Friday, March 23, 2012

Caution....and Kindness

On my way to work every morning, I pass a house located on a corner prone to flooding after heavy rain. I've noticed it's for sale.  I have so much empathy for those owners!  I know they must pray for dry weather when a potential buyer comes by, because they know if their yard is flooded, no one will touch their house with 10-foot pole.  Their yard is indeed dry 95% of the time, but that other 5% - well, it's a mess.  Of course, from the viewpoint of the buyer, one does have to check into these kinds of things.  The experts tells us that it is ideal to see a property in all kinds of weather and seasons before you sign that contract.  At this specific house, a beautiful dry day in summer looks vastly different from a spring day after a storm has moved through.

On the other hand, maybe it's the opposite with relationships.  Here, you aren't trying to make a huge financial investment and want your risks minimized; you are just encountering fellow human beings on good days and bad.  On my way home from work, I usually stop in at the grocery or another shop for an errand.  Most of the cashiers and salespeople I interact with are cheerful and smiling, but occasionally I get a grumpy one.   My first reaction is to be apathetic or even irritable myself.   Then I started wondering, "Am I seeing a normally nice person on a bad day?"  Hmmm....maybe 95% of the year they are charming and the other 5%, for whatever reason, they are not at their best?  Of course, there are some people who are 100% grumpy - we all know them.  But it is unkind, I think, to automatically judge a stranger based on one interaction.   Did they get some bad news?  Are they worried about their kids?  Are they afraid of losing their jobs?  Going through a divorce?  Fighting an addiction?  Burying a parent?  Or - maybe they just have indigestion or diarrhea and find it intolerable to think about 6 more hours trying to be friendly?  There's no way to know, and we probably ought to let our good natures shine and give them the benefit of the doubt.

It all reminded me of an article my sister wrote once about Mom.  Here is an excerpt from her touching tribute:

She was always especially fond of store cashiers, perhaps because she was once one herself in an earlier life, a life that existed “before motherhood.”  I remember Mother’s encounter with a particularly challenging cashier once, a woman who at first appeared to be completely impervious to Mother’s friendly banter.  We were at the grocery store on a very busy day.  The line was long, and it inched forward ever so slowly.   It was a stressful environment, to say the least, and it obviously was taking a toll on the lady behind the register, too.  She said little, and when she did open her mouth, the words that came out were surly and borderline rude. 
“My goodness, it sure is busy today!” Mother said cheerily.  No response.  “That’s a really pretty necklace you’ve got on,” Mother went on.  A gruff “Mmm-hmm” emanated from the woman’s lips, but I could see that the tightly drawn corners of her mouth were beginning to soften.  “Honey, it must be awfully frustrating to do your job,” Mother cooed.  “I really don’t see how you do it.  You must be worn out by the end of the day.”   
That did it.  With tears in her eyes, the cashier turned to Mother and began to pour out her heart.  I stood there in amazement, watching while Mother listened intently to the woman’s tale of woe.  That was years ago, and now I don’t even remember what the lady said.  All I know is that Mother’s willing ear and caring heart allowed that cashier to unburden herself to a complete stranger.  And as I watched the two of them together, for the first time, I realized that Mother was more than just a hospitable giver.  She was also a recipient.  She found a deep joy and satisfaction in encouraging someone else, even if it was just by offering a glass of tea or an attentive ear. 
The exchange only lasted a few minutes.  Once the sacker had finished bagging the groceries, we paid the bill and Mother grasped the cashier’s hand with a sweet, “Honey, now don’t you work too hard!”  As we pushed our cart toward the exit, I turned back to see the woman standing a shade taller, her shoulders pulled back and her head held high.  She looked as if she couldn’t stop smiling.   
And neither could Mother.  

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Paper towel valentine

As you may be aware, my husband, Ed, used to be an active alcoholic.  He once told me he never drank on holidays like St. Patrick's Day.  When asked why, he said those were days for amateur drinkers and he was a professional.  He's been sober now since 1984, but there is one similar aspect of his personality he still reveals.  He is not a big gift-giver on days one would normally give gifts and he does his best gift-giving spontaneously and unexpectedly on other days of the year.  His reasoning is that a gift loses some of its innate charm when it is expected and "supposed to be given," e.g., birthdays, Christmas, and, yes, Valentine's Day.

