Eleanor, August, Aylan and me- we are all the same: My life as told through “Eleanor and Park”, “Wonder” and the world around us


Happy last-day-of-December friends!

As usual, I have not written here as much as I planned, intended, committed or wanted to.  I did feel the need to write you this one last time before 2015 is officially behind us and so I’m typing this out as I’m packing to head out to the beautiful Lake Crescent Lodge in the Olympic National Forest.  Since finding out we are moving back to the other side of the country in June, “we” (really I but I’m pulling everyone into my memory-making madness) have been doing everything with an extra appreciation of it being the “last time”.  So, for our “last” NYE living here, P wanted to go back to the gala at LCL.  He is always up for an excuse to “dress up” and I love seeing him dressed up, so it’s a win-win.

It’s possible you missed it, so just in case: I LOVE CHRISTMAS! and this past month has been almost perfect.  I am a planner (shocking I know!) and I very intentionally planned for this December to have lots of margin- time for reading, resting, walking, reflecting, celebrating, drinking coffee with friends and family, staying in the same clothes for 36 hours (ok 48, but only the one time!) and truly soaking in all the parts of this month that make it my favorite time of the year.  We had sweet visits from both of our families and great times over coffee, games, P’s latest “catch” being prepared and eaten (by some) and just all around enjoying life together.  I am so grateful and my heart is so full.

Also, my heart is so broken.

I love December so much.  AND YET.  I know what it means for so many.  I know those of you who put on your armor and take your flask and calendar in hand and ram or numb your way through the month because the thought of facing it full on unprotected is literally too much to bear.  I see you.  I k now you.  I love you and I hurt with you and I understand you.  I have had Decembers that felt like death and I know that sometimes, you just have to get through a thing.  I honor your pain and I pray for your pain.  This is not new; it is a tension I feel every year and I take it very seriously.

This year, especially, I feel the pain more deeply.  I spent much of October and early November in a deep sadness and sorrow that I had a hard time balancing.  Why you might ask?  Basically, because I am saddened by the inhumanity of humans on this planet at times.  I am saddened by the death and the terror and the lack of access to basic human rights- needs, really- and the lack of ability of so many of us to really face what that means.  I am saddened by each word I hear, word I read, post I see that reflects that fear and hatred and misunderstanding and by the knowledge that our words ripple up and down and out to the far-flung corners of the world, where they take root in hearts and lives.  Along with so many, I truly mourned the death of little Aylan Kurdi because finally it felt like more people “got” it, this thing that I have “gotten” for quite some time.  What is it?  It is this:

We are all the same.

In between all of these big feelings two books also made their way into my hands and they couldn’t have been more timely.  First, my Kathryn gave me Wonder by R. J. Palacio.  I must insist, that if you haven’t read it, you stop now and buy it, request it or download it. (Seriously, you will thank me later.)  If you have children, read it and then read it to/with them.  I immediately fell in love with August, a 10 year-old boy who was born with complex medical issues that led to a physical appearance that is described as fairly horrendous.  The way the author brings this story to life, with believable dialogue, situations and lessons learned was truly gifted and I found myself wanting to volunteer to read it to a 4th grade class somewhere.  I want to believe in the goodness and the kindness of us all, and especially the inherent kindness of kids before they are tainted by the world’s (and by adult’s) sometimes unkindness.  I wanted to celebrate the fact that different CAN be ok and that “different” in some ways, is really just a thing we create to make categories of “us” vs “them.”  Wonder is where the message first started really working its way into my heart:

We are all the same.

As I put down Wonder, I picked up Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and I found the theme continued.  This is a true love story, taking place on a bus, in a school, and in a tiny house and typical neighborhood.  The words capture so perfectly the deep feelings and drama of teenage emotions and the cruelty and courage of those who feel them.  You want to protect Eleanor from the pain and cruelty of being “the big girl” with red hair that earns her the nickname “Big Red.”  You want to punch the mean kids and you want to hug Eleanor and look into her eyes and tell her how important she is.  You want to cheer Park on, encouraging him to stand up and live into his feelings and his instincts to be kind.   You want to give Park’s parents an award for being real and reasonable and for allowing their hearts to change and you cheer for their secret journey that feels so important.  In the end, you just realize all the places you connect with more than one of the people in the story.  You realize:

We are all the same.

