Lovely Afternoon to Be Kind!

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, May 17, 2014

Lagoon at Chicago Botanic Garden, May 17, 2014 (photo-Rachel Jones)

Lagoon at Chicago Botanic Garden, May 17, 2014 (photo-Rachel Jones)

Lovely Afternoon to Be Kind!

So there we were, on our way up to the Chicago Botanic Garden. Absolutely gorgeous May afternoon. The sky was blue, and partly cloudy. With big cumulonimbus clouds stacked in huge piles around the sky. A great day to be outside, and especially going to such a wonderful place as the Botanic Garden!

My daughter wanted some lunch, so we stopped at a Subway sandwich shop on our way up Green Bay Road. As we got out of the car in the jam-packed strip mall parking lot, I noticed the car next to us, on the north side. Being a friendly sort of person, I smiled at the man standing next to the car. He nodded back at me, but didn’t smile. That’s okay. Sometimes people don’t feel like smiling.

We walked the short distance to the sandwich place, stood in line, got our order, and went upstairs to the cute seating area (first Subway I’ve ever seen that was two floors!). My daughter and I often have excellent conversations: today at lunch was no exception. After the leisurely lunch (did I mention the wonderful conversationalist I had to talk to?), she and I walked back to the car. There was the same car. And there was the man—still waiting. Or just standing there. He was on the shorter side, almost compact. Small mustache, light gray jacket, still hanging out next to his car.

I almost drove off without a second thought. Almost. Then, I did have second thoughts. And third ones, too. I put down the window on the passenger side of the car while my daughter almost died of mortification. “Hello!” I smiled again. “Can I help? Do you need something?” The man seemed honestly surprised. “Hmm—n-n-no,” was his response. I stayed put. He continued, “I wait for someone.” He nodded at another person talking on her cellphone, some two hundred feet away. “All right, if you’re sure,” was my exchange. He nodded. I smiled again. Then drove on further north, on Green Bay Road.

We had a lovely time at the Garden. My daughter took a number of photographs, and almost very flowering bush and tree was in bloom. (Gorgeous!!) But that man wouldn’t leave my mind. I have found that this is what happens when I am supposed to pray. I did pray for the man and for his companion, the woman I saw at a distance on the telephone.

I thought about the man and his companion, when we were on our way out of the Garden, as well as on the ride to the nearby bookstore. I am concerned about this gentleman, and for his companion. I hope their car is working properly. And knowing what I do, sometimes? About people on the North Shore suddenly getting a change in economic circumstances. I hope nothing like that happened to him.

I hope he and his companion had a lovely afternoon, too. I pray so, too! God, please hear my prayer.

@chaplaineliza

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Be Kind with a Smile

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, April 22, 2014

blooming_bike1

Be Kind with a Smile

It’s good to be with friends. I had several opportunities to visit with friends in the past few days. Some friends and I got together tonight. We talked, laughed, and generally had a great time together.

I could talk further about that get-together, but I thought another encounter more significant.

On my way home from my visit with friends, I decided to stop by the grocery store. (I won’t bother you with the minute details, but we needed a few things from the store. Especially milk!) So, I swung by the grocery store I used to go to, on the other side of town. A much denser side of town, with a number of larger apartment buildings and condos, as opposed to the neighborhood where I now live. More single-family homes in our present location.

On the other side of town, fascinating people, places and things. Always an interesting trip, going to that particular grocery store. The time was later in the evening. The dinner rush had long passed, and things around that store seemed to be winding down. I went into the store, and didn’t exactly hurry, but didn’t dawdle either.

As I came out of the store, who should I see getting off his bicycle but an older man I had seen for the past few years. A number of times before. I don’t see him every single time I go to that store, but about half the time? He’s there. Sitting or standing at the entrance/exit to the store, greeting all passersby. Dreadlocks and all.

He got off his bike and met my glance. I acknowledged his look with one of my own, as well as with a friendly smile.

