Oh my. Following through on my commitment to do a good deed every week in my 50th year on earth is a tad more difficult than I anticipated. Always the optimist, I made my commitment with a light heart and a big agenda. The truth is, I work 50 or 60 hours a week. The time left over is spent with my family. In the real world where I live, that doesn’t leave a whole bunch of time for “other” stuff.
While I am on task with my year of giving, I definitely feel that I need to step it up. I have kept a list of the things I have done and I am technically a little ahead of schedule. So far, so good, right? So far….so far, I have taken the easy road. Gifts for people that provide the services I use everyday, free coffee for the people behind me in line at Starbucks, extreme generosity in traffic and in grocery store lines…truly, not one young mother has opened a door in my presence! Our salon serves food in a homeless shelter once a month. Beautiful. Yet, I am itching to step out of my comfort zone a bit more. I guess I am outing myself as a slacker-giver. I am vowing to get sweaty, to use my hands and not my pocketbook, to do more. What “more” will look like, I can’t say. My promise is simply to do it.
Admitting I am disappointed does not take away from the little joy cloud I have created for a dozen or so strangers and myself. I do believe that my simple acts of kindness, my smile, my helpful hand and the complimentary java have bumped up the happiness quotient around town. I agree with Mother Teresa who said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” Hopefully, a ripple effect is happening as I type. Maybe what I really am is a greedy giver. Because a little ripple is great…but darn it, I want more.
I have a confession. I feel happy to shut the door on 2010. I am eager to move on from this year. It was twelve months of rough and tumble stuff. After a challenging twelve months, asking for an upgraded experience next year feels a little like stepping up to a Craps table in Vegas… C’mon, 2011!
I was thinking about this and I realized that I turn 50 next year. I had to ask my (mildly?) vain self how I could tackle 50 and stay away from the grumpiness and angst that sometimes accompanies a milestone birthday. How can I make next year a truly great year? So I came up with a plan. Happiness studies show that people who give back are much more content than those who don’t. I am a pretty helpful sort, but there has never been any real structure around it. So here’s my pledge: In the year 2011 I will do 50 things to help someone else. At my advanced age, that averages out to almost one good deed a week, but I am up for the challenge. It might be as simple as buying the guy behind me in line at Starbucks a cup of coffee. It might be an all-day park clean up. I don’t know exactly how this will take shape. It’s exciting and I feel a little peppy just thinking about it. I will report my progress on this fabulous blog. Being very intentional with this year long adventure may prove to be quite fun. I invite any and all to join me on this journey.
It feels like less of gamble already.
In April of this year, I purchased tickets to see the Dalai Lama speak on happiness at Emory University. I bought tickets for the whole family knowing that with two college-aged kids and a husband who travels, the odds of everyone being available on a Sunday in October were a bit slim. It was an exciting day when I received the tickets in the mail. I have seen His Holiness speak once myself and knew it could be a transformative experience for the entire family. I posted the tickets on my bulletin board in my kitchen with Dalai Lama written in capital letters across the delivery envelope. It was a proclamation of excitement. Hooray! We’re going! What I didn’t do was write the date on the outside of the envelope. I didn’t even put it my calendar, the date was so firmly planted in my head. As it turns out I had memorized the wrong date. The wrong date! On Monday, I pulled the tickets down to admire them and text my far-flung family a reminder of our exciting weekend ahead. That was the moment that I realized I was a week off. He had spoken the day before. We missed it. The first thing I did was burst into tears. This wasn’t the Rolling Stones we had missed. It was perhaps the experience of a lifetime. I was so deeply saddened for my family. I was so frustrated with myself. But, of course, I had to breathe deeply. The irony of me crying over missing a lecture on happiness was not lost on me in that moment. I had to ask myself, “What would Dalai Lama do?” In an interview on the Today Show he once talked about how there really are no problems in the world for us to worry about. He said something like, “If you can do something to fix it, there is no problem. If you cannot do something to fix it, there is no problem!” And then he chuckled in that sweet Dalai Lama way. I’m not chuckling yet, but I’m trying.
This was the guy that volunteered to help families in Africa, taught autistic children, cheerfully did dishes and stirred the soup when he was over for dinner. He was naturally polite, kind and funny. I used to joke that he was so wonderful that when he smiled we had to protect our eyes from the sparkling reflection. We knew something fun was going to happen when he bounded through the door. He organized the night that a bunch of kids, including my daughter, slept in a car piled on top of each other like puppies waiting for the annual REI sale to begin. They stocked up on the gear they needed to go out there and experience nature at its finest.
