Do you know someone who feels alone? Do you have someone in your life; your child, your student, a friend, a partner, or someone you pass by occasionally, that you can tell is suffering?Last weekend I had the honor of performing at a benefit for Kid in The Corner and I MUST SHARE their mission and message of kindness, inclusion, community, and hope. This organization exists because of one parent’s worst nightmare. Please stay with me and read this to the end and then hopefully you’ll be moved to take some action, no action is too small, to reach out to someone who may be struggling with this life. Even if that someone is you, it still counts. Personally, when I’m down just the act of helping someone else keeps me going for at least the rest of the day.If you are a teacher or community leader anywhere in the world, please consider bringing Kid in the Corner out to share their important work toward ending the stigma around mental illness. Contact info is here.Thestory of how Kid in The Cornercame to be:On June 13, 2017, we lost Zach Sumner to suicide.
“This heartbreaking tragedy rocked our community to its core. In the days and weeks that followed, stories emerged about how Zachary was always looking out for and reaching out to the kid in the corner, those kids who felt alone and isolated. He touched more people in his short life than most people ever do. Zach was a giver with a keen eye for those in need. Yet sadly, he didn’t feel the reciprocation when he himself became the kid in the corner. We believe that through education, awareness, kindness, and community connectedness, we can help change the story for the next Kid in the Corner. Our vow to Zach is to honor his legacy by continuing the incredibly important work he started.” Francine Sumner, Zach’s mother
On Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, the first fundraiser event was held. Performers from every corner of Phoenix and one from L.A. came together in the hopes of raising money to keep their message going anywhere it needs to be heard. Following is an excerpt from Zach’s Mom, Francine, speech to all of us, audience and performers that night.
Welcome back! Thank you all so much for coming tonight!I can’t begin to tell you how amazing and overwhelming it is to have you all here tonight with me. With us.…My son Zachary…is the reason we’re here. He’s the inspiration for Kid in the Corner. I would give anything—my money, my home, my possessions, even my own life—to have Zachary with us here tonight. But that’s not gonna happen. Let me tell you why Zachary’s the inspiration for KITC…. We started KITC to shatter the stigma and start difficult conversations about mental illness. But it is also about kindness. Contagious kindness. Because that’s Zachary. All the time. Every day. It wasn’t pre-planned, and it wasn’t for attention. It’s just who he was.Just a couple of quick examples
All through school ……His best friend all the way through school was Jake. Jake has Autism. Zachary was always looking out for him: he would accompany him anywhere—to class, to the bathroom, to lunch every single day. Every Friday, we would go to the Dollar Store so Zach could buy things each week to motivate Jake to behave well and do his work. When he was 13, he created a team for the Walk for Autism and raised the most money of any individual that year. Trust me, Jake never felt alone.
I just used the phrase, “contagious kindness.” Let me tell you what I mean by that; One night, my daughter Gabrielle …. pulled into a Circle K to get gas, and she saw Zach in the far corner of the parking lot, so she went to see what he was doing. He had just gotten meals for a family that was homeless. And my daughter thought, “I’m not gonna let my little brother upstage me. I’m going to go buy a meal for a homeless family too.” And she did. Contagious kindness at its finest.
Another time, Zach, my daughter, and I were shopping. Zach was bored, so he went over to the pet store next door. When we were done, Zach was nowhere to be found. After waiting a while, we were getting impatient, so we went into the pet store to look for him. He was at the cash register checking out. We walked outside, and he walked right over to a Humane Society drive and handed them a bag that included every item on their wish list. And he walked away and said, “Have a nice day.” The woman there said, “Is this your son?” I said yes, and she said, “You should be really proud of him.”
I could go one. There are so many stories just like these. These are only some stories that I knew about. After he died, I learned of a lot more. And I’m sure there are so many stories like these that I will never know about.So After his very first breakdown, when I heard him say through tears , “I care so much about other people, why doesn’t anyone care about me?” You can imagine how excruciating that was for me. This of course was not true. But he felt so alone. He felt like the Kid in the Corner. He was the Kid in the Corner.So, what can we do? How do we make sure kids don’t ask that same question? Through education, through promoting contagious kindness, and through making sure kids have the right resources. They need to know it’s okay not to be okay, and that it’s a strength to be able to ask for help. That’s KITC’s mission. We believe that we can make a difference in every school, to every student, every teacher, every parent, and every community leader. Invite us to come to your school, community center, church, or synagogue so we can tell our story. So we can begin to change the culture I make this pledge to you tonight—I will make a difference. I will fight like hell—with every ounce of strength that I possess—to make sure that what happened to my family never happens to yours or your loved ones.But you people aren’t off the hook. I want you to make a pledge tonight too. Zach was a coin collector. When he died, we found thousands of pennies he had collected. We decided to drill holes in them and wear them as a reminder to live our lives the way that he did. This simple act of wearing a penny has turned into one of the cornerstones of our organization. When we go to schools, we have the kids take the penny pledge: We pledge to reach out to people—people who are new, who are down, who have been absent. We pledge to take care of our own mental health, to reach out for help when we need it. And we pledge to wear our pennies as a physical sign to others that we will always be a safe and caring person that they can come to. Now it’s your turn. Take out the pennies from the bags inside your envelopes. Put them around your neck,Everyone ready? Hold onto your penny, and repeat after me:The Penny Pledge is here!My hope for the new year is that you all wear your pennies proudly. Go out and make a difference for the next kid in the corner! Help continue Zach’s legacy.Thank you all so much,Enjoy the rest of the show.
