We are sitting on a bench waiting for the next race, when a bunch of little papers blow past us. Kate looks at me and says, “Should we go and catch them?”
Before I can answer, she and her little brother scurry off after the old racing tickets that have been cast away. The wind is particularly strong this afternoon. There is no way they’ll catch them, is all I think while I watch them sprinting and laughing at the silliness of these fast moving tickets. They run so fast and so far we cannot see them anymore.
I lean over to try to catch a glimpse of them. As I do, I see them skipping back with the tickets in their hands. They don’t even look to see if they were winning or losing tickets. They are just happy that they somehow caught this trash. Kate looks at me and throws them in the garbage can. Her little brother follows her example.
They both come running up to us with big smiles on their faces.
I tell them that I’m proud of them for picking up the trash, for their act of kindness. I then tell them that I need to do some RAKs myself because I’ve really slacked on my own kindness project this week.
Kate looks up at me and says, “Just add ours to your list.”
I respond, “Well, I didn’t do it, so that wouldn’t be fair.”
Without missing a beat, she replies, “Yeah, well, the only reason I thought to pick up that garbage is because of your project, so it’s sorta like you did it, right?”
I like the way this girl thinks. :o)
#178. Wrote a positive message/review for the nicest Uber driver. We took a very late car and he put on a movie for the kids and was just a very careful and consciousness driver.
#177. “Inspired” kids to pick up trash at Arlington Race Track. : )
#176. Helped a woman get back into workout room to get her keys she left behind.
My favorite Act of Kindness this week took place at a rest stop (of all places!).
Emma, Kate and I walked into a busy Ohio restroom and the two of them headed for the only two empty stalls. I walked over to the sinks to wait.
A half a second later, Kate walked out and said she wasn’t going because the door wouldn’t lock. I told her I’d hold the door for her. As we walked over to the stall a woman in a BIG hurry rushed into the restroom. She made a beeline for the stall and then quickly realized it wouldn’t lock. I noticed (recognized) the look of panic in her eyes (we have ALL been there!) and asked her, “Would you like me to hold the door for you?” She responded, “Oh my God, yes, thank you!”
So, I stood outside the door holding onto it like we had to do in our grammar school bathrooms when the locks were broken. She called out, “Okay, I’m all done!” And we both giggled like grammar school girls and I opened the door. She thanked me over and over again for holding the door for her.
She had no idea I was grateful that a complete stranger would place her trust in me and that my daughters could witness that kind of trust between two strangers – a free and simple act of kindness.
When it was my turn, Emma held the door for me. :o)
#175. Cleaned up some trash in workout room.
#174. Bought ice cream treats for police officers.
#173. Held the bathroom door (lock was broken) for a stranger at a rest stop. (RAK of the Week)
#172. Left a “You Are Beautiful” sticker at a rest stop.
#171. Donated dog food to animal shelter.
#170. Hauled a bunch of carts into Target when they were all out (it’s a lot harder than it looks!).
The magical, iridescent bubbles leave his makeshift wand and float up into the air, drop down to the red brick pathway or pop suddenly in the face of my little boy who is trying to catch them.
A moment of pure joy is created by a street performer on a perfect summer evening in Central Park. There is a connection between the bubble-man and my son, although no words or glances are exchanged. They are both completely focused on their individual missions. One creates beauty with a wave of his arms, two sticks, a net and a bucket of detergent; the other creates beauty with his arms outstretched, his little legs running and hands coming together to catch or pop the thin imperfectly-shaped spheres.
There is laughter.
There is innocence.
There is nostalgia.
There is kindness.
There is just so much beauty in this moment, my heart swells as I watch the two in action. I am standing next to one of my nephew’s childhood friends savoring this moment; I feel connected to my nephew now too.
It reminds me of something I read a couple of weeks ago about the effects of kindness:
My friend Stephen Post, professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook, tells a story about his mother. When he was a young boy, and his mother saw that he was in a bad mood, she would say,
‘Stephen, you are looking piqued. Why don’t you go out and help someone?’
