The Island Of Us

Poem by John Donne

By Jay Ayer

“No man is an island entire of itself.”

John Donne wrote those words as an opening to his poem ‘No Man is an Island.’ The poem serves as a representation of both our empathy for one another as humans and the one fate we all share: death. I mention the death and loss of people not to make people sad, but to remind everyone that we are all connected because that is what both of those concepts inherently do.  The loss and accompanying fear of losing a person are the ultimate reminders of how close we are as people on this planet. One prevailing theme of Donne’s poem is that, as humans, we all share the same problems and the same experiences. I’m writing this article because the last year and a half has reminded me of Donne’s poem and, subsequently, reminded me of the importance of us as people. I have begun to notice the problems of those around me more than I notice the problems in my life, and, through my observations and experiences, I have seen how applicable Donne’s words are.

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

I said earlier that one of Donne’s points was that we share similar problems as humans. This point is the case because humans are empathetic creatures by nature, and when one person has a problem, we make his or her problem our problem. The past 18 months have shown me that this notion of empathy is true. In these months, I have seen people lose their loved ones and fear losing their loved ones. I am a human,  a creature empathetic by nature, so I have felt these people’s feelings along with them. In these past 18 months, I have lost one friend to leukemia, one to cancer, and one to depression. In these cases, I had not spoken to that person for years or only briefly before their passing, but I know people who spoke to those friends practically every day. So, when these friends passed, not only did I cry for them, but I cried for the people around them. I cried for my loved ones who felt a loss greater than mine. I cried because each of those events reminded me of how one day I will lose someone close to me, and I was  reminded of the importance of every human life. This importance is a concept that Donne addresses in his poem, as he implies that we are one continent as mankind. If any part of the continent disappears, then we are all affected. Just as the ocean eventually weathers away parts of a coastline, time takes its toll on mankind.  As time ticks away, we must hold close what is important to us.

Now, as I said, my point here is not to sadden people but to remind everyone that we are all connected and all exist under the name of mankind. One person’s suffering relates to everyone because everyone endures some kind of suffering in their lives. John Donne wanted to remind us that we all suffer, and we all have problems. He wanted to emphasize that we are not just individuals but a species connected through emotional hardship. I want everyone to realize that the people in their lives are important because our time here is so brief, and the most important aspects of our lives are the connections we make with other people. I write this article now for reasons similar to Donne’s reasons for writing his poem. I want people to realize and value what they have now,  but before what or who they have has disappeared forever.


Beautifully In Over My Head


By Victoria Clark

Usually, if someone tells you that they have experienced a miracle, your emotions go one of two ways. You either feel overwhelmed with awe and captured by the story, or you sit in defiance, doubting that it ever happened. I could tell you about my personal miracle and it may stop you in your tracks or you may shake your head and move on, but I’m not here to tell you to read the Bible. I’m here to show you what could happen if you want to know Jesus, not just know about Him.

One Friday night about a month ago, I experienced a personal miracle. I went to one of the small groups that my church hosts, which could be referred to as bible study, and my short life took a drastic turn. We sat in a circle and, one by one, began sharing our thoughts about this beautiful outlaw we’ve all come to know in our own ways. Across the circle from me sat a young man named John and as he spoke, I found myself frozen in my chair. He mentioned how this was his last night in our small group and that within the next few days he would be moving to San Diego, California, because that’s where the Air Force needed him to go. I felt my chest contract, an aching pain I knew all too well to be grief, and I began to wonder for the hundredth time when I would be okay enough to hear about people alive and fighting for our country now when my father was lost so many years ago.

For the nineteen years that I’ve been alive, thirteen of those years have been without my dad. One early morning in Oceanside, California, a stone’s throw from San Diego, we kissed my father goodbye and watched him walk away for the last time. Five months later there would be a knock at the door and six-year-old me would come in from playing in the backyard to answer it with as much enthusiasm as any young child today does. In the thirteen years that my dad has been dead, I hadn’t ever felt his presence again. Initially, I thought that if I befriended God I would be able to continue dancing, playing, and talking to my dad in my dreams because he would be an angel sent down from Heaven to me, but I soon realized I was thinking about God the wrong way.

As a child, I believed in God because I needed there to be a heaven where my dad could be.  I believed in God in eighth grade because I had a friend who told me I was a blessing in their life, and I wanted to truly believe that I was. I believed in God my junior year of high school because the ocean called to me to be baptized in the sea. I believed in God my senior year of high school because, against all odds, I realized I never had a reason not to believe. I used to argue with God, asking why other people who have lost loved ones can see them occasionally in their dreams or feel angelic hugs, and after so many years, I still hadn’t felt a single tug from a world beyond to tell me that all was okay.

