I Believe That Kindness Wins

Wanna hear a fun story? I haven’t written much since summer began, but I’ve been wanting to tell this one since it happened. It involves a few good staples of any summer vacation and a big dose of kindness.

I’m assuming by now you’ve all heard about the US Women’s soccer team winning that World Cup. Well, before they did that, a few of my friends and I made a last minute plan to go see the gals play the ladies from Germany in a semifinal game in Montreal.  We considered flying there, but plane tickets were a wee bit expensive with only a few days notice, sooooo…

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…ROAD TRIP!! Isn’t a road trip one of the best parts of summer?

There was head up...

Car games…

...fellow fans driving by...

…fellow fans driving by…

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…and RoadTrip Radio! Even though they wouldn’t let me play this one loud in the border crossing line.

Speaking of lines, let me cut to the best part of this story.  The whole trip was awesome…we walked out of our hotel on the way to the game just in time to see the team leaving their hotel across the street (Heeyyyy, Pinoe!), some nice Canadian bartender made us custom red, white and blue cocktails, we went on a little hike and especially the win, but I think we all agreed on our favorite moment.

We were feeling so excited as we walked to the metro station on our way to the stadium!  It might have had a bit to do with those America inspired drinks or else the Canadian beer, but mostly it was the hype of the game.  Lots of people were walking the streets in Montreal all decked out in their USA fan gear. It almost looked like the 4th of July.  What I guess we hadn’t thought so much about, was that all those people were going to the same place we were, so that when we walked into the metro station our pre-game bubbles deflated.  There was a crazy long line to buy tickets.  Super long.  All the way back to the back wall of the station long. Our hearts sank as we tried to squeeze into line.  I think we were all thinking the same thing, that we would miss the beginning of the game now. But we didn’t have a chance to say it or even really let the disappointment sink in, because the second we stepped into line, a man walked up to us and asked, “Are there four of you?” We all nodded, not sure what he wanted.  And then…he made our night!!  “Here you go!” he said and he fanned out four metro tickets in front of us. “Wait. What? For us?”  And then he explained, “Yeah, we just waited in that line and wanted to let someone else not have to.  Here you go! Have fun!”  OOOH! MY! GOOOOSH!!  Wasn’t that just a sweet and kind and super fun thing to do?! He just bought extra tickets to give away.  And he gave them to us!  Can you imagine our excitement?  It went a little something like this:  THANK YOU!  THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! And then we ran!  We fumbled with how to work the tickets at the turnstile, and then we ran some more.  Straight down the wrong set of stairs to the wrong track.  That’s when another nice man said, “Uh…ladies.  Do you want to be on the other side?”  We darted a look across the tracks and saw our people, all red, white and blue on the other side. YES! Yes, we definitely want to be on the other side!  We yelled out some more thank yous and took off running again.  We were smiling and laughing the whole way to the stadium.  We made it with just minutes to spare before the gals took the field and the whole night we kept saying, “Remember when that guy just gave us metro tickets?!”

And we vowed to pay it forward.  Because making it to the start of the game wouldn’t have been nearly as great if we hadn’t almost not made it to the start of the game. It was the kindness of a total stranger that fixed that.  He made us so happy!  Thanks again, metro man!

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And to all the people we cut in front of, I’m sorry. But not really.  I am a little bit sorry for taking a picture of you, Backwards Hat Girl, while you were looking kinda miserable and I was looking and being so happy. I’ll try to make it up by being kind to some other stranger sometime soon.

 

Gifts of Gratitude

Last weekend, I spent a lovely afternoon with some good friends enjoying a spring festival at a local winery.  I’m just so happy that it finally feels like spring!  And we can spend afternoons outside in the sunshine!  We chatted and sipped wine and ate good food and shopped a little.  And while shopping, I got an unexpected gift and a little chain of serendipity.

