Parade of New Neighbors (March of Kindness, Part 2)

With all this talk about kindness I have been seeing more of it around me. Enough so to warrant a second post!  And the world’s longest blog post title ever.

We just moved into our first home.  What an amazing, awful, exciting, terrifying, exuberant, joyful, messy, overwhelming, exhilarating, liberating, exhausting experience THAT has been.  There is stuff EVERYWHERE.  Boxes and boxes of stuff.  So much stuff that my attachment to much of it has started to diminish.  If I could just get it out of here, I would feel so much better! Ah, but that is a different post! (See my thoughts on decluttering here) The point is, we have been in this new house for about 15 days now with no TV and nothing to look at but the mess.  This creates some stress and grumpiness.  But do you know the cure for stress and grumpiness?

Nice neighbors.

Now coming from a very small town, I certainly did not expect to have a better “small town experience” in the suburbs than i did in my hometown of 3000 people!  I thought I was moving to the hustle-&-bustle, no-time-for-community section of the world.  I thought our arrival here would warrant no more than a passing thought in the minds of the people living around us.  As if it were only a matter that a different car would be sitting in our driveway than the previous owners’.  Apparently, I was VERY wrong.

No sooner than we had pulled into the driveway, did the first set of neighbors appear to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood.  We had a nice chat, then got to the major task of unloading our stuff.  The next day, I received my first delivery in our new house from my friend who had sent Champagne for us to celebrate.  The UPS man knew we were new, welcomed me, told me I had chosen an excellent place to live.  The next day, I was starting to REALLY get overwhelmed by my mess– not being able to turn around in the space and having no actual idea how to begin the task of creating order.  The kids got off the bus and were stirred up and antsy due to the lack of order and routine.  Sometime in the afternoon the doorbell rang.  It was COOKIES.  Cookies which came from our new neighbor on the other side.  Cookies which. were. still. WARM.  Like magic, cookies which made me feel better, made the kids happy, and for which I may always be grateful.

And the little things really DO make a big difference.  Our next door neighbor made sure to sign for an important package when he saw the UPS man and that we weren’t there to sign for it.  The man across the street came over to say hello when my husband was outside cutting crown molding and he offered to lend my husband his tools.  A neighbor from four doors down saw the kids walking to the bus stop yesterday while he was out with his dog and stopped to make sure they were OK.  The cookie lady?  Yesterday she called my kids over when the bus dropped them off and I was three minutes late getting home from work.  Today on their way to the bus stop they came across a different dog-walking neighbor.  He brought the dog over so the kids could say hello.  Then he came over to me and told me his name and the dog’s name and where on the street he lives (like five doors down and across the street!).

These little kindnesses have made us feel SO welcome.  I know we have settled in just the right place.

March of Kindness

This post is part of a link up @codenamemama is doing for the month of March.  My great intentions of having it done sooner were adversely affected by our recent move! Visit her blog for more stories of kindness 🙂

There is a woman in our community who inspires me.  She epitomizes kindness. She cares about others and seems to be a bottomless pit of kindness.  She is also real, admits her flaws, accepts her own imperfections, and isn’t afraid to tell you what she has done in her mothering, that is less than perfect.  In so many ways I aspire to be more like her.

I met Carol a few years ago when our daughters were participating in a school activity together.  It was only after a birthday party, though, that I saw Carol’s van.  It is a 15 passenger van!  As in IT.CAN.HOLD.15.PEOPLE.  Now, there aren’t too many people out there who need a fifteen passenger van.  Deep down inside me, I have always kind of wished to have a large family.  Growing up, I imagined my kids all lining up someday, in their Sunday finest like the family in The Sound of Music. So of course, I had to ask.  I stood at the end of my driveway that day, when I probably should have been wrangling birthday party attendees, captivated by the story of her family.

Carol is the mother of 4 biological children.  And 4 adopted children (out of foster care). And (yes, there are more!) 5-6 foster children! For those of you who aren’t great at math, that is 13 children and a maybe! When you add in Carol and her partner, that is 15 people total, as in, the 15 passenger van is FULL.   Carol has nice kids.  Some of her kids have some special needs to which she gracefully attends.  This woman is the essence of kindness and truly puts her actions where her heart is.  I have seen her on enough occasions to know this.  And watching her with her kids, I learn things about what I can do better with my own.  No matter that she has all these children, she has always made time to answer my questions–about children, adoption, mothering.

Life is not always easy when you are putting your heart on the line in fostering and adoption.  I was very upset to learn that Carol is experiencing a loss that most people never have to deal with.  Carol recently took in a sweet baby boy, fell in love with him, began the adoption process and truly thought he was hers, only to lose the baby to the birth mother who had put him up for adoption in the first place.  There was nothing she could do but grieve the loss of her child.  In preparing for his departure, she put together all his things, made notes for the birth mom about his likes and dislikes, his routine, and things that give him comfort.  She packed up the special clothes and toys she bought for him, and sent them along.  When I spoke with her she was simply heartbroken, as any mom who has lost a child, would be.  It made me very sad to think of this baby leaving the only mother he has ever known and of my friend being forced to grieve this loss while trying to be strong for her other children.

