Tag Archives: Kindness

Extending Kindness Through Grace

In the ten weeks following the two very risky emergency surgeries my dad underwent in August we’ve spent our weekends visiting him in the hospital where he remains, due to myriad complications, and is working on his recovery.

He is being cared for in the hospice portion of the VA medical center, and while we are hopeful he can come home for his remaining time, the outlook is not certain.

Each Friday after work and school both myself and my brother and our families drive the two hours to the VA to sit with him over the weekend.  Each Sunday we return home for another week.  It’s difficult being so far away, difficult seeing dad in there week after week, difficult on mom working, being there, and trying to keep everything running in the meantime. Of course, I’m no stranger to caring for an ailing family member.

Our life with Miss Elliott taught us so much about the precious and fleeting nature of life and time.  And even more about kindness, both what we’ve experienced from others and what we can provide.

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There’s a pizza place around the corner from the VA.  We’ve taken to eating there on Friday nights.  We walk over, place an order for carry out, and bring our food back to dad’s room so we can all have dinner together.

This last Friday, as my sister in law and I were waiting in line, next up, deciding what to get for everyone a woman behind us asked if she could go ahead of us.  We had decided, but were still holding our menus and she let us know she was just picking up an order.  I said yes.  It was no issue, really.  A few more seconds waiting wouldn’t hurt.

After we placed our pizza order we took our to-go container for the salad bar over to begin constructing our salad.  A man, who was apparently also behind us in line came up to us and said,

“So, I have to ask, did you feel obligated to say ‘yes’ to that woman’s question of letting her cut in front of you?  I mean, that was a little rude.”

“Oh, I suppose.  It wasn’t really a big deal though.  I didn’t mind,” I told him.

“It’s like she was saying ‘my time is more important than your time,'” he continued.

“Maybe, but I’m really just practicing trying to extend grace where I can, so it was ok,” I replied.

“Well, you’re nicer than me,” he admitted and walked away.

It really got to me.  What would I have gained had I denied her?  It really didn’t interfere with my time.  What if she was in a hurry?  What if she wasn’t?  Maybe she simply had bad manners, was impatient, or generally inconsiderate?  It didn’t matter.  None of it undid my act of extending a moment of grace to her through this tiny kindness.

We should never regret the kindnesses we’ve extended to others, only the ones we didn’t.

And why would this man have wasted the opportunity to act kindly?  What would he have gained?  Even if this woman was acting selfishly, does a kindness not counteract that selfishness?  His unkindness would have only multiplied it.

I think the issue at hand is the idea that two wrongs counteract each other.  Isn’t that the problem with society today as a whole?  Haven’t we stopped giving one of our loves away when we have two?  I think we tend to greedily keep both for our self.  Instead of just being thankful for one days’ portion we’re constantly looking to store up enough for tomorrow too.  The problem here is that we get to a point where we feel we can never have enough, and in the midst of our search for more for tomorrow we forget to look out for who doesn’t even have enough to get through today.

Maybe terminal illness helps you understand what’s really important, and conversely what’s not.  I would argue that it does.  It’s a hard way to learn those things, and luckily most people are blissfully ignorant to the difference in the two, but many of us were not afforded the luxury.  Although, honestly, I think it’s another luxury in and of itself to know what it means go forth and try to spread goodness.

One of the ways I continue to honor our Miss Elliott’s life, and to spread Tay-Sachs awareness is to give out Random Act of Kindness cards.

Front of Card

Back of Card

It just so happens that we had given some out, attached to some bags of candy for the nurses and family members in the hospice center that evening.  I wished I could have given one to the man in the pizza place, but I’ll just have to hope my words to him about grace will have sufficed.  I hope he carries them forward and finds a way to exercise extending grace to others too.

 

 

 

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Help: On the Horizon vs. At your Door

It had been a particularly trying day.  Disastrous, really.  I had come home from grocery shopping in the middle of winter to find frozen pipes that had busted and thawed, and water was now gushing from the ceiling in my laundry room onto the wood floors below.

The valve to shut the water off to the whole house had frozen in place outside in the ground.  After struggling unsuccessfully to wrench it free, I deemed it a lost cause and ran to the garage where I dumped the Rubbermaid trashcan full of garden tools onto the floor and frantically ran to place it inside the house to catch the water pouring from above.  I opened the back door and began sweeping the water covering the floor outside.

