Charlene Gorda Costanzo
Winter Garden, Fla.
Class of 1971
For the past 20 plus years, I've been on a kind of treasure hunt. My passion is seeking, finding, and sharing what I call "touchstones." Touchstones include objects, stories, quotes, rituals, and activities that help put us "in touch" with our gifts of strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love, and faith. For example, a polished stone can be a helpful reminder of the strength and beauty within us, especially for the times we feel unworthy. Blowing bubbles can release stress and stir joy.
My quest started one fall day in 1987, when I had a wake-up call while engaged in the simple task of unloading the dishwasher.
Suddenly, I experienced a flashback of my parenting over the previous 17 years. In a mini life-review, I saw clearly that the most important thing I could have given my daughters was unconditional love. “Have I been a good mother?” I asked myself. “Yes, but ...” was my answer. Wishing that I had done some things differently, I asked, “What can I do now?”
An answer came in a fable-like dream. From its essence I wrote a story, fashioned it into a handmade book, and gave it to my daughters. The book told them about twelve gifts they received when they were born and it offered guidance in the form of blessings for using each gift to live well. I called it The Twelve Gifts of Birth. Because I felt that the message was one that all children deserve to hear, I tried to get it published. After 20 rejections, I decided to do it myself, someday.
For ten years, a sense of mission grew in me while I hand-made individual books, explored ways to better see the gifts in myself and others, and whispered someday.
Finally, after another wake-up call, I decided that someday had arrived. From the moment I committed to bringing the book into the world, miracles happened to help the book get published and to succeed. Money, expertise, and marketing opportunities arrived in unexpected ways. For example, although it never aired, a segment about the book was filmed for Oprah, which opened many doors.
Shortly after the book was published, my Bonalum husband, Frank, and I moved into a motor home and embarked on what we called "The Polished Stone Tour." From August 1999 - August 2000, we traveled throughout the United States and discussed the book's message with thousands of children and adults in schools, shelters, recovery centers, bookstores, churches, hospitals and even a few prisons. At the conclusion of each visit, I gave everyone a polished stone as a concrete reminder of their gifts.
I continue to visit classrooms and to speak to diverse groups about The Twelve Gifts. One of my greatest joys is facilitating experiential workshops in which Spirit leads us to explore the gifts, share ah-has, and take away touchstones that anchor our learnings and help us stay open to The Presence in us.
During my freshman year, halfway though Metaphysics 101 with Father Angeles, I fell in love with the study of philosophy and switched my major from biology to philosophy. That choice has served me well in all that I have done ever since. I recall that, as a student at SBU, I wanted to someday write a philosophy book. I realize that: I did that through my book, “The Twelve Gifts of Birth.” Although the text is only 500 words, the fable contains metaphysics and ethics as well as social and political ideology. Overall, the story's message is a philosophy of life and how to live it well.