Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
- Leo Buscaglia


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Signing Up to Help

     For most people, myself included, one of our least favorite things in the world is to fundraise by asking other people to contribute to one of our "causes."  It often involves either the discomfort of talking to strangers or the equal discomfort of feeling like we're pestering our friends.  With all that being said, I made a commitment today to join a fundraising effort.
     Next year will be my 30th college reunion (how could I be that old??) at William & Mary.  For each of the 5-year reunions, a committee has been put together to encourage classmates to make significant contributions to the College in honor of that particular class reunion.  I've never participated in the solicitation part before, but I was recently asked to be a member of the committee responsible to do the fundraising.  
     As with most things, I realize that I could either look at this as a pain or a nuisance to people as well as a dreaded obligation on my part; or I could choose to see it as an opportunity to connect with lots of old friends, meet new ones, and make a big difference for W&M.  I'm choosing the latter approach.  And with that attitude, I'm actually excited to participate.  My challenge will be to maintain that positive approach throughout the process.  It always amazes me to notice how a simple "reframing" of our outlook can change everything.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Making Another Loan

     Yesterday I received an e-mail from the organization Kiva.  This is an organization I wrote about a couple of months ago that simply amazes me.  Put as simply as I can, it's a site that aggregates small amounts of money and facilitates making micro loans (and collecting repayments) for people all over the world.  If you've not looked at this site, do it now.  Truly amazing.
     Anyway, the e-mail that I received was showing me the repayments that had been made on the 3 loans in which I'm participating.  I contributed just $25 to each of 3 different people and, together with many others, we were able to fund loans that could be the difference between success and failure for people trying to build tiny businesses in 3rd world nations.  The repayments come back to me as credits in my account.  Today, I applied those credits, and added a little more to fund a 4th loan.  This one was for a woman in an Asian country called Tajikistan.  She is applying for a loan of $875 to buy more cattle that she raises for her business.  How cool is it that I'm actually helping individual people around the world to achieve a greater degree of self-sufficiency and perhaps an end to their poverty?  
     I don't know who had the idea for Kiva, but it's a brilliant one for allowing so many people to participate at small amounts of money, and track both the impact of the loans as well as the repayments.  Anyone who is pessimistic about the state of the world should spend more time looking at sites like these. Very life affirming.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Note of Thanks

     Lately I've been doing quite a bit of traveling in conjunction with a workshop I do for CEO's around the country helping them learn how to develop high performance teams through building a powerful organizational culture.  Most of these talks are arranged through a great organization called Vistage (I've mentioned them in previous blogs).  Vistage has a travel department that coordinates and books all the air, hotels, and rental cars that are necessary to get me (and other speakers) to the various locations where I'm requested to present.  
     There are two women who work in the travel department, Lisa and Anca.  Both have been incredibly helpful, friendly, accommodating, and easy to work with.  They're always cheerful and are more than happy to make any changes that may be necessary as plans inevitably get switched around.  I'm guessing they don't often get the acknowledgment they deserve, so tonight I decided to send them a personal note letting them know how much I appreciate working with them.  
    I'm not always as good as I could be at remembering to acknowledge those who do great work, but I'm working on it.  Tonight was a step in that direction.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Checking the Ego at the Door

     For a few months, off and on, I've been working with an amazing friend trying to help him to achieve greater clarity about his career and to better articulate his personal mission.  There are a whole lot of reasons why this is important that I won't go into here, but it's been a fun and rewarding exercise, and I know it's been helpful to him.  
     That project has now expanded to include several others and I'm excited to see the result of the synergies that are being brought together.  Yesterday we were able to meet again and continue to make progress.  I'm always happy to make my home available as a good meeting place.
     When I was running my company, one of our most important operating principles (we called them our "Fundamentals") was to "check the ego at the door."  This means focusing on the best ideas and not being so concerned with image or being too concerned with pushing for your own idea.  In the context of this project, it's been awesome to see the way each person has been able to make contributions without any personal/ego investment. In other words, we're all interested in the same thing - coming up with the best work, and nothing else matters.  It's so refreshing to be able to work this way, and so much more productive as well.
     In many respects, I think this mirrors the focus of kindness.  In its "purest" form, kindness is really about a focus on others and how we can best serve them, rather than focusing on our own needs.  To be sure, there's nothing at all wrong, in my view, with gaining satisfaction or personal gratification as a result of doing something nice.  The difference is about purpose.  The purpose of kindness is to serve others.  Any corollary benefits are really just icing on the cake - and to be enjoyed, of course!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Taking the Call

