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

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year Is Complete

     Well, today was day number 369 (366 days of 2012 + the last 3 days of December 2011)!  I can remember back last December discussing with my daughter Hannah what I was thinking of taking on, wondering if I'd be able to think of things to do every day, wondering if I'd miss any days, wondering if I'd have enough to write about each night.  I'm proud to say that I did, in fact, think of something every day, did not miss a single day, and did have something to write about each night.  And today was no different.
     Continuing with the sense of symmetry I alluded to a few days ago, I decided to finish my year by going back to something I did on just my 2nd day (see that blog post here).  I delivered flowers to the very same nursing home in which I began the year.
     I had my daughter with me today and we went to Wegmans to pick out a nice mixed bouquet.  And believe it or not, I still have no idea what kind of flowers they were, except that they were colorful.  Originally I was going to find a stranger to give them to, but Hannah suggested it would be nice to go to a nursing home where there might be some lonely people who don't have anyone  with whom to celebrate tonight and who might get a real lift from receiving flowers.  So that's exactly what we did.
     We went to the reception area where there was a somewhat bored looking man in scrubs covering the front desk.  I explained that I needed his help and that I wanted him to choose someone who could really benefit from the flowers and that he should give them to that person.  He thought for a bit, and then came up with a name.  I left it to him to deliver them and we were on our way.
     I was a bit surprised to notice that I did feel something different this evening, having now completed my year.  Tomorrow I'll post a blog summarizing some of my thoughts and observations for the year.  For now, suffice it to say that I mostly feel proud and satisfied to have taken on such a significant and worthwhile challenge, and to have completed it with such discipline, commitment, and most importantly, intentionality.  More on that tomorrow . . . 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Product Plug

     OK, this is going to be a little bit of a "product plug" as well as a kindness story. Recently I was reading a review on one of the running websites that I check regularly.  It was a for a product called ROLL Recovery.  It's basically a tool like a foam roller or rolling stick that helps to knead muscles after a workout to help  flush out the muscles and improve circulation, thus speeding up the recovery process.  This product, however, has a unique design that makes it work even better than previous tools.  For those of us who work out pretty hard, helping speed the recovery process is pretty important, as is trying to stay healthy.  
     Anyway, there were a number of elite runners who were raving about the ROLL Recovery, so I figured I'd give it a try.  But rather than buy 1, I bought 2 of them because I figured my brother, who works out like a crazy man, would probably appreciate using one as well.  I received mine last week and have been using it daily.  This afternoon, I delivered it to my brother who was eager to try it.
     It seems to me that generosity, while slightly different from kindness, has a pretty darn close link to it.  I think of generosity as the willingness to share what you have with others.  There are a few people I know who are tremendously generous.  They're amazingly quick to offer whatever they have to others.  While generosity unquestionably begins with a state of mind - a genuine desire to share or to give, I've noticed that there are some things we can do to facilitate generosity.  For example, a good friend of mine has a bookshelf on which he keeps multiple copies of many of his favorite books.  This makes it really easy for him to give them away when the situation arises.  Thinking to order 2 ROLL Recovery devices made it easier for me to give one to my brother without a second thought.
     As this year wraps up and I think about 2013, generosity is something I'd like to work on.  I may not choose as ambitious a project as this one has been, but I'll be working on it nonetheless.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dunkin' Donuts and Symmetry

     Nearly one year ago, on December 31st, I wrote a blog post entitled "Wrong Place, Wrong Time."  It was the story of me trying to give away a Starbucks gift card on Main Street in Moorestown and ultimately realizing that if I wanted to do something nice for someone who didn't look exactly like me, I should go to the other end of town where there's a Dunkin' Donuts and a laundromat.  I ended up buying a gift card from Dunkin' Donuts and finding someone at the laundromat to give it to.  
     As I now approach the last few days of my "year of kindness," it feels right to go back to a few of the things I did to start the year.  I figure it creates a certain sense of symmetry for the year.  So that's what I did today.
     I went back to that same Dunkin' Donuts and bought a $5 gift card.  Then I went to the other end of the shopping center, walked into the laundromat, and chose a customer who looked like they might appreciate a nice surprise.  I walked up to a woman and asked her if she liked Dunkin' Donuts coffee.  When she said that she did, I offered her the gift card.  She was both surprised and pleased and thanked me multiple times.
     I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until I got back into my car to drive home that I remembered that I had once again missed an opportunity to suggest that the woman "pay it forward" by doing something nice for someone else.  I've definitely gotten better about that throughout the year, but alas, I still sometimes forget.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

What's a Kiva Card?