I saw these really cool re-purposed wine bottle lamps, vases and wind chimes.  And I wanted one for my patio.  So I bought this one…

photo 1-1And then I got talking to the artists who make them.  You can find them on Facebook here.  I found out that they host DIY parties and teach people how to cut and create their own bottle artwork.  We chatted for a few minutes while they wrapped up my purchase and then the woman told me that I was their first sale that day, and so she was giving me a special gift…

photo 2-1I got a Ling Bling! The artist, Lori Merck Ingwerson, creates these whimsical charmed sun catchers, calls them Ling Blings and gives them to her friends (and customers!) to remind us to be thankful…for what was, what is and what is yet to come.  She sends them with people when they travel and asks that they leave the bling somewhere for someone else to find or to give it away and then to send her a picture of your bling out in the world.  This kind of thing is totally up my alley!  And that’s exactly what I told her when she gave it to me.

I love the idea of giving thanks, of gratitude, and especially of gratitude in action.  I’ve written here before about one of my favorite authors, Brene’ Brown.  She is also a researcher who studies shame.  Which might sound kind of sad, but in the process of studying shame, she has discovered and taught many ways to live courageously and authentically. One of her findings is that people who practice gratitude often feel a deep sense of joy in their lives.  She writes in her book “Daring Greatly” about practicing gratitude.  She says, “I use the word practicing because the research participants spoke of tangible practices, more than merely an attitude of gratitude or feeling grateful.  In fact, they gave specific examples of gratitude practices that included everything from keeping gratitude journals and gratitude jars to implementing family gratitude rituals.”

When I got my ling bling, I immediately thought of this idea and I love how this artist is doing something to spread the spirit and action of gratitude in others. I’ve kept a gratitude journal (because Oprah said to!)  on and off for years.  During some seasons of life I write in it every night, other times I use it more sporadically, and there have been stretches of time when it’s been almost forgotten.  The practice of writing down things, people or situations for which I’m thankful has pulled me through some tough times and helped me savor the sweet seasons of life.  What I’ve found though is that whether it’s a rough season or smooth sailing, I can always find something to be thankful for, and in addition, perhaps most importantly, the more I notice the good things, the more good things show up in my life.

Perhaps a little example of this is that one day this week, as I often am, I was thinking of what I might like to write about.  This ling bling popped into my mind and I decided I would write about it and thankfulness.  So I was scheming up how I’d compose this post, and on that same day I was to teach a lesson to a girls running group that I coach.  When I flipped to that day’s lesson in my coaching manual, I got another little gift from the universe…the topic I was to teach to my little runner-girls…gratitude!  So we practiced turning our ungrateful thoughts into grateful ones.  And then we ran our hearts out!

So I’m holding on to my ling bling for now.  It’s hanging on a hook, right across from where I eat breakfast each morning and where I finish up this blog each week, and I’m looking at it and I’m looking for a good time to give it away or leave it on my path for someone new to pick up and carry on.

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For each lap the girls ran, we wrote a letter or a heart. These rock stars busted out 16 laps! I’m so grateful for these girls, our whole little running crew and the lessons I teach and learn along with them.

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I’m grateful for these friends! I’m grateful for spring, sunshine, wine, artists who share their work with the world, ling blings, food trucks and all my people (I hope you know who you are! 😉

 

 

Being Youer

A few things have happened with my students at school recently that got me thinking even more than usual about how hard or easy it is to be yourself. I probably think about this on a daily basis as I try encourage my students through peer pressure situations, to do what they know is right or want to do no matter what anybody else says or does.  That last part about “no matter what anybody else says or does,” is from a wonderful program the kids went through from the Camp Fire organization, and we say it so often that the kids finish my sentence in a sing song-y kind of way.  But still, they struggle with it. And it breaks my heart sometimes.

It was recently Dr. Seuss’s birthday. In many schools, and in years past at our school, this is cause for celebration of the dress up like a cat in a hat variety.  Except that, this year, for I don’t know what reason or no real reason at all, we didn’t plan a dress up day.  One little girl did her own though. Picture cute painted on whiskers and a fluffy black tail pinned to her pants. Adorable, right?  Except she didn’t think so.  I imagine she loved it at home, but changed her mind when she walked into school and saw no one else dressed up.  She had washed the whiskers off before I even saw her.  In fact, I didn’t even notice the faint remnants of them on her cheeks when I greeted her at the classroom door.  What I did notice though, were her red eyes, though she was trying hard to look like she wasn’t crying. It took a bit of cajoling for her to tell me why she was upset and to reveal the tail that she was hiding under her jacket.  I offered all kinds of ideas and tried my best to pump her up to stay in costume and wear what she had planned, but she wasn’t having it.  She wanted the tail off and to wash her face even more.  I wished I could have encouraged her to celebrate and wear what she had planned even though no one else was, but I had to respect her feelings, so I took the tail off for her and I could see the relief flood through her.