     Yesterday, someone asked me if I would be willing to take a phone call from a young friend of his looking for some career insight and advice.  To be perfectly candid, I wasn't sure I had anything to offer and really didn't particularly want to do the call.  However, I realized it wasn't a big request and that, beyond wanting to protect my time and make more intentional choices about where I apply my assistance, I didn't have any particularly good reason to say no.  The call was scheduled for this afternoon.
     As we began the conversation, I really wasn't clear on what the young man was looking for.  The more we talked though, the more I was able to provide him with some insight, perspective, and direction.  He commented several times how refreshing it was to talk with me as I was able to give him an appreciably different and useful point of view in comparison to the standard things he heard from so many others.  It only took 45 minutes of my time, and I believe it made a world of difference to him.
     This was yet another reminder to me of the importance of being willing to share as freely as possible, even when it doesn't feel convenient.  Who knows how that conversation may change the course of a young person's career?  And yet, I really wanted to skip it for mostly selfish reasons.  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Great Example

     I've written several times this year about my son Ben's mission trip around the world through a program known as The World Race.  Ben took a year off from college to devote his energy to serving people from all walks of life.  During that time he spent a month in each of 11 different countries - Serbia, Romania, India, Nepal, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, and the Philippines.  
     Below is an 11-minute video Ben created that gives a glimpse into the lives of people in many parts of the world, their joy despite hardship, and the joy that comes from the selfless serving of others.  (You can click on the picture below to view the video, or you can go to this link as well:  http://youtu.be/5Zcmo7XaWqw).  I'm sharing the video because I think it's inspiring and demonstrates the real power of kindness.  I hope you'll share it with others as another act of kindness.




     For me, the video is also a reminder of the common bond we all share.  When I see the faces of the children, in particular, I realize that people are mostly the same all over the world.  I also realize just how fortunate I am to have been born at this time, in this place, in this family, and in these circumstances.  I did nothing to deserve that.  I'm simply incredibly lucky.  While I need not apologize for that good fortune, I can certainly appreciate it and I can certainly devote some of my energy and resources toward helping those who, through no fault of their own, weren't born as lucky as me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Providing a Sounding Board

     Sometimes, the best help we can give someone is mostly just to listen.  Sometimes, the simple act of talking through the issues can help a person clarify their own thoughts or see options and alternatives that they were previously missing.  Today, my job was to play that role for a friend.
     My friend has been dealing with a variety of challenging situations over the past year or two.  From time to time, he asks for some of my time and help in sorting out issues.  Mostly, I just try to be a good listener.  That means listening without judgment and without any preconceived conclusions.  Once I've heard and understood the situation, I do also try to offer some thoughts and suggestions to consider.  Of course, this is only when requested as unsolicited advice can often be unwelcome.  
     As I've seen throughout this year, kindness can and does take on many different forms.  It can be a simple gesture of politeness, or a surprise bouquet of flowers, or a ride to a doctor's appointment, or a cold gatorade on a hot day, or a letter to a soldier abroad or a sick child.  And sometimes, it's just the gift of time.
     

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Too Few Days

     As most readers know by now, my son Ben was away for nearly a year on a mission trip around the world, returning home in early June.  What people may not know is that when Ben was younger, he and I went on many baseball trips to see games in nearly 25 different ballparks all across the country.  We've always enjoyed going to sporting events together and we hadn't been to one since his return.  Last night we changed that!
     Thanks to the simplicity of purchasing tickets through StubHub, I was able to suggest a last-minute Phillies' game to Ben.  Roy Halladay was pitching and it was a beautiful night for a game (after a very brief shower).  Our seats were great - just 24 rows up from the field.  Though it didn't look very promising for a win, the Phillies managed to score 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to pull out a really exciting victory.
     More important than the win, of course, is that I got to spend more quality time with Ben.  As most parents know, it's bittersweet to see our children grow up.  We want them to be independent, and we're proud of the young adult lives they're creating for themselves, but we also can't help but realize how many fewer days are left that they're home with us.  I'm trying to make the most of those days.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Patience for Patients

