Still more commas!

That’s right. Susan’s comma is the fourth in a beautiful chain of gifts gifted to strangers.

It all started with Ernie Ray who offered to pay it forward for someone else to get a Love Letter To the World comma. That someone was Tara Zlacki. In turn, Tara offered to gift a comma and because Angela Baldrige was the first to respond to the call for volunteers, Angela got the third comma in what had already become a series of amazing commas.

Angela Baldridge's comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Angela Baldridge’s comma (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

When Angela, too, asked to pay it forward, Susan Grabowski asked for the comma.

Susan Grabowski's comma (photograph courtesy of Susan Grabowski)

Susan Grabowski’s comma (photograph by John Foster)

Here is the story sent to us by Susan:

“When I moved to Vermont five years ago, I joined a book club of sorts; we would read and discuss texts about releasing ourselves from pain and suffering, and finding compassion and lovingkindness—in general, Buddhism. This group, now my sangha, has changed my life in many amazing ways, as it has helped me realize that our reactions that include anger are generated by our own fear, and that this is absolutely human. All of us are simply trying to make ourselves happy. If we can better understand what our fears are, how we tick, we can open ourselves to bigger and better and more positive interactions with everyone. (It’s a process, and I am nowhere close to being any kind of expert, but this has really helped me to be a happier, more positive person!)

Shortly after relocating to Vermont, I started working at a small college for students with learning disabilities. Working at Landmark College has allowed me to see how students who learn differently struggle with fear of the unknown—not only their own personal fears, but the fears of others regarding their often invisible disabilities. So many Landmark students tell similar stories about how they were told they would never amount to much and how they probably could not go to college … they have been victims of discrimination, of someone else’s fear and hate, as well as of their own fear. At Landmark, students are given an opportunity to change their story.

Like so many of our students at Landmark, when I landed in southern Vermont, I was given an opportunity to change my own story. By beginning to understand my own fears, I have found and embraced a more a positive, happy, loving me. That positive energy led me to Burning Man. During my second burn in 2014, I learned about Love Letter To the World. Already having a few tattoos, I was intrigued. When I read the poem, it definitely resonated with me. The stanza ‘We can’t pass the course on humanity if we keep failing the lessons on harmony and until we unlearn fear and hate’ really spoke to me, and, in particular, the phrase ‘unlearn fear and hate’ was especially meaningful. Not only do these words have a deep, personal meaning for me, they are, from my perspective, the answer to all the angst in the world in which we live today. I believe that if we could actually ‘unlearn fear and hate,’ we would see this world transform from one in which we are exposed to public displays of unthinkable violence on a daily basis to a world in which peace is among our highest values.

Susan Grabowski's "unlearn fear and hate" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Susan Grabowski’s “unlearn fear and hate” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

I got ‘unlearn fear and hate’ as my Love Letter tattoo almost a year ago. That’s how I met my tattoo artist, Gao Feng. At the time, he worked at a small studio in Bellows Falls, VT. I was so impressed with his work and the care he took regarding the whole process, that I knew I wanted him to do any future tattoos I might get. So recently, when I was awarded the comma, I contacted the shop in Bellows Falls and discovered that he had just moved to Massachusetts, luckily not too far away. (Phew!) He did both ‘We can’t pass the course’ and the comma in October.

So now I have two phrases and a comma. The comma is a really great reminder to physically and mentally pause. To slow down—I am a big doer and I am almost constantly going, moving, creating, planning … Slowing down just a bit, pausing before the next big thing, taking a few deep breaths, really helps me with being more positive.

I plan to have the entire stanza tattooed on my body, eventually. ‘We can’t pass the course’ is the first step of that plan.”

Susan Grabowski's "We can't pass the course" (photograph courtesy of Susan Grabowski)

Susan Grabowski’s “We can’t pass the course” (photograph by John Foster)

P.S. #1 We met and photographed Susan in person in Black Rock City 2015. At the time, we knew her as Wheeze.

P.S. #2 Want to find out which tattoo phrase Susan sponsored? Check back next week!