Sweet wonderful love muffins,
You know that person in your life – the one who makes one bad decision after the next? Maybe it’s her continual bad choices in relationships. Or how she keeps screwing up jobs. Or whatever it is that makes you shake your head.
That something – or even, somethings – whatever it is, her life seems to be on a downward spiral of going absolutely nowhere but bad, and she seems like a total lost cause. I was once her. And the kindness of others saved my life. And changed my life for the better.
When we see someone making what we think are poor choices, I know how easy it can be to write them off as not worth our time, or that they are lost forever, or any other multitude of unhelpful conclusions. But as someone who was once there, I’d like to offer another explanation. One that is filled with hope and positive possibility.
Let me paint the picture with a few, quick, relevant details. Me, in my late teens. A recovering runaway who took night school to be able to graduate at 16, so I could move out on my own and get away from the emotional devastation that my family called home. I worked as many hours as I could at my 3 part-time jobs, so that I could keep a roof over my head. Sometimes I had enough for electricity, heat, and food, and sometimes I didn’t.
For onlookers, I was struggling and unstable. Oftentimes, cold and hungry. I’m not sure if anyone saw how hard I was trying, but in reflection, I think at least some did.
For me, I wasn’t trying to make poor choices. I was trying to make my life better, and I didn’t have a good first clue how to do it, except that I needed to stay on my feet and not “go back home.” That place was hell, and I’d enough.
This time in my life became a learning, growing phase that came with significant bumps and bruises, but somehow, somewhere in me, I found a resilient determination to be hopeful and not to give up.
I had very little to no self-confidence or self-esteem. I hadn’t figured out how to take care of myself. And the lack of love in my life, made me crave emotional connection to the point of self-destruction. Guys were my downfall. And I was an easy target.
So with that picture, let me just say, It’s the person who stops trying that is a true sadness and loss. The ones who give up and get stuck in the mire. It could have happened to me, and if it had, I’m certain I would’ve never accomplished all that I have. Or be able to give all that I do.
What made the difference? I promise you: the kindness of others.
Patience. A shoulder to cry on. An ear to listen. Time to give. A hug to hold. Words of encouragement and wisdom to share. Simply making time to care. Being a positive role model. And peanut butter sandwiches.
It was the benevolent presences in my life that kept me going and learning, getting better, and never giving up.
A few quick notes about being a benevolent presence, should someone in your life need you.
- It’s not your job nor your responsibility to fix this person. They have to do that themselves.
- Your help, your kindness, your benevolence will not likely be “the thing” that finally set this person off on the “right track.” Although it might just be. But more likely, it’s part of a series of people and kindnesses over time that gives this person the support and springboard to grow forward and past the struggle they are swimming in.
My heart is filled with bottomless thanks and gratitude for every person who was there for me every time I needed it, even when I was exhausting and seemingly hopeless. These wonderful people saved my life. Their support was vital in giving me space and time to grow my confidence bit by bit, until I felt strong enough to keep going on my own.
An important note on sympathy:
Along the way, I came across people who weren’t really kind or helpful. They looked at me with eyes and words of sympathy, and I quickly learned to hate it. The words of “poor you” weren’t compassionate, nor caring. Just a passing pity for the lost cause and helpless situation that to them I had become. I got a fair share of this as well in my journey. And luckily for me, I had that resilient determination thing going. I learned that pity isn’t caring, and I wanted to be a person that was cared for, not dismissed on a heavy sigh. I wanted to grow myself into a person who wasn’t pitiable.
I suspect that not all who are desperately trying to find and grow themselves will respond with such a positive outcome as I did to the sympathetic pity.
So if I may, please be careful of these emotions around people in need. Choose to care. Give precious moments of your time and your heart. And if the person who is in need has exhausted you beyond any more care you have to give (Let’s be real, it can happen. Finding oneself can take a really long time.), then do what you can to guide them to the next bright light post and wish them well, letting them move forward surrounded by your positive, loving light.
Remember, it’s not your job to fix them. You’re a moment of kindness and love to them on their journey toward their wellness. It’s not helpful to either of you should their need become toxic to you both.