Kindness is ultimately the mission for every single human being. Now, more than ever. As a parent, as someone’s child, as a teacher, and as a citizen, I’m inspired to help change pain. I wasn’t able to help my own father’s, who died by suicide, but maybe I can aid in easing someone else’s. Please feel free to reach out to me directly – to help you bring Kid in The Corner to your school or community or if you’d just like me to listen. Karensuzanneburns@gmail.com. KITC email: email@example.com There is a resource section on their website if you. or someone you know, is in crisis.
Mothers, Gratitude, Regret, and Wishful Thinking
Tomorrow on our cul-de-sac we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving. A 24-pound turkey, Al, will not be thawed by tomorrow. Dinner may be late for our small gathering this year of 15. I am thankful to have a warm, welcoming home for 15 people to sit down together and laugh more than we cry -or drink.My mother passed away this past Nov. 6th at 7:30 AM. My alarm went off at 7:30 and as I rolled over to hit snooze I noticed I wasn’t coughing up small hamsters from my lungs for the very first time in 3 months. When I stood up from my all too comfy bed I was hit by a weight of depression I hadn’t been experiencing for the last couple of months, so I noticed.I got a call at 12:10 PM. letting me know my mother had passed away a bit unexpectedly. It was nice of her to take my cough with her. I’m sure it’s just a weird coincidence. But, still, it’s weird.When my husband, the-very-patient-man, and I decided to have children I vowed to do everything I could to give my children a different childhood than mine. I succeeded and failed.Now that one is in college and one a recent college graduate living her dream life in California, I have too much time to miss: their magical imaginations, shopping for their food and entertainment and education and positive reinforcements. I miss the few and far-between moments of my own mother’s attempts to do the same for me. My ‘nows’ are often made up of ‘thens’ and the wishful thinking that I could have done better, at everything. I miss the way our life was, even in the midst of loving the way our life is.I have regret. Mom and I shared a love of Erma Bombeck’s humorous truths. Deeply. We bonded over, The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank and every other thing Erma wrote or said out loud.This past Thursday night my very-patient-man generously agreed to see a performance piece of Erma’s life, “At Wit’s End” at The Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. A week and 2 days after she died. I was profoundly moved by this following bit of Erma wisdom. Regrets for the times I didn’t cherish being a mother, the times I abhorred my own, the times I was too self-involved to be present around the sweet people who cross my path.This Thanksgiving I will be using my mother’s recipes and dishes that I’ve been using since we got married 25 years ago. I’m expecting a new wave of moments lost and grief. This post is to encourage you to be like Erma and live your life as if it’s a gift, instead of a burden to be survived. I’m hoping to be grateful more than usual during this weird Thanksgiving. Try to take a moment to pull your now out of where you left it and be present where you live.
Someone asked me the other day if I had my life to live over would I change anything.
My answer was no, but then I thought about it and changed my mind.
If I had my life to live over again I would have waxed less and listened more.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy and complaining about the shadow over my feet, I’d have cherished every minute of it and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was to be my only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten popcorn in the “good” living room and worried less about the dirt when you lit the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would have burnt the pink candle that was sculptured like a rose before it melted while being stored.
I would have sat cross-legged on the lawn with my children and never worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television … and more while watching real life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband which I took for granted.
I would have eaten less cottage cheese and more ice cream.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick, instead of pretending the Earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for a day.
I would never have bought ANYTHING just because it was practical/wouldn’t show soil/ guaranteed to last a lifetime.
When my child kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now, go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more I love yous … more I’m sorrys … more I’m listenings … but mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute of it … look at it and really see it … try it on … live it … exhaust it … and never give that minute back until there was nothing left of it.”
I hope you spend your time and your memories well. This is encouragement to live ‘now’ so you don’t end up ‘nowhere.’I’d love to hear how you live with or without regret!