That took him by surprise. “You’re the first person today who smiled at me. Thank you, lovely lady, for the beautiful smile.” (If you’ve seen photos of me, or me in real life, you know I have a very nice, friendly and open smile.) “Why, thank you for noticing,” I responded. I also said I was sorry I didn’t have any money to give to this man. “Oh, that’s all right. I appreciate your lovely smile. That’s enough for me.”

How about that? I didn’t mean to give my smile to this dear man as a gift. No, it was unintentional. It just happened. I rejoice in the fact that I can give away smiles to pretty much anyone who walks or drives by! Smiles don’t cost anything. They don’t take up room, they won’t rust or wither or fade. But, they brighten someone’s day, even lift them up out of sadness or depression, or even awkward or embarrassing things. God, what are You going to send me tomorrow? I can hardly wait to see!

@chaplaineliza

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Showing Love with a Smile

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, February 25, 2014

smiley ball

Showing Love with a Smile

I was intentionally kind to a few people today! Including two workers at the YMCA this morning, several acquaintances, and two strangers. However, those incidences of being kind are not sticking in my mind as much as a situation two days ago. I already wrote about something that happened at the end of the morning, when I played the piano for two services at two different retirement homes. But the situation I’ll feature in today’s post? Just will not get out of my head. So, I’ll talk about it in this space.

At the first retirement center, I arrived some minutes early for the service. In plenty of time to play several familiar hymns for a prelude.  After checking with Chaplain Sarah, the preacher and service leader for the morning, I went to the piano to put down my music and prepare the hymnals. One of the dear seniors—with a walker—slowly entered the chapel. As she shuffled in, I could see one of the center’s employees gently directing the senior to the one of the empty, waiting chairs. The employee gave her some friendly encouragement, trying to cut through the veil of encroaching dementia.

While standing by the piano, I watched, fascinated. The dear senior paused by the second row of chairs from the front, as if considering sitting down. No, she didn’t sit. Instead, she continued, up towards the piano. I was drawn forward to her, almost as if by a magnet. “Hello!” I said, with a big smile. “It’s good to see you this morning.” I reached forward, stroking her arm in a gentle way. I lessened my smile a little, but still kept it on my face.

This dear senior raised her head and looked up at me—something I hadn’t seen her do for some time. (I know her a little, since I come to this center about once a month.) Her eyes met mine. She gestured toward the piano with one elbow, keeping both hands on her walker. “I play,” she said. Her glance fell on the piano, a lovely, older baby grand, a warm medium brown. Glowing in the daylight coming in from outside. “Really?” I responded. “So do I. I’m going to play for you, if you sit down. Here—“ I gently turned her around, rubbing her shoulder in an encouraging way. I led her back to the second row of chairs. She went along, quite willingly. Several other staff members and residents watched as I oriented her to her seat.  Then, I returned to the piano. Started to play. The service for the morning started.

I did a workmanlike job on the service music Sunday morning. I truly enjoy playing for the seniors. But there was something about the interaction in front of the piano that especially touched my heart. It seemed that everyone watched what happened, like the two of us were on stage. I cannot even describe what it was about it that was so moving. But—whatever it was—God was in it. I felt the presence of God in a special way. I don’t know what anyone else’s opinion or reaction to this interaction was, but I know mine. Touching in a deep, meaningful way. Thanks, God. I wonder what You will send my way tomorrow?

@chaplaineliza

Kindness through Connection (As in People)

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, February 15, 2014

friends drinking coffee - painting courtesy of the BBC

friends drinking coffee – painting courtesy of the BBC

Kindness through Connection (As in People)

Some days ago, I happened to run into a friend of mine. I hadn’t seen this friend for a number of months, and was very happy to reconnect with him. Someone was with him, someone I had never met before. I smiled my friendly smile and stepped towards this second man. He seemed a bit hesitant and taken aback, almost as if he was unsure exactly why I’d even smile at him. My chaplain antennae started twitching. I detected something, some way of being that concerned me. I softened my voice and manner and started talking to him and our mutual friend, both together.

