Kindfulness

 

“Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness.” – Tolstoy

“Surrender to kindness.” – Stephanee Howell at http://www.makebelieveboutigue.com

Kindness is like a tree. It grows from a tiny seed and then roots and sprouts in different directions creating new life and beauty along the way. We can’t see how deep or how far reaching the roots travel or know how many lives have benefited from the shade and oxygen the leaves provide.

When thinking about kindness, the Mother Theresa quote, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love,” comes to mind.

And no where is this more true for me than at the grocery store.

I often complain about going to the grocery store. There, I have bumped into people, hid from people, thrown up in a reusable shopping bag when pregnant with my second child, and strolled around with an older bagger who pushed my cart while I held my new born baby not knowing where to put him while I shopped.

Once, I had a panic attack when I left my two year old daughter in the shopping cart and sent her for a “ride” with my groceries in the very steep cart escalator. I screamed and flailed and freaked out until an employee came over, stopped the escalator, walked up the other side and grabbed her, fortunately unharmed, out of the cart. She was holding my phone at the time and had, unbeknownst to me, recorded the whole ridiculous event. She seemed to not think much of the whole ordeal while I found it terrifying and humiliating.

Another time, I had a meaningful chat about life after death by the nuts (maybe not a coincidence.) And the day I lost my dad, the clerk at the register lifted up a bag of prunes forgotten by a miserable man who had scolded me after I spilled a container of yogurt, and declared that, justice had been served!

Last week after shopping, I watched a man help an elderly woman struggling to push her shopping cart over a ramp. Before I could put my cart aside to help her, he eagerly asked her with a voice like liquid honey, “Do you need some help?” I smiled at him and he winked back with a twinkle in his eye.

Seconds later, feeling bolstered by the kindness I had just witnessed, I watched as a young guy stopped his car in the middle of the parking lot on a busy Sunday afternoon to usher an adorable family of ducklings across the street to safety.

I stood with goosebumps and tears in my eyes.

And just the other day when I started in on a long winded diatribe about chicken pot pies to a woman who I had never seen before working at the register, she didn’t look at me like I was crazy. She simply listened. And then cried.

I explained to her that I was disappointed that they didn’t have the chicken pot pie in the deli that I like. I wanted that particular variety because I thought my mom would like it. She was coming into town for the first time since starting chemo and it was hard to find the right food to eat. As I rambled on, she stopped scanning my groceries and looked at me with tears in her eyes. She told me she understood how difficult it is to watch those we love go through something so hard.

Then she asked me if she could hug me. It was my turn to cry. And I cried. And cried. And cried.

It was like any other day, but it wasn’t.

Sometimes I want to do more to help others. I feel like I am not doing enough.

But If I have learned anything from these kind interactions with strangers while engaging in such an ordinary task like grocery shopping, it is that small kindnesses do matter. And they are contagious.

“There are only proofs of love”, Gretchen Rubin writes in her book, The Happiness Project. Most people cannot read minds and don’t know how loved and appreciated they are unless we show and tell them.

When I grocery shop, I always forget something important like toilet paper or cookies. Or I spend too much money. Or I am there for too long. Or I would rather be doing something else. But I am starting to change my tune because I have experienced great kindness there too.

And I will never forget that hug and how it changed not only my day, but me.

For a very sad but touching tale about the impact of kindness: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/pay-it-forward-said-california-man-matthew-jackson-who-died-one-day-later/

Advertisements

the choices we make

IMG_1030

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Marukami

I learn something new every day.

Many days, it is the same lesson in disguise. Over and over again. I think I will be learning it for the rest of my life.

The lesson is this: We create our own reality. We choose how to share our energy within this reality and what thoughts and actions we want to focus on next.

I don’t mean that we make shitty things happen. Sometimes really bad things happen, and it is completely out of our control. It is simply not our fault.

Some people believe that nothing is random. But there is just too much sorrow and extreme suffering in the world for me to believe this exactly.

I do believe however, that no matter what happens, something good can come from it.

We choose what we want to believe.

And it may take a long time to arrive at this place. And it may take a lot of conscious practice. This is, after all, not an easy task especially when bombarded constantly by grim news.

While I was in college studying abroad on a program called Semester at Sea, I had the opportunity to visit The Peace Memorial in Hiroshima. There, where the atomic bomb caused such vast devastation that nothing grew for decades, were now proud trees and smiling children taking photographs with tourists, many of them American.

Inspired by the true story of a young Japanese girl named Sadako, colorful handmade paper cranes symbolized prayers for hope and peace. The story tells us that even while Sadako was dying from cancer, she folded hundreds of origami cranes in an effort to turn her attention towards praying for personal healing and the healing of the world. And with every crane, she made the brave decision to move toward hope and not away from it.

When coping with harrowing circumstances, it is as if we have been split open and the contents come spilling out, sometimes against our will. We may feel like we have little control over our feelings, thoughts, and reactions.

But turning toward our difficulties, not away from them, is what enables us to make the next thoughtful choice.

We also then become more empathetic to the fragility of the human condition. Maybe then we are more inclined to access the wellspring of compassion that lives deep within our hearts softening into our reality.

I have to admit, I get frustrated with people often. Sometimes I stew in this. But after awhile, I choose to believe that we are all trying to do the best we can with what we have been given. And the time between the stewing and compassion is becoming perhaps a tiny bit shorter which is helpful!

Because of the hardships that we endure as humans, our resilience grows and our souls bloom. We can also use these opportunities to become more aware of who we are; our values, what motivates us, and what we need to feel our best. We learn to honor our innate wisdom, surround ourselves with supportive people whom we can trust, and persevere by attempting to find meaning in our struggles.

And always we get to choose what to think and do next.

Fortunately, there are many people who have showed us the way. These uplifting stories are about ordinary people who choose to focus on the solution and not the problem, on the bright side instead of succumbing only to darkness…even though there is nothing wrong with the darkness, and it is an important place to pause from time to time.

Recently, I saw a story about a man who opened up the only store in his neighborhood in New Orleans. There had been no redevelopment there since Katrina. Not one single business. But this kind and determined soul literally spent all of his retirement money on opening a convenient store to help out his neighbors.

Along with selling the essentials there, he provides perhaps something far greater; a sense of community, respect, and hope where there had been little since the storm.

His choice was born from love. He chose to believe in abundance, not scarcity and made a courageous decision without knowing if he would ever be able to save the kind of money he had before.

I am always reminded that I too have a choice as to what to do next when yearning for things to be different than they are.

For example, when I am missing my dad, I am greeted with the eternal knowing that, more powerful than the sadness, is my desire to honor him and bring what I loved about his generous spirit to life.

So I envision what it was like to be in the same room as him. What stands out to me is that he profoundly appreciated the little things; the colorful hibiscus in the backyard, a gin and tonic at the end of the day, hanging with family, the celery in the tuna fish my brother-in-law made, and taking friends from the East Coast to beautiful spots in Arizona for a “50 cent tour.”

He never talked about the potency of living in the moment and looking for the silver lining. He just lived it.

So this morning when I found my tweezers in the car after declaring that someone had most definitely come into the house (again) at night and taken them, I celebrated as if I had won the lottery.

And why not celebrate?

We can always try, as hard as it may sometimes feel, to find something, even if it is one little insignificant thing, to be grateful for. This has become something of a mantra for me.

And these moments inspire other opportunities for gratitude to arise because gratitude begets gratitude. For a brief spell, we may even get to reside in the space of feeling thankful for all of it.

Because there is beauty and potential even when we feel there is none.

And while our genes are powerful and our circumstances heavily influence who we are, what we choose to tell ourselves is equally as important to our well – being.

Being human is the whole enchilada…the whole messy enchilada.

None of us have it totally figured out. And contrary to what we see on social media, no one is happy all of the time. No one is perfect. No one escapes loss. Or disappointment. Or failure.

But here we are.

And still we have choices to make.

Because this is our one beautiful, messy reality.

Baseball Ready

Baseball_(crop)

 

“Another name for God is surprise.” – Brother David Steindl-Rast

Less then a month ago I stood at my kitchen sink wondering what I was going to wear to the Tampa Bay Rays opening day game. And to think that just less than a year ago I still referred to my son’s baseball uniform as his “costume.”

But going to little league games, feeling inspired by my son’s enthusiasm for the sport, and watching our professional local team, the Rays, I have become a true fan of the game. Last year, when at the beach with a group of friends, I even got up from the table multiple times to check the score of the playoff game. My friends were as surprised as I was about my new found love of baseball.

My “thing” for a long time was that “I wasn’t that into sports.” And truthfully there are still many I can do without. Instead, I preferred music, movies, art, and dance as if the two were mutually exclusive. It’s like I was playing the part of a high school student in an 80’s movie. I mean what table do I belong at after all? The answer is probably none of them and all of them. (I just hope a senior from the football team doesn’t yell, “Incoming!” as he hocks a half-eaten doughnut in my direction.)

As a kid I didn’t really pay attention to the games my dad watched on television, though I always liked hearing the sound of the baseball bat hitting the ball. There is something so promising and nostalgic about that sound…

Last weekend on “CBS Sunday Morning” there was a story about a man who suffered from a stroke at the age of 36. What got him off of the couch was what he referred to as the “ping” of the swinging bat making contact with the ball. He asked his wife to take him across the street in his wheelchair so he could watch batting practice at the local high school. He soon became an assistant coach. He then learned to walk again. And now he is back in school and sharing his love of the game with kids who have disabilities. Baseball gave him a sense of purpose, and it gave him hope to keep on living.

Sometimes the things that cause us to wake up and feel alive are not what we ever would have expected. We are often asked by life to open up to the risk of making mistakes, failing, looking like a fool, or maybe even getting hit in the face with a ball, so we can finally unearth what we have been looking for all along. And often times it takes the unexpected, and sometimes even the undesirable, to find our purpose.

Baseball reminds me that it can be as simple as smelling the fresh cut grass and staying open to whatever comes one’s way.

Here’s the link to the “CBS Sunday Morning” story: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/baseball-gives-california-man-a-new-life-after-stroke/

Friends Are Everything

krisanderi

Last night my daughter was in the tub playing with her two new mermaid dolls, Olivia and Alexis (her names for them.) I asked her how they were. Her response: “My friends are being dramatic.”

Growing up, my pretend friends were dramatic too sometimes. Their names alone were quite interesting; Karen Ann Damichio, Linda Ann Commute, and lastly, the most unfortunately named, Wendy Feces.

I spent last weekend with my closest high school friends, Erica and Kristin. It brought back a flood of memories like during our senior year when we dressed up as members of the Jackson Five and played hooky. We spent the afternoon driving to random parking lots and dancing to songs like “C’est Chic”out of our friends’ stereo in her gold VW Bug.

Erica and I both moved to New Jersey our junior year. We became fast friends. She was with my family the last Thanksgiving before my Dad died. I recall it being a wonderful day. I also remember putting a cowboy hat on my Grandmother and singing, “I’m Too Sexy.”

Erica didn’t blink an eye a week later when I asked her to accompany me on the two hour drive to the hospital where my dad was after his car accident. That year she spent many hours patiently sitting with me on my mother’s couch.

Kristin and I traveled in Europe together. She was the ideal travel partner; always up for anything including  talking at any hour. I smile deeply thinking of a lovely dinner we had in Amsterdam. (No, we weren’t at a coffee shop…not then anyway.) We spoke of our dreams and our love of travel. She mentioned wanting to join the Peace Corps. Fast forward thirteen years later, she now travels around the world with a non-profit organization and spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia.

All of this reminiscing about friendships brought to mind a conversation that took place years ago with a family friend visiting from Minnesota. It was a cozy night at my mom’s house in New Jersey, in the same room I used to hibernate in. I asked her, why, all these years later, she still lived in a town she was not crazy about.

She had moved to that Midwestern city with her family from Arizona about twenty years before. In response to my question, she thoughtfully said that after all of this time, although it wasn’t perfect, they now had friends. Good friends that they did not want to leave.

It brings tears to my eyes thinking about how my friends here in Tampa, many of them new ones, brought us dinner right after my babies were born. The dinners and congratulatory hugs helped me survive those first exhausting transitory weeks.

Last weekend my brother sent me one of the most moving articles I have ever read. It was written by Madonna Badger who lost her entire family in a fire two years ago at her new home in Connecticut. Of course, it was gut wrenching to read and at the same time unimaginably hopeful.

She wrote about the friends surrounding her hospital bed as she lay there in utter disbelief. She wrote about the friends that took her into their home with whom she ended up living with for a year. Along with her unfathomable determination and a lot of professional help, friends are what got her through.

My husband told me last night as I was going to bed that he saw our son, Will, put his hand on the back of a teammate at his baseball game on Saturday. The boy was having a tough time hitting the ball. Will wanted the boy to know it was okay.

This brings me such peace because I feel if my children understand the importance of friendships that they too will always be okay. When we have friends, we have everything. And I am not being dramatic!

Here’s a link to the Monica Badger article. Thanks, Rich. http://m.vogue.com/magazine/article/the-long-road-back-madonna-badger/