I’m what some people would call, a bit of a yeller.
Maybe this kindness project can teach this old yeller some new tricks. :o)
I’m what some people would call, a bit of a yeller.
Maybe this kindness project can teach this old yeller some new tricks. :o)
Something unexpected happened when I started completing NoochieRAKs this past summer…
I met the most AMAZING cheerleader.
Okay…maybe he’s not what you would necessarily picture when you first hear the word cheerleader. In fact, I’m 99.99% sure that he’d rather wear his Green Bay Packers jersey over a cheerleading uniform. However, I bet he’d feel right at home with a megaphone. :o)
While he’s not your typical cheerleader, he has made it his life’s work to encourage people both on and off the court, field and/or wrestling mat. He’s the kind of guy who would stand on the sidelines during a torrential downpour to watch you play, cheer you on up until the final second even when there’s no way your team can make a comeback, and coach you through some of your toughest, most un-coachable moments.
I am talking about Patrick “Noochie” Berg’s uncle – Uncle Dan.
A devoted father, husband, son, brother, uncle and friend to many, Dan is a true person for others. While I’ve known Dan for over 22 years, it wasn’t until we both lost our beloved nephew this summer that we really got to know one another. I choose to believe that our Noochie had a hand in that, and I feel so fortunate to be the recipient of Dan’s uplifting spirit and words over the last several months.
While Dan and his family have endured incredibly difficult and sudden losses over the last year, he remains focused on others. He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it; it’s just the way he is.
This is the Berg way.
A freelance reporter and blogger for high school and college athletics, Dan was recently interviewing a coach at McHenry County College when an “In Memoriam” picture caught his eye. He shares,
While covering the MCC Women’s Volleyball team this past season, I came to learn about a fantastic young lady who was taken from us at a very young age.
Amanda Lynn Williams, a freshman from Rockford, who lived in Woodstock, died tragically while driving to school on an icy day last February…”
Dan was so moved by Amanda’s story, the joy she brought to others and the impact she had on her teammates, coaches and athletic director, that he has teamed up with her parents to help raise funds for the ALW Endowment Fund. This fund was created to raise money to help pay the tuition for another MCC volleyball player who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend and/or play for the school.
After the unbearable, sudden loss of a young person, there are so many ways a family can grieve. Amanda’s mother and father chose to channel their grief into kindness, grace, gratitude, thoughtfulness and the greatest gift for another student-athlete who loves the sport of volleyball.
I can just imagine “Uncle” Dan and Amanda’s mom and dad in the stands cheering on this new player…Amanda’s spirit will undoubtedly be there too.
Act of Kindness #87: Donated to the Amanda Lynn Williams Endowment Fund.
Last week, in honor of Patrick’s birthday, our family was giving out a few Starbucks gift cards to people who inspire us. While at the grocery store, we bumped into a former teacher and happily gave her one of the cards. A couple of days later, we received a thank you note in the mail from this (awesome!) teacher with a donation to our NoochieRAKs’ cause. She asked us “to continue to inspire through Noochie.”
So…it is through our Noochie and thanks to “Uncle” Dan, that we will pay this teacher’s donation forward to the ALW Endowment Fund. We are inspired by Amanda’s story and the strength, kindness and willingness of her parents, family and friends to continue her legacy by helping others.
A Message from Dan: Family and friends of Amanda Lynn Williams are hosting a fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings in Algonquin on Randall Road on Saturday, April 16th. Please consider attending, as the proceeds for the entire day will go to Amanda’s Endowment Fund. We are also asking that you make a donation of any kind or size to help make this event successful. We will provide signage at BWW’s to show attendees of your much appreciated generosity. Please help us remember Amanda by helping with the tuition of a volleyball player in need. Thank you very much for your help! Please click here for details: http://heyevent.com/event/wfojatdahx7bya/amanda-lynn-williams-endowment-fund-fundraiser
I walked into the church a little early. There was already a decent crowd gathering in the vestibule and starting to fill in the pews. The altar servers, deacon and priests were all busy prepping for the mass.
Holy Thursday Mass.
…probably one of the most important, complex and profound days of celebration in the Catholic Church. Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and the institution of the sacrament of priesthood.” ~Catholic News Agency
I was really, really nervous.
Oh, come on…what is wrong with you? All you have to do is say “Body of Christ” and carefully place the consecrated host into the people’s hands or mouths. It’s not that difficult for cryin’ out loud!
My inner pep-talks usually sound something like this. I don’t have a ton of patience with myself. If I was talking with one of my kids, friends or students, I’d be a little gentler and cheerful with my delivery, “You can do this! You’ve got this!” However, I didn’t have time to be patient, I needed to figure out my post. I sat in the first pew and a few of the regular Eucharistic ministers arrived shortly after me and were more than willing to show me the ropes.Thanks to them, I began to feel a lot less nervous.
When the coordinator originally asked me if I could make it to this mass, she also asked if I would like my feet washed. Seeing as though it’s been WAY too long since my last pedicure and my feet are really ticklish, I politely declined.
As it turned out, the washing of the feet was one of the most moving moments of the mass.
Because I had VIP/front pew seating, I was able to see exactly what goes on during this part of the mass, which I just cannot see from my usual spot in the back row. The priest poured water over the person’s foot, wrapped a towel around his/her foot to dry it off, and then he gently kissed the person’s foot. To see the priest kneel before twelve men, women and one child and perform this act of gentle loving kindness and service to others, was powerful and humbling.
When it was time for communion, I was sent to the side of the church to serve the parishioners. Unless you have done this before, it is really difficult to explain how sacred and special this moment is with another human being. I think that’s why I was so nervous…I take this role very seriously.
