Practicing kindness

Bear with me here….it may take a while to get to the point here. Sue me.

A little earlier today as I was picking up some groceries, I saw a man I assume to be homeless sitting outside of the store. He is older-looking and disheveled, asleep sitting up, and on his lap, in his arms, is a small cat who looks a lot healthier and cleaner than this poor man.

Now, sadly, seeing homeless or otherwise unfortunate individuals is the norm these days, at least here in this city. On any busy street corner, you’ll find someone with a “please help” sign. The brain almost becomes immune to what the eyes see too much of. I have periods of carrying “homeless packs” in my car; gallon ziplock bags with trial-sized toiletries, a pair of socks, a small bottle of water or gatorade, and snacks, that I can give out to people as I see them. But of course, there is only so much you can do.

As I got a few groceries, I also got two pieces of baked chicken, a sub sandwich, two bottles of water, 5 cans of pet food, some protein bars and a few packs of tuna, and bagged them separately. I added a $10 bill, and quietly left that bag at the man’s feet. The cat looked up at me; neither him or the man moved as I went to my car.

That kind of broke my heart a little. Here, a few hours later, it still makes me feel teary. I think the sticking point was the cat. Here was this sweet, beautiful creature who was obviously happy and loved, and felt very comfortable and secure in the arms of this man. The cat was lying there very contentedly, making no effort to get away. The cat loves this man, and that tells me that this poor unfortunate man is a gentle soul, who doesn’t deserve his current life.

Now, were my actions foolish? Perhaps. Are my actions going to change his life, his fortunes, give him a home or a job or a family or improve anything in his day to day circumstances. Nope. Will my actions perhaps make today a little happier and comfortable for him and his kitty? I certainly hope so.

Here’s the deal. One person can change the world. Yes, they can. They can change the course of events for one person for a day, and hour, even for a few minutes. And truly, but for the grace of whatever/whoever, that old man could be me. It could be a friend of mine, or a loved one. It could be you.

Yes, I believe in hard work, I believe that we can shape and at times create our own destiny. But there are things beyond our control, circumstances that we can not prevent. Anyone in the U.S., male or female, gay or straight, black or white, could have been born in Haiti, or Kenya, or North Korea, or some other place of this world without the opportunities they may have here and now. Any one of us could be afflicted with cancer,  ALS, or some other blind, equal opportunity and unfair crippling disease. How much control do we have over a random earthquake shattering our dream home, or a lightening strike into a fire, or a hurricane or tornado destroying what we have?

I work hard. I always have. I provide for myself, I always have. The few times I have had to borrow from my family to get by or to cover something unexpected, it has rankled me and has continued to until it is all paid back, which it always is. But I know, that along with my hard work, I am blessed with good fortune.

I have a roof over my head. I have shoes and clothes and food. I am literate. I have education, and further opportunities should I want them. I have human rights. I am SO lucky, SO fortunate.

Anyone reading this, they have access to the internet. They are educated enough to read this. They presumably have a safe place to live, food to eat, clothes, a job. THEY are lucky, so lucky, so fortunate.

There is a lot of judgement in the world today. Seriously, what rights do we have to judge others? And yet, it’s a human condition, because I do it as well. I hold judgement and intolerance towards people who are willingly ignorant, who are intolerant by choice, who are racist, who are bigots, who are homophobic (you don’t fear gay people, you are just choosing to be a dick), who are xenophobic (ditto vs. foreigners, if you truly fear them then I am sad for your ignorance). I am wickedly disappointed and disgusted with the leadership of our country right now. All of that is me being judgmental. So I get it, I get judging other people; as obnoxious as it is, we all do it.

But when you are looking at that person, remember how fortunate you are. And turn it around…..could this be who you end up as, were your luck to run out? People will quickly and easily say that this will never happen to them, and perhaps they are right. But what if? Would that make you more understanding, tolerant, and KIND?

We can all afford kindness. This old man and his sweet kitty prove that. Perhaps by practicing a bit more of it, we can push back the negative influences in our society today. I’m not naive, or stupid. But really, we can’t fight negativity, bigotry, ignorance with the same; it is up to us to be that change we want to see happen, because change doesn’t happen by doing the same evil we are allegedly fighting against.

Who will be the recipient of your kindness today? Who do you see, or know, who needs a boost? It doesn’t have to cost a thing. Just, practice kindness every day. Because if we don’t use it, we lose it; a fact sadly obvious today.

