Grief and Pain

candleGrief. Pain. Loss.Tragedy.

What else can you say when you learn of a mass shooting that takes the lives of 20 innocent children.

This happening just two days after our news was filled with another horrific story of a shooting here in my own Oregon community at a local mall.

The whole situation makes people feel completely hopeless. After posting their sympathy on FB they think what can I really do?  And yet we are not hopeless. We have every ability to speak up and take action. In taking those actions we make a difference. Moved by the Virginia Tech shootings and worried that the world we lived in was not a place he liked, my colleague Bob bought a bus and took his dog Bogard and started out to spread kindness through One Millions Acts of Kindness. He is making a difference everyday in the world, with every action he takes.

After the Columbine shootings, Rachel Joy Scott’s family discovered her journals about kindness and began an organization called Rachel’s Challenge that has touched the lives of more than 18 million people. Taking action made a difference.

Yesterday, I learned from a friend that she and her 11-year-old daughter spent her birthday on December 12th giving out pizza to homeless men and women in our community. She sent me some of her thoughts on the day,

“Mary walked over holding her pizza and water and I had a handful of gloves she had been collecting for this day. The moment we approached the shelter we were greeted with “Hello”. I said, “Hi, this is my daughter Mary. It’s her birthday today and to celebrate she would like to share pizza and water with you.” We received such gratitude for this. There were three people and they all told Mary “Happy Birthday” and “Thank you” and told her how kind and thoughtful she was.

From there we drove into downtown, which was a different experience. We spent the next hour and half driving around finding one homeless person at a time and offering them pizza and water. On almost every occasion the gratitude was overwhelming. One man even offered us some of his potato chips…At times we both had to choke back the tears. It was so touching for me as a mother to hear my daughter’s sweet voice say, “Hi, my name is Mary. It’s my birthday and I’d like to share pizza and water with you.

We seem to live in an era when people are just too busy to even notice what they have or what others do for them. Gone is the day of the Thank You Card much less a simple “Thank You”. I’ve gone to countless bridal showers, weddings, and baby showers where I never received a card afterwards. This continues to astonish me. I set out on this day thinking that the lesson here was how fortunate we are to have what we do, but I went away with another lesson I wasn’t expecting: These people that we encountered that day, that had nothing of material value, still had something that many of us do not, gratitude. What a gift.”

What actions do you take each and every day to pay attention and be engaged with others. Perhaps these horrible events will invoke something in you that needs to be addressed. It starts with the small things like gratitude and kindness, but maybe it will take hold in some larger way as well. I keep thinking about the “sick perpetrators” of these crimes and wonder if anyone had reached out to them could it have made a difference? Clearly they were suffering and now their suffering has made many others suffer as well.

None of us needs to feel paralyzed in our world. Our actions big and small matter and we have the choice to look the other way or do something to make a difference. I want to share a beautiful poem that my friend Eric wrote a few days ago after the Oregon mall shooting. I think it reiterates perfectly that none of us can look the other way anymore. Something is broken in our world and needs addressing. It starts with each of us acknowledging each other, being in action to make a difference in whatever way we can and help repair our world.

This week we have lost more than three dozen innocent people due to senseless acts of violence. It’s enough. Listen to your heart and take whatever actions you feel needs to be taken to help repair the world.

I am lighting an extra Shabbat candle tonight in memory of dozens of souls that can no longer see a candle burning and committing to continuing to share about mitzvahs in hopes of doing what I can to repair our world.


Humanity for every human being

Empathy. Compassion. Understanding.

“A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” ~ Mahatma Ghandi

How can we possibly know what another human being is experiencing unless we engage in dialog and conversation with them? We can not know what they are experiencing when we don’t connect with them on a human level. Last week, I had the privilege of chaperoning my daughter’s 9th grade St. Mary’s Academy retreat immersion to learn about the issues of homelessness. The immersion created opportunities for the girls to engage in dialog with their peers, staff at their school and folks living on the street.  Although, I consider myself someone who is empathetic, I have often felt uncomfortable when someone has a sign and asks me for money on the street. This immersion, though only a day, gave me additional information about the services currently available here in Portland and some of the many challenges, as well currently facing this population.

Our morning began in a lovely safe space at St. Andre Bessette church in Old Town Portland, where we were greeted by a young man named Taylor. He asked us to discuss  what our expectations of the day were. Our thoughts, questions or concerns. After discussing this in smaller groups we shared with the larger group. In our group, some girls shared myths or beliefs they had about why people were homeless, that they were afraid of these people, that they were uncomfortable interacting with someone who was homeless or engaging them on the street. I shared that sometimes I feel guilty when I see someone who is experiencing homelessness, that I have been blessed by good fortune in my life and have had opportunities that perhaps others have not.