After we finished there, we worked our way back to the center of the church to assist the priests. My “mentor” told me where to stand and I waited. I didn’t get too many people lining up and I figured it was because they knew I was a “newbie”.
And then a veteran walked up to me.
After he responded, “Amen”, he smiled and said with a twinkle in his eye, “Welcome to the crew”. He caught me by such surprise that I giggled and gushed “thank you”. I only hope my extreme gratitude didn’t come off as inauthentic. I was truly grateful. I felt so proud to be welcomed to his crew.
Right after the veteran, a middle school student walked up to me, smiled and placed her cupped hands towards me. This smile. It’s exactly the same sweet and genuine smile she had for me over five years ago shortly after we arrived in this town. I had met this girl and her family at an Irish dance class and we would hang out weekly in the crowded Sportsplex. I’ll never forget walking down the hallway of my oldest daughter’s school, feeling nervous in the unfamiliar setting. I was trying to figure out where the cafeteria was located, when I heard a little voice call out, “Hi, Mrs. Riggs!”. There was this adorable blond-haired, blue-eyed girl standing in line with the rest of her class. She didn’t know that I was nervous that day or that it was so nice to finally be recognized in a school hallway…just like my days as a high school counselor or at my children’s former school. Her simple gesture meant more to me than a third grader could possibly even know. Her teacher put her finger to her mouth to signal “quiet”, but she still smiled. I haven’t seen her in years as she left the school a while ago, but we still recognized each other and I gave her arm a little squeeze. I’ll never forget her simple, yet moving gesture.
Shortly after her, one of the fifth graders from the school walked up to me. This boy has the most piercing blue eyes; he smiled in recognition and I smiled back and served the host to him. Just a few weeks ago, I had interviewed him for a school project. I asked him, “What advice would you give a 4th grader?” He responded, “FAIL means First Attempt In Learning”. Maybe his parents have drilled this saying into his head over the years or maybe he heard it from one of his coaches. In any case, now that he shared that advice with me, I can take it myself and pass it along to my own children. He’ll never know his impact on me either.
Ever since I was very young, I’ve held onto the belief that people come into our lives for a reason and that it’s up to me to find that reason. The words spoken by the veteran, “Welcome to the crew” and that both of those children just happened to be in my line for communion during my first official time as Eucharistic minister, just couldn’t be a coincidence, could it?
At the end of the mass, we were asked to remain silent as it is a time of intense and solemn reflection. We enter into another’s suffering with the knowledge that there is light at the end of the darkness.
It was easy for me to “go there” – that is, to feel the suffering, especially that night as it was Noochie’s birthday and the first one we celebrated without him. It was a hard day for so many, especially his parents. I also missed my mom, who was a Eucharistic minister for years. She loved serving the sick and homebound…she would have been so proud of me.
I also think it is easier for me to enter into others’ suffering because I am constantly aware that I am surrounded by such bright lights. I know I am lucky. What a crew!
#85. A young woman was nervously going through her purse in one of the self-checkout lanes at Target when I walked up. It turned out she short 10 cents on her transaction. When I gave the dime to her, she thanked me over and over again. :o)
#82. Gave a gift card to a Stop and Shop employee at Starbucks.
It was his 8th birthday. I had no idea what to get him. Every single year, I would spend months before his big day wracking my brain trying to figure out what to get him…the perfect gift. I’d think…What’s the latest and greatest toy right now? What will appeal to the boy who has the most sophisticated preferences? How can I outdo last year’s gift and not break the bank? And lastly…What do you get for the kid who has everything?
Not that he was spoiled. Well, okay, maybe he was a little spoiled. But who could blame us; Patrick was special. And I’m not just saying that because he’s my nephew or my sister’s first born or because he’s my parents first grandchild. I also don’t mean that he was special because of his big brown eyes, his charming, yet serious personality, his high level of intelligence, or how he was keenly aware of his surroundings and protective of others, particularly when it came to his younger sister, Katie. While he possessed all of those attributes and then some, it was also the remarkable timing of his birth that made him truly exceptional. Born exactly one month to the day after we buried my brother, Brian, Patrick came into the world and unknowingly started to mend our hearts with his unconditional and unwavering love. He was the ultimate gift to our family, so it was only natural that we always felt the need to return that gift (and many others!) to him.
Instead of second guessing myself, I decided to call Patrick, or “Noochie” (my nickname for him) at home, so that I could find out his wish list firsthand. My sister handed the phone to him, “Hey Noochie! I’m calling to see what you’d like for your birthday. Do you have any ideas for me?” I asked this question with an enthusiasm that I could only muster for this kid, especially after a long day at work.
I pictured his sweet face, the receiver placed carefully at his ear and the mouthpiece tucked way under his chin, when I heard his muffled voice, “I dunno.”
“Oh, come on, Noochie. There has to be something that you want for your birthday?” At the same time, I’m thinking, C’mon kid, throw me a bone here!
He was silent for a moment, but I knew he was still on the other line because I could hear his breathing and the faint dinging of letters being turned on Wheel of Fortune in the background. I appreciated that he was giving this some serious thought and braced myself for the pricetag of this gift. He then quietly responded, “I dunno…money, maybe?”
Money. Now why didn’t think of that? From a very early age, my nephew had a bit of an obsession with money. I’m not quite sure where this came from, however, I could relate as I had the same weird preoccupation with money when I was growing up. While I could definitely respect my nephew’s determination to become independently wealthy before the age of ten, I still felt somewhat defeated – Now, how can I make a personal check exciting for a soon-to-be eight-year-old boy?
And just like that, I remembered it: The Money Tree.
