Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Be the Change

Day 9 again: Bonus Essay

What’s on your mind?

I am in yet another coffee shop. I think I need a ten-step. Twelve-step? Doesn’t matter. I’d only make it through three.

Speaking of compliments. Whenever someone compliments me on my mad skills, be they speaking skills or writing skills or teaching skills or some other performance-related skills, I always say thank you. Then, in my head, but maybe out loud depending on how familiar I am with the compliment-giver, I curl my lip and roll out my best Elvis, Thank ya very much! The one always has to follow the other. That’s just how it happens in my brain. Just like the national anthem. Every time I hear it, no matter where I am or who I’m with, as soon as that last note ends, I belt out a hearty Plllaaaayyy Baalllll! This can sometimes be a slight embarrassment. To my children. My sister-in-law lives in a teeny town in Southern Indiana. We don’t get to see her often, maybe a couple times a year. I always enjoy the visit. When we part ways, she gives me a huge hug then grabs my cheeks in both hands for a traditional European kiss-this-side-then-that goodbye. Occasionally she will follow this with a, The Lord be with you. I can’t help it. I always, always have to reply, And also with you. I sort of expect her to shoot back a quick, Let us pray, but she never does. I say it in my head instead, slightly disappointed.

Certain things just naturally follow the other.

Other things are more of a mental stretch. Like what, for example, would follow a Thirty Day Compassion Challenge? What comes next? When I wake up on day thirty-one, what exactly do I do? Do I use the challenge as a springboard for something else? Yes? For what, then? I’m just not that creative. Do I just stop being kind altogether? That would be incredibly tempting because, just confessing, doing kind deeds every day for thirty days totally sucks. It’s so much work. It’s a heck of a lot easier to just go about my business and forget about all the people around me. But here’s the deal. I know I’m only on day nine of this challenge and that saying I have obtained any bit of wisdom at all at this point is sort of like a kindergartner claiming to grasp quantum physics, but I have learned something and what I’ve learned is that we’re all interconnected. I know. I knew this. But now I KNOW this. When I’m kind to another I do feel good. I spread that good feeling out to others not even remotely connected with the incident. I also occasionally get to witness the recipient of my good turn shine that radiance out to others. Who knows, maybe that older gentleman in the coffee shop earlier today, the one who told me how great I smell, was the recipient of a kind deed of someone for whom I had earlier performed a kind deed myself. Too deep? Too far-fetched? It could happen.

Do this. Think of a time when someone was mean to you. Go ahead. Just make a mental note. I worked retail for a bit in college. I sold tighty-whities and Gold Toe fluffies forty hours a week to make tuition payments. I worked full-time, went to school full-time, and ate and did homework in my off-hour. I was exhausted. I had no money for a social life, no time for a social life, and was trying my very best to stick with the plan when any person with half a brain, or less even, would have totally given up. I was stressed and frazzled and in desperate need of some loving. Instead, I got a pencil to the face. It was the Christmas season and the customer, obviously not taking full responsibility for his lack of holiday planning and frustrated as a result of his Christmas Eve last-ditch efforts to find the absolute perfect present, in his frustration, hurled a yellow No. 2 at my face. He threw a pencil at me. I had never in my life had anyone throw anything at me, at least not since that incident with my sister involving the bike and the Barbie doll, but that’s another story. How little do you have to think of a person before you throw an object at her face? How little do you have to think of yourself?

Now, try to remember something that someone did for you or said to you that was especially kind. I was leaving class one afternoon, this time as instructor, not student. As I made my way for the stairs a woman going the opposite direction backed up and headed my way. Mmmm, she said, you smell NICE. (I am not exactly certain what others think of my looks, but I’m pretty sure that I don’t have a problem with the way I smell.) She backed up, she stopped, she took a second just to smell me. And she let me know that she liked it. She was headed to class. She didn’t have to do this. It felt great. I held my head up and walked to my car confident that I was spreading a wonderful heady scent in others’ directions.

Now, compare the two. How did you feel in each example? How did you carry yourself afterward? How did you interact with others? How did they, in turn, interact with those around them? This is what I know, the more kindness I spread, the more kindness potentially comes back my direction. If I am interested in a kinder world, I need to begin with myself. I need to, as Ghandi would say, be the change I want to see. I may think I have no control over the choices others make, but through my own acts of kindness, I can move those others in the direction I would like to see. Tricky. And deep. I know…….. Thank you. Thank ya very much.

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