Tag Archives: kindness

More Kindness

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In the late 90s, when I was in my late 20s, I worked the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

For folks who never heard of it, Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Womyn%27s_Music_Festival) says,

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival…was an international feminist music festival held every August from 1976 to 2015 in Oceana County, Michigan, USA, near Hart Township, in a small wooded area known as “The Land.” The event was completely built, staffed, run and attended by women. The 40th Festival, in August 2015, was the last one.[2]

Several of my lady friends had worked at the festival, some for multiple years. After hearing their stories of music and empowered women, I decided I wanted to work there too. I applied for a short crew position and was given a spot on the Disabled Access Resource Team (DART).

Some of my experiences at the festival were wonderful. Three times a day, I lined up in the workers’ dining area and received a plate of delicious food. I became friends with many delightful women and engaged in hours of stimulating conversation. I attended a workshop on bisexuality and found I wasn’t the only bisexual woman among the thousands of lesbians. I also listened to incredible music.

All these years later, I only remember one of the performances I witnessed that August in Michigan. Her name was Toshi Reagon. She was a woman of color in her mid-30s, and she sang and played her acoustic guitar. I liked the way she sounded.

I ended up with her CD Kindness. I can’t remember if I  bought it at the festival or if I ordered it later from the Ladyslipper catalog. (Read more about Ladyslipper’s support of women’s music here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/03/cold-rain-and-snow/ or on the Ladyslipper website: https://www.ladyslipper.org/.) I do remember listening to that CD over and over and over again.

One of my favorite songs on the CD is called “Kindness.” To this day, I love to hear Toshi sing

If you are down and troubled

and you have not got a dime

you can come over to my house

and this is what you will find

there ain’t much to go around

but I will give you my hand

if you are down and troubled

and you have not got ten cents

because I believe in kindness

I believe in sweetness

I believe in peace and love

that is all I’ve been thinking of

Every since I titled my last blog post “Kindness,” I’ve been thinking of Toshi Reagon and singing her song of the same name. If you believe in kindness, sweetness, peace, and love, take four minutes and twenty seconds and have a listen to this wonderful song.

Kindness

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The man and the little girl were walking past the tables of goods set along the side of the highway. I don’t know if any of the other vendors noticed them, but I heard the man say to the girl, We could spend all our money buying something from every table.

The man was probably in his 30s, bearded, rugged and outdoorsy. The girl was six or maybe seven, slender and pale, with longish, straight hair. They didn’t look like hippies or travelers or a family in any way down on its luck. They just seemed like normal people, a dad trying to teach his daughter the limited nature of money compared to the limitless number of desirable items available for purchase.

The girl was drawn to the jewelry on Poppy’s table. She went right up to look at the bracelets and necklaces and rings laid out in black velvet boxes. Her father followed close behind her.

Poppy is a native woman in her late 50s. She is a good friend to me, always quick with a smile, a kind word of encouragement, rocks for my table, supplies for my crafts, or a snack when she has extra food. She is a talented, prolific jewelry maker who supports an extended family (children, grandchildren, brothers, sister, father) by selling her wares.

The man asked his little daughter if she wanted to pick out something for her mother. Her mother’s in the hospital, I heard him explain to Poppy.

Pick out a bracelet for your mom, Poppy immediately said to the little girl. Pick out a bracelet your mom would like, she said, and I’ll give it to you so you can give it to her. Poppy showed the girl which bracelets she could choose from.

As the girl weighed her options, I heard Poppy tell her, My mommy was my best friend! She was sick for a long time, and I took care of her. She had a bad disease, and she fought it for a long time, but now she’s up in Heaven. At least three more times, she told the girl, My mommy was my best friend!

The girl chose a bracelet and Poppy put it in a little plastic bag for her. I’m going to pray for your mom, Poppy told the girl.

She could die, I barely heard the child say softly to Poppy.

Your mom is going to be ok! I heard Poppy tell the girl with complete conviction. I’m going to pray for her!

