Tuesday, 11 June 2013
Random acts of do-good
Ever see that movie Pay it Forward? The one where Kevin Spacey sports a grotesque scar, Helen Hunt gets beat up by Bon Jovi and the kid from The Sixth Sense attempts to look tough by wearing sleeveless shirts? Gawdawful movie. Seriously, I detest films that try too hard to make you feel a certain way. But as horrid as the movie was, it (and the book it was based on) did spark an interesting do-gooder movement back in 2000.
The concept of paying it forward is simple: someone does something nice for you, so you do something nice for someone else in the hopes that they'll do something nice for someone else...and so on, and so forth. Kind of like Faberge shampoo, but with good deeds. You know, like paying for the guy behind you at the Tim Horton's drive through, or offering to take a stranger's empty cart at the grocery store so they don't have to tramp across the parking lot to return it. I think the author called it "spontaneous acts of kindness." The idea is to change the world, one nicey-nicey at a time.
Back when I lived in Waterloo, in my pre-D and pre-kid life, I loved volunteering. I stage managed plays at my church, helped organize my department's morale committee, wrote the newsletter and assisted at the drop spot for the local CSA. But after my divorce, I plunged into a very self-absorbed state where I just didn't have the heart to get out and do anything for anyone else. Then I met D, got swept into our wonderful tornado of a romance, and had a wonderful year of focusing on just us. Add a move and two young children to the mix, and I became someone who could barely make time to shower regularly, let alone spend a few hours volunteering.
I know I'll get back out there some day; right now I'm focusing on the kids and my writing and our gardens and keeping the house from falling down around our ears. But by inserting a few little acts of kindness into my day, I think I can make life a little more bearable for folks, even if it's just for a minute or two. And it makes life a little more lovely for me, too.
I think a lot of us tend to get sucked into the whirlpool of "busy." Aren't we all stretched to our limits in terms of finding time for our careers, friends and families, let alone ourselves? It's not a contest about who's busier than who; it's a matter of how we spend our time. I like to tell D that Gandhi had the same 24 hours in a day that we have (I don't remember where I heard that, but it really annoys D when I say it) so we don't have much of an excuse to whine. What if we stopped focusing on how busy we are and focused instead on trying to be kinder to others and ourselves? I want to model that behaviour to my kids, young as they are, so here are some of the things I've tried in order to add a little kindness to my life.
Simple, huh? But dropping in to see someone who either doesn't get a lot of guests, or isn't able to get out much on their own, can make a huge difference to them. It can be an afternoon, or just a half-hour. The point is that you knocked on their door and made contact. I've watched my mother-in-law, who seems like quite a shy person in my eyes, reach out to neighbours who are ill or who have lost someone close to them. She takes them something to eat and stays for a chat. Even if small talk isn't your thing (it sure isn't mine), if you learn how to direct a conversation, it's easy to get people to talk about themselves. Such moments are like hidden treasures: you discover incredible stories, common interests, local history. Or you talk about the weather - it doesn't matter. Just so long as you reach out to another person, in person.
Donate to the Food Bank
Money's tight, I know. But I also know that a lot of us could be just a few paycheques away from using the food bank ourselves. Eventually, I'd love to help out in person, but until then, I donate as much healthy food as I can afford each week. It's pretty easy to do, and when I get the kids involved, it's kind of fun. During our weekly trip to the grocery store, we pick out $10 worth of food, usually whatever is on sale so we can get the most bang for our buck. It sparks all sorts of conversations with Jade, from why we probably shouldn't donate $10 worth of Dora gummy snacks to why anyone would want to eat barley since it looks like tiny pebbles. Even Dylan understands how to put the food in the Food Bank box, even though he may not yet understand why we do it. One time when I explained to a cashier that the pasta was for the food bank so she didn't have to pack it, she got tears in her eyes and said, "Bless you honey. I never thought I'd have to use the food bank, but last year when I wasn't working I used it a lot." Then we both got choked up and probably would have hugged each other if the stupid counter hadn't been in the way.
Don't Drive Like an Ass
Seriously, people. This is an easy one. And it is voluntary, so I'm counting it as volunteer work. Please don't drive up my rear bumper with your oversized truck when I'm doing the speed limit. Please don't pass me doing 80 km/h on the lower shore road, which is now posted at 40 km/h. Please don't drive like a maniac down my road because you're late for work or rage at slow-moving farm equipment. Take a deep breath, turn on your radio, and think pleasant thoughts. We'll all be better off for it. (And yes, I'm including myself in this lecture)
Write a Letter
Okay, if you HAVE to send an email, that's okay too. There's just nothing like getting ACTUAL MAIL that isn't a bill or solicitation for money. Even if it's just four lines on a goofy postcard, trust me, it will make the recipient grin like a fool. A well-written email can do the trick too; a random thank-you to someone who has inspired you, a note reminiscing about time spent together, a photo with a caption. It's all good. It's proof that someone is thinking of them - what's kinder than that?
Be a Drive Thru Fairy
I had never tried it before, but I'd heard about people who paid for the coffees of the people behind them in the drive-thru. So one day I did it. The cashier grinned at me as she handed me my order, and I tried to drive away quickly because I felt sheepish and triumphant and sneaky and silly, but the person behind me caught up to me at the traffic light. She rolled down her window and yelled, "HEY, DO I KNOW YOU?" I shook my head. She held up her hands with an expression of confusion on her face. I just shrugged and smiled. "OKAY, WELL, THANKS!!" she shouted as the light turned green and I rolled away. Honestly, it was just a $1.50 coffee, but I felt giddy about it for a good hour afterwards. D thinks I'm a lunatic, but I keep doing it anyway.
Give a Stranger a Compliment
This takes a little bit of guts, especially if you're not an extrovert. But the next time you see someone doing something worth complimenting, even if it's something small, take a breath and tell them they rock. The first time someone complimented me on how well behaved Jade and Dylan were out in public was in the Bulk Barn, a place I don't usually take my kids because all that food in containers at their eye level is just too much temptation. For whatever reason, they were mellow that day, and a fellow shopper said some kind words about how calm and sweet they were and how I was doing a great job with them. I knew that on any given day, my kids could very well be the ones rolling down the aisle with fistfuls of gummy bears, but, flushed with the compliment, I thanked the lady anyway. Just a few words from a complete stranger made me remember that I'm not half-bad as a mom. So now, whenever I see a parent with kids who happen to be acting civilized, I make a point of complimenting them, because every parent should feel a surge of pride in their parenting skills, even if it's really just good timing.
Anyway, this is my version of Paying it Forward. No Haley Joel Osmont, no bad Helen Hunt accents. You're welcome.