One Spoonful, One Single Act of Kindness

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It was 1977. I was scared, but I knew I was in a good place. Surrounded by 10 other girls my age, I was just dropped off at summer camp for the first time. I was a shy, but athletic kid. I could overcome my social awkwardness by kicking one of those slightly squishy oversized red balls over the heads of the most hopeful of outfielders. Always, I was the first picked for any teams, and the fastest runner. Yet, none of my strength or speed helped that late morning, when I first stood at the foot of my bed, watching many of the other girls, laughing and reuniting from last summer.

It was a moment of relief, when one of my counselors walked over to me, sensing how I was feeling. “I’m Gina,” she said, pointing to her name tag. I smiled, shyly. “Come on, let’s go meet the other girls.” I let her lead me over to the group, still feeling awkward, but joining in a game of jacks. By the end of the morning, I was already feeling better, thanks to Gina. At that moment, I could not know that 10 days later, Gina would reach out to me again, in the moment I would need it most.

As a former recruiter, I know you can only find so much about a person before you hire them. You ask questions, scan resumes, but in the end you must make assumptions that you hope are right. Most of the time, you get it right – but not always. Some people look good on paper or over the phone, but do not end up being the best fit for a job. Others – you don’t realize just how good they are. That summer at camp, I had both. An incredible counselor, Gina, and a less than optimal one, Nancy.

It was about 10 days into camp (so 10 months), and we were all sitting around our dining table. Servers, who were also bunkmates, were moving back and forth, bringing bug juice, cups, plates, and whatever dinner was prepared that evening. I was a picky eater. No worries. There was always peanut butter and jelly on the table – my favorite.

Dinner that night was some sort of meat. I think it was pot roast -not my favorite. I went to reach for the peanut butter and jelly, the loaf of soft white bread, glistening against the wooden table. Nancy stopped me in my tracks, “No!” She uttered, grabbing my hand. Nancy liked to exert control over us, because she could. Her moods affected her action more than common sense. More often than not, she made up her own rules. We did not know when and where she was going to strike, but when she did, we listened. I took my hand back like I had been burned, and held it in my lap.

Tears sprung to my eyes at the thought of going hungry, or worse having to eat the pot roast. But it was more than that. I was tasting the feeling of fear upon my tongue. I knew that feeling well, as it was a familiar feeling at home, one akin to walking on eggshells. Sometimes the mood was better, and you felt free to be yourself, but then the rules could change in a heartbeat, and you got burned.

But this was camp, my safe place. Yet, there I sat, helpless, my plate empty, waiting for Nancy’s emotions to calm, and her need for control to pass. There I sat, helpless, trying to make myself invisible in a room full of screaming campers, feeling scared and alone as I did that first day. 

Problem was, dinner was ending, and having run around all day, I was really hungry, and afraid to speak up. It was then, I felt it. A tap on my knee. I looked beneath the table, and there was a hand. It was Gina’s. Her fingers held on to a spoon, filled with peanut butter. I realized in that moment, I was not the only one afraid of Nancy. We are never alone – we just think we are.

I looked up at Gina, as if that spoon was a scalpel and we were about to do surgery. She nodded at me. Take it. her eyes pleaded. I nodded back, and took the spoon, got up from the table, away from Nancy’s disapproving eyes. I hid in the corner, eating that spoonful of peanut butter, feeling both shame and relief. Feelings that would fight for bragging rights over the course of most of my life, until I would finally name them both.

As I reach into the my memory box, clearing away some of the cobwebs to come up with the details of this story, I admit to not even remembering if Nancy is her real name, while Gina’s name, I will never forget.

If Gina had not reached out to me, I could have gone a bit hungry that night, but probably not. Nobody went hungry at camp. We were likely getting canteen, candy in an hour or two, or making s’mores by the campfire. But she did, and it meant more to me than she will ever know. She reached out to me, not knowing the impact. 

There were many people in my life, that went on to hand me spoonfuls of peanut butter. My incredible life long friends, my dear husband, my former kind and patient boss, my children and my dogs – all scoops of peanut butter. Playing cards with my father when I was sick, sitting on the grass in the college quad with my wonderful poetry professor, laughing till our sides ache with my husband – all scoops of peanut butter. I have even learned how to scoop my own peanut butter with a nap on the beach, a walk through a wooded path, a funny movie and a warm fire on a icy winter morning.

Summer camp, as it turned out would become one big scoop of peanut butter after another, a place even my daughters would eventually call home, many years later.

I am sure Gina would not remember that night, or knew the impact of such a small act of compassion. Just as we do not know if our smile at a stranger or a quick text to a friend could brighten their day, or even prevent him from hurting himself. Kindness can have more of an impact than abuse, hatred and drama – especially when someone has been the recipient of both. One spoonful, one single act of kindness – so simple and yet so meaningful. We can all impact each other, choose how we connect. Why not choose kindness?

Today, I sometimes wonder where Gina is – if she has a family, what jobs she took on, if she travelled as a single warrior woman, or made a home, nestled in the security of suburbia. I would like to think she is still handing out spoonfuls of peanut butter wherever she goes.

