be the bear.

“Be the bear.”

That’s what I suggested to my dad a few weeks ago when he was debating about how to approach a difficult and sensitive situation. “Dad,” I texted, “You should be the bear.”

Having just watched the short animated YouTube video, Brene Brown on Empathy, this seemed like the most logical way to proceed. In the video, the bear character demonstrates empathy when his friend needs him most, when she feels most alone. Dad watched the video and seemed to agree with this sentiment for the most part. I did a fist pump in the air and said out loud (to no one), “Yes! Be the bear!”

It’s been a few weeks since that interaction and I’ve thought a lot about “Be the bear.” It’s allowed me to reflect upon the following:

  • Do I truly have empathy for others?
  • Am I able to consistently enter into one’s suffering without judgement or an agenda?
  • Am I able to just listen without filling the empty quiet space with useless advice? 

Not always. But I am working on it.

This morning, when I went into my son’s room to make his bed, something, er, someone, struck me. I present…Chicago Bear.

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Chicago Bear and Blankie

We “built” Chicago Bear six years ago when we were only weeks away from moving from Chicago to Fairfield. Only two years old at the time, our son had zero interest in football or the Chicago Bears. However, there was a reason for my choice. I selected this particular bear because of my love of the team and what the Bears represented to our friends and family. Holding on to that piece of my history made me feel less nervous about our move and I loved the idea of passing those traditions down to our kids. Chicago Bear sleeps next to our son every single night, regardless of where he is sleeping. And, CB greets me with that goofy grin every morning too. Looking at the dog-hair-covered-fleece and his ruffled fur, I realized, Hey, he’s sorta like the bear in the empathy video and here’s why:

Chicago Bear…

…is always there for you (unless he accidentally falls between the bed and the wall).

…is always willing to listen.

…is soft and very hug-able.

…does not give bad advice.

…is never without a smile.

…does not judge (he never makes remarks about morning breath, crazy hair, B taking up the whole bed, etc.).

…provides you with a sense of comfort and security.

…never interrupts you.

…does not get angry when you’ve thrown up on him (a couple of times).

…is love.

Crazy that a little old bear propped up on top of my sons’ pillows can inspire so much. But, it’s true – sometimes the most simple things have the biggest influence on our lives.

So, I not only aspire to be a good (decent) mom, wife, friend, sister, counselor, student, writer, suicide prevention advocate, kindness activist, etc…I now aspire to be the bear.

utopia

utopia
google images

On September 10, 2009, The Oprah Show hosted the Black Eyed Peas to kick-off her talk show’s 24th season. Unbeknownst to Oprah, the audience of 20,000 people had gathered hours before the live show to rehearse a carefully choreographed flash mob as a surprise to her.

When the Black Eyed Peas started singing “I Gotta Feeling,” Oprah, bouncing up and down, held out an iPhone and recorded the crowd. It was an unusual scene – the only person dancing to the music, besides Oprah and the Black Eyed Peas – was ONE brightly dressed and overly-enthusiastic woman in the front row. The rest of the people in the audience just stood there. Oprah kept dancing and recording.

And, that’s when it happened. Slowly, and with extreme precision, small clusters of people in the crowd began to join in the dancing. This continued until it reached ALL 20,000 audience members. When the cameras up above panned down on the scene, it literally looked like a wave. A massive, pulsating wave. Balancing Brian on my hip and bouncing along to the music, I couldn’t believe what I was watching from my living room. I quickly grabbed the remote and DVR’d the show.

After the flash mob, several audience members were interviewed about their experience. One man commented that he had never ever felt that kind of energy, that kind of JOY before in his life. He said it felt like Utopia, a perfect world where everyone worked together in beautiful harmony. With tears in his eyes, he commented, “This must be what heaven feels like.”

I swear my kids and I must have watched and danced along with that flash mob a hundred times. It really did feel like heaven…

On September 26, 2016, seven years after Oprah’s flash mob, I was lucky enough to experience another one of those Utopian moments at an assembly at our children’s school. It was a much smaller crowd than Oprah’s audience, but impressive nonetheless.