Empirically, Ma Post’s maxim has been put to rigorous test, and we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” (Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, 2011)
We have to keep walking, but before we leave, I grab a card from my purse with my nephew’s picture and message about his legacy of kindness and some cash. Bubble-boy drops both into the bubble-man’s case.
We are all happy for a moment.
#169. Gave a nice tip (and a NoochieRAKs card) to a man who made bubble art in Central Park.
#168. Unlocked car door between train cars so passengers could get through (it accidentally locked between other passengers).
#167. Re-registered to serve on AFSP’s Chicago Walk Committee.
Even though I am a morning person, it felt like a lot of effort to get to mass today. I really did not want to go. I waited until the very last minute to shower and dress. I dragged my feet by sending out school-related emails and continued to check my Facebook notifications.
I looked at my watch. 6:51am. Ugh.
I walked out the door at 6:52am and arrived at the church at 7:01am. Mass had started and was already in full swing. That’s actually what I appreciate about the early mass. There’s no messing around, they dive right into things and it moves very quickly.
Then the priest read the gospel around 7:15am and time slowed down for me.
This is the gospel…
…which tells a story of forgiveness. In this reading, Jesus says to Simon in response to his judgment of a woman who is viewed as a sinner,
“Two people were in debt to a certain debtor. One owed 500 days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose large debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
He then points to the woman and says,
“…her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
While I’m not a particularly religious person and, quite frankly, sometimes I have a very difficult time focusing on the readings, I heard this one loud and clear and here’s why…
One night, about seven years ago, my friend, Carrie, and I were sitting at our dining room table while our children were upstairs tearing one of the rooms apart. We decided they were safe enough and opened up a bottle of wine. We each had a glass…and then another…and then maybe just one more. The kids were completely content and we were enjoying one another’s hilarious stories (at least they became more hilarious with each glass of wine!).
It was the perfect night. It was also the first time I told her about my brother’s death and how I experienced somewhat of a spiritual intervention (more on that later) while he was missing. She shared with me her most beautiful spiritual moment as well. In her story, she touched upon themes of feeling alone, the loving kindness of others and her faith being tested. The most memorable part of her story involved opening up a bible, putting her finger down on the page and finding a beautiful scripture about a woman who was forgiven.
This morning’s gospel.
My friend, Carrie, passed away three years ago this month…her anniversary is June 15th. I remember at her funeral, in letter to her husband, she shared that she was “just beyond the thin veil” that separates her from him. That she is all around him, their children, her family and her many, many friends. There was something in the way she said it, you just believed it…no question.
When the priest read the gospel this morning, I swear I felt the slightest chill blow across my right shoulder, just where Carrie’s hand had reached out to me that night as we laughed hysterically with one another and the bottle of wine at the dining room table.
And…Carrie was always trying to convince me to get to mass more often too.
I hear you, Carrie.
The Weekly RAKUp:
#153. Served at 7am mass, despite wanting to stay home. (RAK of the Week)
#152. Clean-up yard – helped landscapers chase some papers that were blowing all over people lawns.
#151. Gave a gift card to our landscaper, Eric, for his birthday.
#150. Wrote a thank you note and gave a gift card for soccer coach, Todd, and his new baby.
#149. Bear in the tree. Picked up a little stuffed animal on the side of the road and put him up in a tree (where the owner found him).
#148. Took a quick online survey for a friend.
#147. Let someone in (in traffic) when no one else would (she actually held up traffic by rolling down window to say thank you). :o)
Just like Rodney Dangerfield, I’m going BACK TO SCHOOL!
Starting tomorrow, I will log into my online class at the University of Missouri at Columbia (“Mizzou”) and start a two-year graduate certificate program in Positive Psychology. Founded by Martin Seligman, this is a relatively new field of psychology, although it draws upon theories and research from many of the great psychologists and philosophers throughout history. I am hopeful that this certificate will allow me to take the skills I have built in my college counseling work and branch out into other areas, such as life coaching and curriculum writing for the various kindness projects in which I am involved.
