Sometimes it doesn’t take much to inspire ideas to flow. This morning, it only took 7¢. It was scattered on the pavement, a nickel and two pennies. Perhaps the coins were dropped unintentionally, or perhaps they were purposely cast aside. I have no idea.

Let’s be real, friends. It’s been a tough week. Deep, heavy events occurred here in the U.S. Events that should affect the entire manner in which this country moves forward. Events that should bring us to our knees. Events that should pull us together, encourage us to rally around each other and our political system and begin a long overdue healing process. But healing and working together would be arduous and protracted, and to be honest, I think many Americans lack the capacity to truly work on the issues that divide us. Attention spans are short, and people don’t see themselves as part of anything larger than themselves. These days, many people seem to be repelled by hard work, patience, and understanding. We have proven too selfish, too unkind, too hateful to reflect on the big things. To dwell on the meaningful. We are too focused on the newest cell phone, the latest version of a video game, the things money can buy that bring only momentary satisfaction. We have become shallow shells moving through time and blaming everyone else for the problems in our society.

But let’s hope this one is the tipping point. Let’s hope this is not like every single natural disaster, school shooting, raging pandemic, and act of terrorism in which Americans have been better at making excuses than addressing the broken. Let’s hope we do not shove this into the past and move on without looking back. Without learning important and difficult lessons. Without dealing with the core issues that created the problem in the first place. Without reflecting on who we are as a nation. Without a second glance.

I’m told people have lost faith in loose change. Coins are an annoyance. They are heavy. Noisy. Not worth the effort it takes to carry around. We cast them aside as soon as they come into our possession, leaving a trail of change in our wake as we move through life. On the floor by the cash register. In the cracks of our car seats and sofas. On the pavement in the parking lot as we enter and exit our cars.

It’s not worth much. You can’t buy anything with it. But loose change adds up. If you drop it in a container on your way into your house at the end of each day, it will eventually become something worthwhile. If you were to save 7¢ every day, you will fill a cup or a jar, and you might soon be able to buy a carton of milk. Or go to a movie. Or pay a bill. Loose change is only inconsequential if you cast it aside.

Come to think of it, this is much like small acts of kindness. They fill our cup. They help us to feel better about who we are and the life we are leading. They make us feel like we are part of something. Small acts of kindness add up to large acts of kindness and these, in turn, contribute to an improved outlook on life.

If you make a habit of saving 7¢ a day, your loose change will begin to come together. It will begin to be useful. You will have 49¢ over the course of a week. And at the end of a year, you would have an extra $25. Kindness is like this, too. If you make it a habit to hold the door for someone on their way in to work, eventually you will be holding the door for someone each day. Then you might start to say, “Good morning,” and this might lead to longer conversations and deeper connections. Pretty soon, you will be starting your day in conversation with new friends, and this may prompt you—and those around you—to perform more acts of kindness, changing your outlook (and theirs) for the better.

We all say we want our society to change—there’s too much hate… we are too divided… we have lost patience with others. But change doesn’t happen all at once. It happens 7¢ at a time. Small kindness perpetuates more kindness, and with a lot of time and tremendous patience, we will begin to see the changes that will shift the attitudes of an entire society and finally begin to make a difference that matters.

{Photo by Jonathan Brinkhorst on Unsplash}

Accepting Technology

2020 Lesson Number Three: Technology is not always our friend, but we can come to terms with it

I do okay with many technologies, though I would never say I was an expert. I regularly use instructional technologies. This past spring, I did okay as I simultaneously learned several different virtual meeting platforms. For me, the challenging technologies are GPS technologies that require me to relinquish control in order to follow someone else’s directions to a place I have never previously traveled to.

I am a firm believer in maps and atlases and relying on one’s internal sense of direction. When I get in the car and I am not sure where I am going, I like to have a map and directions printed out and at the ready—especially if I need to double-check my route. Lately though, have been using GPS more often, and it makes me feel adventurous, spontaneous, and carefree, like I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl. I am not. Nor am I yet an avid fan of GPS. But I swallow my pride and use it because it is convenient and it saves paper.

