words and it’s your actions that matter.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Thoughts become words. Words, whether spoken or written, impact the speaker and everyone who hears or reads those words. When you communicate lies, it matters. When you communicate kindness and inclusion, it matters. When you communicate strength, it matters. When you communicate insecurity and paranoia, it matters. So this blog is an invitation to all women who agree that words matter, to share their wise words now and in the future. Words matter.
Next, I must thank you for yesterday.
Your words and actions compelled not only me, but also literally millions of women all over the world to gather in a show of solidarity that I never thought I’d ever see in my life. I’ve never rallied or marched or protested in public during my 58 years on this planet. I didn’t want to join in this time just because it was popular, a cool thing to do. I lay in bed days before The Women’s March examining why I was contemplating doing this. You inspired me, Donald, to give voice to my concerns. To be true to the things I believe and the things I have taught my daughters for 28 years. I was excited to hear that many women I know, including my younger daughter, would be marching in Washington, New York, Boston and beyond. I was inspired that we all had the feeling that it was time to stop complaining and start doing something about it. I thank the women who organized these opportunities all over the U.S. and in countries around the world. It’s amazing what we can do together.
I wondered what the day would bring, as I left Ogunquit, Maine yesterday morning and headed for Concord, NH to meet a group of women connected through Authentic Women Circle. I wondered if the crowd would be substantial to show the solidarity of like-minded women. I hoped there would be only positive energy. A spirit of inclusion. I was betting on the fact that women do, by nature, strive to listen and collaborate, not boast and denigrate. I prayed there would be no violence.
As we approached the center of Concord, we didn’t know if we would be walking through the city, hearing speeches, be invited to carry signs. From the moment we arrived, the atmosphere was upbeat, informational, positive and inclusive. As we stood in the courtyard of the oldest State House (1819) in the country where both houses still meet in their original chambers, we were in a sea of diversity. For three hours we heard women speak on different topics – healthcare, immigration, racial and gender equality and more. The speakers were engaging, intelligent, humorous and, at times, emotional. We heard the story of a 23-year-old woman who was appreciative of being on her father’s insurance as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and I thought of my daughter marching in NY who was in that very same situation. The young woman at the podium shared that she suffers with Endometriosis and healthcare is essential, though she hasn’t found employment that would offer her this benefit. We learned that last year, two months before her wedding, her father passed away suddenly at age 52, and a week later, she lost her insurance because his policy was gone with him. When she needed treatment a short time later, she was referred to Planned Parenthood, where the caregivers gladly treated her for free. Although it’s a financial burden, she has now gotten health insurance on her own through the ACA, but fears that the promised repeal and replacement might leave her uninsureable due to her preexisting condition. We heard story after story – real people – real concerns. We also heard from smart, young people who are using their voices, running for office, making a difference. The heart-breaking moments were beautifully intermingled with truly inspirational ones.
At one point a woman walked in front of me covered with stickers simply saying “Life” all over her jacket. I looked up at her sign and it said “Planned Parenthood” with a circle and a line through it. Her views were in sharp juxtaposition to many others in the crowd, yet she was moving through peacefully expressing her thoughts and everyone was respectful. That was the best part, Donald. Everyone listened and watched respectfully. At times, it felt more like one of our Authentic Women Circles than a political rally.
When I returned home, I couldn’t believe the photos on social media and the news coverage of what had just happened around the world. Donald, your words do matter. You mobilized more than a million women around the world to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to show their passion about the gains women have made over the past 100 years. We want you to know that we are not going backwards.
Now for the billion-dollar question…
What’s next? Women’s lives are so busy. Work. Family. Care-taking. Home-making. Child-rearing. Continuing education. Yet one glorious unprecedented show of peaceful force is not going to be enough. I just saw that you finally commented on the Women’s March, Mr. President. We’ve provided you with a colossal opportunity to get in step with us in even the most minute way. Apparently you have no real words at this time.
At Authentic Women Circle, we will be taking next steps. We will not rest on yesterday’s triumph. We heard loud and clear from politically connected women like U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan that every citizen’s voice – their words – do make a difference on those votes in Congress. When even four or five people pick up a phone and say, “I want you to vote for this” or “Please don’t vote for that because it will impact my family,” elected officials do make note. Too few of us do this. I know I have done it very rarely. That changes today. I will do everything I can to inform, inspire and equip the women I know to take that next step on issues they care about. I will encourage women – young and old – to run for office or help other women who are running. This is how we will continue the momentum in our corner of the world and I trust there will be many other women who will continue to speak up and get involved.
Thank you, Donald. You have helped us realize how powerful we are. You will be hearing from us. I suggest that you listen. We’re not going back. Words matter.