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.

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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.

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.

justice

It’s 2:19 a.m. Osama bin Laden is dead. A few hours ago President Obama declared that, “Justice has been done.” Americans are chanting in the streets.

The death of the world’s most wanted man is a symbolically enormous victory for the United States and for President Obama. I am sure that this is a very joyous occasion for the men and women serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, perhaps the first real spark of hope that they finally will be able to go home and stay home with their families. It may also bring comfort to people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 and those who suffer from health problems related to the events of that day. But I am not an “eye for an eye” kind of person and somehow celebrating death – even that of the world’s most infamous terrorist – seems a bit strange to me, and so my outlook on this may be different from many Americans.

I am happy for people who find consolation by today’s news, however I will hold off on celebrating until a different kind of justice has been done. A moral justice. An ethical justice. To my mind, justice will be done when we bring our troops home and put people back to work serving our country in peace. Justice will be done when we stop treating Muslims and anyone with a “funny sounding” last name like criminals. Justice will be done when we stop looking at people of a different skin color, religion and language than our own with skepticism, hate and contempt. Justice will be done when we make reparations for the thousands of lives that have been lost, harmed and interrupted by the 10-year war on terror. Justice will be done when we start spending more money on education than we do on the military. Justice will be done when we stop debating what level of torture is acceptable. Justice will be done when tear gas used on Egyptian protestors is no longer the only thing I see in the media that’s “Made in the USA.” Justice will be done when the fear and anger in America is reduced. Justice will be done when we stop pointing fingers and start taking responsibility for our actions. Justice will be done when we react with empathy instead of antipathy. I mean no disrespect to the people who are celebrating tonight, but for me, that’s when justice will be done.

All things considered, I still thought Obama gave a really great speech tonight. He said all the right things, including noting that Islam is separate from terrorism , that bin Laden was not a Muslim leader and that bin Laden was a mass murderer of Muslims as well as Americans, all while noting that Pakistan assisted in the effort. The only thing more I could have asked from Obama was for some reiteration of the speech he gave following the massacre in Tucson, when he talked about personal responsibility.

“We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but 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.”

Today was a good day, but it’s up to all of us to take the next steps to ensure that justice has been done.

Thank you, and be kind.

in memory of

photo by SCOUT TUFANKJIAN

Chris Hondros died this week while shooting photographs of the conflict in Libya. Although I only knew him briefly, Chris was one of the most compassionate and generous souls of the highest integrity that I’ve ever met. It didn’t matter that he was a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist or whether Chris knew you for 20 years or if he only knew you for 20 minutes, he treated everyone like a brother or a sister. A couple nights ago, as I walked home from a gathering of his friends – all of which knew Chris far better than I did – I got to thinking about how blessed I am to know so many people who make helping others their life’s work. They write stories or take photographs to provide voices for the voiceless. They fight for better labor standards. They stand up for the homeless, the poor and the unemployed. They work in hospitals. They teach and mentor children. They work for peace, equality and justice.

There is a video online in which Chris says that we’re all suited for different sorts of things in terms of what we’re able to handle. Not everyone is cut out for such dangerous work, but it was truly his calling. I am so thankful for people like Chris and my many friends who  not only care, but who move others to care and work so hard to improve the lives of others.

Thank you, and be kind.

A foot in the door

It’s amazing how much power a toe can hold! People always talk about the importance of getting your foot in the door. Recently, I’ve been lucky to benefit from this both figuratively and literally.

In the figurative sense, a much-anticipated first meeting with my boyfriend’s parents went shockingly well. We were anxious that it would be difficult because of our cultural and racial differences and so our main goal was simply for me to get my foot in the door, with the hope that this would open up future opportunities for conversation. Much to our surprise, his parents were nothing but receptive and gracious to me. While they had their concerns, it was clear they also wanted to find common ground. If I were to have made a list of best case scenarios, our experience would have topped anything I could have imagined.