When my sister, Julie, turned ten-years-old, she received the most creative and thoughtful birthday gift ever. An incredibly generous and artistic mother of one of her friends made a miniature money tree complete with pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and paper money affixed to all of the tiny branches and at the base of the tree. I think we counted about $15 dollars on the tree, which was a king’s ransom at the time. It was perfect.
When I realized that I finally had “the” gift for him, I started to giggle uncontrollably and had to get off the phone with him before I accidently spilled the beans. I also needed to get to work on my plan. Because I had noticed that Patrick was becoming increasingly serious for his young age, I decided to add another element to his gift…a whimsical, magical tale to accompany the money tree.
Over the next week, I collected parts of the gift and started to brainstorm the story behind the money tree. I went to Home Depot where I picked up two clay pots, one bag of soil and one packet of seeds. I also stopped at the bank for some coins and bills. Some branches I found in our backyard made the perfect “tree”. I decided to have two pots: one for the sowing of the “magic” seeds and the other for the finished product. The unveiling would have to be carefully coordinated with my family.
That whole week I went on and on about my brilliant idea to my colleagues. They were a little more realistic about this plan. “He’s how old?” “You’re going to tell him you found magic seeds”? “That’ll never work.” While they were skeptical of my idea, the more I talked about my story, the more I started to (sorta) believe it myself, which is half the battle when you’re telling a tall tale.
Finally, the special occasion arrived – it was March 16th, the day before St. Patrick’s Day and a week before his birthday. It was a crisp and sunny Saturday morning and I had arrived a little early, so that Patrick could open “Part One” of his birthday present before we went to his much-anticipated Pinewood Derby. He could hardly contain his excitement as he tore through all the layers of brightly colored tissue paper that had been carefully crafted into triangles and then tucked into the gift bag. He pulled out the last piece of tissue, crumbled it between his hands and stared down at the contents of the bag. Slowly, he looked up at me and said, “You’re giving me a pot for my birthday?” While he tried to hide the disappointment in his voice, it wasn’t easy. After all, Patrick wasn’t quite eight years old yet, so he didn’t have the years of experience behind him on how to gracefully accept the most disappointing gift ever. I looked him in the eyes, smiled and said, “This is not just any pot, Noochie, this one is special. Come over here and let me tell you a story.”
Before he could get too discouraged with the dirt-filled clay pot sitting in front of him, I led him and his little sister to the breakfast table and began the story of the “magic” seeds.
“Okay Noochie, here’s the story. You know how I was in New York for work a couple of weeks ago?” He looked up at the ceiling as he pondered my question. “Yeah, I think so.” “Well,” I continued, “One day, we were able to spend some time in the city and I decided to walk around by myself. I got lost on this tiny little side street in Chinatown….”. I continued by describing a scene that I had probably watched in an old movie at some point.
It was a dark and foggy night in the city, complete with steam billowing up from the sewer grates. All of the shops lining either side of the street were small and dilapidated. I hesitated in front of one the shops, but then decided to go inside. When I walked into the dimly lit storefront, I was hit in the face with the smell of old newspapers and books, incense and day-old fish. In the far corner, an elderly Chinese man with long white beard was sitting all by himself, smoking a pipe and carefully watching my every move. After I browsed around for a bit, I decided to leave, but before I reached the exit sign, he quietly spoke to me, “Miss, may I ask what you are looking for?” I told him that it was a special occasion. It was going to be my nephew’s 8th birthday and I had to find a gift, but not just any gift, the perfect gift. The old man paused for a moment, looked around and whispered, “I think I can help you.” He slowly got up, walked gingerly to the back of the store and came back holding a tiny envelope. The mysterious man explained that in this envelope were special seeds, magic seeds, and that if my nephew was indeed special, truly exceptional, an incredible gift would grow from these seeds. He gave me a short list of instructions and then abruptly ushered me out the door as he needed to close his shop. The next morning when I realized that I forgot pay the man for the seeds, I walked back to the little shop and stopped dead in my tracks. The shop was gone, in its place stood a much larger, brightly lit grocery store…
Patrick and Katie’s eyes were huge. They were captivated by the story, hanging onto every single word. I even added the part about the grocery store at the end because I was gaining so much momentum as they listened intently and asked questions at all the right times. My sister gently reminded us that Patrick needed to get going soon or he’d be late for his big car race; we had to get to work. The three of us quickly and carefully read the brief instructions I had typed up in some obscure font. Patrick gently placed the tiny seeds in the soil and then covered them up with a little dirt he had set aside. After he watered the soil, he needed to leave the pot in a cool, dark area as instructed. He chose the downstairs bathroom and carefully placed it on the floor. We then had to hustle out of the house with two cars; he was in one and I was going to follow in another car.
When the car he was in pulled out of the driveway and the coast was clear, I quickly popped the trunk of my car and pulled out the second pot – The Money Tree. After I successfully made the exchange of the two pots, I jumped into the car and drove to his school’s gym, where we spent the rest of the afternoon watching little wooden cars go down a ramp. Patrick (and I!) could not wait to get home.
Finally, it was time to return to his house for his birthday celebration complete with presents, cake and ice cream. We pulled up to the house and the garage door wasn’t even all the way up before Patrick tried to jump out of the car. Once the car stopped, he bolted for the side door and I was right behind him, he threw open the door to the bathroom, flipped on the light switch and then stood there in disbelief. There, right next to the shower, where he had left the pot of dirt, was the most magnificent two-foot-tall tree. It was covered in rolled up green bills of different denominations and silver coins were hanging from the branches and scattered and on top of the soil. Patrick’s very own money tree. While it wasn’t as perfect as the original, he didn’t know the difference. To him and to me, it was perfect for the perfect occasion.
