Friday, November 4, 2011

Whether given or taken, kind acts can help us heal

From today's Briefing:

I am giddy about this day.
Today is my late husband’s birthday.
In the alternate world I sometimes imagine — a world without inoperable, incurable brain tumors — we would be celebrating Steve’s 43rd birthday with dinner, gifts and a homemade cake. And Steve himself.
In this real world, though, the party goes on without him.
On Steve’s 41st birthday, just a couple of months after his death, our family invited friends to join us at the neighborhood park, where we wrote notes, attached them to balloons and released them to the sky all at once.
Last year was more relaxed. While Cooper and Katie were at school, I planted tulips and ranunculus in the front beds, thinking of Steve every time I dropped a bulb into the ground. (It’s the gift that keeps giving — I thought of him every time I walked into our colorful yard the following spring.)
That night the three of us ate dinner out and came home to a simple, homemade chocolate cake, just like Steve would have liked.
Today is different.
Cooper, Katie and I decided to celebrate their Daddy’s life by encouraging acts of kindness. Our goal was 43 — one for each year since his birth.
We didn’t think we could accomplish 43 in one day by ourselves, so we started asking friends to help.
The response, thanks largely to the power of social media, has been incredible. I’ve lost track of the number of people who have committed to being deliberately kind today, but it’s safe to say that our goal will be exceeded at least five or six times over, all across the country and even the world.
Here at home, Katie plans to wake up early and walk a long route to school. She wants to crisscross the street, pick up newspapers from neighbors’ front lawns and place them on doorsteps instead.
Cooper is going to slyly surprise a friend with a candy bar in his school desk.
Close family friends are cleaning out their closets and donating gently used items to a nonprofit.
A friend is out of town this week, leaving our church food pantry unattended — I expect another friend is spending this morning in the pantry, sorting food and preparing boxes for hungry neighbors.
I’m so excited about the idea that I couldn’t wait to get started. On Wednesday I paid for my drive-thru coffee and then paid for the car behind me. My list for today is longer than my waking hours.
Part of the thrill is the selfish feeling that comes from performing a selfless act, satisfaction from a good deed with absolutely no expectation of reciprocation.
Plus, it’s nice to be able to return a fraction of the goodwill our family has received.
When Steve was ill, our family was supported, sustained and loved on by more people than I can count. Definitely by more people than I sent thank-you cards to.
In the early stages of his cancer, Steve and I would talk about how we would repay everyone for their good deeds. That didn’t last long — it was soon clear that we could never repay everyone. And eventually we accepted the truth that no one expected repayment.
We accepted the truth that people are good. That people enjoy caring for others, embracing kindness, sharing love.
If I had my way, if all of the folks who love Steve had their way, today we’d be singing him “Happy Birthday” and giving him gifts and telling funny stories about past celebrations.
In the reality we’ve got, today’s celebration — in which others receive gifts of kindness and compassion — is the next best thing.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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