     Today was my second (and final) week driving the patient I described last week to his doctor's appointment.  This week, of course, I knew more about what to expect - particularly as it relates to understanding his thick Nigerian accent.  He's a big sports fan, so we were quickly able to get into the debate about the severity of the sanctions levied upon Penn State, the start of the Eagles' training camp, tonight's Phillies' game, as well as the upcoming Olympics.  I also learned more about his family and the 29-year old autistic son who lives with him.
     Every time I do one of these drives I'm reminded of what a great program it truly is.  This man needed a ride to the doctor's for 20 consecutive days to receive his radiation treatment.  I literally don't know how he would have managed this without the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  Without a pretty strong support network, it's a lot to expect for anyone.  
     And candidly, as a driver, I benefit too.  I get to know interesting people who I would have otherwise never met, and I get the satisfaction of knowing I made an important difference at a critical time in their lives.  A pretty good deal all the way around.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Keeping Up With My Pen Pal

     Today was my day to send another letter (actually, e-mail) to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan.  I actually had a nice note from him this morning.  Only 45 days left till the replacements arrive for his unit, so he's really starting to count the days till he comes home.  He'll be arriving through Ft. Dix, so I might even get a chance to meet him when he's there.  
     I was talking with a friend the other night who told me that she has a pen pal (in England) that she befriended when she was a young teenager, some 45 years ago!  And they've been great friends since.  For me, it's been so fascinating to see how the relationship I have with "my soldier" has developed over these months.  I remember blogging about the frustration I felt when I hadn't yet heard back from him, as if I was having a one-way conversation.  Since we've started mostly communicating by e-mail though, the relationship has blossomed as we've been able to "talk" so much more frequently.  It's strange to think that he was randomly "assigned" to me when I volunteered to adopt a soldier through Soldiers' Angels and now, months later, we've fast become friends.  
     I suppose in some ways, it's a reminder that we're all pretty similar.  Despite our outward differences, at a deeply human level, most people have the same hopes and dreams, joys and fears.  I think it's what enables us to connect with each other, even when we begin as strangers.  My growing relationship with a soldier serving overseas has definitely been one of my most rewarding events of the year.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Writing to Sick Children

     It's been quite awhile since I've written a card or e-mail to a sick child, so I thought that might be a good activity for today.  There's a great site called Post Pals that I've used for this purpose in the past.  It's based in England, and provides the names, details, and histories of ill children for whom a card, gift, or e-mail can mean the world.
     Tonight I sent an e-mail to a 12-year old boy who suffers from cerebral palsy, among a number of other serious conditions.  The site provides information about his interests so I was able to make my note personal and specific to him.  I can imagine the positive impact it must have for these children to know that people around the world are thinking of them.  If you have the time or inclination, it's worth checking out the site and writing a note or two.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Flowers on a Gloomy Day

     Today was one of those cloudy, rainy, gloomy days where the sun seems like a foreign concept.  While we sure needed the rain, sunny days are a lot more fun.  Since it's been quite a while since I last delivered flowers to anyone, I figured today would be a good day for that.
     After I completed everything I needed to do today, I swung by Wegmans to pick up a colorful bouquet of mixed flowers.  While I've sometimes given them directly to a stranger, today I decided to brighten the day of someone in a nursing home.  Right near my house is a home that caters specifically to patients with Alzheimer's and/or Dementia.  
   Carrying the flowers, I walked into the home and approached the receptionist, a woman named Jill.  I explained to her that I wanted the flowers to go to one of their patients who could use some  good cheer on a day like today, and that I'd leave it to her to choose the recipient.  She was surprised and pleased, and after accepting the flowers, said that she'd let the nurses choose the right person.  I simply thanked her and left.
     I'm guessing that Jill probably thought this was a pretty strange event as I didn't even leave my name or anything.  In some ways, gestures like these can be really rewarding in their simplicity and their anonymity.  Someone is going to get a nice surprise, they'll never know who provided it, and I'll never know exactly what happened or how it affected them.  But I do know that the world is just a little nicer for that person today than it was yesterday.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Little Free Advice

     I've mentioned a couple of times on this site a website, Sparked.com, where non-profit organizations post requests for help and various people can offer their assistance.  Most of the help is in the form of using your talents to assist them - it's not a place where they're soliciting donations.  Occasionally I get an e-mail from Sparked notifying me of a new "challenge" that's been posted that might fit my skills.  Today I responded to one of those.
     The non-profit, Puente Learning Center, is a pretty cool organization in Los Angeles that is trying to make a difference in some tough neighborhoods through education.  They seem to have some amazing programs that have already had a big impact.  Anyway, the help they were requesting was for some people to look at their website and identify at least 5 ways that it could be improved.  While I think the site is pretty darn good, there are always things that could be better and so I submitted a list of suggestions.  In addition to me, there have already been a handful of others who've posted suggestions as well.
     Sparked is just another one of the many great sites out there that bring people from literally all over the world together to help each other.  Cool stuff.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Water for the Homeless

     I was giving a talk for a group in Center City Philadelphia this afternoon and had an hour or so between the end of my talk and meeting people for dinner.  My wife was with me, and as we went for a walk on the streets around the hotel where I gave my talk, I noticed a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk, leaning against a building.  Since it was one of the hottest days on record, I thought it might be nice to buy the man a bottle of water.
     After stopping in a Dunkin' Donuts to buy the water, I went back to the street corner where I had seen the man minutes before.   Unfortunately, he was no longer there!  Since I was determined to give someone this bottle of water, I went looking for another appropriate recipient.  It wasn't more than a few minutes before I came across a man who also appeared to be homeless, begging people for some spare change.  I walked up to him and offered him the cold water which he readily accepted and quickly began to drink.
     The water cost all of $1.49.  It makes me think that I should try to do something similar any time I'm in the city - buy a cold drink, or something small to eat, and then find a homeless person/beggar to give it to.  What a small cost to make a difference for someone - even if the difference is only temporary.  If you're hungry or thirsty and have no money, everything matters.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Making Connections

     I received an e-mail recently from someone who I met at a non-profit function.  In his message he mentioned that he had read my book and had gotten so much value from it that he couldn't put it down.  He wanted to know if he could use some of the material in his company, and also wanted to know if I would meet with him for breakfast or lunch one day.  Whenever possible, I try to oblige these requests and this morning we had breakfast together.
     Though we didn't have any particular agenda, it was good to share each other's "stories" and to find points of common interest.  As I learned more about his career situation, I offered to make some connections for him.  Though I'm temporarily stymied due to some people's vacations, I've already begun the process of arranging the introductions I promised.  
     "Networking" is such an interesting process.  It relies on each person's willingness to do for others without any specific expectation of payback.  However, if we each do as much to help others as we can, in a circular kind of way, it all comes right back to us.  At least that's how I see networking.  In that spirit, it was my pleasure to meet with this person and to do whatever I can to help him.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Riding Along

     Today was the 6th time this year that I've driven a patient to a doctor's appointment through the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  As is the custom, I get the name, address, and appointment details in advance and then usually call the patient a few days before to introduce myself and agree upon a pickup time.  I was told that today's patient was a little hard to understand over the phone (I had to leave a message), so I was curious to see what I would find.
     I picked up a delightful man who I'll call F.  He was indeed a bit difficult to understand as he had a fairly strong foreign accent, so it took extra concentration to listen carefully to him.  I asked lots of questions and learned that he was from Nigeria originally, and came over here in his early 20's during the Nigerian Civil War.  With the assistance of the Red Cross, he was able to get to England, and then eventually to the US where his family settled in the Washington DC area.  He explained to me the problem with corruption in Nigeria where oil money is too often used to enrich individuals rather than develop the country.  F. has 5 grown children (a son and 4 daughters), he's a big Eagles' fan as well as a college football fan, and he used to be a bookkeeper for a local company.  He was a fun guy to get to know and it was a pleasure to be able to support him with a ride.  I'll actually be driving him next Monday as well.
     Here's something I've always noticed about people with a foreign accent:  too often, I'm embarrassed to say, I find myself treating them as if they're not intelligent.  It's as if their inability to communicate easily in English, in my mind, gets confused with their ability to understand things.  Obviously I know that this isn't necessarily the case at all.  If I were speaking a language other than my native tongue, I might not communicate that well and it wouldn't be a reflection of my level of intelligence.  And yet, I too often find myself getting caught in this self-inflicted trap.  What usually helps me to let go of this habit is when I ask questions, particularly ones that require insight, and then pay careful attention to the answers.  This often helps me to hear beyond simply the halting words that may be offered.  I suppose being a better listener is in itself a form of generosity or kindness.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Supporting the Team

     Over the past 24 hours, hundreds of runners have been doing loops around the Philadelphia Art Museum, Kelly Drive, and West River Drive.  They began around 10:00 am on Saturday and didn't finish until 10:00 this morning.  Some were "lone rangers", running as many miles as they could in 24 hours.  Others were part of 5-person relay teams also covering tons of miles throughout the day.  All were part of the Back On My Feet (www.backonmyfeet.org) fundraiser, known as the 20 in 24.  It's a truly amazing event for a great cause.
     Originally, I had signed up to participate in the event as part of a relay team.  Unfortunately, a hamstring injury suffered last month forced me to withdraw from the team, but thankfully, I was able to be replaced.  In addition to financial support, I wanted to show the team my emotional support so I went over last night with my son Ben to cheer the runners on.  In this picture are two members of the team I was to be on, Paul Canton and John Stelmaski.  They each ran roughly 25+ miles, as did the other members of the team.
     As Ben and I were leaving the Art Museum Area, we came across two young women who appeared to be sightseers, holding an i-phone and taking pictures.  I asked them if they wanted me to take their picture.  After a moment's hesitation, they said, "Sure", and then quickly went to a scenic spot for the photos.  They were certainly enthusiastic, asking our names and Ben's age, and thanking us repeatedly.  It's one of those simple gestures that I try to keep an eye out for, as most people really appreciate it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sending a Surprise Card

     I recently learned that the fiancĂ© of a friend of mine is studying for the Bar exam and is feeling some stress.  I thought it might be nice to send her a "good luck" card and some words of encouragement.  I got her home address from my friend and got the card off in today's mail.  Since I've never met her and she doesn't know too much about me, it will likely come as a nice surprise when she gets the card.  I love those kinds of unexpected gestures.
     I find that if you listen closely, you can find lots of these types of opportunities to surprise people.  Birthdays present easy opportunities.  It's not unusual for someone's birth date to come up in casual conversations.  I try to listen for this and then record the date in my calendar.  Then I make a point to call or e-mail the person or send them a card on their birthday.  It's typically a real surprise to them as they had no idea I knew when their birthday was.  Listening for graduations, weddings, promotions, and other significant events presents additional chances to create pleasant surprises.
     Having said all this, I have a pet peeve about cards.  I absolutely hate when I receive a card with just a signature and no note at all.  (Worse yet is a card without a signature, and I've seen plenty of those, too!).  Receiving a card without a note feels impersonal, as if someone's secretary completed the task for them as an obligation.  It actually has the opposite effect of sending a meaningful card.  I'd definitely rather get nothing than one of those cards.  When we take the time to compose a handwritten note in the card, even if it's just a sentence or two, it tells the recipient that we really are thinking of them and wanting to send our thoughts to them.  After all, isn't that the whole point in sending the card in the first place?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Gift Card for a Stranger

     I was at O'Hare Airport in Chicago this evening, making my way home to Philadelphia, when I passed a McDonald's restaurant situated between the E and F gates.  Since I had a McDonald's gift card with me, I decided this might be a good day to surprise a stranger with a card.  
     It's funny, as I surveyed the people and tried to select a good recipient, I felt kind of nervous.  Even after having done things like this many times so far this year, I still feel a little awkward when I approach a total stranger.  I often think, "What am I doing?"  Of course, since I've made this commitment, I have to keep going and so I get myself to just dive in and go for it.
     I figured I'd stand around the McDonald's and look for someone standing in line (since obviously this would mean they intend to buy something there) and then offer them the gift card; and that's exactly what I did.  I saw a woman wearing a uniform like she might be a maintenance worker of some sort, and I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Excuse me, I'd like to give you this $5 gift card to McDonald's."  She was so surprised, perhaps even shocked, and she couldn't stop thanking me.  I just asked her to do something nice for someone else today, to which she said she absolutely would.  I'm certain she's going to tell her friends and family tonight about the strange thing that happened to her at the airport!
     Like many things that we get nervous for beforehand, afterwards I was so glad that I did it.  I definitely made her day, and it cost so little.  It's fun to do that for a total stranger, and hopefully it had a domino effect as she spread kindness to others.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Helping a Disabled Veteran

     There are literally endless numbers of people who need endless amounts of help.  To be candid, sometimes it's overwhelming even to think about it, and it can be difficult to figure out the most appropriate way to help and the appropriate amount with which to help.  No matter how much assistance we offer, we could always do more and there will always be more people who need that help.  I honestly don't know how best to answer this dilemma, other than to make sure I at least keep doing something.  Tonight, I decided to go back to wishuponahero.com, and find someone to help.
     As I read through the stories of so many desperate people in need of assistance, I settled on the opportunity to help a disabled veteran and his wife as they struggle to pay their utility bills and stay in their home.  I can hardly imagine how difficult this must be, and further, how difficult it must be to swallow your pride and ask strangers for help.  I made a contribution to the family, though it likely only put a small dent into their sizable challenge.  I realize that it's just a start for them, and that it won't solve all their problems, but at least I helped.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Smiling Face

     Today I was traveling to Chicago and so had many opportunities to make a difference for people I encountered.  I decided that I would look for every chance I could to make eye contact with people and see if I could make them smile.  This is an interesting experiment to do.  
     Some people seem naturally happy and cheerful and smile quite easily.  Others, like one particular TSA person I saw, seem determined to look bored and glum.  As I approached this one person, I looked her in the eye, smiled, and asked how she was.  She lifted her eyes toward me and did give a slight grin.  It's fascinating to see that the very demeanor with which we approach others can actually change how they respond to us, and quite possibly, how they subsequently respond to others.  It gets me thinking about the widespread impact that more smiling could have on the world.  An interesting thought . . . and by the way, smiling is free.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Another Father's Day Donation

     Those who've been reading my blog regularly may remember that for Father's Day, my son Ben gave me a gift card for the organization JustGive.org.  This organization serves as somewhat of a clearinghouse to marshall funds to literally thousands of different non-profits throughout the world.  I redeem the gift card by designating all or a portion of the card to be applied to any non-profit(s) that I choose.  Last month, I used half of the gift card amount to make a contribution to the amazing organization that helps support the homeless through running programs - BackOnMyFeet.org.  Tonight, I decided to use the remainder of that gift card.
     This time I chose as my recipient, Literacy Volunteers of Burlington County. It's hard for most of us to imagine (myself certainly included) what it would be like not to be able to read.  Almost every thing we do involves some degree of reading.  I admire those who devote their time to helping to teach others to read, as the impact they can have on changing lives is direct and significant.  It's an area I'd like to look into more to explore how I could become a teacher. In the meantime, though, I at least have made a donation to help them do their important work.

Monday, July 9, 2012

An Easy Way to Help

     Awhile ago, I wrote about the website, Freerice.com.  This is one of so many websites that make it easier than ever to make a difference - right from your own home and computer.  The founders have two goals:  to educate people and to end hunger.  All you have to do is go on to the site and take part in any number of quizzes on different topics.  They're fun to do.  For every correct answer you get, they'll donate 10 grains of rice.  The money to pay for the rice comes from sponsors who advertise on the site.
     Tonight, I was able to donate 1000 grains of rice to help feed hungry people.  When helping becomes this easy, it's hard to think of an excuse for not doing more.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Round of Golf

     As I mentioned in yesterday's post, my wife and I hosted our annual family reunion this past weekend; and as one might imagine, lots of family have been around over the past week.  My parents have been staying with us, and my sister and her husband have also been in town from Arizona, staying with one of my brothers.  While I'm about the only golfer in my immediate family, my brother-in-law enjoys golf almost as much as I do, so we try to play whenever we're together.
     During the 5-6 days that he's been visiting, we've managed to get out to play 3 times, including today.  It's been my pleasure to host him at my club each of those times.  While it's not inexpensive to do, it's nice to be able to invite a friend (or relative) to enjoy a great round of golf and not have them pay anything.  It truly is one of those times where it's better to give than to receive.  
     I find that trying to keep a strict accounting of who pays for what or trying to make sure that everyone has paid his fair share is tiring and no fun.  It feels much better to be generous and to know that it all evens out in the end.  A great example of this philosophy, on an admittedly small scale, is the way we handle food and snacks at the "halfway house" at our club.  
     Sitting at the counter is a cup with 5 die in it.  Members will typically agree to "roll" to see who pays.  Each member rolls the cup of die and the member who rolls the lowest total number pays for everyone's snacks that day.  No one worries about who got a hot dog and who only got a Powerade.  And no one worries about who paid the last time.  It's much simpler this way, and we all figure that at the end of the year we each will likely have paid for an appropriate amount.  
     In all of these areas, I'd rather err on the side of generosity.
     

