Sure been chilly in the mornings and evenings. My neighbor’s dahlias scream for their close-up. Local trees outdo each other in their annual “Look at me!” competition. And yesterday I went sweater shopping. So, yeah. No doubt about it, t’is the season to show a little good will toward our fellow humans.
Makes me wonder why Kindness and Respect isn’t a year-round thing. We’d all be better off if it were.
With that thought in mind, here’s excerpt from my book Teaching Kids to Be Good People. It’s a Christmasy kind of essay, but I’m putting it out here two and half months ahead of schedule to plant some kindness seeds and see what happens.
One Foot in Front of The Other
I don’t believe in Santa’s Naughty or Nice List, but I do believe in the inherent value of doing good deeds. I always try, at least in public, to be a positive role model, just in case some child happens to be watching and taking notes. In other words, I do my best to avoid missteps.
Some missteps can be corrected before it’s too late. Like when you choose a puny pot for making applesauce. After cutting up and tossing in four apples any fool can see that the other eleven on the counter will never fit into that pot. So you simply dump everything into a larger pot and carry on. Misstep unstepped. That assumes, of course, that a certain someone who already mentioned how the first pot was obviously too small isn’t standing right there watching. If he is and you two have been keeping score about such things, then timely self-correction without losing face is more challenging. But it’s still a viable and prudent option.
Some missteps, on the other hand, can’t be undone. Like making that offhand comment when you knew a certain person probably wasn’t going to fully appreciate the humor. Even if you swear you were “Just kidding!” you’re still stuck having to apologize and deal with your own disappointment in your lack of self-control. You’re also left wondering why the hell you haven’t yet learned that everything that pops into your head a) isn’t as funny as you think it is and/or b) isn’t worth saying.
As I write this, it is now December. ’Tis the season of spreading goodwill and comfort in the cold. So I light candles and look for opportunities to take steps in the right direction. And I got one this afternoon! As David and I walked to the post office, we passed a neighbor standing in front of her house. She wore a thin pink dress, bedroom slippers, and an agitated expression. She said something to us, but since the guy across the street was running his leaf blower, I couldn’t make out what it was.
Just so you know, this neighbor is . . . how can I put this . . . a bit erratic. Over the years we’ve heard her scream at passing cars, “SLOW DOWN!!”
And screaming at us, “DID YOU SEE THAT? JUST LETS THE DOG RUN AROUND! NO LEASH! NO SENSE!”
Because I never know what I’ll get from her, I was a bit apprehensive when I saw her talking to me. At that moment I could easily have begged off by pantomiming something like: “Sorry, I’d love to stop and chat but I can’t hear you because the darn leaf blower is too loud. So I’ll just shrug and smile and wave and keep on walking.”
But that felt like a misstep. And I had the sneaking suspicion the campus rep from Karma College was lurking about taking notes. So I inhaled, exhaled, crossed the street and went up to her.
LADY: Did you see the mailman up the street? Has he come down the hill yet?
ANNIE: I didn’t see him, but we already got our mail.
LADY (frowning): So did I. But I wonder if he’s passed by yet.
ANNIE: Yeah. I think he’s gone for the day.
She looked upset as she stood there in the cold. Her toes were kinda bluish in those flimsy slippers.
ANNIE: Was there something you wanted to mail? Because we’re walking to the post office.
Magic words! She lit up and ran into the house. I stood there hoping she wouldn’t come out lugging a fifty-pound box and toss me some stamps. But no. She emerged a moment later waving a single white stamped envelope . . . Christmas card- size.
LADY: It’s for a man in a nursing home. You’ll take it to the post office for me?
ANNIE: Sure thing.
Misstep unstepped. Right foot forward.
Enjoy your mid-October weekend. One step at a time. And then check out Day 14 of the Kindness and Respect Challenge.