Once, when she was describing him to me my daughter said, “Mom, he was “that” guy for me.” He was the guy who showed her what it was like to be in a truly safe relationship. He held her hand gently, opened her car door, brushed the hair from her eyes and looked at her with such kindness and respect that I will always be grateful to him as a mother. He set the bar high.
In April, he passed away in a rock climbing accident. It is months later and we are still trying to make sense of it. He had a beautiful relationship with God and this comforts us all.
He embraced life with a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm and joy. The life he lived reminds me to be present and enjoy the simple stuff. I appreciate the opportunity to laugh loud, sing badly and contemplate the clouds in the sky. My daughter, who is slowly healing, feels the same way. She has made changes in her life so that she is really doing what she loves most and not wasting a single second. She has said that she wants to live her life in a way that will make him proud. Once again, I am grateful.
Thank you, Josh. We miss you very much.
|Chop chop (chŏp’chŏp’)|
Back when I spent my days chauffeuring willing minds to guitar, piano, soccer and ballet, I would sometimes get in a bit of a hurry to get out the door. To encourage a speedy exit by all, I would clap my hands together twice and say, “Chop, chop!” It was instinctual for me to say this peppy command combined with my mid-air hand clapping. It seemed happy. It was efficient and fun, right? While it was meant to motivate and rally, it would often stop my children right in their tracks so that they could give me their mouth-hanging-open “really?” look. They hated it. For some reason that only a therapist could unearth, this was a tough one for me to give up. I knew it was unpopular. I knew it didn’t work, and yet it would fly right out of my mouth and my hands would whip up before I could stop them. It had the same unpleasant effect, every time. I did eventually learn to let this rally cry go. My kids still tease me about it.
Still, I had the soul of a chopper. Eventually, I learned to satisfy the urge through the kinder, gentler, meditative sound of my knife hitting the chopping block when I prepared a meal for my family. I can provide nourishment instead of negativity. It’s easy for me to lose myself in the repetitive motion and the delicious aromas of fresh herbs and garden vegetables. A little music, a little wine….
I still have to resist the urge to go into “chop chop” mode. It’s not who I want to be. I know now that I can accomplish things and live a pretty fabulous life without marching in and directly the troops. In the end, the things that need to get done will get done. All is well.
Whether by divine purpose or lovely accident, I have recently returned to some activities that brought me great happiness as a wee farm girl. By riding her bike, the lovely Ms. Watkins reminded my how much I loved riding my bike. So I cannon-balled back into cycling by signing up for a Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraiser that included a quick 100-mile spin around Lake Tahoe on June 6th of this year. Lucky me, to find myself with that fresh mountain air in my lungs, flying down hills and pumping up the tough climbs just like I did as kid on my blue Huffy. I have a lot more gears now and no banana seat, but what a ride! It was pure, wrapped in sunshine, joy that whole day.
This week, I have been ever so fortunate to travel to Hawaii with my parents and darling sister. It has been decades since I traveled with only my family of origin. Yesterday, we cruised beaches until we found a friendly looking low-riding surf. Then we paddled out to float on our backs and ride the waves with no intention of going anywhere. We just floated. Occasionally, to add interest, we would attempt some mild form of water ballet. It was more big, fat fun for me.
To add to the kid-style delight, early this morning I swam out past the breakers with my sister to snorkel. We laid face down on our bellies and barely flapped our flippers while watching fish after remarkable fish going about their daily chores. It was more ridiculous, happy stuff.
While travel is fabulous, it wasn’t the great locations that made these last few weeks especiallysatisfying. It was reconnecting with that little, barefoot girl who liked riding her bike as fast as she could and tromping around outside with no particular agenda.
Yes, work is awaiting me at the end of this week. There is much to do out there in the world of adult responsibilities and tuition bills. I can promise you that I will make more time for wind-in-my-messy-hair moments from now on. It has been grounding and spirit-filling. It has made me as happy as a mouthful of Jolly Ranchers. So here’s to reconnecting with that thing that floated your plastic, bathtub boat back when the days were long and someone tucked you in at night. May you find it and enjoy it. It’s good stuff, all of it.