Empathy Moves Mountains
This is just a reminder that your empathy will always be more important, more impactful, and more life changing to this world than your opinion ever will be. Empathy removes confining walls and allows space for healing and understanding. Empathy moves mountains. – Kate Held
In My Opinion, now, more than ever (or so it seems) in this hateful political, intolerant climate, we desperately need to consider the experience of those around us. We all tend to be in our own bubble, just trying to get from A to B as fast as possible and with the least amount of difficulty. For some of us, A and B are fantastic destinations filled with people we love and work that’s important. For some, A and B is barely tolerable and always hellish in the journey and destination.Putting our feet into someone else’s life is empathy. Some empathetic reflexes don’t require thinking…we wince when we see someone get hurt, for exp. (Unless someone trips in a movie or TV series or my living room, then it’s just an automatic laugh-out-load reflex to me. I cannot control this reaction, it’s guaranteed and loud and probably says more about my base sense of humor than I would like to acknowledge) — But true empathy, requires thinking. I’m fascinated by the people who walk my part of the planet whose work it is to serve me in someway. Fast food servers always break my heart because I know this must be one of the hardest jobs ever. When I encounter a person of a certain age working at McDonalds my heart breaks on the spot and so I genuinely ask how they’re doing and do my best to make them laugh.Recently I’ve developed an addiction to McDonalds Mocha Frappe’s, in my defense I’ve been ridiculously sick for the last 3 months which is what brought me to order one in the first place. Starbucks was all the way across the street. I was down, exhausted, coughing uncontrollably, and on my way to teach dance. Like a gift from God this phenomenal, delishishness sang to me from that lighted order board in the drive-thru and upon the first sip gave me the will to live I’d been lacking. There is no excuse as to why I keep going back. That is just weak-willed-sloth-like behavior in search of frozen mocha happiness drizzled in chocolate. DO NOT EVER TRY ONE OF THESE. You will live to regret the extra pounds included in each serving.But, I digress. A couple of weaks (spelled this way intentionally) ago, at the McDonald’s window where they take the low, low amount of $2.16 for a small mocha frappe, I slightly recognized the profile and voice of the cashier. Hesitantly I spoke her name very quietly, in case I was wrong, and yes, it was this old pseudo-friend. She’s now in her 50’s, divorced and I happen to know she lost custody of her kids…and she’s a cashier at McDonalds. This is an irregular person for me, someone I needed to cut out of our lives, but at this moment I wanted to comfort/encourage/respect/forgive her, because this has to be a such tough part of her life. She didn’t let on to me if she was embarrassed to be seen, in fact, she smiled and laughed when she said “Yep! Cashier at McDonalds!” I’m hoping she’s just happy to be getting back on her feet and doesn’t feel the need for empathy.Our lives collide with peeps living a different life every time we pull out of the garage: the homeless person with a dog on the corner, the botox-ed woman in designer clothes cutting in front everyone else to valet park her Beamer at the Vig, the father of 5 who is screaming and running after each kid simultaneously in Albertsons wishing he’d given birth to goats instead of these small slippery humans, the neighbor who can afford to completely make-over their entire house and yard on a whim, the neighbor who hasn’t even looked at the weeds in their yard in 2 years…and then, there’s our children. Our children have a different world to survive than we, their parents, have experienced. Looking in their eyes, if at all possible (!) and purposefully listening will bring our lives to a level playing field in almost any scenario.However, today there was another mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA. One of our families favorite places that is home to people whom we love and cherish. The 307th mass killing this year. Three Hundred and Seven. And this is where I find my empathy completely lacking. There are too just too many horrific examples of lifestyles colliding; school shooter, mugger, rapist, angry politicians from any party, slanderous omnipresent political ad’s, large white SUV’s on the freeway in a bigger hurry than I am, and sometimes just coming into contact with our cat’s innate predatory nature is just more than anyone should be able to withstand. I’m thinking that maybe if we knew someone before they became a menace to humanity and animal life, paid attention to their walk on this planet they wouldn’t arrive at the choices they’ve made or perhaps would’ve been moved toward seeking help before hateful words or murder…It’s just a theory and a theory I don’t know if I can achieve. We all have mountains to move, some are Everest, some are really more of a bunny hill. The size of the mountain doesn’t matter, it’s how we speak to it that does. Here in America we have way too many Everests.My heart breaks on a daily basis lately. Hence this post.Are you capable of empathizing with ‘irregular people’? Please let me know how.TIA
10 Ways to Be Kind You Didn’t Think Would Count
You don’t have to do big things in every moment of every day, even simple, small things will change the world.10 things you can do this week to feel better about yourself and maybe set a good example to someone…your child, your mate, total strangers, squirrels.1. Put your grocery cart in the corral, even when no one else is around. I do this because I’m trying not to be an asshole. Putting your things away is the nice thing to do. AND! 10 minutes ago, when I started to return my cart on this rainy day (sprinkling lightly, it’s Arizona so we think even humidity counts for rain), a perfect gentleman came over to me and said, “I’ll take that” and he took it! He returned it to it’s little corral where it snuggled up next to its fellow carts. I am not a feeble looking woman. I assume he was walking by and thought, “I’m going that way anyway.” It surprised me, in a good way. Note, to self, I will do this someday too.2. Do something nice for yourself. You count too. Stop for one minute and meditate: my favorite free app is Insight Timer. This one minute meditation by Don Reed Simmons reminds me that “I am safe, I am accepted, I am forgiven, and I am loved” among other important tactics to get through a day somewhat peacefully. You