Next, Taylor shared with us several items that someone experiencing homelessness might need: a toothbrush, mittens, a blanket, a plastic bag to carry everything, socks, an ID which we learned can be a very difficult item to maintain if you don’t have the appropriate documents like a birth certificate. With no housing and no address and your birth certificate how can you get ID or anything you might need that requires an ID? I had never thought about how difficult it would be to go through my life without documentation or ID of who I was.

After our initial dialog, we took a tour of the area and learned about the Blanchet House for hospitality which has been serving three hot meals a day for free in the downtown Portland area for more than 60 years. Last month, this non-profit moved from an older building into a brand new building to provide these meals. They serve more than 800 meals per day, 6 days of the week. Later in the day, our group stood in line with others experiencing hunger and homelessness and were served a hot meal by the volunteer staff.  I realized that day, that in all of my years of doing volunteer work, I hadn’t ever been on the receiving end of the serving of food. It was very dignified and I was happy that the food was tasty and plentiful.  We also met the founder of p:ear, a non-profit that works with young adults experiencing homelessness. We visited a brand new facility called the Bud Clark Commons that offers computers, showers and mailboxes plus notary republics and other important assistance this population may need access too. Along with food, these organizations provide humanity. A friendly face and smile to someone who might feel invisible as they go about their day. Being without lodging doesn’t mean you aren’t a human being and there are basic human dignities that everyone deserves, like bathrooms and shelter.

Imagine the looks we got when we got in line for a free hot meal at the Blanchet House passing dozens of other (mostly men) in line? Two men in front of us asked if we were volunteers? One asked if we were hungry. The girls were encouraged to not bring food with them that day, though many did. However, by 12:00 noon, I know I was feeling hungry. The guy behind us, made the girls laugh out loud when he said, “You guys are looking pretty good, how long you guys been out?”

The best part of the day was sharing food and conversation with the others at the Blanchet House. Asking where they were from began a conversation. One man who’d been on the streets for five months told us that he’d come on some difficult times recently. He also told us that the cops in Portland were kind and helpful as far as he was concerned another man at the table piped in as well that he’d come to Portland from California and thought it seemed like a great place so he stayed. One of the gentlemen mentioned that he liked eating at the Blanchet House because they always had fresh fruit which is rare to get. What I remember most about one man were his eyes. They were smokey blue and quite beautiful. I didn’t pay much attention to his unwashed clothing but rather spoke to him with eye contact. I am sure when we normally pass someone on the street we don’t even notice their eye color let alone really make eye contact with them.

Right 2 Dream Too Encampment

After lunch, the girls and I continued our exploration of the area. We bought meal coupons from the Sister of the Road Cafe to have on hand to give out to those asking for food or money. These meal coupons allow someone to have a meal at the cafe for free. They can also barter and work at the cafe to get a meal as well. On our way back to the church for our final reflections of the day. We stopped by Right 2 Dream Too, a model community encampment at the entrance of China Town 4th and Burnside. Two men, explained what they were doing to the girls and myself, providing a safe space to break the cycle of homelessness. Stop by sometime if you are in the area and have a look. In addition, perhaps you want to visit their website and see what they currently need.

The situation is certainly challenging. Not enough beds in shelters for folks who are in need. Mental health challenges make finding work and housing difficult for some but there are many who have just lost their footing and need support in returning to stable housing. I realized last week that I don’t need to feel sorry for the opportunities that I have had in my life but I can’t turn away from those who are in more dire straights. I have the opportunity to give more time, money, expertise or whatever I can offer to this community and that can make a world of difference.

When we returned at the end of the day and reflected on our experience. I know I had been moved. I know about some of the resources that exist, when I am asked for money on the street. I can also volunteer for any of these worthy organization and expect to do so in the near future. Do you know what the resources and challenges are in your community? Perhaps it’s time for you to find out as well.

Success isn’t only making the New York Times Best Sellers list

As a first time author, I certainly didn’t expect that my book would make it to the New York Times Best Seller list. I dreamed instead that my book would resonate with people who needed it. Folks who were perhaps grieving from their own loss, searching for their own path or simply wanting more meaning from their day to day life. I often envisioned mothers who like me hoped to influence their family through action. As with so many parts of this journey, I have been blessed by so many small, simple opportunities. Opportunties to meet authors I have read and adored in person. Unique and special moments with readers. Connecting with children, young adults and seniors around the book and the ideas I shared.

