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?”
Other than a wide variety of purple crayons, markers, paints and colored pencils, the only purple that our young children have been exposed to over the years fall under the categories of children’s literature and college athletics.
For literature, I read and re-read sweet and adorable stories that illustrate the power of the color purple and one’s imagination in the books, “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and “Purplelicious”, which are timeless and still stacked on our bookshelves throughout the house.
For college athletics, they were exposed to Northwestern football early on when we lived just steps away from the stadium. During the fall, our neighborhood was transformed into a sea of purple, as fans walked to the game and tailgated just outside our windows. At the pre-game festivities, they would high-five Willie the Wildcat, who was also decked out in purple, shout “Go Cats!” and wear Northwestern’s purple logo tattoos on their cheeks.
They certainly didn’t associate the color purple with music.
That is, until last Thursday, when they were fixated on all of the news reports about Prince. They were very curious about all of the monuments, stadiums and bridges being lit up in purple and each wondered aloud, “Who is Prince?” and “What’s Purple Rain?”
I looked at them in disbelief…What do you mean, “Who is Prince?”
I went to play something for them on my iPhone and was surprised that I didn’t have a single one of his songs on my playlist. How could this be possible?! Very discreetly, so as not to blow my (cool) cover, I went to the iTunes store and plugged in P-R-…but, before I could tap another key, Prince’s name populated, as millions of people were downloading his music at the same time. I thought I’d start with just a few of my favorites and his most popular songs, including; Little Red Corvette, Let’s Go Crazy, Purple Rain, I Would Die 4 U and Kiss.
Although I hadn’t heard these songs in a while, I knew every single word…even my kids were impressed because, according to them, “You don’t remember anything, Mom!”
When his music started playing, it was sort of like a weird time travel…I was immediately transported back into the 8th grade with my friends, their boomboxes, the blue eyeliner and all that teenage angst. I could almost smell Dep hair gel, which, if I used enough, I could get my kinky, frizzy hair to look almost like Prince’s hair style. Almost. (I mean, I had a MUCH better chance of getting that look than Apollonia’s beautiful long locks!) I watched the movie, Purple Rain, at my friends’ apartment over and over and over again, feeling both intrigued and terrified of what I was watching. My immature brain was trying to process…What do these words in his songs mean? What’s with all that heavy breathing and rolling around on stage? Don’t I sound exactly like him when I sing into my hairbrush? (My sister’s response: a definitive “no”.)
During the beginning of junior year of high school, my interest in Prince waned as I started to gravitating towards Bruce Springsteen, the Police and U2. They were considered mainstream and safe, which was just what I needed during those uneasy and awkward high school days – fitting in with the mainstream crowd equaled safety for me. I started to think of Prince as unconventional, weird and a little self-absorbed and, unfortunately, that belief continued over the years.
What I have learned about Prince over the last several days is that he genuinely liked being his own person. He chose to be different. And, he was anything but self-absorbed, choosing to support so many different individuals and charities over the years, but always doing it under the radar.
So, in addition to exposing my kids to his music, I’m sharing what I’m learning about his philanthropy and his quirky and unique personality. It’s okay to be different is a mantra I’ve used over and over again in this household. I’m also telling them that I should have had an open mind over the years and not have been so quick to judge, perhaps I would have learned a lesson or two from him. It’s not too late to learn some lessons…
And…while there are many different accounts of what Purple Rain means, the most common interpretation I have found is that it means a new beginning…the color of the sky at dawn is purple, at times, and rain is symbolic of cleansing. I will share that with my children if they ask about it again, but I suspect they’ve already forgotten the question (and they say I forget everything!).
This morning I woke up WAY before dawn, purple or otherwise, and couldn’t get back to sleep. I remembered that we had taped Purple Rain, so I went downstairs and quietly turned on the tv. It was the first time I’ve watched it as an adult.
Over thirty years and many life experiences behind me, I watched it through a very different lens…we are all broken at one point or another, but there is always hope for a new beginning.
I am grateful to my dear friend, April, who loyally (and literally) followed Prince throughout the years and exposed me to purple, Prince and Purple Rain so many years ago. My kids and I thank you, April, for showing us that it’s okay to be different and that kindness always matters. xoxo
#115. Gave a Starbucks gift card to another favorite employee at Stop and Shop. He wasn’t there on Noochie’s birthday (the original plan). When I told him the card was for him in honor of my nephew and the kids’ cousin, he said, “I normally wouldn’t accept this, but I will because it’s in honor of your nephew.” I thanked him for accepting it and said that there were many days when his kindness turned my day around. He couldn’t believe it and said he was close to tears. He was going to give me a hug, except he had Poison Ivy all over his arms, so we “air” hugged. :o)
#114. Exposed kids to culture: Prince’s music and Purple Rain. (RAK of the Week)
#113. Earth Day activities: clean-up at duck pond with kids and their friends.
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.
I always thought the expression “eating your feelings” was a little silly.
That is, until my mom died.
