A Simple Act of Kindness

“It is helpful to remember that sometimes the most powerful medicine we can offer for suffering of any kind is simply kindness. It says: ‘You’re not alone. I see you. I hear you. I am with you.’ Even if it’s only for a moment or a day, that sense of genuine connection can change the trajectory of a life.”

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche

The above quote resonated with me. I remember, many years ago, that I celebrated one Christmas by inviting people who would otherwise be alone for that day over to my place for a pot luck Christmas dinner.

Christmas Eve I got on a bus on my way home from some last minute shopping. As I stepped up onto the bus I bumped into Richard, an acquaintance who I didn’t know very well. I did know, however, that he had no family in town, so I asked him if he wanted to join us for Christmas dinner the next day. He said yes. Christmas day was wonderful with all of us together sharing good food, lively conversation, and much laughter. A number of the people were musicians so it wasn’t long before we had a jam session happening. One of the guests brought out a guitar and Richard joined in with his mandolin as we all sang into the night.

Much later I again bumped into Richard. He wanted to tell me something. He said that I had no idea how much it had meant to him that I had invited him to Christmas dinner that evening so many months ago. He then proceeded to tell me that he had been very sick when I had invited him to our Christmas celebration. He had just found out that his kidneys were failing and he had been horribly depressed. My invitation had meant the world to him. Richard has since died, but this special memory of him, and of that night, will live on in my heart forever.

One never knows what the effect of a simple act of kindness will be on another.

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Eating the Sun

I thought that I’d like to share the following with you all. My husband and I say these words every day before our evening meal. A few years ago I attended a retreat led by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Before every meal we would all say a beautiful prayer, a gentle reminder that we are part of something larger than ourselves. When I eat my meal, I am not just eating food.IMGP1067 resize2 I am eating the sun and the rain and the soil without which the plants that produce the fruit, vegetables, and grains that I consume would die.  The sun and the nutrients from the soil become part of them, just as they in turn become part of me. When I eat I see much more than the food on my plate: I see the worms that aerate the soil so that all of these plants can grow,DSCN7916 resized the farmer who tills the soil and harvests the crops, the people who grind the grain and make the bread that I eat with my meal, those who make the plates from which I eat, the earth for providing the material from which the plates are made, the people who make the clothes that all of us wear, and so on and so on. I see that we really do depend upon each other. We inter-are.

I am very grateful to Thich Nhat Hanh for sharing these words with all of us at the retreat. I’d now like to share them with all of you:

This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work.
May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
May we recognize and transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed.
May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering
of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
In this food we see clearly the entire universe supporting our existence.

At the end of this prayer I have also added a few words of my own to remind me that not everyone is as fortunate as me and to wish for all beings enough food to eat and water to drink:

May no being want from hunger.
May no being want from thirst.

I am so lucky to have been born in circumstances where I do not want. I wish this for all beings. Peace to you all.

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Love is…

Right from the beginning Freya was a force to be reckoned with. My husband and I had purchased a scratching post for the three month old, white and gray patchwork tabby addition to our family. Our furniture soon became a silent witness to its lack of use. One day I, unbeknownst to Freya, stood just inside the entrance to our living room. I watched her walk over to our sound system’s not insubstantial speakers and sit down just a few feet in front of them. She waited. I entered the room. She looked in my direction, stood up, and looked at me again. Our eyes met, at which point she trotted right up to one of the speakers, then looked in my direction yet again. If she could have talked I’m sure that she would have been saying: “Are you paying attention?”.She then turned towards the speaker and proceeded to sharpen her claws on it. Our life together had begun.LastScan3 fixed

Freya loved to join in the family fun. In fact she insisted on it. My two kids and I liked playing board games and would often find ourselves engrossed in Monopoly. We soon started to notice the dwindling number of Monopoly house and hotel game pieces. One day I was vacuuming and lifted the grate on our cold air register to clean it. There, under a thick layer of dust, were all of the missing game pieces. Retrieving them, I found myself grinning and possessed by an urge to find and hug one four-legged little family member.