I drive, and my Google gal narrates my trip via her built-in maps that are, apparently, updated regularly. And this is great, really. Except when she gets interrupted or distracted by a phone call, as she did back at Thanksgiving. While I was on the phone, she remained silent. Then again, there wasn’t much to narrate at that point since I was traveling on the same highway for several miles. Thankfully, my phone call ended just in time for her to continue my journey. I followed her directions (exactly, point-by-point), but when she announced I had arrived at my destination—a grocery store where I was to meet my daughter to bring her home for Thanksgiving—there was no store in sight. In fact, I was in a questionable section of a town I didn’t intend to be in. My “destination” seemed to be the warehouse of a moving company with lots of large moving trucks, but not much else. And there was no one around. Anywhere. I pulled into the parking lot, reset my GPS, and headed to my true destination, still 20 miles away.

And despite the way it might seem, that experience was a good one for me to have with my Google gal. That experience humanized GPS technology in my mind. It allowed me to see that I was right in my desire to have a back-up plan in place. But it also improved my relationship with my GPS.

Now, I affectionately refer to her as, “Girlfriend.” When she gives me directions (“take the next exit onto Route 2 east,” for example) I respond with, “You got it, Girlfriend!” When I cross a state line, she welcomes me to the new state. “Thanks, Girlfriend! You too!” I reply.

We have a new comfort level, me and my GPS. She does her best to lead me to my destination, and I, in turn, recognize that I may… or may not… arrive where I am going. But now I accept that any journey could become a grand adventure in an instant.

{Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash}

Blooming – 2020 style

My Christmas cactus is having a difficult time this year. It has always been a late bloomer, but this year, it is really struggling. It has been pushing out teeny little buds that show great promise. Like many things this past year, these buds give me a brief hint of excitement and hope. But after a few days, they wither up and fall off. This cactus… it’s not even close to blooming, and I am wondering if it will bloom at all this year.

Truth be told, I have been having trouble blooming this year, as well. This year has been tough, and some days I feel like I just don’t have it in me to be my best. Some days I lack the patience necessary to think about tomorrow. The days blend together, and Monday becomes Tuesday and blends with WednesdayThursdayFriday until the weekend, and then the week starts over again. On and on and on it goes.

It’s been a tough year, but it has also been an important year. In its break from reality, its focus on silence, its fear of crowded spaces, this year has given us some much-needed room for reflection. I tried hard to take advantage of what this year offered, so I might be in a better space going forward. I refrained from railing against authority and complaining about not living life as “normal.” I embarked on a lengthy journey to reconnect with my self—the essential core of who I really am.

I’m not going to lie. This year was filled with tough lessons that weren’t fun but were very much necessary. It took a great deal of patience and tenacity to sit through these long months, especially when we began to see hints of how far we have strayed from where we need to be. Our goals and our focus have drifted away from being good people to amassing as many possessions and as much power as we can, no matter the cost. We have grown to focus not on who we are as people, but on what and how much we have. I have to believe this is not why we are here.

So I took this year as a correction. I am taking its lessons, and I am coming back to center. I am re-grounding and rediscovering myself and my mission for my life. The lessons I learned emerged—as many do—from loss, boredom, anxiety, and resolve. They came in the form of traits such as patience, resilience, tenacity, discipline, and a habit of self-reflection. They involve listening to myself in order to continuously rediscover and recreate who I am. And they involve looking carefully and paying attention to the little things so I will know better how to fill the spaces where need is great.

Stay with me for a few days. I’m going to take you on a journey through this past year and share with you some of the lessons that I have learned—lessons that I will take with me as I venture into 2021.

Loss

Sometimes, I see something strange or out of place, and I am overcome with an inexplicable sadness. On Friday, I was out for my quick walk-before-work. A crispness has begun to creep into the air here in New Hampshire, and the cool morning temperatures are bittersweet. The close-to-home summer is coming to an end, and the leaves are beginning to turn color. The impending winter will bring more unknown to the year of the pandemic.

As I strode by the dumpster in my condo complex, I spotted a nearly new red tricycle abandoned near the fence. I felt an immediate ping of sadness. I recognized this tricycle, and in my mind, I could picture the joy on the face of the young rider. The previous evening, as I pulled onto my street after work, this tricycle was being enjoyed to the fullest. My young neighbor was speeding around our circle, laughing and giggling as his father and an older neighbor boy stood watch. Until dark, they stayed outside, talking, laughing, and engaging with each other and their neighbors in a way I hadn’t seen them do all summer.

