What’s Her Story?

Driving toward the stoplights at the end of the road I saw her. She was standing on the center median strip in the rain with a sign in her hand. It said Homeless– Anything Will Help. She looked rough, soggy, dirty, and distrustful. Her eyes scanned the road and vehicles around her. In that brief moment as my car approached the red light I knew it was the right thing to give her a few dollars. As I stopped our eyes met and when I looked down to rummage through my wallet she knew what I was doing but waited, as if she was afraid to be disappointed should she be wrong. When she saw me begin to roll the window down as our eyes met again, she shuffled over to me and extended her hand to meet mine as I reached out. She shuffled back and the light changed and there ended the encounter.

Most folks don’t give to homeless beggars in traffic. Not a glance, not a smile, not a word of encouragement, and certainly not a dollar. I have never seen anyone extend a hand of kindness as they’ve driven by or been forced by the traffic lights to stop beside them. I behave the same way usually, averting my eyes and then going my way and forgetting about them as quickly as possible. I have heard that people drive by them and scream, ‘Get a job!’. Shameful behavior for sure from all of us, including myself for avoiding what’s uncomfortable to see.

So why did it feel right on that occasion to interact and say a kind word in the few seconds I was at the light beside her? What’s her story? Where was she born? Did she have a nice childhood and then fall on hard times as she became an adult? Or was she born to this cruel fate? Are her circumstances a product of bad choices? Was she forced into this lifestyle by circumstances beyond her control and then gave up? Was she continually beat down by people like you and me being mean or giving her disgusted looks, or simply by averting our eyes and pretending she doesn’t exist? Is she perhaps a product of all of us?

What do you think would happen if everyone who came across her gave her a greeting and a kind word, just as they would if she was a cherished friend? But they don’t. People say that the homeless just use their money for drugs and alcohol. While this may be true for some you certainly can’t place that blanket judgement on all of those folks. Think about that for a moment. Then ask yourself if you like to be categorized and then judged based on the actions of others. How does it feel?

The solution to homelessness is well beyond my ability to solve. Although most every town has shelters and places that try to help, the issue will never be resolved until it captures everyone’s concern and we all participate in finding some answers. One moment in my day– that took less than a minute– made me think quite hard about many things. Did my action and kind words give her a small lift of spirits at all? Or was it just another couple bucks from a stranger that was swiftly forgotten as she stood there in the rain waiting for the next small helping hand to reach out to her? If every single person who passes by a homeless person were to learn their name and greet them each time, what would happen? Would a sort of friendship form? Then what? If pleasantries and little bits of conversation were exchanged each time, what would happen? Would you learn about their life and who they are? Would they become more ‘human’? More like an acquaintance? Would knowing who they are and a bit about their life (health, dreams, family, etc.) make you more inclined to be kind and lend a hand?

So many questions from that one fleeting encounter. I could fill the page with so many questions that you might not find the end of it. Have you had any experiences at all with homelessness? Yourself or someone you know? What about the homeless in your town? Have you ever interacted with them or do you volunteer at shelters? Please leave a comment. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences. 

Nostalgia-Inducing Writing Exercise

I was doing a writing exercise not long ago, about exploring your natural gifts through early childhood memories. The exercise asked that you go as far back as you can remember, when you had no fears and nothing was expected of you except to play all day. Then you use the common or dominant things to examine your adult life and help you see your natural gifts.

Admittedly, trying to conjure up memories of such early times is difficult. I remember playing quietly on the floor of the living room of our trailer. We had things like Lincoln logs, wooden blocks, Barbie dolls, and little metal matchbox cars. Some of them had doors that would open and close. I remember coloring with crayons and using them to make rubbings on paper of the patterns on the kitchen floor linoleum. I liked the smell of the crayons. Still do. I have vague recollections of playing outside with other neighborhood kids, though I see no faces, it was too long ago. We used to go to the end of the trailer park looking for frogs near a field I think, and sit in the big puddles after the rain. The water was warm and felt good.  I remember roller skates that were adjustable with a skate key and you buckled them onto your shoes. I was never very good but liked to go around and around on the patio.

One morning I was up early, before the chill was out of the air and you could see clouds of gnats hanging in the air. There was no one up and about in the trailer park but me so I walked around a bit and ended up on the patio of the empty lot next door. As the the sun got a little higher all sorts of spiders began crawling up onto the edges of the patio to get warm. I was just little and scared of spiders, so I let out a mighty scream at the top of my lungs. I’m pretty sure I woke the whole neighborhood and must have gotten scolded. I don’t recall who came running, perhaps the neighbor boy Brian. I stood there in terrified tears telling whoever it was why I screeched.

I got a big Raggedy Ann doll for my birthday one year. She was almost as tall as me. I was pretty excited at first when I opened the box thinking that I was seeing the end of a sleeping bag. Then pulled it out and discovered it was a dolly. I still have the photo of me hugging her with a big grin on my face.  I still have dolly, though I don’t know what happened to her clothes. She wears a dress that I used to wear as a baby. Mum made it for me. And dolly lives in my bedroom now, a constant reminder of earlier times.  

