Question: The edge

new flower dance

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world feels a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

You can call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

“This one appeared to me
in a dream…”

What a spring to discover one unexpected aspect of this Year of Kindness: It’s impossible to walk through the world without intent attentiveness: To my family. My friends. To the check-out guy at Trader Joes who thanked me for pointing out what a glorious day it was when he said he woke up feeling cynical and sad with the the world. And to the sky flood of bright orange painted lady butterflies which one incredible March day streamed past me in an endless field of poppies while I stood open-armed, smiling in the midst of their silent migration, which by some estimates numbered in the millions. 

I lived through the Trabuco Canyon drought, the brown days and orange fires. And just like that, with a little respite in the form of plentiful rain, I walk through a wonderland this spring learning to name the flowers. Wild hyacinth. Whispering bells. Mariposa Lilly. Lupine.

lupin

Super Bloom expands for miles in such unimaginable scope it’s impossible to photograph the sweeping hillsides in a way that translates their wonder. So I focus close. One kind act. A blooming purple wild chia. One golden poppy stem.

better poppy

A gray grasshopper on my back deck.

hopper3

The grasshopper reminds me of the opening lines of Lawson Fusao Inada’s poem, “This One, That One.”

This one appeared to me
in a dream, was forgotten,
only to reveal itself
on the shower wall
this morning.
It must have been the water.

That one was on the full moon
last night, clear as a bell.
Someone projected it there.

Something about the ordinariness of the gray grasshopper, especially in this extraordinarily colorful spring makes me wonder, how do you draw the line between the sacredness of this thing or that? Between this person or that one?

One living grasshopper (Schistocerca nitens) pauses on a now-dead hewn piece of ironwood (Tabebuia ipê) sawed into lumber planks for a deck. Both are listed in the Catalogue of Life, “the most comprehensive and authoritative global index of species… essential information on the names, relationships and distributions of over 1.6 million species…compiled from diverse sources around the world.” There are no borders in the Catalogue of Life .

This gray bird grasshopper, also known as a vagrant grasshopper, can be found in most of the Southwest US, Hawaii, and parts of Central America. The ipê is indigenous to many countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela. Yet both ended up in my backyard where there appears to be plenty of room. My backyard isn’t full.

How do we name the edge, the border between this thing and that, when nature herself has no walls?

That one speaks to me
of space, and negative space,
of open and filled spaces,
and the among
that comes between.

This year I’m dwelling in the “open and filled spaces, and the among that comes between.” My #KindInKind acts have taken a deeper turn from bread baking and letter writing, although to date I’ve delivered more than a dozen loaves accompanied by time for conversation and I’ve sent almost 20 hand-written notes. I’m delving into things that keep us humans from being kind; I’m studying with those who work toward commonality rather than exploiting differences.

Last week I attended one of a series of community forums sponsored by the Orange County Interfaith Network, a group whose mission is to “present united faith-based responses to social justice issues, while encouraging respect, civility and the common good.” The theme of the forum was “The more you know, the less you fear.”  University students representing eight different spiritual traditions – Eclectic Pagan, Roman Catholic, Interfaith, Muslim, Christian Church Disciples of Christ, Conservative Judaism, Agnostic, and Bahá’í – shared spiritual experience narratives and created space for dialogue with dozens of community members.

Caroline Kutschbach, President of the Chapman University Religious Honors Society, articulated what could have been a summation of the evening. “It’s my goal to teach people to be more understanding of one another. You may see me as your ‘other,’ but I see an ‘I’ in all of us. All faith trails can lead us to the same peak.”

I’ve walked up many peaks this spring but not on the only trail. I may not have a traditional faith practice, but I came away from that evening with incredible faith in our future, in the way some young people face differences with curiosity, respect, open hearts and open minds, consciously trying to find common ground with one another rather than building walls. We are living proof that it’s possible to embody kindness in the same spirit the Dalai Lama, expresses in his Policy of Kindness.

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

If you’re inspired to consider why it’s kind work, urgent work, to question boundaries and edges, read the entire poem that my grasshopper find called to mind.

“This One, That One” comes from Lawson Fusao Inada’s book, Drawing the Line, about his experience from ages four to seven in an internment campHe was one of the youngest Japanese Americans forced to relocate during WWII after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February, 1942. The order mandated immediate incarceration of all Americans of Japanese ancestry, roughly 120,000 humans, the majority of which were American citizens.