Now, this tricycle was placed here for someone else to take, to use, and to love—a gift for another child. There is no doubt the next owner will make his or her own memories on this trike, speeding away from his or her parents and laughing all the while. The former owner and his family, off to new adventures thousands of miles away, crammed as much stuff as they could into a moving van and their two cars, but just couldn’t fit everything.

The sadness I am feeling is a sadness of loss—loss of innocence in the case of this toy. But increasingly in society, there are deep losses that affect all of humanity. Sure, there is the loss of the ability to navigate the world without consideration for virus and illness and germs, but we’re all figuring that out as we go. The losses that are hitting me the hardest are the loss of kindness, the loss of compassion, and the loss of humanity. These losses… they strike at the core of who we are as a people. They stand in the way of our ability to get along, to come together as a community, and to make the world a better place.

In this moment, the tricycle is symbolic of the all the things we’ve lost, and I wonder if we’ll ever be able to regain some of our childlike nature. We need to re-learn how to get along with people—a lesson from our very early days when we learned to share and take turns. Someday, I hope we can go back to approaching other people with curiosity rather than fear. With love rather than hate. And with joy rather than anger. I hope we can give other people—friend and stranger alike—the dignity and respect each of us deserves. Then, and only then, will we truly be able to live in harmony.

Moments, Masks, and Missions

There is much to be said of the experience of living life. This whole slowing down thing has changed the focus of so many of us. Before the coronavirus shut-down, we were focused on some imaginary mission—reaching our goals, our children’s educational and athletic achievements, amassing money—that we forgot what it’s like to live. We hustled our children from one activity to another. They played baseball and soccer, participated in Scouts and dance, they painted and played a musical instrument. Until that all came to a screeching halt.

And now, we’re faced with a different reality. What would happen if we let our children (and ourselves) have some unstructured time? What would happen if we all had time to think and breathe and not be constantly scheduled for every minute of the day? What if we gave our children time to come up with their own activities? Time to fill in whatever way they see fit. What would happen then?

If we continue to schedule our lives so full—to carry out some imaginary mission of productivity at all cost, we are not allowing ourselves to live life. We are not teaching our children what it is like to pay attention to the world around them and be with themselves. We are not allowing them to experience what life throws at them. We don’t expect them to reach because we are doing the reaching for them. We are not expecting them to figure out solutions to their problems because we are finding solutions before they even have problems. We are not teaching them to fit their mission to their life. Because they are living our mission and not their own.

This weekend, my son became a college graduate. Just like that. No fanfare, no diploma, no walk across the stage, no ceremony. One minute he was hunkered over the computer finishing up assignments that had been four years in the making, and the next minute, he was a college graduate.

And on Saturday morning, we were faced with the task of creating a special day and making our own memories, however simplistic and disappointing. He donned his cap and gown, and we ventured out into the windy, snowy, never-a-dull-weather-moment that is New England in May, and we took pictures. Proud college graduation pictures. In some, he is wearing a face mask, lest we ever forget what upended his senior year and his college graduation. And when we went inside, we feasted on homemade chocolate cake.

Life is not in all the things we try to cram into our schedules. Life is in the moments—in the deep daily living. It’s in the things that go wrong and the manner in which we rise to the challenge to address them. It’s in the ways we grow and the lessons we learn. Life is not in the mission to accomplish, but in the mission to learn and improve and grow. Life is in the mission to live fully and to make the best of every situation.

Humor, Hope, and Haircuts

My heart is heavy today. I have heard from several students who are in healthcare situations working with COVID patients. These are young adults facing the unthinkable—dire situations that career-long doctors and nurses have never before experienced. I am afraid for them. My heart is breaking for them.

My heart is also breaking for all the people who have tested positive for the virus or who are suffering with it. This morning, I received word that the wife of one of my students has contracted the virus through her daily routine as a medical worker. She is in isolation in a room in their house while he has moved to the basement with their two little girls to keep them safe. I have offered a hand in the form of front door grocery drop-off. It’s all I have to give.

After a month of social distancing, there are hints of hope in discussions about returning to normal. That is one moment of the day. The next moment is heartache in knowing that we are not there yet. In fact, we may be a long way off from “there.” We are HERE, and for now, here has to be enough. Here and hope. Because without hope, what do we have?

