Thursday, May 31, 2012

Random Act of Kindness

"Goodness in other people and what they contribute inspire me. I love it when someone is gifted and shares it in some way so that it has a trickle-down effect." ~ Renee Zellweger

I was going to write this blog about dreams ... the ways in which they can be used as tools to help in our waking moments. But something else is pulling at my attention right now, so, dreams will have to wait until next time.

As I'd mentioned awhile back in my pretty raw stream of conscious writing about covering the Chardon High School shooting in Portrait of a 21st Century Journalist ... I've since been writing ensuing stories. One of my most recent had to do with a crew from Virginia Tech coming to Chardon to roll out their Actively Caring 4 People program ( You can read more about it in that link, but part of this program includes these green rubber bracelets, much like we've seen for other causes, i.e. cancer. The idea behind it being, if you see a complete stranger perform a random act of kindness or you see they could use a caring gesture, you pass the bracelet on. Then, they are to do the same.

After the Virginia Tech shooting, 40,000 bracelets were distributed as part of this program and to date, they have traveled all over the world.

It's a simple concept, but complex when you really think about it in terms of yourself and your every day actions. I mean, how often do you do something nice for a stranger, let alone random gestures of kindness to those you love on a daily basis? And why is it so hard for us to walk up to complete strangers who are clearly in distress and ask how we can help? Or maybe something as simple as complimenting something about someone you don't know ... or holding a door for them. I'm not saying there aren't people out there who do this all the time, but if you really think about it in terms of frequency, at least in my experience, it's not very common these days.

The idea behind this program is to get people to empower themselves every day by even just these small gestures to show others they are cared for and matter. Seems kind of simple ... maybe even preachy, but it really hit me. The main guy leading the Virginia Tech movement was a pretty profound speaker, so I'm sure that was part of it, too. But he gave me one of those bracelets. And up until today, I hadn't found the right moment, experience or person to give it to.

I'd been grasping onto this bracelet like it was gold. Yet, it was a simple, green, rubber bracelet. But in my mind, it was going to mean something more. And whoever I gave it to, I had a feeling it was going to be a stranger. Throughout the last two and a half weeks, I'd had moments where I thought someone may deserve it, but something always held me back inside.

I was sitting in Panera today having an iced coffee while doing some editing when two men sat down in a booth diagonally from me. I made brief eye contact with the one man, but his eyes looked fiercely unsettled, so I quickly looked back at my screen. Moments later, I heard him start to tell the other man (who I assume was a good friend) about how his kidney failure has progressed, how he'd seen "another physician" today and the diagnosis wasn't much better, about how the dialysis and medication he's on affects everything, his sleep, his daily routines, the finances, about how rough his day was and how he was losing faith ... he was crying.

I tried hard to mind my own business, but I couldn't bring myself to ignore it. Suddenly, I looked down at my right wrist, at my bracelet ... and it hit. He was getting this bracelet. There was nothing more to it. I knew it in that moment. But I was terrified. I may be a journalist, but it's never been easy for me to approach strangers. It's one thing to do it when I know it's my job. It's another when I'm compelled to initiate a conversation with someone I don't know for a reason that could come out sounding a bit crazy.

Yet, I couldn't ignore it. My heart began to race, my social anxiety began to fester, but I stood up, walked over and said, "Excuse me. There's this bracelet program I'm a part of. And it's about passing a bracelet on if you see someone do a random act of kindness or if you think they just need a gesture of caring. I think you could use one ... so I'm giving mine to you."

I handed it to him and he looked taken aback, as did his friend. He said "Thank you ... I had a really rough day today."

I said, "You're welcome. Now, all you have to do is pass it on to someone who does something nice for you or someone else."

He immediately put the bracelet on, thanked me again, as did his friend, and I walked out ... my hands slightly trembling and heart pounding. Something so seemingly easy, yet it was so scary for some reason. Yet afterward, I felt elated ... and a warmth swarmed my insides in a way I haven't felt in some time.

It was then, I truly felt the power behind a simple, kind gesture. And that's when I really "got it," really got the message behind this movement.

I hope everyone who reads this tries it tomorrow.  You don't need a bracelet to make someone smile.

Sure, this man may have thought I was crazy ... but something inside me tells me he's going to remember that moment for days, weeks, months and maybe years to come.

And maybe ... just maybe, I gave him a little bit of faith back.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Antiquated Love

“A house with old furniture has no need of ghosts to be haunted.” ~ Hope Mirrlees

Antiques have been a passion of mine for some time. Those close to me know this. But I never really go into detail about why, exactly. And quite frankly, I'm not altogether sure myself why collecting them fills my insides with a mixture of warmth, mystery, curiosity, imagination, haunting and comfort.

It's the same with classic films and songs ... or fitting covers, like this one I listen to on rainy days: Madeleine Peyroux

It's something that started when I was a kid, always drawn to "old things," whether around my parents' house or my grandma's house. It seemed like what was someone's overlooked junk, was my treasure. But as I grew older, I started searching for particular pieces, phones especially. I have a couple of antique ones now, one from the early 1930s with a brass earpiece ... and another, well ... the story behind this one is interesting.

I'd say at least 15, 16 years ago, I started searching for what is called a "candlestick" phone, which is one of those upright 1920s phones that is sleek like a candlestick with a hook on the side that the earpiece hangs from. I would literally walk into every antique store I came across and search and ask. No one ever said "yes, we have one" — until last month.