Then I called my husband at work and screamed through frustration and tears into the phone; “GET HOME NOW”.

Taking to social media later in the day to lament and seek out commiseration, I suppose, I quickly had a message from my friend, Halcyon.

“Can I bring you dinner?” she wrote.

My immediate instinct was to respond with a no thank you, a how thoughtful, or that I appreciated it, but we’ll be fine.  Then for some reason, I just accepted.  I did want that dinner.  It would help. It would be one less thing I would have to worry about in the midst of such a terrible day, and it felt like a win.

We were no strangers to acts of kindness at this point in our lives.  Our daughter’s terminal illness and death were humbling in ways we never even considered needing to be humbled before her life, but the general idea of utilizing the village before you seems somehow, almost un-American.  As if accepting help is an admission of our inability to pull ourselves up be our own bootstraps, rather than an act of love and concern for other humans that makes the world go ’round.

She brought warm soup and fresh baked soft bread from Panera (one of my favorite places).  It was delicious.  And so appreciated.  The real gift she gave, however; was not the meal itself, and not even the act of caring, but the outreach she exercised to begin with.  She didn’t let me know she could help if I needed, she didn’t even ask what she could do for us.  She took action, and offered something specific, something concrete.  She then placed it in a time frame and set to work on following through.

When facing life’s challenges, simply wanting to help or letting someone know you’re there to help is often not enough.  Don’t make vague statements or plans that don’t amount to anything.  While the thought is appreciated, the action always speaks louder.

When someone is struggling with a difficult situation, the burden of need is already on their shoulders.  Don’t add to their overflowing plate by asking them to tell you how you can help.  Often, it’s just too much for someone to even consider tying to navigate the map of help-need to be able to organize or convey those needs to you.

Perusing social medial recently I found a message from a friend, posted on her personal page, as a cry for help.  She posted the following picture with the message, “Definitely me sometimes”.

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What followed, to be honest, as someone having been in need myself annoyed the crap out of me. The response, even though positive, genuine, and seemingly in an effort to be supportive, just wasn’t.

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Simply telling someone you’re there for them simply doesn’t do anything.  If you’re going to talk the talk, you’d better be willing to walk the walk and actually be there. Don’t wait for a friend to ask for help.  They are already overwhelmed, so they most likely never will.  Just take the initiative and go out of your way to be there without waiting to be asked.

I specifically remember the phrase “we support you” being uttered to us repeatedly when Miss Elliott was alive.  How?  I always wondered, because with certain people those words seemed to be all there ever was.  Nothing to back them up, no outreach, no follow through.

What was interesting to me about the respondent’s message to “call me” was that someone else, yet another friend, liked the comment, in what I can only assume was a show of solidarity, or a me too response.  But even when my friend reiterated that she always needs someone, and implores her to please just come over, the respondent again defaults to asking the person in need to call her.

Don’t do this.  It’s painfully obvious that this person should have picked up the phone at that very moment.  Should have gotten in her car and driven over.  She should have done anything worthy of being called helpful, but what happened here instead was that this person did, literally the least she possibly could have done, and probably mentally checked off a box in her mind that allowed her to continue in her thinking that she reached out, did good, and helped.  She didn’t.

Sometimes in our attempts at care toward others we place them into our box, our comfort, zone, rather than stepping outside of that zone ourselves to look deeper into what they really need.  I think we usually just tend to look for what may be easiest for us to offer.  We fail, so often at truly going that extra mile.

This interaction would have left me feeling even more alone.

There are many things that everyone needs, so make a list of what would help you because chances are, it would help someone else too.  Some simple suggestions of ways to help that I like to give are:

  1. Mow the lawn
  2. Wash and fold the laundry
  3. Clean the house
  4. Let them take a nap or get a hot shower
  5. Bring dinner
  6. Take the kids somewhere for a bit (a movie, to the park, etc.)
  7. Bring groceries
  8. Run errands
  9. Help coordinate appointments
  10. Go to their house to visit
  11. Help them have a night out aloneand most of all
  12. Just listen without trying to fix their problems

A life in Kindnesses

October 3rd tends to swoop in and cover me in an eerily unusual calm.  In the week leading up to it however, I’m a manic, grief stricken, emotional mess, inwardly.  Outwardly I’m a mess that looks exactly like a person with perfectly manicured nails, expertly applied lipstick, and a perma-grin who goes around saying “I’m fine, really, but thank you for asking”.  I find myself counting down the days until it’s over.  Counting down the days until another of my deceased daughter’s birthday’s pass and I can get on with feeling the preemptive grief of Thanksgiving and Christmas, then New Year’s, then her death date.  Then I get to swim along with eight blissful months of only my day to day grief, without some calendar specific date slapping me in the face.