Last week, I had another one of these simple moments when I received an email out of the blue from a young women in Montrael who had picked up a used copy of my book last summer in Toronto. She wrote that she’d loved the book and had just recently lost a dear old family cat and coincidently would be in Oregon the very next weekend for a conference and would love to meet me if I was available. She was somewhat apologetic when she asked me if I could meet, worried that she would be taking some of my precious time to connect. Perhaps I am naive or don’t VALUE my time but I felt honored that she had written to ask to meet me and luckily did actually have some time available to meet her during her conference in Portland. Let’s just say that the meeting was incredible for both of us. I think we both felt that although we are from different generations, we speak the same languague of mitzvahs, synchonicity and the value of connection.

In my book, I say that I didn’t set out to save the world. I don’t even profess that any of my 1,000 small actions stand out as particularly important or life-changing. But I will assert that each of them made a small impact, and that cumulatively they have changed my life. Connecting with a reader who reached out to me from 3,000 miles away to meet me when she was in my town might seem crazy, but it is exactly these seemingly simple interactions with a “stranger” now a new friend that makes life incredible. Even though we didn’t know each other before, now we are connected.  Two human beings who are no longer strangers to each other.

Who will you meet today who will make a difference in your life? Will you be ready and available for the opportunity? Will you possibly go out of your way for it to occur? Author, Erin McHugh whose new book One Good Deed shared a great post on her blog several days ago about a simple incident that made her heart full. Perhaps like Erin, it’s the person near you on the bus or airplane. Perhaps it’s someone you already see frequently but have yet to have a dialog with, a neighbor, a store employee or someone else.

A book in a bookstore is one thing but a book in the hands of a reader who connects with  it in ways you expected or didn’t expect is valuable beyond any best seller status. Feeling very, very lucky and blessed this week after my wonderful meeting.

Be a Nosy Neighbor

Normally, when you hear the phrase nosy neighbor it connotes a bad attribute or not something you’d aspire to be. But when we change that definition to include noticing and being aware of our neighbors and what’s happening in their lives perhaps we begin to see this in a positive way.

I have lived in the same house, in the same neighborhood for almost 20 years. When I was a new mom and staying home with my infant daughter, I was desperate for adult interaction. I would walk my daughter in her stroller and visit with neighbors who were  working outside in their yard or puttering in their garage. I began to meet folks throughout the neighborhood by just being out and about. I learned who had children, who was retired, who had just moved in and who was moving out. Making myself available and chatting with my neighbors allowed me to connect with those who had chosen to live in the same neighborhood as I had. Years ago, I met a teenage girl while walking my new baby and dog who ended up babysitting our children for nearly a decade. Another one of our neighbors has had several serious health issues the past year and I have seen other neighbors mowing his lawn and helping his family out while he was recovering.

One of our neighbors who worked from home for several years, could often be found sitting outside working on his laptop with his dog by his side. Sam always knew what the pulse of the neighborhood was. He would say hello and visit with anyone who walked by getting to know folks from every street in our neighborhood. Several years ago, he joined with three other neighbors and began an annual neighborhood potluck the second week of August. They provide the music and grilled items and everyone else brings salads and desserts. Folks bring their chairs and hang out all afternoon schmoozing with one another. It’s nice to chat with new neighbors and find out more about each other.

Whether you are the catalyst of a neighborhood block party or just a neighbor who welcomes others to your hood, go out of your way to spend a few minutes getting to know your neighbors. We can only know what our neighbors are up to if we make a point to meet them. Perhaps after we arrive home from work or on weekends, we’ll take a few minutes to mingle or stop by and chat with our neighbors. Often it’s just meeting at the garbage cans, mailboxes or while watering your yard. Whatever it takes, you might be surprised how getting to know your neighbors can improve your whole neighborhood and community.

Here are a few simple suggestions for mitzvahs you can do in your neighborhood.

Offer to bring an elderly neighbor’s garbage up if they need some extra assistance.

Water flowers or mow a lawn for a neighbor who is going on vacation.

Host a potluck block party and invite everyone to attend.

Bring something over (some home-grown fruits or vegetables or cookies) to welcome a new neighbor to your neighborhood.

Pick up some trash in your neighborhood to keep it clean and tidy.

What other mitzvahs do you like to do in your neighborhood?