Kindness for the New Year – Why not?

About that cup of kindness – –

Let’s take a cup for a few of the auld lang synes of 2017, in the highest hopes for this brand new year.

Planet earthA cup for the planet. Despite the best efforts of the Environmental Destruction Agency to foul the air and water, and similar efforts to open up our lands for desecration and private development, this fragile globe survives. You can Google “Good news for the planet” to boost your spirits. Here’s a toast to everyone who switches to solar, picks up litter, and pays attention to ways we can protect our grandchildren’s heritage.

A cup for women! Beginning with the inspirational Women’s March and marching through to the #MeToo movement, women have earned more than a little kindness yet. They won’t get much of it in the reproductive justice realm. You cannot confer rights on a fetus without denying rights of the woman carrying it.march - crowd Anti-abortion forces sneaked wording about rights of “the unborn” into the harsh new tax bill, so chalk one up for regression into the dark ages of womankind. But here’s a cup o’ kindness toast to every #MeToo, as well as to heroes like Willie Parker out there fighting to protect all women.

A cup for people of all faiths working together. There may be constant headlines, not to mention tweets, designed to set us against each other, but interfaith groups across the country are determined to keep respect and mutual support alive. Google “Interfaith work” in your city or state and find how many kindnesses are underway.

A cup for the hopeless. Remember those huddled masses yearning to breathe free? They’re still out there, in force: refugees and asylum-seekers, people mired in poverty or joblessness, sick children without healthcare, undocumented immigrants in families being torn apart. ENDURING FREEDOMBut if our government is turning its back on them, a multitude of individuals and organizations are working around the clock to get the lamp lifted again. Google “Help undocumented immigrants,” or “Fighting poverty in my community” for starters. Cups of kindness abound.

And a cup of kindness for kindness’ sake. A group of people with vastly diverse backgrounds and philosophies met just after New Year’s Day to talk about how to retain optimism – hope, at least – on all of the above in the face of current divisiveness and a mentally unbalanced president. Said one member of the group: “It helps to commit conscious acts of kindness throughout the day. Might be just a tiny thing, but it makes you feel better, and kindness can be contagious.” Pope Francis thinks so. In his New Year’s Eve homily he expressed optimism about ordinary people going about their lives doing ordinary acts of kindness. The “artisans of the common good,” he called them. So here’s a toast to every artisan of the common good. May we all join their ranks this year.

Footprints of kindness

More on kindness…

This essay first appeared on Huffington Post

Some favorite people – okay, my daughter and daughter-in-law – recently posted a link to a heartwarming story from “Prank it Forward,” about a waitress who clearly deserved some good luck getting a LOT of it from her co-workers and friends: $1,000 cold cash, two airline tickets to Hawaii, a dream job and a new car. It was hard to follow without laughing and crying all at once.

Clicking around for the source revealed an originating site heavy into pranks of all sorts, apparently good-natured ones even if not always winding up life-changing good news for the prankee. The site originators seem committed to bringing moments of joy, and if there’s anything this world needs right now it’s moments of joy.

Clicking farther led to another site surely worth visiting, DoSomething.org. Over at DoSomething.org, members are doing things like collecting jeans for homeless kids, recycling cans to save the planet, or campaigning to stop bullying. You have to love the DoSomethingers. Their avowed purpose is “to make the world suck less.” This writer, unfortunately, can’t join them, as their members are between 13 and 25 and everybody over that is Old People in whom they are pointedly not interested. And who can blame anyone under 25 for that?

But it’s still the personal random acts, those small kindnesses anyone can do and no one organized, that most warm this writer’s heart. The little things: picking up the neighbor’s overturned trash can, handing the grocery checker a $20 for the food stamp buyer behind you in line, giving away roses from your garden, sending a snail-mail note to a perfect stranger in a nursing home.

Catherine Stern, co-founder, with Carole Mahoney, of Project Grace and herself an act of kindness, shared one such story about a Project Grace participant. The young family had just moved into a new house in a new community when their three-year-old was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of cancer, forcing them to spend long hours driving to the hospital many miles distant. They were faced with juggling care for their other young children alongside the overwhelming needs of the sick child. Every time the exhausted parents pulled into the driveway of their new home they worried about what the neighbors must think of their unkempt yard, overgrown with weeds and scraggly grass. But one day, coming home after another long and exhausting time at the hospital, they were astonished to see their front lawn fully landscaped, grass mowed and flowers planted by their unseen neighbors who had somehow learned what was happening with the new family in the community.

Which is what kindness is all about: the community of humankind.

Random Acts of Kindness

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

One particularly gray day, the kind of day writers have when their brains fog over and their vocabularies vanish, I had an email from the irrepressible Anne Lamott. Lamott is a longtime friend whose writing and gumptious spirit I greatly admire — but not someone from whom I would have sought literary endorsement in a million years.

“I can’t wait to blurb your book,” she wrote. Clouds vanished, vocabulary returned, book was soon published with a classic Lamott remark on the back cover proclaiming Perilous Times “rich in (the author’s) trademark blend of stories, history, knowledge and passion… an important contribution to (the fight for reproductive rights.)” Unsolicited kindness from a casual friend: an incalculable gift.

The kindness of strangers, though, is priceless. And might surely be a movement whose time has come.

Susan Johnson Nelson is up for starting the movement. She is also anxious to change the image of America and Americans from the ugly to the kind, as is her husband Andy. A few years ago the Nelsons traded in a comfortable life in San Francisco, where he was well established in a career in law, to join the U.S. Foreign Service. Having just completed a two-year tour in Managua, Nicaragua, he is now in an immersion program in Washington preparing for their next assignment in Hanoi. The Nelson family — which now includes 3-year-old Bode and 1-year-old Lake — is one you would want to represent the U.S. abroad. (The Nelson boys already enjoy love and adoration from fans on several continents.)

Susan Nelson decided recently to celebrate the Christian season of Lent not with the traditional giving up of one thing or another but with a daily act of kindness. Jesus would probably be fine with this. The inspiration actually came, she wrote in an initial social media post, from being on the receiving end of a double act of kindness herself not long ago. While negotiating the streets of downtown Washington with two screaming toddlers who had just received immunization shots, she ducked into a sandwich shop on a cookie diversion mission. A long queue of tired, hungry people let her jump to the front of the line (kindness #1), where the lady behind the counter smilingly offered not one cookie but two (double kindness #2.) Nelson’s first random act of kindness: a bouquet of flowers delivered to the lady behind the sandwich shop counter.

Others follow daily. They have included homemade cupcakes for Pete at the front desk, a basket of flowers painting by Bode for a post-surgery teacher, pick-up and delivery of recycling left in hallways (double kindness: gift to building residents and anger aversion for the maintenance workers who would otherwise have to deal with it.) There was babysitting for a friend in need, banana bread baked and delivered to the local firehouse. There was Andy’s kindness to Mother Earth, buying toothbrushes from all-recycled materials (hey, credit where credit is due; Andy also does extraordinary acts of fatherly kindness when Mom is wearing down) and on one dark and snowy Saturday morning both boys slept in until 9 a.m. — duly reported in the online exchange as a great kindness on their part.

The digital saga has also prompted reports of other acts of kindness elsewhere, such as the story of a woman with cancer, having her head shaved in a beauty salon as chemo-induced hair loss began and then finding her bill had been paid by an earlier customer.

They may be small acts of kindness, but who knows how large their effects? For many of us, frustrated with what seems the impossibility of world peace, tiny moments of joy bring renewed hope. It’s a start.