Project Kindness (Addendum)

Love this ripple. So proud of this sweet young lady. Just had to share.

Hi, My name is Madison. I’m 15 and I wanted to share the impact your project kindness has made on me. Couple of weeks ago my mom showed me your blog about the old man who rode his bicycle everyday. And then when I was done reading it she said “that’s sweet, you should do something like that!” she wasn’t serious, but it stuck. The next day I kept thinking about it, and asking God to show me His idea. And unfailingly, He did. Then Project Smile was created! It’s kinda like what you do. But a little different. I told my mom about it and I could tell she was proud, and I was excited to start. So I laid out my calendar and wrote something on everyday that would bring a smile to someone’s face, and I would send a text out every morning telling everyone about that “task”. That Sunday, I announced it in Sunday school, and they loved it! I told a few other people, and now I send out a group text to 53 people!! A few people have told me how it has impacted their lives and others. It’s really incredible to know that even though God has a big world to handle, He still has time to tend to His children.
In His love, Madison

Project Kindness (Day 40)

I am the first to admit that I’m not a very good observer of Lent. To begin with, I am not officially fasting (more than usual) and I am not specifically practicing self-denial (more than usual). By endeavoring to spread kindness for the duration of the traditional Easter season instead, I’m afraid that I have actually interfered to a small degree with those folks who might have been trying to consciously do without. Chocolate chip cookies were a popular theme. Secondly, I will not win any awards for my observance of Lent because I have naively been operating on the notion that Lent lasted forty days. Forty days in the wilderness, right? It didn’t dawn on me until this morning (after my coffee) that Lent will officially be going on until Thursday. Oops. I did not realize that you don’t count the Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Silly me. So I apologize for my ignorance and for the somewhat anti-climactic denouement of this project ending a good five days before it was supposed to. Well, since this exercise was not really in keeping with the traditional observance of Lent, I guess it’s OK that it doesn’t follow all the rules.

My gesture today was not a particularly grand one. (If I had won the Mega Millions earlier this week like I had planned, you can bet that it would have been!) I decided that instead of trying to outdo my good deeds from the previous 39 days, I would simply carry on. Carry on in a way that suggests my exercise has become habit. Something I can do every single day that doesn’t interfere with my ability to take care of my own life, my own family. Today I bought a happy bouquet of tulips and delivered them to one of my oldest and dearest friends. Even though I’ve technically known her since 1989, it wasn’t until she and I became roommates after college that we became close. In fact, we like to joke about our relationship in high school. I found her rather intimidating because she hung out with the “cool kids” and had a Polish last name I was afraid to pronounce. She remembers me as the shy girl who hung out with the honor society and never missed curfew. Once we actually got to know each other, we realized that we were to be friends for the duration. Together we have laughed, cried, traveled, raced, and dreamed of our respective futures. She was my roommate during our formative years, she was racing in Hawaii with me when I got engaged, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding, she’s been right there with me during all of life’s victories and defeats. So for those reasons and many more, she deserves tulips.

There are numerous other people in my life who deserve bouquets of happiness. Though this modest project is coming to a close, I am grateful that these acts of kindness have now become ritual. There is no reason to stop. My eyes are wide open to the opportunities. There are so many ways in which to help, surprise, thank, and honor the people in our lives. Kindness can be random. It can also be well thought out and purposeful. The one common thread that joins all acts of kindness together is the intention we have when performing them. My intention has been to become more aware of the needs of people around me. My intention has been to make a conscious effort to pay it forward. My intention has been to find joy in helping others. My intention has been to give away that which I seek.

When I got married nine years ago this month, there was a lot of soul-searching and internet searching for the perfect sentiments, the just-right quotes, to line our wedding program and highlight our vows. The one poet I kept going back to was Kahlil Gibran. Today I find myself running right back to him again. I reread his writing On Giving and felt like he was saying everything I was thinking, except with more eloquence and wisdom.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.

And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.

And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;

They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.

Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes He smiles upon the earth.

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”

The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.

They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

And you receivers, and you are all receivers, assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.

Rather rise together with the giver on his gifts as on wings;

For to be overmindful of your debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the freehearted earth for mother, and God for father.”