can always meditate longer, I have a short attention span. Get a pedicure, a massage, a facial! Call on a phone and speak out loud to a friend. Pet an animal that you like, it increases Oxytocin which can increase empathy and reduces anxiety! Breathe. In and out. Not just in. Dance-anywhere, everywhere, at any time. I recommend the kitchen.3. Forgive someone who pissed you off or trampled your herd of kangaroo’s. Forgiving and letting go requires some patience and resillience. But, I genuinely believe your life will improve if you manage to fully let go. Once you have accomplished this garganguatan task, see #2 for how to reward yourself.4. Forgive yourself. Harder than those two words imply.5. Be kind to the planet. Turn off your lights when you’re not in the room, drive less, walk or carpool more, recycle even when it isn’t convenient.6. Shop locally owned businesses and be respectful and a delight while your there. Support your local ‘hood and when you park, stay within the painted lines. Leave room.7. Look food servers in the eye, smile, use their name if offered, speak gently and reward good service with more than a 20% tip. Even if you’re not in the mood.8. Be the first to apologize. It’s gracious. And grace is always a good thing.9. Compliment a stranger. Sincerely.10. Be inspired by Helen. Saint Helen, a neighbor and friend, has a table set up in front of her door with cold water and snacks for Amazon, UPS and postal workers with a sign that says “We ♥ our delivery drivers! Please help yourself to a drink and a snack.” Here in the Arizona inferno, this seems an inspired way to keep delivery peeps alive while they frantically run from house to house with no air conditioning.Do you have a number 11 to share? Please do! We all need prompts as we go out into our own personal inferno’s.
August 20, 2018
Kindness tip of the week:
look for the funny in everything and life is easier to handle.
The-Very-Patient-Husband accompanied me to a doctor’s appointment on Friday. It was a serious appointment, we were both a little nervous and became even more so when the nurse greeted us. She seemed a bit peeved about…perhaps, the idiocy of our world, the people in it, and most likely her job specifically (I’m just guessing). Maybe she hadn’t had any coffee yet, that would do it for me.Now, to add to this prickly mood that she wasn’t informed earlier I’m allergic to the ultrasound cord, plus the room is tiny and I was in her way, then I didn’t lay down fast enough on the table and didn’t point my face in the desired direction quickly enough so she felt she had to shove it there. I was this hell to have biopsy’s taken from my thyroid because I have tumors that appear cancerous. It was, I was…tense. At this point, I had only spoken three small sentences, “Hi.” and “I’m severely allergic to the ultrasound cord. It needs to wrapped.” The-Very-Patient-Husband was fervently patting my foot in his attempt to let me know this was all okay. But, it didn’t seem like that to me. This woman was about to assist putting several needles into my neck…I decided I didn’t have cancer and it was time to bolt. I started to slide off the table when the nurse was facing away from us trying to unsuccessfully wrap the ultrasound cord and sighing. Loudly. But, The-Very-Patient-Husband started laughing a little and mouthed “I think she’s having a bad day.” His understatement was hilarious. We had a two second glance that changed us. We were not laughing at her, in fact, we didn’t actually laugh. We just noticed that this wasn’t a life or death situation and therefore, we could lighten up. This is why I married him. He makes me laugh. He changed both of us in this one observation. So I stayed on the table. The doctor came in, the nurse relaxed and I did not fear for my life when the needles came in to explore.By the time we left, ‘our nurse’ even smiled at us and told The-Very-Patient-Husband to take me out to lunch. He didn’t. It was only 9:30 at this point. I feel certain she truly was just having a bad day. A day that started way before we arrived. Everyone in this office is wonderful, but no one can be wonderful for days and years on end. The next time you run into a similar kerfuffle, step aside and look for the amusing. I hope you always find it. Your life will get easier if you manage to try this long enough to become a habit.I know for a fact that my sense of humor has gotten me through more than a million difficult encounters and, ultimately, kept me alive. More on this later. This is just one example of humor diffusion. Do you have any?The Butterfly Effect concept has grown from the scientific finding that one flap of a butterfly’s wings can cause a tornado, to also include: one kindness, one shared laugh, one empathetic action can spread out past our imaginations. But, the counter argument is also true; one slur, one lie, one gunshot, can spread the same distance as compassion.I love most stories, but sharing a story that might make life easier for someone else, is a story with a higher purpose.Tell the world a good/funny story through the comment section here ⇓. It can be your one kind thing you do today.Thank you in advance! I look forward to the laugh.Karen
July 24, 2018My act of kindness this week was not killing anyone. The difference between me and people who actually do kill people is I never actually think about snuffing out a life. This week I just wanted to defend myself, in an angry tone, with a strongly worded text, and I didn’t. I listened and realized the attack wasn’t about me, it was about them, and in that moment of clarity, I calmed down.A couple of difficult people passed through my life this week and made me question the future of humanity. I’m a theater teacher and I direct musicals for younger kids during the summer. Shockingly, there are stage parents who believe their child is the most talented kid in any room! This was my first time dealing with such vehement aggression on this topic. Not everyone was born to play Annie…if you are 14, 5’10”, or a male with your voice changing who can’t be heard 5 feet away, I probably will not cast you as the tiny orphan Annie. Especially if there is an 11-year-old with a Broadway belt available. Sigh. It’s over now and I am proud to say, in this particular instance, that I was patient. Not so much on the drive home, so by the time I got home it was time to retreat from reality.One of my fave comfort movies is You’ve Got Mail. I rented it and retreated to the couch, applied a dog and a cat on feet and tummy and disappeared until this scene ↓virtually jumped out at me. Pretty sure this captures both sides of most difficult encounters.