     I've written multiple times this year, including a couple of weeks ago, about the amazing organization  This is the organization that helps aggregate and distribute funds from thousands of people to create micro loans to thousands of small borrowers in third world nations.  Incredibly, in 2012, Kiva surpassed $380 million in loans to over 940,000 borrowers in 66 countries, all while maintaining a 99% repayment rate.  Traditional banks only wish they did as well.  
     Well I recently learned about a great way to spread the Kiva "opportunity" to help even more people.  Today I bought "Kiva cards" as gifts for my son and daughter.  It's incredibly simple to do and yet incredibly powerful as well.  You can buy a Kiva card as a gift for someone for as little as $25.  The card can be mailed or e-mailed to the recipient.  When the person receives the card, they simply go on the site and use that money to participate in making a Kiva loan.  The reason I'm so excited about this is that it gives Ben and Hannah a chance to experience the process of choosing a person to lend money to, helping to make that loan a reality, and then seeing the repayments come in over the ensuing months.  Hopefully this will start them on a path to making many more loans on their own.  What a great way to get people hooked.
     I love things like this because of its "leveraging" effect.  I'm giving a gift to my kids.  At the same time, they're giving a gift to someone across the globe, who in turn will be better able to take care of their own family.  And perhaps most importantly, my kids are getting a firsthand lesson on the power of kindness.  Can't beat that.  Gets me thinking about giving Kiva cards to many more people over the coming year.  What a great birthday gift, "thinking of you" gift, or celebration of anything gift.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Move the Garbage!

     Today was one of those cold, windy days where lots of stuff has a tendency to blow around into places it's not wanted or intended (i.e., shopping carts, garbage cans, papers, etc.).  As I was driving home from the movies this afternoon, I noticed a plastic garbage bag sitting in the middle of the opposite lane.  In fact, cars had to swerve a bit to avoid it.  So I pulled over to the curb, went across the street, and moved the garbage bag back to the curb behind a bunch of other bags to protect it from the wind and keep it from blowing back into the road.
     This is one of those small things I definitely would not have done a year ago.  Like most other people, I would have just assumed that someone else would take care of it.  It's amazing how many things fall into that category.  Things we figure someone else will take care of.  But if everyone assumes someone else will do it, there's no one left to actually do it!
     One thing I've tried to do this year is to be more action oriented.  By that I mean simply that when I see something that needs to be done, I try to just do it rather than waiting for someone else.  Hopefully it's becoming enough of a habit to carry over into the future when I'm not thinking about my blog each day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Jackets, Hats, and Mittens

     Today's wet, cold, nasty weather got me thinking about how lucky I am to at least be able to put on some extra layers and find a way to stay warm.  It also had me thinking about how many people don't have such a simple luxury.  I decided that at least I could make a difference for a few of them.
     So my daughter Hannah and I went over to the local Target and went shopping for kids' winter coats, hats, and mittens.  We picked out a bunch of winter items like these, mostly for children between 18 months and 5 years.  Then we drove over to the offices of Twin Oaks Community Services (formerly  Family Service of Burlington County) and delivered them our purchases.  Twin Oaks runs literally dozens of programs to assist people of all ages.  Among those they serve, there are many children who hardly have a stable home, much less nutritious food to eat or warm clothes in the winter.  We were glad to be able to help some of them today.

     On a completely separate note, over the course of this past year of kindness, I've gotten to know a number of people around the country who are doing or have done similar efforts to mine.  In fact, one of them, Eric Winger of Oregon, is nearing completion of 2 years of daily kindness acts and blogging.  Today he wrote a great piece summarizing some of the things he's learned over the past 2 years.  I thought it was worth sharing.  Here's a link.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Family Time for Christmas

     Today was a day to spend focused on my family rather than on others, or for that matter, on myself.  That sounds like such a simple statement, and yet it brings with it a variety of thoughts.
     For most of the past 362 days (remember, I started 3 days early!), I've focused my attention on finding ways, large and small, to do a variety of acts of kindness for people outside my immediate circle of family and friends.  I did this purposely because I wanted to stretch my normal horizons and work on developing the habit of noticing and acting upon opportunities to put more kindness into the world.  By being focused outwardly, I of course ran the risk of failing to practice as much kindness with my own family as I potentially could.  I tried to stay mindful of this as best I could.
     Like no other day of the year besides perhaps Thanksgiving, Christmas is a day where most people are truly with their families. Virtually all businesses are closed, the streets are mostly empty, and Facebook timelines are filled with pictures of people, surrounded by loved ones, many of whom traveled great distances to be together.  Being a mixed religion family, the religious part of Christmas holds no particular meaning to me personally, but we've nevertheless created many family holiday traditions over the years.
     As I participated in some of those traditions today, I was thinking about our own children and the memories they'll have of these traditions many years from now, as well as the traditions they may carry on or create with their own families someday.  I tried to make sure that I was as present (no pun intended) as I could be for them today.  No matter how long we may have spent opening gifts, having a big brunch and a bigger dinner, it was a day simply to be with them.  
     While I'm keenly aware that there are families around the world, including many in the United States, who are suffering today, I chose not to think about others for one day.  To a large degree, I chose to be selfish today.  I chose to think about my own family right here in my own house, and to try to be the best father and husband I could be for them today.  
     Tomorrow, I'll think about others again . . . 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Xmas Spirit on the Road