Inada’s poem, his book, questioning the human edge between this one and that one seems especially right for exploring what kindness must mean in America these days and why it feels like the most important practice to focus on this year.

Here’s to trying to lose our rough edge through kindness.
~Catherine

I see you

eclipsing moonsg

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

It was cold and windy a few nights back when Chester and I headed out the door on his last walk before bedtime. Rain was forecast. A south easterly breeze kicked up, already strong enough to rustle the eucalyptus and jangle the wind chimes. Two owls called to each other down the dark hill.

I was a little mad at myself, wondering if this year of kindness was already floundering since I hadn’t really found a way to be intentionally kind all day. I’d baked bread and shared it at a neighborhood dinner potluck. But I would have done that anyway. I’d been part of a conversation about where to donate the jar of money our friend group fed  all year instead of buying gifts for each other. But that felt like riding the coattails of a 2018 decision. Bah, I thought. I’ll do two kind things tomorrow.

Watch for coyotes, Jim said when we left. I saw one crossing the street just now as I was taking out the trash cans.

Stepping into nearly silent darkness, with its sage-fresh cold air, and tree-lined canopy, is my favorite nightcap. I take a flashlight, but rarely turn it on, especially on a night like this with the waning crescent moon, mars on the far horizon and stars enough to brighten the road.

Forgive me, I asked the moon.

There isn’t a sidewalk, but I can see cars’ headlights in plenty of time to move onto gravel or bushes long before the driver would have to swerve. Anyway, in my sleepy neighborhood on a Sunday night, cars are rare and I’ve never been hit.

So when a black SUV roared up the hill and pulled a u-turn a few feet from me and Chester, I startled. The back passenger door opened and a figure emerged, stood at the car’s back bumper, seeming to watch me. Chester growled low.

Mrs. Keefe!

I recognized the voice of a now-man, a once 7-year-old boy I’d met when we first moved in.

Zach was long gone from the neighborhood, but his father still lives on our block. I was starting to shiver, not eager to stay out longer and tempt the rain and coyote gods, but there was something urgent in the way he’d called out in the dark.

I picked up a thread of conversation we’d been pulling for more than ten years.

Are the right teams going to the playoffs? Zach played football through high school and we always caught up on his life through sports.

Nah, nothing is going right. He kicked the dirt, shoved his hands in his pockets. Inside the SUV, I heard voices between beats in the music.  I just got back from a funeral. Maybe you read about it. A guy I knew was riding a bike and he was hit by a 16-year-old girl. It was really sad. Nothing good about any of it.

Zach is the kind of guy that goes to funerals. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen him in front of his house after doing so. A friend’s mom. A friend. It seems like for such a young man he’s seen plenty of death.

So the wind blew and the cold settled while I listened to Zach talk in the dark about two shattered families. The fragility of life. How to find meaning.

I said I was really sorry about his friend.

I pointed at the sky and told him sometimes when I feel bad, I look up just to feel that blanket of stars cover me.

Mhmmm, he said. It sure is beautiful out here. Every day. We’re so lucky to be alive.

According to the United Nations, about 6,775 people die each day in the US.  Odds are we walk past, or brush by, someone grieving more often than we know.

How can we learn to carry a kind, open gentleness in our hearts when someone seemingly snubs us or nearly runs us over?

Can we learn to slow down a little, to look up together in the cold, dark and take time to listen when someone unexpectedly trusts us with an admission of sadness?

Zach and I finally said goodbye. Chester and I returned home. I sat on my balcony watching the moon slowly disappear behind gathering clouds. As clouds cover the moon, you can watch an ever-tightening circle hug the moon closer and closer, creating a focal point of light in the night sky.

The air grew damper and the wind picked up as the chimes clanged a louder dissonance. Down the hill, the owls still called. The lights went out in Zach’s house and I went in to bed.

moon2

Grief is, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of being alive. Additionally, we seem to be living in a particularly high-stress time according to one recent indicator reported in the January 14, 2019 Los Angeles Times under the headline: “Mental health books outsell diet and exercise books at Barnes & Noble.”

“In a shift, American readers have become more interested in books about mental health than about diet and exercise, according to data released by bookstore chain Barnes & Noble.