HERE, we get through every day with humor. Hope and humor go hand in hand. Jokes and one-liners and pranks. Everyday, there is something to keep me on my toes. We laugh our way through the long, lonely days of house arrest. Because without humor, we would have a boring, socially distanced monotony for a month or two or ten.

And every now and then, something comes up to shake up the routine. Today, I gave my son a haircut. I used to give my boys haircuts back in the early days of single motherhood to save a few dollars. When he started complaining about his hair last week, I checked the bottom drawer of the bathroom vanity, and sure enough, we still had our hair clipper. Today, I gathered all the necessary tools, and I cut his hair. Is it even? Most likely not. Is it shorter? You bet! Will he need another haircut next week? Absolutely. I didn’t want to risk cutting too much off. As I told him, you can always cut more off, but you can’t glue it back on.

For today, something as minor as a haircut improved our mood, gave us hope, and eased the heartache for just a moment. Tomorrow is a new day—a new day for jokes and humor. And a new day for hope. We are HERE, and hope will prevail.

{Photo by Marcelo Silva on Unsplash}

Warming Station

This morning, I received a local alert text. You know the ones I mean—they typically warn of accidents or road closures or malfunctioning traffic lights. This morning’s text read: “Arctic Cold Temps Tonight/Tomorrow.” This was followed by information on the location of a “warming station” where residents can go if they are in need a warm place. Perhaps this text was directed to the homeless or to people who have a home that isn’t as warm as they might like. Or maybe, these people don’t have the heating budget set aside to keep their home warm enough in the impending arctic cold.

Regardless, I got to thinking about warming stations and responsibility and how we tend to others. In many respects, we are (or should be) responsible for one another. If the weather is not friendly—if it’s too cold or too hot, if the pavement is icy, or there is a blizzard coming—we need to watch out for those who might not be able to watch out for themselves.

I grew up in a neighborhood with a number of elderly folks. The woman next door was (I assume) a widow who lived alone. On the other side lived an elderly couple, and they shared their home with the man’s elderly sister. Farther down the street lived my mother’s former high school coach who walked with two canes. While she definitely needed the canes, they often seemed most helpful for moving things and people out of her way.

Over the years, these people became part of a circle of caring that was integral to my upbringing and instilled the importance of caring for others. On Sundays, I would deliver donuts and the Sunday paper. In the summer, we shared the harvest from our garden, and on Christmas Eve, we would deliver heaping plates of homemade cookies. I would hang laundry, sweep porches, and shovel snow. But under the guise of delivering some goody or other or offering to help with light chores, there was a more important purpose. We were checking up on these people who were more vulnerable to various elements of life—like the changing weather. We were the “warming station” for our neighbors.

A warming station is not just a physical place where someone can go to get warm. A warming station provides safety, security, and comfort. That, my friends, is something that any one of us can provide, if we are willing.

So as I read the text this morning, I realized that it shouldn’t take the community to set up the security others may need . It takes people who are willing to go out of their way to check up on others. And hopefully, when we reach the point of being more vulnerable to the forces around us, someone will be the warming station for us.

Present

At this time of year, I find myself actively avoiding shopping. The crowds, the lines, the traffic, the people… really, these things are exhausting. But every now and then, I put on my big girl pants, wrap up in my thickest skin, and head out into the wild. On a recent shopping experience, I stumbled into a disaster of a store. All of the salespeople were manning the cash registers to keep up with the lines, and I noticed the store shelves looked like they had been ransacked. Clothes were carelessly strewn on piles of others that had been pawed through, held up, and discarded. There was no order and no rhyme or reason. There was just a disastrous mess.

Did I mention that the salespeople were frantically running the cash registers, and every register in the place was open and cashing out customers as efficiently as possible? They were doing a great job of moving the customers and keeping the lines from growing too long.

So honestly, people, do y’all have maids at home who follow you around and pick up after you? How long does it take to refold the items you look at so you might place them neatly back on the shelf? How much care would it take to not throw all of the packages of underwear on the floor while you look for the one package in the size and style you need?

Any direction I looked in this store on this day (this past Sunday), I saw signs of people moving through life without being present. These people are shopping and buying, searching for a present (not the right present, but any present) so they can cross one more thing off their lists. They are moving through the season like robots, checking in on their phones and posting their finds on social media. They are not paying attention to their surroundings; they don’t care about the people who work in the stores; and they have no regard for the other shoppers who will come to this same shelf and look for a gift in these same piles.