     Today was Christmas eve and as I went out to do a few errands and later went for our traditional evening of pizza and bowling (!), I decided that I would try to do something very simple.  It was actually something I did on one of my very first days of this year.  As I was driving around, I simply made a point to look for every chance to let someone go in front of me.  
     If you've never tried this, it's an interesting exercise.  It's fascinating to start noticing how often we try to "beat" the other person to a spot - whether it's getting into a parking spot or getting to an exit ramp or getting out of a parking lot.  It's easy for me to get caught up in trying to get places faster.  What I notice most is that this mentality creates a certain amount of mostly unnecessary stress.  I get frustrated if I'm stuck behind a slow person or if I get held up trying to make a left hand turn.  When I slow myself down, and in particular, practice more kindness toward other drivers, it's as if everything somehow become less stressful.  I'm reminded that there's rarely any reason to be in such a hurry.  When I really work on this, I try to find chances to stop and let people make a turn when I can see they're waiting to find an opening in the traffic.  
     In some ways, I suppose, this is a bit of a metaphor for life.  When we slow down and practice kindness toward others, we usually find ourselves happier, less stressed, and in a better mood.  I'm not exactly sure why this is, but I tend to think it has something to do with getting out of our own lives and beginning to focus more outwardly.  In times of stress, I think we often get particularly self-absorbed, as if our problems are the worst ones in the world.  Doing acts of kindness causes us to think of others more than ourselves, and by doing so, we're forced to let go of our self-absorbtion.  It's an interesting phenomenon to ponder . . . 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Surprise at Wegmans?

     I was heading to Wegmans this evening to pick up a few items that we needed and I was in the mood to do a little surprise.  Before I left home I took out a piece of paper, an envelope, and a McDonald's gift card.  On the note, I wrote "Enjoy this gift from a stranger!  Pay it forward."  Then I put the note and the card in the envelope.  On the outside of the envelope I wrote, "Please open and enjoy."
     As I entered Wegmans, I grabbed one of the handheld blue baskets that you use when you don't have too many items.  Then I surreptitiously took the envelope out of my pocket and put it in the next basket that was on the stack.  I stuck around the general area for a little bit, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever picked up the basket, curious to see what their reaction would be; but after about 5 minutes I went ahead and took care of the shopping I needed to do.
     After I paid for my items, I decided to go out the same door that I had entered so that I could check to see if the envelope had been taken.  Sure enough, it had!  I would have loved to watch how it transpired, just for my own curiosity.  Oh well, I'll have to be satisfied in the knowledge that someone got a nice surprise, and hope that they followed my invitation to pay it forward.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Helping Sick Children

     A couple of times this year I've written about a site I found in England (Post Pals) that facilitates the process of writing to seriously ill children.  For these children, who faces such daunting daily challenges, receiving mail from someone far away can be a real bright spot in their lives.  Well, today I found a similar site based in the US.  It's called Hugs and Hope.
     Similar to Post Pals, the site features many different children, all suffering from very serious illnesses, and gives readers an address where they can write to these children.  For each child, the site also tells some of their interests, the names and ages of their siblings, etc.  I chose a 15 year old boy who has had eye cancer since he was less than one.  I wrote him a letter introducing myself and connecting on a few topics that might be of interest.
     When you read the stories of some of these children, it's so hard to imagine how difficult their lives have been and often continue to be.  It's also hard to imagine how challenging it must be for their families.  Writing to them seems like such a small thing that any of us can do to make a difference.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Great Gift Idea

     How 'bout this for a great gift idea?  Give someone a Kiva card so that they can begin making micro loans to hard-working people across the globe.  Let me explain.
     I've written numerous times about the organization Kiva that helps to aggregate small funds from thousands of people to make loans to hard-working people in mostly 3rd world nations.  Through this site, I've already participated in 8 different loans, all of which have either been paid back in full or are paying on time.  Well, Kiva also makes it easy to give others the opportunity to make loans through a Kiva card.  For just $25, you're basically donating money for your gift recipient to use to make a Kiva loan.  In this way, others can start making loans and experiencing the amazing impact virtually all of us can have.
     This evening I purchased two such cards to be delivered as gifts.  I was even able to have the cards e-mailed to arrive on Xmas day.  There aren't many better gift ideas than that!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Note of Well Wishes

