YOUR VOICE

Email us your stories about kindness, humans, and America in any medium, and we'll post your voice.

05.18.2013

When was the last time a stranger surprised you with his or her kindness? When was the last time you helped a stranger?

It was the worst time of my life. My relationship with My Guy was in trouble, and I felt it to the core. I continued to blog, but I kept the topics light and fluffy – I couldn’t write about my heartache openly as it was just too personal. I mostly kept the pain to myself, except for the two women, Cecilia and Stacia, to whom I reached out.

They were strangers. Well, at least I’ve never met them at the time. They were fellow bloggers, and we’ve been following one another for awhile. I felt like I knew them from blog posts that they often wrote from their heart, and because writing was my preferred medium, I chose to write these virtual strangers about my troubles. They were an enormous help, lending perspective and support, even camaraderie, and I was beyond grateful for their insight and friendship. l still am. But there was someone else. This time, I didn’t reach out to her. She reached out to me.

One day, I left a comment on a post that hit close to home, on a blog that I read regularly. I didn’t mention my situation, but because sadness tends to permeate all aspects of our lives, I suppose it must have painted a grey hue on my response.

That was when the author of the blog sent me a personal email asking if everything was okay. She, who, for all intents and purposes, was also a stranger to me. She, whose name I didn’t even know as she guards her real identity with a lock and key. She, with whom I’d never had a real conversation outside of our comments on one another’s blogs. I was so moved by her gesture that I felt compelled to open up to her. And I’m glad I did. Because, together with my two blogger friends, our therapist and a book, she was one of the main reasons that my family is still standing here today.

With a few years on me, this woman who I only know as Big Little Wolf, offered wisdom and perspective from her own experiences - ones to which I could easily relate because we shared a similar past. Her emails were long and thorough, as if spoken by someone who was sitting right there by my side. And they were always kind. To this day, some of the things she said to me continue to influence how I approach my relationship with My Guy.

And you know what the kicker was? She was in the midst of her own crisis when she spent all that time writing me, a mere stranger. She is divorced, raising two sons on her own, and she was going through financial hardship when she decided to ask me if everything was okay on my end. Can you believe that?

It’s not often these days that people reach out to strangers and offer their help, especially when they’re in crisis mode themselves. And yet, she did.

My family is stronger and happier than we’ve ever been because of the kindness of strangers - bloggers who knew no more of me than the words I chose to put on my page. I don’t think I could ever repay them for what they have done for me, for us.


Justine is a freelance writer and marketing strategist who works part-time while juggling two girls, two cats, a guy, and a mountain of laundry. Born in Malaysia, she blogs about raising her girls in America at Here Where I Have Landed. You can also follow her on Twitter, @IHaveLanded or via Facebook

04.12.2013

Y’all come back now, ya hear!

by Jennifer Lewis

It’s easy these days to take a cynical and jaded view on the world in which we live. You turn on your television, or open your newspaper, and it’s a steady stream of bad news. Be it bad people, or negative situations; to an extra-terrestrial watching or reading, it would probably seem like we lead a terrible existence. Sometimes acknowledging all this bad can come at the expense of remembering all the good – that’s why I like this project. We should focus on the good a little more.

Now I’m not a religious person, but I have always lived my life as a very moral person and tried to do good. Though I don’t believe in a God, I very much believe in angels. Angels to me aren’t the winged ethereal beings you might read about in a bible, nor are they otherworldly in anyway. They don’t have halos, and they don’t wear white. Though they might wear a Bcarbour jacket and a scarf on a cold day. To me, Angels are people, like you or I. They’re usually strangers, and we usually only encounter them for a brief moment in our lives - but they always leave a lasting impression on us. This impression is profound, usually a lesson, hope, or inspiration. Then, before we acknowledge what an effect they’ve had on our lives, they vanish without a trace – as if their work is done. I have been fortunate in my life to encounter such angels. Of all the lessons I have been taught whilst in their company, kindness has always been a reoccurring theme.

My story may not seem as extraordinary as some, but at that moment in time it was incredibly special to me. A ‘be there moment’, as my daughter has taught me. Many years ago, in the 70’s, my husband and I left England to travel America for a few months. Initially we stayed with family members who had emigrated to Florida, before buying a caravan and car, with the intention of spending the next few weeks driving through Georgia, South Carolina, North Caroline, and so on, before eventually reaching the bright lights and glamour of New York City. Since it was my first time abroad, I was terribly excited and had spent many weeks planning our trip in advance, making all the necessary travel precautions and preparations to ensure we’d both have the most sensational time. Our sitting room was turned into what looked like an explorer’s study. Maps, guides, and tourist information littered every surface.