On Friday afternoon, I was lucky to have a little one-on-one time with our middle child, Kate. One-on-one time with any of our children doesn’t happen very often in our household, so we decided to take full advantage of our alone time together. Because it was unseasonably warm, we chose to spend most of the two hours outside. It’s amazing what a little fresh air, warm sunshine and hoops in the driveway can do for the spirit. After my arms felt like Jell-O from all those awesome hook shots (yea, right), I suggested that we take a break and walk down the road to the duck pond. I wanted to pick up a little trash as a “free” act of kindness for my #365ActsofKindness project. While Kate didn’t want to go initially, I convinced her with the stash of stale Goldfish crackers in the pantry, knowing that she couldn’t resist going as feeding the ducks is one of her favorite activities.
When we walked into the house to grab the Goldfish, our pup, Jane, was waiting at the door with her ears perked up as if she knew exactly where we were going. We couldn’t NOT bring her, although we both strongly considered that option. You see, while Jane’s a super-sweet dog, there is nothing sweet about walking her. She tugs on the leash so hard that you can feel your arm being pulled out of its socket and she goes completely berserk when she sees a squirrel, bird, jogger, or another dog. It’s just not necessarily the way we wanted to spend our special mother-daughter time together. Still, the pathetic look she gave us, complete with a single tear in her eye (okay, slight exaggeration), convinced us that we couldn’t leave without her. We put on her harness and set off for the duck pond. Our loveable Jane only attempted to bite the head off of one squirrel and one other dog. It was a successful walk in our book. :o)
We spent about a half an hour at the pond looking out at the water and feeding the ducks, geese and an occasional seagull. Kate would grab a handful of the tiny Goldfish crackers out of the bag, throw them up into the air and the seagulls would swoop down to try to grab the crackers before they landed in the water. Kate giggled and screamed as the seagulls got a little close for comfort or when she’d see a duck swimming over for the food. The sun was shining at just the right angle…not only did it warm our skin as we stood at the water’s edge, but it also made the surface of the water literally sparkle. I took a deep breath and smelled the warm, earthy soon-to-be spring air. It was the perfect moment. One thing that I love about the duck pond is that while it is beautiful and serene, there’s more depth to it than one would initially realize. If you focus your gaze a little further down the river beyond the tall grasses and gaggle of geese, there is the stark contrast to the quiet beauty where the traffic whizzes by on I95. It’s pretty cool because you get to feel the calm, peaceful feeling of nature, but you don’t feel isolated because you’re reminded of all the other people in the world – commuters, families, truckers – buzzing by at about sixty-five miles per hour on the highway. People. Noise. Reality. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I grew up in a big city, but I like it. For some reason it makes me feel less alone. I always end up imagining the people in the cars and trucks, I do the same thing with airplanes. I stare off and wonder…who’s driving, where they are going, what are they thinking…are they happy or sad?
“Okay…it’s empty!” Kate’s words brought me back from my thoughts as she shook the empty bag of Goldfish at all the wildlife creatures she had now attracted to her. It was time to go home. Just like most perfect moments, it went too quickly and had to come to an end. Our one-on-one time would soon become one-on-three time.
As we walked up to the road from the grassy area of the duck pond, I remembered that I wanted to pick up trash as my 72nd (72nd!) act of kindness. At the edge of the park, there was a gallon-sized Ziploc bag filled with garbage and an empty pack of Marlboros perched on top of it. It was like someone had pulled over, cleaned out the contents of their car, put it in the Ziploc baggie, sealed it, topped it off with the box of cigarettes that wouldn’t fit in the bag and intentionally left it all there. Once again, there was the stark contrast to the beauty of nature, only unlike the traffic whizzing by, the trash that was purposefully left behind really annoyed me. I almost went ahead and picked up the Ziploc bag, but then thought of all the dogs that walk by and what dogs do to mark their territory, and I thought, I might be kind, but even “kind” has its limits. I decided to leave it there. About a foot away from the bag, was a half empty (or was it half full?) Dunkin Donuts plastic cup on the side of the road. I rationalized to myself and Kate that this would work as my “trash”, so I picked it up and carefully held it in between my index finger and thumb. Along the way home, Kate laughed and said, “Oh, that looks so refreshing, Mom, how does it taste?” I pretended to sip it and answered, “It tastes so good, wanna sip?” The moment made even more hilarious when the dirt crusted along the side of the cup moved and we thought there was a bug crawling on it. We were laughing so hard by the time we got home it almost seemed a shame to throw it away…almost.
But, even during that silly moment, I didn’t feel great about leaving all the other trash behind or the lesson I was modeling for my daughter who is a careful, quiet observer. By only picking up the one piece of trash and claiming that I did my act of kindness for the day, I felt like a complete fake. It also made me feel like I was just going through the motions to check something off a list instead of really being mindful of my acts of kindness. The thought of the garbage and my complacency nagged at me the rest of the night.
So, early the next morning, I decided to walk back to the duck pond. This time, instead of stale Goldfish, I grabbed a tall white kitchen garbage bag and my helper-pup, Jane. On my way out, I invited Kate to join us, but she responded that she was really comfy in her bed with her iPad. When I explained to her why I was going back, my old-soul daughter listened, smiled knowingly and went back to playing her game.