     I received an e-mail this evening from a friend who told me about an unfortunate home mishap in which his wife suffered a pretty serious leg injury, which has since required some fairly significant surgery.  As a result of the surgery and the necessary immobilization of her leg, she's not able to move around much and is in need of quite a bit of assistance.  It will undoubtedly be a long and difficult road back to full health.
     Upon hearing the news, I immediately wrote out a personal note for her to let her know she was in my thoughts and to offer any assistance that I could.  I also called my friend and offered to bring over dinner one night as I'm sure he's got to be tired of handling everything on his own.  He very much appreciated my offer, though he didn't immediately take me up on it.  I'll continue to see if there are other ways I can be of help.
     I remember many years ago my wife had some surgery on both her feet which similarly meant a period of time in which her mobility was pretty limited. It was pretty amazing the way friends and neighbors turned out to provide meals for our family.  I think we ended up with something like 30-40 consecutive days in which meals were delivered!  I also remember that it would have been difficult to ask for help, but when it was all organized by someone else, it did make a big difference.  I'll have to see what I can do in this regard.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chick-Fil-A Smiles

     As my son Ben and I returned to my in-laws' gated neighborhood this morning (after a great run in a local park!), we had to go to the security guardhouse to get the "token" that's used for entry.  I figured it was as good a time as any to begin our day with an act of kindness.  When the woman reached out to hand me the token, I asked her if she liked Chick-Fil-A.  With a smile, she said that she definitely did and so I gave her a Chick-Fil-A gift card.  That definitely brought an even bigger smile.
     Later in the day we were walking through Colonial Williamsburg when a tourist couple asked if we knew where they could get the CW bus back to the Visitors' Center.  I was able to easily give them the directions they needed.  When I was in school here, this used to happen a lot, and of course, I rarely seemed to have the answers back then.  It's nice to be able to help now!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Visiting an Old Friend

     I was traveling to Williamsburg today to pick up my daughter Hannah from William & Mary and I used it as yet another opportunity to visit an old friend.  As it turns out, the man who was the principal of my high school (many years ago!) retired to Williamsburg back in the 80's.  Though he has family around the country that he visits, he lives here alone.  A year ago I had the opportunity to make contact with him when I was in town.  Since then, whenever I'm in Williamsburg I try to reach out and spend some time with him.
     This afternoon, I arranged to stop by his house and we enjoyed a few hours of great conversation.  As I've often said, it takes extra effort to make that phone call to visit someone versus just sticking to our own routines.  My friend, the principal, really appreciates that I do make that effort to reach out to him.  In fact, we were talking about that today.  He was commenting on the fact that so many people are hesitant to make that phone call for fear that their potential visit might be an imposition; and yet, paradoxically, most of us would be disappointed if we learned that a friend was in the area and didn't call us.
     I've developed, maintained, and nurtured many great relationships because I do make that effort.  Today was yet another reminder of just how much this is valued by people.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pretzels Make a Nice Snack

     I was out doing a few errands today and decided to stop by the Philadelphia Soft Pretzel store on our Main Street in Moorestown.  It was a gray and dreary day and I was thinking that delivering some pretzels might be a nice surprise for someone to brighten their day with an afternoon snack.  A good idea came to me and I bought a bag of 20 pretzels, hot out of the oven.
     I decided to bring them over to the administration building for our township's school system.  It seems to me that the work of the employees in the administration building is often overlooked and under-appreciated.  Too many people either spend their time complaining about some aspect of the schools, or if they choose to see the good, they're usually acknowledging a particular teacher or classroom.  Rarely does anyone ever note those in the administration building who work tirelessly, largely behind the scenes, to make sure things run smoothly throughout the district.  Today was a chance to say "thanks" to all those people.
     While this may sound strange, I often find that during times like the holidays, the heartfelt thanks we may wish to share get diminished in their impact.  To some extent, a certain degree of gift-giving has become obligatory and so the element of surprise and the delight that can go with it tends to get lost.  My "thank you" to the folks at the administration building has nothing to do with the season.  It's just a sincere expression of gratitude and appreciation  - irrespective of the time of year.  In some way, though, I think the preponderance of gift giving serves to mute the message.  Of course, I'm not suggesting that people shouldn't give gifts.  It's just an observation I've had, and it's why I generally prefer to do things at "unscheduled" times where their potential impact is greater.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Getting Smarter While Feeding the Hungry

     I never cease to be amazed by the number of websites that are dedicated to helping make the world a better place in some way.  This afternoon I was perusing several different ones before I spent some time on one of my old favorites,  Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with this site as I've mentioned it several times throughout the past year.  For those less familiar, it's a site where you test your knowledge on a variety of subjects (vocabulary, grammar, math, geography, chemistry, etc.) by answering a series of questions.  For each correct response you provide, 10 grams of rice is donated to the United Nations World Food Program.  The money comes from sponsors who advertise on the site.  Pretty simple - exercise your brain and help feed the hungry.
     I spent time today mostly doing math and English questions.  It didn't take long for me to be able to donate 2000 grains of rice.  There really are almost unlimited ways all of us can help each other, and many of them can be done right from your own home/computer. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Plenty Still Need Help

     I suppose it's the inevitable nature of the news media that has us focused on a particular disaster . . . until the next one comes along.  At the moment, I'm thinking about those who lost so much as a result of Sandy.  For weeks, that's all we heard about.  Everyone was so focused, with good reason, on providing as much help to those who were suffering as we could.  Eventually though, new issues arise and we tend to forget about those whose suffering continues.  Most recently, the tragedy in Connecticut has grabbed nearly all the headlines, and appropriately so.  However, there are many throughout NJ and NY who continue to struggle from the storm and whose needs have hardly abated.  Today I wanted to do something concrete to help them and to show that they've not been forgotten.
     Wish Upon A Hero is as good a place as exists for connecting people who have very specific needs with those who are willing to help.  I was on the site today and read the story of a family who lost nearly everything and is struggling even to buy food, let alone Christmas gifts, decorations, etc.  Through the site I was able to buy them a gift card to Target and have it sent directly to them.  It won't take care of all their needs, but at least it's a start.
     Many times this year I've talked about this organization that has helped nearly 100,000 people to have their wishes granted.  It's really about strangers helping other strangers for no reason other than that help is needed.  Any time you need a reminder of how good most people really are, despite what you read in the media, spend a few minutes looking at this site.  And while you're there, consider granting someone's wish.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Random Surprise in the Mail

     Today I felt like doing one of those really "random" type acts of kindness that will undoubtedly leave its recipient scratching his/her head.  Here's what I did:
     I typed out a note on an 8.5 x 11 paper that said, "Please enjoy this Starbucks gift card as an offering from a random stranger wishing you a wonderful day.  Now . . . what can you do today to make someone else's day just a little bit brighter?"  Beneath that message, I actually printed a copy of a big smiley face, and then added, "Pass on the spirit of kindness."
     Then I took my note and stuffed it into a plain white mailing envelope together with a gift card, and addressed it to "Resident" at a random address I picked in a nearby town.  I'll have it out in tomorrow morning's mail.
     How I'd love to be a "fly on the wall" when they open the envelope and read the note.  I think it's likely they'll have a better day than they were having before reading it and that they'll do something to make someone else's day better, too.  Hopefully, they'll tell their friends and family about this crazy thing that happened to them, and as a result, others will be inspired to do their own acts of kindness as well.  Obviously, my hope is that my small act initiated a wave of kindness that will spread to who knows where?  And once again, I'll likely never know for sure, but will have to simply enjoy the satisfaction in knowing that I at least made someone smile and that I increased the likelihood that more smiles may ensue.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bringing A Smile

     I had a meeting this morning in Camden, NJ and as I customarily do, I parked in a specific parking garage across the street from where my meeting was being held.  The meeting was at the offices of a non-profit organization of which I'm a Board member.  When the meeting was over, I picked up a parking validation ticket that can be used to pay for the garage and I headed to my car, thinking about a kindness opportunity.
     The normal routine at this garage is that on my way out, I pull up to a booth where I place both my parking ticket and my validation ticket into a drawer after which the attendant raises the mechanical "arm" that allows me to exit.  More often than not, the attendant is on the phone, barely looking at me, and offering neither a smile nor a "have a good day."  Today, however, in addition to the two tickets, I also put a McDonald's gift card into the drawer.  It took a moment or two I think for the attendant to realize what I was doing, but then I saw her face light up in a huge smile and she thanked me.  I'm pretty certain I've never seen her smile before, and she actually has a beautiful smile.
     For at least a moment, I definitely was able to brighten her day.  Though I'll never know for sure, I suspect that there was likely a more lasting effect.  I'll bet she had a little different spring in her step the rest of the day and that she approached others just a bit differently too.  That's the powerful impact that a very small act of kindness can have.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No Baggage Problem Here