Brian Williams from Think Kindness gathered the students together to demonstrate the power of ONE and “paying it forward”. Without giving away too much, he created a “tidal wave” with hundreds of students and a simple gesture. Just like watching that Oprah episode, witnessing that kind of energy made my heart swell (even more so when two of the students came over to give me a hug too!). It was a great kick-off to this year’s kindness initiative. These kids WILL change the world one act of kindness at a time.

Seven years later. I gotta feeling that people sometimes look at me like that overly-enthusiastic (read: nutjob) woman dancing alone in a crowd of thousands. The good news…there are a lot of people joining me in this dance…this Utopia. :o)


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#268. Gave a compliment to a stranger.
#267. Gave a nice tip to delivery man.
#266. Took some political campaign materials from a solicitor.
#265. Paid for girl behind us at 16 Handles.
#264. Sent a card to a friend.
#263. Made a donation to an important cause.
#262. Served at 7am mass (it’s hard, but worth it!).
#261. Let someone in at traffic stop.
#260. Picked up a piece of garbage on playground.
#259. Helped a student with a class project (Missouri)
#258. Sent a note of encouragement to a wonderful friend.
#257. Shared some great laughs with a friend through new technology
#256. Wrote a thank you note.
#255. Made a donation for a special cause.
#254. Picked up garbage on stairs before class.
#253. Prepped for kindness project at kids’ school.
#252. Gave a $5 Starbucks card to barista to pay forward.
#251. Wrote a letter for TWNMLL
#250. Wrote a letter for TWNMLL
#249. Smiled and said good morning to a LOT of people i
#248. Wrote a thank you note to a friend.
#247. Spent several hours devising a creative plan to accommodate 53 applications for kindness initiative.
#246. Helped put back some chairs that had been moved around at the Duck Pond.
#245. Said “Bless You” while walking passed a stranger when he sneezed (he looked up surprised, smiled and said “Thank you!”)

#244. Kept my word (bike man).
#243. Smiled and said good morning to a stranger.

the mother teresa effect

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photo credit: quoteaddicts.com

This morning as we watched the news about Mother Teresa being declared a saint, I turned to our daughter, Kate, and asked her the following question:

“If kindness were a color, what color would it be?”

Without hesitation, she smiled and responded,

Yellow. Yellow is the color of a smiley face.”

(I couldn’t agree more.) :o)

So…about a few of my favorite things…kindness and the impact of one very special woman for others…a saint…Saint Teresa. 

A couple of months ago, I had to turn in a research paper about one component of Positive Psychology.

I chose…(you guessed it)…kindness.

More specifically, I chose to explore the multi-directional and positive effects of kindness on self and others.

As the field of Positive Psychology grows, there is an increasing amount of scientific research about the impact of kindness on our overall well-being. Psychologists have found that engaging in helping behaviors actually changes our brain chemistry. Researchers have also found that receiving an act of kindness positively influences our well-being. The benefits of positive social support are even more important than many people originally thought – especially in adolescence. I look forward to learning WAY more about this as I move through the program.

But…something else really struck me as I was discussing my research topic with my dad and a couple of friends: What happens to a person’s well-being when they watch an act of kindness? How far-reaching is this effect? As it turns out, bearing witness to a random or intentional act of kindness is perhaps the most compelling of all the facets of the concept of kindness.

Over the last year, I have been contacted by numerous people saying that they have been deeply impacted by the acts of kindness we have posted on social media. Not only have friends, family and complete strangers reported feeling deeply moved, but they were also inspired to go out and perform acts of kindness themselves. I never realized it, but there is actual scientific research out there that says our health is positively impacted just by witnessing acts of kindness. 
An interesting study that highlights this point was performed in the 1980’s when Harvard students watched a film of Mother Teresa caring for the poor in Calcutta. The researchers took swab samples of the students’ saliva before and after the film,

[they] showed significant increases in the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A (S-IgA) over those watching a neutral film. McClelland termed this the “Mother Teresa Effect.” Moreover, S-IgA remained high for an hour after the film in those subjects who were asked to focus their minds on times when they had loved or been loved”  (Post, 2009).

Based on the data, they concluded that there are significant positive physiological changes, including benefits to one’s immune system, overall health and well-being from simply watching or thinking about a person treating another with kindness, love and compassion.

