What is the meaning of Life?
It has been over six months since my last newsletter. Since then, so many things have changed in the world, and certainly in MY world. The much anticipated events of the Winter Solstice of 2012 have come and gone, most would say without any earth shattering changes or catastrophes. Throughout 2012, many of us contemplated the possibilities of a global event; some thought it would be a cataclysm of sorts, others prayed it would result in a shift of consciousness. And throughout a year which many of us found to be challenging personally, economically and/or spiritually, the Big Questions were often contemplated and discussed: Why are we here? What is the meaning of our lives on this earth?
At that time in the Fall of 2012, the meaning of my life was the discovery of even greater truths around what humans are capable of when love and community are combined. I was soaring through many adventures with my newlywed husband, Filip: We had just returned from a conference in Bosnia, seated beside the Bosnian Prime Minister and the Ambassador from Pakistan, which featured the stunning carbon dating revelations which indicated that the Bosnian pyramid complex was without a doubt manmade – and over 25,000 years old! I tried to imagine, with awe, how the same communities who created the Venus of Willendorf might have built the largest and oldest pyramids in the world (they are from the same era). I was later honored and excited to be the Om Times cover girl in November, when they featured my work on The Ballad of Tam Lin and my recently launched blog, www.LegendsoftheDivineFemine.com
But on December 30, 2012, that question about meaning became the most difficult of my life to answer when my husband passed away unexpectedly, shockingly, at the age of 41. Everything I thought I knew about my life and where it was headed was shattered by Filip’s loss. The life we had been building together for the last four years evaporated over the five weeks that he languished in the hospital before succumbing to the rarest and most aggressive form of cancer.
In Memoriam: Philip (Filip) Coppens, January 25, 1971 to December 30, 2012
Prior to Filip’s illness, we had planned to travel to India together in the spring as we both had business there: mine was the business of charity, as I have done volunteer work and fundraising for the anti-trafficking organization, Made By Survivors, since 2006. In Filip’s case, he wanted to visit some of the ancient sites in India as research for the History Channel show which he co-starred in, Ancient Aliens.
Tragically, Filip never made it to India. But after much consideration and encouragement from my dear friends at Made By Survivors – founders Sarah Symons and John Berger in Florida and program director Paul Suit in Calcutta – I made the decision to carry on with my work in India and Nepal as part of my healing process. As many of you are aware, I have been working with Made By Survivors since the release of The Expected One almost seven years ago, to help free women and children from the horrors of human trafficking and the risks that come from extreme poverty. I chose to give my support to this organization, over all others, because of what I witnessed from the founders: their devotion to the cause, to the girls, and to ensuring that the highest percentage of donated funds goes directly in to the field for the immediate aid and relief of survivors.
Made By Survivors
A new wing of the beautiful Calcutta shelter, funded by Made By Survivors and YOUR contributions, was opened this March!
In March, I finally had the opportunity to visit India and Nepal, and to see the fruits of my seven years of fundraising for Made By Survivors. It was a profound and literally life-altering experience. I witnessed shelters, programs and FREEDOM for hundreds of women and girls who have been rescued and supported by the donations that many of you have provided. Through supporting my fundraising campaigns over the years, as well as your enthusiasm for the beautiful products that are Made By Survivors, together we have raised enough money to impact and improve lives of individual girls as well as entire communities.
The Service of Love
My time in India and Nepal has helped me to answer this question that is as old as humanity itself: what is the meaning of life? For me, that answer is to live as love expressed, and I have found that the greatest expression of love is SERVICE. It is through service to our brothers and sisters on this beautiful planet that we attain a state of grace that cannot be found anywhere else.
The great Bengali teacher Swami Vivekanada, who was Mahatma Gandhi’s inspiration to a life of service and spirit, once said that, “They alone live who live for others. The rest are more dead than alive.”
It is in living for others that I have found my way out of feeling more dead than alive. It is how I found my meaning. I hope you will read on to learn a bit more about my journey deeper into service to our daughters and sisters who have been enslaved, and how you can help to save and change lives.
One of my favorite parables comes, I am told, from the coastal Native American tribes in California. It is the story of a little girl, seven or eight years old, running on the beach at low tide. A strange weather anomaly has affected the region, and as a result the beach is littered with ten thousand dying starfish. The poor creatures cannot get back to the water and are stranded, drying up and dying in the sand. The little girl races back and forth across the beach, stopping to pick up a starfish and hurl it in to the water. She picks up another and throws it back to sea, then another. And another. She is frantic, running as fast as her skinny little legs will carry her. She can only throw one starfish at a time as it requires all of her might to throw the creature hard enough to ensure its safety back at sea.
The little girl’s elder brother sees her on the beach and watches her for a few minutes before asking her, “What are you doing?”
She looks at him impatiently as she hurls another starfish to safety.
“I’m saving starfish. Don’t just stand there. Come and help me!”
Her brother laughs at her. He gestures to the thousands of starfish that litter the beach. “Crazy girl, why should I help you? There are thousands of starfish dying on this beach, and you can only throw one at a time back to sea. What does it matter if you can save just a few of them when so many cannot be saved?”
The little girl glared at him, then held out the beautiful five pointed creature in her hands. As she prepared to throw it into the safety of the sea where it would continue to thrive, she replied to her brother over her shoulder, “It matters to this one.”
The United Nations released a statistic recently that declared that there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide.
I hate that number.
I hate that number for so many reasons. I hate it, first and foremost, for what it is: a sad and terrible statement of how far humanity needs to go to end this terrible plague of slavery. But the real crime of this number is that it is so huge that it is overwhelming. The number is a disservice to activists in the abolition movement in many ways, because when it is quoted, we watch people shut down. Their eyes roll back a little in their heads and they take an almost imperceptible step back. 27 MILLION? How is that possible?