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Help Another, Help Ourselves

 

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I have a love/hate relationship with social media. There is always a time and place for it. A new funny video or update from a friend I haven’t seen in years – these are the things I love. Needing our phones, endlessly checking emails, feeling the constant pull towards the internet – these are the things I hate. I guess it is like everything else in this world, it is up to us to be responsible with how much we indulge. Just as we can drink an entire bottle of wine in one sitting, we can spend hours and hours perusing Facebook. These days, I chose to sip a nice cup of Java, and browse here and there. It was one of these mornings a few weeks back, that I opened up Instagram for a quick taste.

With my daughter having just started her freshman year at Penn State, I decided to follow their Instagram as a way of connecting with her life. Just last week, I came across a picture that was posted before the first football game. It depicted instruments lying on the vacant football field, a stark contrast against the backdrop of mist rising above the morning dew. The caption read, “Instruments at rest, countdown to game day is on.”  As I have always been an empathic person, I often feel things deeply, sometimes well before they are even occurring. For instance, I can feel the excitment on Friday afternoons, and the dread of Sunday nights, whether I am working these hours or not. I can even sense more personal feelings, as I tap into another person’s sadness who walks by, and know when I walk into a room, the mood of most who gather there.

So it was not unusual that I instantly felt the excitement that many Penn State fans feel before an upcoming game. I could imagine it all. Students huddled together in excitement, their faces decorated with blue and white paint, alongside the local fans preparing for their first tailgating adventure of the season. It was coming, arriving within days, and I could feel it all. I smiled. Excited for what was to come for a very accurate description of what would be a fun filled Saturday for Happy Valley.

I sat in bliss, and decided to scroll down, read the comments on that Instagram post.  There were a few comments about the band’s instruments, the upcoming game, and good wishes from adorning fans. I smiled, and then I read the last comment. At first I was confused, like I had just seen someone I knew, but in an unfamiliar setting. But then, I refocused, and gave myself time to incorporate what I was reading. It was a plea from a father. The plea was for money, to help his son, Gabriel, who was fighting a rare form of brain cancer.

What a contrast from what I was feeling a minute ago. Grief, desperation and shock rumbled through my belly in a tightness that I knew was felt by his father on a daily basis. A few deep breaths, and I was back to myself, sitting in my living room, pondering my choice of what to do at that moment. For it was not but a few minutes before that I set my intention for the day. I asked for a day that is filled with joy, peace, health and abundance. I asked to follow my heart, open my awareness and to continue to honor my intuitive gifts. Beyond asking, I added words of appreciation for all I have, guidance for myself and my family. And lastly, I asked, if there is someone who needs my help today, please put them in my path. So right then, I knew Gabriel was put in my path.

I copied the link, read his story, and then I donated.

Why Gabriel? There are millions suffering from poverty, disease and mental illness. Because life will hand you what you are to help out with, especially when you ask for it each morning. We do not ever have to go looking for it, but we need to slow down enough to see it.

As I closed out the Instagram post, I could not overlook the name. Gabriel, often a angel messenger who helps watch over the young, and the creative. As I always ask for my children to be watched over, and my writing to be created in the highest light and love, there was Gabriel acknowledging it all.

But what about the boy, Gabriel? Was he not watched over? Why did he become sick? I sat and thought about the contrast in so many peoples lives at any given time. Some are deciding which stove to buy for their kitchen, what to wear for the first day of school, and some are fighting for their lives. Someone receives a promotion and another gets fired.This is our world. This is life. But it goes beyond that. Our world is out of control. All we need to do is turn on the news and see the latest terrorist attack, a tragedy or a senseless shooting.

Living in our world can get overwhelming and we can either become inundated or we can turn a blind eye to everything. Adding to it, most of us are too busy or overwhelmed in our own lives to think about helping others. We are bombarded with information, events, coming at us at all times. We don’t have time to breathe, much less help out another. Yet, the way to breathe easier and slow down, is to ask each morning to help another and then see who is put in our path. When we help another, we always benefit. We leave our immediate world. We feel good. We stop the thoughts in our head, the constant information, and we spring into action. We connect with others in a meaningful way. We begin in the smallest of ways, to change our world.

It does not matter how we help. If we are guided to donate to a cause, then donate. If we get the feeling we should help someone cross the street or fill another’s parking meter, then do that. Maybe helping is about saying a prayer for all who suffer, or telling a person she is beautiful or he is smart. Your gut will tell you when its right and when its not. Perhaps your child just needs to hear your voice, and that is answering a call for help.

Slowly, when asking each day to help another, the beginnings of love and peace will emerge as a small space in our chaotic world. The way to make a difference is to start with one person, which automatically becomes two. For helping another is the surest way to help ourselves. It will happen. We can make a difference one random, or not so random, act of kindness at a time.

Not convinced? According to an article in the Huffington Post, “Giving back has an effect on your body. Studies show that when people donated to charity, the mesolimbic system, the portion of the brain responsible for feelings of reward was triggered. The brain also releases feel-good chemicals and spurs you to perform more kind acts — something psychologists call “helper’s high.”

I do not know why Gabriel has become ill, but I do know life put him in my path that day. Why not ask who can you help today?