December 30th: Christmas Bureau 2016
Once again, I spent time volunteering for the Christmas Bureau this year. It is an amazing event that has been happening here in Spokane for over 30 years.
This year we served over 8,000 families, providing over 26,000 toys for children that might otherwise not receive anything for Christmas. It is an incredible undertaking through a partnership between Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman Review. It boggles the mind to think about all the little details that goes into this event. People wait in line for sometimes two hours to receive first, a certificate in the amount of $15 to $30, depending on the size of the family, so they can buy groceries; a book for each child in the household age fourteen and under; a toy for each child under age 18; forgiveness of library fines; and, for the adults a new hat, scarf or gloves. In addition to a toy, each child may receive a stuffed animal donated by the citizens of Spokane. The stuffed animals are collected during a Spokane Chiefs hockey game and then transported to the Bureau for the toy room. So, you can see why it takes a village to pull off this event. Volunteers, of which there are hundreds, are encouraged to wear festive accessories and must absolutely adopt the Christmas attitude of love, inclusiveness, non-judgement and joy. Organizers of the Bureau want every attendee to leave feeling like they matter, there is love in the world without judgment and the Bureau contributed some joy to their life and their holiday.
I believe my greatest joy came from the turnaround I saw in the attitude of a person or family I worked with to process their certificates for food and gifts from one of skepticism and defensiveness tinged with anger and embarrassment to one of thankfulness, joy and genuine surprise. I loved turning those frowns upside down. :-)
Yes, there is so much commercialism that we can forget the true meaning of this holidays. Finding delight in the simple things and providing a joyful experience for others is the true spirit of the season. May you share your happiness and joy in some small way with others less fortunate during this season and throughout 2017. It will make a truly significant difference in their life and in yours.
December 23rd: “Whole Lot of Trouble in An Itty-Bitty Skirt”
Has anyone noticed how angry many people are these days. I know the holidays can bring out the worst in people with all the pressure associated with gift giving, entertaining, family gatherings and never feeling like there is enough time for yourself. Then there is the election that resulted in a bigoted, misogynistic narcissist ready to assume the presidency. YIKES! Even with all this uncertainty and strain common decency is still the norm, or it should be.
I have a friend who encountered a particularly difficult individual while playing a competitive sport. She is teeny tiny, has a small soft voice, a welcoming smile and a genuine love of people, all people. Looking at her no one would ever imagine her fervor over the mistreatment of herself or others.
On the day in question her opponent mouthed off because of a shot he missed. He strung together a chain of profanities directed at my friend. He had no idea who he was disrespecting with his poor gamesmanship.
My sweet friend let him have it with both barrels. She did not need to resort to the use of profanity to get her point across. She was controlled, articulate and pointed out that undereducated, reactionary, unhappy and insecure people are more prone to using profanity when upset about something that happened than a person who is happy with who they are, in control of their emotions and knows the value of good sportsmanship. Her words and the way she expressed herself threw him completely off balance. She then reported him to the manager of the sports complex. Her actions resulted in management counseling the individual and letting him know he would not be welcome at this complex in the future if he continued to behave the way he did on that day. He has since apologized to my friend.
On the way home from our game that day I heard Elle King sing about “A Whole Lot of Trouble in an Itty-Bitty Skirt.” I smiled thinking about my friend. We don’t need to be mean spirited and use profanity to address a situation like the one I described here. Disarm with Charm my friends! It’s a great alternative.
December 16th: Be Present – Pay Attention
I was having tea with a friend the other day at a local coffee shop. Sitting next to us was a couple eating lunch. Both were eating with one hand while holding their respective phones with the other hand, intently checking their texts, email and the web. Not once during the half hour the couple sat at their table eating did they look directly at one another. They did speak to each other periodically about something they saw or read via their phone but, that was it. No real connection while sharing lunch time together. I found this to be sad but all too common these days.
When out walking the dog I often see others out walking their dogs. When I walk Brandi I enjoy being outside, looking at the trees, smelling the season (whichever one it may be), watching kids working on perfecting their skateboarding technique at the skateboard park and generally being present in my surroundings. So many of the people I see walking their dogs have their phone in one hand the leash in the other and are looking down at their phone the entire time. They don’t look to see who might be walking toward them. It seems they expect everyone to watch out for them because they are so “busy” with whatever is happening on their phone. It’s just rude.