I glanced over and saw the man looking at Poppy with wonder and gratitude. Thank you. Thank you so much, he kept repeating to her. I’m sure it’s not every day he meets a craftsperson willing to give away her wares so a little girl can make her sick mamma happy.

Of course, the interaction was about something more important than a craftsperson giving away a $5 bracelet. The interaction was really about a stranger affirming the special connection between a mother and a daughter, a stranger comforting a little girl by reassuring her that her mother would get better.

When I glanced over again, the little girl was on Poppy’s side of the table, standing next to the chair where Poppy sat. The woman and the child were hugging, the girl’s pale little cheek pressed against Poppy’s dark round one.

I witnessed the love passing between Poppy and the child, and I was blessed by the reminder of the power of kindness.

 

(Guest Post) This Is the Story of a (Kind) Girl

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Today’s guest post is from Devan, an internet friend of mine. We haven’t yet met in person, but I hope we can someday soon. Devan kindly offered the following inspirational piece to me for use during this busy time.

I had been at work since before 9 AM and it was now after 8 PM. All I really wanted to do was settle in for the night. Unfortunately, toilet paper is an unforgiving need when you’ve run out. As I made my way through the drug store near my home, I could hear an unusually loud woman talking about the price of Oreos. Then, as she must have passed the liquor aisle, she spoke about a particularly raucous night involving a cheap bottle of vodka and a hat with a feather in it. No matter where I went in the store, her voice carried. I heard every word as if she were talking to me directly. I shook my head and rolled my eyes, marveling at the inappropriate public display.

With large 9 roll pack of toilet paper under my arm and medicine for a developing headache firmly in hand, I headed to the front of the store. As I rounded the corner to the registers, I saw the loud woman and her quieter female companion had beat me there.

They were a colorful pair. The loud one was very tall and curvy. Her leggings were black and white striped and she wore a short shirt that showed her bare belly. Her hair was shoulder-length, wild, messy and frizzy. She wore a huge welcoming smile to accompany her gregarious nature and carried herself with enviable confidence. In one arm she carried a large box of tacos from the restaurant next door (it was $1 taco Tuesday), a backpack in the other.

The quiet one was shorter, had a robust figure, and wore a generously sized t-shirt and yoga pants. She had long straight unkempt hair and was very pregnant. She too kept a smile on her face. It was a bashful awkward smile, but it radiated warmth. Her eyes looked down most of the time, glancing up shyly on occasion. She was rolling a small suitcase on wheels behind her.

The cashier was a cute young girl named Ashlee with unnaturally red hair, several tattoos, and facial piercings. Because of her alternative look she often got strange glances from customers. Yet she never seemed to get frustrated with anything or anyone.

As I stood in line, I found myself growing frustrated with the 2 women in line in front of me this particular evening. They had no sense of urgency at all and had questions about everything. Ashlee, as usual, began friendly small talk while checking out their purchases. During this small talk, it was determined that the women had gotten a ride there, but didn’t have a ride home. They laughed that they were short on bus fare as well, after getting food and milk, so they would be walking home.

To my complete dismay, Ashlee enthusiastically encouraged the women to allow her to pack their backpack and suitcase in the most optimal way, to prevent having to carry anything too heavy. As I stood there aggravated and just wanting to leave, Ashlee proceeded to work their items into their bags. She carefully placed the heaviest items in the rolling suitcase and the lighter ones in the accompanying backpack. It took much longer than if she had simply put everything in the store bags and left them to deal with it, but the women glowed with gratitude. Ashlee then asked for the awkward box of tacos they were carrying and slipped them into a bag for easier transport. The women left with big smiles on their faces and, I assume, began their journey home.

As the women left the store and I approached the register, Ashlee greeted me with that same kind smile and an enthusiastic “Hey! How are you today?” My grimace quickly melted into a broad smile. I forgot all about my aggravation as we chatted and she swiftly moved me through the checkout. As I was leaving the store, as I often do, I felt appreciated and valued. Not just as a customer, but as a human being. The same feeling the two women in front of me were likely feeling as they left the store.