After seating ourselves and after initial uncertainty, my new friend opened up. He and I made an instant connection, too. He told me he had been out of work for a number of months. As the months began to pile up, he became more and more discouraged. I recognized the plight and problem of the long-term unemployed: employers hesitating even to consider people who have been unemployed for a long period of time. This wasn’t under-employment, but instead unemployment, pure and simple. Feelings of uselessness, self-pity, anger, despair, depression. (Sadly, I could relate, since I have gone through similar times in my own life and experience.)

This sort of thing does not happen to me all the time, or even most of the time. But making an instant connection does happen sometimes. And when I get the feeling, the urge to talk with someone, I usually listen to that urge. And, I listen to the person, too. As I was taught, I try to journey with the person for a little while. And, I try to actively listen to the story the person brings to me, too.

After I found out what my new friend had been doing before he was “downsized,” I realized I was acquainted with an older man who had worked for decades in the same industry before his retirement. Accordingly, I told my new friend. It was marvelous to see him perk up and tentatively begin to blossom. He asked me whether I could give the retired fellow his name and number. “Certainly!” I again smiled my friendly smile at him. I cautioned that I might not see this retired man for a number of days. My new friend said that would be okay—he had been unemployed for so long, a few more days (give or take) wouldn’t matter.

So, I ran into the retired man yesterday. He was interested in the story of my new friend’s long-term unemployment, and readily gave me his telephone number. However, he cautioned, my new friend needed to call him. (Excellent strategy—make the unemployed man need to do something.)

I called my new friend today. I gave him the cell phone number, and boy, was he grateful!  For him, this phone number was a lifeline, a connection with an industry that had been holding him at arm’s length for months. He said thank you to me, several times.

All because I made a connection, introducing two people who otherwise might never have met. What a way to be kind. What an opportunity to show caring and encouragement.

@chaplaineliza

Showing Love—On a Bus?

A Year of Being Kind blog – Tuesday, February 4, 2014

City Bus - Marin Dobson

City Bus – Marin Dobson

Showing Love—On a Bus?

I can get into the most intriguing conversations with people I meet, at a moment’s notice. My family rolls their (collective) eyes, sighs, and says, “Oh, Mom.” (Or simply sighs, in my husband’s case.)

I took the opportunity of a day off from work to go to the YMCA this morning, after bringing my son to school. I went into the women’s locker room to change into my workout clothes. Many of the same people were there, the usual denizens of the gym and the pool on a typical weekday morning. I took my time to change, relishing the extra time I had at my disposal.

A woman I had met a number of times before bustled up to a locker near me. We hadn’t seen each other for some days. After we said hello, she was reminded—internally—of the blog I’ve been writing. (Yes, this blog.) She turned to me as she changed and asked how the blog was going. “Fine!” I said, with a smile. She is involved with a non profit organization that assists women and children, and she wanted more information about the blog. So that some of the women could post suggestions about acts of kindness they are familiar with. I said that would be great, and thanked her so much! We talked a bit about how people could contact me. (Reminder: anyone can always contact me at the Facebook page A Year of Being Kind, or through my Twitter account @chaplaineliza, or through wordpress.com—just in case anyone was wondering.)

Another woman, a few lockers down, happened to be listening to us as we spoke about intentional acts of kindness and service. My friend went off to the gym upstairs as I began to talk to the second, older woman. She apologized for eavesdropping on my conversation, but I told her that was perfectly all right. Introduced myself, and the two of us immediately engaged in conversation, also! She told me about an act of service that instantly came to her mind, as soon as she heard about people being kind. “Giving people a smile. Just that simple action can help so much.”

