Sunday, April 1, 2018
i heart lent
Josie and I were awkwardly attending a gallery thing talking about how awkward we were. She teaches math at Lander but she's an honorary art person. She shares my disdain for socializing so we always end up standing around looking at other people socializing in the gallery. It's funny that we always end up chatting about random things and actually enjoying socializing together. This night was a few days before the start of Lent and we asked each other what we were doing for the 40 days of Lent. She told me a few of the things she had done on the past and I shared some funny Lent stories with her. We agreed it was sometimes more helpful to take up things rather than giving them up. We were both looking for something that would be helpful to other people.
Sabrina had an idea for a sculpture class performance art project last semester. She wanted to make loads of really small, quick objects and record an event where she would give the objects to strangers as gifts. We both researched ideas for this and found some cool internet videos of people doing nice things for strangers. She ran out of time because of her outdoor sculpture project but the idea was too good to let go. So with permission, I stole it for Lent.
I found a quick and easy heart file for the 3D printer and took a couple of days to print enough for each day of Lent. My plan was to give away one small plastic heart each day for 40 days. The loose rule was that it needed to be given to a stranger and that I would try to say something un-creepy and smile.
The first day was hard. Most of my days are spent on campus and there's no shortage of strangers there, but when I left my office that first day I became immediately aware that I looked like a "haggard old mountain man" and that I was about to walk up to a stranger and try to put something in their hand. It felt really weird. I walked out into the commons and saw tons of potential targets. Choosing was going to be difficult. I saw a young lady sitting down by herself looking stressed with her head over a book and I gathered my courage. I walked toward her and when I reached the "uncomfortably close for a stranger" barrier she looked up with a startled look. I smiled, placed the heart on her book and told her to have a nice day. She smiled with what had to be relief and I went to class.
With the hardest one behind me, I set about doing this every day. Each day I tried to find the right person and I tried to approach the in the least threatening way possible. One day Smoak was in the sculpture studio and she said that her friend told her that one of the art professors had randomly walked up to her and given her a plastic heart. She said it was the bald one with the beard. I checked to make sure it wasn't threatening and that she didn't think I was hitting on her. All was clear.
Some people responded with complete confusion. Most of them responded with a smile and a "thank you". One of them tried to avoid me like I was passing out religious paraphernalia. I stuck with it and kept holding the heart near her until she finally took it. If it was going to be a battle of wills, I was going to win.
When I'm not at school, I don't see a lot of humans. At least, not unless the humans are related to me. So finding strangers on the weekends was a little tougher. I found a few walking in public and in a couple in restaurants. They were really nice. I also felt like I needed to give a few to people who were not complete strangers. The brand new cleaning friend in the sculpture studio started her job with us right before we started the plaster project. On plaster pouring day I saw her struggling to understand what kind of disaster she was having to try to clean up after and I felt like I needed to give her a heart. I happened by my favorite LUPD officer on one of my missions and decided I needed to hand him one. Oh, also the super cool Starbucks lady who is so nice to everyone...she totally needed to know how much people appreciate her kindness. She's great.
The point of this was pretty simple. I'm convinced that we as humans are not doing a good job of loving each other the way we should. We are self centered and we walk around every day with our "me first" attitudes and we push everyone else to the sides. If people don't immediately seem to have anything to offer our egos, we ignore them. This has not been working out for us but we appear to be too self-centered to notice. I wanted to find a way to make myself notice other people and I wanted to create a habit of doing little nice things for them. It's easy to make someone smile. Like, really easy. It takes zero extra time and costs nothing.
I have a hunch that something that takes so little effort can make huge ripples. What if one of those morning hearts changed someone's mood for the whole day? What if it rippled through the day and made that person want to be nice to someone else? What if the little smiles were multiplied? I'm gonna tell myself that's what happened. Or at least that it's possible. And really, wouldn't that be a better world to live in? Can you imagine driving on the interstate and people looking out for you and making sure you got around them when you needed to? Or if people waited an extra two seconds for you to pass their intersection before they pulled out in front of you? Or if they said "good morning" to you with a smile when they walked past you?
I figure if that's the kind of world I want to live in, then I have to stop being so self centered. I hope this is a start in that direction.
Two important end notes for this one:
1. This isn't about me. Please do not read this and think "Oh he's so nice and thoughtful". Exactly the opposite of that is true. This was an effort to correct my self-centered nature in a very small way. It literally cost me nothing to do this and the effort I was forced to put out into the universe was as minimal as walking a few extra steps. If you take anything from this story, let it be that you can do something small and find your own way to put other people first.
2. As a family, we also decided to try to socialize our dogs once a week for Lent. This was a much bigger challenge and I'm not sure if we succeeded at all. Basically our dogs are stuck in an antisocial family out in the country and they see other humans about once a year at the studio sale. We saw a dude in Charleston after Christmas who went into a tiny restaurant after telling his lab to sit outside the door and stay. He went in and stood in line for a long time before returning to the door to wait on his order. The whole time he had a little chihuahua in his backpack. The lab was better behaved than my kids. Heck, so was the chihuahua. He never made a sound and was content to sit in his little backpack house and look around. We were inspired. So once each week we found some kind of reason to toss the dogs in the truck and go somewhere with them. Mostly this was a hike or a walk of some sort. Once we ended up just driving around. This too is something we'll have to continue to work on with them but it did seem to help.