Visually impaired?

BPGMy husband is a very keen observer. He will always win any game involving spotting something on a road trip. He can find (and often identify) various birds of prey in the sky. He’s quick to point out something occurring out of the ordinary. Additionally, and importantly, he’s one of the few remaining humans who hasn’t turned into a cell phone zombie (you know, the multitude who walk the streets with their eyes staring fixedly at their cell phones).  Last month, on Siddique’s birthday, we were strolling through a very busy intersection when my husband was the only one to notice and run to redirect a blind man who was off course from the crosswalk and about to walk into moving traffic. Now, I’m not going to go so far as to say that my husband saved that man’s life (hopefully motorists would have stopped before any harm was done), but his cognizance and quick action certainly prevented possible disaster. Which got me thinking, how much inadvertent harm are we doing by not being engaged in the world?

At 9 months pregnant and with less than a week before my due date, I am so thankful for each and every time someone notices me and gives me a little more room in a grocery store aisle or sees me coming and holds the door open a couple seconds longer. These little things make a big difference. Especially when you’re so round that it’s a major effort just to put on a pair of sandals or pick up anything below waist level. Just this afternoon, a kind woman and her teenage daughter spotted my husband and I as we boarded the train and upon seeing that I was planning to stand on the subway, sandwiched between the steps and the door, made eye contact with me and energetically waved me over to take one of their seats. “It’s much safer for you to sit,” the woman said. I’m not the kind of person who would ever make a fuss about a seat on the subway, but I was extremely grateful. And it warmed my heart that they seemed really happy to help.

In addition to these missed opportunities to help strangers, I can’t help but think of the many times I have failed to be a good wife, daughter or friend because I was too wrapped up in my phone or computer. Eye contact is one of the most genuine universal forms of communication. Yet we often fail to give our loved ones our full attention through this simple and meaningful gesture. We are so busy documenting life that we fail to fully participate in it. There is a huge difference between being in the presence of another and truly “being there.”

These experiences are helpful reminders to be present and engaged in the world, to be more mindful of my surroundings and the people I love. I’ve been the grateful recipient of small acts of kindness in recent months, and I’m making a mental note to pay these kindnesses forward by paying better attention to the world around me. Thanks, and be kind.

Now, more than ever, be kind.

Please do not allow recent events in Boston to fuel further discrimination against Muslims. It is gravely unjust to take the criminals of a community and superimpose their image on every other member. This way of thinking is absurd and racist. As in other religions, peace is a tenet of Islamic thought.The media may refer to the Tsarnaev brothers as Muslims, but they most certainly do not represent Islam. Wishing peace to all my friends and family here in Boston and everywhere. Be kind.

I remembered I forgot your birthday

I used to be really good at remembering special occasions. My 9th grade boyfriend’s birthday was June 14, which also happens to be Flag Day. My father still calls me at the beginning of June to reconfirm his wedding anniversary (it’s June 17). My childhood neighbor Alex was born on January 19, the same day as Asheley, one of my high school cross country and track teammates.

Unfortunately, the more people you meet, know and love, the harder it is to remember all of those dates! Increasingly I get seized by that “Oh no! It’s __________’s birthday/anniversary/(insert special occasion here) and I totally forgot!” moment. Which is why I started making this list on Yelp! of places to pick up gifts and cards that will look like you spent hours (possibly even days!) to pick out just the right thing, even though you only now remembered that you totally forgot.

Also, on the subject of gifts (’tis the season, afterall), check out Design Sponge’s excellent No-Buy Gift Guide, a list of creative ideas for “experience” gifts for family and friends. Although unlike my aforementioned list, some of these ideas require a bit of advance work. Maybe I just need one of those nifty perpetual calendars, like the one I gave to my mother-in-law for Mother’s Day, which, as we all know, always falls on the second Sunday in May.

Thanks, and be kind.

Give Thanks by Doing Good

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My grandmother instilled a lifelong practice of expressing gratitude. Whether it’s a handwritten note, an email or merely uttering those two simple words, giving thanks is important.

Not too long ago, my husband asked me to bake something for Russ and Louise, two vendors he befriended at the Farmers Market. It was so heartwarming to watch Russ open the box and take in the smell of a freshly baked apple pie. Small tokens of gratitude not only make others feel appreciated, but it can make you happier and change your attitude about life as well.