I agreed, and told her about my smile (and I showed it to her, too—my smile just-sort-of happens, you understand). She smiled back, and we exchanged a few words about smiles. But then she went back to her story. She used to ride the bus here in our suburb to work. A bus driver on the route greeted everyone who got on his bus with a big smile, friendly and cheerful. As the woman told me about this driver, she obviously remembered him with fondness. A big smile came across her face. “I used to tell him that his bus ought to be called ‘the Happy Bus.’”

What a happy memory! And what a kind thing to do. A smile and a positive attitude may seem to be little things, but they can brighten a person’s day. They changed this woman’s day, this morning, just remembering. Thank God for small things—like smiles.

@chaplaineliza

Buying A Street Newspaper, Kindly

A Year of Being Kind blog – Thursday, January 30, 2014

newspaper vendor Lucy Dickens

newspaper vendor
Lucy Dickens

Buying A Street Newspaper, Kindly

It has been cold in the past number of days. And I mean, freezing cold. As in polar-vortex-cold. Too cold for people to safely stand outside for more than a minute or two.

At a grocery store not too far from my apartment, a street newspaper vendor has his territory marked out. Recently, the grocery store has been kind enough to allow him to stand just inside the outside doors, out of the bitter cold. (Immediately adjacent to where the shopping carts live.) Some kind of warmth comes from the inside of the store. It’s not quite toasty warm, since there aren’t any direct heat vents or other heat sources on the floor-to-ceiling window walls. But as I mentioned before, at least it’s not as freezing as being outside.

Occasionally, I go to this grocery store to do a little shopping. Maybe once a week. And as often as not, I see the same street newspaper vendor there by the entrance/exit. I sometimes buy a street newspaper from him. I’m not sure whether everyone knows just what these street newspapers and the vendors who sell them are doing out on the street. This particular street newspaper is “StreetWise.” As the inside cover proclaims, “StreetWise is published weekly and is sold by the poor and homeless of Chicago.” The vendors buy the newspaper at cost and sell it at a nominal mark-up. Then, they are able to keep the profit for themselves. It’s a way for people “facing homelessness to achieve personal dignity,” as the StreetWise mission statement says.

I’m a generally friendly, cheerful person. When I see this vendor, I sometimes speak to him. When I get the opportunity, even though I often pass by him at some distance, I try to smile and nod. Give him some sort of friendly acknowledgement, since many people will not even make eye contact with him. I’ve never asked him, but I think he has noticed. And I suspect he appreciates it. He certainly seems to perk up when I see him, even though I don’t always buy a newspaper from him.

But tonight, I did. I bought a newspaper on the way out of the store. The time was a little later than I usually had seen him, but he was still there. Since I had a little extra money, I bought one. I acted in a kindly way. I wished him a good evening, told him I hoped he would be able to stay warm, and gave him one of my smiles, too. (I do have a cheerful smile.) I am glad he is showing initiative and gumption, and get-up-and-go, too.

I hope he has a warm, safe place to sleep tonight. Even though the weather is warmer than it was a few days ago, it’s still winter! And it’s still well below freezing. Dear God, I pray for this gentleman. Bless him. Nourish him physically as well as spiritually. Help him in the daily routine of selling this newspaper. Prosper him, and I pray that he might stay in good health. God, in Your mercy, hear my prayers.

@chaplaineliza

Being kind? At the YMCA

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, January 18, 2014

be kind to others

Being Kind? At the YMCA

Week in, week out, I try to keep to some sort of weekly schedule. Not daily schedule, no. For me right now, each day is a little different. Some days have more involvement, others have various meetings or errands, and most days have at least some work-related activity. However, rare it is to find myself at home all day (and all night, too) with no social interaction whatsoever.

Saturday morning is a time I set aside for going to the gym for one of my several-times-weekly exercise sessions. I am fortunate that I don’t find it very difficult to get to the gym. I understand that motivation is a large barrier to some people when they begin an exercise routine. Thank God, not me. I understand the benefits that come from regular stretching and exercise! So, I try to make it to the YMCA here in town three times a week.