When Jane and I arrived at the duck pond, I was sorta surprised, but pleased to see that the Ziploc bag, complete with cigarette box on top of it, was still sitting along the road. I picked it up along with several beer cans scattered around, although I actually didn’t mind that part because it felt like payback for the days long, long ago when my friends and I would drink at the beach or the park and then toss our empties everywhere except the garbage cans. I also picked up other garbage, including filthy Styrofoam containers, broken glass, a crushed diet coke can, old paper and tissue, and I had to carefully step over and through some sticker bushes to get a couple Whole Foods deli containers with old fruit and salads. It was completely disgusting and I had a scratch or two on my legs, but it definitely felt better than just picking up the one Dunkin Donuts cup.
After I was finished collecting the trash, I walked back home with our helpful pup, Jane. She didn’t even pull on her leash that hard. I was amazed that we filled half the garbage bag with trash that was carelessly cast away by others. The duck pond was cleaner and so was my conscience. What’s that saying about trash, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? I guess this sorta applies here. While it wasn’t my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, it wasn’t all bad either. There have been days when I loathe this project sitting over my head, but mostly I am grateful. Very grateful. I hope Kate (and Emma and Brian) notice my gratitude too.
#74. Left some scratch off lotto tickets on a couple of cars’ windshields in the parking lot at Goodwill.
#73. Picked up the trash at the duck pond: A Redux. (RAK of the Week)
#72. Picked up trash at the duck pond: the lite version.
#71. Gave Emma Starbucks gift cards to give to others on her birthday. She successfully hid two gift cards in random lockers AND in her dad’s “beauty product” drawer. :o)
#70. Wrote letters to adolescent residents in a mental health facility as suggested by the Random Act of Kindness Organization (RAKtivist)*.
#69. Gave an extra tip to a car wash attendant.
#68. Let someone pull ahead of me in traffic.
*Note about Cards to Inspire: http://cardstoinspire.tumblr.com/post/139438764164/cards-to-inspire-card-drive Cards To Inspire is doing a card drive for encouraging cards for adolescents who are residents in mental health treatment facilities. The cards will be presented to the adolescents in May in honor of May being mental health month. You’re welcome to contribute!
A big “thank you” to my friend, Colleen King, for the clean-up at the duck pond suggestion. I never realized how much trash accumulates at one of our favorite spots. Do you have any other “free” acts of kindness that you like to do? If so, I’d love to hear all ideas! Thank you!
A little over a year ago, I unexpectedly found myself getting my mom’s house ready to put on the market. After living there for 43 years, our family had accumulated so much stuff that it took several months to get it all cleared out. When I was finally making progress with getting furniture, antiques, clothing, knickknacks, books, old report cards, letters, art projects, yearbooks…her life, our life, out of the house, I started to bring in new stuff. I’m sure people thought I was crazy, but there was a method to the madness. I knew that the new pieces would make the rooms look bigger and more updated, which would be more appealing to the buyers (I’ll admit I’ve watched my fair share of home shows on HGTV). In addition, the new furniture was lighter and brighter, which, in turn, made the house look lighter and brighter after being so dark and heavy for so long. For me, it felt like it was time to make things right again in the house that had provided so much more than shelter for all those years.
One night while getting the kids ready for bed, I decided that I needed a full or double size bed for the large front bedroom. For the longest time, my mom only kept one twin size bed in that room. If you were a couple or a mother with small children, you either uncomfortably shared the bed or camped out on the floor with decade-old dog hair and terrifyingly huge dust bunnies surrounding you. The options were limited and I absolutely loathed staying there. So, in the middle of cleaning and clearing out, I decided I would spend $150 for a mattress in an effort to “stage” the room, but also because I wanted a place for people to sleep when we were there. I figured I would spend more money staying in a hotel or on therapy, so I said, “What the hell!” and went for it.
The next morning, I called “Sleepy’s”, a mattress place just a few blocks away from my mom’s house. The salesperson took his time going over all the options, including mattress styles, sizes, and prices. “It just so happens,” he explained, “that I have one mattress in stock, which fits your needs and it’s on sale.” I told him I would be there around 5:00-5:30pm that same day.
The kids and I went about our day as planned, except that we cut our visit with friends short because I told them I had to be somewhere around 5:00pm. As we were driving to the store, I could see dark clouds rolling in and knew we needed to get this mattress purchased and loaded up as soon as possible. I quickly pulled into the parking spot and walked in with all three (tired) kids in tow.
The store was completely empty and the salesman came right up to us, greeted me with a smile and said, “How can I help you?”. I mentioned that I had called earlier about the full-size mattress on sale. His face dropped and he said, “I’m sorry, I sold it this afternoon.” He apologized over and over again saying, “I get calls from people all day long saying that they’ll come in and they never show up. I cannot believe you actually came in to buy it. I’m so very sorry.”
Before John died and my perspective on life changed forever, I would have felt a little irritated or annoyed with the situation…but now I cannot help but look at the world through my “suffering” lens. All I kept thinking was – this happens to him all the time? People call him up, he takes his time explaining the various mattress styles and prices and then people don’t even show up? This was a man who took pride in his work and he was polite and helpful… It makes me a little sad even now when I think of how quickly people dismissed him and the help he was offering them.
While the kids were testing out the “unlimited” positions on the various Tempur-Pedic mattresses, the salesman made arrangements with another store that was less than a mile away. We drove to the other store, picked up the mattress and loaded it up on top of the mini-van. The clouds were quickly moving in and it just started to drizzle as we sat at the last stop light just before my mom’s house. Somehow I made it to the carport and singlehandedly brought both the mattress and box spring into the house and upstairs to the bedroom before the torrential downpour. I made up the bed with the new sheets and comforter I had rationalized purchasing earlier in the day and our eldest daughter slept peacefully in the soft, comfortable bed with fresh sheets that night. Every time I walked up the stairs or passed by the room over the next several months, I smiled because that bed just seemed to complete the house. Day by day, the house was getting ready and I was slowly getting ready to let it go.