When I got to my car and opened the door to get in, I glanced back over my shoulder to the store exit. The elderly lady who had been behind me in line was walking out of the store with a beaming smile, her small bag in hand. I knew the smile that brightened her face was because of Ashlee. In less than 10 minutes, Ashlee had touched the lives of 4 women with her positive, kind, and compassionate nature. She had definitely changed the mood of everyone’s evening. More importantly, she made me realize how frustrated and judgmental I had been toward the 2 women in front of me. I laughed at myself the entire drive home.

I often think of the two women in front of me that day. I wish I had been more patient and kind, perhaps offering them bus fare or a ride home. I am grateful for them. I am grateful for Ashlee. I am grateful for this experience, reminding me the importance of basic kindness and the impact it can have on each person we encounter. Now, when I interact with anyone in line at the store, waiting at the DMV, in the Dr.’s office, etc., I try to remember that no matter how crazy my day may have been, someone is having a struggle that is far worse. A kind smile or gesture just might lift their day a little, just like Ashlee did for me.

Devan is a 40-something single female blogging online as Xsyntrik Nomad (xsyntriknomad.com). Committed to the dream of a simple but adventurous life, she is rarely found in one place for long. Her preferred ‘home’ is a converted van in which she can freely explore every corner of the country, with her two feline companions in tow. Devan is a positive living enthusiast who strives above all else to live a happy, kind, and inspired life. She hopes to motivate others through her writing and by sharing her journey.

Good Samaritan

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I broke the first rule of van life. I didn’t know where my keys were.

It only took about twenty seconds of not knowing where my keys were for life to begin to unravel.

I’d pulled in to a potential boondocking spot to check it out on my way somewhere else. As I drove around the main loop, nature called, then began to shout. I pulled into a spot near a pit toilet restroom and hustled inside. Once out, I slapped some hand sanitizer on my palms and climbed into the driver’s seat. Then I thought, I should take a few photos here, grabbed my camera, got out of the van, and slammed the door behind me.

Snap! Snap! I took the photos and turned around to get back in the van. The door was locked. I reached down for the cord around my neck on which my keys usually hang. No keys. That’s when I realized I didn’t know where my keys were.

It didn’t take me long to find the keys. I looked through the window on the driver’s side door and saw them, one sitting in the ignition, the other hanging on the ring. I cursed under my breath.

Maybe another door is unlocked, I thought. I walked around the van checking doors. Every door was locked. Every window was latched. There was no getting in.

This is what I think happened. I unlocked the van and got in the driver’s seat. I hit the power lock button, but didn’t close and latch the driver’s side door. I put the key in the ignition, but didn’t start the engine. I decided to take photos and grabbed my camera. At that moment, I thought I knew where my keys were, but in reality, I didn’t. I got out of the van, not realizing the door was going to be locked when I slammed it behind me.

So. I was locked out. My keys were in the van. My phone was in the van. All helpful phone numbers were in the van. Everything was in the van, except for me and my camera, and the camera was not going to do me any good.

Down from where I was parked was a school bus. It had a nice, conservative, professional looking paint job. When I’d first pulled in, I’d seen a man and a young teenage boy cooking at the fire ring. (Roasting marshmallows is what it looked like they were doing.) When I saw the man (thin, mid 30s, with short brown hair) come out of the bus, I walked over and politely asked him if he knew how to jimmy a lock. He grinned and said he didn’t have the right equipment, which made me think he could jimmy a lock if he had the right tools.

When I told him I’d locked myself out, he and his boy (about thirteen years old, lanky, short hair, and with a machete strapped to his side) walked over to the van.

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This is the back window that was open.

The man walked around the van, checked every window, tried every door, found it was locked tight, except for a window on one of the back doors. Unfortunately, there’s no way to open those back doors from inside even if one of us could have gotten an arm through the small opening at the bottom of the window.

The man and his son discussed different tools they might have that would work to jimmy the lock on one of my doors. Nothing the boy named seemed right to the dad.

