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 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 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.

a fleeting moment…

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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.

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Belinda and Brian ~ Central Park 2016

 

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#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.

#166. Donating riding clothes (helmets, boots, pants, gloves) to Salko farm.
#165. Refinished and repurposed a piece of furniture (self-kindness).
#164. Wrote a thank you note to someone who helped me with a favor.
#163. Met with a former student to help him write an essay.
#162. Picked up magazines and restocked them at Barnes and Noble check out line.
#161. Gave a hostess an iTunes gift card when she offered to charge my phone (she tucked my phone safely inside the front pocket of her own purse to keep it safe).
#160. Gave a homeless man a few dollars.
#159. Gave a homeless man kindness note and a little cash at Grand Central station.
#158. Teacher and faculty end of year thank yous.
#157. Gave a family free stuff at garage sale.
#156. Brought guinea pig for play date (yes-this really happened).

back to school

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google images

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.

martin seligman what makes life 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.

Happy Feet and the Weekly RAK-Up

Over the last several months, I started to notice that my feet resembled this…

rhino feet
Southern White Rhinoceros (google images)

I hadn’t had a pedicure or a manicure in over two years.

I also stopped practicing yoga around the same time.

I made appointments for and treated myself to all three of these things yesterday.

It’s weird, but there were these moments during the yoga, the pedicure and the manicure, that I had a big ole’ lump in my throat.

I couldn’t figure out why…and then I realized that I stopped doing some of these nice things for myself just around the same time my mom died.

Why? I have no idea.

While focusing on my drying nails contemplating that very thought, the door opened to the salon. I looked up to see a woman with a familiar-looking face. I knew I had seen her before, but I couldn’t place her.

Then it hit me.

On January 14th, my mom’s birthday, I went into that same nail salon and bought a gift card for one of their patrons as a random act of kindness. After “scoping out the joint” I pointed to a woman with blond curly hair who was sitting all by herself. I asked if the manager would give the card to her after I left the salon. The manager’s response, “Good choice. She is a nice, happy lady.”

It was that lady.

If I had left just two minutes before or looked down at my phone or skipped the manicure, which was my original plan, I would have missed her.

But, I didn’t miss her.

And, maybe this all sounds “out there” but I think there’s a reason our paths crossed again.

What’s the reason? I’m not sure, but I did learn something about this woman several weeks after my mom’s birthday. This “nice, happy lady” decided to do something kind for another person after she received the gift card. She left another gift card for someone else. The recipient of that gift card paid it forward as an auction item for an important cause, which she posted about on our NoochieRAKs page.

So, maybe the reason that she (unknowingly) crossed my path is to remind me of the ripple effect of kindness to others and ourselves.

And maybe that the big ole’ lump in my throat is what happiness feels like sometimes.❤️


weekly rak up

#119. Wrote TWNMLL: The World Needs More Love Letters (x3)

#118. Treated myself to yoga and mani/pedi (RAK of the Week).

#117. Gave a little extra tip at the nail salon.

#116. Complimented a stranger’s outfit in the parking lot. She was taken aback smiled and said “thank you, this old thing?”

A Sweet (Pea) Memory on this Earth Day…

Last month I shared the story of The Money Tree.

I wrote the story in response to a prompt, which I received from my writing instructor: Describe a special occasion.

I chose to focus on this particular occasion in honor of my nephew’s birthday last month and because it is one of my favorite memories of him.

What I didn’t share in that first piece is what happened after the big reveal…

So…here’s Part II: When the Money Tree Became the Giving Tree:

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The following day…I called the house to see if Patrick was enjoying his gift. As it turned out, he started to have second thoughts about the whole magical seeds story. The more he thought about it, the more the story just didn’t add up. Of course, it was just before his bedtime when he started envisioning a totally different version of the story…he thought it was more likely that someone broke into the house and swapped out the magic seeds pot with the money tree pot while we were all out at the Pinewood Derby. His mind went into overdrive as he conjured up a whole different cast of characters who may have come into his house to make the exchange…Was it the ancient Chinese man from the shop? Was it a leprechaun with a modified version of a pot of gold? Was it a troll? Was it just some crazy person (uh yeah, ahem, no comment) who made the swap? And…what if he/she returns to the house to collect the money tree?

He was so worried that someone was going to come in the middle of the night to collect the tree at he barely slept that night, which meant neither of his parents slept that night. I asked to speak with him and dug myself into a deeper hole explaining that he had nothing to worry about…this is how magic works and that no one broke into or would come to the house. When that didn’t seem to work, I distracted him by asking what he was going to buy with the cash…luckily, he had a list of items that took his mind off the original topic. I went with it…and then I made a note to myself to stay away from abstract gifts for my nephew in the future.

The following month…I was in the Target parking lot and popped open the trunk to load some basic necessities and a boatload of throw pillows and picture frames that I just had to have. As I organized the plastic bags, I noticed something green underneath a towel. Nervous that I had mold growing in the trunk, I very slowly lifted the towel. There, sitting on top of some old newspaper, was the original “magic seed” pot that I had painted and decorated with Patrick’s name.

FullSizeRender (12)Without any light or water, the sweet pea seeds that Patrick had sown with tender loving care and just a bit of water had started to sprout. In fact, they were not only sprouting, they were thriving, green leaves spilling out over the sides of the pot.

They were truly magical seeds.

Today, in honor of Earth Day and my Sweet P, Noochie, I will plant some Sweet Pea seeds today with my children and their friends. I will also tell them the sweet story of how the Money Tree became the Giving Tree. And, how I received the best gift.