Posts Tagged ‘kindness’

There’s almost always a panhandler at the parking lot entrance to the office supply store across town. It’s rarely the same person, so I think the people who station themselves there must stake claim with a first-come, first-serve approach. Sometimes there’s one person. Occasionally there are two people together. Sometimes the person has a backpack and a tent or a scruffy pet. I’ve seen folks in their early 20s. I’ve seen folks who are probably in mid-life. They’re out there in blazing heat and bitter cold. The dog-eared, cardboard sign, a flap from a box with a Sharpie scrawled message to passersby,  is ubiquitous.

“Homeless. Anything helps.”

“3 kids, please help.”

“Trying to get home.”

“Please help. God bless.”

I stopped by the office supply store yesterday toward the end of my work day.  I had eleventy million things on my mind that I needed to do. Running plans for how my evening would go and when I would put together the tee shirt bags I wanted to create, I got back in the car and pulled up to the light at the entrance/exit of the parking lot.

As you might expect, there was a panhandler on the corner. If I happen to be carrying cash, I share a dollar or two, or a bottle of water in the summer, or a cup of coffee in the winter. Whatever their reason for being out there, heat stroke and frostbite probably don’t figure prominently into their plans. Yesterday, I was so caught up in the planning for the supplies I had just purchased, I forgot to pick up a bottle of water for the man on the corner.

The panhandler was standing by the first car in the stop light queue when I pulled up. He was maybe mid-20s, bearded, wearing a dark tee shirt with some kind of graphic on the front which was obscured by the worn cardboard sign he was holding. I sat at the red light long enough to notice the little pile of his backpack and his sneakers kicked off in the dust on such a beautiful afternoon. I looked at him again—mid-20s, bearded, barefoot with his pant legs rolled up to mid-calf. His feet were a couple of shades lighter than his legs and they looked soft and unsuspecting standing there on the curb of the midway.

He started to walk toward my car, keeping about 3 feet to the side. As he got closer, I rolled my window down and before I could speak to him, he spoke to me, stopping near my door.

“You look mad. Are you mad?” he said gently.

“Who? Me?” I asked.

“Yeah, you. You look mad.”

“Oh. I was just thinking about something.”

My eye swept up and down. There was something about him being barefoot that riveted me. He wasn’t that old…maybe 23 or 24. He could have been an NIU student. Maybe he WAS an NIU student. I wondered who he had been before he panhandled, barefoot in the Office Max parking lot. The questions were quick and blurry. Where had he gone to high school? Did he have a prom date? Did he ever play baseball and go out for pizza with his team when they won? Who dropped him off for his first day of kindergarten?  Did anyone touch his tiny baby feet and speak softly to him? He had feet, he had been a baby, someone brought him onto the planet.  Who was this man before he came to this parking lot?

The red light changed to green. The car ahead of me pulled forward.

“Hey! Don’t be mad, okay? It’s a beautiful day!”

I looked into his face. He broke into a smile, disarming, uneven teeth appearing through his beard. He didn’t come any closer to my window. He wasn’t asking me for anything—he just wanted to talk. I couldn’t stop my own smile in return. His eyes crinkled at the edges and he flapped his sign at me.

“Have a blessed day!” he called, still smiling.

I waved to him, also still smiling, and he shrunk in my side view mirror as I drove away.

Don’t be mad, okay?

I pondered that, struck by his words. I hadn’t been mad. I was simply pre-occupied with something I wanted to get finished for work.  Today. I wanted it done today. It reminded me that an old boss, my favorite boss, used to tease me about how she could always tell if I was thinking seriously about something because it looked like I wanted to kill everyone around me. It took her three years to realize that expression meant only that I was thinking hard, and not that I was homicidal.

I have said for many years that the Universe gives me EXACTLY whom I need at EXACTLY the time I need them. It’s all a matter of listening to the messages.

When I got home, I put the project materials away until morning and took the dogs out to the back yard. I dragged my miniature dirt digging toys out of the garage and made container gardens for my driveway. When I finished that, I sat in my favorite Adirondack chair with a book and a soft drink and listened to the cardinals call up and down the street. I let the project slide from my thoughts and took some time to absorb one of the last evenings of spring.

