Tuesday, November 1, 2011

But What About Me?

Former at-home mom and, soon-to-turn fifty, wannabe author sets out to reinvent her staid life through a Thirty Day Compassion Challenge created for her by her real, virtual, and really virtual Facebook friends. As an added bonus, she treats us to status updates and blog posts of her innermost thoughts and curse words along the way.

What's on your mind?

Give me some ideas. If I were to do a Thirty Day Compassion Challenge, what might I do? Items have to be easy enough to be completed in a day (while allowing for regular work/life schedule) and yet powerful enough to make a difference. Items have to be do-able from where I am with the resources I have. One challenge each day for thirty days with the idea of spreading a little love and kindness from my humble spot on earth.

Day 1: Grab the bill for the person behind you in the coffee shop

What's on your mind?

Sitting in the coffee shop working on my novel. Some juicy conversation going on at the table behind me. Material maybe?......This is what I've got from the small amount of neck-craning I am able to do: She is going back to school for a masters in psych, interested in counseling, after getting out of an abusive relationship with Brian (what a jerk! the things he did!!). Well, technically she's not totally OUT of the relationship, but is definitely IN another relationship. She's writing, working on a book about her experience. Very interested in attachment theory. Very interested in exploring the spiritual side of all this. Very interested in telling her story. (this is why I'm not a counselor.....maybe i should be a gossip columnist)

Why is doing a kind deed such a monumental act? Why does even the idea of such make my head reel, my stomach churn, my heart feel as if it might fly out my throat? I’m thinking it’s because of that darned What-Other-People-Think syndrome. My mind spins with thoughts of what others will say when they witness my act of giving. These others might think me a loon, a social inept, a potential child molester, a serial killer setting up the crime. Worse, they might think I see them as needy, as incompetent, as somehow inadequate. So on day one of my Thirty Day Compassion Challenge, my grand social experiment, my creative attempt at reviving my stale life, my focus is not on others as it should be but rather on myself, my self-image, my ideas of how others could possibly perceive me, my own feelings of inadequacy.

Giving should be this natural thing that I just do. It should feel more like brushing my teeth or consuming a meal than losing half my body weight or, I don’t know, bloodletting. I should just wake up every morning and think, Hey, wonder how I will give today? Giving should just be taught in schools as a matter of course right along with algebra and composition and building one of those wooden holders for keys in the shape of, well, in the shape of a key. Giving 101.

So, I’m nervous, but I’m determined. I know I can do this. I’m smart. I’m competent. I’m capable. I can buy a coffee for a stranger for God’s sake. I’ll be at the coffee shop anyway to work on this essay. I’ll be picking up my own beloved soy chai while I’m there. It’s not like I’m going out of my way or doing something foreign to me. I’m there. I’m buying a beverage. I’ve done this before. Breathe. And. Breathe.

As I step to the counter, I look around all shifty like. I scope out the scene, get a mental picture of my surroundings. Why I do this I have no idea. Am I on camera? Unfortunately there is no line behind me, nobody in need of coffee at the moment. I pick up a gift card. I’ll put five bucks on it and ask the cute barista boy to use it for the next person who orders. This is easy, I think to myself. What a breeze. Noncommittal giving. Perfect. If only the young mom in front of me weren’t so darned slow with her order. Full sandwich, please. Could I get that with two plates? How about the drink? Could we put the one drink in two cups? Is that possible? Do you charge extra for that? Oh my LORD!!! This giving thing is testing my patience to no end!

And now the line behind me has grown. There are actual people standing back there—business-looking women impatient with the wait, obviously on lunch break, older gentlemen leafing through magazines, striped-tighted toddlers with noses pressed to the glass cookie display case. Breathe. How will I do this? I need a plan. Give Cute Barista Boy the card and ask him to use it for some random customer? Which random customer? The one behind me? She would hear me scheming, then what would be the point? Why the card anyway? Just offer to pay for her when I order my stuff? What if she feels she can’t get what she was planning to get? I want her to feel free to order what she likes. I’m not sure I want to buy for her anyway. She obviously could buy her own coffee. What’s the point of me buying her anything? Whose idea was this? Breathe. And. Breathe. I am way overthinking this. WAY overthinking.

“Will this be it?” Mr. Barista snaps me out of my verbal self-lashing. “And I’m buying for the lady behind me here.” Wow. I said it. Her eyes grow big. She leans forward a bit in tiny excitement. You should know that she is maybe early sixty-something, dressed smartly with a matching bag, hair perfect. I explain to her that I am doing a random act of kindness and would like to buy her lunch. She confesses that she has done similar at fast food places and in the grocery store but has never been the recipient of such. My head immediately goes to “grocery store” and I think to myself that I am getting off easy with only a blueberry scone and a tall coffee.

As I sit to write, I am not sure I feel that wonderful fuzzy feeling I assumed I would have from the whole giving experience. Maybe that comes with a week’s supply of diapers, a couple loaves of bread, and a few boxes of cereal. Actually, I don’t really feel anything different from what I would normally feel. I sit at my computer working on this essay, sipping my venti latte, and doing a little people watching. My day is basically unchanged. It is pretty much the same as it would have been minus the giving. But as I watch my Challenge of the Day Recipient enjoying a laugh and a latte with her women friends as they chat and crochet, I think maybe this is not about me. Maybe it is about her. Maybe the Universe has just sent me to repay her good deeds. Maybe it is true what people say. Maybe when we throw good things out to others without regard to receiving, those things do in the end come back to us. They come back to us when we least expect them. They come back to us on just any other ordinary day when we stand debating between the muffin and the scone.

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