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Dec 30 / Matt C.

Looking Back at 2013

It’s easy to look at where I am now and discard 2013 as a trash year, a gap year, a year of waiting in-between what real life should be and what college has been. It’s also easy to let your view of 2013 be clouded by the post-holiday depression, what’s left after the hustle and bustle, the build-up and the let-down, the rampant materialism have all dissipated. These last few weeks can wear you down and alter how you view 2013. It’s easy to get lost in the little picture, the “right this second.”

But I’ve always been a big-picture kind of guy, and sometimes you just have to widen the scope a little bit and see the entire year for what it’s been. Go back to the start of these 12 months and you’ll see that I had a damn good, maybe even a great, 2013. It’s going to be one of those years I’m going to look back on and say, “Take me back to then.”

2013 started off with a good group of great friends poppin’ bottles to ring in the New Year, on top of a great day of skiing. Once back at school that winter I spent no small amount of time working for the Vermont Council on World Affairs, where I learned the value of cross-cultural exchange and hard work. I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to D.C. as well. 2013 was also the year I spent a week in the Dominican Republic, making friends and doing work that I never thought I’d be able to do, all in the embrace of a tight-knit community. 2013 was the year I graduated college, and spent a week celebrating the end of academics with nearly 500 of my closest friends (You guys remember Senior Week, right? At least some of it?) And oh yeah, I also turned 23 right around then too.

The summer started off with a week in the Caribbean (because how else would you celebrate a 25-year wedding anniversary and two graduations?), 3 weeks of house-sitting in Vermont and then moving to the Cape to be a full-time beach bum. Summer warmth gradually bled into fall briskness, and fall briskness is now a winter chill. I began warming up for ski season by immersing myself in the Rockies of Utah, a far cry from teaching at Nashoba Valley where I am now.

2013 wasn’t all rosy, however. I spent days agonizing over cover letters and weeks waiting on pins-and-needles to hear back from job opportunities, only to constantly deal with the sting of rejection. Watching your dream job (at a certain point they all seem to be “The One”) and the life you could have had go slipping through your fingers is always frustrating.

My family has seen the effects of old age begin to wear at my grandmothers, which means my parents gone for long stretches of time and me left to pick up the slack. I’m just glad I’ve been around to help them when they needed me most. .

2013 also saw me attend the funeral for a small child, taken from this world too soon. A funeral and wake for anyone is a sad event, but for someone ripped from this world at so young an age…. It’s just one of those things that I know will stick with me in ways I can hardly imagine.

Around the world, 2013 also saw a new Pope elected, bombs explode at the Boston Marathon finish line, the OPCW win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Red Sox win the World Series, and large-scale violence wrack Syria, Egypt, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Chicago.

But I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of good to triumph over evil. The millions of small acts committed in 2013 will no doubt outweigh the bad ones, and I’ve definitely witnessed a number of small acts that have had an immense impact on the world around us.

Yes, 2013 has been a year of good for me personally. Maybe not professionally (I’m getting there, albeit slowly), but definitely personally. I’ve grown a lot as a person, as a man. The job search has taught me patience and faith, patience that there’s always something around the corner, and faith that wherever I end up will be where I am supposed to end up. (That’s become my new favorite saying).

So here’s to you, 2013. You were a great year. 2014, I’m hoping you will be just as much fun. I’m hoping you hold a full-time, career-ish job for me, but until I find it I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, because it’s brought me lots of joy thus far. See you in the new year!

The sun sets on another year. 2013, you were good to me.

The sun sets on another year. 2013, you were good to me.

Oct 28 / Matt C.

This Past Weekend

I’ve always liked stories. Way back in the day I used to write short stories, and even won an award for one from a local bookstore (back in like 6th grade or something). Not much older, I’d try to compress these short stories into poems, with varying degrees of success (some are still floating around out there in cyberspace). My numerous attempts at journaling all failed, until I discovered blogging, and sharing my stories online gave me an audience to address. Perhaps there’s even a bit of therapy involved, as I can put it all out there on this page and not have to feel like I’m burdening an individual person (call it Irish guilt, having to talk about feelings with another person).

I’ve always like true stories, stories of the deeds and misdeeds of those who have come before us, or at the very least stories of people who witness an event and describe what they assume it was like. I’ve tried to present the events of my life on this blog in a similar vein, always trying to dwell in facts while still fully aware of my own unique perspective on things.

But sometimes being truthful is tough. Sometimes facts are skewed by emotion. Such is the case this past weekend, when events almost defy belief. The death of a young child, a child so innocent and blameless, taken from this world at too-young of an age, leaves nothing but questions, questions no one but God can answer.