I tuned back into the conversation at hand where a circle of strangers were excitedly talking about Jesus’ presence in their lives. The room went silent as Melissa began to speak.

“Guys,” she sighed and looked around the room, searching for words to convey the unfathomable love she felt within her, “Jesus thinks I’m funny.” I sat there confused, and I wondered what God I’ve heard preached of before thought of Jesus himself as funny. Melissa shook her head, a smile stuck on her face and light in her eyes, “When I speak to Jesus, I speak to him as if He is my best friend, because He is.” The room was silent for only a moment before more thoughts were contributed.

One person stated how you can pray to Jesus wherever you are because he will always be there to listen. One person shared how she was taught the proper way to pray was to be on your knees, hands together, and eyes closed, but then she asked us if it was possible to pray and drive a car at the same time. I sat in this circle thinking of all the times that I’ve wanted to know Jesus, all the times that I’ve cried out to Him asking for help or guidance, and how, through all that time, I was looking at Jesus as a superior being who pulled on the world by its puppet strings and not as a human.

When Jesus was a child, He had to learn how to tie his sandals. The day I learned how to tie my shoes was one fateful day in kindergarten when I interrupted my teacher multiple times just to show her that I could do it. I threw tantrums as a young child if I didn’t get my way, and Jesus did too. I skipped rocks on the surface of the water and Jesus skipped them too. I get scared of the dark, I grieve for all the loved ones I’ve lost, and I go hungry, but so did Jesus. Jesus threw tantrums as a child before He grew up and changed the world. Jesus skipped rocks on the surface of the water until the day He stood up and walked on the water instead. Jesus knew that this darkness that fell every night could be defeated, He grieved for the loved ones He lost and then He turned around and raised Lazarus from the dead. He went hungry, and the aching pain in His stomach told Him to eat just like us, and then He broke apart bread to represent himself. Jesus is both God and human. Imagine that.

Usually, if someone tells you that they have experienced a miracle, your emotions go one of two ways. When I was told of a huge miracle Jesus did for such a small person, it began to hit me just how powerful He is. The little boy was about four years old, possibly five, and he walked confidently up to me as I sat on the small couch outside of the children’s ministry three years ago. I smiled at him, wondering what was happening in his little brain. His eyes searched mine, looking between them, watching for something, and then he spoke.

“I’m a miracle.”

He looked away from me and sat down on the couch by my side as if his soul was aging quicker than he ever could, and then he sighed and spoke again.

“I’m a miracle.

“You are, are you?” He nodded, looking up to meet my eyes again. “Tell me.”

This little boy proceeded to explain that, at two years old, he had fallen off of a four-story balcony onto cement and survived. I listened to him, awestruck by his story. He told me how his family had prayed for his survival, how he wasn’t scared for his life, and that he was alive only because of Jesus. This young child came up to my side and told me that he’s a miracle, no doubt in his mind, and then as quickly as he had come up to me, he was gone. His mother took him by the hand and smiled at me, leading him away.

He waved.

This was the first time I could see the light of Jesus in someone’s eyes. Tonight, at this small group, I saw the world light up.

The bible is not a rule book. It is not a strict step-by-step guide on how to live your life. It is, in fact, the opposite. For a very long time now, the predominant Christian religious establishment has been following these strict rules they claim to find in the bible instead of offering insight into who Jesus actually is. A lot of people in our world today misinterpret the words in the Bible and see in their heads a portrait of Jesus that is pristine, perfect, ghost-like, and staring into a world beyond what they can see – but that isn’t Him. What they don’t see is the Jesus who sits on our couch across from us, feet up on the coffee table, leaning forward excitedly to learn about life from our unique perspectives. What religion today lacks is the personality of Jesus.

The biggest mistake I made growing up was trying to know Jesus by learning all the rules He created and lived by instead of knowing Him for Him. I listened to the societal perceptions that were said to be true about Christians, all the stereotypes painting us as judgmental, “holier than thou,” self-righteous people who never make mistakes and only play Christians at church, but then I realized what a trap this was. Jesus’ heart is a garden, a beautiful mess of a world, and we are all blooming stories in it.

His love crashes over us daily, over my heart every second of the day. He is the reason I love the sea, He is the reason I laugh at the little moments in life, He is the reason I take off my shoes and climb any and every tree in sight. His playfulness, His humanity, and His love is what fuels my life.

As the small group came to a close, we all decided to pray for John. He pulled his chair to the middle of the circle as the rest of us stood up and stepped in, placing our hands on him and bowing our heads, offering prayer to rush over this young man. Each of his friends took turns speaking for John and praying for safe travels there and a fulfilled life once he arrives in his new home, and, on the outskirts of the circle with my hand on this stranger’s shoulder, I felt my eyes fill with tears. My chest contracted, the grief grabbing my heart and holding it tight, and I couldn’t stop thinking how this man is going to be stationed in the last place I lived with my father before he died. I could not stop thinking about how God made a full circle in this little room, a new beginning was about to start where one ended, and I prayed, tirelessly, endlessly, “God is good.” Tears ran softly down my cheeks and I felt a comforting hand on my shoulder, an overwhelming sense of calm, warmth from all the love in the room. I opened my eyes slightly to see who was offering me such a comfort, but the room was empty behind me.

