Social Sympathy

The Greenville Journal wrote a couple of articles related to social media and the role it plays in helping families and communities grieve and support one another during difficult times. I am honored to have been interviewed about how our global village supported us through Mary Hazel and Russell’s illnesses and continues to support us now.

Sweet Goodbye


Project Kindness (Day 11)

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary to the best in-laws a gal could have! We spent the entire day celebrating their 39th year together. When I told the kids where we were headed, Poppy remembered, “Didn’t we just celebrate their anniversary last year?” Yes, well. Anyway, I cooked a casserole, cut some fruit, arranged some tulips, commissioned Poppy to make a card (which featured two bananas having this conversation: “You are apeeling!” and “Happy Bananaversary!”). I was happy to help Gammer and Papa John celebrate their marriage and would have done all of these things and more with or without a thought of Project Kindness. Therefore, none of these gestures counted toward my daily kindness quota. Once we got to small town Abbeville, SC, there weren’t too many accessible opportunities. When my sleepy husband suggested a caffeine run in the middle of the afternoon, I was relieved that someone was leaving the house to perhaps perform a good deed or two. I tasked my accommodating spouse to step in and be my ambassador of kindness today. (I was pretty busy cleaning up the baby’s latest potty training endeavors from the family room rug. That’s a story for another day.) 

Without further ado, please welcome my guest blogger for the day (aka Russell).

Today I got to experience Project Kindness first-hand. While visiting my parents, my sister and I decided to go out for coffee at the local cafe, and while taking beverage orders, I got the order from Erin — You get to buy someone’s coffee, and then you can write about it as the guest blogger.

Suddenly, I was responsible for the daily dose of generosity. I immediately started working out how to make this a meaningful experience so I could do a good job of blogging about it. Those who know me are aware that I’m not much for just kicking back and enjoying something, especially when there’s an assignment involved.

So when I stepped up to the counter, I was keenly aware of the extra item on my list. As I ordered, I stressed that we weren’t taking this coffee with us, because it was a gift.

The young man taking the orders was pleasantly surprised. Oh, really? That’s cool! So far, so good. He wrote down the orders, ran my card and started heating the milk. That was it? That was fast. I wasn’t disappointed exactly, it was just kind of…abrupt. I considered this and stepped to the end of the counter to wait for the drinks I had ordered, and also the one I had not. Two cups out of three appeared on the counter, and as I was picking them up, the barista said, “So who should I say paid for the coffee?”

I told him that I thought she’d want to be anonymous, but that he could say it was courtesy of Project Kindness. He reiterated that this was cool, nodded as though making a mental note of the name, and told us to have a good day, come back soon. As I turned from the counter, I saw the next patron and wondered if she would be the next person to benefit from Project Kindness, even if she was wearing flip-flops and sweat pants. I felt sort of bad for already judging this person against my ideal Project Kindness recipient, and thought about how Erin had wrestled with the same question on Day One. Then I realized what was more important than the nice, but temporary satisfaction I got from being the Project Kindness ambassador — thinking about how a simple good deed changed the way I felt about myself and my relationship to my fellow travelers, no matter how undeserving, oblivious and poorly dressed they might be. That’s a lot of introspection for $1.55. 

Thank you, dear.

Project Kindness (Day 4)

Russell and I say to each other every other week, “We should really go visit Aunt Willie.” We strongly agree with each other and then, somehow, we never go visit Aunt Willie. By renewing this promise to each other regularly, we feel we have bought more time with our good intentions. Aunt Willie is one of the last true ladies of her generation. At 92 years old, we still drives around town to get her hair done, do some grocery shopping, and frequent the S&S Cafeteria on special occasions. Her clothes are pressed, she wears pantyhose, and her apartment is somehow completely dust repellent. Her mind is sharp, her eyes are bright, and she just doesn’t skip a beat. She is the only remaining sibling of Russell’s grandfather, who was known by his pals as Red Fox. He was a mail carrier until his retirement and always radiated a healthy glow from his time in the sun. He was also known to be quite sly. Ergo. I have heard many a legendary story about Gerald and I wish I had the chance to know him longer. Aunt Willie lives ten minutes away from us and she has been widowed for close to 20 years. I always felt like we should stay connected with her as she is the last link from the old family to the newest. Due in large part to my little project, today was the day I finally called her. She was thrilled to hear from us. Genuinely thrilled. I could hear it in her voice. We made a date for this evening. I baked some fresh bread and prepared some homemade split pea soup and a dozen chocolate chip cookies as I heard she had a bit of a sweet tooth (though she will not easily confess to that). Poppy, who is always excited to have places to go and people to see, drew Aunt Willie several pictures of our family and wrapped up a Santa Claus pencil in a plastic shopping bag for her. Charlie, who has been quite obsessed with the idea of living in an apartment since he was three, was totally thrilled by the prospect of actually going to visit one. Mary Hazel was happy to do whatever as long as she had her sock puppets. We had such a nice visit with Aunt Willie and she was very appreciative of the company. She seemed even happier after I moved all her collectible porcelain figurines out of reach from curious hands. Poppy and Charlie took to her right away. Poppy was impressed to discover the collection of teddy bears in the spare bedroom and wanted to know when, where, and how Aunt Willie came to acquire each one of them. We didn’t stay long. Just long enough to let her know we cared about her and wanted to be part of her life. I asked her for a shopping list of groceries to keep stocked in her fridge. I plan to drop them off on a regular basis. (I must say I was impressed – organic milk, free-range chicken eggs, fresh fruit, and yogurt. No wonder she’s a healthy 92.) When we left, all the kids rushed to hug her tight without any prompting from their manners-minded parents. It was genuine and sweet. All in all, all a very satisfying way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

One of my biggest concerns is being alone, which seems almost ludicrous to ponder during these days when I cannot even hope to visit the bathroom unaccompanied by a helper. But in the quiet time before I fall asleep, I do feel a very real anxiety about being old and alone. I hope that my children will be nearby and still want to visit their ol’ mom every now and then. I hope I feel satisfied with the way I’ve lived my life. I hope I have few regrets. I have a healthy respect for our elders who have weathered many storms to achieve a level of wisdom I hope to achieve one day myself. Sometimes when I see an older couple slowly walking hand in hand down the sidewalk, it kind of breaks my heart. It taps into a very vulnerable part of my soul. It is poignant and beautiful and sad all at the same time. I feel it is right and good to treat the eldest members of our society with dignity, respect, and, of course, kindness.