I’m fortunate that I’m living at home. A strange statement for sure, but having my parents here has proven to be a huge asset, for the simple fact that I can talk through everything with them, relay and replay the most profound moments of a very profound weekend. My Dad goes to a lot of wakes and funerals, a by-product of his role in the community, and he had to go to one on Friday. He told me today at dinner that in his entire life, he’s never had to go to one for a child, and for that he’s thankful. I hope to never have to go to one again.

One thing this weekend taught me is that true stories never end. The people might pass on, but the memories those people leave behind will always remain, and the stories that people tell of them will never fade, and perhaps, with time, the hole left in the community in which they lived will become a little less jagged. Together, all of this keeps the person in the minds of those who were touched by their life.

At the funeral, the theme of an “Invisible String” came up. This string would serve to keep the family connected at all times, to ensure that they were aware of each other and able to know where they were and how they were doing. The string that would connect this family at all times was the love they had for each other.

I’m not a parent, but I know what it’s like to feel a similar sort of connection to people, to a place, to know that you are brought together for a single reason. Everyone in that chapel on Saturday was connected by their love for one little life extinguished too young. Everyone could feel the hole where they knew someone belonged.

I’m still struggling putting everything into words. There’s just so much to say but at the same time no words to express everything that I need to say. Maybe one day I’ll be able to ask God to unravel this situation and explain what has happened and why. Maybe one day he’ll describe why such a beautiful family was so suddenly and tragically altered. Maybe one day I’ll be able to better explain what I’m feeling and how I can help the family affected. But for now all I have are these few puny words against the loss of such a bright, energetic and lovable child. For now, all I have is heart-ache, and that doesn’t seem like it’s disappearing any time soon.

Oct 12 / Matt C.

A Win for World Peace

It has now been 24 hours since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, much to the chagrin of those who were hoping Malala Yousafzai would take it home, as well as to seasoned Congo-watchers who were hoping that Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder of Panzai Hospital which has healed 30,000 women suffering from the terrible effects of systemic rape, would take it.

But no, it went to a small, obscure United Nations-affiliated organization that has recently received much press for its hastily-assembled mission in Syria.

I’ll admit, yesterday seemed like a celebration party for Malala, even before the announcement: it was the “International Day of the Girl”; ABC was covering Malala in a 20/20 special entitled “Unbreakable” later that night; and her new book I Am Malala was recently released. In short, it was a huge day for Malala already.

But no, in the end the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided the award should go to the OPCW. Many were very upset by this, but NPR pointed out that the actual rules for the Peace Prize go back to the will of Alfred Nobel. Nobel, also the inventor of dynamite, made sure that disarmament occupied a central aspect of the Prize when declared that it is to go to those

who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

Clearly the Prize has evolved in the 112 years since the first one was awarded, but those working on  disarmament issues have won multiple times, most notably the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005, and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines  in 1997, to name just two.

So who is the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons? The OPCW has, without fanfare or recognition, destroyed 80% of the entire world’s chemical weapons stockpiles. As many of you know, I advocated for the United States to intervene militarily against the Assad regime after they used chemical weapons against their own people in late August. These are nasty weapons that kill civilians and soldiers indiscriminately and in the most horrendous ways possible. The unity of the international community outlawed the use and production of these weapons and tasked the OPCW with destroying those that exist today.

Consider what the world would be like if Malala’s Pakistan had developed these weapons, and the Taliban had hijacked them (a fear not unlike that of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons). If they had no qualms with walking onto a bus full of children and shooting a girl in the face at point-blank range, would they think twice about deploying these weapons against a school full of children? Even Malala’s future is threatened by a world with chemical weapons.

The OPCW might not be as cute as Malala, but in the end, it’s all about who makes the greatest advancement for international peace. The international institution on the ground actively working to make the world a safer place by destroying some of the ugliest weapons ever created has won this award. I guarantee that Malala will be on the Nobel Prize Committee’s shortlist again in the future, perhaps when she’s Prime Minister and brokers peace with India, for example, but for now, she’s going to remain the West’s favorite hero, standing up to a movement that seeks to hold her and countless girls like her back from pursuing an education. Meanwhile, the scientists of the OPCW will go on ridding the world of weapons, just the way Nobel would have liked it.

Aug 11 / Matt C.

Cape Cod Bucket List

Hey! Remember me? It’s Matt Connolly, founder and principal writer for This Kid, His World. I would like to take this time to apologize for my lack of posts this summer, but for me, the inspiration for writing lies in the events and moments that I feel people would want to read about. Oh sure, I can tell you about a week spent on the beaches of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, or house-sitting in Essex, Vermont, for three weeks, or going to Burlington for the 4th, or Nantucket for a weekend. I could sit down and write out these experiences, but the views would be narrow and fit only for a mature adult audience (it is called funemployment for a reason after all), but instead I’m going to focus on something I feel deserves to be told, something I’ve been looking forward to all summer, and that’s the completion of my Cape Cod Bucket List.

It’s simple, really. The end of my post-grad summer vacation is slowly coming to a close, and so, not knowing where I would end up for the Fall, I made a short list of some of the things that I wanted to make sure I did. I’ve been coming to the Cape all my life, and so I finally said “I’m doing this and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop me.” So, without further ado, here it is, my Cape Cod Bucket List.

Visit Cape Cod Beer. Ask any of my St. Michael’s friends, and most of them will tell you that we’re spoiled in a wide variety of ways. Whether it’s the Smuggs Pass, the natural beauty of VT, or simply the plethora of craft brews, going to school in Vermont was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. And so, when I started getting tired of Corona (with lime!)  I called up Matt, a buddy of mine from high school to take down a couple of pints at the Cape Cod Beer brewery. Finally, after a couple of delays, we took advantage of the free tastings to try each of their beers on tap, before finally deciding to have a couple of full-size beers, me of their famous Cape Cod Red, him of their Summer hefeweizen. Couple of quick beers, but hey, count it.

Next, Kayak Around Washburn Island State Park. My house down here looks out on Washburn Island, a T-shaped island that will never be developed. Today it hosts a couple of campsites, a ranger station, and the wreckage of a couple of old Army jeeps from WWII (they used to practice amphibious assaults on the beaches, a la D-Day).There’s no bridge, no ferry, the only way in is by your own boat or to swim across.

First thing I did when I woke up that day was check the weather, but it was perfect: no wind, no waves, bright blue skies. Since we had never done any serious kayaking before, my sister and I just kind of guessed about distances, how long it would take us, all that stuff. We basically came to the conclusion that it would take us all day and that we should pack snacks and drinks. In the end, it only took us 2 1/2 hours, roughly half of what we had planned on, to cover 5 miles around the island.

Me Kayaking

Kayaking Pan

That’s me way off to left in the red kayak. Hardly a cloud in the sky!
Photo credit: Katie Connolly.

Visit Provincetown. No matter who you ask, everyone has a story about P-Town. The only reason I had never visited was simple: distance. Most people think of the Cape as a small place, but in truth it takes about 2 hours to go from the Upper Cape to the Outer. Realizing that this isn’t much of an excuse, I figured it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

Long known as a haven for gay and lesbian couples, I was not shocked to see so many holding hands, making out, you know, doing what happy couples do the world over. What did surprise me was not the people but the place. I didn’t expect to see so many rainbow flags, whether across the main street (below), or on so many storefronts.

PTown

(I was also surprised at the number of international visitors that were there, but I guess, in retrospect, acceptance and tolerance know no bounds.)

One of the highlights was definitely climbing to the top of the Pilgrim Monument, a 252-foot tall tower built to honor the original spot where the Pilgrims landed, before they moved on to Plymouth. It’s the highest point on the entire Cape, and you can see not just the entire Cape but also Boston way off in the distance.

P-Town Harbor

Bike Both Sides of the Canal, Walk Over Both Bridges. My list ends where the Cape begins: the Cape Cod Canal. I decided to not just bike the great bike path that stretches along both sides of it, but I also wanted to take it another step further, and walk over both bridges as well. There’s just something to be said for walking your bike along a 3-foot section of sidewalk, dodging construction crews repainting the Sagamore or having to pass another biker who decided to ride his bike over the Bourne, all the while staying as far from the cars and trucks and busses that are whizzing past, all while looking 135 feet straight down into the Cape Cod Canal. Oh, and the wind was gusting hard that day too, meaning I almost lost my hat, which would’ve been a tragedy of untold proportions.

Canal

But, in the end, I made it. All told, including get lost in the campgrounds under the Bourne Bridge, and having to go the long way ’round to get back on the path after crossing the bridge, I had traveled 15 miles. Even though I kept track for my personal records, views like this are worth it in their own right:

Bourne Br.

Random Summer Goals: These goals listed above were just my major, “Cape Cod Only” goals. I had other, smaller things I was looking to accomplish this summer no matter where I spent it:

Get in shape was one of them, and I can now run (more like jog) a full 5K without having to walk at all, which feels great. (It seems a little silly writing that on the same day of the Falmouth Road Race, a 10K from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights, but hey, baby steps.)

Drive a stickshift was another thing I at least wanted to try, and I’m thankful to Al for letting me drive his baby one evening last week.

There was just one thing that hasn’t been fulfilled yet, and that’s get a job. After numerous rejections, some hurting more than others, I still have not yet secured fulltime employment, but it looks like I’m going to hear on my best chance sometime next week. I’m ready. I want to be productive again, to start making a difference in a community somewhere (not to mention start collecting a paycheck.) I’m itching for it, but at the same time, with views like this:

Sunset

…..who would ever want to leave?