Are you Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan when confronted by someone who belittles your existence? Do you become tongue-tied or do you say the thing you most want to say only to be filled with remorse the second after you’ve said it? I am both and I’d love to hear from you how you handle challenging individuals. Seriously.It seems there’s always someone, or something, trying to steal my joy. I’m a flawed human being. I’m reckless and clumsy so I’m almost always in pain which depresses me and makes being open and friendly just that much more challenging. But,I am determined to change the world one smile at a time, even if it kills me, which it almost has a couple of times.I can’t be the only person who struggles with trying to be a light in my corner of the world, all the while being a flawed human surrounded by other flawed humans.I honestly do love to meet new people, to smile and sincerely ask store clerks how they’re doing, to find the humor in every situation, to look into a student’s eyes to see what’s really going on under the surface, but I feel it needs to be said, that sometimes, I fail.Here’s how I manage to leave my house, my tormented brain and body, and attempt to be a bright spot to those around me:♥ I choose to believe everyone is doing their best, including me, knowing it isn’t always the case. We all get tired and frustrated and want to lash out.
We all seem to have an element of fear lurking just under the surface now in our country, and well, the world, which makes us careful and suspicious and is exhausting.
♥ It is vitally important to stop to play every day. I learned this from father and it has sincerely saved my life more than once. ♥ Ideas for playing:A quick game on your phone. Candy Crush and Tetris work for me. It turns out there is scientific proof games that include dropping columns help release anxiety and PTSD. Tetris and TraumaA funny cat video: in fact, start your day with a funny cat video and everything else immediately becomes a lighter burden, maybe even burden-less. Sail Cat (no cats were harmed during this filming. WATCH THE EARS!) I laugh every single time I watch this.Call and speak out loud to a friend you love.Thank God for giving us a sense of what’s funny and the ability to laugh at our predicaments.
“I believe laughter is a sacred sound to God. It let’s Him know we are enjoying being His creation.” Tim Hansell
DANCE BREAK! Ask Alexa to play your favorite song and bust a move. This is my favorite personal coping mechanism and it works like magic.That’s it for now. Hope this helps diffuse even one icky interaction.July 13, 2018We have this great place in my hood to meet for coffee, or to get a little work done with a cup of coffee out among other human beings. The first time I walked into this new place to meet a friend, Kathy (she’s very nice, you should try to meet her there for coffee too), I immediately noticed that I suddenly was in a better frame of mind. I almost never notice things like that, but goodness is obvious here the moment you walk in.Coffee brings us together, doesn’t it? It’s a bit of a treat. It provides a socially acceptable meeting location for our stimulant fixes.It’s possible that the late, great, NBC sitcom Friends and Central Perk may have given us this gift of a great way to hang together. Phoebe, Joey, Rachel, Chandler, Ross and Rachel became a family at Central Perk.We meet friends or get a pick me up to brighten our days at coffee houses. If you’re ever in my area, I strongly urge you to go to Black Rock Coffee Bar! This is who they are:
THE WAY WE LIVE
We strive for excellence in everything we do in life. Our crafted drinks are a way we show respect for our customers and ourselves. They are the beginning of a relationship built on trust and care that through time grows to see our stories unfold in our city.As part of local communities, each Black Rock Coffee Bar team finds ways to serve their neighborhoods. And by doing so we help raise the bar for relationship and compassion.
As relationship grows, so does accountability. We hold each other to higher standards for the good of all. Whether it be care for nature, care for those in need, or just a sincere desire to see others do well, we learn to expect a lot from each other and a lot for our customers.
Our priority at Black Rock is not for others to know who we are and what we do… but for others to allow us to know them, to add fuel to their story, and to share in the journey.
When I grow up, I want to be just like the peeps that began Black Rock Coffee Bar. My local one is in Chandler, AZ, but they exist in several cities. Check out their website to see if there’s one near you and then stay there to read every single word about who they are. I was inspired to become a better person just by reading their website. Truly.