At one point I asked if they had a coat hanger, and the man laughed and said, I live in an RV. I guess those marshmallows I thought I saw hadn’t been skewered on a coat hanger.

The man thought he could take the bolts out of the piece holding on the back window and remove the whole thing. He sent the boy to get tools. The boy came back not only with wrenches, but with two younger kids, a girl of about eleven, with long blond hair slung into a ponytail, and another boy, this one about nine with short, dirty-blond hair.

The man couldn’t get the bolts off. He sent the boy to get crescent wrenches. Those didn’t work either. The man tried the boy’s machete in the gap between window and body on the passenger side door, but that didn’t work either. The girl produced a Swiss Army knife with a tool the older boy thought might work, but that tool too proved inadequate.

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This photo shows the hinges holding the door to the van.

Just when I thought the man was going to admit defeat and tell me there was nothing he could do to help me, he wondered aloud if he could remove the pins from the hinges on the side door, thus enabling him to remove the door. He banged on the top pin, and to everyone’s delight, it moved. He sent the big boy to the bus for a hammer and chisel. It didn’t take long for him to remove the pins and take the door off its hinges. Some wires (electrical, probably) connected the door to the van body, so the man held the door while I tried to snake my (frankly, too fat) arm into the gap between the door and the van’s body. Then the man had the idea to open the latch on the window of the unhinged door. Once I stuck my hand in the open lower portion of the window, it was easy enough to reach under the cloth organizer hanging there and slide open the lock.

It didn’t take the man (who when it was all over introduced himself as Tim) long to get the pins back in the door’s hinges, at which point, I was on my way.

Thanks Tim (originally form Philly) for not giving up and leaving me stranded. You’re not just a good Samaritan, but an angel too, I think.

I took the photos in this post.

You Need Some Hemp (to Go with That Tie-Dye)

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When I sold regularly at the Bridge, I often saw people wearing tie-dyed t-shirts. One of my marketing ploys was to yell out as these people walked by, You need some hemp to go with your tie-dye. Often the person wearing the tie-dyed shirt ignored me or laughed and kept walking. But sometimes the person in the tie-dye actually came over to my table and looked at my merchandise, and sometimes the looker turned into a buyer.

One Labor Day weekend, I saw a young man across the street walking toward the Bridge. He was wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, so I hollered, You need some hemp to go with your tie-dye. He hollered back that he didn’t have any money. On a whim, I told him that if he came back, I’d give him something.

He probably didn’t believe I was actually going to give him something, but he and his friends did stop at my table after walking out on the Bridge. There were four of them, young people in their mid-20s. They worked for AmeriCorps or some other service organization and had decided on a whim to go camping on Labor Day Weekend. Once they’d gotten out in the wilderness, they’d realized they’d forgotten both the food and the drinking water. However, someone had packed booze, so they’d basically spent the last couple of days drinking tequila. Now they were on their way to town where they would go to a restaurant so they could finally eat.

They didn’t sound drunk, and they certainly weren’t obnoxious. They seemed to be really sweet young people, and the story of their weekend amused me. I ended up giving each of them a bracelet.

They couldn’t believe I was giving them something so nice for free. Usually when I gave away a bracelet or a shiny rock (to a little kid or because it was someone’s birthday or because I was feeling generous toward someone who didn’t have any money for a souvenir in the budget), I was met with disbelief. I guess it’s not often a business person gives away her or his wares to a stranger.

These young people loved my bracelets and each carefully chose his or her perfect one. Then they said they wanted to give me something. I said it wasn’t necessary for them to give me anything, but I did concede that I like trades.

One of the women gave me a pair of earrings made with little stones of snowflake obsidian. (To read about another experience of mine with snowflake obsidian, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/04/snowflake-obsidian-2/ .) I didn’t (and don’t) typically wear earrings, so later I passed them on to a lady vendor friend I suspected was involved in an abusive relationship. I hoped the snowflake obsidian could help her break patterns that were no longer useful to her.