On the flip side of this being yourself thing, a few days later we had a book fair at school and a family night when kids from all the grades and their parents came to school at night to shop for books.  I was there chatting and visiting with the kids and their families, when one of my students yelled my name across the very crowded room.  And as I started to walk over to him, he yelled some more, seeming no to care at all who heard, “None of my friends are getting historical books! I’m the only one!” I started to respond with what I thought was some good teacher cheer-leading, “That’s okay.  You can get whichever books YOU want.” But he didn’t need it.  He was already shouting again and smiling, “I don’t care if no one else gets these books! I LOVE history! I can’t wait to read these!”  High five, buddy!

What is it that makes it so easy sometimes and so hard other times?  So easy for some kids (and grown ups!) and so hard for others?  I feel like we’ve come so far as a whole society in what we know about how to help people build self esteem.  We teach kids so many coping skills now that I know I wasn’t taught in elementary school.  But still, that doesn’t take away the individual struggles and learning that each person must go through.  I wish I could take away the struggling times for my students (and family and friends and self), but I know I can’t and, as hard as it feels, I know that taking it away might not even be best, because it is often those times of struggle that build who we are, who we become.  I came across this sentence in my morning book by Mark Nepo the other day and it beautifully reminds me of this lesson,  “Too often we struggle stubbornly in an attempt to protect ourselves from the friction of being alive, when it is precisely that friction that works our spirit into a seeable gem.” So if I can’t take the struggle away, I’ll try to do what I can — love them (us) through it and bring attention to the shining gem that is always peeking through. Shine on, kids! Whiskers, history books and all!

Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true, there is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU! - Dr. Seuss

‘Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true, there is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU!’ – Dr. Seuss  Special thanks to my friend MC for making this pic of me!

 

 

Be a Mind Pen Pal

That little gem of advice up there is brought to you by one of my first graders.  Allow me to explain and then maybe you’ll want to join us in sending some love notes.

On a recent January morning, we were having a class conversation as we prepared to attend an all school meeting.  We were talking about how to participate in a meeting with all the kids in the whole school, and I was trying to push my students past their usual responses geared toward politeness – be quiet when someone is speaking, sit still, don’t put anything in the person next to you’s ear – that kinda stuff.  I was urging them to participate actively.  I said something like, “If someone asks a question, really try to think about the answer in your mind. It’s not enough to just sit there like a cute, little ball of first grader being still and quiet.  You have to be engaged. Maybe even raise your hand and say your ideas out loud.” Then a little girl warned, “But if someone says the wrong answer, don’t laugh at them.”  I started to smile and nod, but she followed up with a question, “Well what SHOULD you do then?”  It was kind of a dose of my own medicine because I’m always asking them that, “If you’re NOT going to _______, fill in the blank – run, hit, use your pencils as swords – what WILL you do?”  A few kids started to pipe in their own answers, “Nothing.”  “Yeah, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Fine choices, really.  Wouldn’t we rather them sit quietly than laugh at someone? But what if I pushed them a little more here.  There was a little seed I’d been wanting to plant in them.  “Well, maybe you could do better than nothing, maybe you could send them a little love.”  To which they replied, “EWWWWWWW!!!!”  With grossed-out six-year-old  faces, giggling and some kissy noises.  “No, not that kind of mushy-gushy, boyfriend-girlfriend kind of love.  That’s not even allowed in first grade.  I mean kindness.  What if you just thought a little message of kindness in your mind like you were talking to that person, something like, ‘It’s ok, friend.  We all make mistakes.  You’re still a good person.  And we love you.’  Maybe think that.  I wonder if the person would be able to feel those thoughts. ” And that’s when a little guy in the front row chimed in with, “Be a mind pen pal!  Like you’re writing nice notes to people, but in your MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND! (taps head for emphasis)”  YES! Right on, dude!