     Have you ever noticed that there are some things we're "supposed to" complain about?  These are things like food in college cafeterias, DMV workers, TSA employees, and airline baggage problems.  To be sure, they've all earned their bad reputations, for reputations like these have their basis in fact and real experience.  However, there's often a significant lag time between when these things improve and how long it takes us to acknowledge that improvement by letting go of our old paradigms about them.  I find this to be true about baggage claim in Philadelphia.
     The Philadelphia airport has long been considered one of the worst places in the country for baggage handling.  For many years, it wasn't unusual to wait 45 minutes or more for your bags to arrive after landing, and then you hoped nothing was lost or damaged.  As much as I've flown this year, however, I've noticed a real difference.  I've never had a problem with a damaged or lost item, and my bags have frequently shown up on the belt pretty quickly.  In fact, this was the case upon my arrival home today - so I decided I should say something about it.
     After I got my bag I walked into the US Airways baggage office where people line up to complain about their lost bags and try to resolve issues.  I went to the counter and told the person working there that I just wanted to thank them because my bag arrived quickly and with no issues at all.  I explained that they probably listen to complaints and problems all day long and that no one ever reports that there was "no problem."  I wanted to give them such a report.  There were several people behind the counter and they all smiled and really appreciated the good feedback for a change.  They wished me a merry holiday and I was on my way, having spread a little good cheer around.
     By the way, I've also noticed that there are plenty of TSA agents who are friendly and helpful, too.  Clearly there are many who aren't, but I try not to paint their reputation with too broad a brush.  As with most things in life, you see what you expect to see.  I see plenty of people trying to do the best job they can, and I try to acknowledge that whenever I see it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some Airline Kindness

     I was on yet another airplane today, heading from Tampa to DC when several simple opportunities to show kindness presented themselves.  I was in the first row, which means that all carry-on items have to be stowed in the overhead bins since there's no seat in front of you under which to put them.  As I sat down in my aisle seat, I realized that the woman sitting next to me had several items that were going to need to be stowed and would likely be difficult for her to manage.  I offered to take care of them for her, which I did, and then also got them for her after we landed.
     As we were nearing landing, the flight attendant retrieved coats for people who had hung them earlier.  The man across the aisle from me was an elderly man wearing a business suit.  He was a bit frail and moved pretty slowly.  Watching him trying to get his arms in the sleeves of his sport jacket with some difficulty, I jumped up and held the jacket for him to make it easier.  I also retrieved his bag as well.
     As usual, I continued to look for every opportunity to use people's names.  This simply means taking the extra few seconds to read people's name tags, and then specifically addressing them by their first name.  
     These are all "little" things, but as I've noted before, most of kindness is just that.  Little things we can do to help each other out.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Staying In Touch Isn't Always Easy

     I flew to Tampa this afternoon for a talk I'm doing in the morning, and as usual, I used the time to connect with another good friend I hadn't seen in a few years.  This was one of my best friends from college, and yet was another reminder that it's not easy but always worth the effort.
     Knowing that I was going to be in Tampa, I reached out to this friend a few months ago to check on her availability.  Unfortunately, getting a hold of her was not easy.  After numerous unreturned phone calls and e-mails, I was almost ready to give up.  I didn't take it personally, but was certainly frustrated nonetheless.  Eventually, we did connect and arranged to meet at her house for dinner tonight.
     Of course we had a great time and were quickly able to pick up where we left off since we've been good friends for more than 30 years.  When I was leaving, she thanked for me being persistent and not giving up on her.  
     This is definitely a theme that I've seen and repeated multiple times this year - that building and maintaining relationships is not easy.  It takes work and persistence and effort.  Everyone is busy and has lots of excuses.  And yet, we all claim that relationships are the most important thing to us.  I would argue that we make time for what we really value.  The many friends I have around the country are a direct result of the effort I make to nurture them.

Note:  As a side note, I'm thrilled to report that this blog has now gone over the 50,000 mark in terms of page views this year.  And that doesn't include the many subscribers who receive the story by e-mail each day and therefore don't need to go to the site.  I've received many e-mails from people telling me about acts of kindness they're now doing as a result of their increased consciousness about kindness.  While that wasn't necessarily my goal, it's a wonderful byproduct.  Keep it up!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Different Kind of Wedding Favor