One morning soon after, I finished brushing my teeth and went to put the toothpaste lid back onto the tube when I accidentally dropped it. I watched it bounce across the floor when suddenly, out of nowhere, Freya appeared, scooped up the lid in her mouth and took off. And so the game of “Fetch the toothpaste lid” and “Fetch the Monopoly house” was born. Freya loved it! I would toss the house, she’d race after it, stop, pick it up in her mouth, trot back to me, drop it at my feet, and wait patiently until I tossed it again.

Time passed. My marriage ended and I fell into a deep depression. One day, as I would often do in the following months as I started to heal, I found myself looking for solace in playing the piano. On this particular day, however, I stopped playing as sadness overtook me. There I sat as Freya walked into the room. She then did something that she had never done before. I watched as she headed over to the piano bench, hopped up beside me, and just sat there. It was as if she was saying, “It’s okay now. I’m here so don’t be sad.” I looked at her and my heart melted. With tears trickling down my cheeks I held her close and whispered into her ear how much I loved her and thank you. She stayed very still and just looked at me with those beautiful green eyes.LastScan5 fixed

Something else happened that day on the piano bench. Sometimes it is hard to find words for things of the spirit. As I held this precious creature, suddenly there was no cat and there was no me. There was only love and oneness. I know this may sound crazy, but I’m convinced that we both felt it. From that day on, whenever I played the piano, I was not alone.

Our family saw many changes as the years passed: My daughter and son grew up and headed off to university; Bruce, now my husband of twenty-four years, came into my life; Freya grew old. She would still play “Chase the toothpaste lid”, but she now forgot about the bringing it back part. One day she stopped eating. Many tests and an exploratory surgery later, the veterinarian told us that she had liver disease, pancreatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease. He implanted a tube in her tummy, held in place by a red vest. LastScan8We were to feed her through that tube until she started to eat on her own again. And so began weeks of mixing her food with water, warming it, and then injecting it into the tube to feed her. Every single time that food would make its way to her stomach, she would close her eyes and purr and purr.

Freya didn’t know that she was supposed to be an invalid. On day one of her arrival back from the vets, stitches still in place, we looked on in horror as she leapt off the bed that I had gently placed her on, sailed a few feet through the air, and landed nimbly on our dresser. Her healing had begun. We made her a special little bed in our bedroom so we could be near to her and she to us.

One day as I fed her, she suddenly took off racing through our apartment, tube flapping in the wind – okay, nix the wind; it was an apartment, not the great outdoors – food shooting every which way out of the tube. In a panic, as I chased her all over the apartment, I kept thinking: Her insides will come out; she’s going to die; I’ve killed her; and so on and so on. When I finally caught her, recapped the tube, and tucked it back under the protective vest, she acted as if nothing had happened. It was more like, “Why have you stopped feeding me? I’m hungry.”

One month later the vet removed the tube. That tube gave Freya two and a half extra years of life.

Freya’s final day started normally. She took her medicines, ate her food with her usual gusto, napped, and we shared some cuddle time. Early in the evening she headed into the bathroom.


That’s odd, I thought. I went into the bathroom and there she lay, collapsed on top of the cat litter box. She looked up at me.


She had lost the ability to walk. Years of heavy steroid use that had controlled her bowel disease had taken its toll. I called for Bruce. He gently picked her up and carried her into the hall.

“I’ll get a wet cloth.”

“It’s okay sweetie,” I said as I gently removed the cat litter stuck to her tummy. I looked at Bruce. Our eyes met. It was time.

At the vets as I held her in my arms she didn’t struggle. She just looked into my eyes with love and with trust. I think that she knew it was the end and it was okay. In her own little way she was letting me know that she’d had a good life.

“I love you,” I whispered into her ear as the vet injected the drug that released her from this earth. Afterward he told me that he’d never seen a cat who seemed so peaceful at the end. I will be forever grateful for those words.