It's strange. The two most significant pieces (to me) I've ever found, an old Underwood typewriter, circa 1890s, and this candle stick phone, have been while on vacation ... and often at a time when I was going through a lot or just in the midst of an intense period of self growth — kind of searching, yearning for something to set my heart aflame.

This time was no different.

I was walking with my friend Katie in Savannah last month and we saw an Antique mall. She told me to go in, but I had been ready to pass by, having gotten to a point over the years of thinking I'd never stumbled upon the piece "naturally" and would have to look for one online.

So I walk in anyway, just glance through and am about to leave, when something inside me tells me to ask the woman at the counter anyway. So I do. She practically jumps up "Why yes! We do have one. Let me take you to it!"

If someone could have seen my face, they probably would have had to gently close my slightly parted lips and aghast expression. She explained that an older man came in a week or so ago and asked for that very same piece, specifically, and out of nowhere. She told him they didn't have it because she didn't realize what style phone he'd meant. The owner of the store berated her, since it's a rare piece these days and the guy probably would have paid for it. So as soon as I asked, she knew right away.

I heard all this, but I just kept staring at it ... black, brass, so many conversations once trilled through its mouth and earpiece, trembled through its now tattered phone cord. It was beautiful. It would be a splurge.

But I had to have it.

The woman looked at me and said, "I guess it's a good thing I made that mistake. It was meant to be."

As soon as it was placed in my hands, I felt my heart swell with a thousand emotions. Disbelief the greatest. I mean, this is something I've been searching to find for at least 15 years. In fact, I've had several friends looking for it as well.

Now it's mounted on a stand in my place. And, like my Underwood typewriter, every time I look at it, I feel nostalgic for a time I've never actually seen ... well in this life anyway.

Yet, call it the "old soul" in me, but antiques somehow give me a sense of "home." And to tie in with my quote, they haunt me, too ... but in beautiful ways. I wonder who owned them, what their life story was. In the case of the typewriter — obviously symbolic to my own passion — what words were born through the touch of its keys? What stories were told, letters written ... secrets unfolded?

With the phone, I imagine it may have been in a hotel down south somewhere, witness to various discourse, maybe laughter, tears, tension. I'm not sure why certain pieces pull me in like a moth to a flame, but these ones do.

And now, I've been able to cross one more off my list.

I can only dare to dream where and when I'll find the next ...


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The "In Between"

Having spent the better part of my life trying either to relive the past or experience the future before it arrives, I have come to believe that in between these two extremes is peace.  ~ Author Unknown

Feeling in a place I sometimes call the "in between." It's this place where I'm feeling so many different emotions across the spectrum at once, I almost feel I'm "in between" all of them, like a moving target.

Tonight, I'm also struggling a bit with fixating on things that make me anxious ... whether it's fixating on a person or memory or something in the present that is hard to comprehend or face. Fixating on the future ... the past. So the above quote is one I've been looking back on here and there as the days age past me. And it grounds me a bit. I keep remembering that now is truly all I've got. 

Sad things are going on around me lately, sad stories, hardships. Even today, it may seem on a smaller scale compared to some of the truly tragic or painful things people have or are going through right now, but my neighbor's dog ran out and was hit and killed by a car. I don't say this to bring you all down ... but it hit home with me hard, as I'd lost my first dog almost 8 years ago that same way. It devastated me at the time. I was only 20. But today, it just drove home the point that life is short and can truly be gone in a flicker of a moment. In a moment, everything can change. In a moment, our lives, as we know them, can disappear like a wisp of smoke caught up in a breeze. 

Sure, it's an anxious thought to mull over. No one wants to feel like they're lives are completely out of their control ... or that we're blindfolded while standing at the edge of a precipice. I don't recommend fixating on something like that. But I do think it's important to glance back on the concept that life is as fragile as the stem of a glass, to keep things in perspective when we're having bad days (as I am today). To remember good days are often right around the corner, but we have to first make the most of what we've got in front of us. To quit ignoring the cliches "Carpe Diem" or "Live in the moment," or "Life is short." And to start actually BELIEVING those things. After all, cliches don't become so for no reason.

I also tend to be a sponge to the people, environment/atmospheres or situations around me, to my friends' troubles, people I care about who are hurting or family members' woes. It's hard to put up that mental "white shield" sometimes. Like tonight.

Yet I continue to remember I'm living and breathing right now. And there CAN be peace found in this moment if I choose to find it and feel it. I recently took a trip to Savannah, GA with my best friend Katie as my "plus one" for a wedding I was in. We had a wonderful time there. Oftentimes, I go on vacation to "think" or find some kind of answer. In the past anyhow, that's always seemed to happen. But this time, I decided it wasn't going to be about soul searching, it was going to be about living. Simply living. Enjoying the moment and not thinking a thing about the past or future. And for the most part, I was actually able to succeed in this venture. And I felt myself physically transforming, even just in those days. I felt my heart lighten and my soul breathe ... I felt my mind stretch its tense muscles a bit and feel at ease and my emotions took on a slightly breezy, elated form. I felt a brief, but true reprieve.

Yes, I had to come back home and face things and life. And I am. But I keep grasping at that feeling of respite whenever I feel overwhelmed by life. And so far, I've been able to rein things back in and taste a bit of that peace again, even if just for a moment, when I'm able to suspend everything else pressing in on me. Because when I AM embracing the "now," I find that's where all the living happens.

It doesn't happen in the past ... and it doesn't happen in the future. The living happens right now. The peace is there, too, if I allow myself to feel it and breathe it. So that's kind of where I'm at right now. That's the chapter I'm in. And as the pages continue to turn, I'll continue to write them ...

Till next time ...