I got a gift from a strange man who was asking for spare change and I had given him nothing.

It’s a beautiful day. Indeed, it was. If you watch, the Universe brings you EXACTLY who you need EXACTLY when you need them. If you’re really fortunate, as I was yesterday, the Universe will bring you a barefoot panhandler with a charming smile, who will remind you to slow down and just BE. When that happens, don’t be mad, okay?




Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.   ~ Kahlil Gibran

Last fall, I took a plunge and brought a third dog into my house. I wasn’t puppy shopping at the time. I was really nervous about adding another set of paws to the 12 already living in my small home. The circumstances seemed right, though. Her family loved her and hated to let her go but they wanted a stable place for her. Her “mom” (my friend Lorrie) had died about 6 months prior and her “dad” (my friend John) needed to be able to travel for his job and wasn’t able to care for her.

We decided after numerous conversations that Kiara would become part of the herd here and with the friendship that had formed between her family and me, she could still see her people regularly. It was a great arrangement. She got to be in one place and her dad didn’t have to worry about kenneling her or finding her a dog sitter when he was out of town for work.

I can’t say it wasn’t a difficult start. During the first week that Ki moved in, her dad came over to see how she was adjusting. He had a glass of wine with me and she sat by his feet in this new, strange environment with its extra critters. The next day, every time I walked through the living room, I found her sitting beside the recliner where her dad had sat, with her chin on the armrest. It was so sweet and so loyal, it brought tears to my eyes.

Kiara spent the winter bonding with Chip and chasing the cat around the first floor, poking at him with one pointy paw when he’d let her get close. Mylo was a bit more reserved about having a newcomer and on the night of her arrival, took one look and promptly nipped her on the snout to let her know who was alpha. Kiara got the message. It was Mylo’s house. I don’t think Ki really cared all that much.

I’ve known before now that dogs have a sense of humor but I saw it surface in ways I hadn’t seen with other critters. Kiara played tricks on Chip. She would wait until all dog bowls had hit the floor filled with kibble with the little tablespoon of wet food on top to make it interesting. She’d wait just a bit longer until Chip was engrossed in his breakfast, then she’d run across the room at him, barking at the top of her canine lungs. Chip, rocket scientist that he is (how do I keep ending up with these super sweet, not too bright male dogs?), would fall over himself down the stairs toward the back door, bellowing his warning bark, then standing guard there against absolutely nothing, puffed up to about four times his normal size. He clearly didn’t know WHAT was happening, but SOMETHING was happening and he was going to stop it, by golly!  Kiara would casually swipe the wet dog food off the top of his bowl and go trotting back to her place in the dining room as if nothing had happened. Laughing. I KNEW she was laughing.

The best part of it for her –and maybe the funniest part—was that Chip fell for it not just once or twice. She pulled the Chip-alarm every day for weeks. I finally had to intervene and put a gate up so the poor guy could eat his kibble in peace, without being blown up into the unfortunate dog in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. I could almost hear her saying to Seamus, “Hey, Cat, watch THIS!”

Kiara was the early riser in the family. She could be tempted to hit the snooze button once in a while if I loudly told her, “No bark!” but her response to that was to climb onto the end of the bed with her pointy legs, sigh, and fidget, while kicking me, until I got up. She had strong opinions about these things.

I think it is safe to say that this was one of the best decisions I ever made. She got it all. She got a house and a yard to romp in, and two new buddies to play with, and her dad could do his job and not have to worry about her and she got to see her other people frequently, which always brought happy sounds and a certain dance with those long, skinny legs. Last week, I needed someone to watch her for a few days so she went for the whole week with one of her people who loves her most in the world.

Kiara came home from her trip last Sunday, ready to romp with the other dogs and resume telling me what time to get up each morning. On Wednesday, we started our day as all days start—with a romp in the yard before kibble, then a walk to sniff around the street and see who’s doing what. We’d gotten only two houses away. She lagged behind to sniff the fire hydrant and the tree and I called her to step up the pace.