I see this same behavior, noses buried in the phone not matter where I seem to go. What has happened to being present in the moment and paying attention to what is around us. First there is the safety issue of always being aware of your surroundings. But, even more importantly is being present so one can enjoy every single minute of their life. There really is magic in watching a child execute a new jump on their skateboard; a parent teaching their child how to play basketball or tennis or soccer; families enjoying a picnic; leaves budding on or falling from trees; storm clouds forming in the sky; the sun embracing the landscape; or kids and parents lined up to meet Santa for the first time.
We lose out on these magical experiences when we have our heads buried to check on the latest text, tweet, Instagram or some other innocuous posting on the web. Are these more important and interesting than what is going on around you or who you are with? I think not! At least, I hope not.
Tweets, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and all the other social media outlets will not be there for you when you need someone to take you to the doctor, help you with a project, be there when your car breaks down, etc. It is only through our real personal connections that we develop deep and lasting bonds to people who become a significant part of our life and are there for us during good and bad times. So, put down the phone and spend quality time with friends and family. These connections come in handy over the span of a life time.
December 9th: I am Grateful
I am grateful the election is over. While I am chagrined with the outcome and still cannot hear the president-elect’s name or see his picture without conjuring up a barrage of expletives that would make a sailor blush, I am still grateful the hateful rhetoric coming from that person is primarily in the form of tweets, which I don’t follow.
I am grateful for all the kindness I see around me. This past weekend I spent a couple of hours standing outside a grocery store to collect cash and food donations on behalf of one of the local food banks. I was humbled by the generosity of others. People did not hesitate to place five, ten and twenty dollar bills in my little collection bucket. One father with three little girls walked out of the grocery store, stopped in front of me and he nodded to his girls. One by one each child dropped a dollar bill into my bucket. I was so touched by this it brought tears to my eyes. This father is teaching his children such a valuable lesson about being grateful for all one has and helping others who may not be so blessed. I wanted to hug the father but instead I said, “thank you,” with a big grin on my face.
Last week while working one of my volunteer gigs as a pet therapy escort I met a man with an incredible story. While volunteering his time to work on rebuilding the roof of a home damaged by fire that left a mother in critical condition in the hospital and her six children homeless, this man fell off the roof of the home from two stories in the air. He landed directly on his back. No one knows how but he survived with three fractures in his back but no damage to his spinal cord or his appendages. He is going to make a full recovery. He was in the middle of doing something completely selfless to help another human being. I choose to believe that Karma worked in his favor that day, as does he.
I am grateful I have the type of life that exposes me to these amazing experiences where people demonstrate time and again their love for others through their empathy, selfless nature and generous spirit.
I am grateful for the friends who show me love every single day by accepting me warts and all. I love you too!
December 2nd: Common Courtesy and Inclusiveness
I have started to play Pickleball two or three times a week. I have done this for a couple of months now. Pickleball is a very popular court game played by people of all ages but is particularly popular with seniors.
The center where I play is normally crowded with players who are anxious for their time on the court. Some participants have been playing for a long time and are quite good. It is only natural that the expert players want to be challenged when on the court and seek competitors of their level. I get that.
However, there are a limited number of courts and far more players than available space. So, the rule of thumb is if you lose a game you and your partner leave the court to wait for another opening elsewhere. This means experts may end up playing with people who are at the intermediate or beginner level. I see nothing wrong with this as it is how a person learns and improves upon their game.
During a recent afternoon of play I was waiting for an open court along with three other individuals. I didn’t know any of the three waiting with me. The court became available and we proceeded to introduce ourselves to one another. One of the men shared that this was his first time playing. The woman who was going to play with me rolled her eyes sighed and said, “oh, well that’s not good.”
I said, “what’s wrong – every person has a right to play and if we know how to play we should be helping others learn.”
She looked at me and the two men on the other side of the net and said, “but, we’re experienced players.”
That got my dander up. I said, “so what.” I’m an experience player too.” I looked across the net at the beginner and the other experienced male player and said, “let’s do this.” I then looked at the woman I was to play with and said, “however, if you want to find another court to play on you are free to do so.”
We played the game and we women won but that is not the point. The point is that people can be so discourteous and selfish not caring who they hurt in the process. The man who was a beginner player let it roll off his back but he felt uncomfortable. He asked me after the game if a lot of the people playing pickleball at this establishment were similar in their attitude to that of the woman who played with me.
I told him unfortunately I had run into it several times when I first started. It is sad that people have forsaken common decency toward others for selfish reasons. Any sport should be one filled with courtesy and inclusiveness. Please remember this and help newcomers feel welcome. Pass on the knowledge you have and make it a great day for everyone. After all, it is ONLY A GAME.