     Last night I wrote about what a thrill it was to attend the wedding of my adopted soldier, Logan, in Georgetown, Kentucky.  Well, something else happened at the wedding which was also very exciting.  It was a kindness act that I started at the wedding, and was able to complete (sort of) this evening.  Let me explain.
     As strange as it may be, Logan had mentioned to me when he was here that his godmother was a crazy, insane Eagles' fan, going back to the days of Randall Cunningham (1980's).  I'm not sure how or why that happened since she's in Kentucky and didn't grow up or live in the Philly area at any time.  Regardless, she's a huge fan, and she was quite jealous that Logan got to attend a game with me while she's never seen them play.
     At the wedding last night, he made a point of introducing me to her and we talked Eagles for a bit.  That got me thinking.  Later in the evening I approached her and asked if she would like to have my tickets for the last home game of the season, December 23rd against the Redskins.  It didn't take her more than about 2 seconds to say she'd love to.  No checking her schedule, no checking with anyone else.  She was in!
     When I got home today, I went to my Eagles account where I was actually able to have my tickets forwarded to her by e-mail.  When I called her to be sure I had all her contact information correct, she still couldn't believe it.  She told me that she'd been telling everyone she knows that she's going to see the Eagles play!
     I really love these types of situations where I can create an experience for someone that might not otherwise be possible.  It's something they'll always remember, and that's pretty cool.
     And speaking of memorable experiences, the woman I wrote about last month who I'm helping to send on her first plane ride along with her mother (to Vegas), embarked on her trip today.  I'm eager to hear and share her story as it unfolds.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What a Night!

     Well, tonight was a night that I wrote about several months ago.  It was the wedding for my adopted soldier Logan and his new wife Samantha.  For those who may not know the beginning of this story, back in January I "adopted" a soldier in Afghanistan through a program called Soldiers' Angels.  As part of that program, I committed to write to my soldier at least once each week throughout his deployment and to send him a care package at least once each month.  Over the course of the year, we went from strangers getting to know each other to great friends.  
     Logan is from Kentucky and we both share a love of sports, among many other things.  He returned home at the end of October and last month I flew him to Philadelphia to attend an Eagles game with me (of course they lost!).  He also invited Catherine and me to his upcoming wedding.
     We flew into Louisville, Kentucky this morning and drove to Georgetown, which is near Lexington.  The wedding was held this evening at an old convent that's been converted to a beautiful function facility.  Not only did we get to witness Logan and Samantha's wedding, but we got to know much of his family.  In fact, his father was gracious enough to invite us to sit with the family  during dinner.  While I'm certainly no expert on weddings, one of the things I appreciated about this one was it felt like the emphasis was more on the new marriage than it was on the "production."  It was refreshing to see that.
     Who would have ever guessed back in January that I would get to know this "pen pal" well enough to become good friends and 11 months later I'd be hanging out with his family at his wedding?!  Pretty amazing . . . and wonderful!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Welcoming a New Baby

     This one should really be under my wife Catherine's name, or at the very least, she gets a significant assist!  I'm working with a client who told me yesterday that his world was turned upside down last week.  It seems that his wife was pregnant with their 3rd child, and she was unexpectedly rushed to the hospital where she gave birth to a new baby at 27 weeks.  Though the baby will likely be in a neonatal ICU till February, both the mother and baby appear to be doing well.  
     I checked with my client's executive assistant and got his wife's name and their home address.  Catherine went out this evening and picked up a stash of her favorite baby books that I can send off with a nice card.  I'm sure this is a trying time for the whole family, but hopefully a gift box from us will bring a smile to their faces and hours of future enjoyment as well.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Expressing Sympathy

     I received word this week that a friend of mine had lost her mother over the weekend.  I made sure to send her a handwritten note, expressing my sympathies and letting her know that I was thinking of her.  
     Much has been written over the years about death and the varied rituals that surround it.  Every culture is obviously different in how it treats death and the lack of any consistent approach can leave us feeling pretty awkward and uncomfortable.  I imagine that in societies where elderly people routinely live with their children until they die, death becomes somewhat more accepted as a normal part of the "cycle of life."  However, in our current American culture, many of us (myself included for sure) have very limited exposure to people dying and therefore struggle to know how to handle it in our own families as well as how to support our friends.
     What do you say to someone who's lost a loved one?  How much do you smother them with attention and how much "space" do you give them?  Of course, everyone's needs are different and there can be no blanket rule that works for all people.  I've found that I just make sure that I send a handwritten note and that I write at least a few meaningful sentences of support, letting them know they're in my thoughts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Don't Pass It By