Now I completely understand it.
Ever since June 16th, 2014, the day she died, I literally feel like I cannot stop eating at most meals. And by meals, I mean breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack. I’m not going to get into this too much, other than I know this is a process and I’m working through this and many other “issues”.
Anyhooooo, in an attempt to make healthier choices and lose (I’ll even take maintain at this point!) some of the weight I’ve gained while eating my feelings, I decided to run on the treadmill this morning in the workout room. And, to clarify, when I say “run”, I mean that I jog at a somewhat faster pace for several minutes and then walk for a few minutes and keep rotating walking and running (er, jogging) for an hour. I used to be able to run for the entire length of time, but along with my eating habits, my workout schedule has really been in a slump the last couple of years.
I’m always amazed by how many thoughts you can have when you’re just staring at a treadmill display or looking out the window at the lake. Today, my thoughts sounded like this:
I cannot believe it was exactly one year ago that we were saying goodbye to Mom’s house. I cannot believe that both Vanessa and Patrick were there, and now they’re gone. I cannot believe how many people we’ve lost this year…
All of these thoughts were running through my mind when I heard Vanessa’s voice say, “You know I love you, right?” followed by her hilarious, one-of-a-kind laugh. Of all the people we’ve recently lost, she is the one I “hear” most often. I haven’t exactly heard Patrick just yet…he’s been a quiet presence…more like a shadow. Right after that thought, the song “Just Breathe” came on, which I sent to my mother-in-law, Carolyn, when she was sick and, therefore, I think of her every time I hear it. Within the first few notes of the song, I imagined her saying, “Hey! What about me?!” followed by her laugh.
Girrrrrlllll, you are trippin’ was my next thought.
I wonder if I’m the only one whose “inner dialogue” (i.e., hearing voices, seeing shadows, etc.) sounds/feels like this…I sure hope not. If I am, then I’ll need to start working on this along with an ever-growing list of issues.
Anyway…back to the treadmill, I continued with my workout and random, not-so-interesting thoughts and was doing really well when I suddenly became overheated. And not just a bit overheated, but the I’m going to pass out or get sick right here kind of overheated. I paused the display, slowly stepped off the treadmill and went to turn on one of the fans that sits in front of the machines. It wasn’t working so I tried to reset it, unplug, plug it back in, etc., still no luck. I gave up and when I turned around an elderly lady had jumped on the treadmill.
“Oh, looks like you had a pretty good workout!” she said pointing at the numbers on the display.
“Uh…well, I, uh…yes, thank you…I did. Oops, just have to grab my keys.” I stammered, reaching over the treadmill display and into the cup holder for my keys.
I can’t really pinpoint what I was feeling, which is part of my problem, but sometimes this kindness project presents itself at just the right moments. :o)
#99. Let someone else use the treadmill. (RAK of the Week)
#98. Complimented a stranger on his (awesome) cowboy hat.
#97. Cleaned off counter at rest stop.
#96. Donated gently used clothes to Good Will.
#95. Wrote an encouraging note to a friend.
#94. Donated dog treats to pet shelter.
#93. Re-shelved cleaning supplies sitting in middle of aisle.
#92. Paid a compliment to a stranger at Stop and Shop.
I’m what some people would call, a bit of a yeller.
I yell at my kids to pick up their socks off the sofa. I yell at the dog to get off the sofa. I yell, “What are the cushions doing off the sofa and on the floor?!” I yell that it’s time for “BREAKFAST!” “LUNCH!” and “DIN-NER!” I yell that we’re going to be late for school. I yell that it’s time to be quiet, and I yell that it’s time for bed.
Okay, I’ll be honest, I yell A LOT.
Sometimes I worry what the mailman thinks of me, but mostly I think he gets it.
In my defense, I grew up in a family of yellers. This was how our household functioned. There was always some (self-induced) chaos around us, we were always running late, there were always too many kids in the house, and messes that I, as the oldest, always felt obligated to clean up. My siblings also responded to my yelling, although I’ll admit, maybe it wasn’t the response I was hoping for…sometimes they yelled back…sometimes they slammed a door in my face…sometimes there was a sibling slam-down. But, like I said, at least there was a response.
Despite my best efforts, all the best-selling parenting books, and behavioral modification or “star” charts, I continue to yell at my own children. I’ve realized over the years that it’s a hard habit to break.
So, earlier this week, I decided to try a different approach.
Two of our children started wrestling and typically, I would yell, “Go to the basement!”, “Knock it off!” or “Someone’s gonna get hurt!”. This time, as one of my acts of kindness, I remained silent (which, by the way, was REALLY hard for me).
I also discreetly snapped a few photos, which highlight what happened next:
While I wanted to yell, “SEE, I told you someone would get hurt!”, I continued to keep my mouth shut. I also stopped snapping pictures and quietly observed what happened next…the fighting stopped and Kate checked, really checked, to see if Brian was okay. She comforted her little brother and they decided together to do something else.
An unexpected act of kindness for all of us.
Maybe this kindness project can teach this old yeller some new tricks. :o)
#91. Wrote three letters for TWNMLL | The World Needs More Love Letters (moreloveletters.com)
#90. Picked up a loaf of bread that had fallen off the shelf and was just sitting in the middle of the aisle.
#89. Donated to a fund for the Nauti Dolphin delivery man who is going through cancer treatment.
#88. Donated to Amanda Lynn Williams Endowment Fund (McHenry County College).
#87. Gave a little extra tip to the man who delivered our Chinese food.
#86. Stayed out of sibling squabble. (RAK of the Week).
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)
#84. Wrote three letters for TWNMLL | The World Needs More Love Letters.
#83. Surprised a former teacher with Starbucks gift card when we saw her in line at the grocery store.
#82. Gave a gift card to a Stop and Shop employee at Starbucks.
#81. Helped a student with his service application essay.
#80. Let a woman who was in a hurry go ahead of me in line at Barnes & Noble.
For my close friends and family who know me by my potty mouth…it’s NOT that “s” word. Although one day, I’d love to write about all of the benefits (at least in my case) of using four-letter-words. :o) This word has seven letters and, just like many four-letter-words, it’s part of my every day vocabulary.
The “s” word is SUICIDE.
I used to cringe every single time I heard that word. It was usually delivered in hushed tones, a whisper almost, like a deep, dark secret. That’s not to say that the word doesn’t bother me – it does. But it’s different now.
While we still have a long way to go with suicide awareness, prevention, education and advocacy, we are making significant progress by saying the word out loud. By taking away the shame often associated with the word itself, we are opening up a whole new dialogue that just didn’t exist when I first encountered it back ’93-94 when my brother died by suicide.
Some of the most powerful dialogue comes from people who have survived a suicide attempt. These individuals can describe in vivid and heartbreaking detail what they were feeling just before their attempts. These accounts provide critical information for physicians, psychologists, researchers, families, friends, etc., so that they (we) can not only assist the person in pain, but also analyze the details and make new recommendations and discoveries for mental health and suicide prevention.
I feel honored to have been put in touch with one such person. A survivor. Her name is Sara and she is this year’s Mrs. Montana International. Her platform is H.O.P.E. for Suicide Prevention and she is raising funds for the AFSP|American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On May 21st, she is running a half marathon and calling it “Running for Angels” as she will be wearing the names of friends, family and complete strangers who have died by suicide. I have asked her to add Brian, John and Patrick’s names to her list.
I am so grateful for people like Sara.
You can click on the following link to see her page and all of her courageous efforts:
Last night, toward the end of a very productive writers’ workshop, our instructor gave us what initially seemed like a pretty innocent prompt:
“What is your biggest regret?”
I quickly turned the page of my little notebook and started writing furiously across the paper…
For some reason, I always imagine that this individual was a young woman taking her dog for an early morning walk on the beach. Maybe she was lost in thought, perhaps she was running through her “to do” list for the day or maybe she was just trying to calm her mind…the lake is the perfect place for quiet reflection.
But then she stops.
What the heck is that?
She starts walking again, more slowly this time, and as she makes her way to the other end of the beach, she is getting closer to what looks like a large pile of clothes on the shore. Her dog is also very curious about what it is and tugs on his leash so that he can get a better look
I stop writing and sit quietly.
How do I write about this regret?
I literally want to bang my head on the table to get it out, but I’m afraid I might scare these more composed writers who are quietly sitting around the table writing furiously about their own regrets. These are nice women, I don’t want to scare them – at least not yet.
I am slowly starting to recognize something…while I may put a lot out there, I’ve become quite the expert in compartmentalizing. That is, I file away my many errors in judgement, my most painful memories and my feelings in a “box” with the intent of dealing with it some other day. And like so many of the other things I file away, I eventually forget about it. That is, I think I forget about it, but it’s still there.
I’m beginning to think that I need some of this information and that “some other day” has finally arrived.
After sitting for a moment, I decided to cut to the chase and just write down the first regret that came to my mind and the one that has haunted me for twenty-two years:
I regret that never got to meet the person who found my brother’s body.
This may sound odd to many, I know, but I think of “her” often and wonder if she still thinks about what she discovered that morning. Does she have nightmares about what she found? Does she ever wonder about us? Is it protocol for the Chicago Police Department to follow up with the person who places the call to say they made a positive identification? Did they share with her that the “unidentified body” she found was a 19-year-old boy? Would she want to see a picture of my brother with his striking grey-blue eyes and ever-present Cubs cap? Will she ever know how grateful I am that she didn’t just keep walking?
I couldn’t possibly ask those questions twenty-two years ago, as I was quite literally paralyzed by my grief.
I couldn’t have known at the time that my inaction would cause me to wonder about this complete stranger for so many years.
Are we connected by my brother for a reason?
Does this stranger have any regrets?
I will only find out if I confront my own regrets.