Then the guy in the tie-dye said, And we wanted to give you this, and held out his clinched fist. I instinctively held out my hand—cupped palm up—to him. He opened his fist over my open hand and deposited a good size bud (of marijuana, for anyone who needs it spelled out).

I was surprised, but quickly closed my hand around the weed. I didn’t want to be showing off the fat bud in my hand  in front of God and everybody .

When people asked me if I smoked (marijuana or cigarettes), I always said no. I’ve never been a pothead and particularly don’t like coughing or feeling paranoid and stupid. As a homeless woman on my own, I needed to be alert all the time, so I wasn’t drinking alcohol or smoking poet or doing anything to make my brain sluggish. Also, because I was homeless, I knew I ran a greater risk of a cop hassling me and using my homelessness as an excuse to search me and my belongings. I didn’t need to be caught with anything illegal.

However, I had the bud in my hand. It seemed wrong to hand it back. I could tell these folks really wanted to meet my kindness with kindness of their own. So I smiled and thanked them and wished them a safe journey.

As soon as I saw them drive away, I walked over to a vendor friend who I knew smoked weed.

I have something for you, I said.

I held out my closed fist to him just as the young man had done to me. My friend held out his open palm to me. I put my hand over his and opened my fingers. You should have seen his smile when he saw that bud in his hand.

Nice Campers

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The nice campers stayed in my campground several weeks ago, but I’m just getting this piece edited and posted.

I had some nice campers this weekend.

One little family was Mom, Dad, and a young daughter, maybe five or six years old. When I went over to write their permit, the little girl immediately handed me a drawing she’d done of the trees. Sweet!

The whole family was nice, and I talked to the parents about what they might want to see in the area. Later, after they’d visited a nearby trail, I asked them now they’d liked it, and they said they’d had a really good time.

On Saturday evening, I saw the dad walking up to my campsite with a saucepan covered in foil.

He asked if I had eaten yet, and I lied and said no. I wanted whatever food he was offering, just to eat something different from the things I always cook for myself. Turns out he was offering me homemade cauliflower-spinach-leek soup. I grabbed a bowl and had him pour it all in as I thanked him profusely. As he was walking off, I took a bite and called out after him, This is amazing! It was so good! I haven’t been eating many vegetables out here, so my body was so happy to get some really delicious ones in that soup.

Before the soup, when I returned to the campground after working at the parking lot for four hours, there was a tent set up and a car parked on site #9, the site right next to mine. There is nothing separating my site and site #9. Since I’ve been on site #10, three times people have chosen site #9 when there were other sites available. I don’t understand why campers would want to be right next to the camp host if they could avoid it. Maybe they like the flatness of site #9. Maybe they expect the camp host to observe quiet hours. Maybe they think I am going to protect them from bears or other campers. In any case, I had next door neighbors.

Before I could even get out of my van, a middle-age Asian man was standing next to it looking at me. When I got out of the van, I greeted him and said I’d be right back with the paperwork to check him in.

Turns out he is a linguistics professor from Seoul, Korea who taught at UCLA fifteen years ago. Currently, he and his young wife and her mother are traveling in the United States. We had a pleasant exchange. I checked them in, then I went to my campsite and went about my life.

On Sunday morning, I was sitting at my picnic table, writing. I looked up and saw the grandma-age Korean woman (the mother/mother-in-law) standing next to my van. Then I saw her looking in the open passenger side door and thought, What the fuck! But I smiled and said hello and she said good morning and I said good morning.

I said, Do you need some help?

She said, I don’t know, which I figured meant no or (more accurately) I don’t know what the hell you’re saying.

She moved closer to the van’s open side door, but then she turned her attention to me and made a gesture that said May I look?

I nodded and said yes. I don’t really mind people looking, but asking my permission to look is very important to me.

So she looked into my van and said, Your house very nice.

I thanked her.

She wandered off, but soon came back with her son-in-law. He said she wanted him to tell me my home was very nice.

I thanked her again.