Apr 16 / Matt C.

Hope

Yesterday, April 15th, 2013, will live on as one of those “Where Were You?” days. Where were you when you heard that two bombs had exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding and maiming an additional 176?

I was walking into my 3:15 class and just so happened to check my phone. “Two Bombs Explode at Boston Marathon” the New York Times told me. I looked at it, shocked, and whispered to my neighbor, “Dude, bombs went off at the Marathon today.”  I tried to push the thought of it from my mind, but the longer class went on, the more concerned I got, until I finally couldn’t stand it anymore and took out my phone to check Twitter. My worst fears were concerned, and I read about the chaos that was reigning in my beloved Boston. Gradually the rest of the class began getting similar updates, until the Professor finally noticed all the phones out and asked what was up. We informed him, and he put on live-feeds of news broadcasts from around the world. We watched the bombs go off, people knocked to the ground, people being rushed about in wheelchairs. We heard the rumors of two, no three, no four bombs going off, some at the JFK Library, others around the city. Kids rushed into the hall to call home, check on people they knew, people who might have run the race. For so many of the Saint Michael’s community, Boston is home, and to have bombs explode in their native city reverberated around campus.

But today, at this time, I want to tell a different story. I want to tell a story of hope, because I feel like that is just what is needed at this time. I want to talk to you about a conference in which I played a small part last week, one in which the participants, even before the terrible attacks of yesterday, helped to instill in me a sense of the good being done in this world.

I’m an intern at the Vermont Council on World Affairs, and this conference was for Fulbright scholars who are researching at American universities, but come from around 35 different countries. This Fulbright Enrichment seminar was focused on social entrepreneurship, or where private businesses do good for the people in their community,  ensure the sustainability of the planet as a whole, while also turn a profit, and I was immensely grateful to have taken part in multiple aspects of the program.

But as much as we structured three days of programming for these participants to take part in, it was the unstructured time which bore the most fruit. It would be here that the scholars would make friends, exchange ideas, and get to know one another. I saw a Romanian and a South Korean cracking jokes together; a Georgian explaining local customs to a Pakistani; a Hungarian and a Jordanian trading business cards. I was glad to participate in a forum in which individuals from around the world came together to share and explore and get to know one another, without worry of country or politics or bias.

But perhaps no other event was as uplifting as a visit to a local non-governmental organization, doing just the kind of work that our seminar was focused on. My group of about a dozen visited the Good News Garage, located right in downtown Burlington, to experience what it means to “do well by doing good.” This organization  works in conjunction with the state of Vermont to fix up old cars and assist low-income families in buying them. But more than that, they also sponsor financial literacy programs, allowing adults to learn what it means to be responsible for a large investment like an automobile. It is also here that a rideshare program has been set up, allowing rural Vermonters to get to where they need to go via nondescript minivans, allowing them to escape the shame of having to be picked up by a taxi or a flashy NGO van that would destroy any sense of pride.

GNG Group

In the basement of the same building was Bike Recycle Vermont, a program of Local Motion. As its name denotes, it takes old bicycles and refurbishes them for use by local members of the community. For a nominal fee, and a little bit of sweat equity, people can come in and choose a bike and make it theirs. Perhaps one of the coolest moments for me, and something that especially interested our foreign visitors, was this sign:

Bike Recycle VT Terms

 

….which lists the English name for various bicycle terms, and is accompanied by its translation in Nepali, Burmese and Somali. This allows the volunteers at the shop to assist the massive New American population of the Greater Burlington area in selecting a bicycle and in instructing them in its use.

Both of these organizations occupy a small niche in the community. They found where there was a need for specific programming, and they set about ensuring that these needs are met. Everyone we met at both organizations, from the guys tuning the bikes and prepping them for sale to the Vice-President for Operations who spoke with us, understood and took pride in the fact that they were making a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable members of their community.

I wanted to share this story as a reminder that for every act of violence that makes the news, that tears at our heartstrings, that reminds us of the senseless evil in this world, that there are millions of good stories that happen every day that go unnoticed, that are not reported by the news. Two bombs went off in Boston yesterday, but two cars were given to needy families, twenty bikes distributed to people who needed to get to work, two-hundred doors held, two-thousand jokes told, two million “I Love You”‘s exchanged, twenty million smiles shared.

Two bombs have gone off, and I am not going to cower in fear. Two bombs have gone off, and I am not going to let that stop me from living a life of good. Two bombs have gone off, and it is only in the cessation of doing good that the terrorists win, and to let the terrorists win is unthinkable. Just ask every Bostonian, every American, if they are going to let that happen.

I am Boston strong, because I have seen the good in this world. I saw that good reflected in the 65 Fulbrighters who represented 35 countries. Together, they came together to exchange ideas. Together, we can come together to  build a better world. And a better world starts today.