Quite Something

Archive for December, 2011

After You

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Today we have a guest post by Cindy Brody, my longtime personal editor, who has a Good News story of her own to share.

Life’s like a movie. Write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending.

— Kermit the Frog

I was at the post office on Friday, in the middle of a long, fidgety line of women—grandmothers, mothers, and daughters—with the requisite toddler throwing a tantrum in the back. It was during the countdown to Christmas, a set up for major stress.

A few people behind me, there was a frazzled young woman in a pink camo headscarf, which didn’t quite conceal her hair loss, likely from chemo. She told the already-vexed businesswoman in front of her she needed to run out to her car for a moment, something about a box in her trunk. The businesswoman said she would hold her place. But when the woman in the scarf came back, the businesswoman actually let her go in front of her.

The next thing you know, each person in that disgruntled line offered to let her go ahead of them, until she was first in line! After each person insisted, the next followed suit, and in the end, everyone was smiling.

It was such a brief incident, but I got to witness firsthand how kindness begets kindness, and how it can really transform us. It reminded me of a scene in A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa, where everyone breaks into song at the U.S. Post Office!

The woman in the scarf thanked everyone, holding back tears, saying it just meant a lot to her right then. I think it meant a lot to all of us, especially in this time of year, to have the opportunity to offer a small act of kindness.

Goodwill Abounds

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Today’s Good News story has two parts, and neither is about an individual.

The first is about a movement which is taking hold across the country. More than a few generous souls are anonymously paying off Kmart layaway bills so that other families don’t have to struggle so hard at Christmas. As you’ll read in this article, which my son shared with me, donors are specifically asking to pay the bills for young children, to make sure they don’t go without. And they are leaving a small balance to ensure that the account stays active. Kudos to the kind and smart donors.

My friend Bev shared a story about another kindness, this one performed by… a moose at a zoo in Idaho. No longer anonymous, the ironically-named Shooter was photographed during the act of rescuing a tiny (compared to him) new friend.

It seems the desire to help our fellow creatures is instinctual, if we only pay attention to it.

Quote of the Day

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

My favorite news stories are the ones in the “Making a Difference” segment on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. This week, Chelsea Clinton joined the staff. Apparently Brian’s wife is the one who gave him the idea of taking five minutes out of the half hour show most nights to highlight a positive story.

Every one of us knows people like the ones in those segments, everyday folks who are doing extraordinary things. Most of them are quietly making a difference in their families and their communities without getting any notice at all. Whether their efforts are put forth at work, at a nonprofit, or through their own initiative, each of them is passionate about his or her mission.

In yesterday’s post I promised to launch my own Good News channel of sorts, so here goes. I’m going to introduce you to some of the people in my life who I feel are “quite something,” each in his or her own way.

First up is one of my longtime, true-blue friends, Sue Ivy. Sue and I share many interests, chief among them, personal growth. I hired Sue back in 1996 when I was working in human resources for a software company. In her first day on the job, she told me that one of her hobbies was collecting quotes and sending out a Quote of the Day via email to her friends. She asked if I’d like to be added to her list. I agreed, and I’ve been receiving them ever since.

Rather than selecting the inspirational quotes randomly, Sue takes the time to hand pick them to correspond with holidays and other important world events. She also tailors them to the happenings of her personal friends, whether they are struggling or celebrating, and by doing so has discovered an interesting phenomenon.

Often, when she sends out a quote in support of one friend, several others will respond and say, “I know that quote was meant for me—it truly spoke to what I’m going through right now. Thank you.” Yet another confirmation that we are more alike than we are different, and our struggles often parallel those of others.

Day after day, year after year, Sue continues to send out her quotes. It’s her gift to her friends, and their friends, as each person encourages another to sign up for the quotes.

More recently, Sue has taken up nature photography and digital art. She now attaches kaleidoscopes, and the photos from which they are derived, to her quote emails. You can see Sue’s work on her photo blog at http://the-enchanted-forrest.blogspot.com/.

Her hobby has expanded to include products with her designs on them, available on http://www.cafepress.com/enchantedcorgi, and books and calendars at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/ivysue1.

Sue’s collection of quotes is now nearing six thousand. I often print them and post them around my office for inspiration as I write.

Thanks, Sue, for making a difference by sharing classic words of wisdom with your friends.

The Good News channel

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

My daughter, who will be 23 in February, frequently says that she hates the evening news and the 24 hour news channels because the stories are always so negative. She asks why there isn’t a “good news channel.” As the traditional news, particularly the economic news, gets worse and worse, I keep thinking about my daughter’s question.

