What will you do for someone else today?
We watched Evan Almighty the other day. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I have one issue. They used the acronym ARK for Acts of Random Kindness, or Random Acts of Kindness as, I believe, it was originally ordered. Humorist Danny Wallace published a book with this title. Being someone who is always searching for the right word, I think pairing “random” with “acts of kindness” is a mistake.
Good ole’ Webster defines random as, “lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern– made, done, or chosen at random.” I know random. It’s how I live my life. When I have a day to myself, I prefer to go off on a whim. I do make lists, but it’s a rare treat when I cross something out and usually I’ve scribbled my loose intentions in a slant on a napkin or a grocery receipt which I stuff somewhere. Occasionally, I find a nest of scraps and they’re only marginally comprehensible. It’s a challenge for me to put out persistent, concerted effort to acquire a skill of any kind. Putting my keys in the same place twice is a major accomplishment. Routine is not on my non-existent agenda. At a certain point in our family life, my husband stated that we would each have our own particular seat at the dinner table. I bulked. I already felt organized. I told him I wasn’t in kindergarten anymore. Left on my own, I wouldn’t even eat at set times, but forage throughout the day, nibbling on bits of whatever it is I’m craving at the moment. My kids love this about me. Once when my husband was working late, my youngest daughter walked by and asked, “what’s for supper” as children often do. Without looking up, I said, “Halloween candy.” Later, that same daughter pranced past with chocolate smeared all over her beaming face. “This is the best day ever,” she cried.
Have you ever lived with a random person? Did you find them charming or exasperating? If you asked my husband, he wouldn’t describe my randomness as a positive attribute. Can he rely on me? Yes and no. Can he predict my behavior? He’s given that up for health reasons. Does he find me interesting, amusing, or exciting, like an obscure, odd, colorful bird? An Emphatic Yes. So, random can be eye-opening and curious, but mostly it’s sporadic (“no plan, purpose or pattern”). I’m not saying it isn’t important for us to watch for those one-time opportunities to meet the small needs of people we encounter as we go about our day, but what if nothing presents itself? Am I off the hook? How many random acts of kindness do I need to accumulate in a day to really feel good about myself? I don’t want to make it a habit, do I?
Yes, I do. Kindness is not simply an act, but a way of being. It overflows from a loving, thankful heart. It often requires a sacrifice and it should be performed gladly without expectation. It’s not to be kept inside and doled out in a miserly fashion whenever it’s convenient or we feel up to it. It’s not enough to only show kindness one designated day or week of the year. The expression of kindness shouldn’t be limited to strangers or old people or street folk, but it should be given freely and lavishly. Spontaneous is good, but deliberate and thoughtful is better. Write a well-crafted love letter. Throw an elegant birthday party. Volunteer to be a Stem Cell donor. Use your skills to enrich the lives of others. Commit intentional, regular, meaningful acts of kindness. Become an expert and you will alter the world one kindness at a time.
I love me some Facebook, but I’ve noticed an avalanche of inspirational posters where my friend’s status updates used to be. I find it humorous that people are upset when others scroll on by, when they’ve offered little incentive to stop and look. My main reason for going on Facebook is not to be inspired, enlightened, challenged, taught, or entertained, though all of these things take place. I go on Facebook to see what’s happening in the lives of my friends. I love the family pictures, the declarations of love, the documenting of birthdays, weddings and holidays, the silly stories, and the “look what my kid did and I’m so proud” moments. I’ve always been shy and when I see people in social situations that I’m friends with on Facebook, I feel a barrier to approaching them has come down, because I have, at least, a vague idea as to what they’re doing and what their lives look like. This seems less likely to occur, as personal statuses are replaced with quotes, blog posts, and cat and dog videos.