Okay, so let me give you some of the concrete examples of kindness I received during the particularly difficult time in my life that was my mid- to late teens. Some are big, but most are small to medium. All made a vital difference!
One of the benefits of being so broke was that I got to take a few courses at the local community college for free. This was AWESOME, because it gave me a weather-controlled, safe environment to spend time in; safe people to be around; and an opportunity to learn and grow myself.
At this community college, I can give you a number of examples of life-helping and –altering kindness … here are just a few I remember especially and fondly:
- I’d go to office hours for help in one of my classes, and the professor must’ve noticed I wasn’t likely eating much, because every time I went, she would quietly get out her peanut butter and bread and an apple “to eat her lunch,” and she’d always make sure I ate, too. It wasn’t unusual for that to be the only meal I got that day.
- In a pottery lab I learned in, there was a bunch of artistic guys making the most amazing pottery I’d ever seen. The guys ranged in ages and dispositions. I was the only girl. And instead of ganging up on me and taking advantage of the situation (as I usually experienced with my low self-confidence and -esteem), they created a safe space for me. They would talk to me and encourage me (even though my skills were pitiful, and I spent most of my time making little teddy bears and animals made of clay balls, lol.). And I remember one of the guys in particular. He was in his mid 30’s to my 17 yrs, and he actively listened to me, and listened to me, and listened to me even more. He never judged. He gave me life encouragements, and made me feel heard and important enough to warrant his time. And never, ever did he make an inappropriate advance.
- Every Thursday night that he could afford, a friend from childhood would bring me a fast food sandwich of some sort. Again, someone making sure I got some food.
- And there was another older guy in a another class, a recovering alcoholic who must’ve seen the signs of trouble in my life, because he also provided a safe space for me, never being inappropriate. And he taught me the mind-healing benefits of “the drive.” A cathartic time spent being quiet and reflecting while driving along less-traveled, winding roads. He would take me out for drives, and we would just be quiet and reflect and heal.
And there’s just one more example I’ll share for now, but it came about a year before this community college time. It happened in the highly turbulent part of my life and aftermath following my running away from home (like for realz, on the streets, cold, wet, hungry, no shelter, no safety, for an extended period of time kind of running away). The events that led up to this running away are complex and filled with SO MUCH emotional loss and desperation that spun out of control after the family trauma when I was 9. I won’t get into all of that now. But what I will say is that 2 things of significant, lifesaving importance occurred just a few critical months later.
- The first is an aunt and uncle stepped up and took me in for a summer. It was a difficult summer for all, but I had a safe space, was cared for, and was shown the “bizarre” behavior of people in love being affectionate and doing “crazy” things like holding hands. I’d never seen anything like it. And I can tell you … AWKWARD … when they tried hugging me. But it laid the foundation for loving behavior that I would later in life, in my own relationships, seek out.
- And the second, their adult son, my cousin … he gave me words and encouragement that has saved my life, literally, multiple times. One day, while doing yard work together, I was talking about my problems, and he must’ve sensed I was contemplating giving up (That’s my nice way of saying, I was seriously considering killing myself … heavy, right?! I know. It sucked.) But he said, “If this is it. If this is rock bottom, then you just need to hang on tight here for little bit, because you’ve got nowhere else to go but up. Just hang on.” For me, this worked. And I’m so very grateful.
The life I’ve grown into has given me the opportunity to be there for so many others. And to experience so much love and happiness … I could’ve never imagined it, but it has happened, and my heart is BIG with it!
All I’m saying here is that it doesn’t make much to be kind. Be an ear, be a shoulder, listen, care, give a hug, make a sandwich, be a positive role model, or simply be a safe, non-judgmental place to be. Let the love in your heart grow and share it!
Every day, acts of kindness and caring (little, small, medium, and big, whatever you can give), these make real, life-impacting differences! You and your kindness are important and needed! And from me to you and to all the people who have been there for me along my way … Thank You so much – I am so grateful for you and for my life!
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