With one week to go before the Thanksgiving holiday, we ought to consider doing a little more to show appreciation for our many blessings. Spend extra time with your family. Donate to a favorite charity. There are many families who lost everything during Hurricane Sandy. Even though soup kitchens typically see an increase in donations over the holidays, charitable organizations along the East Coast are going to be besieged with people who have been displaced by the storm. Consider donating time, money, food or all three. Check out this useful Gothamist article for specific ways to help in the New York City area.

How will you make this Thanksgiving more meaningful?

As for myself, I have decided to volunteer with a mentorship program, dedicated to raising the aspirations and self esteem of young women and girls. I am so thankful for the mentors who, through their own examples, have taught me to approach everything with integrity, hard work and kindness. Now it’s time for me to pay it forward.

Thanks, and be kind.

Everyday Saints

Perhaps we all can’t be saints like Mother Teresa, but there is so much we can do to help others in our own individual ways.

Today is All Saints Day, and as I follow the media coverage of the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, I give thanks to all of the saints who are taking food, water and other supplies to those whose lives have been upended and in some cases obliterated by Hurricane Sandy. I have been so proud to see my former colleagues with the Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council busing food and water and coordinating other efforts to provide relief to residents of the areas hit hardest by the storm. New York City residents looking for ways to help should visit this site http://nycservice.org/  for a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities from donating money, goods and services to cleaning and restoring the city’s parks.

Even if you don’t live in a hurricane-effected area, there are plenty of other ways to be an everyday saint. Rake leaves for your neighbor.  Bake someone a pie. Drive a neighbor to vote on election day or volunteer to watch their kids while they go to the polls this Tuesday. Love your family.

Make the effort, no matter how big or small. Devote a few minutes or a couple of hours to making someone else’s day a little better and a little brighter. These acts of kindness may not always be easy, and may even come at a small personal expense. But it’s worth it. Experience the superiority of love over selfishness.

Thanks, and be kind.

Be kind anyway.

I just ran across this quote and thought it was perfect:

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.

If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.

For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

― Mother Teresa

Like your friends, but not their politics?

With the U.S. Presidential Election drawing ever near, I am certain Miss Manners is diligently ignoring her Facebook and Twitter accounts, if she hasn’t closed both of them altogether. Once upon a time there was an etiquette rule banning casual social discussions of politics. After all, it’s hard to get political without upsetting at least a few friends.

But this is an era of (over)sharing. Social media networks are the modern day soapbox, the equivalent of someone with a loudspeaker blasting their opinions on a busy street.

I am unabashedly guilty of this just as much (if not more) as anyone. I have been personally and professionally active in politics most of my adult life, and my politics are a big part of my identity. And frankly, between the irresponsible things that our legislators say and the incomprehensibly tragic things that people do, it’s nearly impossible to be apolitical these days.

Social media, as a facilitator of self-expression and the ability to “connect” with others, can be a powerful tool for sharing information and having generative discussions about current events and politics. In fact, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms arguably play an important role in the democratic process. However, like the proverbial soapbox, these tools are easy to abuse because unlike a group of friends sitting together at a dinner table or those in close personal contact at a party, people often feel like they are “safe” behind their computer screens, cell phones or ithings. The amount of civility in our discourse, which might otherwise be employed, ceases to exist.

Instead of civil dialogue and debate, indiscriminate denunciations and personal insults are all too common. This, of course, calls to mind another old saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

It is increasingly common to see or hear comments from people who are fed up. They are blocking friends on account of their political views or absconding from social media altogether.

I appreciate the opportunities that social media provides to share information as long as it is not hurtful. And that’s the heart of this post. We live in an increasingly polarizing world coupled with extraordinary opportunities to exchange ideas and information. We ought not squander the resources available to us. To paraphrase the Gospel According to Luke, Voltaire or Uncle Ben (Spiderman) – “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

This is not a call to repress opinions, but rather a request that we exercise a bit of civility and humility before clicking “like” on something offensive or posting a spiteful comment.

Let’s not forget that many of our virtual followers and friends are also our real friends. Well, at least they were before we started insulting them online for the entire world to see.

After U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot there was a lot of talk about civility. During a memorial service for the victims, President Obama said, “… I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.  I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

Discourse is important and political dissent is a liberty Americans are fortunate to enjoy, but let’s not forget that the things we say online have real consequences. Relationships are affected. Feelings are hurt. Young people are even killing themselves because of things that are done and said online.