The data, collected around the New Year’s season, seems to indicate that readers’ annual resolutions are focusing less on losing weight and getting in shape, and more on reducing stress and increasing self-esteem.” Michael Schaub

According to research, kindness is contagious and can lead to elevated feelings. In “Kindness Contagion,” a recent article in Scientific American, Jamil Zaki explains:

“Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus…We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them. This implies is that kindness itself is contagious, and that that it can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.” Jamil Zaki

I suppose there are many reasons why this is so, but I think fundamentally there’s great hope, healing, and joy when we feel seen by another. If you find yourself catching the kindness bug this year, and taking on new forms from my experiences, here are two simple ways to inspire others and uplift the common mood.

1: Post about your action on Instagram using hashtag  #KindInKind.
2: Write about what you did and get in touch via this blog. I’ll share your story, either anonymously or giving you credit, whichever you prefer.

Speaking of credit, my favorite photographer, Susan Greene Photography, gets all the credit for Super Blood Wolf Moon Lunar Eclipse photos.

Believe

Image

new floats

I’m embarking on a new adventure: to intentionally incorporate one simple act of kindness into each day for one year. My certainty that kindness can change the world is a little like throwing a glass ball into the ocean and believing it won’t break.

Feel free to call this series: 365 Reasons to Roll Your Eyes, but science says your own happiness will increase if you share the journey.

#1
I printed out the January 2019 Random Acts of Kindness Calendar to stuff in my adult kids’ Christmas stockings. I thought instead of buying things, our family could bond over the challenge of trying to do something kind in our own little worlds, in a Bingo sort of way. First person to finish five kind acts across the calendar, or down, or diagonal, or a blackout, would win the month and share the victory via family text. If it went well, I’d branch out to my sisters, nieces, nephews and send everyone a February calendar, then March, then…then…then…

random acts of kindness

I anticipated darting glances, an awkward silence or, worse, feigned public interest with hidden giggles. At the last minute, I yanked the gold-tied calendar scrolls and hid them in my underwear drawer. I hung the stockings, with not so much care as a light touch since there was nothing in them but a book: 52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy by Moreea Seal.

Who doesn’t want happiness for their children?

Maybe I should have persisted with my Random Acts of Kindness monthly calendar idea. (Would it seem as if I don’t think my kids are kind enough already? Is it pushy to take my values and wrap them as a gift?)

It turns out that kindness makes you happier. In her article for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life, Elizabeth Hopper breaks down the findings of a May, 2018 study published in The Journal of Social Psychology, authored by Dr. Lee Rowland and Oliver Scott Curry: “A range of kindness activities boost happiness.”

“Researchers asked 683 adults from over two dozen countries—from the United States and Brazil to the United Kingdom and South Africa—to complete at least one act of kindness daily for a week, such as helping a neighbor, writing a thank you card, or paying for someone’s movie ticket. People were encouraged to carry out more kind acts—or different types of kind acts—than they normally would. One group was asked to direct their kindness towards people they were close to (i.e., friends and family), while another group was kind towards people they were less close to (i.e., acquaintances and people they didn’t know as well).

Other participants were asked to make an effort to practice self-kindness—for example, by meditating, going on a walk, or dancing to a favorite song. A fourth group didn’t engage in kind acts themselves, but they tried to observe acts of goodness carried out by other people—for example, when someone volunteered, bought coffee for someone else, or simply stopped to pick up litter. The researchers compared all these groups to a control group of people who went about their lives as usual.”

Small daily acts of kindness – for strangers, or family, or self – can quantifiably improve your happiness. We also get a mood boost by simply observing a kind act being performed.

To keep myself accountable to performing 365 Acts of Kindness, and to make you dear reader, happier by simple observation, I reached out to Kindness.org, a group with this mission statement:

“We are a nonprofit with a bold hypothesis: Kindness is the catalyst in solving the world’s biggest challenges. We believe a kinder world is possible, and we’re here to make it happen.”

Kindness.org offers the opportunity for anyone to become a Citizen Scientist, that is to try and quantify how acts of kindness in the world create positive effects. I offered myself and my writing skills up as a Citizen Scientist with this pitch:

“I too believe a kinder world is possible. I believe there are more ordinary people building a stepping-stone path toward a gentler world than any news story can tell. Invisibility isn’t non-existence. If I can help quantify and amplify with my writing skills how kindness matters, then I’m happy to do so.”

We’ll see if they get back to me. In the meantime, I’m going to call my friend who’s moving today out of the house she’s lived in for more than 30 years. I want to bring her bread and soup.

Be kind
~Catherine

I photographed Niijima Floats,” at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA.