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)
#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!”)
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.
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.
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…
We are the Anti-Suicide Squad and we are BADASS.
We are Choosing Grace.
For 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.
#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.
We are sitting on a bench waiting for the next race, when a bunch of little papers blow past us. Kate looks at me and says, “Should we go and catch them?”
Before I can answer, she and her little brother scurry off after the old racing tickets that have been cast away. The wind is particularly strong this afternoon. There is no way they’ll catch them, is all I think while I watch them sprinting and laughing at the silliness of these fast moving tickets. They run so fast and so far we cannot see them anymore.
I lean over to try to catch a glimpse of them. As I do, I see them skipping back with the tickets in their hands. They don’t even look to see if they were winning or losing tickets. They are just happy that they somehow caught this trash. Kate looks at me and throws them in the garbage can. Her little brother follows her example.
They both come running up to us with big smiles on their faces.
I tell them that I’m proud of them for picking up the trash, for their act of kindness. I then tell them that I need to do some RAKs myself because I’ve really slacked on my own kindness project this week.
Kate looks up at me and says, “Just add ours to your list.”
I respond, “Well, I didn’t do it, so that wouldn’t be fair.”
Without missing a beat, she replies, “Yeah, well, the only reason I thought to pick up that garbage is because of your project, so it’s sorta like you did it, right?”
I like the way this girl thinks. :o)
#178. Wrote a positive message/review for the nicest Uber driver. We took a very late car and he put on a movie for the kids and was just a very careful and consciousness driver.
#177. “Inspired” kids to pick up trash at Arlington Race Track. : )
#176. Helped a woman get back into workout room to get her keys she left behind.
The magical, iridescent bubbles leave his makeshift wand and float up into the air, drop down to the red brick pathway or pop suddenly in the face of my little boy who is trying to catch them.
A moment of pure joy is created by a street performer on a perfect summer evening in Central Park. There is a connection between the bubble-man and my son, although no words or glances are exchanged. They are both completely focused on their individual missions. One creates beauty with a wave of his arms, two sticks, a net and a bucket of detergent; the other creates beauty with his arms outstretched, his little legs running and hands coming together to catch or pop the thin imperfectly-shaped spheres.
There is laughter.
There is innocence.
There is nostalgia.
There is kindness.
There is just so much beauty in this moment, my heart swells as I watch the two in action. I am standing next to one of my nephew’s childhood friends savoring this moment; I feel connected to my nephew now too.
It reminds me of something I read a couple of weeks ago about the effects of kindness:
My friend Stephen Post, professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook, tells a story about his mother. When he was a young boy, and his mother saw that he was in a bad mood, she would say,
‘Stephen, you are looking piqued. Why don’t you go out and help someone?’
Empirically, Ma Post’s maxim has been put to rigorous test, and we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.” (Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, 2011)
We have to keep walking, but before we leave, I grab a card from my purse with my nephew’s picture and message about his legacy of kindness and some cash. Bubble-boy drops both into the bubble-man’s case.
We are all happy for a moment.
#169. Gave a nice tip (and a NoochieRAKs card) to a man who made bubble art in Central Park.
#168. Unlocked car door between train cars so passengers could get through (it accidentally locked between other passengers).
#167. Re-registered to serve on AFSP’s Chicago Walk Committee.
Just like Rodney Dangerfield, I’m going BACK TO SCHOOL!
Starting tomorrow, I will log into my online class at the University of Missouri at Columbia (“Mizzou”) and start a two-year graduate certificate program in Positive Psychology. Founded by Martin Seligman, this is a relatively new field of psychology, although it draws upon theories and research from many of the great psychologists and philosophers throughout history. I am hopeful that this certificate will allow me to take the skills I have built in my college counseling work and branch out into other areas, such as life coaching and curriculum writing for the various kindness projects in which I am involved.
As I have learned through recent losses and the subsequent complicated grief I have experienced as a result, helping others really does make you feel better. I don’t mean to oversimplify here, but in my experience, it is completely true.
While I have always been drawn to helping others, the life-changing shift that took place after my step-father’s suicide, especially since my brother died the same way, completely altered the way I look at my own life as well as the lives of others. From the moment I learned he was missing, I started looking at him, his life, where he could be, and what he could be feeling through a different lens. I call it “the suffering lens.” It’s when I try to step into a person’s shoes and really feel what they might be experiencing, their pain. I know, I know…it all sounds strange and “out there”, but it’s what I do and how I see the world.
And, because I started to see the world with a “suffering lens” I became even more motivated to help others, which is why my work with the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) became (and still is) so rewarding. I am actively helping, searching and fundraising for a cause that is going directly to suicide prevention efforts.
But my work with the AFSP did not prevent another loss in my own family…my sweet nephew, Patrick. When he died, my brain and heart literally could not process the magnitude of losing him, of losing another family member to suicide. It’s just too big. Too much. I’m still struggling daily with this loss and I’m “only” the aunt. I know my grief is secondary to his parents and others…I also know and respect that we all grieve differently.
My response to my grief last summer was to start performing acts of kindness in Patrick’s or “Noochie’s” name. I called them NoochieRAKs. Now that I reflect upon it, I think it was a defense mechanism – like denial or avoidance of the truth. But, it was positive and creative and it was helping others. I was completely overwhelmed and honored by how many other people participated in acts of kindness in his name. It gave me hope.
Now, as we approach the one year anniversary of his death, the feelings of sadness, despair and sorrow are slowly seeping in. I will let those feelings flow because NoochieRAKs and time have softened those sharp edges of grief…
NoochieRAKs also led me to the study of Positive Psychology and this certificate program. Last night when I started the required reading, I came across one of the reasons Martin Seligman decided to pursue this field. He wanted to research “the offbeat idea of a psychology about what makes life worth living.” (Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Seligman, 2011)
I wept. Life IS worth living.
The #365ActsofKindness Weekly RAK-Up:
#146. Wrote thank you notes for school project.
#145. Ding dong drop-off dog treats. (Put together a belated “welcome puppy” basket for a friend’s new dog, will deliver this week!)
#144. Wrote thank you notes to some helpful friends.
#143. Returned a random shopping cart, which had rolled into a parked car in the parking lot to Home Goods.
#142. Gave a few new pets a new home through adoption.
#141. Wrote TWNMLL (The World Needs More Love Letters) letters.
Over the last several months, I started to notice that my feet resembled this…
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.❤️
#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?”
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:
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.
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.
A few days ago, the kids and I took a walk along the lake. We were about one block away from the apartment when Brian started complaining, “Mom, my nose is running. Can we go back now?” I told him he’d be fine and to just keep walking.
When we reached the next block he said, “Mom, I’m really tired, my feet hurt and my nose is running.” Once again, I told him he’d be fine and to just keep walking.
By the time we reached the third block, he whined, “Mom, I’m reeeaaallly cold and my nose is still running!” I gritted my teeth, told him he’d be fine and said emphatically, “Would you please just keep walking!”
Growing more and more irritable, I thought I knew I should have just gone on this walk alone.
Luckily, all of our moods lifted when we turned the corner and started walking toward the sunny trail that runs between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive. We were all distracted and happy by the sights, sounds and smells of springtime in Chicago. The water was a beautiful shade of blue, a nice contrast to the grass, which borders the path and was finally turning green after a long winter. Some of the trees were just starting to bud and there were tons of birds chirping and flying from one tree to the next. There were cyclists, runners and mothers pushing baby strollers buzzing by us. The kids quickly learned the importance of “On your left!” as we made our way further along the trail. Despite the cooler temperatures and a brisk lake breeze, there was a young couple having a picnic at a little table in the middle of the green space between the path and the lake. In addition to the singing and tweeting birds overhead and the relaxing sound of the waves in the background, the LSD (Lake Shore Drive) traffic was whirring by on our right, as it always does morning, noon and night.
In a singsong voice, I exclaimed, “Aaahhh, I love the smell of spring! Can you guys smell the fresh air, the lake?!” I took a deep breath and turned around to look at the kids who were now lined up behind me like three cute little ducklings.
Emma and Kate shrugged their fleece-covered shoulders and mumbled something that sounded like “yes”. When I looked over at Brian for a response, he pouted, “I can’t smell anything.”
I looked a little more closely at him. Whoa…he wasn’t kidding earlier when he said that his nose was running. At this point, he had snot running down the front of his nose all the way down passed his mouth to his chin. It was disgusting. I tried to play it cool because I know how sensitive he is about anything gross anywhere near his body, but I’ve never had a very good poker face.
In an effort to avoid a meltdown, I frantically searched my jacket pockets for a tissue, but only had the arm of one of his Teen Titans Go! figures and a NoochieRAKs card. I asked his sisters if they had any tissues in their pockets, but other than a few Jolly Rancher wrappers, their pockets were empty. I then started searching the ground for a tissue, a piece of paper or even a leaf…nothing. So, I told him to do exactly what I’ve told him NOT to do in the past when he has a runny nose, “Use your sleeve.”
“But, Mom! I don’t wanna…” he started whining through the glob of snot.
Before he could overthink it, I quickly grabbed his arm and wiped his nose with the back of his fleece jacket. I will not go into any additional gory details, but I will say that even for this veteran babysitter, former pre-school teacher and mom to three – I almost started gagging. As I anticipated, he started throwing a fit, then his sisters were laughing and screaming and I was looking around helplessly for something else to clean up his face and jacket.
At that point, I decided to cut our walk short and turned around on the path. We carefully navigated our way through the cyclists, strollers and runners like a game of Frogger to get to the other side.
Brian was trailing behind whimpering about his nose and jacket. I knew it was going to be a long walk back to the apartment.
I continued to search the ground for any object that would help our cause and noticed that the couple who was sitting at the little table along the trail was still there and called over to them to see if they had a napkin or Kleenex. She started looking through the Whole Foods bag, he started searching his backpack. Neither of them found one, but then the guy stood up, held up a blue bandana and said, “How about this?”
“Oh, that’s okay.” I said. To which he replied, “It’s clean, here take it.” I explained, “Well, it’s for his nose and I don’t want to get it all dirty and gross…”
He insisted, “Here, you can have it. I have two more in my pocket.”
In my brain, I quickly surveyed the situation…the guy seems normal enough, he did say it’s clean and considering that I was willing to wipe my son’s face with a piece of garbage or a leaf, it does seem like the better alternative. Also, he’s offering to help us and it’s important to accept help sometimes. For me, the hardest part of the #365 kindness project is when people say they don’t need my help or won’t accept a gift from me. It actually feels really crummy.
So, I gratefully accepted the blue bandana from him. It was the same exact style I wore in my hair during high school, the same exact style my father-in-law would pull out of his blazer pocket to aggressively blow his nose, and now I just realized, it’s the same exact style that Noochie’s Dad, Pete, was recently wearing at the Bruce Springsteen concert.
Brian allowed me to gently wipe his nose and we thanked the couple again.
I decided that it was still in our best interest to go back to the apartment and just chill out. While we were walking, I asked the kids, “Wasn’t that so thoughtful of that stranger to give us his handkerchief?” The girls mumbled what sounded like “yes” and Brian asked, “What’s a handkerchief, Mom?”
I told him, among other things, it’s a simple act of kindness.
#105. Cleaned up paper towels that were all over the floor at Subway/rest stop.
#104. Helped lady who was cleaning up garbage at a rest stop.
#103. Gave a nice tip to server at the Cubs game who after she looked at my ID said, “You don’t have any wrinkles or gray hair for 45!” (the sunglasses glasses and baseball cap helped hide them). :0)
#102. Gave money to a homeless man outside Walgreens.
#101. Held the elevator door for someone loading a bunch of construction materials.
#100. Sent a Facebook message to my teachers who have made an impact on my life.
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.
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.
This week, I tried to participate in FREE acts of kindness…it’s not that easy! Do you have any FREE RAK ideas, you’d like to share?! I’d love to hear them as I have 360 more acts to go…thank you! :o)