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As I read Lori‘s post from two days ago, I catch myself shaking my head.  It reminds me so much of the conversations that I had with my son whenever he had to deal with a bully. Some of these bullies were his peers.  Some, sadly, were adults.  But the one thing they had in common with each other, and the people Lori wrote about, is their smallness.

These are the people who felt big by making someone else small.  They were so self-involved that they couldn’t see how their actions impacted others.

And, yes.  I had this conversation with an 8 year-old.  Sure, I phrased it differently.  “Some people have to stand on someone else to make themselves feel big.”

 

Sadly it is the kind of habit we can all fall into.  Whether you’re the office “grammar witch” or the go to person for where things are in the Bible.  We need to make sure we’re helping people in a kind way and not simply so that we can stand a bit taller.

Kindness matters.

–SueBE

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Have you ever wanted to take a permanent vow of silence? You know, the kind preceded by a pursing of the lips, a twist of the wrist and the throwing away of an invisible key? I feel that way a lot. For all of my so-called proficiency with words on paper, I’m not a good speaker. Or even a good writer, a lot of the time. Sometimes my brain and my mouth aren’t exactly in sync. And other times I feel as if there is some secret code that everyone else knows but that has been withheld from me. In other words, for social, verbal creatures, we humans sure are good at offending one another. Often, we do not even mean to. There is simply no way to gauge how our words will affect another human being.

We can guess, of course. We know that certain words are hurtful or offensive. But what about the ones that seem to operate in secret — poisonous words that we thought were as bland as unbuttered popcorn, and just as lethal? And sometimes words aren’t even necessary. People have hated other people on sight since the beginning of time. There was a girl I knew in high school who confessed that she loathed me because the first time I opened my mouth in class, I used a polysyllabic word that raised her hackles. I was “a know-it-all.” A prig. Later, we became friends, but I never lost the sense that somehow this was against her better judgment — that I’d failed in some primal way, but had been forgiven for it. Only I still don’t know how I failed.

Haters gonna hate. Isn’t that what the kids are saying these days? Or maybe they used to say it and now it’s as dated as “groovy” and “right on, man.” How would I know? Clearly, words I see as peaceful doves can land like bombs without my consent or knowledge. No one can control how they are perceived by others. Even if they try really, really hard.

So I guess what I’m saying is: be kind. Remember that the person in front of you is as fragile and hurting as you are. We’re all just shivering piles of dust, flimsy and susceptible to blowing away in the lightest of gales. No one wants to be alone. No one wants to be hated. For better or worse, we’re stuck with one another. That’s going to necessitate a heap of compassion, a mound of forgiveness, a great mountain of understanding. It is the job of every one of us to add to the pile. If we claim to be good people, moral people, it is the job of a lifetime.

In the meantime, if I offend you, I’m sorry. I wish I could take that vow of silence and mean it, but I’m afraid I’m just not capable of it. It would mean hiding my light under a bushel basket for one thing, and I’m pretty sure God doesn’t support that kind of thing.

“The rest is silence,” says Hamlet as he breathes his last. Now there’s a guy I can relate to.

heart and hands

At eight years old, my son taught me an important lesson in body language and soul-speak.

After walking home from the bus stop, he came through the door, smiling.

In quick succession, I issued a list of his moving violations.

  • You wore that shirt?
  • Don’t slouch! 
  • You forgot your homework again.

Posture adjustment.

From “Glad to be home from school – oh look, there’s my Mom!”

to “Guess I did something wrong and didn’t even know it.”

Looked like a tiny candle’s flame, fading. Flickering out. Poof!

That very day, I learned something. I felt terrible that I had made my own child feel so terrible.

Next afternoon, I started a new tradition.

Since that time and to this day, when he comes home from school, I don’t harp or hassle or harangue. I don’t carp or criticize or cauterize with my words.

Front door opens. I dance.

Flail around like a dadblamed fool.

Like a cheerleader hailing a champion.

I clap my hands and sing. “My son is home! My sooooon is hooooome. Yay! Tell me all about your day, son,” as if talking to Magellan, returning from high seas with tall tales.

Sure, he may roll his eyes at such a dramatic display of MotherLove; still, he walks slowly down the hall to his room, as if secretly appreciating being appreciated.

Teaching is a part of life for all of us, but I’ve never learned anything from being yelled at, picked on or beaten down.

My son may have been the one coming home from school, but I’m the one who learned a lesson.

Note to self: When people you love come home, make them feel at home.

Love your loved ones.

Sounds obvious, but this basic truth can get lost in translation. I’m so glad I finally listened.

As I may have mentioned a thousand times before on this bloggie, I’m from Jersey.  Do youse gotta prollem widat? As you can see, we have our own language.  I’m from a place that has a bit of a, shall we say, reputation.  We’re not exactly known as a warm and fuzzy place, and we may be perceived as a bit, well, brash, perhaps even veering into… obnoxious.

It doesn’t help that our governor is larger than life (although shrinking, post-bariatric surgery) and has attitude to spare.

Are we in a hurry?  Probably.  Do we have a bit of swagger in our step? I think so. But people from Jersey – in fact, people from Anywhere, USA – all want the same things out of life and, I may go out on a limb here, but hear me out: I think most people have a good heart and want to help others when they can.