We didn’t get any further. Ki collapsed on the driveway, maybe 60 feet from our house. I heard it before I saw it. Bony dog elbows thumping concrete is unmistakable. It was quick. I don’t think she suffered. The vet said it was a sudden onset cardiac issue. There’s no warning, no sign of a problem, so the first time it makes itself known, it’s typically fatal.

My biggest regret is that when she collapsed, I was unable to lift her, to hold her, as she died. She’d gone to visit her person the week before because I had surgery on my shoulder and one week post-surgery, picking her up from a flat-out position on concrete was not a possibility.

I yelled for my neighbor to come help and he rushed outside to see what was wrong. His voice broke as he scooped her up and held her gently, telling her that she would be okay, to just hold on, that we were going to get her help. He talked to her the entire time we were driving to the vet office. “Hold on, baby. We’re almost there.”

She was gone before we arrived at the clinic. I’m not even sure that she was still with us when we got into the car. If she was, she died on his lap in my car. My neighbor, Scott, stood on the sidewalk of the vet hospital with me as we cried on each other’s shoulders and the techs carried her inside.

It is not lost on me that my friend Kiara got to spend a whole week with her person before she left us. Nor is it lost on me that her last morning consisted of a romp with Chip and Mylo, and kibble with her favorite wet food on top, and a walk with a fire hydrant and a tree to sniff. When time stopped for her, she was not alone. She was held and loved—some even by a man who didn’t know her well, but who treated her with the utmost kindness in her last moments.

It is difficult to lose a furry family member. But the focus of these last couple of days has been far more about what she gave us during her months with us and what her family and I were able to do for her to make her last year wonderful.

It is also not lost on me that in a scalding second of I NEED SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, my neighbor Scott appeared by my side and helped me escort that sweet pup across the Rainbow Bridge. I don’t know what he was in the middle of doing when I yelled for him. He dropped whatever it was, and he was right there for me, and for her, through the end.

No regrets otherwise. This is what I offered to do when I agreed to bring her home. In return, I got a year with a very cool, smart, funny dog. I shared her with a very cool, smart, funny family and we got to do something really special for her.

In her last moments, I got to see the absolute best of a person who opened his arms and his heart to help me do one final thing for her. There are times when kindness cannot be repaid. It can only be paid forward. I think this may be one of those times.

Happy trails, Kiara. The gate is open, sweet girl. Run as fast as you want!

Scott, I will never be able to thank you enough.

Kiara beds


Are you ready? It’s Tuesday. Let’s do some myth busting just for fun. In my Facebook feed this morning, just in the first couple of minutes that I was looking, I saw articles on poor people, and working people, and poor people who work but can’t afford basic needs, and homeless people. Oh yeah, and comments about health insurance and who should have what and the inevitable comments from people who are tired of supporting health insurance for other people. Don’t forget those.

If I’m completely honest, it wasn’t a pleasant way to wake up this morning. Then beyond finding it irritating, it actually made me angry.

Yes, by all means, let’s talk about poor people and poor people who work and people who are homeless and what they all deserve. Here’s my angle on this, for anyone reading who has not met me in person. I’m probably as middle class as it gets. I have a great job that I love. I’m a home owner. I have some dogs that are very opinionated at all the wrong times of day. I have a master’s degree, I am involved in my community, and I’m nice to older people, little kids and puppies.

All of those things are true.

You know what else is true? I’ve been homeless. I’ve been poor. And I’ve been uninsured.

And are you ready for THIS? Here’s where it gets REALLY crazy.  I was working when it happened!

I know. I know.  Take a minute. You may have to percolate on that a bit. I didn’t become homeless because I did something “wrong”. I wasn’t trying to scam the system and get something for nothing. It didn’t ever occur to me to ask. The simple fact is that I became homeless…lacking in a permanent domicile…when my remaining parent died and the house I grew up in got put up for sale.

That’s all it took. It wasn’t a long, slippery slope of mistakes or accidents or bad judgment calls. It wasn’t bankruptcy brought on by medical bills that I couldn’t afford, although that happens all too often. It wasn’t unemployment, although a lot of folks are only a couple of missed paychecks away from becoming housing vulnerable or homeless. There was nothing about it that could be judged the way we tend to judge people who are homeless. I was 17 years old. I was suddenly and unexpectedly without a parent, then suddenly and unexpectedly without a home. Oh…the job? Yes, I still had the job. It was 1982 and I was making near minimum wage, flipping burgers in fast food. I earned $3.25 an hour. At the highest point in that job, I made an entire $3.65 an hour.