Are you busy this Sunday at 1:00 PM? Cause I’m gonna be at the Chandler location working on my laptop and enjoying some form of espresso. Come on by and say hi! We can chat. Maybe we’ll become Friends. You’ll find my picture on the home page and my laptop has the initials KB in gold glitter on the cover. Even if no one shows up, I will be happier just because I got to spend time among kind people. I hope you’ll stop by though! I’ll see if Kathy can come…you’ll like her.
I hope you’ll at least drive through for a delicious cup of coffee one day when you need a little goodness. Smile at your barista and tell them Karen sent you!
July 2, 2018
Kindness tip for the week:
It’s okay to ask for help.
Allowing help gives a chance to shorten the distance between loneliness and a life shared.
Many Christmases ago I asked for a new kitchen table, the current table was about to disband into dust. The husband, Keith, found a very cute table at Wal-Mart online. It was delivered with “some assembly required” about a week before Christmas to our neighbor Jeff’s house. We have the family Christmas Eve dinner at our house. I save the four fancy plates we got for our wedding for this night, or really, there is never an occasion to use them. Since we only have the four, it takes awhile to make the table appear like it was arranged with a festive plan in mind. I spend about an hour, choosing the tablecloth and napkins, setting the table, arranging the seating and centerpiece until we can all fit IF we keep our elbows in, and I’m reasonably happy it looks magical. After baking and cooking all morning/month I thankfully disappear to finish wrapping presents behind closed doors while something cooks slowly in the oven. Egg Nog may, or may not, be involved. Every year this is my schedule. Every. Single. Year. This particular Christmas Eve, as soon as I closed our bedroom door to tackle speed wrapping, a silent mayhem began in the kitchen. The youngest,Talia, having memorized exactly how the table was set, took everything off as quickly and quietly as she could, the husband and the oldest, Hannah, sent four texts to neighbors who were on stand by to help assemble the table and chairs, run them to our house, silently set it up in our kitchen, dispose of the old table and chairs while Talia, at the speed of light, perfectly reset the new table to look exactly like the old one. I heard nothing. The crew all excitedly waited in the kitchen for me to come out. I didn’t come out for two hours. By that time, the neighbors had left and everyone else was annoyed with me. I didn’t notice the new table when I did emerge from my wrapping cocoon, even with all the beaming faces glaring at me. Since everything looked exactly like how I left it…no need to comment. Finally, The Youngest sarcastically bellowed, “NOTICE ANYTHING DIFFERENT IN THE KITCHEN??” “Ohhhhh! New chairs!” I said, which was met with a group sigh. If I just hadn’t gone with a tablecloth that year, I would have seen the new table and we would hardly remember this even happened. We have a quality village here on the cul-de-sac. We take care of each other through giving space, but always being on hand if needed to pull a prank. The whole Christmas Eve shenanigan thing is priceless to me; the table, the group effort with their commitment to sneakery (It should be a word), the fact my husband had the thought and generosity to pull this off. We couldn’t really afford a new table then. Or truthfully, now. And almost more than anything, the poem that was propped in the middle of the table. I still can’t read it without tearing up. The words gave our lives purpose and comfort that a table is a worthy investment. This gift was way more than a new table from Wal-Mart. It was a step back to barn-raising’s and a step forward to neighbors taking care of their own in times of flooding and fires and shootings and innocent Christmas magic. We can never get rid of this table. It stands for who we are. Try to love your time with your family this week and with all of those who have landed near you. In my experience, time together as a family went faster than I could fathom. Well, on most days, some days actually went slower than originally fathomed as possible. Do you have a story? Please share it! Anywhere! A positive story can change the course of any day.
The poem that was placed on my sparkly magical Christmas table:
The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live. The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on. We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it. It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women. At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers. Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table. This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun. Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory. We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here. At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks. Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.
“There’s something happening hereWhat it is ain’t exactly clearThere’s a man with a gun over thereTelling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that soundEverybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawnNobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”
Stephen Stills 1967
Kindness is at war with evil. The battle lines are being drawn by celebrities, politicians, comedians, some cats, my next door neighbor. It’s a battle to fight violence, judgement, hatred, intolerance, apathy, by way of being consciously kind. It’s a victimless war. It’s a hard time to believe in people in the public eye — between child detention, the constant revelations of the #MeToo movement, and the racial, economic, and gender-based injustices we witness every day.
It could not be a better time for a movie about Mister Rogers. But, when has there ever been a time when it wasn’t a good idea to listen to a peaceful man? Our family went to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor this past weekend. It was a 10:00 PM showing on a Friday night after a long week. We were in recliners at the Harkins at the mall. I had a glass of champagne to sip during the movie. Our kids came with us, they’re 20 and 22, had been swimming in 110 heat for most of the day. My husband had been doing back breaking work in the yard for hours preparing for my birthday party on Sunday. Although,It was the perfect storm to sleep from opening to ending credits. No one slept. It was even kinda riveting. It’s a very quiet, beautiful film about a very quiet, beautiful man who embodies unconditional love. He makes seeking kindness first appear easy. Fred Rogers shows us that kindness is a choice we can make daily, that feelings are important and valid, and that love, or its vacancy, is the dynamic force behind our actions.