Our long awaited holiday, or vacation, began without hitch and after a couple of fabulous weeks staying in Florida we were off. Things went wonderfully, that is however until we were driving through the South Carolina countryside and the cheap car we’d bought to tow our caravan broke down in the middle of nowhere. Back then of course you didn’t have the luxury of mobile phones, and so calling for a mechanic wasn’t the convenience it is today. My husband, a would-be handy man got straight into the bonnet, fruitlessly trying to get the car started again in the blistering heat. A couple of hours had passed, and what began as a wonderful Sunday steadily turned into despair. The road itself wasn’t a busy one, and so for all of that time we didn’t see a soul that could help us. That was until a gentleman came by in his truck, and stopped. Kindly, he asked us if he could help. Himself something of a mechanic, he soon concluded we’d need some work done on our car, and that it would need to go to a garage for repairs. Without hesitation he offered to tow our caravan back to his home where we’d be welcome to camp out on their land for the night, until the next day when the garage was open – when he’d tow our car for us. We were very humbled by the gentleman’s kindness, and it would’ve been more than enough help for us. Of course, fabled ‘Southern hospitality’ it would seem extends to far more.

Upon arriving at his quintessential Southern Country style home (complete with rocking chairs on a beautiful porch) and meeting his wonderfully charismatic wife, we were welcomed with open arms. After explaining our situation his wife offered us a glass of wine and then invited us to join them for dinner, without a moment of hesitation. Here was a couple intent on sharing their food, their wine, laughter and stories, with two complete strangers who had just happened to cross their path that day. What could’ve been a trying day had become a memorable time, lasting late into the night – an unexpected meeting turned friendship. I’d never known hospitality or kindness like it. The sheer warmth from these people stayed with me throughout my time in America. We wrote to each other for many years after, the wife and I, until she died in 1993. She always signed her letters with the very same words she waved us off with when our car was fixed and we drove away. A common Southern saying, but one that encompassed her and her husband’s kindness, warmth and spirit – “Ya’ll come back now ya hear!”.

It’s funny how a moment or even an evening of kindness can stay with you for so many years. I’ve been fortunate to experience this sort of thing on many occasions and it always reminds me of one thing - to be kind to others myself. You can give such warmth to people’s lives with even the simplest of gestures.


Jennifer Lewis was born in Montana, but now lives on the East Coast, where she takes her dogs for a walk along the beach in order to get away from her computer

Travel America

Necessary Travel Precautions

Our Caravan

08.26.2012

"The Lens of Kindness" -- Guest Post by Shelley Krause

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Inspired by the work of the American Bear team, I tried to spend last week looking at my world through the lens of kindness.

When I was growing up in the tiny town of Big Flats, my mom was the first person to show me how kindness could change everything. Everywhere we went together, she treated strangers like they were friends she just hadn’t met yet. I thought that was just how things were. I didn’t realize how unusual her approach was until I was out in the world without her. I remember one of my friends hissing, “Why do you know the name of the person who cleans the bathrooms at McDonald’s?” Because sometimes after church we went to McDonald’s for a special treat, and my mom always said hello to Mary. I can still picture her dark, curly hair, and her smile. She was really nice.

Now it’s my turn to model kindness as a parent, but our vegetarian son doesn’t really consider McDonald’s a treat. The kindness practice that he has noticed is one that I fell into one morning on the way to work. I have a 15 mile drive to work every morning, mostly on back country roads that are crowded during the morning rush. At one point on a long straightaway, there’s a small side road that feeds in and that is perpetually host to a handful of cars driven by folks who are waiting, with what I imagine are increasing levels of desperation and despair, for a break in the endless traffic. One day my inner nice guy took the wheel, and I found myself slowing down just enough to let someone turn in, in front of me. The driver was so stunned she sat there for a moment, frozen in disbelief. Finally she scooted out onto South Middlebush, but not before flashing me a huge and grateful smile. I told my son the story, and the next time we were in the car together, he asked me, “Are we going past that ‘be nice to people corner’ today?” Why yes, I said, I think we are. By now it’s a tradition. This week, I brought him with me to work on Monday, and we happily surprised a few more drivers. Out of curiosity, we also timed it. Slowing down to add a waiting driver into the flow of traffic adds about eleven seconds to my commute. No brainer.