We’ve long been trying to take the personal out of our relationships, even though relationships are inherently personal. The cellphone is a primary example of this. Have you ever had someone across from you at a dinner table ignore you while they twiddled with their gadget? I have and I wasn’t impressed. When I’m out with someone, I expect eye contact and conversation. I shouldn’t have to find something else to do while someone checks their emails, their twitter feed or the number of likes they’ve received on their latest quirky, but charming selfie on Instagram. I’m sitting across from them. Doesn’t that rate as the ultimate “like”? Even more baffling, wasn’t the original intent of the telephone to connect people: families separated by miles could enjoy the sound of their loved one’s voices and catch up on daily goings on? Now we just fumble thumb grammatically incorrect grunts to each other and call it communicating. Texting is convenient for making plans, but it’s not a good way to make or sustain a relationship.
Greeting cards are another way the world tries to interfere with genuine, meaningful connection between individuals. A landmark anniversary, a long-awaited, well-deserved graduation, a sacred wedding ceremony is on the horizon and what is our first thought? We hop on over to the nearest Hallmark. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? How is it even possible for a stranger to write a heartfelt message to one of our loved ones? There is nothing personal about greeting cards, other than that they’re created by a team of people. The messages have to be generic to appeal to a large number of consumers and sell cards. The cards we give to our mothers, dear children or best friends are not unique or special, but mass-produced and marketed. They are not representations of our thoughts, but someone else’s thoughts. Our thought was to go and purchase a thought, rather than thinking for ourselves. We’ve been duped into buying something else we don’t need.
Why would we pay strangers to say the important things that we need to say to the people who mean the world to us? “Well, I’m not a good writer” is one argument I’ve heard. As far as I know, the average birthday or anniversary message isn’t printed up in the newspaper or blogged on the internet. We aren’t addressing a nation or putting out a press release, we’re expressing our thoughts and feelings. Professionalism should be left at the office. No one needs to be concerned about perfection and there are tools, like spell check, to help you make it readable. Be wary of auto correct, though. My husband says, whenever he types in his name, spell check wants to change it from “Myron” to “moron”.
“Well, I don’t have time “is the standard excuse we hear for just about everything these days. I disagree. Many have time to drive to a mall and stand in a card shop, eyeing the artwork, reading the sentimental verses or funny quips, comparing one card with another, and perusing the price points. There’s an hour or more there to be used to write congratulations to a graduate or to pen a love letter.
“Well, I’m not creative” is another falsehood we’ve been deceived into believing. Yes, some artwork on cards is lovely to look at, but it’s disposable. Unless you attach value to it, it ends up in a landfill. It’s about the message, not the packaging. We’re all equipped with an incredible, magnificent combination of mind and heart, idea and depth of feeling. We only need to harness what’s already there. We’re wired to communicate with passion. My kids have been making cards since they were old enough to draw. The act of making a card is a gift in itself. It says, “I care so much about you that I’m willing to stop what I’m doing and think about you and see what comes of it.” Recently, Rose was in a hurry and lamented having to make a card. I had previously scanned a piece of her artwork into the computer and after printing it, suggested she write her friend a birthday wish on the inside. My kids are artistic and have come up with some cool designs, but I prefer to use pictures from Google images on my cards. I write something, select an image that suits the message, and simply copy, paste, and print. Some may argue that a handwritten note is the most personal gesture of all and I would tend to agree, except that the quirky fonts appeal to me. Computer or no, the message is always mine, created and signed with love.
Most of you know this about me, but I believe it’s remarkable and will say it again here, because it fits. Every year on my birthday I receive a birthday card from my parents, as many of you do, but my card always has a handwritten list on it. My Dad uses up the white space left on the card to affirm me as a person. He lists my good qualities and achievements. The card may be pretty and the verse clever, but they are meaningless to me. It’s the list I crave and cherish. I have years’ worth of cards that document the changes and my growth over my lifetime, because my Dad takes the time and makes the effort to sit down and think about me. Every once and awhile, I look at these cards again and see what he sees and feel good and grateful. I encourage you to do the same for those you love. You will never know what a message from your soul will do for another human being until you put it out there. In your relationships, you have the power to uplift, inspire, and encourage. Your words can bring meaning, healing, hope, joy and love. Or, you can go to the store. It’s your choice.