As I have learned through recent losses and the subsequent complicated grief I have experienced as a result, helping others really does make you feel better. I don’t mean to oversimplify here, but in my experience, it is completely true.
While I have always been drawn to helping others, the life-changing shift that took place after my step-father’s suicide, especially since my brother died the same way, completely altered the way I look at my own life as well as the lives of others. From the moment I learned he was missing, I started looking at him, his life, where he could be, and what he could be feeling through a different lens. I call it “the suffering lens.” It’s when I try to step into a person’s shoes and really feel what they might be experiencing, their pain. I know, I know…it all sounds strange and “out there”, but it’s what I do and how I see the world.
And, because I started to see the world with a “suffering lens” I became even more motivated to help others, which is why my work with the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) became (and still is) so rewarding. I am actively helping, searching and fundraising for a cause that is going directly to suicide prevention efforts.
But my work with the AFSP did not prevent another loss in my own family…my sweet nephew, Patrick. When he died, my brain and heart literally could not process the magnitude of losing him, of losing another family member to suicide. It’s just too big. Too much. I’m still struggling daily with this loss and I’m “only” the aunt. I know my grief is secondary to his parents and others…I also know and respect that we all grieve differently.
My response to my grief last summer was to start performing acts of kindness in Patrick’s or “Noochie’s” name. I called them NoochieRAKs. Now that I reflect upon it, I think it was a defense mechanism – like denial or avoidance of the truth. But, it was positive and creative and it was helping others. I was completely overwhelmed and honored by how many other people participated in acts of kindness in his name. It gave me hope.
Now, as we approach the one year anniversary of his death, the feelings of sadness, despair and sorrow are slowly seeping in. I will let those feelings flow because NoochieRAKs and time have softened those sharp edges of grief…
NoochieRAKs also led me to the study of Positive Psychology and this certificate program. Last night when I started the required reading, I came across one of the reasons Martin Seligman decided to pursue this field. He wanted to research “the offbeat idea of a psychology about what makes life worth living.” (Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Seligman, 2011)
I wept. Life IS worth living.
The #365ActsofKindness Weekly RAK-Up:
#146. Wrote thank you notes for school project.
#145. Ding dong drop-off dog treats. (Put together a belated “welcome puppy” basket for a friend’s new dog, will deliver this week!)
#144. Wrote thank you notes to some helpful friends.
#143. Returned a random shopping cart, which had rolled into a parked car in the parking lot to Home Goods.
#142. Gave a few new pets a new home through adoption.
#141. Wrote TWNMLL (The World Needs More Love Letters) letters.
This weekend kicks off the unofficial beginning of summer and the weekend I pull out my summer housecoat.
Okay…so my paisley print summer dress with the stretchy fabric, loose-fitting waist, flattering halter-top and built-in bra (bonus!) isn’t exactly the housecoat of the 1950’s, but it serves the same purpose. Casual comfort.
When I was a little girl, my beautiful grandma, Lillian, introduced me to the idea of the housecoat. With her striking white hair, carefully applied make-up, and little pink or taupe colored high-heeled slippers (even her slippers had high heels!), my grandma pulled off the housecoat with grace and poise.
And, she had several housecoats for every season…for the summer, she wore the thin cotton variety in pretty pastels, which gave her at least a little relief when her 3rd floor apartment would reach a sweltering 94 degrees. On those days, after she made breakfast, lunch and/or dinner for us, she would carefully dab at the perspiration* on her brow as she settled in for the night on her sofa with her latest library book (*note: my grandma did not sweat; she perspired). In the winter, she would bundle up in her warmer, quilted housecoat collection in the same pastel colors. She would open the door to her apartment apologizing, “I hope you’ll excuse my appearance, I’m wearing my housecoat to keep warm.” My cute, polite and stylish grandma rubbed her hands together to keep her hands warm and grumbled, “My thermostat read 58 degrees this morning.” She was also tough as nails.