I will wake up tomorrow and not do anything differently than I have the last forty days. I will take what I have learned, mostly of myself, during these last six weeks and make it part of my new normal. And though I have loved surprising strangers with coffee and environmentally friendly grocery bags, I want to make sure I let the people I love most know how very much they mean to me. I will endeavor to have more patience, to stop what I’m doing to really listen to what my children are saying. To remember that it is not what I do but how I make them feel that really matters. My work is cut out for me. It is a lifelong goal. I am grateful that this project has given me a few more tools to use along the way.

Now, tell me, what was your act of kindness today?

Project Kindness (Day 39)

My first gesture of kindness today was foiled. A friend of mine, Batman, had surgery yesterday. Yes, the real Batman, despite Poppy’s recent doubts. He’s been to my children’s birthday parties several times (except when he got food poisoning last summer) and he showed up at our house once on Halloween when Charlie was homebound with the flu. Batman is the strong silent type, but he has always been kind to my family. He even delivered Christmas presents one year which was a little confusing since we were just trying to figure out Santa Claus at the time. Anyway, Batman had some outpatient surgery this week and is convalescing at home, er, the Bat Cave. Concerned that his strength would be compromised and our collective safety would be at risk, I offered to bring him dinner. Turns out he had a houseful of people already preparing his meal. (I’m thinking Alfred probably made these arrangements.) Though I was glad, of course, that his superfriends were looking out for him, I was left scrambling for another good deed this evening.

My father, who is the best father a girl could have, and I spent the entire day doing yard work. (He gets major points for always being kind when I need his help.) Since there was no dinner magically prepared and waiting at the end of the day, I ventured out in the severe weather to forage for food. On the way, I realized I had a major weekend headache. You know, the kind you get when you don’t drink your ritual cup of coffee on your drive to work because it’s not a work day. It was becoming more and more critical for my overall good mood to remedy my mal de tête at the nearest Starbucks. Starbucks…oh right. This is where Project Kindness all began way back on Day 1. Since this particular exercise in spreading random happiness is officially over tomorrow, I thought it was a poetic gesture to finish where I started. I endeavored to buy a cup of coffee for the person in the car behind me. Alas, there was no car behind me. We were, after all, having a hail storm at 5:30 in the afternoon. Oh well. So, I asked the barista, a jovial fellow called Alex, to charge me for an extra cup and give it to the next person who ordered a regular coffee. His eyes crinkled and he smiled big.

“Oh, I love this kind of stuff,” he said. “Are you paying it forward?”

I smiled back. “Why, yes. Yes, I am.”

He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. Since there’s nobody behind you now and I don’t know when the next person will order a regular cup of coffee, I’ll just give the next lucky guy whatever he orders for free.”

“Really?” I asked. “And I don’t owe you anything for that?”

“Nope,” he said. “And I’ll be sure to tell him it was all your idea.”

“Awesome,” I replied. And it was awesome. It all came back full circle, leaving me feeling balanced, centered, and satisfied. The caffeine might have also helped.

So, forty days of kindness. I will reflect on it all in tomorrow’s post. Or at least I will try my best. In the meantime, I think it would be a wonderful way to close this project by challenging each of you supportive Kindness Apostles to perform your own random acts of kindness and report in tomorrow. What was it? How did it make you feel? Oh, I feel like a kid at Christmas (when Batman comes)!

“Tune in tomorrow – same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”

Project Kindness (Day 37)

A Photo Essay on Kindness (as told by Mary Hazel, age 21 months)

“I made a new friend today. I call her ‘Big Girl’.”

“We’re the same size. We should definitely be friends, OK?”

“I will teach you all my favorite porch games.”

“Sometimes I just like to sit and watch the roly polies.”

“Sometimes I like jumping down the steps! Jumping! I’ll help you.”

“Did all that jumping make you tired? We can take a little rest.”

“All rested? Wanna play ball with me? Wow, you’re really good!”

 “That was fun!. Meet you here tomorrow?”

(Editor’s note: Mary Hazel asked me to make it clear that the dumpster seen in some of her photos is there because ol’ Mr. Dodson’s house is being renovated by the nice, new couple across the street.)

Project Kindness (Day 36)

My act of kindness today was of the drive-by variety.

I had a longer day (than usual even) and found myself at 8:00 in the evening with no act of kindness anywhere. I could not let my streak end. I had to dig deep. But on a budget since the next paycheck is still a couple of days away. While standing in the kitchen washing the last of the dinner dishes, I remembered the extra cookie dough I had frozen from one of last week’s random acts. As long as you have cookie dough in the freezer, you can perform an act of kindness, no matter how late in the day it is. Unless, of course, the person you are giving the treats to is on a diet. In that case, you might be accomplishing the opposite of what you set out to do. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts, right?