Fast-forward to last week…I called a car dealership to see if I could come in to look at an SUV. The salesperson, Mark, was helpful over the phone, asking about whether I wanted to lease or finance, did I have a trade-in?, etc. When we walked into the showroom Saturday morning to look at the car, Mark seemed a little surprised at first that we were there.
Of course, I immediately thought of the mattress salesperson and the importance of keeping my word.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t feasible for us to buy the car at this point, but we will most likely go back to him at a later date (and refer others to him as well) because he was knowledgeable, honest and upfront with us. Mark, an older gentlemen with salt and pepper hair, glasses and a blue windbreaker, reminded me of someone. He was kind, had the most calm disposition and was patient with our kids. While he told us about the safety features, he also talked about his own three grown children all of whom he was very proud. He wasn’t trying to make the hard sell – he was more focused on building relationships. When we went back into the showroom to discuss numbers, he left the desk for a moment and I realized who he reminded me of…I turned to my husband and said, “He reminds of John.” Dave immediately agreed and we were both feeling a little melancholy after we left showroom.
In our daily lives, we are completing acts of kindness without realizing it all the time. This project continues to remind me of the importance of being kind to others. It helps me remain mindful that every life matters.
Regardless of how insignificant the promise, it’s important that I keep my word.
#67. Wrote more letters for TWNMLL: http://www.moreloveletters.com/
#66. Held the door open for a woman (who then held the next door for me and my children :o) )
#65. Cashed in a couple birthday scratch-off tickets and gave one to the lady behind the counter.
#64. Let a man go ahead of me at the deli counter.
#63. Picked up trash in a store parking lot.
#62. Kept my word. (RAK of the Week)
#61. Held the door for a group of people going into a store
My homework for the writers’ workshop this week was to answer the question, “What was the turning point when you decided to Choose Grace?” I knew the exact moment and told our instructor that I would be happy to answer the prompt she gave me. Two weeks and MANY tears later, I only scratched the surface of that question. As it turns out, there wasn’t one specific moment, but a collection of moments that took place during the time my step-father, John, went missing and then later when he was found.
Many of my friends will remember my obsession with the children’s book, Wonder, by RJ Palacio, shortly after I went through that experience. At the time, I spoke with friends near and far about our favorite characters, passages and quotes throughout the book, especially toward the end (but I won’t give those away as I still recommend this book for all ages!). What I couldn’t explain at the time was that the most moving passage for me, was the following:
Hey, is this seat taken?
I looked up, and a girl I never saw before was standing across from my table with a lunch tray full of food. She had long wavy brown hair, and wore a brown T-shirt with a purple peace sign on it.
Uh, no, I said.
She put her lunch tray on the table, plopped her backpack on the floor, and sat down across from me. She started to eat the mac and cheese on her plate…
My name is Summer, by the way. What’s yours?”
When I read these first few lines in the “The Summer Table” chapter, I started to weep.
Not just a few tears, but a real ugly cry. I wasn’t quite sure why I had had this strong of a reaction to these particular words. I certainly wasn’t a middle school student and I didn’t know anyone with a facial deformity, like the main character, August. Why, then, was I having such a strong reaction to these characters in this book?
Still sleep-deprived, guilt-ridden and anxiety-prone, I started reading Wonder just one month after my step-father’s body had been recovered off the coast of Key West. The memories that surfaced during his disappearance, the desperate search and then the recovery were brutal. All of the feelings that I had pushed away for my brother, Brian, who also went missing, who we also searched for, and then later found, resurfaced with a vengeance.
The pain of knowing that these two beautiful and gentle souls had lost hope was indescribable.
While sitting there weeping uncontrollably, I realized why the words from Wonder struck such a chord. Brian and John were just like August. While they may not have had the complex deformities that his character had, they were suffering in other ways. Brian and John’s injuries were invisible. They, just like August, felt completely isolated in their pain.
In fact, we are ALL like August at one point or another. We ALL have something.
And, we all have the capacity to be like Summer. We all have the ability to change the course of someone’s day, someone’s life, with just one simple act of kindness. Or, as I like to call it: grace.
When I really thought about Summer’s seemingly simple act during one of August’s lowest points in the story, it triggered a whole series of questions, thoughts and even more tears. From the more book-specific questions: Would I have gone to the aid of an outcast when I was a kid? Would my children be brave or decent enough to do this as well? To the more personal reflections: Did I reach out to Brian when he needed me most? Did I do enough to let him know he wasn’t alone? Could I have saved John by reaching out to him sooner? Did I miss signs that he was losing hope? To the more philosophical question: What does the world expect from me?
Losing John seventeen years after losing Brian, changed me forever. I literally shattered into a million little pieces when I figured out his location: a terrible, heart-wrenching phone call that I placed in the middle of the night to the Monroe County Coroner’s Office provided the answer I prayed so hard not to hear.
I am different now and I look at others differently now too. It’s almost as if I am looking through a camera with a “suffering” lens. There are so many people who are suffering…so many of us who are fighting every single day to escape the pain.
The whole scenario with this fictional character, Summer, and her ability to Choose Kind, to help someone she viewed as suffering, or as isolated, just for the sake of being nice or helping another person, spurred me on my mission even more.
When I started reading the book, it had only been three weeks since I had made my own pledge in front of about 150 mourners at John’s funeral. I pledged that despite the most unimaginable and hopeless outcome, I had decided to “Choose Grace”.
What did that mean? What is choosing grace? As I explained in the eulogy that I wrote for John, it meant that I was going to choose to find the beauty deep within an incredibly terrible situation. I was going to live life the way John lived his life when he was well – with rose-colored glasses, a beautiful optimism, an urge to help others and a gigantic, hearty laugh. I decided that while I have a choice, I was going to choose grace.