A hand squeezing my shoulder.

After thirteen years, a comfort, an okay sign, something telling me that love is greater than all. My own miracle.

For the remainder of the night, I spoke with all the strangers in the room as if we had been friends since the dawn of time. I stayed in their home until a little past ten, talking to everyone. The kindness and genuine love in the room felt so surreal, overwhelming my soul. I could feel, that night, the presence of Jesus sitting back on the couch, feet up on the coffee table, smiling and watching over us as we all talked to each other with so much light in our eyes you’d forget that the sun had set for the night.

I am beautifully in over my head.

Make America Think Again Part 1: Experience

Photo by Samuel Alvarado

By Samuel Alvarado

In the United States of America, there have been marches, protests, and riots in reaction to the current Trump administration. It has only been a month since Trump has taken office, and he has caused more division as he thrives on the fear people have and has used it to propel himself to the oval office as a savior for Republicans. I see that we have elected an inexperienced, egoistic man to the highest office in the country we all call home as Americans. Currently, it seems that we have lost touch with what to look for in an electable leader.

Here in the United States of America, we have elected a man to lead an increasingly divided nation in hopes that he can “Make America great again.” However, many are in dismay with President Trump’s leadership already, as his rhetoric alienates the Democratic left of the nation. He seems to only focus on pleasing the conservative republican half of the nation that helped to elect him. With actions that seem reactionary at best, President Trump has only furthered the polarization between the democrats and republicans. The increasing polarization brings up the idea of how we see a solid foundation for leadership. Since ancient times, leaders have risen and fallen as they were tested by the challenges that presented themselves during their tenure. If anyone was an option for president, I would interject he or she would have the three qualities of relevant experience, flexibility, and civic mindedness.

An ideal candidate would have relevant experience in leadership, or better yet in government. Experience is important as relevant experience in local or state leadership can go far in helping run the national government. Some examples of recent candidates for president with relevant government experience would be Bernie Sanders, Rick Perry, and Chris Christie. Experience in government is not necessary to be president, but it is helpful in the transition of power and adjustment to the highest executive branch in the land. Just as experience in an executive board translates into a more effective executive president, a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America should be expected to have experience in similar leadership conditions. The experience of being on an executive board, for example, may help the council president to serve his or her post with better judgment and by extension a better ability able to take on the challenges that come with the job. Whether a person is a leader in a state governorship or in a position as small as an executive board member for a student organization, any relevant experience can only help leaders better serve the people who elected them to their current positions. A candidate who has such experience in government will better understand the limits of his or her own power and how to interact with legislative and judicial bodies. This experience would better enable any president to govern with the understanding that he or she is nothing without the consent and approval of the people.

Going forward, every move a leader makes has direct impacts on the people who he or she governs and, as such, any leadership position demands great care and responsibility. An example of a country that President Trump has insulted and will affect us most evidently is our southern neighbor, Mexico. Mexico has already begun talks to divest from U.S. companies and reduce imports from the United States of America if President Trump continues to strain relations with demands for a border wall and vitriolic insults at Mexico’s expense. If a trade war breaks out because of President Trump’s policies, it will directly affect the American people as any Mexican import would be subject to a tariff and American businesses would have a surplus of products that are primarily exported to Mexico.This is just one example of the possible effects that an inexperienced leader can have on his or her people and the people that they interact with. President Trump’s comments could lead to drastic actions and scenarios because his comments can be seen and interpreted by anyone and in any way. Because Trump has no prior experience in governmental leadership, it would be wise of him to consider the impact of his words and actions. Now, I am not criticizing Trump as a person, I just believe that his actions so far as a leader have not met the criteria for what I consider to be an effective leader.

President Trump has made several controversial decisions in his time as leader of our country. It is in my opinion that these decisions were made because Trump does not already have the proper experience needed for his position. I do, however, want to say that we can still hope that as he serves as President of the United States for the next four years, that he will gain the experience he needs to truly make America great again.