At the same time that Carol was experiencing this heart-wrenching loss, I heard about a family in my daughter’s class who had experienced a fire that leveled their house and destroyed all their possessions.  The school was collecting clothing and items for the family to help them get through the end of the winter.  Their family is also a big one.  There are 10 kids in their family too!  I didn’t think much of it as I went through our outgrown clothing, figuring with that many kids, someone probably would fit in whatever size I could come up with.  I put together the bags of clothes and decided to call the school the next day.  I knew this family had been living with neighbors while they figured out where they were going next and how they were going to get back on their feet.  It seemed best to find out where their neighbors lived so I could take the things directly to their house rather than require an extra trip for them to pick it up.  I called the school to find this out and though they had already collected enough items, they did say where the family had been living.

In case you haven’t already guessed it, it was with Carol.

Purging

Decluttering, Emotional Housekeeping & Good Activism

Initially I didn’t want to include this post on my blog, as I wanted to stay true to my expressed mission of helping Tuk’a in Ethiopia.  My motivation to gather a community of people to underwrite the cost of this village’s development is that we have SO much, while others don’t even have the basics.  But then, it occurred to me–that is the whole point.  We spend a lot of time consuming. And then all the stuff we have purchased (just as the very wise Henry David Thoreau suggested) begins to own us.  Not only does it own us, the person immediately responsible for its purchase, it also begins to own our children, and their children, and whomever else is ultimately responsible for the stuff when we no longer can take care of it ourselves.  If we didn’t spend so much time and money acquiring it, we wouldn’t have to pay to house it, store it, maintain it, and eventually dispose of it.  Getting back to basics, eliminating the unneeded items means that I will be using fewer resources to own what I already own.

So here I am, linking up to both Project Simplify and to 2011 in 2011, in order to make the world (and my home) a better place. It is really hard to let go of STUFF so if any of you decide to join in, you will have my full sympathy as you deal with the mental/emotional aspects of the transformation.  It is my hope to adopt a different way of thinking so that my kids will go into the world with an entirely different approach to acquisition.  I do not want to send them out feeling beholden to material things.

Today I did the first of five week’s purging assignments through Project Simplify: cleaning out my wardrobe.  I was able to remove 44 items to go to friends or the Goodwill. Only 1,977 more items to discard by the end of the year (for 2011 in 2011).

My friend called at a great time, just as I was about to tear out my entire wardrobe for scrutiny.  She regaled me with her latest good news as I went through every single piece of clothing in my closet.  Admittedly it was a pretty liberating feeling to finally shed items I have been saving out of guilt or obligation.  I know this is probably the easiest of all the decluttering projects of the year, but I am still celebrating this victorious first step.  I didn’t get it all, there are still pieces lurking in there which don’t deserve their spot.  So I will continue to be vigilant.  What really concerns me, as I declutter, are the boxes of “special things” inherited from mother, grandmother, aunts… That is the stuff that scares me. These are the boxes I recently moved into the basement, full of momentos and photos from childhood, the things I made in junior high.  What are we supposed to do with all that stuff anyway? Luckily, that is a question for another day.

Feel free to join this party if you are so inclined!

The Blessed Ones: A Response to The Boy and The Bottlecap

A Guest Post From My Good Friend, @RadicalMommas:

Though she tried to leave this beautiful post as a comment on The Boy and The Bottlecap, it was too beautiful and too profound to leave it there.  It is now in its rightful place on the blog but left as it was which is why it sounds like a comment. 🙂

Great post, Lily.  I have so many thoughts about this, and I have debated which to share here because some might come across wrong, but each make of them what they will, and God knows best.

My husband was orphaned, more or less, in Senegal at age 6.  His mother died giving birth to one of his baby sisters, and although he was still raised by his “aunt” he has experienced 52 wise years or growing in the midst of conditions of poverty.  His perspective has really shaped my views in many ways and below I share one of our many (for me) life changing conversations.  Our belief in God, as you know, also has because what we know to be true is that, even those suffering the greatest amongst us are cared for by God, since this life is brief after all, and God knows that it is our greatest sufferings that make us closest to him, so God will challenge us more each year of our life if we progress toward him.  Every great prophet throughout history has has no shortage of tremendous hardships.  But, as brothers and sisters, we each have an obligation to always strive to make the life better for one another.

In Senegal, the Talibe (orphan boys) are numerous.  You can’t take a 10 minute walk down the road without passing by hundreds of them, many holding out their single can that they carry to collect coins, and foods scraps for their meals.