This wonderful, loving, mischievous, incredible being taught me what love is. She also taught me what love is not. Love is not about boundaries. Love is about giving and doing for and about oneness and fun. Love is about acceptance. Love is of the spirit. Love is forever.

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FREYA    1981 – 1999



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Imprints we make: Our thoughts, words, and actions affect us all. Remembering we inter-are.

The following story illustrates beautifully what this blog is about:
     I was working at Ten Thousand Villages Nonprofit Fair Trade Store one day. A middle aged man and a boy of about seven years old came in. Smiling, I welcomed them to our store, offered assistance if they needed it, and then let them be to wander around. They perused the various craft displays for awhile, eventually making their way to a shelf of books lining the wall that was opposite from where I sat at the cash register. It wasn’t long before I found myself involved with my work, only occasionally looking up from the computer screen to see one or the other of them pulling a book down from the shelf. It was hard not to notice how very engaged they seemed to be with what they were doing. More often than not, when I looked up, I would see them hunched over a book, deeply involved in conversation.
     The books at Ten Thousand Villages are all about people and our world: books about Fair Trade and what it means to people, recipe books celebrating our planet’s wonderful cultural diversity, and stories for children and adults emphasizing our interconnection with each other.
     And so there I was, busy on the computer, when I glanced up to see the two of them making their way towards me. Arriving at the counter, the little boy plunked a book down in front of me. I found myself looking into beautiful big dark eyes set in a very solemn looking little face. He spoke. He told me that he was buying the book to auction off at a fundraiser that his teacher was holding to raise money for a school in Kenya. As I listened to him speak I felt my heart open and warm to this child who was barely taller than the counter upon which the book rested. I told him that I thought it was wonderful what he was doing to help children who were not as lucky as us. He didn’t smile. He just looked at me with those dark eyes and a still serious expression on his little face.We completed the transaction. As I handed him his change I thought, I want to encourage this little boy to grow in his selflessness and caring for others.
     “Just a minute,” I said, looking first at the boy, and then up at the man with him. I left the counter and headed to the office just behind me in the back room. I found my purse and pulled out my wallet. I wasn’t sure how much to give him: Was ten too much? Five too little? I am low income and couldn’t really afford much. It’s not the amount that matters, I thought. It’s the giving. Five dollars is a lot to a child; the point is to show this boy that others care too, that what he does can affect others, and to encourage him to live with caring for those less fortunate. I closed my purse,walked out of the office, over to the counter, and handed him the five dollar bill.
     “I want to give you this to give to your teacher towards raising money for the school,” I said. “I want to help those children in Kenya. I think that it is wonderful what you and your class and teacher are doing to help those children.”
     He was very quiet for a moment, then he reached his hand out and took the money.
     “Thank you.” he said. Still he didn’t smile.
     “Good luck to you in getting money to build the school,” I said, as they headed towards the door as they were leaving the store. After they left it came into my awareness how one never knows what the effect will be on a person of words spoken or actions taken as well as their possible outcome. I only hoped that what I had done would encourage this young boy to go in the direction of thinking of and caring for others as he grew up. We don’t live in a vacuum; we are all interconnected. We “inter-are”.
     When I sit down to eat a meal and look down at the food in front of me what do I see? I see the food, but I also see the farmers who grew the food; I see the worms that thrive in the soil and help to break it down so the plants from which our food comes can grow; I see the people working in the factory where the plate that I am eating from was made; I see the people who make the clothes that the farmers, the factory workers, and I all wear; I see the cotton plants from which some of those clothes were made; and I see the trees that produce the oxygen that all of this wonderful life on this planet needs to live.
     There is a beautiful prayer that I learned at a retreat with Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. My husband and I say it daily before eating our evening meal.
     This food is a gift of the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much hard work.
     May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
     May we recognize and transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed.
     May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering        of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.
     In this food we see clearly the entire universe supporting our existence.