Is this what Christmas has come to? We have so lost touch with the reasons for giving that we destroy everything in our paths like mini tornadoes in order to get things done and get through the holiday. Then we can cross the holiday season off our list and move on into the new year.

We can do better, people. I know we can.

On this day in this store, I looked over my shoulder at all the salespeople working hard to accommodate the shoppers. I pocketed my car keys, and I set about folding and organizing the sweaters on one side of one display. It wasn’t much. And when I turned from my work, I could see so many other messes that I knew I barely made a dent in the clean up of this store. But my gesture might have given an atom of peace to one salesperson. Or my work might have been destroyed by the very next customer who couldn’t find the exact right sweater in the exact right size. Either way, I knew I had taken a few minutes out of my day to attempt to make things better for someone.

As we move through life in the coming days, perhaps we might all take a little time to think about what it means to be truly present in life—especially in this season of love and light and peace. What would your life look like if you paid attention to the things around you? Perhaps we might commit to taking one small step toward being more present—both for ourselves and for those around us. The world needs each and every one of us. But we can only be useful to the world if we are willing to be fully present.

The Stranger

I recently had an intriguing interchange with a stranger.

First let me say, I love talking to strangers. I talk to them in the grocery store while I am picking out my produce. I talk to them while I am waiting on the interminably long deli line each week. And I will start conversations with them when I am out walking. I don’t apologize for my boldness. I am cohabiting this earth with others, and I would like to get to know them. Besides, strangers are only strangers until you get to know them.

So the other day at work, I was minding my own business. It was Friday afternoon around 3:00, and I was trying to finish up some tasks so I could actually leave for home at a reasonable time. My phone buzzed, and I received a text message from a number I didn’t recognize. “All done. When I get to better service, I’ll send a pic……” The number was from my mother’s area code—the area code in which I grew up and still have a friend or two.

Maybe it’s someone I know, I reasoned. I decided to wait and see if the person texted me again. I put my phone back on my desk, and I promptly forgot about it.

Nearly two hours later, my phone buzzed again. This time, my screen displayed a picture of a white horse, his nose in a feedbag. “This is how he was waiting for me,” the message read. The picture made it very clear that the texter was not someone I knew. Though I felt pulled to hear the story of the horse.

“Cute picture,” I texted back. “But I think you might be texting the wrong person,” I informed the stranger.

“Oops. Thanks for resending… glad I made you smile.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is a part of me that wanted to keep texting. To probe deeper. To find out about this random stranger who texted me at quitting time on a Friday afternoon. To tell her about the coincidence of the area code. To find out about the horse. And to make her smile, too. There is a part of me that longed to make that connection.

Because a stranger is only a stranger until you get to know her.

Then she is a friend.

{Photo by Nikki Jeffrey on Unsplash}

Evening Reflection

Last night, at the tail end of dusk as the sky was still darkening in the west, I stepped outside for a walk down the street. It was peaceful and calm, and I was by myself. From the trees behind my house, an owl called its haunting call, waiting for a response. It was quiet for awhile, and when no response came, it called again, adding an air of mystery to the night.

The owl hooted a third time. From the edge of the slimy green pond, a lone bullfrog lazily harrumphed a response.

Bugs hovered in the air as the temperature dipped from the heat of the day. The path led into the dark of the woods where the brush was thickest, and the bugs gathered in thick buzzing clouds. I considered whether I would return on this same path or venture out into the road where the trees (and therefore, bugs) were more sparse. I opted for the woods at a quickened pace.

The woods opened up, and there were fields on both sides of the road. As I turned toward home at the end of the road, I noticed a shadowy figure off in the distance. Bear? I stared, forcing my eyes to adjust to the low light. No, too thin to be a bear. Deer, I guessed. I stood by a tree and watched it watching me.

I began to whistle a tune, willing it to come to me as the pied piper might. There are those social media videos of people playing various instruments and successfully attracting a herd of cows. Or Llamas. Are deer really that different? I whistled. I watched. The deer stayed still and stared my way.

A moment later, it took off running across the field, stopping briefly at the side of the road as a car approached and passed. It crossed the road and was gone.

I stepped out of the shadow of the tree and breathed in the night air. I made my way back through the stillness to the clamor and commotion of home.

{Photo used by permission of my beautiful daughter}