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Keeping the Flame

     When I was a kid, my family used to participate in an annual family reunion that included 4 or 5 extended families of cousins.  Each year, we'd all get together, rotating the host family among several different houses.  This went on for many years, until my parents took over as semi-permanent hosts at their house in Moorestown.  Roughly 10 years ago, my parents moved to Arizona and the annual family reunion went "dormant" for lack of an appropriate host family and someone to organize it; that is, until we stepped in.
     When my wife and I built a new house in town, one of our goals was to have the kind of home that could serve as a central gathering place for the extended family.  Six years ago, we re-instituted the annual event and have continued to do it since.  Today was the day for this year's edition, attended by more than 50 people.  
     Everyone has come to look forward to the reunions as many of the families never see each other except for this day.  In fact, it occurred to me today that if it weren't for our effort to keep the tradition alive, most of these people wouldn't have any occasion to be with each other.  We even had a professional photographer come to take a group picture of everyone, something last done 30 years ago.  Hosting this each year does take a lot of work (especially for my wife), and it can be costly, but it's certainly worth it.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Enjoying a Puppet

     Last night, we celebrated my father's 80th birthday (even if it was 3 weeks early!).  We were able to get all five of his children, together will all 5 spouses, and 6 of the 10 grandchildren to come to a surprise dinner we held at Riverton Country Club.  Besides having everyone there, the highlight of the evening was the entertainment.  My good friend, comedian Taylor Mason, performed after dinner and had everyone in stitches.  Among other things, Taylor is a ventriloquist, and at his suggestion, we had a puppet made to look like my father!  See the picture below.  It was definitely a huge hit!
     The puppet was created by a professional in Maryland who makes puppets for showbiz.  Working from pictures that I supplied, he produced a real masterpiece for us that will always be remembered.  Today, I made sure I reached out to him to let him know what a success it was and how much I appreciated his work.  I sent him an e-mail and I also called him.  I'm sure he values the feedback and likes to hear the stories of what happens with his creations.  
     Staying on the theme of appreciation, I also reached out to Taylor Mason as well as my contact at Riverton to let each know of my thankfulness for the job they did.  The evening really couldn't have been better and it was due, in no small part, to the work of a number of different people.  It's important to take the time to share specific and meaningful appreciation when it's well-deserved, as it certainly was here.
     

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Gatorade on a Hot Day

     Today was a scorching hot day in NJ (and throughout the country).  After playing golf and running a few errands, I needed to stop and get gas for my car.  As some may know, NJ is one of only 2 states (Oregon being the other) where it's illegal to pump your own gas.  I always feel bad for the gas station attendants who are stuck pumping gas in the worst weather - cold nasty days, rainy days, or brutally hot and humid days like today.  Today I decided to at least make the day a little easier for one of them.
     Just before getting to the gas station where I usually fill up, I stopped at the 7-11 that's right across the street and picked up a cold bottle of Orange Gatorade.  The place where I like to get gas always has friendly workers so I prefer to go there whenever I can.  Sure enough, a very pleasant guy took care of me, and when he was giving me my receipt, I handed him the Gatorade and told him to enjoy it and stay cool.  
     I love these simple little acts of kindness.  They're just a good way of showing that we can all be nice to each other - even to strangers.  There's no additional motive, no expected reward, no recognition.  Just the satisfaction of making someone else's day a little better.
     