I can’t conjure up memories of things earlier than this. Even though the instructions asked for memories of before “peers or fears”, I don’t recall a time when there was no meanness from my sister. It was just part of life. Thinking about this I wonder if I should be feeling ‘robbed’ of a ‘normal & happy’ childhood. But I don’t feel that way. It certainly colored my entire life and reactions to everything in life, but I think I’m a good person– well adjusted, generally content, always striving to better myself and my environment. Anyway, it can’t be changed and I feel nothing when I think about it. It’s odd sometimes to think about things and have absolutely no feelings, like a hollow void where nothing exists. Do you ever feel that way?

Looking back over the memories, I mostly remember being perfectly content to sit and play by myself. I never felt the need to have anyone else around me and don’t recall looking for anyone out of boredom.  I didn’t worry about being good at anything, I just did it because it was fun and made me happy. When do we lose that? I recognize that from an early age I’ve had a peacefulness within myself. Is this what draws others to me and compels them to feel safe and secure opening up to me? When they do I feel patient and kind and caring and wish there was some way I could help. So is my gift then peace and empathy? Being a counselor is one of the jobs that is supposed to fit my rare personality type. I wish I had known that many years ago, when I could have gone to school for it and earned a very nice living helping others.

What are your earliest memories? Do they help you see what your natural gifts are? Can you remember when you began to lose your childhood happy-go-lucky mindset? Was it something specific? Leave a comment. I would love to hear your experiences.

Kindness Confetti

I saw a roadside sign that read, “throw kindness around like confetti.”  It made me think about how I usually do try to be kind to others and lift them up, but also it made me realize how truly tired I am emotionally lately. And admittedly I have not been as nice and uplifting as I can be. Do you have days like this? I have been turning inward and pushing people away.  Perhaps my own emotional needs aren’t being met, or what should be little stresses are growing into big stresses, or any number of other things.  I can’t throw that kindness confetti around if I don’t feel good inside. 

I realized long ago that no one is responsible for my happiness but me. However, I tend to forget this and look to others in an attempt to fill my happiness quotient.  I really need to stop doing this. (Of course its nice when it happens, but we should never expect it to be the norm.)

 So I had to sit down with my thoughts and refocus myself. What makes me happy? What makes me smile and want to share that brightness with some else? 

It occurred to me that I’m really overdue for a vacation. And I truthfully cannot remember ever having a week off in the summer, when I’ve always really wanted one. Usually I use up my vacation days to make long weekends here and there. So I’ve scheduled a week off, and you know, just being able to see that bright spot at the end of the tunnel gives me a lift.  An enjoyment to look forward to.  Just the planning of it has given me a bit of confetti to throw around. I know it’s coming. It’s amazing how just that thought and the lift it gives me can create enough good in my soul that I want to spread it around.  What does that for you? 

Is there one thing you do each day that gives you a lift? I’ve often found that even when I feel depleted I get a little emotional boost just by being friendly and kind to someone. It might be an action as small as holding a door open or giving a compliment. 

If you could take a picture of kindness, what would it look like? Would it be a shot of people helping each other? A rescue shot? People helping animals? Planting trees? Putting money in a donation bucket? What does kindness mean in your world? 

Here’s a challenge for you: take a picture of kindness in action and then really study it. Look at all the tiny details. Body language, surroundings, reaction of anyone else who might be observing if they are in the photo. How does it make you feel? Does it inspire you to spread kindness? If so, what will you try to do? 

Family Talents

I sat at my desk today feeling a little nostalgic, thinking about my mother’s ability to draw and paint. She took a few classes decades ago and dabbled a bit with a few paintings. They weren’t what you would call great, but they were nice. She definitely had an eye for color and pleasing subject matter. (Her father painted also and all of his works were distributed to the family many years ago.) I like to look at her paintings sometimes just because it brings back memories of her. I can almost hear her voice and see her hands.

Those hands could also play the piano. I still have her piano music– stacks of it– yellowed with age, none of which I can play because I never learned how. As I was sitting at the desk thinking of these things I wished that I had learned how to do them too. It may have been something we could have shared.

If you’re a parent you know that your children go off in their own directions and pursue their own interests. You take joy from seeing them grow and become their own individual self. As a child, you’re busy learning and making your way in life, cutting those apron strings so you can be who you are. Perhaps it’s only later in life that we reflect on things like this and wish we had taken more of an interest at the time.

One thing I was interested in, but never did learn to do, was ice skating. My sister could. She had a pair of skates. She and all the neighborhood kids would go the ponds in the woods and looked so graceful and strong skating around on the milky white ice. I shuffled along on the frozen pond in my winter boots, trying not to fall. I could never keep up with the kids on the skates though. I wanted to learn so I could fly around on the ice with them, but never had skates of my own. And of course when you’re kids, your siblings are not always inclined to share with you. Her feet were bigger than mine anyway so I couldn’t wear them. Being a kid I just tagged along and found other things to do and enjoyed watching them.

At my age there are many things I can still learn to do, and of course there are things I will never learn to do because the body no longer has the ability. I’m dabbling with a bit of basic drawing skills now and then as I have time. Ice skating is something I do in my mind’s eye with abundant grace and ease (and I never fall!). 

What talents did your family members have that you wish you had learned to do? What memories do they bring up for you? Have you taken any steps to begin learning how to do those things?