A few of my family members stepped up to help. I stayed for a while with a cousin. Then I stayed for a while with Marie, the father’s long-term significant other. Then I couch surfed with a friend. Occasionally, I told Marie I was with the friend and I told the friend I was at Marie’s and then I just slept in my car because I was so afraid to be a drain on either of them.  Then I stayed for a while with my sister. Then I went away to college on grants that my sister helped me apply for, because at $3.25 an hour, it would have been tough to pay for on my own.

In the space of ten months, I lived in six different places with four different family configurations, while attempting to cope with the father’s death and other circumstances of my family of origin. There’s also nothing in there to be judged. My family tried to help as best they could. There was nothing anyone could do that would have resurrected my dead parents so that I could go home.

You want to know the funny part? I was 27 before I realized that I had been homeless. That never occurred to me either. How could I have been homeless? I stayed with people. I had a car. I had a job. That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard! Of course, I wasn’t homeless.

Working at The Salvation Army Women’s Shelter in Syracuse, I heard the HUD definition of homeless for the first time. I worked in a homeless shelter. Go figure!  No great mystery THERE.  Anyway, hearing that concept sent me into a tailspin. In the language of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, I was a category within a category. I was an Unaccompanied Child within the larger category of being homeless.

Unaccompanied Children are people who are not part of a family or in a multi-child household during their episode of homelessness, and who are under the age of 18.   ~HUD definition of terms (

At 27, I had to reorganize myself around this. I had been…homeless…by all of the definitions that HUD offered. Having a job hadn’t mattered. I worked 39 hours a week from the time I turned 16, which was as many hours as I could legally take on without being called a full time employee. I worked those hours through my junior and senior years of high school, on the honor roll for most of that time. I did it the entire time I would have been considered homeless. In other words, I worked my ass off. And I had to take into consideration that I could have been viewed as a term a former supervisor taught me (and also taught me to fight against)—I was one of the “deserving poor” who had become homeless through no fault of my own, simply through a series of occurrences over which I had little or no control.

So here I sit these days, reading my Facebook feed and headline news and political comments about poor people and homeless people and I reflect on my home ownership and my master’s degree and I have to reconcile that every day that I am one of those people. I am one of those people that folks rail against, and not just because I ultimately became a social worker. I was one of THOSE. I was OTHER.

I am no longer homeless. I haven’t been in a long time. But a very smart person observed to me not long ago that we are always all of the ages that we have ever been. Don’t you love that idea? In a way, I guess that means I’ll always have a little part of me that is 17 and just trying to graduate from my high school, washing my school uniform shirt with a load of towels at work so it would be clean for the next day and waking up stiff and cold in my car in my employer’s parking lot.

If you haven’t had a chance to try it, I highly recommend that before you decide what anyone needs or deserves, that you sleep for a few cool, damp, spring nights behind the wheel in a 1973 Pinto in a fast food parking lot. Then come back to me and we’ll discuss poverty and what people who are poor and/or homeless deserve. The catch is, though, that if you have somewhere else you CAN go, it doesn’t really count.

People who are poor don’t look a certain way. People who are homeless don’t look a certain way. And they don’t need to look like what we THINK they need to look like to be the “deserving poor”. I looked like a 17 year old kid with a bad haircut and a Catholic school uniform. No one would have picked me out of a crowd. I went to school—and to work—day after day and no one knew.

People who are poor and people who are homeless aren’t all out there looking for a free ride and planning to stay on what scraps we deign to offer them as support benefits for the rest of their lives. Sometimes, we need a break. Sometimes we need a hand. I happened to get both. Sometimes we just need someone to be frickin’ kind to us. I got that too. Now I can’t help but wonder how much of my getting those things had to do with the fact that I was a white kid in a Catholic school uniform. One does have to ponder THAT question.