And then there’s Lady Gaga!!! She’s so much more than we were led to believe at her beginning. She is actively speaking out to make a difference in the world she sees. Personally I see humans in most places trying to change the world by spreading kindness. Here’s a thing: To be consciously kind takes a little effort, but not nearly as much as hate requires. Then! Here in Chandler, is my friend Helen. Un-frickin-believable Helen. If she reads on facebook that I’m sick or injured, which, to put into perspective, I am injured/sick more often than not-that-way, she goes into high alert as to how she can ease my pain. For exp: a coffee mug of George Clooney’s self-portrait (a personal fave), An In-N-Out gift card, root beer, chocolate covered cherries when my father died because he loved those things, anything from Disneyland that involves magic or Tigger. These perfect gifts will just appear on my doorstep, and after Helen ding dong ditches at a speed only a 5 year-old should be able to achieve, I will open the door and see only the evidence of love and compassion sitting in a potted plant. I am only one of hundreds of people she stalks for goodness. My daughter, Hannah, calls her S.O.G. for Sister of God. We are humbled by her very nature. S.O.G. you rock. Let’s be Helen today and do one thing for one person who doesn’t expect or necessarily deserve a little surprise. Even a flower from your yard on their front door is enough. Let me know if you actually do this please! Your one act of kindness shared can reach the world. This little blog alone is reaching Russia. You have a chance to reach across this huge cultural divide just by saying “Hi.” Or “I put a flower on my neighbors door. They never noticed it…”
June 20, 2018I see a world where we continually define ourselves by the way in which we are divided.Our family moved to Chandler, Arizona from Los Angeles 18 years ago. We found a nice house we could almost afford in a safe neighborhood. My husband and I had two small daughters at the time. I suggested leaving L.A. the day helicopters were hovering over our house bellowing repeatedly through a blow horn for everyone to lock all doors and windows and stay inside. An armed robber was thought to be hiding in one of our backyards after shooting the owner of our corner grocery store. I love LA, but life in Chandler has been way less “survival of the fittest.”The first day of house shopping brought us into 20 identical, beige, stucco houses in 20 different neighborhoods between Scottsdale and Chandler.Amazed at the lack of trees or anything green and the sheer amount of people that chose to landscape with beige rock, I decided we should stay in LA and take our chances. But, we tried one more house, at the urging of our eager realtor, and there, gleaming like a diamond rising up through beige stucco were the most beautiful cherry wood cabinets. We would never be able to afford cherry wood in LA, so we moved. And stayed. And planted grass and trees and painted our house a rebellious taupe. We still live in the same house we bought 18 years ago in the Fox Crossing/Ocotillo neighborhood of Southern Chandler. We landed in such a good place.Here is what I have grown to love/sometimes find annoying about living in our ‘hood:OUR NEIGHBORS!Across the street is Danielle’s family. Danielle calls me on occasion just to see if there is anything she can do for me. I teach her daughter how to play the piano. Danielle and her husband helped us move furniture we inherited from my sick mother into the house at an ungodly hour one Saturday morning. Their son has rescued our flight risk of Chewiethedog at least 3 times just because he saw her fun by his driveway. On his own initiative he hopped on his bike and ran her back home. He’s not that old. This family inspires me to reach out beyond my driveway. Every neighborhood needs a Danielle and fam.Jeff and Katie are the neighborhood welcoming committee. Friendly, always ready to lend a hand or a tablespoon of chillies, and well, they’re so much fun. Jeff own’s a pool service, works early hours, comes home for lunch and is frequently home to play with his kids when they’re done with school. He loves his stunningly beautiful and wise wife, Katie. Katie, Jeff and Danielle are incredible examples of, well, the perfect neighbors. So, I’m trying to be that too….it’s a work in progress.Here on our cul-de-sac we are divided by fences and garages, politics and income, interests and age. But, I’ve noticed that here on our little street we are better defined by our similarities. We are all humans, we are all a part of a family, we are all neighbors.If you had told me when I was 10, 20, 30, that I would want to live in a suburb one day, I would’ve never spoken to you again. But now that I’m here I see that suburbs are essentially good, and therefore valuable. We take care of each other here. We are defined by the commonality of being alive.Neighbors are anyone who you happen to be standing near. For today, I’m going to define myself as a neighbor first and try to let the rest of the crap go, i.e.: politics, interests, keeping up with the Joneses, age…barking dogs (not that our dog doesn’t bark too).It’s nice here in Fox Crossing. I’m so grateful the cherrywood cabinets yelled at me.Is your neighborhood this nice? Do you like your neighbors? Do you want to like your neighbors? I’d love to hear how your ‘hood is working out for the good of it’s inhabitants.If your neighborhood is not this nice, I suggest that you through a party in your driveway and invite every single neighbor. We have a fire in our driveway for Halloween and place invitations on every house the week before. It’s been a game changer. If you try this, let me know how it goes! This is Jeff’s business! Hayden Pool Service! He’s really good at this stuff! If you call him, tell him I sent you. Thanks for stopping by for the read.