I’d actually been trying this out myself for a few months before I urged the kids toward it.  A few times recently, the idea of purposely sending positive thoughts out to others has crossed my path.  Over the summer, I read a book called ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ by James Redfield.  Early in the book, a few characters are discussing an experiment testing the effects of positive human attention on plants.  I’m not sure of the scientific validity of the whole thing, the book is a novel geared toward spirituality,  but in the story, they ask a person to sit with some plants and mentally ask them to grow stronger and to focus all his attention and concern on their growth.  Can you guess what happens?  They grew faster and stronger.  When I read this part, I pictured myself in my classroom with my students gathered around in a circle as we do before we start each day.  I imagined myself mentally asking them to grow and learn.  I wondered what impact my positive thoughts might have on them.

Fast forward a few weeks into the school year, after I’d been mentally urging my students to grow and learn every morning when I remembered. I came across another inspiration about sending silent messages to others.  I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s.  She wrote a post recently in which she asked her readers, “Are you searching for the light?”  Her advice, if you are, is to BE the light.  Liz went on to describe how, in a time of deep depression,  she developed a practice of silently wishing blessings upon the people she passed on the street.  She would think to them, “May you know happiness.  May you be free from suffering.”  She told how she often wished these blessings to strangers, so she wasn’t sure if it was working for the people she blessed, but that she began to feel it working in herself.  It made her move her focus off of her own sadness and on to others in the form of positivity.

So I’ve been trying to expand my mind messages beyond a morning wish for learning.  I send them often now during my days, to strangers when I’m out and about, to my friends and family near and far,  but I do it especially at school with my little learners.  When they’re distracted and I’m waiting for them to pay attention, “May you have good things on which to focus your attention.  May you develop self control.”  When they’re sad because someone teased them, “May you know you’re worthy, no matter what anyone else says.”  When they’re nervous and don’t want to try something new or hard, “May you know your own strength. May you be surrounded by people who will encourage you.” When they make me laugh, “May you experience so much happiness.”  Of course, I very often speak these words out loud to them. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to be changing them, but it’s definitely changing me.  It sets my focus on the positive leaving less room for worry or frustration when things get uncomfortable.  It cultivates a calmness in me and I hope that seeps out into the classroom… and beyond.

A job perk of being a teacher is that the kids give me lots of cute little notes, and while the ones I give them aren’t often made with crayons, I hope they know we’re pen pals.

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#18 – An Invisible Thread

It’s a book I read.  I read it in the summertime actually. I’ve been taking advantage of some Christmas vacation days to catch the blog up to real life time.  Here’s a little something…

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place and circumstance.  The thread may stretch or tangle.  But it will never break.”  This book tells the story of the connection between the author, Laura Schroff and a little boy named Maurice.

In the 1980s, Laura was successfully working in the advertising business in Manhattan and admits that she barely noticed 11-year-old Maurice begging for money as she passed him on the street one day.  She said that his call for spare change, at first, seemed like nothing more than noise.  She said it was the kind of noise that New Yorkers learn to tune out.  She ignored him.  She kept on walking. Until something made her stop. Something made her go back to him and she took him to McDonald’s for dinner.  Then she went back a week later and took him to dinner again.  She went back again and again and what started as a weekly meal developed into a life-changing relationship for both Laura and Maurice, a connection that would last for decades and counting.

Throughout their meetings Laura learns the difficult details of Maurice’s life, living in poverty, surrounded by drugs and crime.  She buys him a watch so he will not be late for school, packs him lunches, takes him to baseball games, meets his teachers, does his laundry, worries about him, listens to him.  She becomes a sort of mentor/parent to him. Throughout the book, Laura also shares stories of her own childhood and how her relationship with Maurice expanded her family and happiness.

Something about acts of kindness always gets my attention.  I almost just called this a “random” act of kindness, but really that’s exactly the author’s point. She didn’t think her actions that first day were random at all.  She felt there was some force that drew she and Maurice together, that they were destined to meet, connected by one of those invisible threads. What if that’s true for all of our lives? I think it’s a nice thought – to imagine all those invisible threads connecting me to the people in my past, present and future.  It makes me think of lots of happiness and fun, family and friends and love and lessons learned. Plus it’s kind of exciting to think about who I’m connected to and haven’t even met yet! Do you believe that ancient Chinese proverb?  Either way, we definitely need more courage and kindness like Laura’s in this world. Read the book! Or at least go be kind to a stranger.  I’m going to try to.