Recently at a Made By Survivors fundraiser, I used this number in my presentation. I knew it was a risk, because when people are faced with a number this big, their first instinct is to shut down. The natural first reaction is: I can’t possibly have an impact on a problem of such extreme and global proportions. But I have seen another reaction to this number that is stronger than mere resistance. It’s denial. Following my speech about the personal and visceral reasons which caused me to get involved in the issue of trafficking in the first place, Sarah Symons took over at the microphone. Sarah is the founder of MBS and a constant inspiration to me. Sarah related a few personal stories about the girls we work with in India, stories that moved almost everyone in the audience to tears. I have heard these stories before and know the truths behind them, yet they impact me to the core every single time.
The one man in the audience who was clearly not moved approached me following the speeches. He cornered me, angry and aggressive, demanding to know where that number of 27 million comes from. He barraged me with a verbal landslide of all of the reasons why this number cannot possibly be real, why it is impossible to estimate the number of enslaved humans on earth. He implied that it was all invented for the purpose of fundraising.
I took a deep breath and tried to keep my own reaction under control.
My first instinct was to dish his aggression right back to him. I wanted to rant, “Mister, you have just heard truly terrible stories about how young girls are sold for sex, tortured and abused in unspeakable ways, and how we are trying to stop that from happening. If after hearing these stories the only thing you can focus on is the MATH, then I think you have some soul searching of your own to do. YOU are part of the problem. Why don’t you leave the dark side of apathy and denial and come into the light and actually do something to make a difference?”
I did not say that. What I said was this, “That statistic comes from the UN. You are free to call them and ask how they gather their data. Have a nice night and thank you for listening to the presentations. I hope you got something more out of them than just a number.”
I vowed then to never use that cursed number in any future presentation.
Flash forward five months and I am in rural West Bengal, volunteering in a women’s shelter for survivors of trafficking and little girls at high risk. Here are 27 of the most beautiful, precious, loving little girls and young women I have ever had the privilege to meet. Each of them has a deeply moving - and often, horrifically dark - story of what has brought them to this place. The shelter is clean, bright and run by incredibly caring women. It is a haven of safety and hope for each of these girls. But it is also radically overcrowded and underfunded, with the majority of the girls sleeping in one large room in a series of bunk beds. The girls have chosen to cover the walls with posters of their heroes: Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, the great Bengali spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda, and the poet laureate of India, Rabindranath Tagore. They have made their shelter a shrine to service and spirit; they have made the most of what they have been given. But they are in dire need of a larger space.
The greatest threats to rescued and “at risk” girls are the lack of shelter facilities and the insufficient resources to protect and care for them once they are rescued. In this region, the ruined economy and decline of the local tea trade has added to the poverty and exacerbated the trafficking problem. There is a desperate need here for far more shelter space. The good news: A spectacular piece of land has been donated by a local man to create a safe, new shelter home in a beautiful environment. Once completed, the new facility will have the ability to hold up to 125 girls comfortably. The challenging news: The building project is stalled because an additional 50,000 dollars is needed to complete the first level, which would provide 6000 square feet of nearly immediate living space for healing survivors, most of whom are minors, in this region.
In my years of fundraising for Made By Survivors, my friends and readers have joined me in funding a number of important projects, but I believe that this is the most important of all thus far. It is also the biggest challenge, and the hardest number to reach. But it is a challenge that I have decided deserves my total commitment. In response, I have created the Heaven On Earth Campaign to raise the $50,000 by October of this year, when it is desperately needed. I like that number 50. I celebrated my 50th birthday while I was in Asia doing this work, and it felt appropriate for me to make the pledge on my 50th birthday.
My New Artwork!
To show my permanent support and total commitment to my adopted Bengali daughters and sisters, I had the Bengali word for FREE inked on my back. I am determined to ensure that all of these girls, and many more in the future, are provided with the resources that they need to know what it means to be free in every sense of that wonderful word (and by the way, the survivors make a beautiful necklace with this same design).
Heaven on Earth
Time is of the essence, as the lease on the current space will run out in the Spring of 2014. If we can begin building the shelter in the Fall, we can have the beautiful new building, garden and perhaps even the occupational design center ready to open by this time next year.
I cannot help all 27 million people who are enslaved. But I can start by helping 27 people, THESE 27 people, and I have vowed to do exactly that. They are my starfish, and I will ensure that each and every one of them gets back to a place of safety where they have the chance to live and to thrive. I know that I will encounter the occasional nay-sayer who behaves like the little girl’s brother on the beach, the one who will tell me that my efforts do not matter. Or the man at the conference who simply could not allow himself to accept the terrible statistics of slavery in our time. But I know that more of you will stand beside me on the beach and save those starfish to the best of your ability. Because you understand just how much it matters to this one.
To read more about the campaign, and to donate to creating Heaven on Earth for these beautiful girls, please visit:
Our girls have come up with some really beautiful special gifts for those of you who donate to the cause. Check them out - they alone are worth the money that you donate!!
Please enter the words Heaven On Earth in the PROGRAM box to ensure that you receive your exclusive gifts of gratitude as defined in the campaign text!
Please note that I am not aware of any organization that gives more money to direct, in the field services than Made By Survivors. In fact, it would be impossible to give more in this case, as 100% of the donations are going directly to this very special project. It bears repeating:
ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE MONEY RAISED FOR THIS CAMPAIGN GOES DIRECTLY TO THE CONSTRUCTION OF THIS SHELTER.
And I will be there every step of the way to watch it happen and share it with you all. Now THAT is the meaning of life.
With deepest gratitude for the journey, we are One in Love,