     As I was pulling into my neighborhood on my way home from the airport this evening, I noticed that people had put their garbage cans at the curb in anticipation of a trash pickup day tomorrow.  However, there was one house whose garbage can must have somehow blown from the curb toward the middle of the road.  Seeing this, I pulled over, got out, and moved it back to its original location, safely by their driveway.  Then I headed the rest of the way home.
     For me, this is one of those small acts that fits in a category of "things we assume someone else will take care of."  How often do we pass a piece of trash on the sidewalk or a branch in the road and just figure it must be someone else's job to handle that?  This year, I've tried to be better about noticing those situations and acting upon them, rather than always leaving it for others.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Helping Other Passengers

     Well tonight I was back on the road again, this time flying to Ft. Lauderdale for one day of work.  As I sat down in my seat, I noticed that the man across the aisle from me looked frail.  When the flight attendant had to re-seat him because he was in the wrong spot, I jumped up to get his things from the overhead bin (including his cane) and helped him get situated.  
     Minutes later, a woman came to sit in the seat he had just vacated.  She was beginning to struggle with a heavy bag and I offered to lift it for her and get it into the overhead bin.  I also got it down for her after we landed.
     While sometimes it's fun to do things that really catch people off guard like giving flowers to a stranger or anonymously buying someone a dessert, small things like helping other passengers without being asked are the kinds of daily gestures that really comprise a life of kindness.  What I've come to see this year is that it's really about increasing our awareness of the opportunity to help those around us, and then, of course, acting upon those opportunities.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Who Gets the Flowers?

     It's been awhile since I gave flowers to a stranger and so I figured today was as good a day as any to make someone feel special.  While I was picking up a few items at Wegmans, I stopped in the flower section and picked out a nice colorful bouquet (of course, I have no idea what kind they were - but they were definitely colorful!).  Though sometimes I just "play it by ear" in terms of choosing a recipient, today I had something specific in mind.
     Quite near my house we have a nursing home that specializes in working with patients who have Alzheimer's.  I swung by there on my way home and entered the lobby, flowers in hand.  When I got to the reception desk, I saw a nurse standing there talking to the receptionist.  Telling her that I needed some help, I presented her with the flowers and explained that I wanted her to give them to someone she felt could use some cheering up.  The nurse gave me a look of amazement, together with a big smile, and exclaimed, "That is so nice.  Who are you?"  I gave her my name and just said that I'm someone who likes to do nice things each day.  Watching this transpire, the receptionist looked at me and said that in her whole life, she's never seen anything like that happen.  I hope she begins to see more of it!  With that, I quietly headed on my way.
     I've witnessed this type of reaction many times throughout these past months.  It's as if people don't quite know how to process what seems like random kindness - especially from a stranger.  It doesn't fit what they know or expect of people, and so they're confused.  They're delighted too, but definitely confused.  
     This act definitely touched more than just the patient who will ultimately receive the flowers.  In fact, it may likely have more impact on the nurse and the receptionist than on the patient.  And hopefully, that impact creates a spark in them that causes them to do an intentional act of kindness for someone else as well.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Going First Class

     One of the benefits of my recent active travel schedule is that I accumulate lots of frequent flier miles, and since I'm usually traveling from Philadelphia, which is a US Air hub, I'm almost always on US Air.  My frequent flier status with them also qualifies me for frequent upgrades to first class.  On my recent trip to Birmingham and Atlanta, in fact, I was upgraded to first class both ways.  
     At the tail end of this trip, my wife joined me in Atlanta where we spent time with some good friends over the weekend (and yes, I even went to the SEC Championship game - Roll Tide!).  Though we were flying home on the same flight today, I had been upgraded to first class while she was flying coach.  Since she's rarely gets to enjoy this type of perk, and even more rarely treats herself to such niceties, I insisted that she trade with me and take my first class seat.  She had a comfortable ride home and was able to enjoy the more spacious seat, the free drinks, and the snacks.
     As I've noted in other blog posts, I mostly have been focusing my acts of kindness this year outside my immediate family, but that doesn't mean I have to pass up a great opportunity to be kind to those who are closest to me.  It was a pleasure to let her experience first class service today.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sewing for a Living

     It's so hard to imagine the challenge that most people around the world face as they try to make a living to support their families.  This evening, I was reading about a woman in Columbia who is a single mother and sews to provide for her family of 6.  Apparently the motor on her sewing machine is dying, and she is trying to borrow money to get it fixed as well as to purchase supplies.  Through, I decided to participate in making a loan to her.
     The loan to this Columbian woman is the 8th loan in which I've participated this year.  All are to people in 3rd world nations who are working hard to provide for their families.  Every loan is being paid back exactly on schedule, and one has already been paid back in full.  Sometimes people just need a chance.  Kiva helps to give these people that chance by creating the mechanism for people like you and me to provide support.  These contributions truly are loans, not handouts.  It's a great way to truly make a difference.