HONY is my homie.

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Photo on 8-20-14 at 6.56 PM #4

If you haven’t started following the “Humans of New York” blog, dubbed HONY and not to be confused with KONY, you need to start right now. You need to start because it’s really important. I mean it. I’m using this post solely as an endorsement, because what HONY does it huge. I would argue it is one of the most significant uses of social media to have happened to date. The blog (or Facebook page or Instagram or whatever platform you view it in) is the single best damn thing on the internet. I’m both overwhelmingly happy that such a site exists and secretly envious that I don’t have creator Brandon Stanton’s job. Rats. 

ANYWAY. 

If you aren’t familiar (in which case, what’s up/shame on you, just kidding it’s fine, but really though) it’s basically a series of pictures posted daily of New Yorkers. Just everyday, real people — construction workers, emotional teenagers, druggies, struggling artists, survivors, the ice cream man, the proud mom. Anyone and everyone in between. He interviews them, asks them things like “what’s been your greatest accomplishment?” or “what do you love most about your partner?”, then explores them through the lens of his camera. And it’s evident from the comments of people he interviews that he’s gifted in this regard. In essence, he’s Titanic‘s Jack Dawson. He sees people, sees their pain, their vulnerability, and perhaps most of all, what is genuinely unique about every single person on this universe. He chooses a segment of the interview and pairs it with a photograph he’s taken of them. Wham, bam. Know that quote, something along the lines of “don’t judge because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Yeah. That’s this blog summed up in one word. And it’s amazing. 

Amazing because it has created a dialogue. People comment on the photos, relate, share their own stories. Because, after all, not everyone lives in New York (thought it may seem like it to people who live there, perhaps). I can reach out from Chicago and be like, I feel ya bro! I had a similar experience when *whatever happened. Of course, the ability to comment from behind the veil of a computer screen comes with its obvious downside: the trolls. The cowards that sit behind their keyboard and prey on every opportunity to, as Alfred would say, want to watch the world burn. They exist everywhere, and HONY isn’t immune. When Stanton posts a photo containing the vaguest message of religion, or someone’s opinion on abortion, or a lost soul that has contemplated suicide, you better believe you are going to get one heated dialogue. And it’s rarely mature. But usually, thankfully, there are a select few comments that are so spot on they echo. And they sit atop the thread, above the vulgar spew of vapid leeches. It’s a community. 

So I’m really into this blog. What a cool idea. Brandon Stanton is the man. He’s overseas right now, capturing remarkable and truly heartbreaking civilian stories. He’s been in like Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, now he’s in Africa, where will he go next! And he’s doing the same thing: documenting humanity. He is single-handedly raising awareness to HUGE issues: water contamination, families torn apart by war, starvation. And I know I’m not alone with I say the some of the images have been shocking. There’s one he posted recently of a man whose home was invaded by rebels, and when he returned after he managed to escape he found his father with all of his limbs cut off. Yeah. That’s going to stick in this noggin probably forever. It’s not that I don’t know suffering exists, I do. But it’s also not something I’m exposed to daily through someone’s camera lens. And that’s why this blog is important. I truly think it’s humanizing people. It’s showing how we, as human beings, are both similar and undeniably intricate. The ALS ice bucket challenger has been great, but how about raising money and awareness about something that affects 80 percent (yes EIGHTY PERCENT, PEOPLE) of the world: poverty. 

So please, take a minute and check it out if you haven’t already. It might make you sad or angry sometimes; I know that sometimes the stories have affected me so deeply that I can’t get them out of my head for weeks. But maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it will also make you feel like we aren’t all strangers in this world. And that we all have a story to share. 

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A True Legend

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Like millions, I’m struggling to understand Robin Williams’ recent death. He represented a significant part of my childhood — he was the Genie, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Doctors Patch Adams and Sean Maguire, John Keating. The list goes on and on and on. He brought these roles to life with the type of imagination and zeal that only a true genius could muster. Sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears, he always delivered with passion. He taught me things, and because of this I felt like he could be my goofy uncle. I felt like I knew him. Then again, didn’t everyone? He was one of my favorite actors because, apart from the “stage,” he seemed like a genuine, regular guy. 

And just like that he was gone, and, to everyone’s dismay, of his own accord. It’s hard for me to imagine wanting to take my own life. I’ve thought about it, sure, but more in a philosophical “what would it be like to die?” way when I’m feeling sad. I’ve never planned anything, never desired to act it out, never actually wanted to end my life for good. Because what a horrifyingly final decision. The very thought of getting a belt out to hang myself sends shudders down my spine.

I’m lucky, though, to have never struggled with intense, manic depression like Mr. Williams did. I have always reached out for help and depended on others when I felt life was too much to bear. So I can’t even imagine the level of despair he was experiencing. I’m not a stranger to depression and the effects it has, not by quite a stretch. In fact, I love someone who struggles with clinical depression, and it’s, well, not fun sometimes. It’s a scary illness. It’s difficult for the person with depression, and it’s difficult for the people that love them and want to see them grow and succeed. 

News sources report that his daughter is “inconsolable” and no wonder. My own father died almost a year ago today. He died on the 20th of August. I saw him struggle for breath on our entry way floor. I saw his face turn blue. I made the 911 call, shouted at the voice on the other end to send ambulances faster, pleaded, wished, waited. He wanted to live, but he could not survive the attack that was pulsing through his heart. My dad had demons of his own, sure, but he didn’t want to die. I know this for sure. I don’t know what it would be like to know my father made the choice to end his life. It’s impossibly devastating to even fathom such a thing. My heart goes out to his family. 

Sometimes things in life are so tragic that there aren’t enough synonyms in the thesaurus or words in the dictionary to accurately capture them. To really convey how it pains the heart to even envision them again. It’s too much. And, as a writer, that’s a tough and frustrating thing because that’s what I do. I describe things. I try to say, “this is how it looks, feels, sounds,” in a way that no one else can. I feel like I can’t rightly do that here. I didn’t know Robin Williams, unfortunately, I only knew what I was filtered through the media like most others. But I know how he made me feel and how he made me laugh in his movies. And damn, he made me laugh really hard. He was a comic genius, but not only that, he was an unbelievably talented, well-rounded actor. There won’t ever be a “friend” like him. He was a true legend that will be missed sorely around the world for quite some time to come I’d expect.

I’m here to say I’m sad for Robin Williams, for my own father, for people who feel they have no way out, for people that die suddenly and unexpectedly and the loved ones they leave behind, for so many things. I’m sad in a way I can’t describe; I’m sad for a man I knew and a man I didn’t. Williams’ daughter, Zelda, is clearly a wise and feeling woman. I’m going to share her tribute to her late father here, because it’s heartbreaking and perfect:

“You — you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You — only you — will have stars that can laugh.” — Antoine De Saint-Exupery

If that doesn’t say it, I don’t know what does. 

Rest in Peace.