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November’s Sparklers: Those Who Choose to Shine

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Sparklers is a monthly series at Dandelion Chandelier designed to highlight people, groups and institutions who have recently spread light in the world, even in the midst of great darkness. Every day, people choose to shine in ways large and small. These moments of grace and generosity don’t always get reported on, and unfortunately they can be quickly forgotten. We need to hear, reflect on, and share these stories. Because good news, optimism and kindness could be the sweetest luxuries of all.

It’s Thanksgiving Day, so it’s a particularly apt moment to showcase some Sparklers who caught our attention in recent weeks:

Alexander Hamilton is heading to Puerto Rico! The musical, that is. Lin-Manuel Miranda announced he is taking his Tony Award-winning show to the University of Puerto Rico’s campus in San Juan for a limited three-week run in January 2019. In Puerto Rico, Miranda himself will star as Alexander Hamilton — the first time he has reprised the role since he ended his Broadway run in July 2016. Other casting will be announced at a later date. “When I last visited the island, a few weeks before Hurricane Maria,” Miranda said, “I had made a commitment to not only bring the show to Puerto Rico, but also return again to the title role. In the aftermath of Maria, we decided to expedite the announcement of the project to send a bold message that Puerto Rico will recover and be back in business, stronger than ever.” Miranda says he hopes Hamilton’s run in Puerto Rico from January 8th-27th, 2019, will help stimulate the economy and cultural tourism. As with the Broadway and touring runs of the show, the Hamilton team will also hold a lottery for $10 seats. Kudos to Mr. Miranda for helping Puerto Rico keep its shot at a bright future.

Nine-year old Addison Hutchinson sprang into action when her school bus driver suffered a health emergency. She jumped out the bus, ran home to call 911, and then returned to the bus to be sure that help arrived. The 4th grader is the most recent winner of the Little Miss Antelope Valley Pageant, and she posed with her sash and tiara for the local newspaper reporting on her act of kindness. We see a true Wonder Woman in the making: quick-thinking, poised under pressure, strong and compassionate. Hurray!

The New York Times reports that every Thursday around noon, Liz Gannon-Graydon arrives at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan and sets up a pop-up tea party. She sets out place mats, cloth napkins, and an assortment of teacups and saucers, along with steaming teapots with lovely flavors like pomegranate tea. There are also little nibbles like banana bread and brownies. She’s been doing it for the past four years, rising at 5:00a to bake treats and get organized, and the party is open to all. She usually starts with an icebreaker: “What’s the best thing I should know about you?” Visitors report that it’s a refuge of calm and civil conversation in a raucous city. We think we know at least one of the best things about Ms. Gannon-Graydon. That’s some real sparkle right there.

A Belgian Malinois dog – a member of the German Shephard family – has been awarded the Dickin Medal, Britain’s highest honor for animal bravery. Mali helped sniff out Taliban militants and their booby traps during a mission by Afghan and British Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2012, braving gunfire and exploding grenades over the course of eight and a half hours. He sustained several injuries. He’s now eight years old and serving in Royal Veterinary Corps where he assists in training dog handlers. The Medal has been awarded 69 times since it was established in 1943 – to 32 carrier pigeons, 32 dogs, four horses and one cat. Good boy, Mali.

Last month, U.K. department store Selfridges teamed with the artist, writer and filmmaker Miranda July and the London-based arts organization Art Angel to create the U.K.’s first interfaith charity shop. The store was run by four religious charities: Islamic Relief; Jewish charity Norwood; London Buddhist Centre; and Spitalfields Crypt Trust. It offered a mix of products, including secondhand clothing, ornaments, toys and kitchenware. Proceeds were shared equally between the four participating charities, and each pledged to donate 2.5 percent of its share to another charity of its choice. “For many years I’ve wanted to make a store as artwork, utilizing the inherently participatory conventions of commerce,” said July. “When I first came to London, I was giddily amazed by the sheer number of charity shops, but it’s only in creating this store with Art Angel that I understand what a radically unique economic model they are.” Bravo.

Layaway bills for more than 130 customers at a Central Arkansas Walmart were anonymously paid off  by a Secret Santa. Someone walked into the Walmart on Baseline Road in Little Rock and told assistant manager Tia Waren what they wanted to do. “I thought it was really cool, because there were so many people that were still in our layaway system,” Waren said. One of them was a mother who came with her two young daughters to pay for some Christmas presents but learned she owed nothing. “She says she thinks it’s great and she didn’t expect it,” said 10-year-old Celia Cruz, translating for her mom who doesn’t speak much English.  “She said it’s a really good thing for the people who can’t afford it.” “It made a lot of people happy, including me,” the store manager said. This phenomenon has been going on for a few years now – every holiday season at various Wal-Mart locations, anonymous donors pay off any remaining balances on toys and other items for children. Is it one person? Or many? It hardly matters. Hurray for the kindness and generosity of the givers, and hurray for the joy that it brings.

Singer Mavis Staples has sung about social justice since the 1960s, and at 77, she’s still at it. She was the lead singer in the Staple Singers – civil rights icons and artists who wrote songs about the black experience and performed them at meetings convened by Martin Luther King Jr.  Her 16th solo album, If All I Was Was Black was released on November 17th and her rendition of the song Little Bit is already gaining notice. Written by her long-time collaborator, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Staples brings the long tradition of civil rights protest songs determinedly into the present. In a restrained bluesy melody, she sings with quiet anguish of young black lives lost due to deadly force from law enforcement. Bob Dylan once asked her to marry him, but she said no. That was a big loss for him, but at least we all still get to adore her. Love you, Ms. Staples!

We can’t stop thinking about a recent story from Afghanistan reported by the New York Times. In mid-November, Afghan Police Lieutenant Sayed Basam Pacha came face to face with a man he suspected of being a suicide bomber. Behind him was a crowd of civilians. Around him were several of his fellow police officers. He shouted at the suspect to halt, and when instead the man began to run, Pacha stopped him and bear hugged him tightly. A second later, the bomber detonated an explosive vest hidden under his coat, and Pacha was killed along with thirteen others. Eighteen others were wounded. The newspaper reports that “there was little doubt the toll would have been far higher without the lieutenant’s body blunting the blast.” We don’t really know what to say, other than this: thank you and God bless you, Mr. Pacha. Our prayers are with the families and friends of all of those who were harmed during this terrible violence.

Finally, as many people gather around tables today with friends and family, we were moved by the story of Bennie Barry, an English teacher at the Pathways Learning Center in Beaumont, Texas. One of her students, 16-year old Anthony, had been in foster care since the age of 9, and seemed likely to graduate out of the program without being adopted. The two established a strong bond, and when earlier this year, he asked if she might be willing to become his mother, she agreed. They officially became family members in mid-November during an adoption ceremony at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Barry is a first-time mom, and as the two beamed and hugged at the courthouse, she proclaimed “he’ll be my son for the rest of our lives.” Proving that it’s never too late to find your forever family. Anthony should have the last sparkling word here: “If you have ever thought about adoption or didn’t want to be adopted, actually try it ‘cause you never know. Take into consideration that [while there’s] someone that doesn’t love you, there is always someone that will love you.”

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