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Following His Lead

     This afternoon, I finally had the chance to watch the entire 53 minute video that my son Ben had put together from his 11-month mission trip.  Being able to see and hear real footage from the extraordinary places where Ben lived and worked is pretty moving.  It's particularly impactful to see the many children whose lives Ben touched in such a profound way.  Among the most significant of these is the video of his visit to a child in Rwanda who he's actually been sponsoring for several years now.
     Some time ago, through the organization Compassion International, Ben began sponsoring Nshimiyimana, a young boy in Rwanda.  Every month, Ben has ben sending money from his own bank account to make a difference in this boy's life.  When he was in Rwanda this past January, Ben was able to actually visit the child.  Here's a link to the blogpost he wrote about that visit.  It's worth taking a few minutes to read it.
     Anyway, today I got to thinking about the literally millions of children around the world who are just like Nshimiyimana.  Through nothing more than random bad luck, they're born into such extreme poverty and hardship.  Their names and faces seem so distant and unrelated to my life.  And yet, when I see Ben's video it somehow brings them into focus.  If Ben, as a college student, can commit some of his resources to making a difference for these children, then I sure as heck can.  
     Today, I went onto the Compassion International site and made the commitment to sponsor a 7-year old boy in Uganda named John Kigonya.  Within two weeks, I'll be getting a more complete profile with pictures and tips for letter writing, among other information.  I'm excited to be following Ben's lead in this regard.  While the worldwide problem of poverty and its related challenges can seem overwhelming, and sometimes even insurmountable, I can at least make a difference in one person's life.
     

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Never Too Much Peanut Butter

     Today was my day to send a care package to my adopted soldier in Afghanistan.  You may remember that in "adopting" him, I committed to sending a care package at least once each month.  Whenever I ask him what he'd like, he reminds me that he could "never have too much peanut butter."  So peanut butter (and a  few other things) it is!
     I went to the store yesterday to pick up various items for the care package.  I bought more peanut butter, some granola bars, a box of Twix candy bars, a large container of powdered lemonade mix, and a few other snacks.  This morning I packed it all into a box, enclosed a note, and headed to the post office to ship it out.  Amazingly, the packages usually seem to arrive at his base within a week, so he should have it by early next week.
     As I was getting ready to send it off, I was thinking about how cool this "adopt a soldier" program is.  It's been six months now that we've been corresponding and I feel like we've become good friends, even though we've never met and were randomly matched as pen pals.  I've invited him to visit and go to an Eagles' game with me this fall when his deployment is over (just under 90 days to go!).  He's a great young man totally dedicated to serving others. 
     I know it means a lot of our soldiers serving overseas when they hear from people at home, and when they know that we support their efforts.  If anyone is interested in adopting your own soldier, I'd encourage you to check out the Soldiers' Angels website.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Another Drive

     This afternoon, I did another one of my rides as part of the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program.  As usual, I was given the name and address of the patient, and the time and place of his doctor's appointment.  I called him several days ago to introduce myself and confirm the pickup time.  
     He was waiting for me outside his apartment building when I arrived.  After folding up his walker and stowing it in the backseat, I helped him with the seatbelt and we were on our way.  He was plenty talkative and we conversed the whole way there.  While drivers are taught not to ask about people's diagnoses or treatment, it's OK to engage in whatever conversation people may initiate.  On the ride back home, my client talked a bit about his cancer diagnosis and I was a willing ear.
     Like others I've driven before him, he was tremendously appreciative for the ride and couldn't say enough about how valuable this program is to him and others in his situation.  Partially for that reason, these rides have definitely become among my favorite kindness acts this year.  More so than some of my acts (particularly the anonymous ones, I suppose), I get to really see the impact, on a very personal level, of the work that I'm doing.  That's pretty rewarding.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Get Me to the Church On Time

     I went to church today.  For many people, that wouldn't be a strange statement.  But for me, Jewish by upbringing, and not an active practitioner of any organized religion, it was certainly different.  The reason I went was to support Ben as he gave a talk to the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Cinnaminson, NJ.  
     The pastor of the church, Joel, is a friend of mine with whom I often play golf.  Throughout this past year, we often talked of Ben's overseas mission trip, and I told him that I was sure Ben would love to speak at his church upon his return.  I had Ben connect with Joel and they arranged for this morning to be the day.
     Showing some of the pictures from his trip, Ben did a great job sharing with the congregation his reasons for going as well as the most important lessons he learned during he year abroad.  His talk was clearly well-received as evidenced by the many compliments we heard afterwards.
     For my part, it candidly continues to be a bit weird for me to hear Ben talk of a faith that's so foreign from my (and his) upbringing.  Nevertheless, I support him 100% in pursuing his own passions, wherever they may be.  Going to church today was a sign of that support.