     At the end of this prayer I have also added a few words of my own:
     May no being want from hunger.
     May no being want from thirst.
     When I eat my meal I share it with all other beings. I am affected by them and they in turn are affected by me. To say these words before I eat is a gentle reminder not only of our interconnection with each other and to the earth, but also of our responsibility that comes with that awareness. As I live out my life I can say and do things that nurture or hinder. I choose to nurture. I can do things like help a little boy who is only just beginning to learn about his relationship to those outside of himself, and to see that what he does can affect others.
     The days passed. The boy became a memory. One day, weeks later, I again found myself behind the counter at the store. While one of our volunteers helped customers on the floor, I faced a line-up at the till. As I chatted with the woman whose purchases I was ringing up, I happened to notice the woman next in line. I felt my gut tighten. She was holding no item for purchase. My knee jerk reaction was Oh, no, please not a complaint. I’m too busy for this. It could be something else, I thought. She could ask a question about a product or maybe she is going to solicit for some company or organization. That certainly happens not infrequently. I finished the transaction with the current customer. The woman stepped up to the counter. I smiled at her. She didn’t smile back, but looked at me earnestly.
     “Do you work here every day”? she asked.
     “No, I’m only part-time staff,” I said, my usual friendly tone belying the knot starting to form in my gut. She started to recount an incident at the store.
     “My son came in awhile ago with my dad,” she began. “He is seven years old. His teacher is trying to raise money for a school in Kenya. He bought a book from Ten Thousand Villages to auction to raise money for the school. The woman who helped him gave him five dollars to help,” she said.
     “I remember him,” I said. Okay, now I was curious.
     “And yes, it was me who helped him.” She definitely had my attention now. What was this about? She looked at me intensely.
     “Well, I had to come in to thank you for what you did. I wasn’t sure at first about coming here, but I realized I had to not only thank you, but let you know how very much your gesture meant to him. He had had a really rough week, so I had called my dad to ask him if he could take his grandson out for a little while. One of the places that my dad wanted to come to was Ten Thousand Villages; he loves this store. Anyway, when my son got home he was so excited about what you did in donating five dollars to help his teacher and class to raise money for the Kenyan school that he had to tell everybody about it,” she continued.
     “He also did something that I was absolutely astounded at. There was a garage sale happening down the street. He disappeared into his room. A little while later he came out carrying a box filled with toys. He looked at me and said: ‘I want to sell these toys at the garage sale to raise more money for the school in Kenya.’
     “I looked at the toys that he had chosen. He had not picked toys he didn’t care as much about, but toys he really liked. Toys that I would never have dreamed that he would part with. He made $35.00 at that sale that day. He was totally thrilled that he could give that much money to his teacher.”
     I stood there, momentarily speechless as tears filled my eyes. What a precious, wonderful, selfless thing to have done. I told the woman that I was in awe of her little boy. When I gave that child that five dollars, I was very aware of how our words and actions can affect others, but I was not prepared for what had transpired from that simple action and the words that I spoke that day when her son and father had visited the store. I still remembered how very shy and quiet and solemn that little boy had been when I gave him the money.
     “Thank you so much for taking the time to come all the way here to tell me this. I am deeply touched by what you have told me. You must be so very proud of your little boy.”
     That day I felt so very grateful to be alive, and to be part of something larger than myself. I felt thankful for that little boy and for his thoughtful mother who took the time to share their story with me. I believe that the universe has many ways to guide us along this path that we call our lives. We just have to be present to see them, and to be open to the little boys of this world. That young child reminded me of what it meant to be truly selfless. I am grateful that, as a human being, I have the capacity and the ability to make choices as to what kind of imprint I make as I walk through my life. Our actions, our thoughts, and our words have an effect both on ourselves and on others. To speak, to think, and to act by stepping gently and wisely coming from that place of compassion, a place that we all hold within us, both for ourselves and for others, goes in the direction of spreading harmony and peace in our world.
     The store where I used to work no longer is, but I will never forget that little boy and his mother. I know that, when I sometimes need a little reminder that I am part of something larger than myself, I have no further to look than the memory of a seven year old boy.
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