This year was harder.  It was easier.  I don’t know what it was.  I just know I’m fine, and also, I hurt, all at the same time.  It’s just another day, and it’s not.  I tend to start compulsively baking, eating, making craft projects, and shopping for all of the aforementioned during this time.  Anything to take my mind of my lonely longing heart.  Sometimes the pain is multiplied when combined with fear.  Fear that she’s no longer my child, in the active sense, but just a memory to those who knew her, and worse, only a story to those who didn’t.

The thing you should know about grieving parents is that every time you want to tell family and friends about your child’s accomplishments, funny anecdotes of their behavior, or important memories you want to share, we do too.  The problem is they’re physically gone, and you’ve most likely already heard everything we have to say.  That’s one of the things that hurts me the most, I find.  I want to talk about her.  I want to tell about “the one time that…”, but there are no new stories share, no new pictures to show, nothing you haven’t heard before.  So we talk in a loop, and keep bringing them up, not to make you sad or to make you feel badly about sharing your stories and pictures, but because we desperately want to be included, and don’t want our children to be forgotten.

I firmly believe that the purpose of my Miss Elliott’s life was to spread the message that every life is valuable and important, no matter how short, and no matter how small.  I also believe that her work can continue, and that we can all help spread this message.  This year as her sixth birthday approached I decided to start a campaign I called “Six Years Six Acts for Miss Elliott”.  I challenged everyone to spend the week leading up to her birthday committing one random act of kindness per day.  I further challenged people to move outside of their comfort zone by not simply purchasing a latte at the local Starbucks, but by trying to spend little or no money a few of those days and to do something they might otherwise not.  The point of the exercise wasn’t to make it easy, it was to have some actual forethought, combine it with resolve, and take action for good.

Furthermore, I challenged individuals to reflect back at the end of the week to how their random acts of kindness affected not only the person they were kind to, but themselves as well.  I took this challenge too, of course.  And over the period of the next six days I found that on some days I used money for my kindnesses and some days I didn’t.  Sometimes I spoke to the person/people and sometimes my kindnesses were anonymous.  I also found that no matter what happened (even when certain stores refused to let me hand out my free kindnesses to customers, and I came home crying with Loren telling me her was sorry Corporate America ruined my attempt at changing the world), I gained something every time.

When I woke up on the morning of October 3rd this year, I felt relieved.  I was overwhelmed by pictures and messages of people telling me about their kindness experience.  I was blanketed in comfort which served as my armor against grief that day.  Instead of wallowing in my sadness over her absence I had made the day meaningful for not only myself, but others as well.  I don’t know how much exponential impact these kindnesses had on the world, but  I hope it gave people a reason to smile, and I know it gave my daughter’s name relevance.

Front of Card Back of Card

Pictures, Perceptions and Judgments

Girls

Although I firmly believe that most of us don’t intend to be prejudiced in our general line of thinking, often we are anyway.  As human beings we fall into the hazardous trap of it by our very nature.  Whether it’s due to the way we were raised, the experiences we’ve had throughout our lives, or the situations we’ve been exposed to, all these things shape the way we view the world and create our sense of what it is, as well as who we are and where we fit into it.

As ashamed as I am to admit it, I can do so only now, understanding my error and knowing that I have most certainly been through trials in my life that have helped to reshape my views and propel me into a higher form of more critical thinking.  There was a time, not too long ago when I would see pictures of families of children who weren’t ‘normal’ and I would feel sorry for those people.  In my ignorance and illogical thinking, I equated the quality of such photos to that of one where someone had blinked; that it would be a nice picture, if not for that blaring blemish.  I wondered how they could smile and keep looking so ‘normal’ themselves considering their plight.  Did they look at their own photos and wish they didn’t look they way they did? I assumed so.  Why wouldn’t they want to look ‘normal’, after all?