The woman kept pressing the palms of her hands against her cheeks and looking at me. I wondered if she were trying to tell me my face was dirty.

But the son-in-law translated that she thought I was glowing because  of this beautiful place where I was living and working. It was a lovely sentiment, although I suspect my face is more likely to be dirty than glowing.

Then the mother-in-law saw the eleven little beaded stretchy bracelets I’ve been wearing since Madame Chile sent them to me. She took my arm and pushed up my sleeve so she could see them all, ooohing and ahhhing the whole time. Then she pushed up her sleeve and showed me the chunky silver bracelet she was wearing.

The linguist started asking me about hiking trails, so I pulled out a map and spread it on the picnic table, and his mother-in-law wandered away.

After the professor left, I decided I wanted to give the mother-in-law one of the hemp bracelets I made. After a few tries, I found a bracelet with a carnelian stone that fit her. I fastened it around her wrist. Her fat little arm with soft, delicate old lady skin made me think of my grandmother whose skin had the same qualities in her later life.

Once I gave her the bracelet, the woman was definitely my friend. First she came over because she’d gotten a splinter in her hand. I grabbed my tweezers and pulled it out, all the while wondering if camp hosts are officially allowed to perform first aid on campers. Then she came over to my campsite to get water from the jug on my picnic table to clean whatever she’d just spilled on her jacket. When the water alone didn’t clean the spill to her satisfaction, she poured some of my Dr. Bronner’s soap onto the paper towel she was using to scrub up. In a little while, she came back to pour water from my jug into her bottle. When she came over the last time, I think she put some Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap on her toothbrush. (I wonder how that worked out for her.)

The whole time she was coming over to use my supplies, I was trying to cook pancakes. While it was very sweet of her to want to interact with me, it was also awkward because we couldn’t talk to each other. She tried to communicate, asking me You middle age? and You single? I had to answer yes to both of those questions.

I got the feeling her daughter and  son-in-law were ignoring her, so she was coming over to me for attention.

Before they left, the daughter came and told me that her mom said my house was cozy, and I told her that he mom was a nice lady.

I felt lucky to have two sets of friendly campers in one weekend.

I Am Not Disgruntled

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I realize that in my writing I often come across as disgruntled. Generally, I am not. I am particularly fortunate this summer. I’m living and working in a beautiful area, high in the mountains, surrounded by huge green trees. I wake up to bird song instead of the annoying buzz or beep of an alarming clock. I can do my morning chores whenever I want, so if I’m moved to write for a while before I get out of bed, I can. I get along with my co-workers and my supervisor. The majority of the people I meet are friendly and polite.

Unfortunately, true stories about friendly and polite people don’t have the punch of stories about jerks and idiots.

A friendly and polite people story would go something like this: The campers who stayed on site 6 last night were pleasant and caused me no problems.

Or maybe: Today a driver had the $5 parking fee ready when she pulled into the lot, and she handed it to me with a smile.

Also: When a man and his young-adult son paid their parking fee, the son handed me a $10 bill and said they also wanted to pay the fee for the next strangers who pulled in.

I will do my best to work these positive folks into my stories, lest my readers think I am perpetually grumpy and negative.

I did have a positive experience last time I was in Babylon. I stopped to fill my gas tank on my way out of town. The young man working the counter at the gas station/convenience store was bubbling over with positivity and good cheer. He was obviously a person who saw the glass as half full and wanted to offer a drink to everyone he met.

I think I saw his positivity first in the way he greeted me when I approached the counter. I could tell he really meant the Hello or Good Afternoon he gave me. He didn’t mumble or look past me. He looked right into my eyes and spoke directly to me, while smiling BIG. The smile was on his face, and in his voice too. He wasn’t simply practicing good customer service. He really meant that smile.

I said something dumb, like You sure are happy, and then we were grinning at each other.

We spent a few minutes telling each other how life is short and how lucky we are, how really good life is. We were each preaching to the choir, but I walked back to my van smiling, feeling buoyant. This young clerk really lifted my spirits and reminded me of my great fortune in living this life of mine.