I grew up to be an executive director. Good stuff can happen for people who are poor and people who are homeless when they get A) a break and B) a hand and C) a little frickin’ kindness. So, for the folks sounding off in Facebook feeds and political posts about “the poor” and “the homeless” and “the needy”, seriously…until you’ve walked a mile in my sneakers, or slept on that park bench, or driven a few miles in my Pinto, as it were, I just can’t put a lot of stock into anything you’re carrying on about over what people need and deserve. Stop adding to the myths and misinformation out there and go find your bench.

Dedicated to the supervisor who taught me that there’s no such thing as the “deserving poor.”  Thank you, Liz.





“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”    ~Maya Angelou

I’ve done a lot of reading and attended some trainings over this winter on the topic of trauma and trauma informed care and here’s what I have learned so far. When someone is in the middle of a meltdown, the thinking part of their brain stops working. No lie. The science is there. Kids, teenagers, all of us. It just stops. Decision making skills? Out the window. Language? Gone. Nothing above the brain mid-line is in gear–only the parts that can feel and act—or react.

This new learning caused me to notice the questions that we ask of people at those times. I’ve done it in my job over the years. “How can I help you?” ‘What do you need?” The questions are innocent, an outpouring of our desire to support and assist people we care about. They can’t engage in those questions with us, though. Their brain has turned off. They can’t answer a question like “What do you need” when they can’t access the upper part of their brain where language lives. We are asking them to do something with us that they are literally unable to do.

I am reminded of a Ram Dass book one of my graduate school instructors shared with us that talked about the helplessness of the helping professional. That book was written before we even knew any of the neuroscience that is driving our understanding today. Back then, it just resonated with me that sometimes the most important thing you could do with someone in crisis was to honor them by witnessing their pain. Just be with them. I have carried that message throughout my career.

Working with LGBT youth, sometimes the most important thing we can do is to honor them by witnessing their pain. We, as the agency staff, have no access to their family home. We have limited access to their school, and then only by invitation. We meet kids in tremendous pain who are being verbally and physically harassed, assaulted, threatened…kids are dealing with trauma on a frequent basis.

Neuroscience is also telling us now that people who experience trauma in childhood (abuse, neglect, parental mental illness or addiction, sexual assault, witnessing domestic violence, natural disasters, and a few others) develop cognitively in a different way than do people who do not experience trauma. The more trauma, the more different the brain and the more likely for health and mental implications in adulthood. The science is fascinating. Take a look at a quick, easy and interesting overview by Dr. Nadine Harris Burke.

I wouldn’t have to scan the brains of some of the LGBT kids we work with to know that there are some differences in development going on there. We know there’s been an uptick in harassment and assault in the last couple of years ( We know there’s been, at best, benign neglect of their needs, and, at worst, open hostility toward LGBT students, especially trans students.  We also already know that LGBT youth make up between 20% and 40% of the kids who are homeless and on the streets every year, particularly high on the T, most particularly on trans youth of color. Newer research tells us that LGBT kids also comprise about 20% of youth who are incarcerated.  (Should we place bets on how many of those kids were homeless before they were locked up?)

Those are some mindblowing stats when you take into account that we make up…what….maybe 10% of the general population? Conservative stats say 5%, but let’s be generous and say 10% for the hell of it.

Now let’s add one more twist. Where’s my bugle? This information should come with a bugle blaring to announce its arrival. According to Dr. Caitlin Ryan, researcher at The Family Acceptance Project, and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the leading trauma experts in the world, all is takes is one person.

You read that right. All it takes is ONE person who hears, one person who witnesses, one person who honors and believes to begin to relieve some of the effect of that trauma. That’s one school counselor. One school nurse. One social worker in individual session. One mom. One brother. One neighbor. One volunteer at Youth Outlook or Big Brother/Big Sister. One person who is safe and trustworthy and respectful can provide an opportunity for rewiring a brain that has been traumatized. One person can be the protective factor that stops a desperate kid from making an attempt on their own life.

Wow. Think about the power you have to affect a kid’s life. Not just their life right now, but if you listened to Dr. Burke’s TED talk, you know it’s the power to affect a kid’s life throughout the life span. It’s not about the question at that moment of crisis: “What do you need?”  or “How can I help?” Remember, in meltdown mode, none of us can actually process that question.