The Mother Teresa Effect…a scientific explanation of what most of us have always believed – we should never underestimate a simple act of kindness...love, or the power of one person.

mother teresa quote 3


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#242. Supported hs freshman football team with donation/coupon card
#241. Started recruiting process for kindness initiative at kids’ school.
#240. Packed kindness notes in kids’ lunch boxes
#238. Sent flowers to a friend to wish her a speedy recovery.
#237. Didn’t honk at person in front of me who was texting at light when it turned green.
#236. Used recyclable bag at grocery store
#235. Working with a stranger to carry out a top-secret RAK

#234. Bought glue for science teacher. We ran into him at the store a week ago and he was buying school supplies with his own money.
#230 – #233: first day of school survival kits
#229. Put a few stranded carts away in BJ’s parking lot.

#228. Completed an online survey for recent car service.

#227. Let someone in traffic at awkward intersection (the person behind us did too!)
#226. Gave books to a friend.
#225. Held the door for a few people at eye dr appt (every single one said “thank you”)
#224. Threw away someone else’s garbage.

the anti-suicide squad

Over the last few weeks, I have cringed every single time I have seen a movie trailer, interview, promotional material or review for the recently released movie: Suicide Squad.

suicide squad
photo credit: google images

I’ll be honest, I really have no idea what the movie is about other than it seems to have some comic book villains and Will Smith is one of the stars. I love Will Smith and I’m sure the movie will do really well at the box office.

Maybe if I was familiar with these characters and the plot the title wouldn’t bother me so much.

Maybe…

Probably not though.

It’ll probably be one of those words that just really bothers me the rest of my life.

It has affected too many of our family members.

I will probably always cringe when I hear the word: suicide.

But, I won’t stop saying the word.

I won’t stop fighting or fundraising or learning or sharing or walking in an attempt to prevent suicide.

And, our team, our squad, is back again this year…

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Choosing Grace 2015

We are the Anti-Suicide Squad and we are BADASS.

We are Choosing Grace.


IMG_6948For more information on how you can join us in Chicago on October 15th and/or donate (we have a long way to reach our goal!), please click on this link: http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.team&teamID=104761 or visit http://www.chicagowalk.org and enter “Choosing Grace” to find our team.


weekly rak up

#206. Sent a thank you to a friend to thank her for a very thoughtful and generous gift.
#205. Asked manager to turn down volume when everyone in the theater was plugging the ears from deafening sound. She was so nice about it and checked in on us afterwards.

the good mess.

This is Jack.

imageWe met Jack one week ago today.

Jack is 90 lbs. of pure LOVE. He is a gentle giant. Jack also has no sense of personal space, as is witnessed by his favorite resting place – a person’s lap.

We found out about Jack when my friend, Lisa, called to say that she just saw a beautiful Golden Retriever at an animal shelter. Jack was surrendered to the shelter by a woman who realized that she couldn’t properly care for him. His large size and extremely high energy level proved to be more than she could handle, so she hesitantly brought him to the shelter (on two separate occasions!) in the hopes that he would find a good home. Even though a second dog wasn’t in our immediate plan, I loaded the kids up in the car and met our friend at the shelter about an hour later. I texted my husband just before we left that we were going “Just to look”.

When we walked into the shelter, Jack’s crate was empty. We looked outside and there he was…with another family! I quickly shifted into “It wasn’t meant to be” mode, but we decided to stay and wait our turn to meet him. The other family left the outdoor area and we stepped inside the pen.

Jack greeted all of us like we were his long lost friends – there were great big bear hugs and sloppy dog kisses. His enthusiasm for life! balls! his tail! was contagious. He exudes the most innocent, energetic LOVE. Even our pup, Jane, who doesn’t get along well with other dogs, must have sensed this when she first met him too. She was surprisingly tolerant of his puppy-energy during their preliminary visit. The animal control staff was amazed at how quickly they got along with one another. They received several applications for Jack, but they felt like our family’s situation seemed like the best fit. After just a couple of visits, we were approved for his adoption and allowed to take him home.

Ever since Jack stepped through our front door just five days ago, it’s been a cRaZy WhiRlwiNd of activity. The floors are a little hairier, our clothes are a little slobberier and the remotes, iPhones, markers and sunglasses have all been moved a little LOT higher.

We’ll have to break him of his overly enthusiastic hugs, chewing of EVERYTHING and his ability to grab things off the counter with ease. He will need to learn how to sit and stay, walk on a leash and not jump at the screen door and/or windows. He has a lot to learn and so do we.

