Remember that old Peggy Lee standard of “If That’s All There Is”? In my adolescent angst, I listened to that song repeatedly, wondering if “that’s all there is”, then why not keep on dancing, drinking, chasing intense sensations? (I was trying so hard to be a “good girl” that I actually didn’t dance, drink, or chase sensations, but I THOUGHT about doing these, which was daring and “bad” enough!) Despite a lot of personal growth, and despite my family’s and friends’ genuinely loving attentions, this fatalistic orientation usually seeps into the day of my actual birthday, when I feel an irresistible pull toward my troubled beginning on this planet.
But when I turned 64 last week, I was stunned and delighted with the reaction that C., a friend, told me she had had on her recent 50th birthday. C. is one of those women whom I think of as a duenna of pain—a mother who lost an adult child to suicide. That she can go on in life, with humility and kindness and openness, are acts of heroism that I do not think I could match. But that is not all. C. told me she wanted her landmark 50th birthday to be extra-special. Did she do what I might have done, either explicitly or implicitly expecting my family and friends to fill the day with intense sensations that would compensate for my birthday-related hollowness? No. She had just watched the movie “Pay It Forward” and decided she would do 50 random acts of kindness, doing as many as possible on her actual birthday. She paid for people behind her in line, she passed out flowers, she handed strangers notes on decorative paper with short messages:”You are unique and wonderful” and “You are a blessing” and “You have a right to be in this universe. Celebrate it!”
I hung on her words like she was a magic storyteller. My eyes filled with tears. If anybody had a right to expect life to compensate her because of her past, surely it was she. But here she was, scattering flowers and notes of love to people she didn’t know, just trusting that she was meant to be a channel of love, and that some recipients might even “pay it forward” themselves. She would never know. She did not need to know.
My friend S. Is another dramatic example of the lotus of deep kindness growing from the mud of pain. She also is a survivor of the loss of a child. For my birthday, she gifted me with a beautiful piece from Ben’s Bells, an organization in Tucson (founded by another woman whose child died), which are meant to be given as a tribute to the recipient’s kindness, who is then meant to randomly place the bell on a bike path or park bush or bus stop with a little sign to encourage someone to pick the bell up and later send it out to the universe.
So, since my birthday, I have performed about 10 random acts of kindness. Each time I think of something and act on it, it feels like I am playing in a carefree, creative way that makes me feel younger than any skin treatment I can imagine! I believe friends are often “angels with skin on”, and I believe I was meant to hear C’s message. I still have 54 random acts of kindness left to perform, and I am smiling with my secret plans. Today I know that fear and loneliness are NOT “all that there is.” There is YOU, who are doing me the kindness of reading these words, and there are you I will never encounter, and it is a gift to me to be able to pass on loving acts to anyone. Happy Anniversary of our Welcome-to-the-World Day to each of us!