Here’s the thing.  I believe our “otherness” is really just based on categories we create based on things we have all or no control over and yet, in the end, we are all the same.  We love, we hate, we get hungry, we need sleep.  We are kind, we are cruel, we are hopeful, we are resigned.   Realizing this doesn’t mean things are easy and they aren’t magically “fixed” but they become more clear.  Things get a little brighter and you realize that in this, our “sameness” there is hope and there is goodness and there is light.

I have talked to enough of you in the past few weeks to know that while some of you are with me in this, some of you most definitely are not.  You’ve made me cry and you’ve made me mad, but still I love you and I am for you and in the end: We are all the same.  Because of that, I am convinced that the only way forward is to truly listen to each other, to have the courage to listen to people “different” than us.  To do the research and the listening required if we are going to speak our opinions, often stating them as if they are facts.  We owe it to each other to listen, to learn, to try to find places of “sameness.”  What we are doing now, here in our world with all the focus on  “us” vs “them”:  it is not working.

And so as we headed into the dark days of December, I found myself really embracing the darkness, but only so that I could light a candle (or two, or ten) each morning and see for myself the way that light breaks the darkness.  Even in the darkest of black on Dec 21 at 2 in the morning, a single candle shatters the darkness.  It is a law of this universe: the dark cannot overcome the light.

So I am grateful to Eleanor and to Park and to Wonder and to Aylan for teaching me that I am my unique self, named for that very light.  And yet:

I am that 10 year-old boy who feels ashamed and yet has confidence because of the love of those around him.

I am that teenage girl who is overweight with bad hair, is made fun of on the bus, wants nothing more than to NEVER be noticed and who feels the first whispers of what true love feels like.

I am that precious baby Aylan whose parents loved him so much that they were willing to literally face death to give him a chance at life.  I am his parents.  I am those guiding the boat.  I am the photographer on the shore.

I am you when you feel scared of the “otherness” of people you don’t know and don’t understand and I am you when you head into that unknown to face your own fears and attempt to bring more light into the dark places.

I am you when you love Christmas and sweet time with family, and I am you when you are terrified of the dark alone of December 25th every year.

We are all the same.

So my wish for you this minute, this day, this year, is that somehow, in some small or big way, you see that:

We are all the same.

So much love to you all,


4 thoughts on “Eleanor, August, Aylan and me- we are all the same: My life as told through “Eleanor and Park”, “Wonder” and the world around us

  1. Julie December 31, 2015 / 4:49 pm

    Beautiful and causes one to pause and reflect. Thank you, Dawn.

  2. janec4kids January 1, 2016 / 11:46 am

    Love your heart and your ability to share such thoughtful words. (I need to hear more about your June move…) Happy New Year!

  3. Robyn January 1, 2016 / 5:02 pm

    These just get better every single time. You are finding your voice and it’s so beautiful it makes me cry! I feel this so strong since working with the Wellspring girls. We are definitely all the same. It’s such a pleasant surprise!!! ❤️

  4. grettabenefield January 4, 2016 / 7:20 am

    This is my favorite post to date! I was in your head seeing through your eyes! I know people like the ones you spoke of, even hugged a few of them in my life! Even as a child, one of the things I was proudest of – you had such a diverse group of friend, as you still do! Size, shape, color, gender, rich, poor, ….none of it mattered to you. You loved everyone! It’s who God created you to be. As bitter sweet and difficult as it will be for you to move yet again, God has more people for you to love and encourage, and help them find their way…
    I know, with all my heart and soul, with all its twists and turns, that you are living out Gods plan for your life…that’s something not many of us can truly say! As your mother, I am so very proud of you and the truest kind of love you have for all human beings that God created!

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