Before all of this happened, I was not what people would describe as the PollyAnna type. I had experienced a bunch of losses and had become quite cynical over the years, but what I experienced during those weeks of John’s disappearance, search and the weeks following his loss, made me gravitate towards the other side. The bright side. There are so many stories of people who stepped up to help me find John. Every time I called someone new, I told them about who John was and explained to them our family had gone through this before with filing a missing persons’ report, searching for our loved one, holding onto hope despite the odds that were stacking up against us. There were just so many stories of people who were willing to do anything to help us – from the guy who said he would post flyers in Key West after he got off his 8-hour shift, to the sheriff who said he would hand deliver the note I wrote to the man who found John’s body. He did this after I explained that I never got to thank the person who found my brother’s body along North Avenue Beach. He understood that I couldn’t let this go again.
Despite the terrible outcome, deep sadness and the stress this put on our already fractured family, I had hope. I had hope that I could be like Summer’s character. Hope that my children would also “choose kind” when given the choice. Hope that I could help other people, even if it was just one person, from feeling alone…from losing hope.
When you are thrown into a chaotic situation, and you feel like you are spiraling out of control and losing your mind, you never know where you’ll find peace and inspiration. For me, it was during an incredibly difficult time from a special book with an important message: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”
To answer my instructor’s question, my turning point was my breaking point.
I vaguely remember the first time I heard about the grocery shopping and delivery service, Peapod. I was working full-time, really didn’t like having to shop after work or on busy weekends, and thought it would be an excellent way to help save time and money. The Peapod truck, like the UPS and FedEx trucks, was already a fixture on our street.
Several years later, when I had two children and was working part-time, one of my friends who was in a similar position, mentioned that she was using this service. There was a big promotion and lots of money and time to be saved. She LOVED it! It seemed like the perfect solution to my biggest conundrum at the time, which was…how can I avoid bundling up these two babies, listening to them cry and whine, and figure out how to choose (somewhat) healthy foods and save money? All I had to do with this service was “point and click” and our weekly grocery list would be delivered right to our front door. It seemed like a win-win for our family.
Later that week, when I was at my mom’s house and mentioned that I was considering this service, she responded, “Well, I can definitely see the benefits, but it’s just another way for people to stop leaving their homes and connecting.”
While I often dismissed many of my mother’s comments, this one stuck with me. That, and I never seemed organized enough to get a full grocery list together for an order, so I just continued on with my one, two or three weekly trips to the grocery store.
About five years ago, in a new town with three kids and a terrible winter that never seemed to end, I was pushing the grocery cart around the store with two screaming kids who kept begging for everything on the shelves. Money was extremely tight at the time and we had to stick to our list – there was NO negotiating and the crying and whining would not stop. I remember feeling so embarrassed about how my kids (and I!) were behaving and wanted to get out of the store as quickly as possible. Of course, all of the lines were taking forever. As I tried to negotiate my way into the shortest line, I passed a woman who was holding a scanner in one hand and pushing her shopping cart with neatly organized bags with the other. She picked up a jar of sauce, scanned it and placed it in one of her bags. I stopped her to see what she was doing. She explained that she was using the store’s scanner, which meant she could scan her items, bag her groceries as she went along, and then she avoided the lines by going to the self-checkout. She said it cut her shopping trips by at least 10-15 minutes.
I started using the scanner on our very next visit.
Not only was the shopping quicker, but I could view the prices of everything immediately and my “helpers” loved scanning the items. When the store introduced the online deli feature a year or two later, it streamlined the process even more. I was becoming a more effective, money-saving consumer. I was in and out in 25 minutes or less – it was great!
Then, one morning during one of those shopping trips, the scanner broke while I was checking out. One of the cashiers came over, voided my transaction and said I would have to take all of my groceries, which were already bagged to the “regular” line. I’m embarrassed to even admit how I annoyed I was while waiting in the long line to have the items re-scanned and re-bagged. When it was my turn, the cashier greeted me with a huge smile, apologized for the “scanner inconvenience” and asked me how my day was going. The bagger asked if I wanted her to throw away all the garbage (i.e., old receipts, legos and goldfish) that had accumulated in my recycleable bags over the years. It was nice to be helped and I realized with surprise that it was the first time that I had spoken with someone other than my family all morning. It was the quickest conversation, but I thanked her for asking how I was doing and told her that I had forgotten how nice it was to chat in the check-out line. These scanners were great for convenience, but I was slowly losing connections with others.
My mom was right.
Now, while I admit that I have not given up the scanner or the deli kiosk, I do try to interact with at least one person (either someone who works there or another customer) during each visit. This week, I made an effort to smile at others and greet them. And yes, I know I look a little crazy. However, I was pleasantly surprised that EVERY SINGLE PERSON returned my smile.
And, when I said, “Good Morning. How are you?” to a well-dressed, adorable elderly lady in one of the aisles, she looked up surprised, stopped pushing her cart, and responded with a beautiful smile, “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?”.
We should never forget how much we need each other.
#60. Wrote a letter of encouragement to a friend.
#59. Participated in several volunteer opportunities at children’s school.
#58. Bought some special treats for our pup, Jane and our hamster, Mr. Gus Whiskers.
#57. Smiled and greeted several people at Stop and Shop (RAK of the Week).
#56. Returned a random shopping cart back into the store.
“Thank you for listening, Boss. You are a good mother…I can tell. Your kids are lucky. Thank you so much for listening.”
It is usually considered a good thing.