By Tuesday, I was thinking about all the different shapes that kindness takes, and I think my favorite act of kindness that I recognized that day was a simple act of listening. Our son is a wrestler, and has been attending some summer off-season practices. The youngest boy at this particular session was E, a tiny seven year old who you would never have thought would take to a “tough guy” sport like wrestling... he’s just a little imp of a kid, sporting a perpetual ear-to-ear grin and always nattering on about something. We get a kick out him, but we inevitably reach a point where we’re just kind of nodding and uh-huh-ing, not really taking it in. But this week, maybe because I was on kindness high-alert, I didn’t let myself zone out. I opened myself to little E’s chatter as if it was something I was meant to hear. And do you know what he was talking about? He was talking about his little sister’s birthday, and how excited he was to give her his present. His present for his soon-to-be three year old sister was to let her sleep with him in his room for the night. It was clear that both kids were practically levitating with excitement at the thought of all that uninterrupted togetherness.

On Wednesday, back in the car on the way to our favorite spot for letting people in ahead of us, my son pulled an interesting question out of thin air. “What do you think is the most successful plant?” he asked. This led to a long conversation about the many different ways we might find to define “success,” and to him saying, “You know, a square foot of grass is really more like one person than eight million people. Because even if those plants don’t have the same root, they cooperate and share with each other.” Which is in fact something scientists have begun to document more and more, in nature. Do we have kindness connecting us at a root level?

On Thursday, my friend Patti Digh and her family were trying to take in her husband’s recent diagnosis of renal carcinoma, news that was made especially daunting by their family’s current lack of health insurance. Patti’s community of friends and supporters rose up to meet the challenge with them, creating an awe-inspiring vision of what a community connected by love and kindness can accomplish.

And on Friday, I participated in an exchange on Twitter with a total stranger with whom I nevertheless feel a bond. June Eli is a 26 year-old Texas lesbian who recently came out to her family... and promptly lost them. She is now living out of her car and on friends’ couches, trying to figure out her next move. And although I know there are many people whose response to June’s situation would be, as mine was, a desire to offer her kindness, June reminded me of this other seemingly perpetual element of the flow of kindness... lots of us are uncomfortable accepting it. My partner (Happy Anniversary, Terri!) actually says that I’m not that great at welcoming kindness... that I sometimes react in an embarrassed, uncomfortable way. When of course what I could be doing is just opening myself up to receiving that gift.

So here’s what I learned, or in some cases re-learned, about kindness this week. It’s everywhere, and especially so if you go looking for it. It flourishes in community, and in the unseen spaces where our roots communicate with each other. It asks us to be open in a way that can feel awesome and scary, both in the giving and in the receiving. And sometimes, the line between giving and receiving gets awfully blurry.

What does your world look like, when seen through the lens of kindness?


Shelley Krause is an American school-based tale weaver who seeks to help folks find their learning tribes through listening and storytelling. She is also the loving mama of an almost eleven year-old boy, who has been helping her lean into both kindness and curiosity. You can find her at http://shelleykrause.com and connect with her on Twitter at @butwait

07.17.2012

Guest Post: Angel Sullivan, "A New Day is Dawning": a Reflection on Journeys

A new day is dawning, isn't it?

Can you feel things changing?

Everywhere I look, more and more people are waking up from their long & (mostly) comfy slumbers.

Waking to the recognition that there must be more to this amazing, luscious, juicy life than what has been experienced thus far.

Knowing, without knowing how they know, that there is more… and that they must figure out what that means.

How appropriate, then, that Greg woke Sarah to exclaim that they HAD to travel to Bear (or as it turns out, to all five of them ;-)).

He woke up.

And he knew.

And so off they went.

Just like so many of us will.

Searching out what life has to offer.

Looking for, finding, and creating meaning in the process.

Reaching for that something more that we all know is available to us, and finding it to be all the more meaningful when we're able to connect with our Self, and others along the way.

Digging deep, listening for (and hearing!) that still small voice inside. The one that's as close as our own breath, our own heartbeat, our own thoughts.

You know it's there, don't you?

You've always known.

But maybe you've forgotten?

Maybe in searching out what was expected of you in life, you've lost some of those pieces of yourself along the way.

What would it take to wake you up?

Would it take a trip around the US?

Around the world?

Around your own interior?

I wonder…

I wonder where you'll hear it.

I wonder what it has to say to you.

I wonder what kindness, for yourself or someone else, will come from heeding that voice?

I wonder if you'll listen.

Will you listen?


Angel Sullivan is a right-brained techy geek who loves creativity, wind chimes, and long walks on the beach (wait…?!?!). "I'm here to pick up the lost and forgotten pieces of my most meaningful life, as well as the lives of women who’re ready to step into their own most meaningful lives. In addition to picking up pieces, I love to create fabulously juicy websites for healers, coaches, and creative entrepreneurs. I believe that life is meant to be juicy and fun, dammit!" You can find her at http://MyMosaicLife.com and http://SimplyJuicyWebsites.com

07.06.2012

Guest Blog: 30 Days for 30 Years Christie Peucker

In late 2010, I was living in Melbourne, Australia, and I was miserable. Sure I had a great flat and a great bunch of friends but I also had a job that never gave any time to enjoy them. My life was consumed by work that gave me very little reward. Frankly, I was a little lost.