I preheated. I baked. I cooled. I put them on paper plates and covered them with aluminum foil. And then I hopped in my car with my slippers on and set out to deliver some kindness, guerilla style. I dared not disturb the quiet hours between folks putting their kids in bed and having to make lunches for the next school day, so I tried to sneakily leave the treats on porches and patios instead of knocking on doors. I felt like the tooth fairy in reverse. And like the tooth fairy, I hoped not to get caught. Especially in my stinky slippers. At my last stop, though, I heard the jiggle of the front doorknob as I started my retreat. I froze. Here I was lurking  in the dark wearing some of my pajamas and very unsure as to what to do next. I didn’t want to scare the unsuspecting neighbor but I thought it would look more suspicious if I bolted. So I came into the light, nonchalantly waved, and said “Hi. I brought you cookies.” He didn’t flinch or skip a beat as he twirled his car keys around his finger and replied. “It’s about time!”

P.S. I just got a text from another neighbor who confessed that she ate all the cookies while her children were sleeping. I don’t judge.

Project Kindness (Day 35)

With a knick knack paddy whack.

Our neighbors have a dog who spends the majority of her waking time about ten yards from where I rest my head. This dog also spends the majority of her waking time barking. It is slowly killing me. And I’m faring much better than my poor sleep-deprived husband. It’s not like he really needed one more thing to keep him awake at night. I’m an animal lover. I root for the underdog. I can sleep through a sonic boom. But, this dog is wearing me down. If you isolate the dog issue, it’s enough to make anyone want to adopt a hermit lifestyle. Coupled with the long list of “things about our neighbors that we wish were not so,” the dog issue is the proverbial icing on the cake.

I love that we live in a fairly eclectic neighborhood near downtown. I enjoy walking my kids to school. I’m glad that all the houses on my street look nothing alike. I like the energy of people out and about with their strollers, their scooters, and their bikes. I’m pretty easy to get along with. (Now, nod your head and agree with me.) These neighbors, however, rival the Bumpuses from A Christmas Story. As far as we can tell, the hard-to-describe bunch of renters next door is not related. There might as well be a revolving door out front as the same people never seem to stay more than a few months at a time. We’re fairly certain that we live next door to the strangest commune ever. At any given time there are a dozen cars parked on the street, usually blocking our mailbox. They are all proud members of the Wicca religion and have landscaped quite the shrine in the backyard, which my husband says should be featured in Southern Cult Living. I have no problem with their right to worship however they please, but when the full moon happens to fall on a school night, there is no sleep for the weary. And you can forget about sleeping through the drum circles, the chanting, and the epic bonfires that take place on the equinoxes. Forget about it. We have been known to pack up the whole family late at night and check into the Hampton Inn on the summer solstice. There are robes, and candles, and rituals. Did I mention the chanting? One time, my husband looked out our bedroom window blinds to see the patriarch of the “family” getting a tattoo in his kitchen. It was not pretty. I believe it was two summers ago that the law came looking for our neighbor, John. Just when Russell was phoning me to say that the police cars were next door, he saw John running through our back yard where he eventually hid under our deck until the coast was clear. Yeah. The funny thing is John has always been really great to us. He even mowed our yard for us the Summer of all the Surgeries. For someone who drives a vehicle sporting a “My other car is a broom” bumper sticker, he seemed a decent fellow. (He has since left the rotation. Don’t know where he is hiding these days.)

Anyway, the point is, these neighbors cause us to lose a lot of sleep. So when they fashioned a dog run next to the Goddess altar several months ago and populated it with an OCD pooch, I thought I was going to have to call the men in white coats to escort my dear husband to a kinder, gentler place. It barks when I take out my trash. It barks when I mow the lawn. It barks when I check the mail. It barks any time we pile in the minivan. It barks when it breathes. It is particularly annoying for this tired mama when he barks as I try to coax the baby to sleep. As if daylight savings time had not messed up our routine enough! Today, all of the above took place and I was just about at my limit. I’m as big an animal lover as there ever was, but I was having bad thoughts about this dog. Instead of other alternatives, I decided it would be my good deed for the day to kill him with kindness instead. I armed myself with a giant bone, walked the three feet from my back door to her dog pen, and tossed it over. She seemed skeptical. She never took her eyes off me as she crept toward the bribe. She wanted to bark, but she also wanted that bone. Choices, choices. She took the treat and sneaked over to the edge of her dog house. The subsequent silence was straight from the heavens (or the moon, in their case). I rushed back inside to finish folding laundry in peace. I won the battle, but I’ll need to buy a helluva lot of bones to win this war.

