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Maria Shriver: Americans, step up and join the 'Inner Peace Corps' this Thanksgiving

We are the American family, and many of us are hurting and feeling isolated, lonely and scared. Let’s step up. Let’s serve one another. Let’s be friends.
Image: Maria Shriver
Maria Shriver arrives at the Hilarity For Charity 3rd Annual Los Angeles Variety Show in Los Angeles on Oct. 17, 2014.Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP file

The other day, I woke up to a text from my friend Matthew DiGirolamo.

Matthew and I worked together for many years. He’s a bright and creative writer and thinker, so I pay attention when he sends me a message.

Matthew said: “I think we should create an ‘Inner Peace Corps.’ Our world is in a mental and emotional health crisis and I feel like we need a corps of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, meditation coaches, etc. to be organized in a massive and coordinated volunteer effort. In times of tragedy and grief, they can help people process their pain, trauma, grief and stress, and help them connect to their core emotions in a healthy way.”

An “Inner Peace Corps.” I just love this concept! Maybe it could also be called an “Inner Health Corps” or an “Inner Service Corps,” but regardless of the name, I think this idea is brilliant and spot-on. I hope you agree.

I’m going to work with Matthew on this idea. I’m also going to pitch it to my state’s new governor, who says his role model is my dad (founder of the Peace Corps). Yes, there are already so many wonderful organizations working around-the-clock to care for those who need support (and I hope you’ll reach out to one of them if you feel that you are in need right now). But, I think we could really benefit from coming together to build one go-to resource — a place where anyone who is hurting on the inside could quickly get support from someone else.

We could definitely use a service corps like this in California right now, where so many people have been displaced due to the fires sweeping across our state. These families need resources and financial aid, but they also need emotional support at this time of grieving and loss. For them, I have no doubt that this upcoming holiday will be incredibly difficult.

One thing they need is to know that they aren’t alone and that there are people out there who want to help. It’s up to all of us to let them know that we’re here for them.

A national inner service corps like this could bring us together in so many ways. It could serve as a reminder that we are capable of serving one another — no matter our background, no matter our skillset. And, by answering that call of service, we would become more connected and more united by our shared humanity. We would also be reminded that we are one nation — one people — and that we all have it within us to help and heal another person. Our collective suffering could become collective healing, and it could start today. We just have to step up and serve.

I don’t think that we have to wait for this idea to become something official. We can start this Thanksgiving week as we gather around tables to share meals and give thanks. Connect to those sitting at your table. Listen to what they have to say. Ask them how they are doing (as in, “how are you really doing?”). And, if you have room at your table, then reach out and invite others to join you. So many people are alone during the holidays and would really appreciate your invitation.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, by far. It involves everything I love: family, food, gratitude and conversation. I’m going to throw this idea out to everyone who gathers at my table this Thursday and ask them if they would be of service in the “Inner Peace Corps.” I’m going to ask them to be of service to the people in their own lives by listening to a friend or reaching out to someone who may be lonely or in need.

Matthew is right, our country is in trouble. People are hurting. They are spending a record number of hours immersed in their virtual worlds because their real worlds don’t feel safe, welcoming or loving.

One of the best cures for our anxiety and our loneliness, though, is connection. It’s building community and keeping those you love close. Sometimes all you need is dinner with someone who “gets you,” or who is willing to listen, to feel like everything is okay.

If you know someone who might be alone, then invite them into your life. Ask them to join you around your kitchen table. If you have family that you haven’t seen in awhile, then clear your schedule. I’m so grateful that my brother Bobby and his family are making the effort to come to Los Angeles to be with me and my family for Thanksgiving. I’m also blessed that I just got to spend a few days with my cousins Sydney and Caroline.

Moments with those I love, and whom I know love me, really fill me up. They make me feel grounded, safe and understood. They really serve me and help build up my inner life. I’m sure those moments do the same for you.

So, make room for the people in your life. Make time. See yourself as a member of the “Inner Peace Corps.” It’s so important that we make the effort to gather — not just during the holidays, but during all times of the year.

Together, we can be of service to those who need some internal support. We are one big family, after all. We are the American family, and many of us are hurting and feeling isolated, lonely and scared.

Let’s step up. Let’s serve one another. Let’s be friends. Let’s broaden our table and invite more people to gather with us. There’s no better time than this week to begin.

Are you in?

This essay first appeared in Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, a free weekly newsletter offering news and views for a meaningful life. To sign up, click here.