So I made a choice. I dusted off my get-up-and-go spirit and got busy living.

For an entire year I travelled on 12 crazy whims relying on my nous, (or lack thereof), and the kindness of strangers. My change of tack every 30 days saw me run the Great Wall of China Marathon (eek!), learn how to make cheese in Holland (yum!), work out on a pearl boat off the coast of Western Australia, visit the Holy Land in Israel, work on a Norwegian reality TV show filmed in Malta, train eagles in Mongolia, don a wig and lived like Dolly Parton in her hometown in Tennessee, ride a bicycle around Taiwan, sail on a pirate ship from Seattle towards Mexico, and help educate young girls in Kosovo who are banned from attending school because they wear headscarves.

I had no support, no companions, and nowhere to stay before beginning this journey. I also had a budget of less than $1000 AUD a month.

And therein lay the beauty.

As children it is drilled into us that we shouldn’t speak to strangers but I can categorically say that without them, this last year wouldn’t have been the most amazing of my life.

I arrived in the artisan town of Sarchí in Costa Rica one afternoon hoping to find someone to teach me to paint. I had read about the intricately hand-carved and painted ox carts famous to the region and wanted to make one of my own.

I came across a man painting a park bench in the town square and tried to converse with him in my broken Spanish. It wasn’t very successful but he pointed me in the direction of a nearby booth where I found a woman named Ofelia. I told her what I was hoping to do and within minutes we were at the home of one of the town’s most well respected artists. After a short discussion it was agreed that I could come with my wood to his backyard studio each day where he would teach me his craft for free.

Ofelia also took me to see a Columbian-born wood carver where I asked to borrow his tools to carve out my wood before painting. He agreed and the next day I spent eight hours in his 2m by 3m workshop where we communicated simply through hand gestures.

His young son, who spoke a little English, arrived part way through the afternoon and was kind enough to walk me to the bus stop at the end of the day.

“I can’t thank you enough for all your help,’’ I began. “I owe you a beer or something.” “It’s not important,’’ he responded. “Family is what’s important. You needed my help, so I helped you. One day someone might need your help, and you will help them...”

Such profound insight from someone so young.

While circumnavigating Taiwan on a pushbike, I was overwhelmed every time I stopped to ask directions from little old ladies selling fruit at roadside stalls. They wouldn’t let me leave until they had loaded me up with fresh guava or sugar cane for the journey.

When I needed shelter from the rain at night and had nowhere to sleep, I would knock on the gate of a local primary school and the teachers working late would take me in and allow me to sleep in their classrooms. They would turn the hot water back on so I could shower and get out of my damp clothes and more often than not, they would return in the evening with piping hot food and blankets from their own homes. All of it was done without speaking the same language.

And then there was the random stranger in Seattle, who has no idea the impact she had on my life.

A year on the road can be tough for many reasons and sometimes it’s the littlest of things that bring you happiness. For me it was a decent haircut, just to feel normal. After I finished my 1676km cycle around Taiwan I got a haircut in Taipei. Even with the help of Google Translate and an iPad, there was a serious case of “lost in translation” and I ended up with a terrible hair color that left me feeling ugly and miserable.

When I returned to the US I had a serendipitous meeting with a hairdresser called Brittany who said she would fix the problem. I was pretty much down to my last dime and almost cancelled the appointment because I couldn’t justify spending the money on a hair color when I could barely afford food.

I felt sick when I arrived at the salon, unsure whether it was going to cost me $30 or $300. As I sat down I tentatively asked “how much?”

“Oh don’t worry, it’s covered,” Brittany said.

She went on to say she’d been telling my story to her previous client and the woman was so inspired that she insisted on paying for my haircut. I could have cried. (In fact, I think I actually did.)

This trip humbled me, inspired me, challenged me and changed my perspective on so many things. The way a person sees the world is entirely based on the perspective they choose to take. Happiness is a choice, it really is.


Christie Peucker is an Australian journalist with a penchant for random adventures. She’s been married by Elvis in Vegas, accidentally argued with a member of the royal family, made it her life’s ambition to finish a Rubik’s Cube in under 10 seconds and is absolutely defiant she will never get wisdom teeth despite what her dentist (and x-rays) has to say. She is currently writing a book about her 30 Days for 30 Years adventure. For her latest project 30 Days – The Collection visit www.30days30years.com.