What a terrible word ‘normal’ is, and what a horrible description it makes.  By its very nature, it’s intended to ostracize.  Yet we readily accept and embrace the idea of it.  We willingly allow ourselves to be confined to the narrow parameters set forth by it’s use.  Why?  In hopes that we can bend and contort ourselves enough to fit into it’s tiny mold?

My mistake was made in not seeing the people in the pictures.  The souls of those beautiful beings that the photographs represented.  My all-too narrow view of what ‘normal’ was, was being imposed on people who never needed my paltry judgment to begin with, and they certainly never needed my justification of their own worth or value.

Is that what people saw when they looked at our photographs?  When they looked at Miss Elliott?  Did they see a mistake or someone less-than perfect?  Did they feel sorry for us, for her?  I hoped not.  I didn’t.  And then, when I thought about if they did, I began to feel sorry for them.  Sorry that they couldn’t see the magic of a valuable and beautiful life.  It was a concept that was over their heads.

How often are we wrong in our perceptions and judgments?  Chances are, no one will ever know the extent to which they misjudge an incident because they simply keep moving about their lives.  They put these little interactions behind them and never see the forest because of all those pesky trees blocking their view.   It’s beyond me as to why we ever think we have to right to judge someone else at all.  What gives us such authority?  Who ever certified that our perceptions of anything are ever just?

We do the same thing when we come across the homeless.  So many people seem want to ignore the downtrodden and cast them out of their view of the world, looking away or acting busy when parked at a stoplight.  Even walking right past them on the street and pretending they never saw them in the first place.  What does this say about us?  Most of us would like to consider ourselves to be ‘good people’, but do our actions support our self image?  And why is it so hard for us to step out of our comfort zone to do something as noble as helping someone else?  Why is that even outside of our comfort zone in the first place?  Shouldn’t the easy thing to do be to give, not to look away?

Last Sunday we went out for lunch, which is something do regularly on Sundays after we attend church services in the morning.  As such, it’s easy to take the ability to do so for granted. As we pulled up to a stoplight there was a man holding a cardboard sign.  Dirty, disheveled, begging.  I didn’t read his sign. I have no idea what it said.  I reached into my purse and scrounged around for a granola bar I knew was in there.  I then opened my wallet and plucked out the only dollar bill inside.  Without a word I handed it to Loren, who rolled his window down and handed it to the man on the side of the road.  I knew it wasn’t much, but it was all I had on me and I hoped that it helped.

It took nothing to commit that act of kindness.  I would never miss the dollar or the granola bar.  To have not given it willingly and graciously would have spoken more about me than about the man holding the sign.  It didn’t matter what the sign said, this man felt he needed help to the point that he was willing to stand on the corner of a busy road and ask strangers for their handouts.  Who am I to judge him and his life or withhold the most minute kindness as I sat there in my warm and dry vehicle that would take me to an over priced, unnecessary lunch at a restaurant?

Later that evening, as the wind and rain increased Loren, who is a Power Lineman was called out to fix a downed power line.  When he came home he told me about a man he came across outside of the electrical utility building.  He had met this man before.  The man is homeless and roams around the city collecting rocks and stacking them in various formations.  He likes to collect things, he fancies himself an artist, he knows he is mentally handicapped.  He knows he has OCD so severely that it prevents him from being a part of society in a ‘normal’ way.  He is intelligent, and pleasant, and not ashamed of himself.

On this night, when Loren came across him, he was going through the trash in the dumpster outside of the building and strewing it all across the ground.  Loren went up to him to explain that he didn’t want to cause him any trouble, but wanted him to know that he would need to put everything back in the dumpster when he was finished or someone would eventually complain and then they would have to ask him to stay away.

He willingly complied, and thanked Loren for not being rude to him.  Loren asked him if he had a place he could get dry.  It was still pouring and the man wasn’t dressed for the weather.  He assured Loren that he did have a place he goes to keep dry.  Loren told him that that was good, took the hat off of his own head, gave it to the man, and said goodnight.

What he did was acknowledge another human being’s plight and choose to help them along.  He chose to see a person in need and not just something in society to be overlooked or judged.  It’s not about the dollar, the granola bar, or the hat. It’s about the humanity the action of giving away these items represents.  It’s about what was done with them, not what they were.  It’s about who people are, not just what you see in the picture in your mind.