So, in an effort to follow Ghandi’s advice to “be the change I want to see in the world,” I’ve decided to launch my own good news channel of sorts. It occurs to me that, all around me, I see people doing extraordinary things in an effort to make a difference in the world, or at least to the people around them. And I know that these efforts are being repeated, day after day, all over the world. It’s just that the shocking stories grab the headlines, and we’re all guilty of head-turning when we see the “Breaking News” banner on the screen, knowing full well it will not be positive.

None of the people I’m about to introduce to you consider their good works heroic or extraordinary. Most just started out wanting to help, to give back in some way, and somewhere along the way they became passionate about their causes. They’re humble, grateful people whose stories are inspiring to me and, I hope, to you. When you read about their efforts, you may feel compelled to contribute. Or you might feel that you’re not doing enough, compared to them. But my purpose is not to solicit on their behalf or to shame you. We all contribute something, in our own way, and on our own time, and most of us do more than we realize. My aim is simply to shine a light on some positive stories, to try to balance our negative worldview, which is sadly skewed because of our overexposure to one side of the story.

I thought this holiday season would be a good time to expose the warmth and compassion of some ordinary people I know who consistently act out of love for others. The good news starts tomorrow. Join me.

Getting to Know Dad

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Here is my tribute to the Greatest Generation, in honor of all those who were killed and injured at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today. First published in The News & Observer in 2007, it feels like an appropriate offering for today:

I was born in 1957, just twelve years after WWII ended. Like most Baby Boomers, as a youngster I was interested only in things that were new and hip. Bell bottoms, Levi jeans, Carole King records. I’m the youngest of eight children, so my parents were older when I was born. Middle-age parents with old-fashioned ideas were sometimes hard to bear.

By the time I was old enough to be aware of world events, the cultural revolution of the late sixties was going on. One brother had served in the Air Force in Korea; another was in the Army in Vietnam. To me, WWII was ancient history.

My father was a brilliant, but quiet man. He was a good dad. Like most men in his generation, he spent the majority of his time working hard in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. He wasn’t much on talking and, like a typical teenager, I wasn’t that interested in his life anyway.

Until it was too late.

We found his love letters several years ago while helping my mother pack to move to an independent living residence. Over fifty of them, by the time we were finished. Romantic, engaging, and inspiring, they revealed a side of him we had not known. They were filled with words of encouragement for my mother, telling her to keep her chin up during the troubled times. Perhaps they were also the words he needed to hear?

Embedded in the letters were also bits of history, details about his naval officers’ training and the progression of the war. Reading them, I felt such a mixture of emotions. Grief, for the opportunity, now lost, to know the real man. To hear his stories in person. To ask questions. Yet profound joy in the physical permanence of the letters. His beautiful handwriting, his struggles, his undying love for my mother.

Why didn’t he tell us that he’d been a “Ninety-day wonder” who trained almost every waking moment for months in order to join the war as soon as possible? That, as a young ensign, his best buddy was Wellington T. Mara, later the long-time owner of the New York Giants. He never mentioned Key West or Miami, where he was stationed, or blackouts, or rationing, or war bonds.

We never heard about “The Sylph,” the Navy yacht on which he trained for a few days despite seasickness fears. I wonder if he knew that the antics on the TV series McHale’s Navy were derived from Earnest Borgnine’s real-life experience as a first-class gunner’s mate aboard “The Sylph?” Dad didn’t tell us anything about the gyroscopes he studied at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for four months, training he never got to use because of an apparent Navy SNAFU. And although we’d watched the movie PT-109 together, he never once mentioned that he headed the section base that repaired the PT boats.

I guess to him none of it seemed worth the telling. It was just his life. All that had been long ago, when he was a much younger man, doing his duty during wartime. I’m sure he didn’t consider himself to be extraordinary, or to have lived through extraordinary times.

I’ve spent the last two years transcribing the letters and reconstructing the story of my parents’ early life together. My mother is 88 now, but she has an amazing memory, especially for that time period. Unlike him, she’s a born storyteller. I was able to verify much of what she told me via the Internet. I even located a copy of a Collier’s magazine from March 28, 1942, which featured the men of the Prairie State, the ship he trained on.

Together Mom and I went through bins of mementos, newspaper clippings, and photos. We found Dad’s Navy yearbook, The Sideboy, and a dance card from the ship’s farewell ball the night before his graduation and their engagement luncheon. No longer ancient history to me, this was living history, my history.

My dad was never awarded any medals, but I know he was a hero. They all were. The men who died, the men who lived, the women who went to work, the ones who waited at home and rolled bandages for the Red Cross, the WACs and the Doughnut Dollies.

Suddenly we’re the middle-agers, and many would argue that we’re still self-involved. But I think we know that the Greatest Generation is leaving us, and before long it will be too late to thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how fortunate we are to have known them.