Ed and I never "do" Valentine's Day.  I think we much prefer to show love the rest of the year instead.  Take the above picture, for instance.  Every morning I have to leave for work at 5:00 a.m., so I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a low-carb tortilla, wrap it in foil, and take it in a bag.  Then I eat it before I start work, while I'm sitting at my desk, getting things arranged for the day.  For my preparation of this delightful meal, I put out a paper towel or two on the granite countertop, a knife for the peanut butter, and a spoon for the jelly.  Several evenings after I have gone to bed at 7 p.m., when he thinks about it, Ed sets up my breakfast-making supplies on the counter before he goes to bed, so when I get ready to make my sandwich, there it sits, like a still life painting.'s a love painting.  It's a tiny thing my husband did to save me a little time in the morning, and to show he was thinking about me the night before after I was fast asleep.

Have you seen the surveys where women say what really makes them feel special and loved?  It's not always the boxes of candy, the flowers, the romance, the jewelry.  I've read articles where a woman said her partner saw a trinket at a store and it reminded him of her.  Another woman said her partner graciously volunteered to wash dishes, or wash clothes, or surprise her by doing another chore which was usually her own responsibility.  One lady gushed that her husband said, "I'll watch the kids for awhile, honey; go take a bath or read a book."  It's the little things, sometimes things that cost nothing but thought and consideration, that matter.  That paper towel valentine with its knife and spoon mean more to me than a dozen red roses and it makes me smile spontaneously more than any expensive exotically wrapped piece of jewelry could.

I've been blessed to have family members and good friends who through the years have done just that - sent me something special, maybe something no other person in the whole world would care about, but they knew I would appreciate it - with the simple message, "I was thinking about you."

In fact, I recently got a book in the mail entitled "Juggernaut" published in the 1920s.  I read it when I was a young teenager.  It was a suspense/mystery novel that both scared and entertained me simultaneously.  I long ago lost it.  I tried to find it when my sister and I cleaned out Mom's attic, but it wasn't there.  I even tried to see if Amazon sold it, but, of course, no.  I couldn't even remember the author's name.  So one day last month, the mail brought me an envelope from New York with a strange return address.  Inside was no note, no message of any kind - just a copy of the precious book I had so loved.  It took hours for me to figure out where it had come from.  Had I blogged about it once and someone who read that post sent it to me?  Who could have done it?  I finally learned it was my sweet sister who had tracked it down for me.  Apparently I had told her in the attic that day that I was hoping to find it up there, and she put that in the back of her mind and subsequently had combed the internet trying to find a copy.

So there we have it - a paper towel, knife and spoon - and a wonderful old book.  That, my friends, is love, friendship, care, kindness, generosity - all the things one associates with gifts, but do not always accompany them.

Now in closing, I must mention my son, Matthew, whose name means aptly "Gift from God."  He has written Mac software for the iPad called "Headlines" (it interacts with Google Reader) and he has sent it this week to Apple to be hopefully accepted and sold in their app store.  It takes all the blogs and RSS feeds and sites you subscribe to and gives them to you in a great reading format, learning along the way which ones you like the most so it can give those to you first.  (I beta tested it so I know how it works.) The only problem is my blog never comes up on his favorites.  He says I must not use the key words that Headlines knows he likes, which the program uses to move his favorite type of articles into his queue.  So I will hereby end this post with enough key words Matthew might "like" so that this poor little unseen blog will pop up at the front of his Headlines queue soon:    Apple.  Mac.  Computer. Programmer.  iPad.  MacYenta.  IOS.  Elegant Simplicity.  Steve Jobs.  Apps.  Rainstorm.  Headlines, Headlines, Headlines.  Flatcap. Beta.  Tomatoes. Crescent Fresh.  Buzz the Bee.  Buzzmobile.    Yeah, those last ones are a stretch, but you never know.