Project Kindness (Day 34)

My heart is heavy. Baby Noah passed away this afternoon. I hear he was surrounded by his loving parents, his twin brother, and his dog. I hear he was comfortable and in no pain. I hear that his mom and dad have been brave throughout this unimaginable ordeal and were at peace with Noah’s transition from this world to the next. I cannot stop thinking about him. About them. About the whole awful awfulness. Other than offering my constant thoughts and prayers, there is little more that an acquaintance like me can do to help diminish the pain of this family. There are so many others, like me, who desperately want to make things better, but that’s really silly, isn’t it? There is nothing that we can do to lessen the blow, to heal the wound, to turn back time. The love of family and the passage of time are probably the only things that will eventually swing the pendulum of suffering the other way. Words really do fall short.

With this grief weighing so heavy on me (and all of us who knew of Baby Noah), I wanted to do something to help some baby, somehow. Something that was actually within my power. I wanted to offer something life affirming. Something that is tangible and vital and nourishing. When I thought of my own babe, I was reminded of the one thing I knew I could offer to her upon her own recovery from cancer that immediately started the healing process for both of us. I gave her my milk. Of course, it was more than just the milk. It was the bonding that goes along with it. The eye gazing, the skin-to-skin contact, the snuggling. The indescribable relief. For me, being able to provide that nourishment to my daughter, both physically and emotionally, was exactly what I needed to feel like I was contributing to her recovery. And that’s when it hit me. I could do the same for another child. Well, not all of it, but provide the milk at least.

I have had a little experience with this type of donation in the past. Just over a year ago, a lifelong friend of mine was blessed with the unexpected opportunity to adopt a newborn baby boy. She is as good a mama as there ever was. I had more milk stored in my freezer than I had mouths to feed. I offered. She accepted. He is a very healthy, happy, much-loved (almost) toddler today.

I don’t know of any adopted newborn babies this time around, so I knew exactly who to ask for help. When I was pregnant with Mary Hazel, I wanted to try my hand at a natural childbirth experience. With the twins, I had the dubious distinction of delivering Charlie the “traditional” way and Poppy via emergency c-section. Long story. With Mary Hazel, I had a hard time finding a doctor who would allow me the trial of labor. They wanted to schedule me for a c-section right after they confirmed my pregnancy. I didn’t like that. Not a bit. I started Googling and asking around and seeking alternatives. That’s when I found the great, the wise, the Super Doula, Julie. It was through my relationship with her that I started really believing I could have the birth experience I wanted to have. I even signed up for her Hynobabies class where I learned techniques for interpreting pain as pressure and trained my mind to only have positive associations with my birthing time. I must admit, I was a little skeptical in the beginning. It sounded too good to be true. However, I knew from personal experience (i.e. I was hypnotized several times to hilarious effect in college), that I was very open to the power of suggestion. I went for it. Lo and behold, it worked! I arrived at the hospital in full transition and delivered sweet Mary Hazel just a few minutes later (while holding squeezing the ever-living life out of the hand of another friend and doula). It was all I could have hoped for and more. The point of this story is that Julie is good people. She helps mamas. She guides them. She wants them to be successful and happy and empowered. I knew she could help me again. I asked her if she happened to know of a local mom and baby who might be in need of breastmilk donations. When she returned my e-mail just a few minutes later with a hearty ‘yes!’, it seemed like it was meant to be. I contacted the mama and within an hour’s time, we had worked out most of the details. Since I am a (clears throat) rather busy person these days, I didn’t want to overextend myself. We agreed to a few ounces a day with a delivery once a week. Her husband works down the street from my house. It was a match made in Heaven.

I am under no illusion that I am saving anyone’s life. I know that I cannot cure cancer. I know that Baby Noah was dealt an incredibly unfair hand that nobody could change. I’m still plenty sad and know that I will not soon forget how this experience has made me feel. I do feel hopeful, though, that when we feel our lowest, we can still offer someone something of value. Something that might very well be perceived as a blessing. And I do believe that is what this ‘paying it forward’ thing is all about.