Thirty years into this, although I see what Ram Dass meant, I don’t know that I would limit my description of this as helplessness when we watch someone hurt. It has honor. It has meaning. True enough, we may not be able to stop it from happening, but being there with someone while he/she/they hurt, holding space for them to have their experience safely, has the potential to change cognitive wiring. We can get to those pesky questions later. First, we just have to be. We are amazing critters—both what we are as individuals and what we have the ability to do for one another.

Yes, Dr. Angelou. I agree. When we know better, we do better.

Childhood Trauma Family Courts - 2015

I used to consider myself a recovering Catholic. When I first discovered her writing, I got quite a chuckle out of Anne Lamott’s reference to recovering Catholics as “incense survivors”.  I still have a favorite saint—St. Francis. I think Frank was probably a cool guy. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in the garden with all the critters coming to visit? I still have a favorite prayer—the prayer of St. Francis, of course.  Make me an instrument of peace.  (And on some days, that thought is followed by Now, please! Before I smack this person with a dead trout!)

Years later, there’s probably too much Eastern philosophy and new age-y concepts wrapped up in my spiritual beliefs  to even consider myself recovering.  The Dalai Lama quote resonates deeply:  “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”  Most days, I dismiss the early teachings from my Catholic school history but there are some pieces that still make too much sense to dismiss.

It would have been early grade school when the nuns taught us about the Works of Mercy.  We had to memorize them, write them down, regurgitate them on a religion test later. It was all work and no mercy. All thirty of us in our blue uniform shirts to the habit-ed IHM nun who oversaw our religious training: “Yes, Sister.”

“Class, name the Corporal Works of Mercy.”

Some struggling because they didn’t remember, some two words ahead, some two words behind, the Corporal Works of Mercy were sketched out in stark classrooms with cinderblock walls painted institutional yellow and asbestos floor tiles, where tendrils of chalk dust flared out from everything we touched at the front of the room. I can still almost do it from memory:

“Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Shelter the homeless. Visit the sick. Visit the imprisoned. Bury the dead.”

I wouldn’t have known to think of it as such forty-some years ago but those can function like a Pay It Forward system.  In the 80s, everyone I knew got behind the Big Bumper Sticker Idea to practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty. And since it was the 80s, they were doing that practice between making their hair bigger and cutting the sleeves and necks off their sweatshirts. Come on. You remember! Now I look back and think the Big Bumper Sticker Idea wasn’t so far removed from what we were taught in…what was that…second grade?…about the Corporal Works of Mercy.

It’s different now though.  Now, it’s not just about being able to repeat it to Sister Mary Margaret Ernest Borgnine or write it all down on the Friday morning religion quiz. Now it plays out in real life and sometimes we get opportunities to do things to enact the Big Bumper Sticker Idea. I don’t think you have to look for those opportunities. I think they find us.

Last summer, I had knee surgery to repair an injury. I worked with an orthopaedic clinic and had to go back several times post-surgery for follow up. It was the kind of place where patients called weeks in advance for their appointments.  My follow up appointments went well into the fall months, and on one particularly grey, gloomy day, I arrived for my scheduled visit. As I checked in at the front desk and paid the requisite copay, I overheard the conversation unfolding in the next line.

“I’m sorry. Unless you can pay the copay, you cannot see the doctor today.”

There was a soft response that I couldn’t make out.

“Yes. I’m sorry. If you can’t pay the copay, you will have to reschedule.”

I looked up from my checkbook. A few feet away stood an elderly African American woman with a cane. Tiny. Stooped. White hair. She looked like someone’s grandma.

It was an ah-ha moment. This woman, who had probably already waited weeks for her appointment, as I had, was being turned away from medical care. This woman who looked like someone’s grandma, who was already in pain (because let’s face it, no one goes to the orthopaedic clinic if they feel well) was being denied a visit to a doctor by the front desk, because hey—that’s policy!

Your policy sucks.

I gripped the pen so tightly my fingertips went white. Through gritted teeth, I asked the reception worker who was processing my copay what the copay was for the woman being turned away. She whispered to me, “It’s $50.”