June 13, 2018 Maybe just for today we can find a way to offer hope just by being open to someone else’s walk through humanity. In my opinion, this is vitally important because now more than ever, Americans seem to rise up through tragedy just too often to keep going on.
Jane, a friend of mine from my distant adolescence in California, posted this on Facebook after one of our way too many mass shootings, or maybe it was in response to the divisiveness of our political climate…
“This is how I have been trying to live my life in my community. I think it makes a difference somewhere. As America figures this all out, I’m going to be holding doors for strangers, letting people cut in front of me in traffic, saying good morning, being patient with a waiter, and smiling at strangers, as often as I am provided the opportunity. Because I will not stand idly by and let children live in a world where unconditional love is invisible. Join me in showing love to someone who may not necessarily deserve it. Find your own way to swing the pendulum in the direction of love. Because today, sadly, hate is winning. Just be nice to a stranger today and everyday.”
I have been the recipient of love and forgiveness when I didn’t deserve it, sadly, a lot…From Jane, from my parents, and husband and children and way too often, in traffic. On a daily basis I need to be reminded to see every person as they were originally created to be. This is actually how I start each day: A very quick prayer asking to see each person as they were meant to be, usually said as I’m literally running everywhere and traveling too quickly through my life. It helps my patience and level of joy, especially on days when I could swear I have neither. Maybe give this little thought/prayer a try tomorrow morning and see if you react differently as you wildly go about your daily life too. Then, if we crash into each other on the road or at the grocery store or waiting in line at Pei Wei, we’ll be quicker to forgive ourselves and each other in this moment where we don’t necessarily deserve it. I’d love it if you’d let me know if this helps at least you, if not everyone you encounter for the rest of your life, or at least for the next 15 minutes. Maybe 15 minutes will be enough to change your attitude for the day, or week, or forever. This attitude might ripple across the street and eventually move on to Romania and Rio de Janeiro and possibly even Rough and Ready, California. We only need to be a little light to make a difference.
How do you start your day?
On October 1, 2017, Steven Paddock had a psychotic break in Las Vegas and unleashed a string of bullets onto unsuspecting country music fans across the street from his hotel. No one saw it coming and no one knows why. Our world seems lost and out of control.
Ten years ago, I had an idea during a fabulous weekend retreat. The Walk To Emmaus. http://azemmaus.org/
On fire with a thousand grand ambitions when I got home, I started showering my children with affection, “Hannah, I made you some toast, my precious child of God.”
Hannah liked being showered with toast, so I branched out and experimented with various cashiers in our neighborhood stores. I just said, “Hi” to them though. No toast. The feedback was instantaneous, for the most part people smile in return! When I kept up this friendliness for longer than a day my kids were surprised, “What happened to you?” And more than once at Wal-Mart, cashiers remarked, “Your kindness does not go unnoticed. It makes a difference. Thank you.”
Yesterday, I watched Charlene, a cashier at my corner Albertsons calmly help a frustrated, elderly woman who had never been in an Albertsons. This woman, wearing a confusing outfit in which not one plaid article of clothing matched, was fixated on how to use the key pad to complete her transaction, while complaining on the illogical placement of everything in, not only this store, but in this state.
“Where are you from?” Charlene quietly asked with a smile, but the mismatched woman couldn’t answer, the keypad was just too baffling. In what seemed like a generation went by, Charlene, smiling the entire time, got the elderly woman successfully on her way and was still nice to the next customer in her checkout line. I think this transaction would’ve aged me.
A study, that I had nothing to do with, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed when we act kindly toward one person, that person is much more likely to be kinder toward others in the future. In this study the researchers played a game that rewarded greed, (cool??) and found that a single act of kindness could produce dozens more. If you’re nice to John in Round 1, he’d be more likely to be nice to Kristen in Round 2, and they both would be more likely to be nice in Round 3. It was a ripple effect of kindness. It starts as a single act, but it keeps spreading outward affecting so many more.
This other guy, Edward Lorenz, in a MIT study over 50 years ago, uncovered a kind of miracle about the way nature works: small changes can have large consequences. He discovered the “butterfly effect” when he suggested that the flap of a butterfly’s wings might ultimately cause a tornado.
Charlene is nice to the lost, mismatched, elderly woman who then is a little nicer in the next new store where she probably will be lost again. Charlene flapped her wings.
We can change the world in our own neighborhoods one smile at a time. Maybe, one kindness has the power to stop a random act of violence for at least a second. I’ll bet Steven Paddock’s world did not shower him with toast, or smiles.
Be the butterfly.
Just start next door. When was the last time you said hi to your neighbor?