A couple of weeks ago, I was receiving my monthly infusion of medication, and my nurse, Rosanne, was taking care of me.  She and all the nurses and staff at the Regional Cancer Care Center in East Brunswick* have been angels to me, making me feel like part of their family.  After my infusion was started, the husband of another patient stopped by to hand me a Dunkin Donuts Munchkin. “Oh, thank you,” I said, smiling, and he nodded pleasantly.  A few minutes later, he returned with the box.  “Go ahead,” he offered.  “Take as many as you want.”  I declined, but he persisted.  “Go on.  The nurses said we could share.”  I shook my head and he stood there, really wanting me to take another donut.  Finally I said, “I’m the one who brought them in!”

I think most people really want everyone to be happy.

There.  I said it!

I know that “Schadenfreude” is a thing now.  And that there are some people who do enjoy watching other peoples’ “fails” on YouTube.

But if given the chance, I think almost everyone will try to make a stranger’s day brighter.

Sure, if you just go by the headlines and the nightly news, you’d think most people are miscreants.  But that’s just not the case.  Even though the people doing the wrong thing are getting a lot of airtime, the ones Mister Rogers called “the Helpers” are out there too.  They’re at the Infusion Center in the hearts and hands of the nurses, the pleasant banter of the staff, the patients encouraging each other.

I may be the only person in the world who didn’t watch “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child.  But recently I saw a documentary about Fred Rogers’ life, and he believed that there is always a way to find people willing to do the right thing, even during a crisis.

It doesn’t take much to be kind to someone else.  Even a donut hole that you bought yourself can taste like manna when a stranger gives it back to you. And if we all agree to try it at least once a day – hold a door for a young mother at the mall, let someone onto the elevator first – maybe there will be a cumulative effect and a whole wave of kindness will overtake the world!  Or, at the very least, your day will be better.  It’s the opposite of “Schadenfreude.”  Maybe we’ll call it “Lightenupfreude.” Could that become a thing?  It’s up to you!

*This is where I receive my Tysabri for Multiple Sclerosis.  Just so my friends don’t worry, I don’t have cancer, dear ones.  It’s just the name of the place where I receive my infusion every month.

Many years ago, I worked in an office for a healthcare company. One of the perks of working in an office is that there is usually a break room where you can sit with your colleagues over coffee and just shoot the breeze. It’s a nice break in the day and it can be a palate-cleanser between hectic projects.

So one day, I was working my way from the break room table to head back to my office, and I tried in vain to squeeze past the lady sitting in the chair at the end by the wall. Ever so slightly, I grazed her shoulder as I passed, and she spilled a bit of her coffee onto the table.

“Sorry!” I said. “Let me get a paper towel.”

“It’s okay, I’ve got a napkin. No biggie,” she said, and went back to her morning paper.

A male co-worker, also sitting at the table, said to another person, “But she’s not even…”

He didn’t have to say it, but he was thinking, She’s not even heavy. How did her hips not make it through that aisle and cause a minor spill?

The other person, a middle-aged woman responded, “Well, it’s not about weight, it’s about grace.”

Oddly, I wasn’t offended, even though this woman was, of all things, the communications manager! She should have known better, perhaps, than to say something right in front of me that might hurt my feelings. As a matter of necessity, I’ve developed something of a thick skin through my years here in the garden state, where the passing of the man who played Tony Soprano led to the state flags being lowered to half mast.

I’ve also instituted a personal policy of not being hurt by anything others say, as long as it’s “factually accurate.” This is a phrase we used in corporate communications so often that I truncated it to “faccurate.” We could fend off a lawsuit if the claims were not faccurate. We could put out a press release with documentation of what was faccurate (according to us).

She was right. I wasn’t a ballerina. There’s not a bit of gracefulness in my gait – even more so now that I’m on the mend from an MS exacerbation.

The thing is, we all knew the communications manager was one of those people, as we say in Jersey. Not a bad sort at all, but (as we also say in Jersey) if it’s on her mind, it’s out of her mouth. You get used to people who function this way and work around them, the way you give more latitude with the language to people from other countries. Like Simon Cowell, they seem unfettered by things such as tact or sensitivity, but most of the time, they’re speaking the truth.

I realized that tact just wasn’t her department. It wasn’t her grace.

Everyone has a gift of connection that bonds them to others, and for some, it is empathy. For others, like this woman, it’s effective project management. She could take an enormous project and break it into manageable bites. This makes everyone’s job easier; we all know what we need to do and when it needs to get done.

What’s your grace? For me, it seems to be listening to stories. I know this happens to Lori and SueBE too, and it may be because our friends know that we’re writers, but it happens randomly with strangers too. Offering support and encouragement doesn’t seem much of a ministry, as compared to going overseas on a mission, as one of my favorite bloggers, Ang of Faith Sweat & Tears is doing currently. But it is a grace note on a chaotic day. Another favorite blogger, Debbie, speaks of grace finding us where we are, and just as we are.

I think I’m being faccurate when I say that grace is what is holding the world together. We rely so much on God’s grace that we may forget it’s a gift that never leaves us, even when we give it away. Grace shows up everywhere when you start to look for it. Look around today. Where do you find grace?

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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