Today, I happened to pass S in the hallway at the Y, a lovely woman I’ve known for a number of years. S so often has a bright smile and a sunny disposition. S and I greeted each other this morning, said a few words, and parted after exchanging big smiles. That’s all.  It was only a brief interaction, but I remembered it. Distinctly. As I reflected on the chance encounter in the hallway outside of the women’s locker room, I thought of S’s job. She’s now on the janitorial staff at the YMCA. My town is pretty egalitarian. I’ve found that people generally greet each other regardless of the employment or society position they hold. But the situation is somewhat different for those ladies who work in the locker room.

Sometimes, the denizens of the locker room have no interaction at all. Admittedly, the locker room is an intimate place. Women get dressed, undressed, take showers, dry hair, and a hundred and one other little things involving personal, intimate details. I have been working out at the YMCA here in town for five years, and I’ve noticed. On occasion, those in the locker room don’t even speak a word to someone changing at the locker right next to them. What about the women on the janitorial staff who take such excellent care of the locker room? Who keep it clean, welcoming and usable for the many women who change there on a daily basis? Sometimes these kind, generous women might just as well be invisible. (I observe things like that, especially since I have a personal and professional interest in how people interact in different social situations.)  True, the locker room can be an odd place, due to the emotions, mores, and upbringing of all those who inhabit it.

But for me, I always try to have a kind and friendly word for S, as well as the other janitorial staff who keep the YMCA clean and inviting. What a way of being kind to all of us, who use the place on a regular basis!  I thank God for all of you.

@chaplaineliza

Being Kind, Crossing International Borders

A Year of Being Kind blog – Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Walking with Friends," by Carolee Clark

“Walking with Friends,” by Carolee Clark

Being Kind, Crossing International Borders

Earlier today, I happened to stop on the stairs. I had an unexpected encounter with someone from another country, and I hope I was of service.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll give a little background, and set up the story. As is my habit during the week, I went to the gym to do some stretching and cardio exercise. I had finished a good workout, and started down to the women’s locker room. Halfway down the stairs, I saw a young woman holding an open pamphlet, obviously reading intently. She looked puzzled, and frowned at the piece of paper. I slowed down, since she caught my attention. She glanced up. We smiled at each other. And that’s all it took for her to engage me in conversation.

As it turned out, she held a pamphlet that listed information about GED classes. She trustingly started pouring out her story in accented but fairly good English. She wanted to take a GED course. And then, get her GED to be more prepared to get jobs here in the Chicago area. I encouraged her, and took a look at the pamphlet with her. “Yes,” I said. “The GED class you want is at the high school, on Tuesday night.” She told me about studying English in high school, in her country of origin in South America. Again I smiled and was encouraging. “You speak English really well for taking only a couple of years of classes. I wish I could speak another language as well.” She beamed and nodded her head in gratitude for my words. She was very hesitant about English grammar, it turned out. Plus, she also was enrolled in citizenship classes. I was quite supportive. “That’s great! I wish you the best in both of your classes. God’s blessings in this new year, too.” She smiled even more widely. She wanted to know my name. Elizabeth, I told her. She readily gave me her name. I think I made a new friend!

This is not an isolated incident. I guess I have that kind of appearance that makes me approachable. People come up to me on the street, or when I’m stopped at a stop light. They’ll roll down their window and tell me they’re lost. And, ask directions. Or when I’m standing in line at a grocery store they’ll engage me in conversation. Tell me about personal details of their lives. Believe me, it happens! (My family is endlessly amused, and say that I have that kind of face. Or chaplainly air. Or something.)

In preparation for this year of service, I’ve prayed specifically to be open and willing, each day. As subtext to my month’s service, for January, the verse I have chosen is Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” I think I was kind to this sweet young woman. She and I made a genuine connection. And—I pray that I was of service.

@chaplaineliza