(not the man I saw today; I wasn’t going to intrude upon him in such a way)


Life lessons from basic training

Originally posted on April 14, 2014
As my birthday is coming up later this month, I get onto these kicks of nostalgia; of who I am, of where I’ve been, of where I’m heading….ya know, the whole “what I have done with my life so far, and what else will I be doing with it” idea. While unpacking some books from my recent remodeling efforts, I ran across my Air Force basic training “yearbook” (go fighting B090!) and realized that, while my time in the military had it’s ups and downs (as everything in life does), my time in basic training was absolutely an important and incredible experience for me. There is a lot of learning and growing up that can occur in a 6-8 week period of time when you are away from home, being in one of the most disciplined environments that you will ever be a part of. I’ve often thought that all high school graduates could benefit from at least going through basic training (if not going into the actual military).

So what did I learn in basic training? Here we go:

1). How to iron. Ok, so that may be a bit inaccurate….I’m sure I knew how to iron before that (although I’m sure as a teenager, I ascribed to purchasing clothing that required no ironing at all, or wearing clothing that maybe required ironing but just didn’t do it!) But this was hard-core ironing…kind of like the cross fit of ironing. You can fold your T-shirt in a 3″ square, and by golly, you’d better do it! (and then press an iron on it, flatten it out, and then wear 3 T-shirts at a time to avoid having to iron more than 2 at a time; you iron the 2, keep them in the drawer, and wear the rest or keep them in your laundry bag!) Ditto for folding your socks in exact thirds, and your underwear into militaristic origami.

2) How to be aware that the rules given in #1 mean nothing, but still follow them. So much these days, people don’t want to follow rules that they don’t agree with. Ya know what? You don’t agree with it, fine. You’re ONE person. You either disagree with it and follow it anyway, or you disagree with it, don’t follow it, and suffer the consequences. It’s pretty black and white in basic training; pull a 341 enough times (discipline form) and you learn what consequences are. Boundaries and rules that WILL be enforced is great training for the “real world”!

3) How to show respect for authority even if you don’t respect the person who IS that authority. Oh wow, is this a big one?! Yeah, authority and rule by degradation is not my idea of a good way of leadership (which is why I have left some jobs in the past….) However, that’s the way it is in basic training. And you just learn to deal with it, or else you’re pulling a bunch more 341′s! So yes, you do have no choice but to show respect for authority; you may or may not truly feel it, but you can be a good little soldier and show respect and even deference. Only you and your hairdresser will know the truth! 🙂

4) How to make a nice, tight bed. It’s really and truly that whole quarter-bouncing thing….you make your bed nice and tight, then slide in from the top while the bed is tightly made at night-time. In the morning, you reverse the process of sliding out the top (you already have your body trained to not move at night while sleeping!), then get on the floor under your cot and pull the sheet and blanket tight through the metal of the box spring (and make sure you have someone else sweep the dust bunnies off your back, just as you do for them).

5) How to walk. EVERYWHERE! And which leg really is your left leg.

6) How to share. Phone conversations were limited to 10 minutes a person; sure you could go overtime, but by doing that, you’d be screwing someone else out of their phone call. And that’s something you don’t want karmically coming back to you!

7) The importance of “snail mail”. There is NOTHING like mail call, either when you’re in basic training or active duty. Sure, today we have emails, texts, cell phone calls that can even be made from foreign countries (I remember paying close to $100 for an 18 minute phone call home from Korea in 1989). But there is something really special about getting a letter or card from someone, and knowing that to that person, for a period of time, YOU were in their heart and mind. I try still to send snail mail on a pretty regular basis, just because of the feeling it gave and gives me.

8) The importance of family. As a teenager, I was rather typical, and ready to be out and on my own. Once I was, and it was in basic training, it really reinforced to me exactly how much I adore and love and need my family; and how much I value them and how special and wonderful they are to me. All of these years later, I feel the same way, and I know in that respect, I am lucky.

9) Discipline. There were no “Oh, I don’t want to work so I’m calling in sick today” sick days in basic training! (or in the military in general, actually). You feel sick, you go to the infirmary, and THEY say whether you can work or not! You want to get the grades? Do the work, because there are no “make up assignments” or “extra credit”. And if you want that promotion, you do the leg work, you study, you improve yourself, and you EARN it!

10) And finally, being a decent person and doing your job well is it’s own reward. Reading through my basic training yearbook, I made friends with the majority of my squadron, despite being rather shy and introverted at the time. And I was a good friend, a good listener, a good helper. I volunteered for extra duty so that other people could get their needs met, and it came back to me over and over again. Today, the worker and the ethic I have with my job and my life was formed by my parents, and basic training. And for that, I’m forever grateful!