So, I always think about this one day my husband and I were in the city together.  I was pregnant and particularly emotional watching these boys this day.  My husband said, “why are you wasting tears for these boys?  You should be strong for them and for us all.”  I told him, so many of them are suffering, they are small and skinny, and many will never have a single book to read.  He told me, “you are being stupid and naive.  They are the blessed ones.  Look down at them.  They have nothing to hold but that can which they use for washing, for eating, and for collecting their coins.  And some of them will endure beatings or heavy illness.  But you see there…look at those boys…they are laughing and loving each other, too.  And, they came closer to God faster than many other people because God challenges those who are ready sooner than some others expect they are ready [because they are children] and in ways some people think no person should be challenged.  But, he said, you think of Serin Touba [a Sufi saint of Senegal, highly revered by the Senegalese and many others in the world].  He was sent three times to exile and beaten, and left to starve, and they tried these things in attempt to force him to disbelieve in his religion, but he would not falter, and neither are these boys.  You see, at every time of prayer, they are the quickest to prostrate before our creator and give thanks for the most humble, basic life they were given.  Don’t be sorry for them, just love them and that is all.  They are not sorry for themselves.  They are not shedding tears for each other.  They are just loving the hard life they were given and spreading peace amongst themselves.  The whole world can learn from that.  At the end of the day, this life is almost over for all of us.  We are just a tiny blink of time in this body, nothing compared to the grand life the awaits us if we stay close to our God throughout the toughest of times.  These boys might live a short life, and
that was enough for them, or God may have a plan for them that takes them longer to complete, and either way, we are living for the hereafter, so it is no matter.  Every person here [in my country] is prepared to share enough for these boys if they walk to our door even if it is their only scrap of food they have to share, so if it is meant for these boys, even they will eat today.  And if not, they will fast until tomorrow.  If it is hunger that takes them, it is no worse than if cancer takes you because hunger keeps you focused on God in every moment.  And, you see the people living with what many would say is “everything they need?”  They are living a filthy life at times, indulging constantly and not stopping to give thanks many times in the day for each breath they didn’t deserve [because unless we are saints none of us do].  These people have more than enough to give and many won’t even give their zakat [10% of their earnings and profits to be shared with the poor, as
prescribed in Islam, even from the poorest] because they will prefer to keep it for themselves in greed.  It is those people you should feel sad for if they never stop to consider that perhaps their life is the worst one.”

Those words are near exact and, since we live in a culture where belief in God is dwindling, I’m not sure if any of your readers will know what to make of his message, but I certainly never forget that conversation in my hardest moments.  And, I can’t discount anything he says, having lived a life many can’t fathom himself.  It is a blessing to know him.

I hope his message comes through the way he intended, despite any possible cultural or religious differences.

Peace and blessings to you my friend, I love you for the sake of God.  You are a really amazing woman on a beautiful journey that will shape your soul in many ways.

As Simple As Breathing

Legacy.  A tall order to fill. A big deal.

And something maybe only the purest of heart can leave.  By the dictionary’s determination it is just a gift or some property handed down by a predecessor, but to me the word has sacred overtones of something enduring and humble.

When I think about the legacies of others, I tend to focus more on kindness than money; more on emotional endowments than professional, athletic, political or even nobel prize winning achievements.  Those stories will all be included in history’s narrative.  What interests me, are the stories that will be included in families’ stories to each other, to our children, to their children, and amongst friends.

My grandfather left quite a legacy in our family, he has been gone a very long time and still he is a constant presence in stories and anecdotes.  The man was seriously loved.  As my mother and grandmother tell it, loved by all.  A magical, almost mythic, character.  I never knew him but I know him through his artifacts; the Christmas stockings we use are made from his army parachute (the one that saved his life in a plane crash in Burma), the piece of that plane’s windshield which he lovingly carved into heart necklaces for my mother and grandmother, the piece of metal from the plane which became a heart and initial adorned bracelet for my grandmother… I have heard stories of his sense of humor (pretending to hit his thumb with a hammer and howling loudly into a cassette recorder), his charm (having friends everywhere he went; going camping and knowing all his camp neighbors’ names and stories within a few hours of arrival) of his tenderness for his children (leaving work early if there was a thunderstorm to comfort his daughter who was extremely afraid of thunder), and of his tenderness with animals– including a few unusual pets (a monkey and a tiger) while working on the Burma Road during WWII.  I may even know more stories about this man whom I never met than I do about some of my living relatives!  And the stories of his character have long provided the family standard against which all others are measured.

For me, the greatest indicator of his continued gift is the way everyone looks for pieces of him in all the other family members.  Some of us have his spatial abilities, others his quirky sense of humor, his creativity, his social skills, his affection for animals, or his devotion to family. My son was named for him. And his special endowment from his great grandfather is his tendency to befriend people of all ages, everywhere he goes, earning him the nickname “the mayor.”

My grandfather’s gift was in his kindness. Not because of grand overtures, but because of the everyday kindnesses.  The people who leave the greatest legacies do so in their ordinary interactions; in the persistence of little altruisms; as if it were as simple as breathing.

***This post is dedicated to the friends and family of Elizabeth Harkes.  She would’ve been 35 today, and her legacy of kindness and authenticity continues to inspire the people who loved her and inspired this writing.  Her light endures.***