When we describe a person as intense in their careers, education, athletics, etc., it’s looked upon as a strong personality trait. It often describes a person who is focused and motivated. These individuals work hard to achieve their goals.
But what about emotional intensity?
I’m not so sure that everyone would describe it as a positive attribute. It can be exhausting to be with one of “those people”. :o)
I am what most people would consider to be a very INTENSE person.
As my close friends know, I LOVE making connections with others, but I have an incredibly difficult time making small talk. I prefer to dive in and go under the surface than discuss more top-of-the-surface issues.
For example, don’t you learn more about people when you discuss how they feel in the weather rather than what the actual temperature is on a certain day? Wouldn’t you want to share stories about our best friends, rather than our favorite pair of shoes or handbags or places to shop? And while I love to chat about the Real Housewives of NYC or Atlanta or Beverly Hills or Orange County, wouldn’t it be more meaningful to talk about how your dad is getting along since your mom died?
You see my problem.
I should clarify. I’m not saying that small talk doesn’t serve a purpose. It does. And I’m not saying I don’t do it either. I do. It just so happens that I really like to watch and recap the Real Housewives. It’s a great escape from reality. It keeps things light. However, I am just unable to keep up my end of the conversation, so a “light” conversation with me usually turns into something like this:
Friend: “Did you see that episode this week? Her sister is nuts!”
Me: “Well, I don’t know that she’s ‘nuts’, I think she has some really serious addiction issues and I feel really sorry for her and her kids…”
You see my problem.
Being a “Debbie Downer” is truly a downer sometimes. And that’s not to say that I can’t be a lot of fun. It’s true…I used to be HILARIOUS! I can do the best impersonations, make a complete fool out of myself for a laugh and tell hysterical stories. However, over the last five years, I’ve definitely mellowed and now most people only get to visit the “deep end” of this pool. While I used to host huge house parties, I will tell you this, nothing clears a party faster than when someone asks me what I’m up to these days…
Party Guest: “Wow, you sure go back to Chicago a lot, what are you going for this time?”
Me: “I’m organizing a team for a suicide prevention walk.’
Party Guest: “Oh”
Again, you see my problem.
So…this happens – A LOT. And, because I’m totally awkward and not very quick-witted, it takes a long time for me to recover. Like, it might not be until I’m driving home in the car 45 minutes later or when I’m about to fall asleep later that night that I realize how I should have responded without getting too deep. It isn’t unusual for a friend to receive an email or text apology after I’ve over-thought the situation for HOURS on end.
And, it’s important to note here that it’s not like I’m walking down the streets of Fairfield or Chicago telling everyone and anyone my business. As any (tortured) Public Speaking 101 student remembers, you need to “know your audience”. I am careful who I reveal my intensity to (well, most times).
Because of my emotional intensity, and trying to “read” my audience, I now save the heavy stuff for certain people. And because my family and I have experienced a lot of tough stuff over the last several years, I’ve had to allocate the stories around to a lot of different individuals, although my husband, Dave, bears the brunt of it. And it is a heavy burden.
I refer to these folks as my “safety nets”. And I am so incredibly fortunate to have them. As someone who identifies strongly as more of an introvert (I get my energy from being alone), I do have a lot of close connections. It’s just that when you’re an emotionally intense person, I have found that it’s better to “share the wealth” with many, in order to keep those friendships. Basically, these people save me from myself. They know (at least I hope they know this) that I am ALWAYS there to listen to them and their stories as well. As long as it’s not about shoes or handbags (just kidding…sorta).
I also choose to spend a significant amount of time alone. And it’s not because I’m sad. I just really, really, REALLY enjoy being alone, which doesn’t happen all that often. And, I need to stress here, it’s not because I don’t like people. It’s actually the reverse. I love people with an INTENSITY that’s exhausting and very difficult to understand unless you’re hardwired or socialized this way too.
Over the last few years, I have found the best of both worlds in social media, more specifically, on Facebook. Yes, I know all the statistics about how bad it is for you and your relationships, but for me, it has helped. Like, really helped. I love connecting with people, I get to edit my comments (impulse control issues here), “like” to show support for my friends and see their adorable families and what they’re up to – all from the comfort of my little corner on our oversized forest green outdated sectional. Life is good.
And if you’re a Facebook fan like me, you know it isn’t rare to come across one of those “fun” little personality quizzes that show up on our newsfeeds once in a while. I usually don’t take the quizzes, but when the “Bright Side”, a great site for spreading happiness had one, I decided to take it.
Although I was not expecting this answer from the sweet little “happiness” site, I was not completely surprised. It read:
The results: “Your subconscious is obsessed with the fear of losing someone close. The pictures you have selected suggest that from a very early age you have been a very emotional person. You have matured fast, and realized that people sometimes get hurt. This realization has made you worry for the people close to you, and that has only grown as you’ve matured. Your subconscious is constantly running. It also tells you that you should do something in order to save the people who are closest to you. There is no real way to let this feeling go, but instead of worrying, you should try to channel those feelings into something positive.”
While I think many factors play a role in my intensity, there is a lot of truth in those words. The fear of losing someone close is with me every single day. I’m not sure if it’s the result of losing so many people, or losing so many people to suicide. It is just so complicated.
As the results indicate, the fear may never go away, but I can learn to channel it in positive ways. Forging ahead with the kindness initiatives, continuing my volunteer work with the AFSP and always looking forward for new learning opportunities are just a few ways that I am trying to do this.
To my friends and family…I hope you now have a better understanding that there’s a real reason for my intensity. I love you more than you can ever imagine and I am terrified of losing you. Thank you, thank you, thank you for continuing to be there for me.
Intensity, as it turns out, may be my bright side.