Civility is the best social media policy. Thank you, and be kind.

P.S. Don’t forget in between all of the liking, tweeting and tumbling that your vote is your voice. The importance and privilege of voting cannot be overstated.

Show me the way to go home

You know you’re close to establishing yourself in a city when strangers ask for directions and you actually have helpful answers. Is there a good place to brunch nearby? How do we get to Water Tower Place? This morning I was two for two. But that’s not usually the case.

Chicago has been a lot of things to me over the past year. It’s where I got married. It’s where I officially reentered the “real world” after completing graduate school. But it’s never been home. For me, Chicago has always felt like a transitional space. I have literally been living out of suitcases, which have been packed and unpacked under five different roofs since arriving here last August.

This unsettling feeling was certainly exacerbated by the fact that my husband Siddique moved to Boston for a job in March. I’ve been going back and forth – swinging like a pendulum between work and my husband – ever since.

That said, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded and supported by family while here in Chicago. My in-laws live here and have shown me unparalleled generosity. They have graciously opened their home(s) to me, and my mother-in-law is one of the most generous people I have ever known. It’s also been especially nice to spend more time with my parents, who live nearby in Michigan. This is the closest in proximity that we’ve lived from each other in more than a decade. We talk on the phone every day, sometimes several times a day, but it’s been especially nice to see them in person a record number of times this year.

In spite of the fact that I am no longer blowing around the Windy City like an aimless paper bag, home is where the heart is. My heart is with my husband, and my husband is in Boston. And maybe that’s the good thing about feeling lost. As long as you’re lost, you know you’re not yet home. You know there’s another place where you belong. Somehow, that uneasy feeling of being lost brings you closer to it.

Aaaaaaannndd we’re back!

Photo by Priscilla Gomez

An elderly woman asked me to help her cross the street last night and I took it as sign that it was time for Small Acts of Kindness to end its hiatus. How often do little old ladies actually ask you to help them across the street, right?

I took a break from blogging since our wedding last November. We were blessed to have hundreds of friends and family come from all over the world (literally!) for our three-day wedding celebration (yes, you read that correctly – three days!) and needless to say we needed some time to recover, honeymoon, and move to our new home in Boston. This is not to mention the hundreds of thank you cards, which we are sure to still be writing until our one-year anniversary.

To kick off the comeback, here’s a triumvirate of stories that share a common theme of creative innovation and making my heart smile:

  • By now, you’ve probably seen the video about Caine’s Arcade (if not, watch it here). This short film about a little boy who made an elaborate arcade out of cardboard not only went viral, but the filmmaker also helped get the boy a scholarship fund.
  • Today, the New York Times featured inspiring coverage of an all-girls prom for Muslim students in Hamtramck, MI. There’s a beautiful story, video and slideshow about some innovative young women who found a way to honor their religion, but not miss out on the quintessential American teenage experience of prom. It’s hard not to cry along with the girl at the end of the video when she talks about how organizing the all-girls prom gave her a new sense of confidence and independence.
  • And finally, dance walking! I love this video and the reporter’s cheerful, carefree attitude. My favorite quote, “You can do it anywhere!” Even if people only watch the video and don’t actually dance walk themselves, it is a wonderful way to spread some joy!

Taking Time to Give Thanks

by Cathy and David Photography

A girl gets engaged and quickly disappears into the quicksands of time. Has it really been since June that I last posted?

So many wonderful things have happened – a move to a new city, a new job, a whole new extended family – and so many small acts of kindness. Unfortunately when you’ve got a pre- “I do” list of “to do’s” there’s very little time to reflect on all of the love and kindness that abounds.

We are getting married on Thanksgiving weekend, an especially opportune time to give thanks for all of the wonderful people who have contributed to the start of our new life together, in big ways and small. I had been thinking about writing thank you posts – one for each day this month. But the reality is there are not nearly enough hours in the day to get everything done before the wedding as it is without adding on additional tasks. So I’m doing my best to express gratitude in the moment and to be mindful of all of the people who are going out of their way to make our pre-wedding and wedding celebrations a success. And there are SO MANY people. I imagine I’ll be writing thank you notes well into the New Year. Thank you, and be kind.