It has been, is and will be a TON of work (did I mention that we’ve only had him FIVE days?).

On the very first day of Jack’s arrival, Brian walked into my room and said,

Our house is a MESS now that Jack’s here! But, Mom, it’s good. It’s good-messy. Like…medium-messy. It’s good.”

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He’s right…it is messy but it IS good.❤️


weekly rak up
#204. Sent a “thank you” note to the shelter with pictures of Jack in the hopes that they would share with his first owner.
#203. Gave a nice tip for great service.
#202. Adopted our sweet Jack from the animal shelter. (RAK of the week)

#201. Donated dog toy to animal shelter.

 

#200. Paid a compliment to a stranger.
#199. Bought supplies for homemade dog toys-kids delivered some to local shelter.
#198. Left a cold bottled water for our mailman.
#197. Left cash and kindness note in vending machine.
#196. Fixed flower pot at a grave site.
#195. Sent a thank you note for a most awesome RAK that someone gave to me.
#194. Delivered Blessing Bag to a homeless man.
#193. Delivered Blessing Bag, water and ice cooler to homeless woman and her friends.
#192. Bought water and ice to accompany “Blessing Bags”.

#191. Bought supplies and started packing “Blessing Bags.

#190. Let lifeguard at pool borrow sweatshirt because it got really cold when sun went down (and she is on shift until 10pm)!

#189. Complimented someone’s hairdo.

#188. Rolled cart in middle of parking lot back to cart “garage”.

church lady.

I am sitting in the middle of the cold hard pew minding my own business when the soloist begins singing the offertory song.

She sounds like an angel, and this particular song brings back so many memories of my childhood in this church, in this very same pew.

I look around me, a few of my friends’ parents and former choir member friends are here. It is all so familiar, yet different too. I look up to the front of the church, notice “AMDG” over the altar, and suddenly I cannot prevent the tears from springing into my eyes.

I don’t want to start crying in church.

I don’t want people to think there’s something wrong with me.

This feeling…it is difficult to put into words. There is sadness, but there is also joy…I guess some would call it a feeling of nostalgia.

I look up to prevent the tears from spilling onto my cheeks and I see this…

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Although there isn’t a caption underneath the image, I think it is the story of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet. I just had a “moment” with this profound story of forgiveness last month: a different kind of sunday school.

How can it be that I’ve been coming to this church for over forty-five years (45 years!) and I somehow never made the connection to this stained glass window? I smile because I feel my friend, Carrie’s presence behind the thin veil.

It’s interesting that this week’s lesson for my Positive Psychology class is also focused on religion, spirituality and its impact on well-being. The researchers have hypothesized that religion impacts mental and physical health because of the following:

  1. Religion provides social support.
  2. Religion supports healthy lifestyles.
  3. Religion promotes personality integration.
  4. Religion promotes generativity and altruism.
  5. Religion provides unique coping strategies.
  6. Religion provides a sense of meaning and purpose.                                                                              ~Compton & Hoffman, Positive Psychology, pg. 233

In addition they note, “Religion can provide hope, offer reasons for unexpected and unwanted stressors, help people place their lives in a larger framework, and create renewed purpose and meaning.” (pg. 233)

I guess I never thought of my religion or spirituality in terms of my well-being, but this morning I understand it. I feel hopeful and grateful.

I am also smiling…my mom and grandma would LOVE that I have become a church lady. :o)


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#187. Bought a Streetwise from a gentleman in the neighborhood.

#186. Cleaned up bathroom (picked up paper towels, wiped down counter) at movie theater bathroom.

#185. My friend, Kim, and I helped turned over a pot that had flipped over on Central Street.
#184. Dropped off goodie bags at the 24th police district
#183. Helped a lady get a straw wrapper off her shoe.
#182.Kite mission (left a kite and kindness note in a bike basket).
#181. Kite mission (left a kite and kindness note at a newspaper stand).
#180. Spread bubble joy at park (left a bubble wand with a kindness note at the park).
#179. Spread bubble joy at park (left a bubble wand with a kindness note at the park).

 

*AMDG means “For the Greater Glory of God” and was one of my mom’s favorite expressions.

the winning ticket

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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)


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#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.