Next, someone else literally put their foot in the door for me.  I was running late for school and trying to catch the F train. I could hear it screeching its familiar high-pitched squeal as it came to a stop at Carroll Street. I ran to catch it, but the doors closed when I was just inches away.  Then, as if by magic, the doors popped back open because a guy in the last car saw me running and stuck his foot in the door, activating the sensor.  I don’t recommend people do this because it’s probably dangerous, but I was so thankful to have made it on the train and to my class on time.

Over the weekend, I tried to use this new found foot phenomenon to pay it forward and give something back to everyone who either allowed me to get my foot in the door or put their own foot in the door for me.  As I was running on Sunday morning, a dog ran out of the front door of a brownstone with its leash dragging behind him. A man holding a baby stroller quickly followed.  Despite my fear of dogs while I’m in running gear (a dog bite incident has lead me to believe they see me as a gigantic steak in technical clothing), I tried to stop the dog by stepping on its leash. The dog’s owner ended up being more successful in this tactic than I, but still I gave it my best shot.

As it turns out, getting your foot in the door can make a big difference. Just remember, a foot in the door is better than a foot in your mouth – the two can have quite dichotomous results.

Thank you, and be kind.

will

Every now and then I read something in the New York Times and get obsessed with it. I mean OBSESSED.

One such article that immediately comes to mind is a 2007 travel piece about a real life wonder land, a Yemeni island named Socotra, which is home to the world’s most unusual collections of organisms, including many species of plants and animals that can be found nowhere else on earth. I still look at the slideshow once every 3-4 months. But I digress…

My latest infatuation is with something I read just a couple of days ago. It was a profile chronicling a Sunday with Al Sharpton. Say what you will about the Rev. (I know people have plenty of reasons to love him and hate him) but I was really touched and inspired by it. He’s a fellow optimist who views every morning that he wakes as a “victory.” Also, according to the article, the Rev. recites two poems every day. Both of the poems are very powerful, but I was really moved by one called “Will” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,
Can circumvent or hinder or control
The firm resolve of a determined soul.
Gifts count for nothing; will alone is great;
All things give way before it, soon or late.
What obstacle can stay the mighty force
Of the sea-seeking river in its course,
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?
Each well-born soul must win what it deserves.
Let the fool prate of luck. The fortunate
Is he whose earnest purpose never swerves,
Whose slightest action or inaction serves
The one great aim. Why, even Death stands still,
And waits an hour sometimes for such a will.

After reading this poem, I felt energized with great optimism and hope. It’s no wonder Rev. Sharpton has committed it to memory. I later read elsewhere that the “art of being kind” was Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s “religion,” and she lived it every day of her life. A woman after my own heart. Thank you and be kind.

what adults can learn from kids about being adults

I knew I’d been away from this blog for too long when my boyfriend asked me if I’d given up on small acts of kindness. No! Of course not.

The past month has been a whirlwind. I started a new job as well as my last semester of graduate school, and I’ve been trying to make good on my New Year’s resolution to be a better friend to my friends. What’s more, I’ve been preoccupied with trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Graduate school has been an incredible experience, including providing a second adolescence, time away from work to think about how to contribute to the world in a way that will do the most good. Now, with the clock ticking toward graduation, I’ve found myself in a panic. I officially reenter adulthood on May 23 and I don’t have all the answers like I thought I would.

Then yesterday, while sick in bed, I stumbled upon a TED talk by child prodigy Adora Svitak. Only 13 years old, Adora is a self-described “educator, poet and humanitarian.” In her talk, she argues that the world needs more “childish” thinking, ideas that are bold, creative and optimistic.

Adora’s presentation helped me realize that I have been taking myself way too seriously. Instead of looking for that next brilliant career move, I need to come up with not one idea, but dozens. Some will be good, some will be average and some will be complete rubbish. But it’s important to sort through the wrong stuff to get to the right stuff. Then it hit me. I’ve been doing this all along. Sometimes it takes inspiration from a child to find clarity as an adult.

You’ve likely heard the saying, it doesn’t take a genius to figure (fill in the blank) out. Well, in this case it did. And a very small one at that.

Thank you, and be kind.