Thursday, December 3.
My grandmother would’ve turned 99 that day. She’s been gone for 10 years now. How would she have reacted if she were alive to read the headlines that morning?
14 killed in California mass shooting; 2 suspects dead in shootout
Baltimore on edge as Freddie Gray police trials begin
Planned Parenthood shooting suspect due in court
U.K. bombers hit ISIS in Syria hours after lawmakers approve airstrikes
ISIS releases video showing beheading of man it identifies as Russian spy
I won’t editorialize about foreign policy, or gun control and mental health, or any of the politically volatile topics that resurface with every new catastrophically violent event. From what I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter, every conceivable angle’s been argued and the spin doctors have turned every possible platter.
But I will tell you that I, like millions of Americans, was feeling discouraged that morning. Hopeless. Impotent. Disheartened. Defeated.
(And that was before I learned that a guy I went to high school with was among those killed in San Bernardino. May you rest in peace, Hal Bowman.)
And then I read this: Fifteen Things For When the World Is Shitty and Terrifying.
The post begins, “Laquan MacDonald was seventeen and murdered by a Chicago police officer in cold blood. I watched a video of his murder, along with most of America, right in between reading about how Americans are terrified of letting refugees from war-torn Syria into the country, and reading about how a man with a rifle opened fire at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado yesterday. I can’t think of anything else to say that hasn’t already been said about how horrible and sad and awful and bleak and shitty and unfathomable all those things are. I can’t. I don’t have the words for that today.”
The rest of the post suggests fifteen small ways you can “make your world just the tiniest bit less shitty and terrible,” like leaving a copy of your favorite book in a public place for someone else to discover and appreciate it; buying a multi-pack of socks online and having them sent to a homeless shelter; or writing a thank you note to someone who’s been kind to you.
Many of the ideas are free; the others cost little. None of them is novel or earth-shattering. But each one (especially #15) has the potential to be inestimably powerful, especially when considered in the context of the last couple weeks’ events.
I urge you to read the complete list. Here’s that link again: Fifteen Things For When the World Is Shitty and Terrifying.
Inspired by these seemingly small but infinitely meaningful acts, I came up with 15 more:
16) Stop and talk to that chatty neighbor you usually try to avoid. Chances are she’s lonely and likely feeling as hopeless as you are about the current status of our world.
17) Send a Christmas card to a little girl in New York who lost her father and three siblings in an arson fire two years ago.
18) Be on the lookout for the positive. When you are out and see a child behaving well, commend the child AND the parent. Commend someone who has provided you with excellent service by sharing the compliment with his or her supervisor.
19) Pick up that pile of dog poop that a less-responsible dog owner did not.
20) Write a letter of encouragement to a stranger who needs a lift via The World Needs More Love Letters. (This is seriously very cool. At least check out the site and read some of the stories and sample letters.)
21) Pick up that avocado or lemon that rolled onto the floor in the produce section and put it back with its comrades.
22) Contact a former teacher of yours and tell him or her one thing you remember fondly from class.
23) Clean the snow off the windshield of your neighbor’s car.
24) Become a speech donor with VocalID’s Human Voicebank. (Another seriously cool initiative you should check out!)
25) Accept an act of kindness. Allow someone else to experience the joy of helping another.
26) Let the other guy have the parking spot.
27) Write a positive comment on someone’s blog. 😉
28) Download an awesome photo from a friend’s Facebook wall, have it made into a print, and send it to her. Prints at PostalPix start at $.30 + shipping.
29) Wave a car into your lane or stop to let a pedestrian cross the street safely.
30) Listen. Carefully. With your ears AND your eyes. (That means putting your phone away.)
In other words, push back against the dreadfulness and horrific reality of our world with tiny acts of light and kindness.
I know Grammy would be on board. And I’m pretty sure Martin Luther King would be, too. You’re probably familiar with these words he spoke nearly 60 years ago, in a sermon delivered to a church in Birmingham, Alabama:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I’m not so naïve to believe that sending socks to someone with cold feet will somehow dissuade a shooter from killing innocent people. Nor do I expect that scraping someone’s windshield will prevent a terrorist from beheading a prisoner.
But no matter how dark the night, the stars are well within our power.
Be the light. Retaliate with kindness.