One summer, my grandma stayed with us for a few weeks after she had been in the hospital. While she couldn’t stand being sick and/or dependent upon others, she couldn’t stand the thought of looking sick even more, so she asked me if I would help with her hair and make-up. After a few failed attempts with the curling iron, we both realized that she needed to have her hair washed if we wanted to get her style just right.
As I carefully helped her over to the kitchen sink, she said, “I’ve been perspiring so much. What I’d love is a nice bath. I really don’t think I can take another sponge bath.”
And with that, we took a slight detour and somehow managed to get her all the way up the two flights of stairs and into the tub. It took a lot out of her, but she said she finally felt so refreshed, like a human being again. After she was all finished and toweled off, I brought over one of her freshly laundered housecoats which still smelled of her favorite perfume, Norell.
As I draped the housecoat over her shoulders, she looked up at me with her big hazel-brown eyes and said, “Beth, dear, you are going straight to heaven.”
I’ll never forget that moment.
So, if and when you see me out and about in my housecoat this summer, you’ll know who inspired it. My grandma…not only did she rock the housecoat, she was (is) one of the best KINDNESS role models for me and my family.
#140. Left a nice tip, note and NoochieRAKs card for the housekeeping/maid service at the hotel.
#139. Asked our server to let the chef know that his salmon wrap special was AWESOME! (She greatly appreciated the feedback because they’ve never had that on the menu).
#138. Helped hold a door at the aquarium for a man who was pushing his grandma in a wheelchair.
Over the last few days, I have hit the “Random Acts of Kindness” wall.
I am learning that it is not easy to perform all of these acts without spending a decent amount of money and/or without repeating many of the same acts, so I am falling behind in my numbers. I am still kind (for the most part), but sometimes I just don’t feel like documenting those acts. However, I made this commitment to myself, my children and the RAKtivist community (yes, it’s a thing) and I plan to see all 365 Acts of Kindness through to the end.
I need to try harder, but what I have also learned is that sometimes it’s the unexpected acts of kindness or moments of connection with other people that make the biggest impact.
One such moment happened yesterday…
I had to take one of our children to the doctor to have her ankle checked out. I knew I was pushing it arriving at 4:07pm when their hours run until 5pm, but that was the only time we could make it.
I could tell the lady behind the counter had had a long day.
While I watched her process our paperwork, I admired the braid she had wrapped around her head in a Star Wars character-inspired style or perhaps even a halo. Instead of keeping it to myself, I said, “I love your braid.”
She looked up from the forms and said, “What did you say?”
Clearing my throat, I said it a little louder, “I really like your braid.” I raised my hand and held it to my own head to demonstrate what I was talking about.
Her face softened, she smiled and then her hand went up to touch her head, “Awwwww…thank you.”
More paperwork was processed and she then she went to hand me a clipboard. Before she did, she stopped and said, “You are very pretty. Your eyes are such a neat color and your hair looks so nice.” Now it was my turn to blush and reach up to my hair and say “thank you”.
She giggled, “Look at us, complimenting each other and everything.”
I was giddy. It made my whole entire day. I explained that just the day before I was a lot more blond due to a botched highlight job and that I had to walk around all weekend long hating my brassy, not so golden, locks. And then, in an attempt to adjust the color on Monday morning, my hairdresser had to go a little bit darker and now my blond is “pulling warmer tones.” Or, as my kids have told me, “MOM! Your hair is RED! Did you ask for it that way?!”
The lady behind the counter assured me that it was just the perfect shade.
And, with that compliment, I feel ready to climb over that wall. :0)
The Weekly RAK-Up
#131. Gave someone a compliment (and received one in return). RAK of the Week
#130. Registered team for ice cream eating contest to benefit The Cancer Couch Foundation.
#129. Handed out grocery store gift cards in honor of Joan Berg and “Shopping with the Bergs”.
#128. Helped a woman with a baby stroller get through a doorway.
#127. Gave up seat at airport so family could sit together.
#126. Handed out waters to the landscaping crew who was helping with our spring clean-up.
Looking for any and all kindness ideas…if you have any, please share them with me, I’d love to hear them! Thank you!