I flipped to the next blank check and wrote out the amount and quickly headed back to the “pod” where my surgeon’s office was, without speaking. When I came out, the woman had been escorted to her doctor’s pod. She had no idea who paid her copay. I will probably never see her again. No one’s grandma should be turned away from seeing her doctor. We learned this in second grade. Well, wait. SOME of us learned this in second grade. Apparently, the people who set policy at the ortho clinic –who probably make six times what I make in a year–missed that day of class with Sister Mary Margaret Kathleen Patrick Ryan Connor O’Riley.

About a month later, as I sat in my car entering info into the GPS, there was a light tap on my side window.  A woman about my age stood in the street by the side of my car. Her hair was unkept, her clothing wrinkled and it looked like she had had a very rough day, or maybe even series of days. I opened the window and asked if I could help her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just came from my case worker’s office and I need two dollars to get the bus.” She gestured at the building behind us where one of the social services agencies is housed.

I nodded and started to pat my pockets. Of course I had two dollars. It took a moment to realize that whatever cash I had, I had put into one of my back pockets. I asked the woman to back up a step so I could get up and out of the car. I stood, reaching into my left pocket and produced one single and one twenty dollar bill. Well, that wasn’t going to help.

I didn’t even think about it. I gave her the twenty. She burst into tears there on the curb and threw her arms around me. “God bless you! God bless you! Oh my God—God bless you!” I held her hand for a moment, feeling the wave of raw emotion, raw overwhelmed-ness pour off of her.  She turned away and headed for the bus stop down the block. When I passed her a few minutes later, she was still crying. She waved to me and called out again, “God bless you!”

I had a dollar in my pocket the rest of the day. I didn’t care. On the drive home, I found myself contemplating the Corporal Works of Mercy and the privilege of my world. I can’t get behind so much of Catholic teachings, even with the more humane statements coming from Pope Francis’ office, but this piece still resonates so many years later.  Eastern philosophy, new age-y concepts, Catholic school religion classes, Big Bumper Sticker Idea…Mix it up and find the similar message. Practice Random Acts of Corporal Mercy and Senseless Acts of Spiritual Mercy. These opportunities present themselves to us. What change could we affect if we all enacted the Big Bumper Sticker Idea and DID actually feed the hungry and shelter the homeless? What if we all had a chance to make sure that elderly women who were in pain got to see their doctors? Okay, maybe the Catholic Church had this one thing right. It might work better, though, if they put it on a bumper sticker.





Dare ya!

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Blog
Tags: , , ,

Over the weekend, I read The Master Motivator by Hansen and Batten, mining for tips on improving my leadership abilities. While I am comfortable in the belief that I’m probably a very entertaining boss, I also would like to be good at what I do, and to keep getting better at it. About halfway through the book, there’s a list of sixteen dares that leaders should be committed to for self-change.

Dare #10—Dare to live with a sense of wonder…

This wasn’t the kind of self-help book that should stop me in my tracks, but it did.

Wonder doesn’t come easily to kids in homes with terminally ill parents, or family addiction problems and mental illnesses. It is easily replaced by fear and disappointment, followed by cynicism.  Wonder is both a gift (if you can hang onto it) and a goal (if you can’t).

Somewhere between gift and goal, I found it again. Or it found me. I’m not sure which.  Not the sarcastic wonder as in, “I wonder why I got out of bed this morning.” True wonder. The wonder of watching the changes that my job makes in the communities we serve every day. The wonder of watching the changes that the kids who participate in our programs experience, some of which I talk about in Urban Tidepool.  The wonder of having a job where I am surrounded by people who are looking to help, where I so often have the privilege of finding staff members doing something right (rather than creating settings where we’re looking for what they’re doing wrong, which I know many people endure daily). Remember waking up as a kid during summer break and thinking about all the things you were going to be able to do today? That’s what my job often feels like–more “What do I get to do today”, not “Oh brother, what do I have to do today?” And let’s not overlook the wonder of being surrounded at home and at work and in my social circles with kindness and generosity, which is maybe the result of being surrounded by people who are, themselves, filled with wonder.

Wherever you find it, gift or goal, it’s a game changer. Go ahead. I dare you.Image