Beethoven and His Greatest Pieces of All Time

Photo by Sabrina Corbin

By Sabrina Corbin

What makes you happy? What makes the entire world melt away when you’re stressed? What makes you, you? Imagine that the one thing that makes you who you are is tortuously being stripped from your grasp. Suddenly, everything you’ve ever known is gone along with the old version of you. With the feeling of a hole in your chest you realize you must redefine yourself. You must find something else that makes colors brighter and makes the world worth facing, because the weight of the world is on you as you grieve for what you’ve lost. This is what it would be like for me to go deaf as a musician, and I can only imagine Beethoven felt the same. Throughout the centuries, there have been many innovative and famous composers, such as Vivaldi, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky. However, by overcoming all his obstacles, I believe Ludwig van Beethoven was the most brilliant and most well-known. Out of his numerous compositions, I believe Symphony No. 9 and Moonlight Sonata were, and continue to be, the most prodigious of all time.

Although many people might assume Beethoven was deaf since his birth, he actually went completely deaf around his mid-forties. Beethoven was taught music at a young age and continued to learn it throughout his life. Young Beethoven was considered a child prodigy when it came to music and performed his first public concert in his hometown of Bonn. At the time of this concert, Beethoven was just seven years old. Beethoven’s entire life up to age seven had been relatively normal for him because he composed, published, and performed music at such a young age that he was used to music in his life. Wowing the people of his time, Beethoven was creating quite the astounding reputation for himself.

Around Beethoven’s early 30s, his hearing began to fade from what we think was a debilitating illness, such as syphilis or typhus. To understand the seriousness of this situation, we must consider that music was all Beethoven had ever known. Beethoven losing his hearing would tear his life apart financially and emotionally, but, impressively, he didn’t let that stop him.

As Beethoven’s hearing declined, higher pitches became difficult and likely painful to hear, so he decided to cut them out all together for a while. This timeline brings us to the first incredible piece: Moonlight Sonata. Like I said before, Beethoven could hardly hear the high notes, hence the consistency of very low notes in this piece. Personally, Moonlight Sonata is one of my favorites for its dramatic staccatos and emotion, staccatos are notes that are played abruptly and shortly. It’s almost as if you can see Beethoven pounding the keys in frustration as you listen. The solemn beginning is portrayed to me as Beethoven’s sadness, because he knows he will not be able to hear for much longer. The usage of many sharps, notes that are raised a half step above their normal pitch, adds a sort of eeriness and emptiness that you can feel in your soul, as I imagine he felt strongly. It should say something to you as a listener when you can feel and see the emotions as you listen to a piece of music. Although Moonlight Sonata practically oozes melancholy, it is beautiful for that reason, and it will never be forgotten, especially by me.

The ideas I’ve presented bring us to the period when Beethoven has lost his hearing completely. Beethoven can now switch back and forth from high and low notes because the high notes no longer hurt him. It’s difficult to explain how one can switch between high and low notes without diving into the fundamentals of music. Basically, Beethoven had an above average knowledge of which notes sound well together (chords), and he had roughly twenty years of experience that helped him learn this knowledge. Therefore, the most likely explanation  is that Beethoven’s genius allowed him to tell the beauty of music without being able to hear it. At this point, we reach Symphony No. 9, which is extremely different from Moonlight Sonata in that it begins quite jubilant and almost victorious feeling. Throughout the entire piece are feelings of happiness and playfulness but, most importantly, more dramatic staccatos. It’s impossible to get disinterested while listening to Symphony No. 9 because of the heavy dynamics in the piece. Beethoven uses some intense crescendos and decrescendos to keep you on your toes and make it hard to guess what will happen next. The symphony is simply the perfect blend of everything that good and exciting music should consist of! Symphony No. 9 begins loud with a perfectly blended middle section, and ends loud just like perfect music should. Music ending loud and being blended well is equally important as authors needing a bang to fulfill the end of a long story. It’s the resolution to any tension created in the first half of the music. Keep in mind, this symphony was all composed while Beethoven was completely deaf! Symphony No. 9 is a truly perfect piece considering his ailments. Proof of Beethoven’s enduring status was shown to me loudly this past summer when I went to a Drum Corps International (DCI) competition in Georgia, a marching band competition consisting of only brass instruments. My favorite corps is Carolina Crown, and, lo and behold, the first piece of their show was the beginning of Symphony No. 9 which they played flawlessly. After 245 years, Beethoven’s music is still with us prominently.

Beethoven proved his worth throughout his successful life by doing what I believe no other person on this planet could ever do: continue his musical career while deaf. Beethoven’s two pieces, Moonlight Sonata and Symphony No. 9, will be forever remembered by his noticeable traits, like his flair for the dramatic and intense emotion that can be felt by any who listen to his works. Throughout my life, no matter what my career may be, I plan and hope to also have a successful music career on the side. Beethoven serves as a huge inspiration to me, proving that when roadblocks are thrown in your way you should never give up on your dream. Yes, it’s cliché, but it will never not be truthful. Find your passion, as I have found music. Find what makes you, you, and makes your world worth facing. Chase that passion, and cling to it for dear life, because someone or something will always be there to try to take it away from you.